“How hard can it be? Could you run an 8-day epic through wild Scotland?”

Here’s a wee interview I did with Ourea Events about the inaugural 400km Cape Wrath Ultra, from Fort William to Cape Wrath, Scotland.  It was used as extra content for the “How hard can it be? Could you run an 8-day epic through wild Scotland?”  article featured in Trail Running Magazine.

What do you like best about mountain running?

The freedom, the meditative focus required for technical descents and the ever-changing perspective you have of the surrounding landscape. I feel very calm in the mountains – very much aware that they have been around much longer than I have and will be here long after I’ve gone If you don’t respect them, they won’t respect you.

What trail running achievements are you most proud of?

By far the Cape Wrath Ultra! That has taken trail running to another level for me. 

Why do you like multi-day races?

The journey.  I’m not a fast runner, but can keep going, and I like the endurance element of running more than one day. It feels almost like going back in time, to when humans had to cover huge distances on foot through wild and barren regions. It’s also an amazing way to see remote parts of the world you wouldn’t otherwise get to see, which is such a privilege and you also get to eat what you want most of the time!

What’s your dream race win or achievement life goal?

I’m definitely more about the adventure and the journey than the win.  I was very inspired by the ages of some of the competitors, with a 68-year old tearing down hills in front of me. To be still running multi-day ultras at 68 would be a dream in itself!

Why CWU?

A chance to see Scotland at its finest and most remote, take on a real beast of a challenge and run it all with my fiancé, Luke!  We are both raising money for Marie Curie (www.justgiving.com/hazelandluke)

What’s most exciting about doing a 8-day supported race like CWU?

The remoteness of the terrain, meeting people from all over the world, not having to cook (or carry!) your dinner and the physical and mental journey; it’s effectively 8 days of self-discovery.

How did you train for it – weekly training brief overview.

I had a base level of fitness from the Beyond the Ultimate Ice Ultra in February and then did a few hilly runs each week and a bit of strength training.  We didn’t get as much training in as we had hoped…

Any initial concerns or excitement?

A lot of excitement and probably a good bit of naivety in there too, having never run anywhere near the distances or duration we ended up running. We had our first taste of avoiding the checkpoint cut-off on Day 3 (42 mi, 2400m), making it into camp just in time.  This was something (again perhaps naively) we hadn’t really considered as an issue beforehand, but which certainly upped the pressure and also the adrenaline levels for the rest of the race.

Any hairy moments or triumphs over the weather, bogs and river crossings?

The weather was just unreal; deep blue skies, baking hot sun and barely a breath of wind at times. A slightly hairy moment on the furthest day (45 miles), when we’d been running with no shade for almost 10 hours. Even with lashings of factor 50 sunscreen, electrolyte tablets and lots of food, my body began to overheat.  A few stream head-dunkings later and with my waterproof jacket on to keep the sun off my skin, I was back to normal. As a fair Scot, we are not used to such good weather!

How did your body react? Sleep, blisters, chafing etc?

It was incredible how the human body can get through 8 days of running like that. Each evening as we set our alarm for 5am, and each morning as we creaked out of the tent, we thought “how will we get through another day?”, let alone the rest of the week. But with proper body management (stretching, a high intake of protein and raising our legs) each evening and then after warming up in the morning, sure enough we were running again. And loving every second of it.

How important was navigation in addition to fitness and determination?

Navigation played a massive part. It was particularly important to us, as t times we were close to the checkpoint cut-off time and so any significant navigation errors would have seen us out of the race. The navigation certainly kept you focussed! Working as a team definitely helped in this respect too, as we would (politely!) question every decision the other made, even if it was just to play the devil’s advocate with regards to correct navigation.

What was the absolute best view?

At the top of Ben Dreavie, looking out west over all the hills and sea lochs, which were shimmering and sparkling in the bright sunlight was a magical moment

Most dramatic moment? (really big this up, describe it in all it’s gory detail)

Day 3 (45mi, 2400m) – we managed to keep over an hour ahead of the check point cut-off times, until later in the day when our margin slowly started to shrink. We had 10 miles or so to go, including a final climb and technical rocky descent, and the prospect of not making it in time really hung over us.  We ended up forming a group with other runners, and taking it in turns to lead and navigate, everyone pushing each other on and willing each other to make the cut off.  We reached the final summit, exhausted and elated, as the sun had set beyond the surrounding mountains.  After an initial steep descent, the gradient relaxed and adrenaline kicked in: we tore down the hillside as a pack of runners, like deer bounding over springy heather and winding our way through the woods, our eyes just about adjusting to the diminishing light.  All aches and pulsing blisters seemed to subside and we just ran and ran and ran.  After a couple of final river crossings, and now in the dark, we arrived at the camp in time, and were still in the race. It was a huge boost to our confidence.

Fave snacks/food/drinks on the move and at camp and why?

On the move: nakd bars, mini cheddars and frazzles. We mainly ate nakd bars as they vary in flavour, are a good balance of carb, fat and protein and are easy to eat and digest.  Mini cheddars and frazzles provided salt, which was exactly what our bodies craved later in the day, especially on the hottest days, and were a pleasant change from all the sweet snacks.

Camp: hot, salty chips! To be greeted with them after a gruelling day was surreal, and would often push us on during the last few hours of the day.

Listen to music or use of gadgetery – what and why?

I didn’t listen to any music – the sound of birds and streams was inspiration enough! On the gadgetery front, my Garmin watch and the GPS were essential.  I found I enjoyed the day more when I wasn’t checking distance on my watch, but mainly using it for time.  Checking the distance every few hours provided a real boost at knowing how far we’d covered.

Your most essential piece of kit and why?

Poles – they saved my knees on the descents, especially towards the end of the 8 days. As the week progressed, this run became more and more about body management.

What was the camaraderie like?

Very special.  Everyone wanted everyone else to succeed.

Describe CWU in three words

Epic, wild, journey

How does it compare to multi-day races or ultras you have done?

A different level.  Those extra 3 days, compared to a 5-day multi-day I’ve done before, were extremely testing on the body and mind; you really have to play the long game and not push yourself too much early on when you’re feeling strong.  I loved the navigation element of it as well.

Describe CWU as something else

It’s like a giant beast that eats you up for breakfast, or makes the Marathon des Sables look like a beach holiday

If you could go back and do one thing on the race differently what would it have been?

Reviewed the map and elevation profile fully and in more detail the night before.  We did this for Day 3 and beyond, but for Day 2 we didn’t fully know what to expect and the last few climbs of the day really threw us mentally.

How would you have altered your training knowing what you know now?

More training! Definitely 2 or 3 days back-to-back to get really used to running on tired legs.  More practice on blister prevention as well…

What’s next? Apart from a good old sleep! We mean trail run or race-wise.

Next race is slightly different…the Marathon du Medoc in France in September…essentially a fancy dress marathon with wine from local vineyards every mile.  Then next year the London Marathon and Marathon de Sables (better get the heat training in!).

Anything else you’d like to say about this epic race?

Sign up for 2018 🙂