With 52km of technical mountain running and a whopping 4,750m of ascent, the Salomon Glen Coe Skyline is not for the faint-hearted. It takes place as part of the Salomon Skyline Scotland weekend (this year held on September 20-22), which involves four epic skyraces, and is notorious for its highly technical course – think towering mountain ridges and exposed Grade 3 scrambling. Only highly experienced runners can take part, all of whom must be strictly vetted.
So what are the key things runners need to know before taking part in this brutal event? Check out these insider tips from previous competitors...
1. Do lots of hill training
Glencoe is steep and rugged, and the profile of this race is challenging. “For most, the difficulty lies not in the 52km distance, but in the relentless climbing," says Sarah Macdonald, who finished 13th in the race in 2016 and is also a running guide for women’s guided trail running company Girls On Hills. "Make sure you build plenty of ascent into your training programme and be prepared to run on pumped and tired legs."
2. Recce the race route
If you can, “recce the race route or, at the very least, practise the most technical sections,” says Majka Kunicka, who was 10th female in 2018. Salomon athlete Rob Sinclair, who was seventh overall the same year, recommends that entrants “train to build confidence on technical terrain and cope with exposure, so that you are well-prepared for the crux sections of this route. That way you can focus better on racing and having fun on the day!”
3. Don't go out too fast
As an amateur, where else in the UK can you stand shoulder-to-shoulder with world-class athletes? However, Steve Holmes, who took part in 2018, gives a word of caution: "Unless it’s in your race plan, it’s best not to try and keep up with them at the start!
“The trail between the start and Altnafeadh (CP1) is runnable but mostly uphill (for approximately 8km). This section can define how much energy you will have left for the majority of the route.”
There is the temptation to go out fast from the start line due to a bottleneck at the base of Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mòr which means runners need to queue while they wait their turn to ascend the line. But there's no need to be hasty, warns Inov-8 athlete Jasmin Paris, who came second female in 2018: “You don’t want to sprint off like a lunatic, but equally you don’t want to find yourself queuing frustratedly while your competitors disappear into the clouds above.” So be strategic, and figure out the balance that works for you. “But if you do get stuck there, eat!” advises Kunicka.
4. Save yourself for the climb at CP9
Even though Curved Ridge – a Grade 3 scrambling route – is the most technically difficult section (between CP1 and 2), the hardest section psychologically comes much later in the race, so make sure you've got something left in the tank. “The pull up from Loch Achtriochtan at CP9 to Sgorr nam Fiannaidh is brutal, and is definitely the most mentally challenging part of the route,” says Sinclair. Jasmin Paris too describes this section as “long, steep and unrelenting!”
5. ...and for Aonach Eagach
“It’s easy to get carried away and hammer down the descent from Stob Coire nam Beith,” says Macdonald, “but it really helps to have something in the tank for coming on to the Aonach Eagach [a ridge to the north of Glen Coe]. In the second half, you will need to deal with a lot of sustained scrambling, on already tired legs.”
6. Put it on
"Never underestimate the Scottish weather,” Kunicka warns. “Be prepared for the whole lot; rain, clag and cold – even snow.” All competitors will have to carry the mandatory clothing necessary to cope with these conditions, so don't forget to put them on! "The trick is to know when it is needed and to put it on early enough," says Macdonald. "Don’t just carry it around in your vest while you slowly become hypothermic!"
7. Get a grip
Much of this course is rocky and technical but there is also some hardpack trail and plenty of wet, grassy and tussocky ground, so the right footwear is essential. “This race demands a shoe that can cope with the long hours of pounding, while still giving the feel and precision you need for scrambling and climbing,” says Macdonald. "You'll also need some decent lugs for the ‘off-trail’ sections. But most importantly, wear something that you’re comfortable in and familiar with.”
8. Refuel and hydrate well
“Take advantage of opportunities to refuel, especially at the Loch Achtriochtan checkpoint (CP9)," advises Macdonald. "Make sure you take enough time here to eat what works for you and get some water onboard – especially if it’s hot. There's a long climb ahead and no water on the ridge."
Holmes also recommends taking a “lightweight collapsible cup, so that you can drink from streams throughout the route. This will reduce the weight of your pack considerably and hopefully save you some energy.” But make sure you know where these streams are, as there is a lot of dry terrain!
Girls on Hills Ltd is the exclusive provider of Skyline Scotland recce events for 2019. The company offer guided skyrunning in Glencoe, Scotland and aim to empower women with the skills and confidence necessary to become independent in the mountains. Visit www.facebook.com/girlonhills for more info.