A month ago yesterday was the Ring of Steall Skyrace, part of a phenomenal weekend put together by the Skyline Scotland team, Ourea Events and the amazing people that make up the mountain running community.
This was my big race of 2016. I was trying something new (skyrunning: big ascents, tough terrain), flirting with ultra running time-on-your-feet territory, and pushing my boundaries physically, but most importantly, mentally. I learned so much about myself during the entire training period, about what I can do, how my mind puts limitations on my abilities, and how to continue to push through mental barriers. In a way, when it comes to trail running, I grew up.
The weekend started with a drive in the dark from our home in Aberdeenshire to Kinlochleven, the location of the Skyline Scotland race weekend, as well as Ice Factor, the very important event centre. Pat and I arrived at Ice Factor with minutes to spare before registration shut. Thankfully, we were the only ones registering at the time, despite the many competitors lingering about the place. We picked up our race bibs and maps, got our dibbers fastened onto our wrists, got photos taken, picked up our complimentary race t-shirt, and got our kit bags checked by staff. We also impulse-purchased the Skyline Scotland hoodies. It was then off to our accommodation to attempt to unpack, unwind and get some sleep before the biggest race of our lives.
In almost two week’s time, I will be racing in the biggest event of my running ‘career’ ever. Along with Pat, I will be running the inaugural Salomon Ring of Steall Skyrace, in the West Highlands of Scotland. Pat and I have been training all summer, accumulating hours upon hours of time on our feet, thousands of feet elevation gain, and seeing some stunning, raw and dramatic Scottish scenery along the way. As part of our training, we ran the current Ring of Steall race route a few weeks ago, to see what we were in for. It was an eye-opening ‘run’ that is easily the most physically demanding task I’ve ever done to date, encompassing 8200 feet/2500 metres elevation gain (the most for me in a single run), and the longest time spent on my feet. I write ‘run’ because there wasn’t much running done, and in my tired, emotionally spent post-recce state, I used the expression ‘unrunnable’ to describe the route because it is so technical and steep, I wonder how people will actually run the flats and descents.
I experienced my lowest lows and highest highs on this run – crying a few times and also in complete awe of the landscape and what we accomplished – and found it to be great mental preparation for the race. I now know what I’m in for and what to expect, and where. I know what the terrain is like, how difficult the scrambling will be, and how seriously muddy and wet the race route could be. While this was a training run to gage physical race-day readiness, I’ve realised that the training process also involves training the mind to deal with and get through the most mentally (and physically) exhausting of challenges. This recce, and subsequent runs since, has been very good mental preparation!
We got views of Ben Nevis throughout this run
Now I want to share this race route recce in hopes that it will help those that are also racing, but haven’t made it out to Kinlochleven. I guess it’s the teacher in me that wants to plan, prepare and help others.
Our recce followed the current Ring of Steall good weather race route on the Skyline Scotland website, and this course preview relies on the given map for guidance. We were very fortunate to have ideal weather conditions for our recce: sun, clear skies, no wind, dry. But the midges were horrendous, so be prepared!
Over a month ago, I ran the Glacier Energy 15 mile trail race around Balmoral Estate. I wish I could write that the race was amazing and that I got a new personal course record. I wish I could tell you that racing in my Inov-8’s went smoothly and will set me up well for Ring of Steall training. Finally, I wish I could write a timelier, proper race recap, but instead lots of living and weekly Primal Eye deadlines made that difficult. So here I am, a month on, having done a lot of thinking and learning along the way.
Race goodies + my cat photobomb
In short, the Balmoral Trail Race didn’t go nearly as well as it did last year. I had hoped to best my 2:28:47 result from last year, knocking minutes off my time as I’ve (slightly arrogantly) grown accustom to, but that just didn’t happen. My time was instead 2:30:57, and rather than running the entire race and all of its hills, like I did last year, I stopped to walk a few times, especially during the last few hills. My feet hurt (real bad!) and my calves were so tight, and I finished the race with a huge blister on sole of my foot, below my big toe. I confess, I whimpered as well.
Attempting a triathlon was actually a goal I toyed with at the start of 2013. While I never worked toward that goal last year – instead opting to train for and run my first half marathon – it has been a sport that has captured my attention for years. As a child, I would watch the Escape From Alcatraz triathlon and the Ironman World Championships (held in Kona), on TV and dream that I too could be one of those athletes. With Pat taking up triathlon, it’s all gotten much closer to home. I see what his training is like on a daily basis, and have been a spectator for every one of his races. I love the atmosphere at a triathlon and the anticipation of the competitors coming into transition before heading out again.
I used to think I’ll just stick with running, but then I got bored with it, and needed a new challenge; entering my own triathlon was just a natural step. I thought I’d take it easy by entering a Try a tri, where the sole purpose of such an event is to give triathlon newbies a taste of the sport without having to invest large amounts of time to train for longer distance races, or to simply wrap their head around participating in a race where there are three disciplines, plus two transitions, to worry think about.
While I never worry about races and what to do – I don’t actually think I worry about much at all – it was a difficult task to mentally prepare for three disciplines. My mind would flutter between swim bike run, plus transitions, and everything would get muddled into one. When I told Pat how I felt as I was setting up my transition area, he said he goes through the same thing.
The day before the race was a travel day: we took the high road from our home off the east coast of Scotland, through the rugged and beautiful hills and mountains of Royal Deeside and the Highlands. Although the race itself was in Grantown-on-Spey, we stayed at the youth hostel in Aviemore instead, 30 minutes south west of Grantown. We arrived to our hostel before dinner time, and after checking in, we went for a stroll through a nature reserve close to the hostel. We dined on Primal Chilli con Carne and sweet potato (my carb-load food choice of the week), in the dining room and played a game of Monopoly before heading to bed before 10. We were both tired from the day, from the week really, and had a 6:30am start the next day.