Gale force winds, torrential rain, freezing cold and the occasional burst of sunshine tell the story of the 2018 Scotland Skyrunning series of events. For the first time, the ISF skyrunning world championships were held on UK soil combining of the classic VK, SKY and ULTRA distances. On the 4th day, the event center in Kinlochleven was transformed for the skyrunner world series, Glen Coe Skyline – 4 days, 4 events and 1000’s of runners; a truly memorable experience for running in the UK.
The Mamores VK kicked off the weekend under some of the toughest weather conditions. Torrential rain throughout the day had made the ground sodden and as the first runner departed the event center, the rain started to fall, and the wind picked up. At the summit, temperatures were below zero causing tough and extreme conditions for runners and race staff.
345 runners from 30 countries took part in the severe challenge which climbed 1,000m to the Munro summit, the UK’s only Vertical Kilometer® and valid for world titles and medals.
Reigning VK World Champion, Laura Orgué from Spain and Switzerland’s Rémi Bonnet took the gold medal crushing the previous records in 39:23 and 51:35.
“It was really a tough race with the weather conditions,” said Remi post-race. “A lot of mud and also a lot of people cheering. It was good to come to Scotland and run a good race.”
In a surprising return to form after a long time away from the sport, Thorbjørn Ludvigsen (NOR) placed 2nd in 41:49 and Stian Angermund-Vik (NOR) placed 3rd in41:50.
Laura Orgue suggested that she no longer felt like a VK specialist post-race, but the result proved otherwise, “I don’t feel like the same Laura of some years ago. I still know the kind of effort it takes to do a VK. It was a hard race because of the weather but the outcome was fine,”
The silver and bronze medals were taken by two new names in the world of Skyrunning who in 2018 have excelled week after week, Lina El Kott Helander (SWE) and Hillary Gerardi (USA) their times, 52:34 and 52:53.
BEN NEVIS ULTRA
Overnight weather continued to beat the Scottish terrain and considering the Ben Nevis Ultra would take in two very dangerous sections, race director, Shane Ohly made the tough call of choosing the bad weather course. This changed the dynamic of the ultra-race with considerably less vertical gain, less technical running and more importantly, less distance. The reduced course resulting in a distance of 47 km with 1,750m vertical climb avoiding the summit of Britain’s highest peak, Ben Nevis. (The original course designed especially for the occasion was 52 km long with a vertical climb of 3,820m).
Experience counted on the day with Skyrunner World Series Champions 2017, Jonathan Albon and Ragna Debats producing two dominant performances ahead of world-class fields. The duo dominated their respective races taking victories with at least 10-minute margins, Albon winning in 3:48:02 and Debats 4:36:20.
Ragna was crowned IAU World Trail Champion earlier in the year, so, the gold here in Scotland was extra special. Only Luis Alberto Hernando has achieved similar double success in previous years.
“I decided to start fast right from the beginning and see if anyone would follow me,” said Debats. “I saw nobody was close to me, so I just kept on going, reserving just a little energy just in case somebody came up behind me. The medal means a lot to me, my season couldn’t be more perfect!”
Gemma Arenas from Spain moved from way down the field to finally battle with Maria Mercedes Pila from Ecuador. At the line they were separated by just 4-seconds, 4:50:32 to 4:50:36.
For the men, André Jonsson from Sweden who took the silver ahead of Spain’s Luis Alberto Hernando, 2014 and 2016 skyunning World Champion, he took the bronze just one minute later, their times 4:00:35 and 4:01:21 respectively.
RING OF STEALL SKYRACE
In three days of uncertain and often extreme weather conditions, the Ring of Steall participants were treated to a full course. It was the largest event of the weekend with over countries represented and 879 athletes.
Records were smashed both in the women’s and men’s races. It may come as no surprise that Kilian Jornet topped the podium, but he had a fight on his hands for the gold! Tove Alexandersson was the female champ who took many by surprise, however, she proved her ability at the 2017 Limone Extreme race in Italy after a dominant performance.
Despite sodden ground, occasional rain and strong winds, the top ten men and seven women finished below the 2017 course record. Kilian recorded 304:34 and Tove 3:48:28.
“What’s particular here is it’s very muddy, very wet, slippery. The terrain is similar to my home in Norway,” Kilian mentioned post-race. “I fell in the mud on the last downhill. This year it was good for me, such a good field with so many strong people.”
Second man, Italian Nadir Maguet had pushed the Catalan throughout the race and despite Kilian’s dominance over all distances in 2018, many wondered was an upset on the cards?
“I came here hoping to do well. Obviously when you see a start list with a very high level, you ask yourself how it will go. My dream was to race with Kilian, to feel strong, and that was how it went… In the second half of the race and on the last descent I tried to push but you know Kilian is strong on the downhill. It was impossible to catch him, I tried.”
Nadir finished in 3:06:05 ahead of Norwegian Stian Angermund-Vik, who took the bronze in 3:09:05, he summed up the emotions of many, “This race is more technical than most…I love the ridges and the mud and everything. On the second ridge I just had to stop and look around it was so beautiful.”
Tove Alexandersson, a multiple Orienteering World Champion from Sweden cut an incredible 19 minutes off the previous record to take the gold and the new Skyrunning World Champion title.
“It was a bit more muddy and slippery than I expected but otherwise it was just perfect. I felt strong all the way. I didn’t have much time to see the views because it was quite technical. On the downhill you have to be so focused. I think that’s my biggest strength, so I had a good feeling.”
Victoria Wilkinson is a fell running legend in the UK and recently broke the long-standing female Ben Nevis record. For the Brits, Victoria was always going to be a dark horse and she didn’t disappoint running an incredible 2nd and seizing the silver in a time of 3:54:01.
Holly Page has had an incredible season in the Skyrunner World Series with a string of victories and high places. In the early stages of the race she was way off the pace and looking to be having a bad day; “At the top of the first climb I think I was 15th and I felt really unhappy and horrible. But then I got into a downhill and it ‘smelt’ like a fell race, it felt like home. I overtook lots of people on the downhill which gave me quite a confidence boost.”
Holly closed the gaps and finished on the podium taking bronze in a time of 3:57:57.
Individual world titles and a total of 27 medals were awarded in the three disciplines as well as a combined title based on the best results of the Vertical and Sky races.
ISF President and the founder of skyrunning, Marino Giacometti concluded the weekend awarding medals. He quite rightly thanked Scotland for the challenging weather and Ourea Events for hosting an incredible event.
“Now among the new world champions we have not only Kilian, but Jonathan Albon (an Obstacle racing champion), Tove Alexandersson (an Orienteering champion) and Nadir Maguet (a ski-mountaineering champion). I like to think that skyrunning inspires athletes from other sports too!”
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