Salomon Mamores Vertical Kilometre 2016

My big dream for 2016 was to complete Scotland's first ever Vertical Kilometre, which ran as part of the Glencoe Skyline weekend. In my head completing a VK means you are a mountain athlete. An outdoorsman. Someone willing to take on the mountain and not just survive but thrive.

On a Friday morning, I drove out of Glasgow into the countryside, hugging the edge of Loch Lomond in the Trossachs, then winding past misty peaks towards Kinlochleven. At Invercoe we pitched a tent with a view, our home for the weekend.

View from the tent.

Arriving at Ice Factor in Kinlochleven I felt truly out of my depth. It seemed like there was an athlete from every European sky running community dressed in Salomon, Montane, and North Face branding. Luckily the crowd contained some very friendly faces- Ultra Jo and Ryan (the team behind Glasgow TrailFest, check out my post about the festival here), Beardy, Ellie, and RunningDutchie. The women were taking on Na Gruagaichean whilst Ryan and Beardy rested up for the other weekend races.

Kit check came and went and my anticipation and nerves notched up along with the caffeine levels in the coffee bar. I got my gear on, make sure I had satellite on my borrowed Garmin, packed and repacked my waist bag. Lucja and I let a film crew take some shots of our preparations. At about 3pm I was stood on the start line waiting for my wave. At 3.09 I had registered my tracker with the start line volunteer and was off running down the road towards the start of the trail, cursing legs that had newly forgotten how to run.

Pre-Race smiles with Lucja- photo by Ellie.
That trail gets steep fast. I could have done with a recce too to discover how stony it is. After a pebble dashed start, we were spat out onto the hillside to keep ascending through mud, water, and more rock. Lucja passed me here. Then the real pain started. The route heads on to what I can only describe as a tufty grass ladder that rises to the shoulder of the mountain. It is so steep and rock-studded that we failed to run this part on the descent either. This was the only place I felt at all disheartened. It was clear how slow I was making progress and I felt it would last forever. This was a hike now and the challenge was not to stop, or at least not stop for too long. The borrowed Garmin had given up recording anything at all so checking the time with other racers was my only timekeeping option.

Race photography by yourepics.
The ridge on the final section- photo by Jo.
As we climbed into the mist we quickly froze; so the buff came off the wrist and the jacket out of the pack. On the mountain's shoulder you emerge on to a rocky ridge extending up to the summit. If you're fitter than me you run it. If you aren't you hike a bit faster. I hiked on grimly, with Jo moving up from behind after setting a blistering speed from her later start time. I clicked my tracker at the summit behind her, suddenly feeling the full weight of exhaustion.

Descent into Kinlochleven.

It took me almost as long to descend, stumbling down the mountain. Reaching the ground in Kinlochleven was like a whole other world, with the evening sun just dying into twilight. We united as a group wearing medals and race tees to eat lasagne and have a brief drink, all too tired to make much conversation with the locals curious about our mud-splattered legs. Despite getting into my sleeping bag at 9pm I slept poorly, tossing and turning until 6am. 

Completing a VK means you are a mountain athlete. I feel a little less convinced now that I myself have completed a VK. Now I feel I should be saying anyone can do it. I found my time disappointing and wished I was fitter on the start line and had a less bouncy pack. However, the next day an event volunteer asked me, "Why do it?", pointing at the mountain. And- after I checked that he wanted the true, wanky answer- I replied, "Because pushing yourself into the red like that is the closest you will come to feeling really, truly alive". And I bloody meant it.

"Pushing yourself into the red like that is the closest you will come to feeling really, truly alive" -I bloody meant it.

Ring of Steall start line.

After watching the sun rise at Invercoe we drove back to Kinlochleven to watch the Ring of Steall race start and have some coffee with Jo. We wandered to Grey Mare's Tail waterfall then a little up the VK track, collecting the flags as we went (my apologies to the event team volunteer who I directed up the wrong track- I hope the hug means you had forgiven me by the time we met again at race HQ!). We sat in the sunshine with bread and hummus and watched the stunningly fast top three Ring of Steall racers come in. I thought I should take the chance to ice climb whilst at the Ice Factor and completed an excellent two-hour training session with Pete where he taught me how to use only one foot and flag on an ice wall. Then it was back to Glasgow with the music up loud to keep us awake.

J on the VK course.

This is Women in Sport Week and I am a woman in sport. I'd be remiss if I didn't say thank you to the dear friend who travelled with me and went a casual 20 mile trail run while I slogged up a mountain. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention what beautiful badasses Jo, Ellie, Lucja and Katie were in their respective races. A big shout also to Ryan who completed the Ring of Steall and Beardy who raced the Skyline on Sunday. You are all wonderful folks. 

Post written by Scallywag and published on Scallywag Sprints on 03/10/16


  1. omg omg omg omg the SCOTLAND PORN I CANNOT COPE!!! I love that campsite, we went kayaking in the loch there, and have been to Kinlochleven too, while on honeymoon in 2014. Haven't been back to the highlands since, and I've got massive withdrawal. Well done on the VK, I'd do it just for those photos, what an adventure!!

  2. This is so incred!The location is so dreamy, I'd do it just for the views/photos/Instagram worthy moments! Well done, it looks tough but hey, you did it!!