Ooh – a new ultra I haven’t heard of… That’s pretty much what went through my mind when I came across reference to the Great Tartan Skidaddle a couple of weeks ago. My first thoughts were (a) how long is it, (b) how many people are likely to be there, and (c) how beautiful is the terrain?
The first question was easily answered – 31 miles – a little under 51k. Second question was a little trickier. When the race was first held in 2015 there were only a handful of runners – but these things have the potential to grow significantly if they have gone well. The final question was the biggest mystery to me. I don’t know the Trossachs very well at all. That being the case, there was only one way to find out. Before I knew it, I had signed up.
However, there was a bit of a downside. My big focus of the year is the West Highland Way Race in June, and I was planning a recce of the full 95 miles of the WHW in the three days preceding the Skidaddle Ultra. Would my legs hold up? Would I be in any fit state to run? Would I even make the start line? Thankfully the answer to all these was yes, and after three great days on the West Highland Way, I made my way across to Stirlingshire.
Registration took place in the Skidaddle offices at the Maclaren High School in Callander. It all seemed very quiet when I first arrived, but the buzz began to grow as more and more runners and duathletes turned up to get their race numbers. My previous days “on the road” meant that I hadn’t been organised enough to make up drop bags, so I thought I would just carry everything I needed for the race. Yes, I’ve been there as an ultra newbie, and made up dropbags big enough to feed a small family for a week. I’ve also learned when you can live without them.
Sensibly, I dropped my car off at the race finish and then walked the 10 minutes back to the high school, before getting on the bus and going through the headcount by race organiser, Maz. “David Scott”. “Yes Miss”. Once all present and accounted for, the bus left on the long and winding road to Inversnaid.
On arrival, we decamped into the plush surrounds of the Inversnaid hotel, and with pre-race nerves high, there was a dash for the toilets. I’m not sure what all the armchair tourists sitting around the lounge made of these runners decamping into the back room of the hotel, but they were all very friendly, if a little bemused.
Next up – race briefing. Maz has one of these voices that you can’t help but listen to attentively. No need for a microphone. Loud and clear. And concise enough that no further questions were required, before we were herded out of the hotel and down to the race start on the pier. Just to ensure I was starting at the lowest point, I dipped my toes in the water, and then we all posed for a few photographs. I should mention at this point that the “tartan” skidaddle is so named because the runners were encouraged to wear an element of tartan during the race. I may not have been organised with drop bags, but I did happen to have a kilt that was suitably adorned for the race! There was plenty other tartan too, from leggings, ribbons, running tops, and a couple of mini-kilts, including something very
obscene from Alan Cormack!
As the race countdown began, the duathletes took to the front of the field. They were followed by the ultra runners, who then embarked on the slow and steady climb away from the loch. Any thoughts of getting off to a quick start are quickly eradicated when faced with a single track muddy ascent in a long line of runners. The initial climb didn’t last long though, before opening out onto a somewhat muddy track. There was a bit of overtaking through big puddles where some runners were clearly anxious at having been slowed down at the climb were clearly keen to push on. The mud soon came to an end, and we found ourselves on a great undulating footpath along the side of Loch Arklet. It was at this point that you were able to look around and see the beauty of the surrounding mountains.
The weather was turning out perfectly, with the overnight rain having passed, and the morning chill starting to lift. I found myself running with Andrew Gordon, owner of the Running Shop in Aberdeen, and although we had corresponded on Twitter, we had never actually met. This was Andy’s first ultra, and he said
he was holding me responsible for convincing him to sign up. We were evenly matched for pace, so kept each other good company as we dropped down into Stronachlachar. The first thing I saw was a sign pointing left, and yet runners were cutting across from the right. Had they managed to get themselves lost? No, we were soon informed that the route took an extra loop down to the pier. However this was soon justified with our first view of Loch Katrine opening up before us, and the sound of Scotland the Brave echoing across the glen from Maz’s bagpipes.
First checkpoint, and it had come around very quickly. After Stronachlachar, we turned northwest, to head round the loch. This was going to be 12 miles on the tarmac, and the bit I was least looking forward to. I was pleased that I had opted to run in my road shoes rather than my trail shoes, and we plodded along. This was where I really started to feel the efforts of the previous three days in my legs, and the undulating road was a little relentless. However, we just had to remind ourselves to look up, and enjoy the amazing surroundings we were running in.
We were caught by Peter Brown, who had run the course the year before, and so knew the route. It was good to chat to him, as we dropped off the tarmac for a brief respite on the loch side trail path, before rejoining the road. Before we knew it, the signs pointed left, and it was time to start the climb of Primrose Hill.
This is clearly a detour from the direct route, but does form an official part of the Great Trossachs Way. Peter, Andrew and I slowly marched on up the hill, and it soon became clear why it was part of the route. The views down to Loch Katrine, and across to Ben Lomond and the Arrocher Alps, with their snow topped peaks, under a bright blue sky were just amazing. This is what you want to see when on a long distance route. Worth every step of the climb. The top of the hill pretty much marked the half way point, as 25k appeared on my Garmin. Peter had gone on ahead, and after a brief photo stop, Andrew and I started on the descent. At this point my legs started feeling a whole lot stronger, and the descending path was a joy to run on. I gradually pulled away from Andrew, and before I knew it he was out of sight. By the time I reached the road again, I had a big beam on my face, and my arms out wide, aeroplane style. I would say this was purely for balance, but in fact, it was more like I felt like a little boy, flying down the hill!
On to the road again, and I saw Peter ahead of me. With my new found legs, I soon caught and passed him. The road then became busy with families, dog walkers and tourists, who had walked up from the car park at the head of Loch Katrine. Despite their bewilderment at these runners passing by, they all gave big cheers and plenty of encouragement as I arrived at Checkpoint 2. A quick top up of my water bottle, and hello to the marshals, and John MacLean, who had stopped for a chat, and I was off again. The road didn’t last for long, before we were directed onto another forest track which climbed to the south of Loch Achray. The muddy track was incredible to run on – almost spring-like, and I really enjoyed heading up the hill, again to amazing views across the loch.
My top-up of water didn’t last long, and with it warming up, I soon found myself drawing more from the streams which ran alongside the path. A sign I was working hard. I was managing to run up the hills, which I had avoided during the first half, and soon came across two more runners. A quick hello, and
I was passed them. Now I thought running in my kilt was a bit quirky, but no great shakes really. Not the most unusual thing you might see on a long distance
footpath. However, when I came across Alan Cormack, wearing his purple tartan mini kilt, which looked like it had been designed for a 12 year old punk girl, even I was taken aback. Suffice to say, I didn’t want to run behind him any longer than I had to! It was good to catch up for a chat though, and we had a pleasant descent down into Brig o Turk.
Checkpoint 3 came and went, and before we knew it, we had reached the final big climb up the side of Stuc Odhar. Despite the ascent, the path was in great condition, and easy to run on. I was handed a bottle of flat coke by a guy in a DoTH hoodie, which gave me the strength to power on. My legs still felt good, and I was loving the weather, the views and the path. It undulated along at high level, looking down onto Loch Venachar, and across the Trossachs, with occasional views of Bridge of Allan, and the finish at Callander. I passed another runner, and after a brief chat was on my way again.
I had come into the race knowing that I didn’t want to bonk, and with bigger races planned, wanted to finish strongly. So I was pleased at how things were going as I counted down the final kilometres back to Callander. The path descended again to the road, where a marshal told me it was only 2 kilometres to the end. As I turned onto an old railway line, I saw two more runners in my sights. There’s nothing like a target ahead, to increase your speed, and before I knew it, I felt like I was sprinting. I felt pretty guilty as I passed one guy, although recognised the other runner as Lorna MacLean, who was also finishing strongly. No chance of getting passed her. The sound of pipes then started to peal through the air, and I knew I was nearly finished. I turned into Callander Meadows to the sound of Highland Cathedral, and crossed the finish line with a big smile on my face, and my watch showing a time of 5 hours 12 minutes.
I was presented with a goodie bag, several cups of tea, and an array of hugs and congratulations from the other runners, as well as from Maz, who was waiting at the end. The sun was still shining and there was a real buzz around the park, despite it being a relatively small event. It was great to hang around and cheer in the other runners, including Alan and Peter, and then Andrew, for his first ultra finish.
I knew fromthe minute I set off that I was going to enjoy this race, and it didn’t let me down. The scenery was stunning and the route was a joy to run. Even if you didn’t like the tarmac around the loch, you only had to look around you, to put a smile back on your face. The route signage was the best I have ever seen during a race, and the marshals did a great job. The biggest thanks however has to go to race director Maz, who did a fantastic job of keeping everything in order, giving great confidence to the runners, and looking so calm throughout the whole day – even picking up her pipes to play in the finishers after the pipe band had left.
This was an absolute gem of a race. I have no doubt it will grow over the years, as people hear what a beautiful route it follows. Well done to everyone at Skidaddle for a grand day out. And if I have learned one thing, it is that the Trossachs is well worth a visit.< Return to News