Looking for some much-needed trail running motivation? Offering the opportunity to really get off the beaten track, trail running is a great option for anyone eager to expand their running horizons and try new tracks and trails. A chance to find your unknown this season.
To give you a feel for the epic running adventures that await, we sent passionate trail runner Marie Cheng off to the Isle of Skye on a quest to sample one of the UK’s most awe inspiring trail runs. Loch Coruisk, a stunning 7km route surrounded by the Cuillins, is accessible via a 15 minute ferry ride. Arguably up there as one of Skye’s (if not Scotland’s) finest natural wonders - we can’t think of a better place to inspire your running this season…
But I’m not a REAL runner
“But I’m not a REAL runner”, a common response I often hear muttered at group runs and races. I too had a similar reaction when I was first approached in September 2021, by my now running coach.
The reality is, however, and perhaps something that we all come to realise over time, is that - if we run, we are PROPER runners. And once that mindset changes, I think that starts to stir an interest in exploring the places, the locations that we often think are only reserved for the likes of the pros and the elites. And that, for me, is where the running starts to get really exciting!
My journey to being a trail and aspiring mountain runner has been somewhat of a baptism of fire. After spending a lot of my early working life in London, I tended to frequent the circuits of the local Saturday morning Park Run, and running being very much a means to an end – a way to keep fit during the week, ticking over the legs ahead of longer hill walks on the hills or skiing in the winter.
Fast forward to May 2021, and I was introduced to trail running via a workshop and, more excitingly, the prospect of combining my love of the hills with running. Particularly with living in the Peak District, it was not uncommon on a hill walk to spot and then look in awe at the runners in the distance with lightweight packs tearing it down the hill!
So came my first ever trail running objective; to run UTS 50 (Ultra Trail Snowdonia 50) - a 50k, 3100m+ elevation mountain race that circles the Snowdon Range including two ascents of Snowdon from different approaches!
It would be my first ever mountain race, first ever ultra-marathon distance and, in fact, first ever race over a half marathon and probably 100m elevation. I won’t lie, I still sometimes sit and scratch my head thinking “what on earth possessed me to sign up to that as my first ultra?!”
But as it would seem, sometimes pushing the boundaries of your comfort zones works out in your favour! And that with the right levels of support from the right people; time, dedication, and consistency I threw at my run training, I was able to complete the 50k in July 2022. And more to the point, luckily my enthusiasm for trail running has not waned as a result!
It is less so the finish line (albeit important) but the training journey that has, for me, been the most rewarding and enjoyable. The chance to explore so many different trails – some trails that I previously had spent hiking but new ones too, with the added benefit of travelling much faster and lighter on the hills.
Running in the Cuillins
One of those new running locations was Loch Coruisk in the Isle of Skye. Loch Coruisk, Scottish Gaelic for “Cauldron of Waters”, is an inland fresh-water loch which sits at the foot of the Black Cuillins. The dramatic landscape of the Cuillin hills is made of two parts; the rugged dark and jagged peaks of the Black Cuillin (and the Cuillin Ridge) and the more rounded eastern hills of the Red Cuillin. Rumour has it that Loch Coruisk is also home of the famous kelpie or water horse – a shape shifting creature that is said to assume human form…
With 300 wet days recorded each year on average, it’s probably safe to say running in Scotland is not for the faint hearted! But weirdly there must be something to be said of the appeal of the type 2 weather conditions of running in the UK. No more evidenced by the increase in popularity in recent years of some of the more brutal long distance running races, most notably those sponsored by Montane – the Spine Race and Dragon’s Back Race. Plus, I think it’s true what they say – that if you can run in the UK, you can run anywhere!
As luck would have it, the weather gods must have been on our side that day as we picked a cool, yet clear and relatively sunny day for our run. The closest to perfect conditions you can get running in the UK in my opinion! And conditions that enabled us to really appreciate the true beauty of the landscape of the Cuillins.
The area is quite well known in the outdoor circuit, with the hills attracting hillwalkers, climbers, and runners all year round. It is also popular with those on two wheels, with the Cuillins claim to fame in the MTB circles being the likes of Danny Macgaskill on his bike doing tricks on the ridge and the slabs!
All aboard the ferry to Loch Coruisk
The easiest and most efficient way of accessing Loch Coruisk and the 7km running circuit is via a ferry from Elgol. It is also possible to access the area by foot from Sligachan, but would require a lot of additional time factored into your plan. Plus, you would likely need additional clothing with the weather being as temperamental as it is in Skye!
There are a number of ferry companies that operate from Elgol, but we happened to use the Misty Isle Boat trips, complete with a knowledgeable ferry captain who has spent 40 years living on Skye and working on boats.
We made our way across Loch Scavaig from Elgol to the Coruisk Memorial Hut at the entrance of Loch Coruisk. Our eyes were peeled in case of sightings of seals, otters, and dolphins. The ferry captain told us of the appeal of the Cuillins and its impact for local tourism as well as the outdoor community – not that we had to be sold!
From the near perfect coarse crystalline rock formations making the grip a rock climber’s delight to the abundance of seafood (langoustines, lobster, brown crab); where although mostly destined for export, means an excellent selection of shellfish for those living and visiting Elgol!
And then, of course, there is the breathtaking landscape where, despite the fact that on some days it’s hard to see the tops of the mountains, in contrast, on a good day you can see all the way over to Ben More on the Isle of Mull. Top marks also for hospitality on the boat, with a biscuit and hot chocolate on arrival into Loch Coruisk!
The running route is a 7km trail that circumnavigates Loch Coruisk with a total elevation of 122m. Don’t be deceived, however, by the almost road running credentials, as in parts the terrain can change from paths and rocky slabs to be somewhat boggy underfoot and there are sections where some basic scrambling over low level rocks might be required. Therefore, a good pair of trail running shoes with good grip is highly recommended!
Perhaps the most iconic views on the route are that at the head of the Loch, with a number of rugged munro peaks in view standing menacingly over the Loch; Sgùrr a Ghreadaidh, Sgùrr a Mhadaidh, Sgùrr na Banachdich, Sgùrr Dubh Mòr; most of which needing scrambling and rock climbing experience to reach.
For those of you who are perhaps more experienced, the options for running however are not just confined to the circuit by the Loch, as the area is a complete smorgasbord for trail and mountain running options. If you’re feeling particularly energetic (and if the weather conditions are kind) slab and slope sections surround the loch, which are perfect for little detours to take in the stunning views across the Loch. The sticky Gabbro mafic intrusive igneous rock that is found here is also a trail runner's dream!
That being said, I will caveat that if you do intend to detour, be sure to have with you the appropriate kit for higher level running, the right skills and experience for the changeable terrain, and navigation equipment in terms of a map and compass. Scotland’s weather can change instantly, so be prepared for all conditions.
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail
And so that takes us nicely to the subject of kit. Having been a hill walker for many years, you become accustomed to the point that it is almost automatic what you pack in your 25 – 30l bag for sometimes 6 – 8 hours out on the hill.
The beauty of trail running is that as you are moving quicker and this allows you to reduce the size of your pack and what you need to bring out. However, I think one thing to always bear in mind as you venture into more remote, more mountainous, more off-the-beaten track locations, is that you still need to prepare for all weather eventualities!
As someone who is still fairly new to trail and mountain running, confidence in my clothing and shoe choices has played the biggest factor on choosing routes and locations to run. By being able to trust that my waterproof jacket will protect me from bad weather, I am more likely to venture out for longer or into areas which I may be pushing my limits a little more.
Lucky for me, Montane are experts when it comes to running kit. In particular, two of my favourite bits of trail running kit are the Phase Lite Waterproof Jacket and the Gecko VP 12 Pack. The GORE-TEX Phase Lite Waterproof Jacket comes in a Pale Sage and provides reliable protection, particularly with a lot of my run training often being in very wet and windy Snowdonia and the Lake District. It is incredibly lightweight and packable, allowing me to stash it into the top stash pocket of the Gecko VP pack for easy access when it's needed.
I’m also a big fan of the Gecko packs, having used one for my 50k race. The 12l had ample space to fit all of the mandatory kit, nutrition and water that was needed and, believe me, the kit list was extensive! The front zipped pockets meant that my phone and nutrition could be reached easily and also the external bungee cord that zig zags across the back main pocket was incredibly helpful to compress down the pack, to remove excess slack or stash some of my kit on the go.
My top trail running tips
Just get out there and run – One thing I found most refreshing after starting trail running, was the fact that your times on Strava just didn’t matter as much as when I was running on road. There are so many factors that make lots of people’s trail runs different so there is no “standard” time, which just means you can go out and enjoy the run a lot more!
Practice on the terrain and get out in different weather - The first time you do it will always be hard but, the more you do it, the more your feet become accustomed to the uneven terrain or the more you work out your layering system; until it all just starts to become second nature.
Bring food – It’s no joke that people think trail runners are just big picnic eaters! But as typically you will be out for longer, bring some food and nutrition options with you. One of my favourites is a peanut butter and jam sandwich or a banana baby food pouch! See this other handy blog for more useful advice on fuelling for trail runs.
Always tell someone where you are running and what time they should expect you back – 9 times out of 10 nothing is going to happen, but the nature of the sport allows you to be much more exploratory on your trails. And so, with that, it’s always good to let someone know where you’re going and how long you are likely to be.
Invest in a trail running navigation course – Having the skills to read a map or to know how to work out where you are, or even use a GPX on a watch will open up so many options for your trail running and give you the confidence to venture out there!
Expand your running horizons
Get ready to take on Loch Coruisk and other remote running trails with the help of our especially engineered running kit for men and women. Featuring lightweight, protective waterproof jackets, stretchy, durable trail tights and breathable base layers, you’ll be well equipped to tackle the extreme elements you may encounter on the trail this season.