Sunset from Kinlochleven

Window to the sky

Every few weekends in summer, I’m left with a mix of awe and envy as my social timelines fill up with my favourite athletes on their way to the Golden Trail Series races. Six epic races around the world in incredible locations with stunning scenery. I spend the days before and after each race living vicariously through the lives of the athletes and the Salomon media team.

Except, that is, for this weekend. Because this weekend I’m here. In person. Ready to give one of a handful of races that are on my bucket list the best shot I can.

There’s a real buzz at the event village, even before the bulk of people arrive. With seven races spread across three days, it’s the biggest mountain running event in the UK. There are talks from people like Holly Page, Paul Tierney and Charlie Ramsay. Yes. That Charlie Ramsay. Many of the best mountain runners in the world are here to compete, and some of the best sports photographers are on hand to document it.

This weekend I’m here. In person. Ready to give one of a handful of races that are on my bucket list the best shot I can.

There’s a real magic to a weekend like this. In how many sports do you get to run in the same race as the best in the world, climb the same mountains as the elites, and splash through mud in their wake?

As I sit in a pub eating over priced apple crumble (don’t tell me that’s not how the elites fuel), there’s a strange feeling of belonging. Every table is occupied by mountain runners. Our hobby isn’t weird or out of the ordinary here, and I’m conscious that I’ve way less experience than most in the room.

(As if to prove that point, between tapping out the draft of this post and actually publishing, I got talking to Ken Taylor at the bar. Ken is mentioned in Feet in the Clouds and is the oldest person to complete a Bob Graham round. He’s raced around the world and had some stories to tell.)

Mountains and a Salomon banner, KinlochlevenOne of the many views from the event village

If you come into contact with me at all, you’ll have heard me mention that this year hasn’t went to plan. Running has been a weird mix of niggling injuries, interspersed with personal bests. It caught up with me recently and my fitness has tailed off a lot over the summer as injury curtailed my training.

The grand plan of spending a summer running up any and every mountain I could find hasn’t happened. I’m under prepared, but eager to get going. I’m lucky that even while my fitness has dropped off, I’m still able to get out and give it my best.

The grand plan of spending a summer running up any and every mountain I could find hasn’t happened.

I ran a little 5k on arrival to loosen my legs off and ended up running up part of the Ben Nevis ultra route. It’s pretty clear why they call this the most technical race in the series, the Scottish vertigo. Running down hill is almost as hard as running up it here – a mess of stones, tree roots, and brutal gradients. As one lad from Keswick said as we ran along together, ‘this place is like the Lakes on crack’.

I know this is going to be tough. The definition of Type 2 fun. It’s going to hurt physically and test me mentally. But that’s part of the fun, isn’t it? Paul of Tarsus wrote that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope. Assuming he was correct, by the time I stagger into the after party on Saturday night, I’ll be positively radiating hope.