This past weekend saw the Highlander Mountain Marathon take to the hills for the eighth year and much further south than it normally ventures. Based in the area around Creag Meagaidh, near Laggan, the 400 competitors in the 5 classes had full Scottish conditions to contend with.
Saturday saw wall to wall sunshine for most of the day, making the navigation a bit easier, but the deep snow covering many of the tops and gullies added plenty of hardship. With a midway camp nestled up a remote glen, the competitors carried all their kit for the 2 days, including all overnight camping equipment, over the mountains for anything between 4 and 10 hours.
Shane Ohly and Jim Mann were fastest on the day for the A course, going into day 2 with a 20 minute lead. Gary Tompsett and Gavin Miles, past winners of the A class, were 35 points clear in the score class after 7 hours of running over the mountains.
Elsewhere, the D class was hotly contested with the top 3 teams all within 3 minutes of each other. A chasing start on Sunday morning was going to be a close run affair for these teams. Who would hold their nerve?
As runners finished beneath the giant Haglöfs arch, and bagged the dry spots to pitch their minimalist tents, eyes turned to the hills to wait for the last of the competitors to come in safe and sound. Meanwhile finishers were enjoying their well earned hot cup of tea and hearty meal before the bar opened and they could start on the beers whilst enjoying the Ceilidh band! Yes, there really is a beer tent with full Scottish Ceilidh (including Ceilidh dancing) at the Highlander MM overnight camp.
The marquee was buzzing with chat from the day, discussing routes with friends both old and new, chatting about which beer to try next, enjoying being in the warm and not hunkered down in a tent, (that’s not big enough for either racer, let alone 2 of you), and getting set to dance to some of the ceilidh music from the live band. Some people were overheard wishing every Mountain Marathon was like this.
Come 6am Sunday morning, as competitors awoke to ‘Insomnia’ blaring out of the speaker system, the sun had been replaced by the rain, and a steady drizzle came down all morning. Runners set off from 7am, fuelled by their hot breakfast, and spurred on by the thought of dry clothes at the finish line.
The chasing start began at 7:30am, and then there was almost a mass start at 8:30am as the Leaders in all classes grabbed their control descriptions, marked up their maps and ran away to the hills past the avenue of Haglöfs’ bright flutter flags and into the gloomy looking mountains.
In true Scottish style, the competitors got all four seasons on day 2 with wind, rain, snow, sun, and repeat! With the chase on for some teams, it was going to be interesting to see who would come down off the mountains first.
Shane and Jim weren’t caught and took top honours in the A Class in an overall time of 9 hrs 08:24 to take home the coveted Highlander sword for the year. On course D it as a very close finish, the top 5 teams all finished within 6 minutes of each other, with the Female pair of Cat Sutherland and Kim Hallam taking the honours in 8 hrs 43:23 after lying in 2nd overnight.
Gary Tompsett and Gavin Miles extended their lead in the score class with a total of 780 points, Magnus Andersson and Fredrik Hedin had 2 solids days, winning both to take overall first place in the B class in a time of 9 hrs 25:04 , whilst Jacques Penderis and Jo Armstrong took both individual days to win the C class overall by 50 minutes in an overall time of 8hrs 33:08.
It had been 2 great days of Scottish weather and conditions for the Highlander Mountain Marathon. Some 400 competitors had braved it all, finishing wet, tired, cold footed and sunburnt. But they had all loved it.
We hope to everyone back again next year to keep the spirit of the Highlander alive, the ceilidh music going and the beer flowing.