Ultra Trail Scotland
It’s Friday morning and I’m on my way to Arran, a small isle off the west coast of Scotland. The only access to the island is by ferry sailing from Ardrossan just west of Glasgow to Brodick the largest village on the island. The crossing takes around an hour and as you approach so do the mountains silhouetting the horizon and in turn gave me that first race adrenaline hit.
Docking in Brodick I drove straight to the race registration, register before heading to the lovely bed n breakfast with coastal view a further 10 minutes on.
Once settled in and race kit organised I headed back to the race briefing held at one of the hotels back in Brodick where the organisers have put on a ‘pasta party’ which gave me a chance to chat with some of the other race entries. Race briefing was the normal route description, kit requirements followed by the health and safety aspects, which turned out to be somewhat important come morning and the horrendous weather conditions.
Now for those that haven’t looked at this race before let me tell you, this is mountain running in its most pure form, straight ups and downs with ridges no wider than the width of a car in a fair few spots, the bad weather and winds can obviously cause some dangerous and life threatening exposure.
Yep, under advice from the Mountain Rescue, the race was delayed by two hours in the hope the winds dropped and the clouds lifted a little. The knock on effect of that caused the race organisers to decide to cut the most technical and dangerous ridge section from the route, in essence the race would now be 24 miles instead of the planned 28 and the elevation was also cut by a few hundred metres…at first I felt a little disappointed but by half way into the race I appreciated this decision.
The race went at 10am and within 100m the trail hit the beach, WAIT, this is a mountain race and here I am on the bloody beach! At 200m in and there’s sand in my running shoes and calf muscles are burning, confirmation - running on sand sucks. The trail swung away from the coast heading up and through the woods before and the trail widened a little, trees became sparse and basically it’s now the moors, ‘ahhhh this is more like it’ I say to myself, I’m into a good rhythm my mind in full ‘let’s do this’ mode.
The moors don’t last more than mile before the elevation has dictated that actually this is now rocks underfoot and every couple of metres forward you’ve gone up a metre, my breathing is now deep! Rhythm constantly interrupted by the massive boulders peppering the landscape, I’m actually having to scale and, erm, climb! ‘So now I’m a bloody rock climber, great’. This was how it was going to be for the next five hours except this now was a case of doing it, in the clouds!
Don’t get me wrong I had entered this in knowing it was going to be a challenge but hey I also knew the views would compensate…not on this day, today a different sort of view came into play, a different sort of dramatic. Up high it was at times total white out with only seconds to glimpse the sometime huge climb about to come or the stupid silly decent about to smash the quads, either way this set play to an eerie spectacle, which I think just has added to the whole insanity of doing what I was doing.
I was making sure I was supplementing regularly with gel blocks and goos washing down with my electrolyte fluids, check points on the mountains themselves were a welcome greeting however none had water top up or food, just marshal head counts and directional help taking you to the next ridge, climb or descent, food and water came at the half way point where my drop back enabled me to reload with food and water with added electrolyte tablet. I will mention however that there was was a natural fresh water spring, the water was amazingly refreshing filling both bottles I then heading off…in the clouds, some would say I always did have my head in the clouds, it felt so much like home…
Okay, so I’d descended down to the half way check point having crossed a fast flowing river bounced back through moorland, I mean bog, reloaded with foods and drink and doubled back to head back across the fast flowing river bouncing back over the bogs and now climbing back up the stupid silly steep mountain face from which not 30 minutes previous I had come. Things where now starting to feel tired, muscles knew exactly what they’d just been put through and Id still got roughly another 10 miles to do, of which 4 miles where massive climbs. The climbs although obviously tiring actually became the easier bits, it was the downs that I started to struggle on, I just could run them! How frustrating! I was passed by many on these points but to be honest, hours ago I had lost interest in what position I was to finish in nor the time this… this thing! Was going to take me, I just wanted to finish.
And I did in 6 hours 54 minutes, I’ve crossed many finish lines, 10k, half marathons, fell races, marathons and ultras previous to this event and have had that ‘yeeehaaaa’ moment but none had felt like crossing this finish line, a lump in my throat with joy, exhilaration and that relieve of ‘Oh my God, I think I’ve just survived the strangest thing’ feeling. I was proud of myself to say the least.
Needless to say since then I’ve eaten like a horse, my mind loves me, my legs hate me and I’ve looked at the finishers medal that many times I’ve lost count.
Do I recommend this event? Of course I do, it's amazingly well organised, I didn’t even nearly get lost up on the tops as it was radically well marked. Not only do I recommend this event to those wanting a great challenge, but I dare you, no wait, I double dare you.