Highlander Mountain Marathon 2010

Report by Dave MacFarlane
Wednesday 14th April 2010

The Highlander Mountain Marathon supported by Haglofs, has just seen the fourth event since its conception take place in the mountains around Gairloch, Wester Ross. Organised by the team at Hands on Events, the Highlander follows a standard mountain marathon format of two days of self-sustained running, through rugged terrain with an overnight camp, where all kit must be carried by the team of two. However the Highlander has an added twist unlike any I've come across in a mountain marathon, in the guise of a beer tent and Ceilidh at the overnight camp - Such a draw is this fabled evening, that racers who on the Friday night should have remained in bed throughout the weekend due to illness, did through gritted teeth, drop a class or three in the event in order to experience such an evening.

 Highlander Mountain Marathon 2010 planetFear

Racers getting their bearings as they study the maps for day one.

An event that is increasing in numbers every year has so far had a fair ride when it comes to weather, three of the four races have had fantastic sunshine...except, for the race in Torridon where I have been assured that snow and full winter conditions made for a particularly enduring race. However, attempt to convince anyone of such after this year's weather and you'd have a hard argument. Boasting as being one of the sunniest places in the UK over the weekend, Gairloch saw temperatures of around 16-18°C certainly warmer than anyone expected, I for instance, not knowing what the fickle Scottish weather had in store, packed winter gloves and down kit.

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Heather Dawe and Andrea Priestley, as they make their way on to the mountains above Victoria Falls on the shore of Loch Maree.

Competitors, numbered at approximately 240, began day 1 of the course being transported by coach to the start point, designated as Victoria Falls on the south-west shore of Loch Maree, where they were to make their way in to the mountains, described as some after the event as the ‘big mountain' day, with checkpoints located in the Flowerdale valley around the Poca Buidhe bothy, moving on to the south flanks of Ceann Beag and the northern slopes of the sandstone Corbett, Baosbheinn. Racers then moved north west in to area characterised by lower level hills and expansive areas of fells and lochans.

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Arranging the day's route at the start of day one.

Notably one of the checkpoints lay on the west shore of the ‘Fairy Lochs', under Sìdhean Mor, site of a WWII USAAF B-24 Liberator Bomber wreck, which saw all 15 crew and passengers perish in a crash which is thought, but not confirmed, to have occurred after the bomber impacted Slioch en route to Iceland after the war.

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Racers pass the memorial of the crashed B24 Liberator.

Highlander Mountain Marathon 2010 planetFear

A 14-cylinder Pratt & Whitney R-1830 "Twin Wasp" engine of the B24 Liberator that tragically crashed after the end of WWII. 

After a full day of racing over ‘big mountain' terrain finishing in peat-bog lower fells, the competitors made their way to Sheildaig, near Badachro, just south of Gairloch, where a marquee of food and sustenance awaited. Wet shoes and kit were hung on fences and gates in the heat of the afternoon while many sat out their fatigue under a cloudless sky by the Loch Sheildaig inlet.

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A rush finish for a few teams through the final obstacle of the day.


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Arriving in to camp at the end of a long first day


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Ceilidh in full-swing at the overnight camp marquee.

An evening of music roused even the more weary competitors, and the Ceilidh as promised, drew in a good number of the racers as the marquee reached capacity. Music and beer flowed until around 10pm then all were swift to bed for an early rise.

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Serene sunset over camp at the end of the first day.

The first competitors started day 2 as a chasing start, demanding a set off time of 7am for the quickest team, which at this point was planetFear sponsored athletes Tim Higginbottom and Chris Near who had gained a 59 minute lead over their nearest rival on the first day in the A-class race. By 8am the chasing starts had all left, leaving way for the ‘mass start' of the rest of the competitors, times were started when the teams dibbed.

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Tim Higginbottom and Chris Near of Team planetFear.com, starting the chasing start of the A-class on day 2.

In to the second day of racing the terrain was albeit very different to the first's, almost encompassed by the road that leads from the south of Gairloch along the coast and to the east at the north, at around 50²km the area ‘felt' more compact, however the undulating terrain and close proximity of checkpoints was offset by technical navigation and the need for more precise route choices.

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The full map listing all checkpoints of day 1 and 2 pre-amendment, which doesn't show the later added out of bounds area, due to nesting restrictions.

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Gairloch below, looking out towards Skye.

Despite the highest point on day 2's course being An Groban at only 383metres, it's low profile was combined with steep slopes and yet even hotter conditions than the first day, from this the highest point, racers continued over terrain covering 250 - 370 metres in height, over heather moorland and again a landscape strewn with lochans.

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The 'big feel' of the mountains out on the course during day two.

Tremendous views over the Minch towards Harris and Lewis were to be had on a day that racers were calling possibly a little too hot, not helped by an almost total lack of breeze.

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Superb conditions atop the highest point on the course, An Groban at 383 metres.

Finishing the race at Gairloch high school, most runners had returned by 1.30pm and by 3pm the 2010 Highlander results had been announced.  For a race that is organised solely by volunteers and those with enough passion to put on an event of this scale in their spare time, the Highlander is proving extremely successful. With participant numbers increasing every year and with the addition of Scandinavian outdoor clothing experts, Haglofs, committing their involvement with the event for a minimum of three years, we can only expect to see this race, in one of the UK's most spectacular locations, grow and grow. As we anticipate the announcement of next year's event location, surely there cannot be one to rival the race of 2010 in Wester Ross?

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Sunset over the Minch, looking out towards Harris.


Podium results and images coming shortly.


The Highlander Mountain Marathon is organised by Hands on Events

Full results can be found on the SPORTident website here>>>


All Images - Dave MacFarlane planetFear


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