Aim for the Sky

Going through the mandatory kit list two nights before the Salomon “Ring Of Steall” race sums up how un-organised i had been in the preparation for my first Sky race and the biggest run of my life but luckily i had all the kit i needed so no need to panic?!

Photo 14-09-2017

Last year i took part in the VK race up Na Gruagaichean which takes place on the Friday night of the Glencoe Skyline weekend and although it was an immense race in itself, watching my brother cross the finish line of the Ring Of Steall the following day and not sharing the experience with him really gutted me!

photo(c) photo(c)

I had entered the Ring Of Steall earlier that year but ended up doing my usual of talking myself out of it, telling myself that it was way above my capabilities and that with the small injury i had, i would have no time to train properly in time for the race.

I regret that run, said no-one ever” but that feeling of regret from not running a dream race stays with you and i told myself that i would 100% be taking part in the 2017 event!

As soon as the 2017 entries opened  i was on the case and was so happy to get my place before they all sold out. This year i was going to train hard and do this race!

Fast Forward 8 months and there i was standing on the start line surrounded by some very fit looking athletes and here’s me thinking, what the hell am i doing here!!

My year of “hard training” had consisted of some hill runs in preparation for our local Goatfell race in May, some very sparse hill interval sessions and a few longer forestry runs. Not ideal to say the least but things in my life very rarely go to plan!

Luckily i had one thing up my sleeve to bully my brain into the “I can do this” mode.

This was a great memory of a challenge that i did with my good friend Lucy back in May, The Arran 700s challenge.


This was no way a run but we were on our feet for 17 hours and the height gain and distance was further so i knew i had it in me somewhere..

5,4,3,2,1…. We were off.

For some reason i had ended up near the front of the crowd at the start line but i managed to get myself back a bit and as the race filtered out along the road i was now comfortable and just trying to relax and enjoy the momentum.

The first check point came pretty quick and a quick glance at the race route tattoo that was welded on my forearm told me that we were now headed into some proper Sky running territory and some lovely Scottish mountains.

The Ring Of Steall had been one of my goals to hike this year but i hadn’t got round to it so in a way i was super excited not only to be doing this race but taking in this route for the first time( No longer a ROS virgin!!)

A boggy climb weaved its way up the steep slopes of Coire na h-Eirghe to check point 2 and from there it was only a short but steep push to the first summit of the day and check point 3 – Sgurr an Lubhair.

The weather at this point was typically Scottish with clag and smir rolling in and out but all the better for adding some extra drama to the scenery.

Now came the first major excitement of the day, a fairly exposed but fun scramble along what is called “The Devils Ridge”.

I think hiking with a heavy pack would prove more of a challenge but moving fast and light across this amazing ridge was nothing too difficult and a great buzz.


After the thrills of the devils ridge it was another wee push up to our highest munro of the day and check point 4 – Sgurr a Mhaim, then much to my surprise the decent down into Glen Nevis!

The decent from Sgurr a Mhaim was steep and scree laden so some “scree surfing” skills were a bonus. Mine were certainly lacking but a few more experienced scree surfers flew by tumbling every now and again but picking themselves up and continuing to fly downwards towards Glen Nevis. Amazing to watch these skilled human beings in their element!

I had made a new pal called Steve on the way off Sgurr a Mhaim so we kept each other company until the aid station at Glen Nevis where we then lost each other.

It’s always such a great thing in these races where you meet up with folk, share stories, keep each other going then away you go to share stories with the next person.

After refuelling at the only aid station of the day and getting some brilliant cheers of support from family( including my wee collie dog) and spectators it was onwards and upwards along the tarmac road leading to the start of the path up the side of the Nevis Gorge.

Tarmac is never a good thing to run on but luckily it didn’t last long before the Nevis Gorge warning sign was in sight.

“DANGER OF DEATH”  it says….. and i guess when hoards of camera ridden tourists squeeze up the steep path you can understand why.

Luckily there was hardly any tourists and only a few runners on the path so there were no problems and before i knew it, the path had popped out of the forest to reveal stunning views of the Steall falls spilling down from great heights and into the Nevis gorge – Stunning!

A refreshing ankle deep wade across the burn came next to reach check point 6 before heading for the long and relentless climb to our second munro of the day – An Gearanach.

I some how managed to pass quite a few runners on this section as the cup of coke, soreen and jam sandwich from the heavenly feed station had well and truly hit my blood stream.

Thanks to the member of support crew for her wise words of advice below the last push to An Gearanach…. “Keep pushing, ignore the legs” she shouted – You have no idea how much this helped me!

An Gearanach summit( Check point 7) blew my mind! The weather had just decided to burn off any low clinging cloud to reveal panoramic views of every summit the eyes could see – WOW!


I was so happy for getting to this point in the race feeling good and the scramble ahead along the An Gearanach ridge just made me even more excited and happy that i had pushed myself to do this race – This was running at its very best – Skyrunning!

What another exhilarating scramble the An Gearanach ridge gave, a long, rocky crest with exposed sides and those views!!!


I literally grinned the entire way from here to the next summit of Stob Coire a Chairn( check point 8) then from here even more grinning as it dawned on me that i was now heading for the final climb of the day – Am Bodach.

Although a steep push to reach the summit, it was an enjoyable climb and the views from the top looking across to where we had started from that morning were just incredible.


I didn’t get the girls name but myself and her had a good laugh on the last two climbs as she’d climb by me a good bit then i’d get by her on the downhills. We kept this going for quite some time.

I lost her on the decent to check point 10 on the bealach and from here i didn’t see another soul until a good bit down.

Loch Leven was glimmering in the afternoon sunshine and there was a glow of happy but exhausted faces negotiating the sea of bog down into Kinlochleven.


Another skill of the experienced mountain runner is the “Bog surf” do it correctly and you can shave minutes off your time, surfing at great speeds downwards in hope you don’t skim over a hole in the ground which swallows your legs, sometimes thigh high.

I danced with the slippery grass more so than attempting the “Bog surf” but it sure was a fun and quick way of getting down off the mountains.

Check point 11 appeared and the track of the West Highland Way hit my legs hard, Esp the wee added climb after the check point that my brother compared to Mount Everest at the end of last years race. Give me bog and slippery grass over road any day!

Thankfully this section was over quickly and it was then a nice descent on woodland trails down to meet the road back to the starting point at the Ice Factor.

I had tried not to look at my time throughout the race as i just wanted to complete it and enjoy my first SkyRunning experience.

I couldn’t resist glancing down at my watch after check point 11 and i was hyped to see a time of 6hrs25 so i instantly thought, “Come on!!  You can get under 7hrs!!”

I met another runner near the road and shouted to him that we could both make it inside  the 7 hours if we just pushed some more – He smiled and started running faster to which i tried my best to keep up!

It really was a blessing to meet someone on this road section as i really wanted to stop but having someone to run with kept me going all the way to the finish line where he then accelerated past me as the crowds cheered us on!


Thank you for a truly epic first sky running experience.

I’ll be grinning all the way until the next one!



Stats – 29km, 2500m ascent, 4 munros, 2 gnarly ridges

My Final time – 06.45.40

Brothers time – 06.24.26( 24 mins faster that 2016)


Back pack – OMM Adventure light 20 – Shoes: Salomon Speedcross 4 – Jacket: Inov-8 Stormshell AT/C – Pants: Inov-8 AT/C Full length tights – Thermo layer: Inov-8 ATC Thermoshell Half Zip – Inov-8 soft flask 0.5( handy for burn fill ups) Gaiter: Inov-8 Race Ultra Gaiter


Cliff bar X 1, Cliff bar Shot Blocks x 6, SiS GO Caffeine Shot X 1 ( before start of race, didn’t use second one at half way point as had coke at feed station)




















Arran700s Challenge

I awoke to the sound of my very mellow alarm clock at 3am on Sunday morning.  I pretty much had zero sleep after my partner Mark had a life boat callout just before midnight and there may of been a chance that me and Caileag might have been needed with the MRT in the search for a missing person. Thankfully all ended well with the person being located safe so no callout for us!

It was a dry but claggy start as me, Lucy and wee Caileag set off from Pirnmill post office and headed up the woods, hand-railing the Allt Gobhlach burn. Mark, after zero hours sleep and being out for a few hours in the lifeboat, kindly ran us through to save going back for a car late in the evening – He’s a keeper!

Caileag was completely oblivious as to what her day entailed with two crazy woman so she was her usual mad energetic Collie self all the way up the Pirnmill ridge!

It seemed like no time at all that we had completed all three summits of the Western ridge and were re-tracing our foot steps in the Clagg to find our descent Bealach down into the wilds of Loch Tanna.

Lucy made me giggle on the ridge, as although we were doing this huge, epic hill day, her bird spotting/wildlife skills and knowledge, never seem to switch off and i learnt all about the Golden Plover who seemed to be following us and giving us a display of vocal skills from every nook and cranny.

The descent from the Bealach was a very steep and stoney negotiation so care was needed. It dawned on us that this ground was really different terrain compared to our typical Arran landscape and interesting that we have so much variation all on one small island.

As we cleared the bouldery ground and lost some height from the ridge, the clouds started to crack open to reveal some beautiful blue skies projecting a golden glow over Loch Tanna, lighting it up like a mirror.

Our next objective of the day was one that i think both me and Lucy had been trying not to think too much about. A great long slog was ahead of us up from Loch Tanna on pathless terrain, skirting around mini Beinn Tarsuinn and heading below the east side of Beinn Bhreac until we met the Iorsa burn. It was then a very steep push up the Leac an Tobair onto the connecting S/W ridge of Caisteal Abhail. The good thing was that we both knew if we put our heads down and battered on, when we reached Caisteal Abhail, that would be the Western hills complete and we could high five and focus on our next mission – The Northern Hills!! Hats off to the folk at SiS who created their caffeine gels – Lucy brought a few to share and they definitely gave us a boost and some extra mental focus for the steep slopes of the Leac an Tobair!

One very interesting discovery was when we found a small slither of Aluminium plane wreckage on the East side of Gleann Diomhan sticking up out the ground. We weren’t aware of any crashes on this part of the island but thanks to Lucy’s detective work it belongs to a Vought Chesapeake Mk.1 AL941 of N.22 Squadron, Royal Navy, that crashed on the 22nd July 1943 after taking off from the then Naval Air Station at Machrihanish. It sadly struck the hillside in poor visibility, killing both the pilot and Observer. A great site for finding information on any crash sites discovered is here – Peak District Air Accident Research ( Cheers Lucy!)

We were relieved to reach the ridge leading up towards Caisteal Abhail and made good progress to the first summit on the Northern hills! Spirits were high and Caileag was feeding off our mood, also excited to be scrambling up the summit Torr of Caisteal abhail. The views were intermittent but the sun was getting higher in the sky and the heat was burning massive chunks out the clagg.

After descending down off the summit and out the wind, we stopped for a re-fuel and giggled with joy looking back to the distant ridge of the Western hills and the great mass of open hillside we had just tackled. We had agreed that even if we didn’t feel hungry we had to force feed every hour and drink fluids as a crash from lack of food is never great when you need to keep going over such a long day!

Our next mission was Cir Mhor, a fascinating mountain with great complex gullies to its North Side and amazing granite shelfs to it’s South( Great climbers territory – Not that I’m much of a climber!) The view from Cir Mhor from Caiseal Abhail is one of a kind and no matter how many times i see it, it never fails to remind me of how small us humans are in comparison to nature and the land. A personal favourite spot of both mine and Lucy’s.

Onwards and Upwards to Cir Mhor when Caileags tail pricked up and a she let out a wee grumble to alert us there was somebody or something up ahead.Four hillwalkers were descending off the summit so we stopped to say hello and let them by. They made the mistake of asking where we had come from then took to their wallets, handing us £60 to our fundraising pot for ArranMRT and MulanjeMRT. These were guys we had never met before in our lives! Kindness does not cost a thing (except in this case…. ) They most definitely made our day and we both couldn’t stop grinning!

From the summit we could see how far we still had to go but with an extra boost we descended down to the Bealach connecting Cir Mhor and A’chir. From here we skirted around the A’Chir bypass path to the North side of the ridge(We had decided to get A’chir summit on the way back) which linked us up to our next climb – Beinn Tarsuinn. The sun had now come out in full force so it was time to lose a layer and bury the heads again until we reached the slopes of Tarsuinn. We met another few guys who were walking from Brodick to Lochranza, hats off to the guy at the front who seemed to be lugging everyone else’s stuff!   Ultra trail runner Casey Morgan was out doing a “Taper run” which was probably as big as our challenge but he kindly stopped for a “selfie” with us and some encouraging words which again was such a good boost for us – Cheers Casey!

Mark and Wally(Lucys husband), had kindly arranged to meet us in the Coire to the East side of A’Chir but when me and Lucy were working out our ETA’s the previous night i think we must have been a bit brain dead! They had both set off a bit early just incase we were ahead of schedule(lots of faith in us) but turns out we were a wee tad behind. Thankfully we got some communication and they took their time walking up Glen Rosa with plenty stops to slow them down a bit.

Beinn Tarsuinn and Beinn Nuis were over fairly quickly but it was getting our heads around our next section which involved re-tracing our steps, as not to lose too much height, back along the ridge to Beinn Tarsuinn then back the same way behind A’Chir to reach the Coire where Mark and Wally were waiting. By this time and only four more summits to go, wee Caileag was starting to get very sleepy and when we stopped for any faffing she was curled up like a wee fox. I was so relieved that we had arranged with Mark to come meet us and take her off the hill for a well deserved sleep! The fact that Mark and Wally were just around the corner in the next Coire kept us all going! You just have to say “Where’s your Dad??” to Caileag and she switches to – Collie rocket mode! With much relief we reached Fionn Choire and were welcome with open arms and more grub – The definition of happiness! Wally had kindly made the journey to help me and Lucy up onto the summit block of A’Chir as without actually getting up on that – It’s not an honest tick in the box! With wobbly legs and brains and Caileag curled up with her dad having a snooze, we took to the extremely steep flanks below A’Chir and headed up to the summit. Wally became a human climbing frame and basically let us stand on him whilst we calmly freaked out at our lack of strength. On the summit block all confidence was restored and the euphoria of getting up to a summit we were both dreading with being shattered but now knowing we only had three more summits to go was another -Definition of happiness!

Our ArranMRT team leader, Alan by this point had contacted us to ask where we were as he had back up supplies consisting of hot tea, biscuits and jelly babies to name a few.. Another boost for us leaving the comforts of the Coire and skirting around to the Saddle where we had arranged to meet. Having a proper sit down on the saddle surrounded by moral support and a cooked meal was perfect! With only one more major ascent and three summits left, we knew we were going to complete this challenge!! Caileag by this time was in full -fox curl mode- but luckily had the option of an Argo Cat taxi down out of the Glen with Mark and Alan. When we parted and starting gaining height up North Goat fell we had a view of the three of them walking to the Argo and although completely shattered, the wee soul was pulling on her lead to get to us – Dogs are so loyal!

The scramble up North Goatfell was made easier with Wally up front leading and me just focusing on the back of his shoes and zoning out, what a nice feeling that was! The North Goatfell ridge is another favourite and i’ll never tire of the view as you gain height and look back down the ridge and the views beyond. It had added “WOW” factor on Sunday as by the time we were scrambling up it, the sun was low in the sky, projecting it’s golden hues once again on our bonnie hills.

Me and Lucy were absolutely ecstatic reaching the summit of North Goatfell and from there Mullach Buidhe seemed effortless in comparison to our previous summit ascents throughout the day. With the wind almost non existent climbing up North Goatfell, it appeared on Mullach Buidhe with a vengeance, funnelling up the steep gullies below.

A quick high five and some whoop whoops and we were off like two giggling crazy women to our twelfth and final summit of our entire challenge – Goatfell! Again, this seemed to go with ease and we watched as the cloud teased us, sweeping in and out, covering the summit then clearing out again just as quick.

The welcome sight of the highest pillar trig on Arran was overwhelming and we clung to it tightly until we could console ourselves – The views from the summit were clear and we could pick out every summit, Coire and Glen we had walked.

15 hours and 16 minutes after setting off from Pirnmill we had reached our final summit after walking 36km, 3125m of ascent and climbed all the 12 summits on Arran over 700m+

Caileag – 9 summits, 14 hours, 28km and a whole load of ascent.

Descending off the summit, the cloud swept in and the tops were smothered.

As for the challenge… One of the toughest and best hill days i have ever had and to do this challenge in the local hills that we love and share the experience with my good friend Lucy and wee faithful friend Caileag whilst raising money for a worthy cause close to our hearts – Amazing! Certainly an adventure that will stay with me forever!

“Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.!”

The happy runners

It’s been quite a while since my last blog but today I ran with a friend and we had a great conversation about how important running is to us, about positivity and about how lucky we are to be able to do what we do.

Self confidence has lacked throughout my entire life and it’s something that i have always tried to keep to myself in fear of what others thought but the fact is, these thoughts are a vicious circle and the only way to get out that circle is to break free and don’t look back. I am now, in my thirties, only starting to understand that i am not alone on this.A problem shared is a problem halved.

I seriously believe that through running, being in the outdoors and challenging ourselves we can change our mindset to let us see clearly what we are capable of instead of seeing ourselves in such a destructive way.

I can honestly say that finding my soul in the mountains and spending all my spare time either running or walking in these wonderful places, is gradually making me a happier and more confident version of myself.

Being able to share these positive experiences with others and seeing other people challenge themselves is extremely motivational and important to me.

In a world which is full of clutter and with endless pressures of having to fit in and look a certain way in society( especially our younger generation) i think it’s important to strip everything back, be who you want to be, immerse yourself in nature, the outdoors and push yourself to do things that frighten you but excite you at the same time.

The journey to a happier you starts right now so go for that run or adventure in the mountains and feel alive and fantastic!

“Time is not money, it’s something far more important”