Words: Helen Leigh
Having struggled with injuries all year, I battled hard just to be on the start line of the Salomon Glen Coe Skyline and was under no illusion that I was going to be anywhere near my best. I just wanted to enjoy a huge day out in a spectacular setting. It did not fill me with confidence that having drunk out of a stream on one of my final training runs I had had a bad stomach all week, and, leaving the rest to your imagination, arrived on the start line in a less than hydrated state!
The run over into Glencoe started well – feeling strong, I skipped down the Devil’s Staircase and enjoyed the fantastic scramble up Curved Ridge in beautiful sunshine. The brief hold-ups served as a nice breather and allowed a few sneaky looks at the view. I topped Stob Dearg in around 10th place and was still running well over Stob Na Doire, but climbing to Stob Coire Sgreamhach (try and pronounce that one!) I started to feel a little flat and my old hip injury began to nag. As I reached the top the views were fading fast and the clag and rain set in. It was a real slog round to Bidean Nam Bian and hard to gauge exactly where you were, given the poor visibility. The out-and-back was a nice chance to bump into folks, with lots of encouragement flying both ways.
I tried to banish the thoughts of bailing out that were creeping in as I slid back through the field, but with my hip hurting less on the downs, I was all the way back down in 47min to the last possible pull-out point at the Loch Achtriochtan car park. Lots of friendly faces greeted me and, most importantly, a loo and two cups of tea. Some friends had driven miles to support me, so after the longest break I’ve ever taken in a race, I pulled myself together and set off up the killer climb to Sgorr Nam Fiannaidh. Feeling like a tortoise could have hoofed up there faster than me, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and arrived at the top, knowing that the hardest part was yet to come. Stubbornness is one of my stronger traits and probably the only thing that kept me going.
I had been across the Aonach Eagach ridge before, in glorious sunshine, but at that moment it was wet, moody and unforgiving. It’s one thing galloping across there on warm grippy rock, its quite another when you have legs like Bambi, and are in need of an immediate hip replacement and severely lacking in energy. I was careful, gingerly picking my way across the slippy rock, well aware of the massive drops either side and wishing I was functioning a bit more efficiently. All the way round the safety team and marshals were fantastic, looking pretty soggy themselves but being cheery and helpful to every weary runner. I was relieved to reach Am Bodach in one piece. A run, trot, shuffle got me back to the West Highland Way and my favourite checkpoint – the last one. With gravity finally on my side, I flew to the finish.It’s not often I get out of or close to the edge of my comfort zone, but conditions, circumstances and a brutally beautiful course certainly tested me in this race.
Huge thanks to my physio and coach Tim Pigott of Health and Performance Coaching. I finished as 16th placed lady and I05 overall. I’m a little less disappointed with this when I see that out of 217 starters, only 158 made it to the cut-off point, demonstrating the pure toughness of this rugged race.