Last updated: 06-Nov-18
Skyrunning is booming! Contrary to what many believe, it’s not a new sport. It dates way back, but it was Italian Marino Giacometti who pioneered the sport on the slopes of Monte Rosa way back in 1989. Shane Donnelly talks to Ian Corless about this amazing and challenging sport.
By Ian Corless
The recent Fast and Light film provides a great insight into Skyrunning and shows how the sport has grown worldwide; the UK has also seen interest grow in a sport where earth meets sky.
Shane Donnelly is a 26-year old runner from Ireland who has had his imagination captured by the sport.
In 2015 alone, he has raced the Tromso SkyRace in Norway, the Glen Coe Skyline in Scotland and the Mourne Skyline MTR in Northern Ireland.
Three challenging races but it’s the Glen Coe event in Scotland that is currently making runners turn their heads and wonder, ‘can I do that?’
Let’s face it, the 2015 first edition of the race had Skyrunning World and European Champion, Emelie Forsberg take part and post race she said:
“Waow! Seriously the best race in this distance. Super technical ridges and gullies (think Trofeo Kima but no via ferrata!) and some parts are very runnable on nice but tricky trails. Glen Coe I’m thrilled to have run this race. Thanks for the amazing organization. Even though it was hard all of the nature and the course made me go fast.”
So how do you run the Glen Coe Skyline when you are not a World or European Champion? This is Shane Donnelly’s story.
from County Derry Ireland
Running Club; Acorns Ac
I took up running in late 2012 when living and working outside London, with the goal of completing a marathon. I subsequently never got to complete the marathon due to work commitments but thankfully I continued to run. Joining a local running club was a great motivator in helping me to compete in various road races. It was a real boost for gaining experience and confidence.
However, it was only in 2014 when I moved back home to Ireland that I started running in the hills. I competed in fell races in the Antrim Glens and the Mourne Mountains. Skyrunning had been on my radar from early in my running journey with the help of social media and YouTube videos. These inspired me to test myself in the big mountains. My chance came in September 2014 when I took part in the first edition of the Tromso Skyrace. It was a fantastic experience. I was running in spectacular mountains and meeting so many wonderful people. Needless to say 2014 was a big learning year for me and that has continued in 2015 where I focused on building my strength and endurance as well as my skills on technical terrain.
What training do you do and what was specific for Glen Coe?
I like to run between 5-6 days a week, with morning and evening runs on at least 3 days. Depending on the time I have available, my runs will be anywhere between 30min to 1hr 30min on a mix of road, trail and mountain. I always work on speed at the track on a Wednesday, with anything from 400m to 1-mile repeats. I like to race every few weeks; anything from a 5km park run to a 50Km mountain race.
Ahead of Glen Coe I was very fortunate to spend two months in Colorado, training at altitude in the San Juan mountains and on parts of the Hardrock 100 course. The smooth trails offered excellent run-specific training and I was able to practice my scrambling on the higher ridges around Silverton. However, none were as technical as those found at Glen Coe. I ran Tromso Skyrace this year again and training on the VK course and navigating the ridge on Hamperokken helped sharpen my scrambling skills further.
Kit, any recommendations?
I used Salomon S-Lab Sense 4 Ultra SG shoes, but I could have done with more grip on the wet descents. This shoe did offer confidence, though, when scrambling because it had a stiff sole construction and by not having large lugs, it made it easier to get a grip on cracks and holds on the rock.
I use a set of ski mountaineering gloves with a suede palm and fingers for more technical climbs and descents, I find them excellent for protecting my hands when I am grabbing onto rough, rocky surfaces and they are light enough that they don’t make my hands sweaty.
I have a Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra vest as this fits really well, it’s very light and has great colours.
I use a Salomon Mid-layer half zip as this offers practical layering when the weather is changeable.
Plus Mandatory Kit – which varies from event to event but usually includes waterproof layer, gloves, hat, compass and so on.
What did you learn from the Glen Coe Skyline event?
Glen Coe offered me the ability to learn a lot about myself. I can admit that it was the hardest race I have done to date and required me to dig deep in order to complete the event. At the beginning I was most nervous about the climb of Curved Ridge, due to its height and looming presence at the gates to Glen Coe valley. I learned to control my nerves and navigate my way up the mountain. Keeping a clear head and being conscious of my fellow competitors made me aware of how my movements may affect those below me if debris were to fall.
Unfortunately, I hit the wall fairly early on in the race (around the 3-hour mark) and this was due to improper fuelling and rest. I had to learn the hard way as I dragged myself onwards for another two and half hours when I finally got to eat and take a 5 min nap at the half way aid station. Before reaching this point I was seriously considering throwing in the towel and calling it a day. But having seen how elite athletes had revived themselves after a short rest in 100-milers I decided to take my time and build my strength. This decision helped me to take on the second half and eventually complete the race. In this case I learned that having patience and letting your body recover is a lot more beneficial than battling on, especially when you have Aonach Eagach ridge ahead of you.
Ultimately I learned that I have the ability to keep going despite the enormous challenge ahead of me, which I guess can be brought into our everyday lives as well.
Any advice you could give to other runners?
It goes without saying that you should get as much experience as possible moving on technical rocky terrain, ideally in exposed environments. Obviously this helps with your technical skills but it also improves your confidence and ability to make decisions in these technical areas, keeping you and other people safe.
However, it is important not to forget the sections in between Curved Ridge and Aonach Eagach. This course has a lot of tough climbs throughout, working on your overall leg strength and endurance is very important to keep you moving along the course.
On the final decent along the Devils Staircase I recommend saving some energy to help you complete the section along the West Highland Way which leads back to the finish line. Although this is relatively flat it can be a really big challenge especially since you can see the finish line from at least 3-miles away.
Finally keep an eye out for a break in the cloud and appreciate the view over Glen Coe, it rivals anything I’ve seen before, truly beautiful.