Yamaa Trust Winter Ultra 2011

The event information on the Yamaa Trust website simply states, "A 10k walk/run or an ultra marathon on a section of the West Highland Way between Kinlochleven and Tyndrum (Ultra) or Bridge of Orchy and Tyndrum (10k). Entrance fee £30 (10k) or £40 (Ultra)." So the questions arise, what is the Yamaa Trust, how far is this ultra anyway, and what do you get for £40?

The how far bit is relatively easy, 27 to 28 miles, so a relatively short ultra through some of Scotland's finest scenery. The Yamaa Trust is a charity set up to improve conditions for the people living in the harsh environment of the South Gobi region of Mongolia. Yamaa is 'goat' in Mongolian! Goats are plentiful and very useful to Mongolians as they give milk, meat and clothing material in what is a very harsh climate.

The £40 takes a little longer to answer. On one level you get a simple, but well organised event co-ordinated by Dave Scott, and his Sandbaggers crew. Sandbaggers is a company based in Paisley (just outside Glasgow). Dave set it up to organise events like the Scottish Ultra, The Gobi Desert Challenge and other multi day ultras and expeditions. This event is a point-to-point run from Kinlochleven in the Lochaber region of the highlands to Tyndrum, just over the geological watershed, where water starts flowing east to the Tay rather than west to the Atlantic Ocean!

A highland trail run in remote country requires specialist running gear. A little logistical conundrum also has to be overcome to make sure at race end you are not stranded 28 miles from your car. In my case, Mike Adams managed to find me a lift at 6am from Tyndrum where I had B &B'd, with a car that had left Glasgow at 4.45 am! It is snowing lightly, and as we drive up over Rannoch Moor and through Glencoe we find heavier flurries. At Kinlochleven it is dry, but very windy.

December in the Highlands means days are short, so as first light is breaking, about 40 inspired travellers assemble in the car park at the Ice Factory. Registration has taken place out of the back of a car; usual pre-race hellos and banter has taken place; discussions on trail race gear, the weather and trail shoe choices, with last minute decisions on how many layers to put on now and what if any extras should be carried in your backpack with the mandatory safety items. Race briefing from Dave and a word of welcome from Andrew Murray on behalf of the Yamaa trust - then we are off. As it is my first ultra for almost two and a half years, I am filled with a mixture of nervousness and excitement in equal measure.

A steady walk/run on the long 2-mile climb out of the village as full daylight appears rewards us with fabulous views of the Mamore's and the miles of open country beyond the Blackwater Dam towards Corrour and Rannoch. There is a light smattering of soft snow on the trail up and over the Devils Staircase, but luckily there does not appear to be any ice lurking underneath! Yes it is good to be reunited with this old friend, this trail I know so well and in keeping with my relaxed effort, I pause to take pictures every now and then, as today is not about racing but enjoying and thinking of my £40. The massive rocky outcrop of the "Buachaille", guardian and watcher over the approach to Glencoe, stands solid and impressive as ever across the glen, and looking east over to the ski centre where our journey is heading, ripples of blue sky appear between the grey wintry clouds.

It is easy trails now and I am getting into a good rhythm as we head on to the road section and pass the Kingshouse Hotel then head up and over the busy main road north, the A82. Waiting my gap in the traffic I am greeted by the checkpoint marshal with some water and the all important smile and encouragement. So far so good as I continue the runable climb up past Blackrock Cottage, perversely named as it is painted in now fading whitewash, and on up the trail to Rannoch Moor. Once the crest is attained, the familiar wild and wonderful vista of the moor opens up, and mile after mile of remote moorland stretches to the east, while on the western flank are the totally impressive shapes of Clach Leathad and Stob a Choire Odhair towering above the landscape.

General Wade's old drove road over the moor, although uneven in places, makes for good running and the miles seem to go quickly. The early morning chill has gone, the clouds seem higher and I am beginning to feel quite warm. Suddenly, all changes as a sharp breeze finds me, and sleet and the snow begin to fall, bouncing off my face, stinging slightly but at the same time reassuringly comforting and real. Through Victoria Bridge, past the old inn at Inveroran and as I work hard on the climb over the ridge, I begin to feel a chill creeping into my body, as the snow gets heavier, and I gain height. I am exposed to the full biting breeze sweeping down from the moor. Temporary doubts flicker across my mind, "Oh no, another hour or so of this", but then I crest the summit and reassuringly see the white shape of the Bridge of Orchy Hotel nestling in the valley ahead, and all looks still and benign down there.

The descent warms me up and after rejoining the road and crossing the famed bridge over the River Orchy, I am greeted by Dave who is marshalling at the checkpoint. "I have crisps, jaffa cakes and coffee" he says. In my pleasantly fatigued state, I go for all three, but not before first downing 500ml of water. I finish the remainder of the crisps on the wee climb up to the picturesque, Bridge of Orchy station, and rejuvenated by the wee pitstop get into a good rhythm on the stretch to Auch Farm. The impressive viaduct, guarding the glen, soon comes into sight. On the last lap now, and soon I scramble up the slope after passing under the railway. Hearing the ever closer traffic on the main road now just a few yards away, I realise Tyndrum is pretty close. Soon the bustling little village is below me and on down the track past the cemetery and the Village Hall, to journey's end at the car park beside Brodies village store. There is a welcoming party of Karen who proudly puts my wee Yamaa trust medal around my neck, Arpita, who takes the customary finishes pic. Thomas and Neil are sheltering against a wall, now the drizzle has started again, waiting for Silke and Caroline. We chat for a bit but not surprisingly I am getting cold quickly so head off for a shower and a hot drink.

So the experience alone is worth the £40, but now to fully answer the third question. At the start, Dave had read out a wonderful letter he had recieved from a certain Mr Batbaatar, the Mayor of Bayandalai province in Mongolia. It was thanking the Yamaa trust for their support. The entire funds from today's race were evidently going to pay for 800 sacks or 20 tonnes of red bran fodder to be purchased in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar and shipped to Bayandalai province. The forecasters were predicting a harsh winter, with more snow than usual, so the funding of this purchase of bran fodder was essential to the well being of the livestock of this region, which are a fundamental part of the whole local economy. In the vast global arena, with the Ideal of wealth distribution to the needy, the idea of some runners doing something they enjoy on a winter Saturday in a remote part of Scotland, to help the people of a remote community in a country thousands of miles away is pretty cool, and the Yamaa Trust and Sandbaggers should be applauded.

The times for an event aren't too relevant, but Scottish international hill runners Joe Symonds and Jethro Lennox deserve a special mention for blazing a trail, both comfortably inside three and a half hours, and fellow Hill International Claire Gordon was comfortably first woman home.


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