Interview: Finlay Wild

Published: 16th May 2016

Finlay Wild talks about his love of running in wild places – and his remarkable sub-three-hour traverse of Skye’s Cuillin Ridge

How did you first get into hill running?

I started out hill walking around Lochaber where I grew up and later got into climbing and mountaineering at university. I had always been encouraged to head outdoors – my mother was a talented hill runner and my father a mountain guide – so I had a good grounding. As I spent more time climbing and walking in the mountains, it seemed like a natural next step to start running them too. About six years ago, I got more into hill racing, and found that I did quite well – particularly when racing on really rough terrain.

You’ve obviously spent plenty of time in Skye – what makes it so special?

It’s a fantastic place, and very varied. The weather is often less than perfect, but that only adds to the charm of a good day in the Cuillin. There’s something about the mix of alpine-like mountains, intriguing rock features and the blue sea below that makes being up there on a clear day extra special. Also, the Glamaig Hill Race in the Red Cuillin is one of my favourites. It’s very steep and rough, with a scree-run descent. I managed to break the race record a few years ago.

What is the strongest memory of your record-breaking Cuillin Ridge run?

It’s hard to pick out one memory as breaking the record was in many ways a decade-long process of developing as a mountaineer and then runner. But if I had to pick one single memory I would say reaching for the last hold on Naismith’s Route up the Basteir Tooth, which is really the final climbing section of the ridge run. That’s etched in my mind: the feel, the exposure, and the anticipation of gaining the new record.

How would you describe your relationship with the places you run more generally?

I’ve always been most interested in getting out in the mountains so don’t tend to get as attached to lower level training runs or races on the flat. Living in Fort William, it’s easy to get into the hills proper – not necessarily to a summit, but just somewhere up and out. Quite a common run for me would be up to the CIC Hut at the North Face of Ben Nevis. It’s a place that holds many good memories. I tend to race much better when I’m running in an area I feel strongly about.

Does running in wild places have additional benefits to your health and wellbeing as opposed to just running in of itself?

Absolutely. While I wouldn’t go as far as using the word meditation, running in the hills helps keep me balanced. Many times I’ve had to motivate myself to go for a run after a tiring day at work, but always return refreshed and more clear-headed. Running also allows you to interact with the wilderness more freely, with no heavy boots or rucksack. Several times I’ve run over a rise and surprised a herd of deer. They’re gone quick as a flash, but for a few seconds it can feel almost like I’m running with them.

Do you feel the hill running community is aware of the need to protect wild places?

Generally speaking, hill runners aren’t the types to leave litter or go looking to cause trouble. Obviously, after big races there can be some gel wrappers or bottles left lying about but I don’t think people are throwing these away on purpose. Foot erosion from running I would put in the same category as erosion from walking or other activities – we need to be aware of the issue and try to reduce impact where possible while still allowing people the respectful freedom of the hills. Continuing to protect wild places is of obvious benefit to hill runners.

What’s next for you … what are your goals for this year?

After the Fort William Mountain Festival, I head to the French Alps for a few weeks to do some Skimo (ski mountaineering) racing – basically hill running with skis on. I’m enjoying getting more into it. Runningwise, I hope to do well in various ‘rough’ Scottish races, as well as getting out for long days with friends. The new Glencoe Skyrace in August looks very tempting.

Further info

Lochaber Athletic Club member Finlay Wild has taken the Scottish hill running scene by storm. In October 2013, he set a new speed record for traversing the Cuillin Ridge in Skye in an astonishing 2 hours and 59 minutes – knocking 15 minutes off his own record set in July of the same year. Finlay has also won the gruelling Ben Nevis hill race for the past five years.

 This article first appeared in the John Muir Trust Journal 58 Spring 2015