Uphill Only Races

There was something new in the hill running calendar for 1996: important enough to get its own box on the front of the Tiso calendar: an uphill only series of 7 races.


The Tiso calendar of the 1996 hill racing season had a box at the foot of the front cover advertising a new development: an uphill only series was promoted quite prominently at the foot of the page.   The selection of races was interesting in its own right but the question is how, after over many decades of hill racing, it had come to be.   But first you will note that the list included a half Ben Lomond Junior Race as well as six races for Seniors.   In the list of six there was a newcomer in the form of the Glencoe Chairlift Race which was a brand new arrival on the circuit, and about which, more later.   It may have been the first time that a series of uphill races as such appeared on the fixture list but the genesis had been longer, it had been discussed and the decision to encourage uphill only had already been taken. 

There was maybe a wee hint in this extract from the back page of the brochure as to why it started in 1996.

ICMR XII Mountain Running World Trophy 1966 (Uphill Only) is the phrase that should maybe be noted here.   

To begin our look at the ‘new’ series, we  asked Denis Bell, international hill runner, selector and team manager about it, starting with the broader European scene.  He tells us that: Europeans used to do most of their running ‘uphill only’ (aided by the fact that it was ‘considered safer’ and probably because they have so many mountain top services like chalets and cable cars, etc.)   I do think though that the Italians probably had a decent race series of our UK traditional style  ‘up and down’, I say this because on all race types and terrains they coped ‘brilliantly’ and with the rough (‘dangerous’) downhills.   The first European Championships were in 1995.   

As a general rule, though, France, Italy and Spain all race up-and-down  and  also uphill only races.   It’s mainly German speaking nations that stick to uphill only – Austrians, Swiss, Germans.    2019 was the  Trail World Championship in Portugal where 50 nations took part with up to 12 athletes per nation.   Around 600 entered.  From 2021 World Athletics (IAAF that was) are having a 4 day festival combining mountain and trail running.Sierre Zinal is part of the Solomon’s Golden Trail Series which probably explains why some people think it’s a trail race..’

Odd years are ‘short’ approx 50km, even years long approx 80km 

So in my early years there was a compromise in the World Cup (yes, that’s what it was called) mountain races. They were however  forced to re-name those events because of football’s World Cup.   So the ‘World Running Mountain Trophy’ races developed. 
 
It was not the usual British format but following great negotiation by Danny Hughes et al of the Fell Runners Association, they gave the UK teams some wee balance by doing 2-yearly cycles:  uphill only one year then ‘up-and -down’ next.    It was, therefor, very sensible that we should try to ‘condition’ our best to cope with the, to us, ‘alien form of racing’.   He continues: “We set up uphill races and we might have actually had a series but I cannot remember if there was a ‘championship or award’ as such..   We already had …
Aonach Mor Gondola race [very early year]
Glenshee Uphill from way down the glen by the Dundee Uni ski club ‘tow’ to The Cairnwell
The Glencoe Chairlift Challenge, (we also added a super low key ‘relay’ (sorry I cannot remember the format for that …It might have been a team of 2,3,or 4…up and down a ‘same short-ish leg’…the athletes were asked if they wanted to do all 3 (same day!) and a fair few did!!!
An ‘Aberfoyle’ Braeval Uphill Evening race (set up by Dermot McGonigle)
Glas Tulachean set up by Martin Hyman, then run by Dave Hanlon (Dundee Hawkhill Harrierss).    I believe form Angela it’s in it’s 21st or 25th year!!
I also organised an uphill in Glencoe and got great support from the ‘manager’ using the base lodge / services area as a base, and running up the old access track by a secondary wee summit, right up to the summit of Meall a Bhuirdidh. I think this race might have been resurrected.
Can’t remember if there were ‘others’ but this parcel of races at least offered ‘experience of going up as full gas as possible without holding anything back for a decent. Please note that the only assist down was of course from the Snowgoose gondola station on Aonach Mor…the rest meant all had to get back down safely anyway..so our absolute ‘up and down‘ was not fully compromised’! [even at AM, most ran back off the hill!]
 
The Glencoe Chairlift Challenge was a brand new race devised by Alistair Lawson.   Hill races, rounds and runs are devised in all sorts of formats and for all sorts of reasons.   It is worth looking at how these things happen!   When asked Alistair explained that “The Glenshee Chairlift Challenge was a short-lived (mid-1990s) event in conjunction with the Glenshee Chairlift Company, which was anxious to attract new summer customers and generate new interests in order to justify keeping the skiers’ café open during the summer months.  The deal was that a stuffed dummy, created using a bright orange suit from the mountain rescue equipment) was strapped into one of the chairlift seats, thereby providing a visible marker for the runners.  The chairlift runs, of course, at a constant speed, which meant that the dummy gained ground on the runners on the uphill leg (straight up the rough hill, directly under the lift-line), whereas the reverse obtained on the downhill leg and the lead runners overtook the dummy.  It was a close-run thing, such as to allow the awarding of certificates to those who beat the dummy, while those who didn’t were simply “also rans”.  ”  
 
As part of the search for more detailed information on the topic, Denis discussed the topic Angela Mudge who had been more closely involved in the matter  and she was very helpful with information on the World Mountain Running Trophy format and ‘The European Championships’.   The WMRT, and Euro Champs are held ‘every second year‘ and they alternate between them having an ‘up and down’ and an ‘uphill only’; then the next cycle, they reverse the format of their previous event…so every 2nd year there’s an up and down or an uphill only.   
Denis goes on to say: “Scottish Athletics Limited have been holding a single race Championship event for all age categories for very many years now.  They also did a Championship race to combine it as an ‘Uphill selection race’ for the WMRT.   This was a very positive bit of management.   Over the piece you can clearly see that the ‘hill runners’ year could be very challenging and had many, many races of real consequence.  On reflection maybe the most complicated of all sports anywhere?
Angela reminded me that in 1996, the second Euro Champs (where I was a team manager) at Llanberis for the Snowdon uphill race format with ladies stopping at The Midway Station (Angela, Sonia Armitage, Tracey Brindley), and the men went to the summit(John Brooks, Dermot McGonigle, Mark Rigby, and John Wilkinson). 
Typically, ‘women’s uphill was to target 50 minutes; the ‘men’s’ 67 minutes.   Angela also reminded me that, on that occasion, we went into a local sports shop to buy then ‘blue shorts’ instead of them wearing the team kit of ‘white knickers’(???)….hill runners do things a bit differently to track and field.
 
The inaugural European Championship, was in the south of France, 1995.   Scotland had lots of presence over the years at both WMRTs and Euro Champs.   Angela has told me that in 2021, the IAAF are incorporating WMRT and going to ‘combine a format of Short Uphill; Up and Down; a 40km mountain ‘trial’ and an 80km trail event.    I think a 4 day festival.”
 
 
In Scotland, we used Broad Law in Tweedsmuir for a selection race (not quite to the ‘top’ top because of the radar beacon). I did that race, and I think though ‘not first 2’, it added to my race result profile for ‘considered selection’…..[i remember Dave Weir was very close, and he very shortly after matured into an internationalist…])