Skye Trail Ultra May 2024

Submitted by Nick Wishart on 28th May 2024
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I could easily make this write up a road trip blog. Not going to waste time on that. The start line is 450 miles from my house. Skye is a long way from anywhere to be honest. Getting there was interesting. It just made the experience feel even more precious to be part of.

Arriving at the start line in Duntulm Saturday at 5:15am and the day already has the feel of special privilege about it. This is a race with restricted numbers and vetted applications. Skye is a sensitive environment to protect. All is calm. The midges are out and about of course.

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Lucky to be here. Lucky to be able to stand on the start line to make a journey where I have no route knowledge, only a sense of excitement for the adventure ahead. Lucky also for the weather!

I really wasn’t popular at home for entering this race. You can bet your ass I am not going to waste that privilege now.

Off we go. A mile of lanes to warm the legs up and then through a gate and onto pathless and boggy terrain, aiming generally in the direction of the hills up ahead. Already grateful to the weather gods that I can see the distant ridge, free from low cloud, with just banks of mist drifting above.

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From the elevation profile the first 26 miles contain the bulk of the ascent and soon the climb takes our small pack of racers up Sron Vourlinn and the start of the Trotternish Ridge, the longest ridge in the UK apparently. Cue the first of countless jaw dropping moments as the terrain stretches out ahead of us. As the oldest competitor today, I have no delusions of glory, but I have already decided that this journey is one to savour by taking time to look up and savour the experience of running across some of the most beautiful mountain trails in the UK.

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The miles breeze by. Probably running a bit quick with so far to go, but these trails are screaming yee har at every turn and it’s just a delight to dive into. I also take many pictures. It just can’t capture the moment entirely but pausing to take a photo allows time to soak it all up.

20 miles in. The Storr looms ahead and first sight of other humans as Hayley and I drop down the 1,000ft descent to the checkpoint. We thread the path beside Needle Rock, plummeting downwards, terrorising bewildered tourists in a mad glorious dash down the hill. My quads won’t thank me later but what a laugh. Jason is waiting at the bottom and I glug half a litre of milkshake before heading off towards the coastline for the next section to Portree.

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Before the race I did wonder why the route didn’t stick on the Trotternish to Portree, but now I am on another ridge, a coastal headland path with not another soul in sight and it is a new flavour of amazing. Huge drops to the sea on my left, the Cuillin peaks invitingly ahead in the distance. The clouds have burned away, it’s getting warm and blue skies frame the glorious landscape.

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Shout out loud joy as I plough up and down towards Portree, 30 miles completed. Time to meet Jason and glug more milkshake and refuel. Stomach feeling good. The milk works for me. Also time to change out of my trail shoes and into Mafate Speed as the terrain is about to change with some tarmac ahead.

Out of Portree and then down along an estuary section over seaweed and rocks, giving a Ring O Fire sort of feel to the day for a moment. Then it’s a few miles of lane down to Braes and CP4. Hated the thought of this before the race. I don’t do tarmac. However it gives a bit of opportunity to reset without having to focus hard on the underfoot conditions. Kristian catches up with me for a welcome chat that helps the miles pass.

Into CP4 for a cup of tea and beans on toast at 36 miles.

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I leave on my own and head onto some flattish singletrack estuary trail beside Loch Sligachan down to CP5 at the campsite. The warm afternoon has sapped my pace a bit and I am conscious that I need to stay on top of fluids and fuel. 43 miles in and still happy though.

This is the furthest I have run since Lakeland 100 last July.

Beyond CP5 the trail heads back into very remote terrain between the red and black Cuillins through stunning Glen Sligachan. The next section will be long at over 11 miles. With no idea of the technicality of the trail ahead, I am probably ill prepared for how long this could take as tiredness looms.

It is now a beautiful and sunny evening with the sun starting to dip behind me, bathing the hills in glorious warm light.
Passing by two small lochs, the dreaded midge are stirring and it is motivation to get a shift on past them!

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At Camasunary a friendly marshal stands awaiting runners in a beautiful remote location. There are some wild campers here and a small bothy. From here the trail cuts below the ridge below Beinn Leacach and Bein Cleat on a narrow, rocky and very exposed singletrack with a plummeting descent into Loch Scavaig awaiting any trip or stumble. I am feeling relieved to have daylight for this section, but it is slow progress. Occasionally I stop to admire the awesome sunset gathering momentum over my shoulder.

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By the time I finally clear the headland and turn towards Elgol I am more than ready for a break. I haven’t eaten anything of note in the last 4 hours. Arriving into CP6 at 56 miles, I know I need to reset and replenish my body before the last 20 odd miles to the end. The problem is a feeling of growing nausea creeping up on me. Two cups of sweet tea, cheese on toast forced down and a change of running top kind of brings me back from the brink.

I head back out and now it's total darkness. I feel more than a bit second hand but totally focused on fast yomping 8 miles to the last CP. It soon starts to rain and this sets the tone for a night of head down no nonsense mile munching in the steady rain. It isn’t cold or windy, the rain is fine for me.

Some tarmac and off-road sections are unexceptional. However a small wrong turn requiring a bushwhacking recovery makes me pick up my concentration. Shortly afterwards and back on the lanes, Rich catches up and on we go together.

We plod mostly in silence up a hillside track to the last CP7. Rich goes to meet his wife and I bang on my van and wake up poor Jason trying to grab a few stolen hours of rest. The midge are biting. No time to piss about, I top up fluids, eat some oranges, swig some milkshake and crack on into the rainy night because now I am shivering.

There are at least 15 miles left to the finish and this is a test of mental resolve for sure. First up are several miles of tarmac past Torrin before cutting right and heading directly south on a 10 mile trail loop away from the Elgol road. Rich and I have buddied up again down the road and we make our way steadily down towards Suishnish.

Eventually we round the southern shoreline, a red sky starts to emerge in the distance. What a treat.

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Wow, the amazing landscape is waking up again. Time to switch off the midge magnet headtorch. A long steady climb brings us back northwards. I am now scanning the horizon for signs of civilisation ahead. Eventually the Elgol road is visible again. My watch is giving me an ETA of 7:01am. The perverse part of my brain decides it wants to be done before then. Rich is struggling with shin pain and so I strip off my raincoat and decide to play beat the clock.

Soon I am running into Broadford and Jason is on lookout on the corner of the main road. Last dash to the line to finish with relief at 6:49 am.

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79.8 miles, 12,628ft in 24hr49. 15th place and 1st (and only!) old codger 55-59.

What a journey. I am so happy to complete this tough and stunning course, having been quite concerned about durability of my worn out right knee and more especially a lack of stamina. Everything is in one piece, I am delighted.

Massive respect to Wayne and the GB Ultras team. Impeccably organised and a super friendly atmosphere. My kind of event vibe.

Huge thanks to Jason for giving up his entire weekend to join me on this beautiful island.

Thanks to Sian for not burying me under the patio for entering this race. Sorry, it was worth it though!

Time for a quick rest. Less than 2 weeks to the Pilgrims 60 on the beautiful Llyn Peninsula.

The mantra; take the adventures while you can….