This should have been named the race that nearly wasn’t, and was and nearly never happened! It was a rollercoaster of events leading up to the race but here I was at the line, a little worse for wear due to little sleep on the Friday night and an awful two weeks at work.
i had been having Physio on my knee from Scott Woodhead for 5 weeks after sustaining an impact injury on the WHW on 23rd June 18. I had tripped and fallen 9 miles into the race and then ran/walked a further 90 miles to finish the race. I had quite a painful recovery going back to basics, strength building and no running whilst recovering.
I had not been able to run up until 2 weeks before the event. I had met with my coach Ronnie Staton and he gave me some more exercises and then had planned some minimal running as this was now my taper time. The physio then said that he believed that my knee would now hold up and that gave me a real boost (as I know he is not keen on ultras). I knew I was not at the peak of fitness but had good base training that may see me through the race and the plan was to be on the start line and see how I did.
In some respects this plan worked for me as there was no pressure other than to try to finish.
Ian, my hubbie, didn’t finish work until 6pm on Friday we were late setting off and arrived at a lay-by 45 minutes from Portpatrick at 1am Saturday. I had been catnapping on the way up and then managed to get a few hours sleep . Not ideal preparation but I was up and ready to go at 3.30am and we headed off to the start.
THE START PORTPATRICK
I was at the start at 4.30am and there were a few bleary eyed helpers around. I registered, got my number and tracker but didn’t get my starting photo done as I think it was too early. I handed in my drop bags, had breakfast and waited for the start with nervous apprehension but excitement too. I felt ready but had no idea how I would cope or my knee would hold up. I had a chat with Colin Green and Jane, his wife and my coach Ronnie Staton at the start, put my finishers t shirt away. I am not keen on getting the finishers at the start of the race so always put them out of sight. Then I went down to the start line with all the other nervous and excited runners. . There was a 10 minute delay then we were off!
The route swept round the coast and I loved the sea views. I tried to imagine seeing the same view on the other coast and it reminded me of setting off from Southport last year for Hornsea on the UGB200. I was taking it easy and running along and then we left the coast and headed in land .It was a long climb away from the coast and I was hot and took my coat off assisted by runners around me who kindly held my bag.
CP1at Castle Kennedy seemed to come around soon. I was asked for my cup but as it was early when I registered I had not got one given with my tracker. Another runner gave me his spare cup which was really nice. I was still assessing my knee and a little nervous of putting too much effort in. I was taking my time maybe a little too slow. There was plenty of opportunities to run which I did and the route was good. I had my poles with me and used them as I was still a little nervous about falling but gradually used them less as I went on.
As we got further inland , the route became more hilly which I enjoy and I was chatting with different runners. I first met Katy McGowan before Glen Trool and it was a long haul off the route to reach the CP. It seemed to go on forever up a long road through a wooded park. I saw Colin going back to the route and Craig Edwards who was in fine spirits. I was happy to be at the CP to replenish my water and food and then went back out on the route.
I caught up with Katy again and we ended up meeting up with two other runners including Jose from Spain and running as a small crew together. I was aware that the next part of the route was a hilly and technical as I had recee’d it in May and knew that in the dark it was more treacherous. We carefully picked our way over the rocks and through the long ferns trying to see the path. We went off route once and we backtracked to the last point we were on route and soon found the path. We had a laugh on route but were aware that we each had our own race and may not be together for long.
Just before the first main CP were my first drop bag was, there was the awful bog that I had been dreading. . There was a note on a board before the turning, for a route round and we attempted this but we could not find the way and realised that we had to go back and we had wasted time and added more mileage. I struggled a bit over the bog but made it with the great support from the others, soon we were at CP4 John St Dalry .
I decided to change my shoes as I had heard that it was a boggy wet route over to Sanquar. I arranged for Ian to pick up my drop bag later on and take my Hoka’s over to CP7. I had planned to get some sleep here and had some sleep but I get achy legs at times and they woke me up. I eventually decided to get up and have something to eat and set off again . I had redressed my feet with tape etc and felt comfortable with my Sealskin socks, injuit liners and Salomon’s on and \I was off again.
Once I set off I was glad I had my Salomons on as the route was muddy and boggy as predicted but I was slipping on the wet bridges as they have little grip . I was not as comfortable in my Salamons despite them coping well with the mud and I decided I wanted my old faithful Hoka Mafate Speed 2 back so texted Ian to arranged to have them dropped at CP5 instead of 7.
I was running and walking well and felt good. I was mainly on my own but occassionally met other runners for a chat. Then coming over the hill I spotted Sanquar. I wanted to get there so I set off running down the hill. At first it appeared the more I ran the further away the town got and it was a long way down. Finally reached the CP and could rest, fuel up and then carry on. The CP was a gazebo and I felt pretty tired. It was warm so I had something to eat and had a chat with Ian and Jane Tonge and had a sleep on some grass around the side of the leisure centre. It was nice sleeping outside and I had about 30 minutes and felt better.
After my sleep, I changed my trainers and fuelled up I set off on my own again. I had a hotspot on my toe but had dealt with this and it caused me little problems. I was bit by a horsefly as I ran up the hill and although it burned and stung for a while, I didn’t get any other issues afterwards. I was again tired and I decided to have another rest by the side of the road. It was so comfy in the grass and I fell asleep easier than in the CP’s. A runner approached me to ask how I was so I was awake and set off again.
The next CP was the highest village on the route and I flew through Wanlochhead and straight past the CP and up the hill. I had my eyes on a runner in front with a red top and continued up the hill for another 3 miles until I realised something was wrong. Another runner was coming up the hill and I asked about the CP and they said it was down in the village. The harsh reality struck me that I had missed the CP. I rang in and was informed I would need to go back. I knew it was a long stint to the next CP and I also needed food and water. I was gutted but headed off back.
I got to the main road and was told by another two runners that I could go down the road and back to the CP so I ran fast downhill but saw no sign of the CP. I realised I was well off course and no other runners around me so back tracked to the course and headed down the track through the lead mine again. I was not looking forward to this as there were a few tricky bits I had passed on the way up that I had mentally made a note would be awful coming down the other way especially in the dark.
I got coffee and sympathy from the CP staff and then decided to try and sleep. It was a separate room with airbeds and I slept a little but the delay in returning to the CP played on my mind as I lied down. I got up and chatted to the CP staff then decided to set off in the early hours of the morning. I was on my own but at least I knew the route back up in the dark. The night sky was beautiful and the stars were spectacular. I saw a couple of shooting stars and I made my wishes, one of which was to get over the route safely overnight and second I wanted happiness and health for all my family and friends .
On the second night it became very cold as it was a clear night and very remote. I was on my own and could feel my temperature dropping and had thoughts to lie down but knew I was too cold to stop. I eventually got my bivi bag out and wrapped myself in it. I continued to feel the cold and was becoming a little disoriented but knew I needed to keep moving and only stop if I found shelter. There were no other runners in sight and no shelter. I saw a building near a dam and thought if I got there I could get out of the cold but the route did not go near it. I kept moving forward and this helped keep me a bit warmer. I was worried that I may be developing hyperthermia so put all my clothing on and kept moving looking for some shelter and wishing for the sun to come up. I was a little worried but managed well and I love being out at night and the seeing the stars and that kept me focused.
At last the sun came up and began to warm the air and I was so glad to see the sun rise. 2 runners passed me and asked how I was. They suggested I keep moving and eat – yes i think I knew that and had managed to keep going. One of the runners suggested removing a layer and it worked and in the sun I started to warm up. He kept an eye on me over the next few miles which I greatly appreciated. I thanked him for his support and when I stopped to readjust my shoes he went off. Instantly I stopped to sit and adjust my trainers, I was surrounded by the dreaded midgies so I made quick adjustments and moved on. The midgie attack did not happen very often on route so that is why this was so noticeable! I did not experience tar midges with big boots on which was a real pleasure !
The route from here was incredible with beautiful lakes still and serene with incredible reflections, small paths on the edge of hills with massive drops, scaling hills and downhills. It was fantastic and awe inspiring too. I went through a huge forest and headed to CP7 where the next dropbag was.
The plan at BEATTOCK was to have a sleep and despite my best efforts, sleep eluded me in the CP’s. So I thought I had better keep moving. I had some food including 3 rounds of toast as I was hungry and porridge too. I was chatting with other runners and we were all sharing our stories and a few were dropping out which was sad.
It was beautiful over the next part of the route and soon I was dropping down to the Bothy on route. I met up with Elaine here and we both rested on leather chairs in the bothy. I decided not to stay too long and set off but was soon tired again so as it was warm, I laid down on a banking at the side of a small lane and had a sleep. It was lovely laying in the sun and I slept better than at any CP.
Elaine caught me up and we ended up sticking together over the next few miles to St Mary’s Loch and we had both been experiencing some side effects of sleep deprivation and exchanged stories. We met Katy’s support again on route and could see Katy in the distance as this was a long boring lane. I was happy to see the route turn off up the hill and then running over small paths on the side of the hills overlooking a huge ravine. Scary but exhilarating too. We climbed many hills until eventually St Marys Loch came into view. Wow what a view but then it became clear that we were climbing again apparently away from then loch and over the hills to descend a long and winding path.
I loved this run down into the CP and felt strong. I had even taught a sheep to baa properly on the way in for a laugh and was in fine spirits. The CP was just a gazebo and they only had soup with beans in and bread so I had that and got ready to head out into the dusk.
Elaine set off but I caught up with her and we decided to stay together over night, It was difficult to navigate and we were climbing up for what seemed an age and as it was raining and there was low cloud, on the top of the hill so there was minimal vision in the night.
The tiredness and the subsequent weirdness was manageable but before Lauder I had a strange experience. I was thankful that Elaine was around. We were climbing up out of Tranquair and it was raining hard and low cloud which impacted on the use of the headtorch. We had no vision around us at all and was relying on following the trail made by others and the GPS. The whispering was loud and I was exhausted although still moving forward. Then suddenly I felt that I had shifted my conciousness and felt this in a physical sense. I suddenly thought “what am I doing in Spain?” I have never been to Spain. I had no idea for about 30 seconds where I was and I thought I was in Saddleworth moor and wondered why I was there in this weather.
Then I felt like I was sliding between 2 worlds. I was suddenly in the light at home briefly talking to my son and then back on the moor in the torrential rain and mist in the dark. I was falling asleep and waking but then not sure when I was awake or asleep. I questioned Elaine where we were and did not believe her she said I was in a race. It was a strange experience .
I think I was experiencing microsleeps which I had no control over and I was going straight into vivid dreams and waking and not knowing what was a dream or reality. I became disorientated for a short time but quickly realised what was happening. Elaine went in front of me for a short time and all I focused on was a bright shiny imp jumping in front of me guiding the way. At a gate on the top, despite the rain, I took control and decided to lie down on the moor and sleep to regain my composure as clearly I was mentally fatigued. I had full waterproof kit on and was warm so not worried about losing body heat. The 20 minute nap worked and I got control back and the dreaded microsleeps stopped although I was left with a strange feeling of dejavu which persisted on and off for the rest of the race.
We continued on and picked our way over beautiful hills, and to and down tracks and trails and the sun rose again. The lean that Elaine had developed had been getting worse and she was clearly in pain., I decided that I needed to move forward and 1. Get some help for Elaine and 2 get to the CP or I would start to get concerned the time. I spoke to Elaine and she agreed and I ran down the hill until i got a signal and phoned for help for Elaine. Then I ran into the CP feeling strong. I met Adam and John going up the hill to support Elaine and I told them where she was and what was happening. I met Anna at the CP for the first time in the race and had a chat.
When I got into the CP it was clear that I had wasted a lot of time and I needed to get going. I had food, got changed and although I had run/ walked all night I set off after an hour break. My plan was to get to the penultimate CP, have some sleep then to the end. I ate some food and set off in the early afternoon sun.
I met a few runners at the CP and had a chat with Sylvia who was supporting a couple of runners and offered support with taping feet and massages to other runners. She gave me a leg massage and I managed some sleep and then got my feet retaped and ready to go. I was feeling a little tired but pretty good .
I set off to the penultimate CP Longforcmus and was feeling that I could do this now and just need to keep my focus. I was enjoying the time on my own and had processed all the stress from work out of my mind and was loving being outdoors and it reminded me of UGB200 in 2017 and just being at one with yourself and the great outdoors. No worries about work, bills, what was going on in the world just the aim to get from one CP to another to complete the race.
Due to the lack of sleep I experienced hallucinations both auditory and visual but was aware of what was happening so wasn’t concerned. At times it felt like my senses were heightened and I was acutely aware of my surroundings, the beauty and the sheer awesomeness of the Southern Uplands. I wasn’t Scared when a line of bushes turned into a collection of Mexican Day of the Dead characters, large trees where massive dragons, the gaps in trees filled into faces watching me pass, some passive and some a little taunting.
I heard whispering around me although I knew nothing was there . I saw people st gates and running in the trees. The trees often tricked me into thinking that I was near a town with car noises and signs of civilisation. I berated them later on for being such cruel tricksters but they just gently swayed in the wind . The humming in the trees was probably caused by the large fields of wind turbines that were scattered across huge areas of moorland. It was a hugely impressive view!I was still experiencing thoughts that I was in Saddleworth and strong feelings of dejavu so had to keep orientating myself. This terrain was far more remote and isolating than Saddleworth so had to keep reminding myself were I was. The views were stunning and a great vista appeared over every hill but no CP. I made a right turn off the hill and started down a long track and was starting to worry that I had missed the CP. I rang John who said I was on track so carried on. It felt like hours, it was going dark, I had some almost Monty Python hallucinations which I said “ right you can pack that in!!” I continued down a dark road looking for signs of light or life which seemed to go on forever. I started to despair but finally houses stated to appear out of the darkness and before I knew it I was there.
Ian had arrived and said he was driving to the end and would meet me there. A few set off and I missed them so again I went out around 1am in my own. I had given my charger to Ian as I had charged my watch up and set off.
I climbed out of Longforcumus and set off over the hills. I could see some headlamps in the distance and then suddenly I had the low battery alert on my watch. This threw me and I had been utilising my watch and map to get over the terrain. I rang Ian and he agreed to meet me at a B road that crossed the trail.
But on top of the hill in the dark I lost sight of the trail and did not know which way to go. I back tracked to the last post I passed and tried to locate the route but as I was on my own and was starting to worry a bit. I checked with the guys at HQ that I was in track and they said another runner was a few miles away and would come up soon . I waited around looking for signs of a light and could see a lot in the distance.
I thought about setting out to a house I could see in the far distance but as it was dark I had no idea of the terrain in between. Suddenly I thought “Anne Marie you have got across over 200 miles mostly on your own, now get a grip and use your skills.”
I did and followed a fence before picking up the track again . I looked to my left and there were a bank of glittering eyes staring at me. I was praying that they were curious sheep not cows!! !! Then I was on track seeing the lights of Ian’s campervan to pick up the much needed charger. I had wasted nearly 1.30 hours with this but then I set off at a pace. It was a meandering route through fields mainly with some difficulty spotting the track. I climbed over fences, though fields with little signs that I was in route. I didn’t see any other runners until it became light . I met a runner who had gone the wrong way and was in a lot of pain and he intended to phone HQ when back on the track so I got him back on track so he could get help. I carried on down the hill and saw some cars inn the darkness and they were local people helping out and was geeat reassurance that \I was on track after the winding route down the hill.
Then the final slog and I tried to follow the GPS and ended up going around in circles in a wood. I had been on track and the lack of sleep, the pain in my feet hit me and I had a cry. I had lost my common sense and should have taken out my map to follow the route.
Anyway another runner appeared and we got on track to the end. When I saw the sea it was amazing and something I had imagined when I thought about finishing the race! I was so desperate to get to the end but really pleased that I had completed my challenge although slower than I wished.
I was so glad to see the end and ran over the line with Nicola Bruce to be met by my long suffering hubbie, Ian, Anna Roberts, |Katy’s support crew and a volunteer from Wanlochhead who met me when I had to go back. I had a well earned beer at 8am in the morning and the promptly feel asleep in the campervan.
I had learned a lot from this race —
I should not waste time at CP’s and use the time constructively
i need to learn how to layer clothes in cold weather
i need to get used to sleeping on races and managing pain in my legs over multiple days .
Also on a positive
i am not scared to be alone even at night.
i am good at navigation in the day and at night
i am still scared of cows! A kind farmer drove at the side of me past a herd of his cows laughing at me when I said I was scared of them!
i love the outdoors, nature, the beautiful night skies, the stunning sun rises and sun sets and yes I still love hills!
I finished and received my buckle. I was shattered but waited for Katy and Martin to finish as Katy had been a great support on various points of the race and her support crew had given me coffee and melon when they saw me which was a great help with little support on route. I had planned it this way as preparation for my next race.
It was great to see them come in and finish under the 100 hours.
Well it was a fantastic experience and I loved the remoteness and vastness of the terrain. I went up to Dovestones a couple of weeks later near where I live and it looked small which made me realise the vastness of the open spaces and moors over the Southern Upland Way. It was Brilliant and I was glad I finished although I think I could have cut out a lot of time but you live and learn. It was also a great adventure and this blog cannot capture all that happened on route but I don’t regret running this race as it was fantastic, Sorry no pictures but you can google the route, watch my relive on Facebook or perhaps try it yourself next year.