I first heard about it on ukc. The middle aged men of britian were were typing furiously into their key boards in anger. How dare they! Commercialisation of the mountains! People will die! ruining everyone’s day! For a while i was swept along by this, environmentally having several hundred runners crashing their way down the hills could leave boggy scars and the thought of folk in race mode streaming up a loose and crumbly curved ridge made me shiver.
But it also excited me, the challenge of the route and it took in some of my favourite mountains and trails. So i looked a bit closer, trying to peer past the hype and see who was behind it and what they would do to offset everyone’s concerns.
And then I entered.
I reasoned that i could stay sceptical and make sure I was as far from glen coe on race day as possibly, or i could be part of it and actually find out if the organisers were any good. Im pretty sensible and decided if things weren’t managed safely i would turn back and being out on route I could see how the environmental issues were managed and what unsuspecting folks out having a great day on the anoach eagach felt.
Il say right now that the organisers did a great job, so much so that ive got my place for this years race. They diverted the route away from the loosest sections of rock and had mountaineering instructors out in full force on the technical sections, ready to help if needed, although asking one who had been stationed on both curved ridge and the anoach eagach, she said everyone had been fine. So the vetting must have been done well, with competitors having to show not only running but climbing experience. Back at my more ploddy end of the race there was no sign of litter having been dropped, but frustratingly despite the very clear race briefing about not cutting lines off the paths, some competitors obviously thought it was worth a few seconds of their time to create a bit of erosion. I might have told some of them off in disgust. Seriously guys!
One of the best parts of a race like this is all the hours you need to put in to survive, for me living in the highlands this meant a great excuse to get out and run up some new munros and go explore some magical places that i had never been. Almost more than the race itself, its these big days out that can make my summer.
Turning up at glencoe mountain on the Friday was hugely intimidating. more than any other race ive done, everyone looked muscular and fast. I felt i was the only person just there to make up the numbers. I was scared.
Setting off early on the Saturday didn’t help, the racers streamed out of the start box at an alarming pace, i think i was last out. I heard some folks even set a 5km pb! Things soon settled down and i started my usual tactic, sight on someone you think is about your pace or a touch faster and imagine you’re tied to them. My first victim was easy. All decked out in shiny blue and yellow, the haglofs kid stood out by miles. I followed his new clothes smell all the way down the west highland way and up curved ridge. Here there was a holdup, 10-15 minutes of getting super chilled whilst everyone navigated up the steeper sections of the ridge. As such by the time i summited i had to go slow and warm up all over again. The haglofs kid must have coped a bit better as he was gone, lost in the swirling mists. I made my way along the ridge alone in the gloom, checked the second summit and turned downhill. At the coll i found a very chilly huw waiting, i think hed expected me sooner but it was great to see him for a brief good luck before he bounced bambi like away down the hill and off to work. I followed much more cautiously, the rocks in glencoe are not your friend when moist and i didn’t fancy pulling out with injury.
Once at the bottom it was a short runnable blast up larig Gartain until we were turned straight up the boggy climb to the next coll. It was a good chance to grab some food and drink and chat to other runners. All the way up and down to larig Eilde the chat was about the hold up, and if we would get through the road checkpoint in time now. I was pretty confident but many around me were worried.
Down in larig eilde we once again turned and headed up. i always find these runnable parts so frustrating as i always feel like i should be flying along on the easy ground but in reality can only creep forwards. It was a relief to turn off and up the next boggy climb that marked the start of the iconic three sisters. Here again i met some great people to chat to, who had me in awe of their tales of bob grahams and hundred mile races. I ran with one lovely man almost to the summit, when i caught a glimpse of yellow compression socks glowing in the mist and gave chase.
There is some fantastic ridge running along to Bidean but sadly all views were well hidden and the mists cocooned us in sweaty solitude as we ran along.
From bidian nam bian we were turned onto the out and back to stob coire nan lochan. This section was wild! steep and loose with runners going in both directions it was much much harder than id expected. For the first time i began to worry about the cut off. Somewhere on this section i was sad to pass the blue and yellow vision, no longer would his beaming bright calves guide me.
Back to bidean and then over the final summit on the ridge before the final descent to the road. It had been drizzling and by the time my end of the race started down i,t the cobbles were covered by a slick layer of slippery lethal mud. Chaos ensured as we plummeted down, mostly on feet but often on our butts until with great relief we piled into the roadside check point.
On long races with feed stations i find the best tactic is to grab some chow and sugary tea and walk with it. It is hard to go slow when you are being overtaken but ultimately saves time from stopping and getting cold. This was the most brutal climb of the race, a straight steep 900m of thigh burning agony. Interest was added by dodging some big blocks of scree that were dislodged and came bouncing down the hill. I chatted to the first lady id met on the way up here, she had come all the way from Wales for the race. Once at the summit we had a bit of easy running before the real fun of the aonach eagach started. I love this ridge, from the road it looks like nothing and then once up, you’re on this curving rock of pinnacles and crags, often with mist pouring over it. It is really fantastic. Unfortunately the rock was slick and greasy, so rather than bounding along it, much more caution was required. Here i met quite a few folks who were just out for the day and had no idea of the race. Stopping to chat it seemed the response was overwhelmingly positive, with hikers enjoying watching the race and said they’d had no conflicts or difficulties because of it.
All too soon the end of the technicalities came and in my head i was now on the home stretch. I had not recced this section, along to the devils staircase, in my head it was a beautiful grassy ridge. I imagined switching off and letting my legs carry my down. It was a bit of a shock to find it was still covered in boulders and scree and i definitely needed to keep concentrating to avoid turning an ankle. Here i started to suffer, mudclaws were not a good choice for such a rocky route ( clues in the name..) and my feet were in pain. By the time i reached the devils staircase i was down to the the ultra runners shuffle and my tummy started to act up giving time to debate how much id offend hikers if a swift dive into the heather was needed.
Nearing the bottom I was passed by a young man i hadn’t expected to see again, which inspired me to man up and get on with it. Latching on to his outline, i made myself run were he had and only walk a few paces later than him. In this fashion i slowly caught him back up by the kings house. We struggled together up the hill and over the A82 where he shot of in the most incredible sprint finish. He obviously hadn’t tried hard enough! I shuffled my way over the line, an hour slower than i had expected but very glad to be done.
The race was an incredible experience, harder than id thought, the slippery rocks made descending much slower than usual. As always at fell races the other competitors are amazing and so nice to chat to. Thanks to everyone i spoke to and well done!
No photos from the race so just from out and about in glen coe over the years.
Winter anoach eagach