Ian Corless is a photographer, writer and podcaster who specialises in the world of trail, mountain, ultra and skyrunning. Currently travelling the world, Ian reports from the world’s most iconic races. In 2016, he will publish a book called ‘Running Beyond’ in conjunction with Aurum Publishing. In this article he reports back on the inaugural Glen Coe Skyline race. Read more articles like this in Totally Active Magazine.
What is Skyrunning?
Created on the slopes of Monte Rosa in 1989 by Marino Giacometti, Skyrunning has grown and evolved as runners have sought more demanding challenges. It’s fair to say, the sport was ahead of its time! In 2012, skyrunning went through a revival with the inclusion of a new ULTRA series that was added to the well established VK and SKY distances. The Skyrunner® World Series has long been the pinnacle for the sport but demand has been so high that National Series have started to develop all over the world. In the UK, skyrunning has blossomed and in just two years we now have six very specific events. The latest edition, the Glen Coe Skyline has taken the pure ethos of skyrunning as personified at Trofeo Kima (Italy) and combined technical ridges, scrambling and exposure so that the race now ranks as not only one of the key events in the UK but also the world.
The Glen Coe Skyline
The Glen Coe Skyline route is a brute and it’s not a race for everyone. Shane Ohly and Gary Tompsett really did create a race to test the best-of-the-best and this was reflected by very strict entry criteria and the words of Skyrunning World and European champion, Emelie Forsberg: “Seriously the best race in this distance. Super technical ridges and gullies, think Trofeo Kima but no via ferrata!”
Heavy rain the day before the race eased over night and the runners were greeted with a perfect day until just after midday. As forecast, the cloud came in and with it showers. But at this stage the runners just had one thing in mind; the finish.
From the gun, pre race favourites Es Tressider, Joe Symonds and Jayson Cavill pushed a fast pace at the front followed by a plethora of top running and climbing talent. In and amongst the men was Emelie Forsberg and 2015 Dragon’s Back winner, Jasmin Paris.
Curved Ridge was arguably one of the most anticipated sections of the Glen Coe route and coming so early in the race, everyone had fresh legs, full lungs and strong arms to make the vertical ascent less of a challenge. It’s a graded scramble not for the faint-hearted and one that well and truly places Buachaille Etive Mor on the Glen Coe map.
From the summit of Curved Ridge moving in a clockwise direction, Forsberg used her world-class skyrunning skills not only to pull away from Paris on the ridges that followed but also to pass all the men, with the exception of Symonds. Renowned for a beaming smile, Forsberg bounced around the course, defying the technical nature of soaring ridges, exposed traverses and precipitous drops.
Es Tressider, a pre race favourite for overall victory, was arguably the most experienced male competitor in the race on this type of course and he traded blows at the front with Symonds. A decisive moment came when they crossed the road at Loch Achtriochtan with the tough climb up to the second most demanding section of the course, Aonach Eagach. Tressider gave it everything and his all or nothing strategy was to be admired.
As Tressider paid the price for his efforts, Symonds and Forsberg pulled away holding the respective 1st and 2nd positions. Mark Harris and Jayson Cavell reeled in Tressider and then Jasmin Paris placed herself in 5th overall.
As the race pushed on, the weather started to turn and with it the wind increased and rain started to fall. Forsberg and Symonds gave consummate performances that personified the movement of fast and light. Skyrunning well and truly had arrived in the UK!
Top 10 results for 2015 Glen Coe Skyline
Joe Symonds 7:36:21
Emelie Forsberg 7:44:19
Mark Harris 7:44:51
Jayson Cavill 7:49:42
Jasmin Paris 7:54:29
Tim Gomersall 7:55:09
Neal Crampton 8:02:09
Esmomd Tressider 8:05:12
Andrew Barrington 8:21:21
Adam Harris 8:22:55
Front of pack: Emelie Forsberg
Post race Emelie Forsberg could not retain her excitement of the Glen Coe route, “Some parts are very runnable on nice, tricky trails. Other sections are super technical. I’m thrilled to have run this race. Even though it was a hard race, all of the nature and the course made me go fast.” Emelie is no stranger to tough challenges and her confirmation of the Glen Coe route is summed up nicely when she says, “I have run many races but this one is special. This is skyrunning.”
But the mountains and terrain of Glen Coe are not for everyone, the terrain offers a unique challenge that participants must be prepared for. “You need to be a mountain runner,” said Forsberg. “Running on nice trails in the mountains is not enough. You need to have experience on wild mountains, climbing and scrambling. It’s not a negative, it is so cool to have something to work for!”
Emelie’s 5 favourite items of kit
1. Headband – I use them all the time as my hair always flies in all directions. if it is cold it´s also perfect to add warmth and it collects sweat.
2. Salomon Sense shoes – I always run in them no matter what. They fit my feet perfectly and they are light and comfy!
3. Snacks – If I don’t bake the snacks myself I eat Kit´s organic by Clif bar.
4. Soft flasks – They are so smart! They are light, take up minimum space and when I don’t need them they fold up.
5. Salomon S-Lab vest as it fits my body, doesn’t bounce, is super light and has plenty of pockets for my mandatory kit, food and drink.
Middle of the pack – Bjorn Verduijn
Bjorn Verduijn (36) from the Netherlands has been racing the Skyrunning UK calendar in 2014 and and 2015. Coming from the ‘flat lands’ and racing in the mountains is not easy! However, Bjorn now lives in Scotland and over the last two years he has earned his stripes.
The idea of racing across some of Britain’s most stunning and technical mountains, mixed in with an element of controversy, hype and a celebrity line-up meant that this was an event not to be missed.
A strong ski-mountaineering season gave Bjorn a great level of fitness coming into 2015, “My training had mainly consisted of long, slow mountain days combined with road cycling to nurse a lingering knee injury. I purposely avoided speed sessions to avoid picking up an injury.”
Several quality training weekends in August in readiness for Glencoe set Bjorn up for the Glen Coe challenge but post race he wondered if he’d done too much too close to the event, “With hindsight, I should have been recovering, as I felt sluggish and tired throughout the race.”
Skyrunning in the UK is still in many respects in its infancy and therefore it attracts like-minded runners with a love for the mountains. For Bjorn that is all part of the appeal, “On race day there was a real buzz of excitement and anticipation. For me, the next ten hours were a mix of elation and suffering; the atmosphere was electric!”
“Fell shoes with great grip are essential,” Bjorn explained when discussing his kit. “A comfortable pack that can hold mandatory kit, water and food is also essential and some opted to wear a helmet for Curved Ridge, sensible, but not essential!”
With the race over and time to reflect it’s always good to learn where improvements can come. “Excelling at a race like this takes more than endurance; scrambling skills are essential. The race requires willpower to run at one’s own pace and not get lured into a false sense of confidence. Crucially, this race has taught me that in order to improve my pe
rformance, I need to become a better, faster runner across all disciplines, focusing on strength and speed over mountain mileage.”
This article is a feature piece from Totally Active, a completely interactive online magazine written by active people for active people. Totally Active are on a mission to push endurance to its limits, to help readers achieve their potential, whatever the sport or activity. Totally Active have brought some of the world’s foremost endurance, performance, nutrition and fitness experts together in a publication which informs and inspires readers to go to the edge, to break boundaries, and to succeed. Read more articles like this at Totally Active today.