Ultra Great Britain 2018, The Race Across Scotland
6:10am and we off, all I remember thinking is “****” , here goes, 214 miles, oh “****” (insert what you want in the ****). I went into this with no intention to race, only to complete the course so that I had a better chance of racing it next year. I’d followed no training plan, no routine, dam I’d gone weeks without even running a mile. But I was there, I knew I’d done some big events this year, so even though I had not trained prop since last year’s 3rd place finish at this race, I knew I had some fitness, and my mental strength was in Hulk Mode. All of this flashed through my mind as I joined the line of runners heading up the first climb, only 200 meters into the race. I settled into a steady trott and as the field opened I found myself in the top 20, running with fellow UGB200 finishers from last year. Matt Armstrong and Peter James finished 6th & 7th in last year’s race, we stuck together for the morning reminiscing about the highs and lows of last years race, we had no issues other than missing a turn in the woods and ending up slogging through bogs to get back on course, quite ironic as we were bulling ourselves up only seconds before we missed the turn. We had lost about 15min with the detour but we knew that mentally were a strong team and if we could work together, we could have a chance of finishing this tough course. Sadly, I knew I could not keep the pace up with the lads, so after around 39mi I dropped back a bit and chatted to other runners. I eventually found myself on my own, I’d again taken a wrong turn. After checking my GPS on my watch & a call back to my support crew, I headed back to the trail. Through a field, over a wall, over a barbed wire fence, through nettles, chased by a crazy horse fly, through a stream and up an embankment, to find myself back on the trail, the trail I had just done. I’d only looped back on myself and had to run the extra 2mile again. I saw the funny side and cracked on. By this point the trail started to get tougher, the ground got boggier, the trail turned to overgrown countryside that just wanted to twist your ankles as it hid holes and rocks under its long grass.
My mood started to drop, I’d rolled my ankle a few times, my feet were soaking wet and starting to get sore. All I could think of was reaching my crew for the first time at CP3, 45mi into the race. I’d bumped into Szilard Csiha, a lad who I’d ran with for a short while at last year’s race. We past the time talking about our lives, he’d had an accident & lost his memory when her ways younger, while rebuilding his life he decided to be a runner. He had amazing stories that helped pass the time until we met a lad called Paul Pickford, our moods were lifted.
I never knew at this point, but Paul was to be a massive help to me later in the race. Paul was saving his feet and walking the last 10 miles to CP3, we were doing a walk /run, yet every time we slowed to a walk, Paul would catch us up. He was a bit of a ninja on his sticks so we decided to walk (at pace) with him into the checkpoint chatting away amusing ourselves with the fact that every time we asked folk how far we had to go, it was always 10 miles. I’d hit 48 miles before we got to the checkpoint. Sue, Becky and Babs had everything ready for me, you’d think that they had crewed together for years, but this was the first time they had worked together. Becky treated my feet as I prepared for the next 35mi (how long it was to CP4). I ate and changed clothes before heading back out into the wilds of Scotland. Paul and I had agreed to walk through the night, in the hope that the morning we could run again.
We left in high spirits, a lovely fast paced walk around a Loch led to us running a couple of sections, but the terrain got worse. Parts of the course were overgrown, and no apparent route was visible. The bogs got deeper and wetter, the ground got more uneven. Then the rain started. I’d fallen in love with Scotland years ago, but tonight was going to be our first lovers tiff. That night was the toughest night of running I’ve ever had. I rolled my ankle a few more times, my feet were in tatters. We were both mentally and physically drained. At one-point Paul saw a panda in a tree and I looked up to see an old man stood by Paul. Night time hallucinations had struck. Our moods lifted, then dropped, we had points where we never spoke, points where we talked utter crap. Being in the middle of nowhere was affecting me big time, knowing each checkpoint was so far apart started to play tricks on me. I wasn’t keeping track of my fluids and soon realised that I drank all of my water, and we still had a long way to go. We filled up at a stream but every time I drank it I got wind. Never trust a fart after 20 miles is a moto I go by, so decided to only use this water when I was desperate. We arrived at Checkpoint 4 in the pouring rain at 2am, 75 miles in 20 hours. I ate and decided to sleep. I was broken, my ankle and back were on tatters. I wanted to quit there and then, but also go by the moto that unless you are injured, you should never drop out of a race as soon as you enter a checkpoint.
I slept on and off until 7am, I woke constantly due to the muscle spasms and felt awful in the morning. Paul headed out before me, I wanted to quit but the girls got me out. A medic taped up my ankle and I did decide to head out shortly after to test my body. I thanked the girls for their hard work and headed out. I was in pain but the trail was kind and the sun was shining so I started to run. Scotland was trying to make up to me. I knew I was going to meet the girls after 6mi on an access road. At mile 4 of the morning I realised that I was mentally exhausted, I could run, but I kept breaking down crying for no reason other than I knew I was going to quit. I wanted to hit 100mi before dropping out, but I hurt badly. I phoned Sue who read out messages of encouragement. These helped pick up my mood and
I ran down towards the makeshift aid station the girls had set up for me with a smile on my face. I met Sue a couple of hundred of meters from the van and we walked in together. I ate again and headed back out into the hills.
The hills got bigger, it was stunning yet brutal, I enjoyed the down hills but the up hurt my ankle and back. I had slowed significantly and was worried that I would not be able to make the checkpoint without causing injury. By the big decent down towards the next checkpoint by mind and body were both screaming at me. This race had already been the toughest thing I had ever done. I was angry with myself that I had not trained properly for it, angry that I had dragged my crew all this way and they will not experience the highs of knowing that they have got me to the finish. I phoned Sue and told her I needed picked up as I was dropping from the race. The problem was that I was in the middle of nowhere and although I could see forestry roads, my crew could not see them on the maps. I knew I had to continue to move down to the next checkpoint. I dragged myself down towards the forest, four people had overtaken me while I stood on the access road trying to guide my crew to me. I caught them up one by one, each had their own story of hell from the night before. Poor Louise (a friend from Twitter) was sat on the side of another access road awaiting a lift from Wayne the Race Director as she had torn a tendon in her knee. I stopped and chatted to her for a while before heading down to my crew. I hit civilisation and felt a huge weight lifted. This feeling was followed by elation as I looked along the country road to see the girls at the end, walking towards me. Sue sprung forwards from the line they were walking in and ran towards me with her arms open. I couldn’t have been any happier. We hugged, she took my bag and we all walked back to the UltraVan that was up the road. My race was over 90 miles of 214. I handed my tracker into Checkpoint 5 and we headed home via the pizza shop.
Am I disappointed? Not now, no. I have effectively recced 90mi of the Southern Upland Way ready for next years race. Yes, I will return next year, after a year of proper training. I could have pushed through and walked more miles, hell I may have even dared to say I could have finished. But to do that would have certainly injured myself. Now I can rest up and get back into training over Autumn and winter. This race will be the toughest event I have done to date. It needs 100% commitment. Bring on The Race Across Scotland 2019.
Big thanks to everyone who sent well wishes before, during and after the race. To everyone that ran with me and put up with me on the course. To Sue (my amazing wife who continues to support my adventures), Becky and Babs for all of their help and support, together the girls made a great crew, and last but not least, All of the UGB crew that put on another amazing event.