Worlds collide this weekend at the 2018 Ring of Steall Skyrace in Kinlochleven, Scotland. The Ring of Steall is a traditional hillwalker loop, and this event is an adaptation of that route. The Ring of Steall Skyrace is 29 kilometers/18 miles long with about 2,500 meters/8,200 feet of climb.
Situated in the Mamores, a group of mountains in the Scottish Highlands, the race course summits four Munros, the name for Scottish peaks in excess of 3,000 feet in height. Two ridges, the famous and infamous Devil’s Ridge as well as the An Gearanach ridge, make up the majority of the course, and both ridges contain multiple places where people use their hands to scramble. The September climate is temperate, but a lot of rain falls in this part of the world, something like 1.7 meters annually. Fog and clouds locking down visibility on ridges and summits is also common.
This year’s Ring of Steall Skyrace hosts the every-two-years Skyrunning World Championships events for the Sky discipline and is one of the six events in the brand-new Salomon Golden Trail Series. The collision of these two series along with the local, experienced hill, fell, and trail runners of the United Kingdom should provide for some fascinating competition.
Though the event has only been held two previous times, it’s perhaps useful to mention the course records, which are held for the men by Stian Angermund-Vik in 3:24:51 and for the women by Laura Orgué at 4:05:12. Both records were set last year.
The race takes place on Saturday, September 15th at 10 a.m. British Summer Time, which is 3 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time in the U.S. Indeed–yep, that’s race coverage three weekends in a row for iRunFar!–we’re covering the Ring of Steall Skyrace live. Stay tuned.
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2018 Ring of Steall Skyrace Men’s Preview
Here we’ll dive deep into men’s competition. We’ll start with the top contenders, the group of men from which we think the winner is most likely to emerge. Then we’ll explore the long list of other speedy runners who are sure to challenge.
Norway’s Stian Angermund-Vik (pre-race interview) is the Ring of Steall Skyrace’s two-time defending champion. In fact, he’s the only champ the race has yet seen. He also comes into the race as the reigning Sky World Champion, having won the 2016 race, at the most recent Skyrunning World Championships. Also, he’s leading the Golden Trail Series rankings. Stian’s been a prolific racer the last couple years–not unlike many of the men and women who race skyrunning-style events–and among his best, most-recent races have been winning the 2017 Zegama Marathon and following that up with second place this year, taking third at the 2018 Mont-Blanc Marathon, and finishing fourth at the 2018 Pikes Peak Marathon.
Spain’s Kilian Jornet raced at this multi-race event last fall, winning the 52k event called the Glen Coe Skyline. Following recovery from a broken leg over the winter, he’s had quite the 2018 season, winning the Mont-Blanc Marathon, Sierre-Zinal, Skyrace Comapedrosa, and Trofeo Kima. He also set a new speed record on England’s Bob Graham Round. Just two weeks before Ring of Steall, however, he dropped from UTMB around 90k in due to physical issues developed from a pre-race bee sting. I’m not betting against Kilian winning this race, are you?
The USA’s Dakota Jones (pre-race interview) is taking a totally different approach to racing in 2018–shorter-distance events. For a guy who’s spent a lot of time on the injured list over the past few years, this new trick might be working for him. Though most of his races have been smaller, local events, he went big in August in winning the 2018 Pikes Peak Marathon and setting a new downhill record in the longstanding race, a record which was held by a certain Matt Carpenter. Dakota’s always been at home on super-technical terrain, too, so I should think Ring of Steall’s ridgelines will only put him more in the game. This will be fun to watch.
It’s funny how the world works. Switzerland’s Marc Lauenstein, with a decade of top mountain running results including wins at the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships (2009), Sierre-Zinal (2013), Pikes Peak Marathon (2014), and Giir di Mont (2016) among others, should be an international superstar. But he’s a quiet, understated dude, and so here we are. Let’s recap his most recent, top results. At the Zegama Marathon, he’s been third and fourth, respectively, in 2017 and 2018, and he was second at the 2018 Mont-Blanc Marathon. He’s raced in the U.K. before, so he knows its tech-y terrain, winning the 2016 Three Peaks Race and taking third at the 2016 Glen Coe Skyline. He’ll be in the mix.
A specialist of the steep and technical, I expect Switzerland’s Pascal Egli to challenge for the podium. In fact, he’s already been there, having finished second last year in 3:26, right behind winner Angermund-Vik. He’s competed at the last two editions of the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships, finishing third in 2017 and following that up with an off-par 17th this year. Elsewhere this year, he took 12th at the 2018 Zegama Marathon, was second and just couple minutes behind winner Jornet at the 2018 Skyrace Comapedrosa, and just won The Rut 28k.
Switzerland’s Remi Bonnet is a late entrant, and he’ll certainly add some interest to the front of the men’s race. Earlier this year, Remi won the Zegama Marathon, beating Angermund-Vik and a bunch of others from this field to the line. Apparently, he had an injury after that and hasn’t raced since. He’s been racing skyrunning-type races for a couple years, starting out with vertical-kilometer races and then races in the Sky distance. When he’s on, he’s on, example being his win of last year’s Pikes Peak Marathon. [Added Sept 11]
France’s Alexis Sévennec also seems to excel in the most technical terrain. In 2016, he took second at Ring of Steall in 3:29 behind winner Angermund-Vik, and he was third at last year’s Glen Coe Skyline. Just a few weeks ago, he was also second at Trofeo Kima behind that Kilian guy. He’s competing in the Golden Trail Series, and has also taken 28th at the 2018 Zegama Marathon, eighth at the 2018 Mont-Blanc Marathon, and 20th at 2018 Sierre-Zinal. It seems like his performances in the series races so far haven’t matched his abilities?
Scotland’s Finlay Wild is the local’s favorite, as the mountains around the Ring of Steall Skyrace course are his home terrain. He’s been a successful hill runner for over a decade, and is, as of last weekend, an
eightnine-in-a-row champion of the Ben Nevis Race, up and down the U.K.’s tallest peak, which is located not far from where Ring of Steall takes place. He was the 2015 British Fell Running Champion. He took fourth at the 2016 Glen Coe Skyline, but DNFed Ring of Steall last year–does anyone know why? It looks like he’s given skyrunning and the Golden Trail Series a full go in 2018 with improving success as the year’s progressed: 20th at the Zegama Marathon, 10th at the Livigno Skymarathon, fifth at the Dolomyths Run, and fourth at the Skyrace Comapedrosa.
Ricky Lightfoot has decided not to race. [Updated Sept 13]
Ricky Lightfoot of England, simply said, has the best name in running, and he’s had some pretty stellar results over the years to back up his name. He’s been the IAU Trail World Champion, back in 2013. In 2016, he was sixth at the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships. He was down for the count in 2017 with an injury and surgery, and reportedly working his way back up to fitness these days. He took third at the 2018 Three Peaks Race and 21st at the 2018 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships.
Under normal circumstances, Scotland’s Tom Owens should challenge, but he just had what looked like an epic to finish 20th at the TDS just two weekends ago, after starting at the front of the race, lapsing way back, and then moving up again. Can he be recovered from this? Probably his top results in the last couple of years have been a fourth at both the 2015 Trail World Championships and the 2016 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships, and fifth last year at the CCC. He’s raced at this event before, having taken second at the 2016 Glen Coe Skyline.
Spain’s Oriol Cardona appears to be having some emergent results in the last half year, stronger performances than the rest in his five-ish-year trail running career. In the spring, he took fifth at the Zegama Marathon and last month he was second at the Pikes Peak Marathon.
Spanish runner Aritz Egea may be best known for his numerous top-10 finishes at his local mountain race, the Zegama Marathon–this year he took eighth. After some years with a heavy skyrunning focus, he’s put his eggs into the Golden Trail Series basket this year. In addition to Zegama, he’s been fifth at the Mont-Blanc Marathon and 13th at Sierre-Zinal. He’s Basque and therefore used to bad weather and gnarly terrain, so I could see Aritz having a stellar race.
Jan Margarit, also of Spain, had an excellent 2016 and 2017 in mountain running. He was fourth at Ring of Steall last year, finishing in 3:29. Also last year, he won the Skyrace Comapedrosa and was fifth at the Pikes Peak Ascent, among a number of other strong races. Can a reader fill us in on if he’s raced in 2018 and, if not, why?
The USA’s Sage Canaday appears to be going full bore with the 2018 Golden Trail Series. In the series so far, he’s improving with each race: 25th at the Zegama Marathon, ninth at the Mont-Blanc Marathon, and sixth at the Pikes Peak Marathon. I don’t normally associate Sage with speed in the kind of technical terrain found on this course, but, then, I saw on Strava recently that he had both a speedy ascent and descent of Mount Yale’s–a 14er in Colorado–east ridge. Bits of that route are tech-y, though I imagine in a very different way from Ring of Steall’s ridges. Just a couple days ago he took fifth at the Jungfrau Marathon, so there’ll have to be a bit of that effort still in his system.
Japan’s Ruy Ueda has been quietly kicking butt in multiple off-road disciplines, everything from skyrunning to trail ultrarunning. He’s a multi-time Hasetsune Cup winner, as recent as 2017. He took second at the 2016 CCC. His top races of 2018 have been a ninth at the Zegama Marathon and an eighth at the Livigno Skymarathon.
Spain’s Eugeni Gil appeared on the skyrunning scene in 2016, and had a strong 2017, which included taking ninth at Ring of Steall in 3:41. It doesn’t look like he’s raced as much this year. His only skyrunning result so far looks like a ninth place at the 2018 Livigno Skymarathon.
Given that England’s Michael Jones raced Friday’s Ben Nevis Ultra and is no longer on the entrants list for the Ring of Steall Skyrace, we’re assuming he’s not racing the latter. [Updated Sept 15]
England’s Michael Jones will be one to watch, too, except that two weekends before Ring of Steall he dropped from UTMB at about 80k in. He’s on the uphill curve with his running the last couple years, including taking sixth at this race in 2016 but in a distant 4:17, finishing eighth at the 2017 CCC, and taking third at the 2017 Ben Nevis Ultra Skyrace, the 120k ultra that’s part of this event.
France’s Adrien Michaud has had some strong runs over the last couple years, though he has at least six years of trail running on his resume. This year, he’s been 19th at the Trail World Championships. In 2017, his top results were fifth at the Zegama Marathon and third at the Buff Epic Trail 42k. It looks like he’s DNFed his last couple races, though, the 2018 Zegama Marathon and the OCC just a couple weekends back.
Here’s an interesting entrant, the Czech Republic’s Robert Krupička, whose results are creeping up over the last couple years. They are highlighted by sixth and, then, second places at the 2017 and 2018 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships, respectively. It looks like he’s giving the Golden Trail Series a shot this year, and so far he’s gone 11th at the Zegama Marathon and 14th at Sierre-Zinal.
Who is Bartłomiej Przedwojewski of Poland? Talk about an international up-and-comer. In the last couple months he’s been third at the Zegama Marathon less than a minute behind second-place Angermund-Vik and, then, 11th at the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships.
Bulgaria’s Kiril Nikolov had very strong 2016 and 2017 skyrunning seasons, including a fifth-place finish at Ring of Steall in 3:29 last year. His 2018 results, however, have not yet matched the previous years, with his top result being fifth at The Rut 28k.
Still More Fast Men to Watch
- Ross Gollan (Scotland) – 10th 2018 Dolomyths Run
- Hector Haines (from England, but lives in ??) – 7th 2017 Transvulcania Ultramarathon; 8th 2017 Glen Coe Skyline
- Rob Hope (England) – Multi-time British Fell Running Champion as recently as 2014; 16th 2016 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships
- Nadir Maguet (Italy) – 3rd 2018 Dolomyths Run
- Thorbjørn Ludvigsen (Norway) – After a few years away from the top of the sport, Ludvigsen took second at this event’s VK on the Thursday before the Ring of Steall Skyrace, beating the likes of Stian Angermund-Vik and Jan Margarit. Looking way back, he was 11th at the Zegama-Aizkorri Marathon in 2014 [Added Sept 14]
- Alex Oberbacher (Italy) – 11th 2018 Dolomyths Run
- Kane Reilly (South Africa) – 5th 2017 Mont-Blanc Marathon
- Ben Stout (USA) – 4th 2018 The Rut 28k ahead of 5th-place Kiril Nikolov
- Sam Tosh (England) – 2017 English Fell Running Champion
- Yoshihito Kondo (Japan) – 17th 2017 Trail World Championships
On the Entrants List but Not Racing
- Max Nicholls (England) – Reportedly racing this weekend’s World Mountain Running Championships instead
2018 Ring of Steall Skyrace Women’s Preview
Here we’ll break down the women’s competition, from whom we think has the best chance to win to some up-and-comers and local stars who could challenge the top contenders.
Spain’s Laura Orgué (pre-race interview) is the women’s course-record holder. She came onto the skyrunning scene in 2012 at first contemporary with a serious Nordic ski career that involved competing at the 2006, 2010, and 2014 Winter Olympic Games. For the first few years, she focused on vertical-kilometer races before delving into the longer Sky distance. She’s a force whenever she races skyrunning and skyrunning-style events. This year in skyrunning, it looks like she’s run the Zegama Marathon, Livigno Skyrace, Dolomyths Run, and Skyrace Comapedrosa, winning Livigno and Dolomyths as well as taking a really strong second at Zegama. She also took second at the 2018 Pikes Peak Marathon.
Spain’s Sheila Avilés pushed Orgué all the way to last year’s Ring of Steall course-record win, trailing behind her by less than a minute to finish second. Finishing behind Orgué is a familiar situation for Sheila, as she’s trailed her at Zegama, Livigno, and Comapedrosa this year. Sheila’s top results over the last couple years have been a third and fifth at the Zegama Marathon in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
I think Italy’s Silvia Rampazzo might be a late entrant into Ring of Steall, but she’ll spice up the women’s race, big time. In the last couple years, she’s won the 2017 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships and followed that up with a third place this year. In 2017, she was also second at the Zegama Marathon and third at the Trail World Championships. She seems all in with the Golden Trail Series this year, and her results so far are: ninth at the Zegama Marathon, sixth at the Mont-Blanc Marathon, and 17th at Sierre-Zinal.
England’s Holly Page (pre-race interview) won The Rut 28k just last weekend–no, she destrominated it and finished more than half an hour ahead of any other woman. Also this year she’s won the Yading Skyrace and the Buff Epic Trail 42k. She currently sits at the top of the Skyrunner World Series Sky ranking. If you don’t follow skyrunning, it’s confusing, I know. The Skyrunner World Series is an annual series of races around the world–think of it like a tour, this year in this Sky discipline there are 10 races total–while the Skyrunning World Championships is an every-other-year championships event. Anyway, we learned of her when she finished ninth at the 2018 Trail World Championships this past spring. She was also 10th at this year’s Zegama Marathon. I’m told she excels on technical terrain.
England’s Victoria Wilkinson might be the fastest mountain runner the world (outside of the U.K.) is yet to meet. Evidently, the cross-country and fell-running specialist is pin sharp as two weekends before Ring of Steall she reset a 34-year-old course record at the Ben Nevis Race. Last year, she took fifth at both the European Mountain Running Championships and World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships. It looks like she’s finished Sierre-Zinal twice, taking fourth in 2016 and 10th this year, finishing just seconds behind ninth-place Orgué. I, for one, will be fascinated to see her mix it up amongst these women, and could see her finishing near the front.
Oihana Azkorbebeitia, another runner from Spain, took third at Ring of Steall’s 2017 edition, but she was 10 minutes back of first and second places. Oihana has been on the Spanish trail and skyrunning scenes for going on a decade. The last two years at the Zegama Marathon, Oihana’s finished fourth (2017) and sixth (2018). It appears she’s raced five skyrunning races this year, her best being a second place at the Buff Epic Trail 42k, but she was almost 25 minutes back of winner Page.
Sweden’s Lina El Kott started dabbling in the skyrunning scene in 2016, but went full bore with it this year. In skyrunning, she’s won the Olympus Marathon and set a course record at the Skyrace Comapedrosa. Outside of skyrunning, she and her twin sister Sanna El Kott (see below) competed as teams and won the TransRockies Run six-day women’s team event a few weeks back and, last week, they won the women’s division of the TransAlpine Run. So, a week before Ring of Steall race day, they finished racing a seven-day stage race that’s 250k long and has more than 16,000 meters of vert. How fresh are these two going to be?
Sweden’s Sanna El Kott has what seems like the same story, giving skyrunning a shot in 2016 and going all in with it this year. It looks like she’s finished five skyrunning races this year, but only finishing in front of her sister in one of them, the Dolomyths Run, where they were third (Sanna) and fourth (Lina). The sisters also managed to fit in and win a 60-hour adventure race in Oregon this summer. Phew.
It looks like, from her results, that Spain’s Eli Gordón started dabbling in trails in 2015 and got serious about racing in 2017, racking up loads of races–and strong performances. She’s finished the Zegama Marathon twice, finishing 11th in 2017 and 8th in 2018. She raced the OCC, the shortest of the UTMB festival races, both last year and this year, also, winning in 2017 and finishing second this year. Also this year, she’s been third at the Mont-Blanc Marathon and seventh at Sierre-Zinal.
Scotland’s Georgia Tindley won the inaugural Ring of Steall edition in 2016 with a 4:39 finish time, and last year she circled back for seventh place in 4:35.
France’s Céline Lafaye has been high-level trail racing for over a decade. It looks like her top result might be sixth place at the 2017 Trail World Championships. She’s been focused on the Golden Trail Series races this year, and her finishes so far have been an off-par 24th at Sierre-Zinal, about 15 minutes back of what she regularly runs there, and fifth place at the Pikes Peak Marathon. Scanning her myriad results, it looks like she rarely races technical or skyrunning-style races, her most recent being a third place at the 2016 LimoneXtreme Skyrace.
Here’s a fascinating entrant, the USA’s Denali Foldager-Strabel. She’s a perennial top finisher at the equally fascinating Mount Marathon Race in Alaska, including second place this year where she also set a new downhill record, beating the downhill record set by one Emelie Forsberg by five seconds. This is all to say, I think she’ll be right at home on the Ring of Steall.
The USA’s Dani Moreno has been racing trails for several years now, after a collegiate running career. Some of her best results in the last year or so include winning the 2017 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship and taking ninth at the 2018 US Mountain Running Championships. Just last weekend, she took second at The Rut 28k last weekend, but was a distant half-hour-plus behind winner Page. Was that an off day or perhaps did the technical terrain slow her down?
Sweden’s Tove Alexandersson–seriously, what’s in the water women drink in Sweden these days?!–is best known as an orienteer and ski orienteer. I can’t pretend to know these sports, but it looks like she’s a multi-time gold medalist (and other medals, too) at multiple years of both the World Orienteering Championships and the World Ski Orienteering Championships. The only non-orienteering result I can find for her was a win of the 2017 LimoneXtreme Skyrace.
To be 100% honest, I’ve not heard of Switzerland’s Maya Chollet until researching for this article, but she has several strong 2018 performances, including a 16th at the Zegama Marathon, 14th at the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships, and 18th at Sierre-Zinal. Can a reader share more about Maya?
Annie Conway (England) was the 2016 World Long Distance Mountain Running Champion, and she followed that performance up with a 30th place at the 2017 edition. Does anyone have beta on her running in the last year or so?
Still More Fast Women to Watch
- Johanna Åström (Sweden) – While tough to find meaningful referential running results, Johanna is a strong skier who also appears to be quick on the trails [Added Sept 14]
- Fanny Borgström (Sweden) – 7th 2018 Mont-Blanc Marathon; 21st 2018 Sierre-Zinal
- Sunmaya Budha (Nepal) – 10th 2018 Mont-Blanc Marathon
- Meg Mackenzie (South Africa) – 8th 2018 Mont-Blanc Marathon
- Virginia Perez (Spain) – 14th 2018 Zegama Marathon
- Marta Riba (Spain) – 23rd 2018 Zegama Marathon
- Emily Schmitz (USA) – 4th 2018 Pikes Peak Marathon
- Takako Takamura (Japan) – 1st 2017 and 2018 Hasetsune Cup
- Amelia Watts (England) – 22nd 2018 UTMB
- Lizzie Wraith (England) – 1st 2016 West Highland Way
- Fu-Zhao Xiang (China) – 3rd 2018 Hong Kong 100k; 20th 2018 UTMB
Call for Comments
- You make the call. Who is going to take the win for the men and the women? And how are they going to do it?
- What about the balance of the women’s and men’s podiums?
- Who will surprise with a breakout performance?
- Do you have specific beta that a runner in this preview isn’t starting? Or know of someone not in this preview who you think has a chance to go top 15? We’re super keen to learn intel on top U.K. hill, fell, and trail runners who we might not yet know about, but should. Leave a comment to let us know.
[Author’s Note: Thanks so much to Damian Hall and Robbie Britton for putting some ‘local-ish’ sets of eyes on the entry lists for us!]