Every time we go hiking in the hills of Scotland i insist that we take the necessary gear to ensure that should trouble arise, we will survive. Now until recently I have always carried the bulk of the safety gear because my rather slender and lightweight daughter would have struggled to carry it. But at the age of 7 and with dozens of hill hikes under her belt it was time to let her carry her own safety gear.
Head torch, survival bag, midge net, warm layer(s), waterproof gloves, trousers & jacket, whistle, diets aid kit, spare buff and the lost goes on, at various points she has or will be carrying these. She is also equipped with some basic mountain survival skills to ensure that should myself or my partner have a serious accident or die that she would know how to survive until help came or better still she would know how to attract help.
Winter hiking though brought a whole new dimension to the fore – icy conditions and this meant that if we didn’t want to get forced off a mountain or similar then we needed to add to the kit (I’ll talk about the ice axes in another post on another day) and that meant microspikes because there was no doubt in my mind that the YakTrax we all own would not be up to the hiking I had in mind.
I had recently bought some Kahtoola microspikes for myself so that should the Cheviot Goat be an absolute icy mess I stood a chance of still being able to keep going but I didn’t think it necessary to kit out both the GingaNinja and ASKadventurer at the same time because the hills we generally climb in winter are reasonably sedate.
That all changed though when a couple of weeks ago we decided to hit the climb up to Schiehallion.
Now on the face of it Schiehallion isn’t a particularly challenging climb, the route is straightforward, there is a path for much of the way up and it’s not really that much climbing – about 800 metres to reach the 1089 metre summit. What gives this particular munro a bit of challenge is the negotiation of the boulder field that makes up the last couple of kilometres of climb.
Our effort though was snowed off before we got started, the snow that had started to come down thickly as we closed on the hike meant we were concerned about getting the car out. However, this did give me pause for thought about what we do if we reached a reasonable height and found ourselves in difficulty without some form of spikes and so I set about doing some research.
At this point the only spikes I really knew of where the ones from Kahtoola but then I came across the Icegripper website which had a broader selection of options for hiking in tougher, icier conditions. I was intrigued by the options and the better price points. Experience has taught me though often means, ‘buy cheaply, buy twice’. However, with the Kahtoola options all sold out anyway (and very few places having them) I wanted to make sure that I could get both the spikes for GingaNinja and ASK from the same place (easier for ensuring delivery and any possible returns I suppose).
This meant that for the GingaNinja I purchased the Icegripper Trek+Work micro crampon and for ASK I went with the Veriga ice track snow and ice chains – why didn’t I get the same for each of them? Simple, the Icegripper spikes don’t go down small enough and the Veriga where a mere £15 which seemed like an absolute bargain. Delivery was excellently speedy and they arrived well before we aimed to go back to Schiehallion a few days later.
Veriga v Icegripper vKahtoola
Before we look at their performance we should look at some of the specifications for the three spikes that were in use; these specifications and descriptions are taken from icegripper.co.uk.
Veriga ice track snow and ice chains
Veriga Ice Track Snow and Ice Chains feature high quality heat treated steel points for an efficient grip. Simply slip them onto your footwear and go!
8 x 10mm teeth per foot means great grip on snow, ice, crud and soft wet ground
Elastomer harness makes them suitable to wear with a variety of footwear types, but best on boots
Velcro ‘bridge strap’ to prevent losing in deep snow
Complete with a polyester blue and orange drawstring bag for storage when not in use
Packed Size: 150mm x 100mm x 200mm
Not suitable for high altitude trekking or extreme mountaineering
Icegripper Trek & Work
Icegripper Trek and Work are a new breed of micro crampon adaptable and tough enough to be used for both leisure and work. You will experience solid grip on packed snow and ice from 13 x 15mm spikes per foot. Whether you are an avid winter trekker/hiker or a farmer these ice grips are the answer to your winter traction problems. Unashamedly tough.
13 steel spikes per foot for rock solid traction
Specially designed, articulated front spike section enabling some spike contact with the ground in demanding conditions
Increased grip when traversing
Rugged stainless steel link chains
Flexible silicon elastomer outerband for quick on and off
Reinforced silicon eyelets to avoid tearing and increase longevity
Removeable bridge strap
600D polyester storage bag with polyester yarn mesh side to allow snow melt.
Pack Size: 130mm x 80mm x 180mm
12 month Icegripper manufacturer warranty
Whether you are trekking on icy winter trails, exploring winter woodland tracks, dog walking, or just popping to the shops and back , the new Kahtoola Microspike should be your first choice ice grip. Although best worn on Boots and Activity Shoes, they’re easy to use with almost any type of footwear and come with a 2 year manufacturers warranty. Kahtoola Microspikes offer confidence inspiring grip, even on sheet ice. Here are some more reasons to consider them.
Storage Tote Sack with each pair of Microspikes
3/8 Inch (1 cm) stainless steel spikes
Newly engineered under heel quad spike assembly
12 Spikes per foot on all sizes
Spikes made from heat treated 400 series stainless steel for longevity
Welded stainless steel chains
Patent pending eyelet reinforcements
Low profile elastomer harness, light and strong, easy on and off
Suitable to be worn with any type of footwear
50% less bulk and 13% harness weight reduction means Microspikes are more suitable for winter runners than ever before
Pack size: 125mm x 75mm x 50mm
2 year manufacturers warranty
Quality The first thing I can say is that I have been mostly impressed by the build quality of all three of the microspikes that we had out on the hills and there was actually very little to choose between them. The spikes feel robust and well made, as do the chain links and none of the spikes tested feel like they would be prone to easy breaking.
It is worth noting that the spikes on the Icegripper feel denser than the Kahtoola and as a result are heavier overall which makes the Kahtoola the lighter weight option and that might be worth factoring into your thinking – especially if you’re the kind of hiker (or runner) for whom every gram counts.
It is also worth mentioning that both the Veriga and the Icegripper use a much thicker elastomer harness over the shoe than the Kahtoola and this ultimately leads to the heavier feel of the Veriga and the Icegripper – that said none of these microspikes are very heavy at all and aren’t going to make a significant dent in your winter hiking pack.
Fit & Comfort This is a interesting one as they are clearly all designed for being worn over hiking boots and shoes but with the amounts of styles, shapes and weirdness that can now be found in footwear it could be described as a challenge to develop products that will cover all shoe types.
ASK currently wears Scarpa boots for hiking and Altra Koriki & Lone Peak for trail running and the size 1-3 in the Veriga works very well on all the shoe types, it fits neatly and soundly despite the fact the she is at the smaller end of the sizing.
The issue that could have been a problem is that both the GingaNinja and I wear Hoka One One hiking boots which tend to be very wide on the sole (and for me in the forefoot). I did have some trepidation as to whether the elastomer outer band would stretch over these super wide boots – especially the Icegripper because of the thicker, wider band.
Thankfully, even with cold hands it was relatively simple to slip into the spikes and then pull them around the heel and toe. There was a surprising amount of give in the bands of both the Icegripper and the Kahtoola but once on they both remained snug and well fitted.
Ultimately I think all three microspikes would be able to fit a broad range of footwear.
The one difference worth mentioning is that both the Veriga and the Icegripper came with a velcro strap fastening for across the foot and although I don’t think is essential it did offer the opportunity for an even more secure and dialled in fit.
The benefit of a well fitted microspike is that they are comfortable and all three of the tested microspikes were perfectly comfortable as we hiked. I wondered if they might dig in as we moved across the icy boulders but, either because of the maximal cushioning on our boots or because the spikes are spread in such a way so as not to cause pressure underfoot, the spikes stayed comfortable. The overband was also perfectly fitted on all three of the shoes although it would be fair to say that the least intrusive would be the Kahtoola because it is made of that thinner material – the overband much like the spikes also stayed in place and didn’t move around the foot, therefore there can be no complaints on fit or comfort.
What I was quick to note was that ASK who was wearing the Veriga was instantly transformed on the ice from a slow moving 7 year old to some form of spritely mountain goat. The same could be said for the GingaNinja and I who, once we donned the spikes, were able to move around with greater assuredness on the ice and across the rocky trail.
The rocky nature of the route up Schiehallion was of mild concern while wearing the spikes though and I feared damage to the spikes as we ascended but the truth is that all three sets of spikes came away unscathed and in turn each of the hikers for the most part returned to the bottom unscathed too.
The one thing I did note that I hadn’t expected and perhaps should have was just how much additional grip the spikes gave me and when leaping from a small ledge I remained connected to the ledge and took a bit of a tumble – but this was certainly down to my own stupidity and lack of experience rather than anything to do with the spikes.
We removed the spikes once we were clear of the slippier rocks and the ice and it was only then when we ran across small patches of ice that we realised just what a difference the spikes made. The level of care that is required while traversing ice is immense and you really don’t want to take a tumble and I feel that had we not had the spikes with us then we would not have made it to the top of Schiehallion in the conditions that we faced.
Carrying spikes can be a bit a nuisance as they are sharp, once worn they can be wet and dirty and ultimately they are a bit of an arse ache. However, each of the spikes came with a little bag. The Kahtoola bag is a simple soft fabric drawstring bag and offers decent protection from the spikes pocking through the material. The Veriga bag is a heavier weight fabric bag but with a drawstring that broke pretty quickly – thankfully the nice chaps at Icegripper gave us a couple of their own drawstring bags which are ideal for this kind of thing. The thing I like about the Veriga bag was that it was blue and orange and therefore easier to see in the bottom of a dark bag. Perhaps the most interesting bag was the one that the Icegripper spikes came as it had a zip and also a mesh that would allow debris and moisture out – had it come in neon yellow then I would have said that this was perfect instead of just very good.
A system for storing and carrying your spikes is a small thing but given that they’ll more often than not stay in your bag I’d like to know they aren’t going to be rattling around and snagging items of expensive outdoor clothing.
Value for money
Are microspikes worth the money? In my opinion they are because if you get halfway up a mountain and discover there is a load of icy path to negotiate or worse just ice you probably still want to try and make it to the top. The Kahtoola were about £55, the Icegripper £35 (£50 as of February 2022) and the Veriga were £15 (on sale, normally £35) and in terms of value I think they are all pretty good value.
The Veriga were obviously especially good value at a mere £15 but I would still pay £35 for them because they fitted nicely on a child’s boot and they offered ample stability to a reasonably fast moving child across difficult terrain.
The Icegripper at £35 with an excellent carry bag and a good set of spikes felt like excellent value for money and the GingaNinja was pleased with the performance and the fit. Would the Icegripper be as good value at £50 which puts them in direct competition with others brands price points? I think so yes, the main difference is the layout of the spikes, the weight and the length of warranty and this is going to be something of a personal preference when you’re doing your research on spikes.
What I will say is that I will be watching their performance closely over the next few months of hiking as I am likely to want a second pair of microspikes that are solely for hiking and these would certainly be under consideration.
The Kahtoola are excellent and the benefit for me over the Icegripper is the weight and so for running across ice in winter ultra marathons then I would go with these. However, if I were looking for a spike that would be good for just hiking then I’ll be considering the Icegripper – partly because I actually prefer the spike layout and so maybe I’m just convincing myself to get that second pair already.
Whichever one you choose and wherever you end up spending your money rest assured that having microspikes in your pack for winter hiking, especially in the hills, is essential.
What I would recommend you do is do some research, things like YouTube are a great starting point if you need some advice but then start looking around at the various manufacturers and independent retailers in your area.
Obviously if you can go to a shop and try them on with your specific footwear then even better but that isn’t always possible and so we look at online retailers. I bought the Veriga and the Icegripper from www.icegripper.co.uk and I managed to source my Kahtoola from www.trekitt.co.uk both of whom provided excellent service and information.
My other recommendation is to make sure that you buy the right gear for the activity you are doing.
If you just need something to commute through the city streets in then microspikes probable aren’t right and a pair of YakTrax would suffice but if you’re winter hiking in the hills then microspikes or even full blown crampons might be in order – consider your activity and buy appropriately and of course most importantly don’t go into the hills unless you are prepared.
It’s worth noting that I have no affiliation with Icegripper or Trekitt am not sponsored nor have I been paid to write this review – this is 100% independent (and probably unwanted).
My review of 2021 was originally intended as a festive podcast (which you can listen to at the player above or by searching ‘ultraboyruns’ on your favourite podcast platform), though time and tide conspired against me to ensure that the episode dropped well late of the festive season but I’m not going to chastise myself too much for that.
But given that the podcast circulation is still quite small I thought I would take the original script and put it into written form too and also because I’m writing this beyond the festive season and with the first race of 2022 under my belt I can be a little less of a festive grump about the whole thing.
Would it surprise you that I’m a miserable shit at Christmas?
It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that really knows me that I am something of a grump at the festive period and originally thought I would share my festive grumpiness in my end of year running review. The benefit is that I get to improve my mood by worsening all of your moods, it’s a cunning plan.
Where to begin?
I think the first thing is that 2021 has felt like something of a lifetime in itself, I am sure we all remember that we started the year in lockdown with limited movement and interaction. The idea of running a race wasn’t on many peoples agendas and it all seemed so far away. But the advent and arrival of the vaccine roll out across the UK brought with it the easing of restrictions and the opportunity to get out and about a bit more.
Once the Scottish Government started to allow us to travel outside of our region we had no hesitation in picking a nice hillwalking route to test out and found ourselves on Cort Ma Law in the Campsies, withing days of the restrictions easing and soon after races started to pop up again.
The first race
My first one of the year was the delayed, inaugural Ultra Scotland 50 (click for race review) which I think was pretty much the first Covid secure Scotttish race to take place after the lockdown and it was a hazy mix of trepidation and relief.
I hadn’t raced since the Ultra North the previous September but that had been in England and this would be my first Scottish race since the Skull Trail Race in March 2020. We’d gone down in the Rona to sleep under stars of Clatteringshaws a few miles from the start in St Johns of Dalry. There was a man playing the bagpipes beautifully that evening, the night sky was clear and the stars twinkled brightly for us and it was a wonderfully serene and delightful pre-race.
The next morning I remember lining up amongst the dozens of grateful runners, all wearing masks and all wondering what a Covid secure event meant, myself included.
But I developed a very swift respect for Wayne Drinkwater and the GB Ultras team who really went out of their way to make sure that they stayed within the rules and that the runners could compete. Now having barely been near a hill in about 6 months I really, really felt the race and injuries really fucked me over quite early on which in turn inhibited my ability to move with any pace downhill and there is no doubt that the whole of the lowlands of Scotland will have heard my wild cursing of my old disintegrating body.
I was however joined in this expedition by a lovely chap called Kieran who was having more issues than I was and while I was running all of the Covid and the associated problems seemed to just disappear. It was such a tough day out on those lowland hills but I found myself holding on and being surprisingly strong at the end. I mean don’t get me wrong I was 100% fucked at the end and I hurt like nobody’s business but more importantly I was back in business – all I needed now was more races to do.
Appetite for more?
The Ultra Scotland 50 had given back my appetite for racing so it was with dismay that there were still races being cancelled left, right and centre, races being moved to make the end of the year jam packed, which could be great fun, but an incredible challenge in terms of the actual running and logistics.
By the time May had arrived I’d seen the postponement (in some cases for a second time) of the Cheviot Goat, the Bonnie Prince Ultra, the Loch Ness 360, the Pennine Bridleway Challenge and Run the Blades, only a complete bastard could fail to have the most tremendous sympathy for the race organisers who time and again seemed to have the rug pulled from under them or where hit by forces outside of their control. This very much wasn’t about me, this was about everyone with runners and organisers alike feeling some form of pinch caused by the pandemic.
Now don’t get me wrong racing isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things but the organisers of these races aren’t making millions of pounds from putting on events and if they can’t be supported by runners or were discovering that the financial issues being caused were too onerous to bother continuing then we might be looking at a post Covid race calendar that seems a little bare.
All we could hope was that restrictions continued to ease and that races could start.
I decided that I couldn’t wait for ultra running to return properly and decided to take advantage of any and all racing opportunities that cropped up and for the first time since social media was invented I found a use for it – uncovering races.
The Sunburn 5…
An early example of this was discovering the amazing team at Trails of Fife, now I have a great deal of affection for Fife, it is a place I enjoy and any opportunity to race will be very seriously considered. Therefore, when the delayed Frostbite 5 (click for race review) was announced as running at the delightful Lochore Meadows Country Park I decided that we once more load up Rona and enjoy a weekend away in anything but frostbite conditions.
At the time I commented that it was more like the Sunburn 5 mile race than the Frostbite 5, but this event offered me an opportunity to test the injury I had sustained at the Ultra Scotland and also to test just how fast I could push myself after years of lethargy and not doing very much running at all.
We had a lovely time at Lochore Meadows in Rona, we went paddle boarding, kayaking and open water swimming, it was a wonderful Saturday – I sort of wondered why I was bothering racing and then as I arrived at the outdoor registration desk I remembered.
There was such a lovely atmosphere at the start, people glad to be back together – some of whom had clearly not seen each other for the duration of the lock down and then there was me watching it all and just soaking it up in one of my favourite places.
With time counting down though I wandered to the start line, which was a few minutes from the registration, and chatted to a few of the runners, I had forgotten what it was like to speak to another runner and just chew fat.
When the race came I found myself hurtling away like someone had put a light under my nutsack and I stayed that way for the next 5 miles, I didn’t slow to look behind me to see if fellow local runner Fiona was there, I didn’t stop to take photographs, I didn’t hesitate to push my old dilapidated body to the limit. I thundered around Lochore Meadows and when I picked up a shadow about a mile from the end I used his influence to force me to go harder, faster and stronger.
I don’t recall the last time that I pushed to the point of my lungs busting but this was it but I did remember to get the action camera out at regular intervals because this was brilliant and I didn’t want to forget it. Everything about this was just awesome, I loved being in the sunshine of one of my favourite places while being cheered on by supporters and I loved the whole experience – the only odd thing was that Covid restrictions meant we had to be given my medal before we started so it weighed heavy in my race vest but by god when I hurled myself across the line I pulled it out and proudly wore it all the way back to Rona.
For all the joy I had here though my year of racing would soon start to unravel and a fall off my paddle board at Loch Lomond a couple of weeks after the Frostbite 5 killed any hopes of my starting The Great Glen Ultra. I was deeply saddened that I was too sore to start the GGU and as the runners were setting off I was lying in Rona less than a mile away from the start trying to get to sleep, annoyed at wasting another opportunity.
I was even more annoyed when we were parked up the next night in Inverness less than 300 metres from the finish and I watched jealously as competitors completed the course. I couldn’t bring myself to go and support the runners as I was simply too miserable and on reflection I realise that this was just me being selfish but I’m good at being selfish sometimes and this was one of those times.
6 races, 9 days
The good news was that the paddleboard injuries did clear up and racing continued throughout the summer with an awesome beach race in St Andrews where I enjoyed the delights of facing a giant fabric lobster in the coastal waves. The Splash n’ Dash (click for race review) also introduced me to the wonderful Yvonne who would get in touch post race and be a wonderful addition to the circle of awesome runners I know.
I followed the Splash n’ Dash on the next day with a jaunt down to Solway Coast to take part in the marathon there (click for race review).
From getting home from one race to leaving for the next race was actually only about 5hrs and so I remember arriving at the event, after a near 4 hour drive, feeling both exhausted and uninterested in running. Some of that feeling can be attributed to the fact that I don’t like road marathons, they are as boring as shit to me and I did consider just turning the car round and heading home.
I got a bit of a second wind and met some of the local runners and also a few of the crowd who hang out with Rachel and Traviss from the Saxons, Normans and Vikings events and I realised that I might be about to have a fun day.
As I trundled along the course, taking in some lovely views across the northern England coast and most southerly of Scottish coastlines I found something I had not experienced in a very long time – a road marathon I could enjoy. This was one of the happiest races I would take part in over the course of 2021 and I would happily go back to the Solway Coast Marathon time and time again, I mean I’d probably be more keen to wear some road shoes to run it but other than that it was brilliant. This was such a small and perfectly formed event that I can’t heap enough praise on it and it had a cracker of a medal too – for more information there is a review of this race at ultraboyruns.com.
Perhaps most importantly I came away from this race with a tremendous amount of self belief and that would be crucial going into the following week where I would face four events over four days at the now infamous ‘Tour of Tameside’.
I’ve written about the Tour of Tameside (click for race review) and spoke about it extensively in the season one finale of the podcast (listen here) and it genuinely saddens me to say that I really disliked the Tour of Tameside. I think the thing is that when you travel a long way to do events you hope that they are good, or at the very least offer you something interesting and the Tour of Tameside offered me nothing positive. I found the tour tedious and energy sapping and over the four events my love of running was mercilessly murdered.
After this series of events I simply stopped running and have struggled ever since to get back into any kind of consistency, it doesn’t help that it was one of these four events that was the proper kick off of my hip flexor injury but it was so much more than that. It was the Covid security of the event which really wasn’t up to scratch, it was the crappy medals, the dull as dishwater routes and on and on.
The highlight of the event was leaving Tameside, a sad indication of how little I enjoyed it.
But finding a chink of light in every shitty experience is something we aim to do and so I found one here! The journey was made more worthwhile in that I finally got to meet the lovely Nicky and Rob who both make my highlights of 2021, meeting them, especially Nicky provided some significant solace against my anguish over attending the Tour of Tameside.
The injury that I picked up though did mean that I was a non-starter the John Lucas Memorial and that was another kick in gonads.
I was also a non-starter at the Speyside Way Ultra because of a logistical parenting issue, although injuries were still there in the background, but I was very much trying to massage them across them start lines and more importantly finish lines.
The Speyside Way DNS was different because the GingaNinja was called into surgery late to try and save an animals life and by the time she got home it was too late for me to make it to the start line and I hadn’t been able to leave the house as I was on parenting duty. It was a case of ‘oh well, can’t be helped’ and I wasn’t as pissed off about it as I thought I would be, perhaps because I knew secretly my body needed more recovery time. That said, getting to the start line of the Speyside Way remains high on my event list and I’ll certainly be looking to start in 2022 or 2023.
The problem really was that this succession of niggles, issues and complications led to a downward mental spiral that I am still addressing, but when you combine it with the physical injury stresses then it should come as no surprise that my end of 2021 was a lot less positive than the start. But as September rolled around and with three shiny new ‘did not starts’ I felt that maybe I might be about to turn a corner and knew that if I completed the Cheviot Goat and all the Ranger Ultras races I would still surpass my goal of 60 ultra marathons since March 2013.
Thankfully, it wasn’t all doom and gloom and when I most needed to find some joy in running I had a truly amazing time at the Great Perthshire Tattie Run (click for race review).
It seems that when you’re most feeling down that those closest to you ride in upon a glittery unicorn and rescue you. The GingaNinja, ASK and I were all competing in different races at the Perthshire Tattie Run, carrying large loads of potatoes and it was such a joyous thing I can’t quite describe it.
It’s one of those things that when you run such a short distance you get a massive buzz because it’s over before its started and to an ultra runner you can just soak it all in, it is a zero pressure race. The Tattie Run at just 1 mile makes you realise how much fun, running can actually be – even when you’ve got 20kg of spuds on your back.
As we left Perth hauling our swag of 32.5kg of spuds and a trio of medals I remember the faces of my two fellow runners and that will be the gift that keeps on giving.
But not all races can be just 1 mile and so there was the return to the ultra marathon distance in September and although my hip flexor remained a constant issue I had decided to run. The event was part of a grand slam series of races that I should have completed in 2020 but the old C word put the kybosh on that so I instead took part in the 2021 edition starting with the Pennine Bridleway 55 (click for race review).
The trouble was that the grand slam was taking part over a 7 week rather than 7 month period because it had been condensed together after the April edition of the Pennine Bridleway was delayed due to restrictions at the time.
I concluded that I didn’t want to wait another year to try my hand at these events and so I found myself working towards the start line of the PB55.
Now had I realised that the Peak District is about 6 hours away from where I live and that my partners working schedule meant that I couldn’t leave until she arrived home at about 9pm the night before the race I might have thought somewhat differently about doing these. However, I loaded the car with litres of coffee, chocolate and milkshake and rolled up to a very small and perfectly formed event and although the hard packed nature of the trail would be an absolute shit for my body I did indeed enjoy myself. I met so many wonderful people, I ran alongside some truly exceptional athletes and I found in the organisers a team I really liked.
What I will admit is I really didn’t enjoy the afterwards of searching for diesel during the middle of the fuel crisis, nor did I enjoy the English approach to Covid that I was witnessing, because by the summer of 2021 people seemed to have forgotten or where choosing to ignore the pandemic and that was troubling.
However, despite my reservations about returning to England I looked forward to testing myself on what looked to be the highlight of the grand slam – the Yorkshire Three Peaks Ultra (click for race review).
Three bloody peaks
The Yorkshire Three Peaks Ultra was both a little bit closer to me in terms of travel albeit with the same logistical issues but I turned up to a truly brilliant event, even better than the PB55, it was a bigger and therefore a bigger atmosphere but it just had a real buzz about it that I got right into the groove of.
I’ve already said all I need to say about how great Ranger Ultras are; some might accuse me of ‘licking the hole’ but actually they just know how to organise a damn fine event and as the Yorkshire Three Peaks brutalised the fuck out of me I realised just how much Stu Westfield and the team understood ultra running.
I delighted in the up and I delighted in the down of this race – I mean it is true to say that the injuries that had been furthered during the Pennine Bridleway really fucked me over here but that didn’t stop me from finishing the 70km version of the event with a smile, at least inside I was smiling.
Outwardly I was obviously angry as I had failed to complete the 100km version of the event and therefore my grand slam was over – something that I was really hoping to achieve but it just wasn’t to be and as I drifted in and out of conciousness during my drive home along the M74 I chastised myself regularly for that failure.
Not making the grand slam, primarily because of the injuries I had sustained in the earlier part of the year drew into question whether I would bother turning up for the final two races of the slam, there seemed little point and with the Cheviot Goat a couple of weeks afterwards it seemed like I should remain at home but with my name at the top of the ‘points leaderboard’ I felt like this was an opportunity I could grasp
On reflection and after what happened I wish I hadn’t bothered but I did.
I recall sitting in the kitchen with the GingaNinja and saying, ‘I’m top of the Ranger Ultras leaderboard, well joint top…’ The GingaNinja looked at me in a bemused way and replied, ‘but you’re a terrible runner’.
And this was were my vexation came from, I am a terrible runner and therefore I shouldn’t be at the top of a leader board simply for turning up – a point I made to the race organisers when I next saw them, which handily was just a few days after the conversation with the GingaNinja took place.
I rolled up for a weekend of running in the Peaks amongst people I had come to consider friends and comrades, old and new but I left feeling deflated and distraught about running (click for race review).
In short the first day of the racing had gone pretty badly, I had a suspected broken foot and my hips were in pieces, added to this was the ignomy of being DNF’d from the event despite finishing the first day and this meant that I couldn’t reach 60 ultras this year no matter what happened at the Cheviot Goat.
I knew that I had done something serious to my foot and I should have DNF’d at about mile 2 but I didn’t because I believed, incorrectly, that a finish on day one would count towards my ultra total – a total that I am ultimately proud of as it a testament to my mental attitude in the face of being a piss poor athlete. But to finish day one of the Peaks North & South weekend and have it not count and therefore be a waste of my effort, left a very sour taste in my mouth.
Don’t get me wrong it was my mistake and I accept that, I should have checked the rules and I should have checked the route (which was mostly very hard packed and not suited to someone as injury prone as I can be). Had the organisers DNS’d me for day two and allowed me the finish for day one I would have been very happy with that, I could have tried to get ready for the Goat and reach 60 ultras that way but instead it brought to a close my grand slam adventure in the least satisfying of ways.
That being said all the hundreds of positive points of racing with Ranger Ultras remain true and I would certainly say they are worthy of consideration – especially the Yorkshire Three Peaks Ultra. And for the most part I have nothing but the highest regard and the highest of praise for Stu Westfield and the whole of the Ranger Ultras family.
Six to eight what?
My attendance at the first day of the Peaks North & South double did though create a quandary of whether I would be making the Cheviot Goat because my foot was looking pretty grim and when I went to the hospital I was advised that a minimum of 6-8 weeks without running was in order. Well of course what I heard was 6 to 8 days and so I planned to be on the start line with 10 days of no running and careful planning to get me round.
I ordered new kit, lots of it in order to give me an even lighter weight advantage against the various injuries that had plagued me in the second half of the year, I lurked around social media as other people commented on the route, the storm, the bogs and even whether to take crampons!
I had decided I would leave it until the last second to decide if I would go and then as my bags were packed, my kit was selected and the car was ready to go the Cheviot Goat was cancelled.
The Goat was never going to be the final event of the year for me but it would be the final significant one and it was hugely disappointing not to be testing myself in the cold of Northumberland. However, whatever I was feeling about the Goat would be inconsequential compared to the distress that would be caused to the organisers and anyone else affected by the ravages of Storm Arwen.
I’m fortunate in that I will line up next year at The Goat and I will thank the whole team for their efforts because they really deserve it. I’m hopeful I’ll get to see many of them in January as I have signed up for the Winter Wipeout from Cold Brew events and I can’t wait to get out there (having now run this you can read the review here).
But before the Winter Wipeout, 2021 isn’t quite over, I have a festive 7km to run with the family in a few days time and this will be ASKs biggest race distance (click for race review) and after her outstanding performance at the rather hilly Edinburgh MoRun in November I am pretty convinced that she has what it takes to make the step up to 7km and beyond.
So 2021 hasn’t been a waste but it certainly hasn’t been a success and I’m sad about that but we live and learn, well we live anyway.
Best of 2021?
Despite the shit show that 2021 appeared to be there were several big highlights, obviously there was the general return to racing but there were some significant specifics that really made a memorable mark on me – Shaun for example at the White Peaks 50km, the time I spent with him was very, very memorable. Seeing the joy on ASKs face as she earned a second medal at the MoRun. Running into the sea at St Andrews to chase down a man dressed as a Lobster was perhaps the funniest thing I did in racing this year but the absolute highlight would probably be the time I spent with the wonderful Kieran at the Ultra Scotland 50, it was simply the most glorious few hours of running I did this year with much swearing done, lots of pain and just general big kids pissing about in the hills, desperate to finish! I suppose that’s the thing about the running I do its all solo except for when I go racing and then I delight in the people that I meet.
There is probably a lesson in that statement for me, if only I could see it…
Of course one other event took place that I haven’t mentioned here yet and this is the Craggy Island Triathlon – an event I didn’t take part in but I had an instrumental role in because my partner was racing in it and I was volunteering. Perhaps the best thing I did in 2021 was that at the end of the race, infront of everyone I chose to ask her to marry me – something that will have wide ranging implications well beyond 2021 and most people think that after 13 years it was about time.
What went so badly wrong with 2021?
I’m usually pretty good at identifying the big issue that caused the ruining of my year but in 2021 it was different, I’m struggling to put my finger on it. I mean I know the big causes of the unravelling and that was the hip flexor injury but beyond this there was the mental unravelling that began with the Tour of Tameside and that is something that no physiotherapist or rest will help.
The real shit is that I did lots of the right things for a change, my weight dropped, I did training, I did cross training, I did stretching, I went for regular physiotherapy sessions, I returned to writing the blog, I started the podcast but nothing ever really went very well, all of the races had twinges, all the efforts felt laboured and as a new year approaches I hope to leave that sense of foreboding and wheezing behind me.
What did I learn to take into 2022?
Well I’d like to say that I learnt lots from 2021 that will better inform my racing next year but the truth be told I’m such an old stick in the mud that I’ll just repeat the same old mistakes again – I’m full of good intentions that just never happen, however, I’m going to try and do the things I did well in 2021 again and avoid the things I did badly in 2021 and we’ll see if I make it through a full calendar or events.
Running in a COVID world
Running in a COVID world was initially very odd but by the end I appreciated it and I found that being in Englandshire were rules were relaxed much more quickly than they have been in Scotland I found myself rather more nervous than when closer to home.
I didn’t enjoy a lot of what I saw in England and the attitude towards Covid and I’m grateful for Scotland’s tighter restrictions and peoples desire to follow the rules. I feel that covid guidance will very significantly influence my 2022 decision making regarding the races that I run.
Best running event of 2021?
This is a tough one, especially as I managed not to start three of the events I was due to run and at the time of the original writing of this I had yet to decide if I was to run the Cheviot Goat, although that decision was taken out of everyone’s hands when the event was cancelled at the last moment because of local council declaring an emergency.
At the time of writing I would say that the highlight of the year has been the Yorkshire Three Peaks, this was a real bastard of a route and a genuine trail which I 100% loved. I was a little sad not to run the extra 30km but I’m not sure I missed much as it would just have been for time on my feet rather than enjoyment. I found great joy in the organisation and the team behind Ranger Ultras and though there was a bitterness left after being DNF’d rather than DNS’d at day 2 of the Peaks weekend I cannot deny my general love of the guys who put the Ranger Ultras events on.
I would also add that running the MoRun around Holyrood Park with my family was also genuinely brilliant and to witness was 7 year old, as the youngest runner on the course, not only finish but also finish well, was a real joy.
The only bitterness I have regarding this is that I know she could have shaved about 8 minutes off her time but we decided that we would run it as a family and that meant running at the pace of our slowest runner, the GingaNinja. Maybe next year we’ll run a few races without mum!
Best bit of kit of 2021?
I bought a shit load of kit in 2021, perhaps to make up for the fact that I really didn’t buy very much in 2020 – there were several new pairs of Topo Athletic running shoes including the excellent Terraventure 3 and the MTN Racer 2, both of which performed brilliantly in every scenario I hurled at them.
There was also the brilliant Montane Gecko VP+ 12 which was a replacement for brilliantly flawed Salomon ADV Skin 12 which destroyed the skin on my back at both the Pennine Bridleway 55 and the Yorkshire Three Peaks Ultra.
There was also much purchase of many, many running tops as I restocked my Ronhill long sleeved options and bought up what seemed like the last of the amazingly designed and garish original Oddballs training tops.
There was also the addition of the Insta360 One X2 as I looked to diversify the type of footage I shoot for the blog and the other social channels and I found this to be a lot of fun and having finally sourced a second battery for it I can start to take it on races with me.
But the best bits of kit I bought in 2021 were actually unrelated to running.
I’ve always been a bit of a one trick pony, in that my only hobby has been running, I talk running, I breathe running, I live running and I bore to death anyone I come across because of my fascination with running (and poo stories related to running). Therefore, it comes as a bit of surprise that my best bit of kit this year is probably my new paddling gear which includes a Liquid Logic Lil’ Joe river running kayak and a Pyhrana Surfjet 2.0 – these along with ASK’s love of paddle boarding means that we have another active avenue which we can explore together, although I am bitterly disappointed that the 5km New Years Day paddleboard race that I had entered has been cancelled.
Boo fucking hoo, I hear you cry! Ha! I never thought I’d say this but if you’re a runner and you’re a running bore like me, get another hobby to go alongside it, its awesome!
A couple of weeks ago I’d have said that the future is more of the same but there were issues at my race that have really given a kick in the nutsack that make me wonder if running is for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I love running, I love the long distance running and getting lost inside myself, I love the writing and podcasting that comes with it and I love sharing my adventures but the costs just keep rising and I don’t mean the financial implications (although ask me about that after my Ultimate Directions Fastpack 20 arrives from France and I’ve got a stinking import duty bill to pay).
What I mean is that my body is suffering and suffering increasingly badly and the pay-offs are getting less and less.
So when I travelled 6 hours to the Peak District and finished day one of the Ranger Ultras races and thought I had earned a finish and possibly even a medal but it turned out that what I’d earnt was fuck all other than a DNF and an exhausting 6 hour drive home, that really doesn’t help create enthusiasm for racing.
Now take out the fact that I really like the guys who run the Ranger Ultras stuff this means that their cheap as chips event was actually incredibly expensive to me with nothing to show for it, well except that DNF and a visit to the X-ray department to see if I had broken my foot… oh and the likelihood that I wouldn’t be making it to the next race.
Even if I’d had the best day out in all the racing I’ve ever done this still probably wouldn’t have been worth all the effort and I’ll be honest it wasn’t a bad day out, but it certainly wasn’t anywhere the best. If it had been an isolated incident then maybe I could just put it down to one of those things but there is no doubt that the Ultra Scotland 50, for all that it gave, left me feeling a little deflated and lonely, in the running sense.
So the future of my running has to be to do things that really, really float my boat and to that end I’d originally looked at starting the year with a paddle board race, but this has been cancelled, so instead I’ve decided to join the GingaNinja for a weekend of running – she’s doing the Kielder 10km Night Run and then the following morning we’ll be off for me to face the Cold Brew Events Winter Wipeout that I have already mentioned – although the GingaNinjas race has been cancelled and it is just my event to run now!
Then I’m doing a couple of local looped ultras in January and February followed hopefully by a return to Kent for a 900 mile round trip to race 10 epic miles around Vigo and I’ve just added in a 6hour looped event with my old friends at SVN events – so that’ll be a nice amble down memory lane.
I’ll finish up the races that have hung over from 2020 such as the Loch Ness 360 and the Bonnie Prince Ultra as well as Run the Blades and then I’ll find more of those low key ball busters I love. Maybe the Cairngorms Ultra or Glen Lyon both of which I have been keen to try, maybe the Ochils Ultra which I was sick as a dog on when I attempted it in 2019 and if Covid allows it is about time I returned to the SainteLyon, my favourite ultra marathon and the best race experience I have ever had.
Perhaps the other thing that I will doing in 2022 is finally getting my running group up and moving, it is the thing that I am most nervous about because it creates a responsibility and a timetable that I might need to adhere to but that is in the near future and should be up and running by the time the first real episode of the second season of the podcast comes around.
Keep your fingers crossed for me.
But if I only learn one lesson this year and its that I really need to run the stuff I want to rather than run the stuff that fits.
Thanks for reading, this may not have been very interesting but there might have been some things in my own musings that you are considering yourself, especially about how to deal with things going wrong. And if any of you wish to get in touch with me you can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m always going to be happy to chat through running or adventuring and the highs and lows associated.
Running can be lonely and if the pandemic has taught us anything it is that we need to grasp opportunity and be more open to those opportunities.
So that’s the end of 2021 and my review of it, the blog has already started for 2022 and so has the podcast. I’m sure I’ll be sharing more of my adventures via Instagram throughout the year and more episodes of the podcast will be coming later in the year – hopefully it will be a 10 episode season where I will be looking at things like wild camping with a child, my top 5 ultra marathons, kit reviews including OMM running packs and Topo Athletic shoes as well as interviews with more runners who are much like myself – just trying to get along.
In the meantime, enjoy your running and see you next time.
Below are links to reviews of my 2021 events listed above.
‘When we get back you can kick his right gonad in and I’ll kick his left one in’ … this was part of a conversation I had with fellow runner Sonya as we ascended the final climb of the Winter Wipeout from Cold Brew Events about one of the race organisers, Barry ‘Brilliantly Sadistic’ Kemp.
What a race; what an event! I do hate a half marathon but this was an absolute cracker.
But to fully understand why both Barry’s gonads deserved a bloody good whack with a large blunt instrument and why this was an absolute ‘must run race’ you really have to roll back about 6 hours or so.
In the car at about 4.45am I set off from a rather chilly Falkirk down towards Ingram and the race registration. All was going well, 90s dance music was playing loudly in the car, I was being mindful of both speed cameras and road conditions and I hadn’t eaten all the remains of the festive sweeties I had brought with me.
Life was good.
I’d successfully negotiated all but the last couple of miles of the journey when I felt the backend of the car flip out from behind me. Check 1, anything coming towards me? No. Check 2, anything behind me? No. Check 3, anything hard and wall like that I might be about to hit? A wall!
Thankfully I hadn’t been going too fast because it was clear this back road was rather icy and so I looked to the side of the car and simply moved with it allowing it to touch the grass verge that it was heading for and as it gently mounted it I tapped the accelerator around the tight corner.
What I can confirm was it was a brown trousers moment and I felt, had I been in dire need for a poo, then it is almost a certainty that I would have sprayed that brown goo all over the drivers seat.
For the remaining 1.9 miles of the journey I glued open my eyelids and gave it the obligatory 110% concentration arriving into the parking a little before 7am with very sweaty palms and a bladder ready to pop.
The parking was pretty quiet save for a few T5s and similar and I enjoyed the peace and quiet as I quickly slid out of driving clothes and into race clothes. As the minutes slowly rolled by I was sure that soon a massive influx of runners would arrive but by 7.30 it was still really quiet and so I wandered off to register.
Outside the cafe there was a gazebo with a very friendly chap and a young girl, probably not much older than my own daughter handing out race numbers. No razzmatazz – just hand your name in, get a number, pick up some pins – perfect. I was very impressed by the young lady handing out numbers, as it was pretty chilly at that time and she kept smiling even though I suspected she would much rather be inside.
I headed back to the car with the smell of bacon sandwiches on my nostrils from the cafe but I knew I’d soon return and this time armed with a few quid to turn the smell into the taste of bacon. Before I could get my wallet though one of my fellow competitors said, ‘don’t suppose you could help move my van could you? Got stuck in the mud when we arrived last night’.
‘Of course’ I replied and we took a side each while what I assumed was his wife attempted to reverse but despite rolling it and rolling it the van refused to budge and when the gent conceded defeat I wished them well and set off for coffee and bacon.
Coffee and Bacon were delicious and even better was an opportunity to speak to Barry Kemp, the man, the legend, the tormentor – it was nice to see him again – but I was sad not to see him in his tiny running shorts as he was the first time I met him at the start line of the Skye Trail Ultra in 2016. I think all Winter Wipeout competitors should be treated to a glimpse of a Barry in his shorts.
After a brief chat with Barry I sauntered back to the car to finish my coffee, finish getting ready and then sit back and watch the newly arrived throngs of runners.
Ah, kit watching time I thought to myself as I put the seat back and half closed my eyes.
Time though soon disappeared and I headed back to the registration area, queued for a wee and awaited the race briefing from Drew, who managed to joke about the councils role in the demise of the 2021 Cheviot Goat – something that, quite rightly, clearly was still chaffing his arse.
The race brief was clear, short but succinct, most of the people grouped at the starting line had done stuff like this before and knew what to expect but the Cold Brew Events crew made sure we were all aware of the way things would play out.
And then with as little fanfare as the registration we all set off into the Cheviots to face bogs, ice, wind and… sunshine?
I was in my usual place – at the back and was thoroughly enjoying myself as we all squeezed along the little path to the road. There was a very cosy atmosphere as runners began jockeying for position and to find their feet within the race. I like everyone else did my fair share of jockeying and manoeuvring around the ice and all the time I was taking in the beautiful scenery that surrounded me.
Amazingly I’d never really been here, certainly never as a runner and I couldn’t believe that I had been missing out on this untamed wilderness for all these years. After my disappointment at the views of the Peak District my love of the English outdoors was being restored by Northumberland. But this was only the start and I now fully expected to embrace the wilds even more as I raced along the route.
The tarmac that we were running on for the first little bit was soon replaced by trail and the Winter Wipeout looked like it was going to earn a big star as a genuine trail run. We were greeted at the turn to the trail by a marshal who pointed us onwards and upwards and I was pretty sure that there was a wicked smile on his face as he sent us to meet our fate in them there hills.
From here it was a steady climb across the hills and conditions were absolutely wonderful, it was cold, it was dry, the wind was nowhere to be seen and although there was ice it was reasonably runnable. In my head I wondered what all the horrific conditions warnings had been about and I continued to make steady progress.
Despite the hustle and bustle of the runners I felt a lovely tranquillity about running here and I had lots of time to soak it in as I slowly climbed the route.
The uphill was hard going and the impression given was of a chain gang or wagon train heading ever onwards and upwards – runners were strewn all over the place in a sweaty, heavy breathing messes. In the distance you could sometimes see a neon jacket or the reflective strip of a bag from a runner who was that bit further on and you wondered why just over a 1,000 metres of ascent was feeling so damned tough and what was it going to take to get you to the next bit of hill.
I was loving it and I spoke briefly to lots of the runners who were either going past me or I was going past – little conversations that made the whole experience very friendly indeed. Half marathons are my least favourite distance and I’ve long avoided them, returning only briefly last year at the boring as buggery, Tour of Tameside Heroes Half – but this was a completely different beast – this was magnificent.
I remember looking down at my watch at about the four and half kilometre point and thinking that, although challenging I was making decent time and I figured if my progress continued like this I’d be on my way back to Scotland by about midday. The route of course though had other ideas and suddenly the runners found themselves moving from gentle climbing to calf grinding, thigh burning uphill and with a increase in both the wind and the general chilliness of the day.
I rolled my sleeves down and covered up a bit as we passed the marshals and mountain rescue guys who were huddled behind a big rock watching us make our merry way up the icy trails.
There was more chat as we went on and I kept meeting people who had migrated from places I’d lived in to Northumberland and hearing their stories, albeit in brief, was a real delight.
Had opportunity arisen it would have been lovely to have chewed the fat properly with runners but you took every chance your body gave you on this course to run because the ice, as we got higher, was making progress slower.
It was on the first major climb that I ran out of puff and began stomping through the undergrowth to keep my feet beneath me, this was hard work as the undergrowth was cutting you to bits while simultaneously sapping all your energy away. I pushed as hard as I could but knowing that there was likely to be another even more difficult climb over this little peak.
Thankfully the path started to flatten out for a while and then rolled into a downhill, I knew that there was a risk that if I hurled myself down here that I might end up injured, covered in shit or dead but with the wind on my back I made my MTN Racer 2 do exactly what they were made for – go fast on the trails.
I thundered down that hill until my lungs or arsehole where about to burst. I’d kept my feet beneath me and I wasn’t covered in shit – life was good. The little burst of pace though meant i meandered gently over to the fence line via the ice rink as the peak wasn’t going anywhere and I didn’t feel the need to rush.
I started up the final ascent before the turnaround and was greeted by the front runners – all of them foolishly hurling themselves down the course. I had no idea what these people where thinking, I knew that I would not be hurtling down this ‘slide of doom’, I’d be lazing back and strolling down the hill, much as I planned on strolling up it.
Conditions on the hill were considerably worse now and visibility was poor – lots of the runners were clearly grateful for the many layers that they were wearing. Although I had a full set of waterproofs and a proper thermal in my pack I decided to instead use a piece of kit, that although I’ve owned for nearly 6 years, I’ve never used – my Montane Fireball hat.
I’ve never used it because it makes me look like a prick and while I’m usually happy to look like a bit of dick this hat takes it to a new level, but here, near the summit of Hedgehope, I found myself dropping to my knees and putting on the hat. I also managed to get my waterproof overmitts on because these are perfect protection against the wind which ultimately is what was making my hands chilly.
Anyway with my kit updated I pressed on over the icy, boggy and now rocky ground. Runners were literally moving in all directions looking for safe passage through the route. Eventually, with the wind and conditions battering my body I saw the summit and two little beacons of red next to the trig point.
I felt so sorry for mountain rescue guys who were seated behind a little wall trying to escape the worst of the very chilly wind. I thanked them as I touched the trig point and then began my assault on the return.
Now I had intended to stroll back down but instead I did exactly what lots of the other runners did – I hit the turbo and started hurtling down from Hedgehope Hill with all the gusto I could summon into my legs. I took a mildly different route to most of the runners I had seen sliding down the ice earlier – I stepped into the undergrowth and just pulled my legs up, leaping across the landscape as fast as I could.
Two young ladies behind me would occasionally make some ground up on me and I advised them that they were going to have to work to overtake me and then I would put a little spurt on to put some distance between us. That back and forth would continue for quite some time yet and the two young ladies would easily, eventually overhaul me but having someone sat on your shoulder really does inspire you to perform a bit better.
As I completed the last of the icy uphills I stopped for a moment to just enjoy the lack of wind and the sunshine, removed my hat and gloves and then once more set off, noting that the young ladies were closing fast and the ice had departed in favour of becoming bog – so now it was time for my beloved Drymax socks to keep their reputation in tact. I dove feet first (thankfully) through every icy puddle on the route and battered down towards the rocky outcrop that housed the other pair of Mountain Rescue crew. I was mostly flying but I could also feel the exhaustion in my legs and as I passed and thanked the safety team and here I slowed down and allowed the two young ladies behind me to get ahead of me.
From here I continued to press on but my efforts had left me bereft of energy and there was still 142metres of climb apparently as well as a river crossing. I hoped that the river crossing was at the very end and that the remaining climb would be spread evenly across the remaining kilometres. Oddly the organisers must have been able to read my mind as they decided to do exactly the opposite of what I was hoping for and witnessed this first hand as I started down the final bit of trail and back to the road where the race had really gotten started.
In the distance I could see more marshals and mountain rescue types and so followed the arrows to join them at the river crossing. With much enthusiasm I exclaimed that this was the bit I was most looking forward to – albeit I hadn’t counted on that bloody big hill I’d have to climb afterwards.
And then with as much energy as I could manage I hurled myself into the water and then flailed about as the cold caught me – it was absolutely wonderful and upon getting to the other side I proceeded to jump back in the water snd splash about a bit more exclaiming that, ‘you really need to go nutsack deep to appreciate this’.
The young lady about to enter the water, Sonya as I would later discover, replied, ‘I don’t have a nutsack’. I hastily retreated from the water and began to climb, very slowly and very steadily. Had this been the tale of the Hare and the Tortoise then I was one of the lamest Tortoises ever to have raced but I was still moving. It was here that I was joined once more by the lovely and very friendly Sonya, she was the kind of runner that really perks you up and makes you feel like you’re the best runner in the race and I was grateful that she joined me.
We climbed the final hill together, both vocalising our displeasure with the very naughty Barry Kemp for making us do this final hill and we expressed this to the lovely marshal at the top who simply laughed at us.
From the top we could see Ingram and therefore the finish and so we both pushed what remained of our running and headed out, well until Sonya decided to take what looked like a heavy fall, but awesome runner that she clearly is, she dusted herself down and got right back up – impressive,
I’d have stayed down and waited for someone to carry me home!
We chatted a bit as we went and I hope we encouraged one another to keep going, I especially had a bit of a wobble as we entered Ingram but my running buddy put the metaphorical arm round my shoulder and told me I could do it – and she was right.
With the finish within touching distance I urged us onward to a bit of a sprint finish. It’s the one thing I always remember a man named Jimmy McKenna saying to me, ‘always finish well, no matter how the rest of the race went’ and so as we came to final few hundred metres I pumped my arms and thundered toward the finish but Sonya, who had been so instrumental in these last couple of kilometres, was not there and so I slowed, so we crossed the line together.
I’ve never been so happy to see a finish line but nor have I ever been so keen to go straight back out on the course again. It was absolutely wonderful.
Distance: Half Marathon
Ascent: 1000 metres (approx)
Date: January 2022
Location: Ingram, Northumberland
Terrain: Icy, Boggy, Trail
Tough Rating: 3/5
Route This was brilliant, it had just about everything, it was wet, it was muddy, it was winter, it was just the perfect bit of trail for some ridiculous winter fun running. I mean yes it was a bit brutal in places and the chap I saw running in road shoes must have had balls of steel to take this on in them but the only thing you really need to know about the route is that it will bring you joy, laughter and tears in equal measure.
Organisation What can I say, other than the organisation was brilliant – from the parking, to the facilities, to the people who were there to ensure you had a safe and brilliant day out. This was an event with a lot of moving parts and Cold Brew Events made it run like clockwork. Great job guys.
Value for money It’s not the cheapest half marathon I’ve ever run but it is the best value for money half marathon I’ve run and a great value packed event. I’ll be honest I’d hope they’re charging enough to ensure that they keep this brilliant event just as it is because I know I’d be happy to pay a little bit more for such a tremendous event.
Support I’ve mentioned how sorry I felt for the guys at the top of Hedgehope – they must have been frozen but huge thanks to them. However, really it’s a huge thanks to every single person who was involved in making this happen, Cold Brew Events, the team at the cafe, the volunteers – including the young lady at number collection, each person really made this feel like a well loved and supported event. Of course there were also the ton of runners and runners friends and family who gave the whole event a really warm atmosphere – wonderful.
Awards Great medal, nicely made mug, hot soup. Thank you very kindly that’s just grand.
So many races have got a bit puritanical about giving out medals and awards and I understand that not every runner wants or needs them and that races are attempting to become less wasteful and more environmentally friendly but some of us love a medal and a mug and I applaud Cold Brew Events for giving us great ones!
There is perhaps something to learn here – if you’re going to do a medal then do it properly, as Cold Brew Events have, and then, in my view, it’s not a waste – it’s race treasure.
My Race I had such a great time, I didn’t come last, no fresh injuries and I came away from the race wanting to do it again. Yes I could have been fitter and carrying less festive fat and therefore run faster but I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it any more than I already do.
In terms of kit, my Topo Athletic MTN Racer 2 were the perfect shoe for the race but I carried too much kit in my pack and didn’t need my thermal layer or extra socks – what I didn’t carry too much of though was food and I found myself, just before the summit of Hedgehope, stuffing my face with about a dozen chocolate bars – something I’ll remember for when The Goat finally comes around. Waterproof over mitts were incredibly useful (much more useful than warm gloves I was carrying and remained unused) and I was very happy to finally use my Montane Fireball hat, albeit briefly. I will also once more praise my awesome Drymax socks, which when I discovered them about 7 years ago I wasn’t sure about but then really do keep your feet warm when wet and on a day like this that is very valuable.
Conclusions I dream of running The Spine Challenger but until I’m ready for that then I’ll be coming back to this, year after year. The Winter Wipeout has restored my faith in the half marathon distance, but it has taken a very special event to do that and I’m not going to start signing up for lots of halves. This race has something for everyone that is excited by running trails and while it feels incredibly challenging it never feels so tough as to be unmanageable.
When you add in the amazing organisation, the wonderful support and a dreamy winters route then you’ve got magic.
Cold Brew Events know how to throw a trail party and I’ll be back for more of their filthy fun soon! I’d go so far as to say that the Winter Wipeout might have cracked my top 10 favourite races and is probably within touching distance of my top 5 – which isn’t bad when you consider I’ve run about 250 races. I really do recommend taking a crack at this, it was awesome.
I hope I give good ultra running advice, hints and tips because I’ve shared them far and wide with runners from first timers to the grizzled and battered. I’ve had every kind of experience in ultra marathons, desert, trail, mountain, ice, long distance, short distance, DNS, DNF and even the odd finish and each one has given me an experience that I’ll mostly never forget.
Here’s the thing though, I don’t learn from my experiences and I don’t listen to my own advice and when I declared at the registration of the Ranger Ultras White (South) Peaks 50km that I was likely to be the worst runner there, that was not an exaggeration.
I am the worst ultra runner I’ve ever met and I’ve met a lot of ultra runners.
This is the story of why I’m both the worst and most idiotic ultra runner I’ve ever met, welcome to the Ranger Ultras Peaks Double Review, well half a review…
I had lots of titles vying for the dubious honour of being on the top of this blog post but I think the chosen one, 2 races, 1 start, 0 medals cuts right to the heart of it and summed it up best. The truth of it is, I made a mistake in attempting to run last weekend and it looks like it will prove to be a costly one in terms of running over the coming weeks and months. In my haste to return to the awesome Ranger Ultras events I have left myself broken and there is only person responsible for that – me, which is exactly what I said to the lovely nurse who was looking at me on Monday night.
Now while this blog post is intended to be supremely self indulgent, as all my posts are, there is also the event to discuss. Now for those of you who’ve read about either my Pennine Bridleway 55 (read about it here) or Yorkshire Three Peaks Ultra (read about it here) reviews you’ll know that I’m a massive fan of the people and the events at Ranger Ultras and I’m pleased to say that after my Day 1 White Peaks 50km my opinion remains steadfastly the same.
All the things that I loved about the earlier events were replicated here; friendly, cosy and professional but I’ll add another descriptor here that I perhaps haven’t used previously – family.
Ranger Ultras feels like family, and not the kind you want to strangle over the festive turkey, the kind that helps, supports and nurtures, and though this may sound odd when you’re for the most part, surrounded by strangers, it feels like the best description of the experience you get at one of their events.
However, I’ve jumped forward a little so let’s head back to 10.48pm the previous evening as I tried to get to sleep before my alarm would go off at 11.42pm for a 12.20am departure. I couldn’t sleep, I tossed and turned a bit, but it was that thing where no matter how hard you try you just can’t get to sleep and so a few minutes before my alarm was destined to go off I got showered and readied myself. My late night pre-race travel routine consisted of said shower, having a chocolate milkshake, some Skyr super berry yoghurt, drinking a shitload of coffee, making a 2 litre flask of caffeine laden rocket fuel and sitting on the porcelain throne hoping to have a clear out of the delicious but rather spicy homemade lentil dahl I’d spent most of the previous four days eating. Well the consumption part of this routine was fine but much like the wolf who tried to blow down the piggies brick built house I wasn’t having any success and I so I left the toilet free of a splattering.
Google indicated my arrival would be pre 6am with no stops and so I kept my foot on the floor and listened once more to the insanity that is early hours of the morning BBC Radio 5 Live. Topics included; sum up your weekend in three words, the rental market crisis and men’s mental health – in the end I turned it off in favour of singing along to Benny, Bjorn, Angneta and Frida on ABBA Voyage; very enjoyable.
Despite closures on the M6 and several accidents, rain and general exhaustion in my driving I did indeed arrive pre-6am to the Edale car park and home of the Ranger Ultras HQ for the duration of the weekend. Once there I made quick work of the pay and display and even quicker work of getting changed into my race day gear because it was bloody freezing in the car park. What I didn’t do was make the mistake of getting all my gear tightly packed up as I knew that there was likely going to be a proper kit check.
With registrations open I made my way inside where I was to be greeted by the ever sprightly and wonderfully warm RD Stu Westfield who reminded me of my position on the points total leaderboard and attempted to lure me to the 270km Pennine Bridleway and I had been considering it prior to the Yorkshire Three Peaks Ultra and it’s something that remains tempting, but that’s for later.
Anyway kit check done, I loaded up the new race vest, the Montane Gecko VP+ 12, my replacement for the Salomon ADV Skin 12 which rubbed the skin off my back at the Three Peaks and the Bridleway, and the damage had only just healed in time for this double race weekend. However, I hadn’t had the opportunity to test the race vest in the time since it arrived due to trying to get my hip flexors rested enough to allow me to run these races – it was all a bit bum squeaky tight in trying to make the cogs fit together for this weekend and then a balancing act to make sure I’d also get to the start line of the Cheviot Goat in 2 weeks time – more on that later.
This race also offered me the opportunity to reunite with one of the sweepers who I’d last seen having a giant dump on the West Highland Way Challenge Race. His little head had been bobbing up and down behind some ferns, but we had enjoyed a decent amount of running together at the WHWCR and it was lovely to see him again and given he was sweeping I’d expected to be spending most of the day with him! I also came across Kev again, a wonderful chap I met at the Pennine Bridleway and I finally figured out who he reminded me of, he was a bit of a Clark Kent, you know mild mannered and lovely but put him in some lycra and he’s superman! I ended up seated next to this superman on the bus and we chewed the fat covering all sorts of topics, it was a genuinely lovely way to get things underway.
However, we eventually arrived at the start after winding our way on a very pleasant coach journey to the start in Ashbourne and there was a small flurry of runners dashing to reach the customer toilets at the local Sainsbury’s presumably to offset the need to go ‘bear like’ and shit in the woods.
I spent the remaining minutes pre-race chatting with Kev and Pete and generally taking it all in. The organsiers corralled us all together to try and get a group photograph but being cunning I hid behind Kev because he’s tall and, despite the plethora of selfies that appear in my blog posts, I don’t like being photographed so hiding at the back seemed a perfectly sensible thing to do.
And then it was just a couple of minutes to go, fingers of runners moved to the poised position of ‘Garmin ready’ and suddenly there was the blaze of bleeps as we were sent on our way. The throngs of runners all setting out at their preferred pace and quickly spreading out onto the course.
Within a few minutes we came across a very welcome sight, a toilet!
Holy buggerchops I thought I could stop here for a dump, but with so many runners just behind me I didn’t want to stop for my emergency poo and so I sped up a bit in the hope that there might be another poo stop a bit further along and I could be in and out before the sweepers went past me.
What worried me though was the path that we were running on – it was some sort of disused railway line, and a wonderful path but also incredibly hard packed and even in the earliest of kilometres I wondered how long my body would tolerate this before it gave up on me. However, as it stood I was making good, steady progress, my new race vest was mostly comfortable and I was in overtaking mode. I battered my way through cool tunnels with creepily flickering lights and enjoyed the views that littered either side of the path.
From behind though, as I slowed up a touch I heard the sound of Clark Kent ripping open his shirt and Superman Kev ambled past me accusing me of ‘sandbagging’ which I assumed meant that I had been crying wolf about how shitty a runner I am. When I next saw Kev I believe I proved how rubbish I was, ha! But it was lovely to see him going great guns and he would undoubtedly be once more troubling the front runners, I wished him well and watched jealously as he charged forwards, outstanding runner and lovely chap (having seen his subsequent social media postings he did indeed trouble the front of the pack – huge congratulations).
Despite being left in the wake of Kev’s awesome running there was good news – a second toilet opportunity did indeed appear and I dipped inside to discover the single cubicle unoccupied and so I fired off a small noxious volley that while not the full payload should be enough to stop me having to go ‘full bear’ somewhere on the well used course.
I set off again and recognising a couple of guys from the registration point I made a joke of explaining my brief disappearing act into the bogs and then ran off.
Not much further along I saw two horses and riders on the path and witnessed them struggling with their horses who clearly found runners a bit of an issue. Thankfully the competitors from the race were all pretty respectful, they all slowed and gave the horses as much room as possible and many of us walked past so as not to antagonise the horses any further.
The thing was, as I approached them they’d been trying to walk side by side which meant most of the path was taken up and they’d found themselves stopping regularly at the side to let people through, which had clearly pissed them off and I’d seen a runner (not part of the race) speedily run past them and give the horses a bit of a fright.
I felt for them but also recognised that this was a public path and her reaction, at least to me, as she asked who was the organiser, was rather annoyed. Anyway as I cleared past the beautiful horses I began running again, hoping that I didn’t have any further problems today – but I rarely have that kind of good fortune and today it seemed was not going to be one of those good fortune days.
I remember looking down at my GPS at 8.19km in and thinking, ‘so this is how long it’s taken my hip flexor to start burning… an extra couple of kilometres more than usual’. The pain that had killed off my enjoyment of running recently was back but it was treating yours truly to a special dose of ‘don’t you dare visit the physiotherapist again’ medicine.
My entire hip was on fire and there was pain in the flexor and lower in the groin, a double whammy. Well 42km to go was the thinking and I wasn’t going to DNF such a short race – I did though have a plan and immediately began stretching as shown by my physio and then used whatever mental capacity I had to just power it through and hope that it would ease.
The good news was that I was just a short run from the first checkpoint and in the distance I could make out the green of my favourite jacket, the Montane Prism – only I have the blue version but I covet the green one. As I got closer I saw the blur of bright red lipstick and then I realised it was @peaksprincess.
I’ll be perfectly honest, with my hip in absolute pieces and pain searing down my body I’d have paid good money for it to be anyone else on the checkpoint. Don’t get me wrong I adore Kate but I didn’t wish to caught struggling so badly, so early on by someone I have a great deal of respect for.
Thankfully two litres of coffee, a shitload of pain and my ability to be rude and offensive at any given moment all converged to run my mouth for me and I left the checkpoint behind without doing all the stretching I needed to. Runners pride is a funny old thing.
The good thing though was that there were a relative abundance of checkpoints, located around at about 10km apart and this would mean that I could always DNF at the next one. And so I was into the second fifth of the race and here I found myself trying to enjoy the route as well as stretch my hip flexors as often as possible but I noticed that I was being hampered by a sharp pain in my left foot.
Bugger I thought, right hip knackered and left foot gone, all I need now is for my back to give up and I’d have the triple crown of injuries. Thankfully the new race vest was doing its job and my back was certainly no worse for wear than expected and I ambled along the route being overtaken by a succession of runners and also engaged in bits of chat here and there. Save for the pain I was in it was turning into a perfectly pleasant meander through The Peak District. The much trailed and expected rain was nowhere to be seen and as late autumn / early winter ultra marathons go this one had near perfect conditions.
What I remember most about the second 10 kilometre stretch though was that I barely remember anything about it at all. That’s the funny thing about pain it makes your focus rather inward and you stop experiencing the beauty around you because you’re devoting yourself time to the important task of holding yourself together. What I recall rather vividly though was pulling into the checkpoint and seeing the plethora of runners all gathered round the wonderful volunteers all filling water bottles and gorging themselves on sweet treats. For my part I saw heaven in a carton and reached for some orange juice and gulped this down as quickly as I could – this was to be something of a lifesaver across the race as I ate almost nothing during the event. I left the checkpoint quickly knowing that time (and the sweepers) were catching up to me and as much as I would have loved to have been the naughty schoolboy at the back of bus laughing and joking with the mop up crew of sweepers I was aware that I had to press on.
I ran out of the checkpoint and came across new and little interesting nuggets of sites, there was a little stone hut that reminded of those places in Finland with big roaring fires, coffee and reindeer skins strewn about the place and there were remnants of the old railway line that we were running along.
Having pulled my big boy pants on a bit I managed to try and start enjoying what I was seeing and this was aided by some lovely company throughout the event and it was in this section of the route that I came across a gentleman that would define my race and also make sure that I made it to the end.
Shaun if you’re reading this then I am going to start by saying, ‘thank you’.
Thank you because from the moment we met you had my back and because just as we met I was about to go significantly off course and he pointed me in the right direction something I was very grateful for.
What I can tell you is that on first glance my new companion was a bit of a ruff and tumble kind of a guy but it would have a mistake and misjudgement to assume that there wasn’t a lot more to him and as we covered many kilometres together I came to draw inspiration from this one man mission to live life to the fullest. I’ve met a lot of truly brilliant ultra distance runners, I’ve met a lot of brilliant ones during the time I’ve spent with Ranger Ultras too but Shaun was most certainly one of the best and just what I needed.
Neither of us were benefitting from the hard pack trail and I think both of us were suffering a little bit and I hope that we both benefitted from the general chitty chat that passes between runners because I found him to be warm and engaging. We came from very different places and yet as we spoke I could find many commonalities and as he expressed his approach to living every moment of his life I felt a genuine kinship. We met other lovely runners too though including Chris, Luke and a non eventer called Fiona (not one of the racers but was just nice company for a few minutes) and they helped to keep it light and fresh.
As the kilometres counted their way down the route started opening up a bit, for which I was thankful and although it was too late for my bruised and battered body I was grateful to see some slightly less hard packed trails. Hard packed, disused railway lines are wonderful for running faster and more consistently but they can be hard going on the legs and especially if you have a disposition to injury. The more genuine trails of the Peaks that we had now found were much more to my liking and I could really enjoy this time, albeit that I could barely run because of searing pain at the top of one leg and searing pain at the bottom of the opposite leg.
Good fortune seemed to be favouring us though when we were afforded the opportunity of a little bit of downhill trail and for the first time in what felt like a long time I was running a bit more, I mean it was more like hobbling but for the purposes of the blog post we’ll call it running. My usual surefootedness though had been replaced by an unease not to inflict further misery on the underside of my left foot and so I dared not run as fast as Shaun, Chris or Luke who were pressing on ahead but oddly there was an elasticity to us and we found ourselves all getting together again and this remained very much the case until we arrived at the third checkpoint were once more I saw @peaksprincess this time armed with the Mac who was clearly on guard duties. Woof.
I don’t remember much of our discourse, except telling her that I wished my dog would get cancer because he’s a bit of a bell end and she suggested that Mac should stop swinging his dick and was soon to have his nuts off, hearing Kate use the word dick was like reading one of her tweets – it was odd. I’ll be honest it wasn’t an obvious conversational topic but then I think that’s the way it always goes. I do offer good news for her though in that when she rocks up at The Montane Cheviot Goat in a few days time she probably won’t have to listen to me because I suspect I’m out of the running for that 😦
But I digress, Kate sent me on my way telling me to get it done, which is the kind of tough love I usually respond to, but today I was just feeling the fire of injury and the tough love just felt tough.
As I left I spoke to Luke and Chris and asked where Shaun was and the answer came that they thought he had simply powered through the checkpoint and I was actually a little bit sad about this as he had been such good company but then it is the way with ultra running that we tend to make connections and then lose them very quickly because two peoples pace are different or strategies for finishing aren’t aligned and so I hoped he was thundering up and down the course to a nice fast finish.
Anyway we starting climbing again and Chris and Luke both had more in their legs than I did and so looked like they would soon push on beyond me but as I looked up I saw a runner I recognised leaning against a gate, vaping. Now I can’t quite tell whether Shaun was waiting for us or whether he had simply stopped to admire the view but whatever it was, the effect was the same, it meant that there was a little gang of us travelling together and while we would eventually split into two pairs of competitors it was lovely to share this scenery and this event with such wonderful people.
Now for all the complaining I have done about injury and my mental state what I can say is that I knew that with significantly under 20km to go there was a good chance we might make it to the finish before dark and this was a positive thought that helped enable me to push harder than I had before. I was also aware that I was once more running on bits of the Pennine Bridleway that I recalled from my first Ranger Ultras race and that familiarity brought a level of solace. My Garmin also indicated that there wasn’t much more than another 100 metres of climbing across the last few miles of the course and so despite everything it looked like we would make it and all we could do was guess which of the little lumps ahead of us would provide the last metres of climb.
We ambled along and in these final few kilometres The Peak District really roared into life and there was lovely trail and little hilly mounds to admire. But all of our admiration had to be put aside to ensure that we did indeed crack that daylight finish and so we thundered along looking for Edale and in the near distance we could see the chocolate box village.
I urged Shaun to run those last few metres into the car park, because well, that’s what you do isn’t it? There was a round of applause from some of the other runners and there were faces that I recognised from earlier in the event. But I felt drained and as I tripped over the lip of the uPVC door into the race HQ I felt this summed up the kind of race I had run and I just dropped to the floor, pleased to have finished but sad not to be starting tomorrow.
I lost Shaun at the end but if you are reading this I must apologise for missing you at the finish, my head was ablaze with thoughts of going home (but I did as you suggested and looked up your brother by the way) and it was such a wonderful experience to meet you and be rescued by you. Thanks buddy.
And so ends the tale of the Peaks South 50km
Ascent: 850 metres
Date: November 2021
Cost: £55 per day (£85 for both days)
Terrain: Hard packed trail
Tough Rating: 2/5
Route Routes are such a personal thing and for this one there was a lot to like but also much to consider. The Peak District have done a wonderful job of providing a route that can be run or cycled with relative ease along what looks for the most part like a disused railway line and in terms of an ultra marathon it offers easier navigation and good conditions even for a potentially nasty weather early winter ultra marathon. It would serve as an ideal introduction to ultra marathon trail running and for the more experienced runner then it is an opportunity to stretch the legs a bit faster than usual because there is less mud to battle.
The route was relatively busy but not heaving and there was more than ample room for everyone, plus it was actually lovely to see members of the public out and giving the runners a little cheer. My favourite being the little Springer Spaniel about 3 or 4km in who was taking his owner for a jog and he seemed so happy.
It is worth saying that the first section is incredibly runnable, but that care should be taken in shoe choice, there is no doubt that even in crappy weather the hard packed trail would easily suit good comfortable road shoes and if the weather wasn’t horrific you could probably run the bulk of this in road or certainly road to trail footwear (but do remember the mandatory kit does say trail shoes). It is not a route that lends itself to aggressive lugs, even in the most trail of sections – so something to think about, basically you are not going to want your Walsh footwear on.
To my mind the second half of the route is the prettier section as it brings you closer to the action of The Peak District and this is where much more of the conventional trail running happens. The latter stages therefore are much more my thing and that is just a personal preference but what it means is that you get to experience two sides of trail running during one 50km event and perhaps that is why it is a very accessible event to those looking to transition into long distance trail running.
My enjoyment of the route was hampered by the pain I was in but when I put that aside I can see how I enjoyed this and with interesting sights along the way there really was a little bit of something for everyone.
Organisation There is no denying that Ranger Ultra offer perhaps the best organised race experience that I have ever been a part of. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you are in safe, knowledgeable hands that know how to put on a really good running event. Everyone on the team knows their stuff and you really cannot put a price on that. The Ranger Ultras ethos of simple, effective but brilliant eventing is something that I really approve of and I wish other RDs would look closely at what Stu Westfield and the team are doing here because there is lots of good stuff going happening.
As always the pre-race material was comprehensive, the Facebook group was regularly updated and the team supported this with follow up emails to ensure that competitors didn’t get lost in the cracks of everyone using different platforms. On the day there were a lots of checkpoints and each was the right size for the location, the 10km and 40km CPs were smaller than the 20km and 30km CPs and this felt the right decision – give the support and resource where the runners will most need it.
I think the testament to brilliant organisation is that it never feels forced, everything just happens and flows. The team works so hard but always has time for a bit of banter, a laugh, a joke or even some running advice – as was evidenced by the fact I couldn’t be sure which of the many Harvey Maps I was carrying I would need for the Saturday event but the team knew instantly.
When I walked into the registration the team were busy putting stuff together, getting ready for departure to the start line and generally being awesome but the RD made a point of reminding me of my lofty position on the points leader board and my advantage in securing one of the beautiful hand crafted boxes (which are indeed beautiful by the way). He didn’t need to do this, but he did and that is why, long after my injuries are a distant memory and long after I’ve forgotten about my grandslam failure I will remember Ranger Ultras with great fondness.
Value for money I have come to the conclusion that the organisers must be romantics, because they aren’t doing this for the money, they are doing it for the love of it – at least that is very much how it comes across. They could increase the prices and I don’t think it would have a negative effect on numbers but I suspect they’d quite like to swell numbers a little further and therefore keeping the prices VERY reasonable might encourage others to join in.
The Peaks South or Day 1 was another excellent value for money event and if you sign up I guarantee you’ll come away saying, ‘how the hell do they manage all that for such a low price?’
Volunteers and Support There is never a moment you aren’t grateful to the team or volunteers and supporters, they make the events happen and they make it so that you will finish. I’m going to reserve special praise for Kate and her vibrant lipstick who despite me being so mean to her didn’t swing a fist in my direction.
All I can say is thank you to each and every one of you for a. not pulling me out of the race when I looked like death warmed up and b. for being there on a cold and windy day in The Peak District.
Runners I met some amazing people on Saturday and reacquainted myself with others.
Ranger Ultras tends to attract a certain type of runner, these aren’t glamorous events in the sense that there aren’t any flashing lights and blasting music, these are running events for people who enjoy running. Therefore; it makes sense that the people who want to come and test themselves share a similar philosophy as the organisers and that means you have some common ground with most if not all of your fellow competitors. There are too many names to list to say thank you to individually – I mean basically just get me the start list and that should just about cover it but the runners at these events, have been awesome.
Awards Now as the title says 2 races, 1 start, 0 medals. I assume that given I failed to start day 2 I don’t get a medal for just finishing day 1 and so I can’t comment on them as I didn’t even see them. However, I am going to assume that they are the same as the other beautifully designed wooden coasters that have been seen at the other races and so if you earned one this weekend then well done guys – I’m very jealous.
My Race Well you’ve read about my race, it didn’t go well and who the bollocks knows how I managed to finish in a reasonable time, well that is mostly down to my companion for the second half of the race. I wouldn’t have finished if it hadn’t been for Shaun and equally importantly a strategically positioned @peaksprincess because as I say I wasn’t going to DNF in front of her – so thanks guys.
I made the rather unwise decision to drive home mere minutes after finishing because I really didn’t want to hang around as I feared I had broken my foot – I knew that I dare not take my shoe off because I wouldn’t be able to get it back on and then driving would be impossible. I was also pretty miserable about the way my hip flexor had gone and not earning the coaster, I was deflated and felt that my own company was probably the only company to have.
By the time I got back to Scotland I could no longer put any weight on my left leg and the right leg was ruined at the hip so it was a difficult time and some tears may have been shed as I stopped for a lentil dahl powered turd at Southwaite services. But listening to happy hardcore for a couple of hours and having the heater blasting at me did at least improve my mood on a very long drive.
Thankfully an x-ray on Monday suggested I haven’t fractured the foot but The Cheviot Goat Ultra looks like it might be beyond me again but I’ll make a final decision in a few days and I’ll mull over my conversation with Shaun about living the moments of life to their fullest.
Points, Grandslam & 270 I’ve stated it many, many times and even reiterated it here ‘I’m a terrible runner and an even worse ultra runner’ and yet because of turning up there I found myself at the top of the points leaderboard prior to this weekends events. I said to Stu that the points system he is employing for measuring the success of the runners at this years events is flawed because I should not be at the top, just because I have turned up is no reason to be lauded or rewarded.
This conversation came up in light of him mentioning that I should be considering the 270km full Pennine Bridleway! Ha.
It is a ridiculous notion, I mean you should have seen me at the end of the 50km, I was absolutely broken, destroyed, annihilated – I finished the race contemplating retiring from ultra running not signing up for two hundred and seventy long, arduous kilometres.
Stu is a cheeky little bugger and I assume the lady I spoke with at the end about the 270km was maybe his wife and I found myself on Monday evening, after discovering that my foot wasn’t broken, looking at the 270km race.
It is a stupid and idiotic idea that I could run it but I’m thinking about it, but just thinking about it and I’m going to need to think about it REALLY hard (like thinking about Michelle Pfieffer when I was 15 and watching Batman Returns) and if there’s too much tarmac or hard packed trail then I know that the things about me that are fragile won’t handle the pounding that they would take, but, I’m thinking about it.
As for the grandslam and my failure this year at the Ranger Ultras events, well I’m pretty annoyed at myself and I’ll be discussing this and the whole grandslam thing at greater length in a season 2 episode of the Ultraboyruns podcast. However, despite my failure, despite the epic driving and logistical nightmare that meant that each pre and post-race was really an arse ache I massively enjoyed my time with Ranger Ultras. I had a brilliant time because each event was made with love and my personal highlight being the Yorkshire Three Peaks.
Conclusions I stated earlier that I write this stuff to feed my ego but that is only partly true.
I want other runners to read this review and I want them to sign up for one or more of the Ranger Ultras races. There are lots of shit things in the world, lots of things that don’t offer you good value for money, but Ranger Ultras isn’t one of them.
Ranger Ultras is one of those joy filled things that gives much more than it gets.
So if you’ve got a blog, a social media channel, some running friends or even an aged aunty who still owns an old pair of Inov8 that have been gathering dust then tell them about Ranger Ultras, tell them about how they brutalised you, covered you in mud and generally kicked your arse before cuddling you better.
Specifically about the Peaks South event you can say that this is something they should try whether they are seasoned old hands or beginners because this is an everyone route. As I mentioned earlier the mixed nature of the terrain means that you can get a taste for trail running but also have the security of a really good hard packed trail for the bulk of the event. Easy!
My misery was nothing to do with the event itself that was down to my own stupidity so just don’t do it like I do it and you’ll be fine and of course Christmas is now just round the corner and I think if you ask, you too, be you naughty or nice, could get a Rangers Ultra event gift from Santa that will just keep on giving.
It’s worth noting that I have no affiliation with Rangers Ultra am not sponsored nor have I been paid to write this review – this is 100% independent (and probably unwanted).I should also point I neglected to check how Shaun spells his name but I found a record of a race I know he ran so have gone with this spelling
I remember my bum hole was burning like it had been dipped into molten lava and my testicles were glowing like a 3 bar electric radiator, I was in so much pain that I could barely contain myself – I was stood on the trail with my shorts round my ankles and my fingers fully immersed in Vaseline in a desperate bid to save my race. It was pitch black dark and as I slathered on the greasy evil all over my nether regions I knew that my race was well and truly over.
I was alone and broken.
I remember my feet were smashed to bits, I had blisters in every possible place and I just wanted to curl up and die, my guts had left me on a ridge somewhere and I’d spent hours lost in the middle of the most beautiful location it is possible to run. But no matter how hard I tried to give in and stop I simply couldn’t.
I wasn’t alone and I refused to be broken.
One of those races was the Ridgeway Challenge where I failed and the other was the Skye Trail Ultra where I refused to fail. The difference was that I had company at Skye and that made all the difference when my head would drop. Andy, one of the runners, would give me a firm but fair kick up the arse and tell me to get moving. Why am I telling you this? Well because this weekend I ran the Ranger Ultras Pennine Bridleway Ultra Challenge 55km and I was given an opportunity to ‘pay it forward’ and return the favour of support I received.
But before we get to that point we should roll back to about 1am on Saturday morning where the shower was just going on and I’d just filled a 2 litre thermos with the brown gold of coffee. I liberally applied Vosene to my head and beard, scrubbed my ball sack and chucked on an old pair of shorts and a lucky running top.
I’d packed most of the car the night before – race kit, second full set of race kit (in case I didn’t fancy the first set), warm clothes for after the race and a big bag of food that included a breakfast of chocolate milkshakes, chocolate filled brioche and an assortment of other deliciously sugary treats that would see me through the next 5-6hrs of driving. Before leaving I kissed the child and the GingaNinja goodbye and headed out with a fully fuelled car – hoping that the ‘fuel crisis’ didn’t become a factor to concern myself with.
The GPS pointed me away from the M6 for some reason so my journey was going to be longer than necessary but so be it – I’d decided to run and what would be would be.
Vroom, vroom I went thundering down the M74 to a soundtrack of 90s and early noughties dance classics and found myself blissfully singing along to the likes of Faithless and the Prodigy before settling into more gently vocal numbers from Jerry Reed, Blondie and James Blunt. I was making mostly good time and was managed to shave off a few minutes here and there but it was still going to be around a 7am arrival and with registration opening at 8am I wanted to make sure of a parking space, ample time to get changed and of course to have a bit of breakfast.
Well part one of the day was achieved. Parking secured, and I was glad to be there early as the car park was filled with caravans that looked like they’d been there a while – leaving only half a dozen usable spaces.
I sipped at my coffee as and looked around at a rather wet and dreary Hayfield but the forecast suggested a clear day so with daylight approaching I held out hope that this might clear and we’d get a good running day.
Seconds started to turn into minutes as I sat with the warm drink and I realised that I needed to hurry up in order to be at the race HQ in good time. I slapped on a bit of anti-chaff round the nether regions, jumped into my kit and then put on my new Salomon ADV Skin 12 vest for the first proper time. Now regular readers will know that my back has been giving me grief for years – the moment I put any weight on it and run I have pain right across my shoulders, middle and lower back and no amount of physiotherapy has ever cured it, so wearing an untested pack seemed like a ‘good’ idea. I was also wearing my Topo Athletic Ultraventure Pro for the first time, other than one short 3km run a few months back. What i know is that while my back is the main issue for concern my feet are my weak spot. So it was going to be an interesting day.
At about 7.55am I set off for the race HQ but as I did a chap pulled up next to me in a rather large Audi and asked about parking – I advised him where I had parked but he didn’t seem keen and set off in search of something else. This though would not be the last that I would see of the driver and he would become a very important part of my race.
So off I trotted, taking in all the delights of Hayfield as I went. It was one of those little villages that make you think of England as quaint or chocolate box, I very much enjoyed my saunter through the town – albeit a short one – perhaps I’ll visit again one day as there was a nice gallery that had lots of delightful pictures hanging in the window that I wouldn’t mind looking around.
I rolled up to the start to be greeted by the sight of the man I assumed was the RD, Stu Westfield and I was joined by fellow runners Richard and Hannah who also clearly assumed that getting to the start line early would be better than rolling up with minutes to spare. The Ranger Ultras team were just setting up but they offered the facilities of the cricket pavilion to us and a range of tasty beverages. Chat followed – mostly I think coming from me as the two litres of coffee and epic driving experiences worked their way through my system. I should apologise to most of the runners who came across me during the event as I’m pretty sure I just spouted nonsense at most people.
I found the experience of watching the pre-race setup rather pleasant, it wasn’t one of those slick affairs ‘bish-bash-bosh’ but more that intimate, friendly event that I have a very deep affection for. The team ambled around casually setting up, dealing with the runners and generally being lovely – I think I’ve seen these races described as ‘no-frills’ but from the outset I found this to be a rather inaccurate statement to make – I found it to be ‘wonderfully simple’.
Anyway I continued chatting to Richard while the other runners lined up to collect the number and the minutes rolled around closer and closer to the start time of 9.30am. Finally Richard and I decided to go and collect our numbers but before this we both needed to unpack our perfectly loaded race vests to show that we were carrying a map and a proper survival bag.
For me I had compartmentalised my kit into theee dry bags in the back of my ADV SKIN 12. Bag one had Harvey Maps Pennine Bridleway South in, bag two had the ‘other stuff’ including head torch and survival bag. It was reassuring to know that not only were we required to have a full set of kit with us but also that the Ranger Ultras team were keen to check off the most important of items.
With check done I adorned my front with my face number and then marvelled at Richard who struggled with getting pins through his shorts – saying that his wife would usually help out! I did offer to play the role of wife in this matter but he politely declined and eventually madd the 155 his own.
And so it was that at a few minutes before 9.30am we headed outside to the start line and with little fanfare but a lot of joy we gently jogged away from the cricket ground and to the trail.
Now the eagle eyed amongst you will notice I used the word ‘jogged’ about leaving the race HQ as it was clear that nobody wanted to lead the way. I most definitely did not want to lead the way as I have all the navigational ability of a wet fart in a swimming pool. And so I slowed to a near crawl until a couple of runners passed me and I could follow them but in typical fashion I found myself overtaking them and suddenly I was at the front of the race.
All of this back and forth had the effect of stopping me admiring the views and so those first couple of kilometres went by in a hurried blur that I could barely remember. As we started the first real climb though I was caught by a man named Kev who looked like a seasoned long distance runner and also one of those chaps that if you were caught out in some serious trouble you’d be glad he was with you.
I found great enjoyment in the chat we shared over the next few kilometres, it was proper chew the fat, running nonsense and it really gave the legs a bit of a lift as I found my race feet. Not only was I enjoying the chat though I was enjoying the route which was filled with lovely little hills, climbs, rocks and greenery. Having only ever run in the Peak District a few times I was keen to see what they really had to offer and so far it was so good.
In race distance terms this wasn’t a big one – at 55km it was at the shorter end of ultras and made shorter still in terms of new scenery by the fact it was a 27.5km out and back time trial. As a consequence we really were only getting a glimpse of the Peak District but it certainly seemed worthy of the six hour drive.
I digress, meanwhile out in the trail I realised that I was blasting through the kilometres far too quickly and so wished Kev well and began a slowing down process that would mean I should arrive back to the finish in good time but also not be too exhausted for the drive back to Scotland.
Within a few minutes a pair of young chaps bimbled past me just before the first checkpoint and I found myself alone for a little while but only until the checkpoint arrived where I met a lovely volunteer who had a big, genuine smile on his face and couldn’t be more helpful in filling up bottles.
The roadside stop had a few bits to eat, mostly chocolate or biscuits and importantly lots of water but I wasn’t particularly interested in food as I was using Active Root and find this to be excellent in the early stage of a race when I least want food.
I passed through the checkpoint reasonably quickly and even managed not to get tangled up in trying to stuff my water bottles in my new vest. Bonus.
The route now left the trails behind for a little while and took in some tarmac – not something I’m overly fond of but there’s always a bit of road to connect the trails. The road rolled for longer than I had thought it would but it was mostly a pleasant jaunt and the time on my feet through a beautiful part of the world was well worth doing.
Behind me I could here the sound of a couple of other runners chatting away as I prepared to cross a main road. It was here that there was a bit of confusion for me – my watch said right but that didn’t seem to be right as it was a main road and ahead was a long, long piece of road that also didn’t seem right. Then as the two runners, who had been behind me, caught me up I saw a large sign saying ‘PBW’ and a sense of relief came across my brow – nobody likes adding extra mileage if you don’t have to.
I briefly chatted with the ladies who were looking incredibly strong as they passed me on their first ultra marathon. I may have accidentally told them some poo stories, which for runners new to ultra marathons might have been a little too much but hey-ho, I don’t really have much of a filter at the bet of times and my exertions and caffeine consumption had really downed those filters completely.
The road back to the trail seemed unnecessarily long but eventually we made it to the turn and we were greeted by a delightful view or three and a climb out of the dip on the slippiest trail I have ever known. I had good grip on my Topo Athletic Ultraventure Prp and therefore once more overtook the ladies I had been chatting with, as they were taking this mildly treacherous section more sedately (they’d catch me again at the top).
I was mostly enjoying the variation of the trail and still enjoying the running, albeit at a reasonably slow pace as I watched the two ladies jauntily head off into the distance.
The thing that experience gives me though is an understanding of how ultra marathons work and after 56 finishes I knew that we had run a reasonable amount of downhill that was going to be tough on the return. I wasn’t exactly saving myself but I figured that a gentle outward pace was going to serve me better for a stronger second half when I could reel in some of the other runners.
More roads, more trails and more fun followed and at the bottom of a big downhill I found my watch crying out to me ‘off course’. I’d clearly missed something and so turned round to see a couple of guys behind me. Aha I thought – they’ll know the way – and they did, at which point my GPS also caught up to tell me I was back ‘on course’.
One of the runners was Richard that I’d met earlier in the day – he wasn’t looking like a very happy chap. It seemed he was having all sorts of stomach issues but despite this was making rather reasonable time. We started to run a bit together as we were at the back end of the outward section and I didn’t want to see a runner in trouble.
We pressed onward, chatting and chewing the fat, I was a bit worried about where his head was at but I tried to keep conversation light because it’s easy to give in to the temptation when your head starts telling your head that your body has had enough.
We’d get to the halfway point and then maybe see how he was. But before that there was the little matter of those couple of kilometres.
As we bimbled through the countryside we could hear the clatter of fast moving feet behind us and turned to see some a snake hipped mountain goat thunder (literally) past us. The eventual winner was moving like absolute lightning and watching him run was a genuine privilege. In my head I could hear myself, ‘I remember when I used to run that quickly’ – truth is I’ve never run that quickly at any distance.
Still an old man can dream.
We were still quite a way out when we could see our destination and checkpoint 2, our elevated position provided a rather scenic view and also our first opportunity to witness the routes sting in the tail, a steep up and down.
Now under normal circumstances I’d have battered down this trail like nobody’s business but Richard looked like he was just a single fart from death and so we ambled rather gently onwards because as I pointed out to him, ‘I really don’t want to have to drag your body up this hill’.
We briefly managed to get a bit lost around the tunnel and in the finding the route upwards to the checkpoint but it was a minor error and quickly corrected. The hill climb though wasn’t nearly as bad as it looked and even with 17 miles in the legs it was quite a nice jaunt up to the jolly faces at the checkpoint.
Richard ate as much as he could manage including a cheese sandwich which he’d mullered in his race pack on the journey and I downed a bottle of fresh orange juice (a real lifesaver actually) but I declined the food as I was still pretty happy in Active Root.
I’d made a bit of a kit error too that I could have rectified here but unlike my fellow runner I chose to keep my base layer shirt on which was something I was regret in hindsight as the muggy conditions made the PB55 a sweaty, smelly one. Still with all of our issues at least looked at, Richard and I headed back the way we came in search of the finish line.
It was here, as we departed, that we saw Hannah once more and despite this being her first ultra marathon she looked both happy and strong. I knew that if our pace didn’t pick up then Hannah would soon overtake us, and she would deserve it, she looked fantastic!
What was clear though was that the pitstop hadn’t resolved the underlying issues that my companion was facing and it would be tricky to up the pace much beyond where it was now but having decided that he wanted to continue I was happy to run with him. I did have something of an ace up my sleeve though in terms of our pace and that was that my ‘death march’ is actually pretty quick and as long as I could keep us both moving this wasn’t going to feel like an eternity for either of us. There is almost nothing worse than when you feel rough to know that you’ve got hours and hours left on your feet and so with a bit of a push we moved along the trail as quickly as we could.
It never felt like ambling back to the finish, to say that Richard was giving it all that he had would be a very fair assessment and the thing I noticed, as we ambled along the route, was that I had barely taken any notice of the beautiful views as we went out and so I began soaking it up.
I found myself repeatedly saying, ‘I don’t remember any of this…’ and I assumed this was because I had been so busy chatting away either to myself or the other runners.
A couple of kilometres from the checkpoint I heard the sound of running feet catching us up and turned to see Hannah a few hundred feet away and closing fast and as she approached I urged her on, however, it could have been that she just fancied a bit of a break and joined us.
More chitty chat, mostly from me and we had a lovely few minutes together until I insisted that she start running again. If she had left it much longer I thought she might have found it difficult to get started again and her performance thus far did not deserve for it to end badly. As she disappeared into the distance I knew we were looking at a great future ultra runner.
Richard and I continued through to the next checkpoint were we both restocked on water and had a few laughs with the wonderful checkpoint marshal who had clearly been there for the duration of the event. I asked if I might have enough water to soak my buff and he duly obliged.
Once soaked I took the buff and rubbed away the hours of muggy sweat that had been coated my skin like thick grime and now cleaned up I hurled my buff on top of my head like I was in a mountainside shampoo advert and left the checkpoint.
We crossed the road and into the final 9km or so but we stopped almost instantly when Richard finally managed to chuck his guts up instead of dry retching. Bloody hell he looked rough and there was a part of me wondered whether he might call it a day given we were so close to a potential escape route, but no.
We took a few minutes and Richard pulled himself together and the greyness about his face started to abate a little bit.
In better news we had returned to the trail and the tarmac was pretty much over and there was a feeling in the air that we were going to be okay. With Richard starting to look a bit better and the promise from his wife that there was a pint of lemonade and ice on offer we started to pick up the pace. It was amazing what a bit of vomit could do and despite having not done any running for a few hours we managed to raise our legs and get going.
I mean I’m not going to claim it was zoom, zoom but credit where it was due Richard really showed that he was made of the sternest stuff as we ran across the trail.
I maintained my position as primary conversationalist and as we approached a brief piece of road we saw some marshals waiting for us and offering us some delicious goodies to help make the last couple of miles easier – I glugged down some delicious mango drink and who knows if Richard tried to have anything I was too busy guzzling and joking with the marshals. But we didn’t stop long, I could sense we were in good form now and I didn’t want to lose that momentum.
The finish was now within touching distance with just a few miles left to go and I was feeling pretty good, which given that I haven’t been enjoying my running recently was a rather curious feeling, and better than that my legs actually felt like they could continue to run at a fair old lick. Richard was keeping up quite nicely and this was a really lovely section of the route which we could cut through like a hot knife in butter (but not a cold knife in hot butter).
Further and further we ran, noting landmarks such as the caravan site, the gate at the top of the hill and the little collection of cottages on the edge of Hayfield and all of this meant we were into the finishing stretch. I urged us forward with all the energy we could muster and once inside the cricket ground I started with a bit of tough love, I could see the finish line, I could see the Ranger Ultras team and I could see the small gathering of supporters. Richard hurtled to the finish and I followed just behind him.
What a day.
At the finish line was Richard wife and daughter armed with the aforementioned lemonade and ice and I caught sight of several of the finishers who had passed us earlier in the race including Hannah to whom I had to give congratulations! All I needed now was a medal and a quick exit and then I would be away to sunny Scotland – my work here was done, the grand slam was still on.
Ascent: 1479 metres
Date: September (usually April) 2021
Location: Hayfield, Peak District
Tough Rating: 2/5
Route The Pennine Bridleway 55 Time Trial used to be the Pennine Bridleway 57 point to point and in a number of ways I am sorry I didn’t get the opportunity to run that race but with pandemic you can understand why having an out and back makes a lot more sense that ferrying runners to a start line.
I feel the point to point would have given a greater view of the Peak District because you’d have been covering more, different ground. However, there is little point crying over what might have been and look instead at what was, and the PB55 was a fun and, in places challenging route that tested the mettle of competitors. The mixed nature of the route will have appealed to many of the entrants and although I generally prefer more trail than tarmac I found the varied nature of the course to be very enjoyable, I also thoroughly enjoyed the views of The Peak District, it was so very different to say the Lakes or the Highlands or even the central belt of Scotland where I train and as somewhere that I have rarely run previously I am keen to return.
With nearly 1500 metres of climb over the course the PB55 actually had some significant challenge to it in terms of the elevation and although many runners were carrying and using running poles most of the climbs were perfectly runnable. Given my level of fitness on the day I would perhaps have benefitted from poles when I started to slow but you didn’t need them to get round in a good time and given the speediness of the first finisher it was clear the course could be considered a fast one if you are up to it.
The PB55 would suit first timers as much as it would suit the seasoned ultra runner and I enjoyed it very much with my favourite sections being that first 10km of trails and the midpoint mini valley climb – both were wonderful and a little bit cruel, just how I like my routes.
Organisation I love a well organised race, simply because it means you, as the runner, can concentrate on the running you turned up to do. The good news is that Ranger Ultras were incredibly well organised and yet very easy going. What more can you ask for?
Stu Westfield the Race Director seemed a calm and sensible sort of chap who seemed concerned about 1. putting on an excellent running event and 2. making sure that the runners had a good and safe time.
Even when several runners rolled up to the race HQ door a bit early the team were good enough and thoughtful enough to make sure that we had access to everything that we might need. You really can’t fault the quality of the organisation and I’m very much looking forward to returning for the Yorkshire Three Peaks Ultra and the Peaks Double weekend of ultra running.
Additionally all the pre-race material was excellent and communication is top notch, there is also an abundance of social media material that although not obligatory is a base well covered if that is how you like your information.
Value for Money What is your measure for good value? For many runners it remains the ‘pound per mile’ but I’m not sure that applies any longer as costs to put on events spiral like the rest of society. What I can say is that the £50 to enter the Pennine Bridleway 55 Time Trial is a bargain. I think I may have got some form of discount because I entered for the four races of the grand slam but even so you really can’t complain. We could mention the bespoke medal, we could mention that there is real food at the end of the race, we could mention that the race HQ had a roof on it and therefore you could start the race dry or get to the finish and dry off had it been raining, we could mention a tremendously well run event, we could mention a whole lots of things but the crux of it is; this was a really brilliant and incredibly inexpensive event.
Awards Now I love a medal but Ranger Ultras are in the process of moving over from metal medals to wooden coasters. Now wooden coasters don’t fit very well around my post at home where I hang all my race awards but the truth is that the coasters appeal to my mild sense of eco-friendliness and also they are really, really well designed and beautiful.
As a runner who likes a race medal/award this is pretty much all I need and I was very happy.
However, in addition to coaster was some race photography and post race pizza at the end (I didn’t stop for pizza as time was against me) but ultimately the award is that coaster and its awesome but you can opt not to have the award and instead have the value of the coaster donated to a wildlife charity. It’s nice when a race looks at providing options to its runners, especially as we all become more aware of our environment and our impact on the planet.
Volunteers and support I’ve already offered my praise for the work of the race director but that praise should extend to the whole Ranger Ultras team. The people who provided marshalling at the checkpoints on the route always had a smile and something fun to say and nothing was too much trouble. Thank you to each and every one of you because without your efforts the races simply couldn’t happen.
Runners There were about 30 runners in the Pennine Bridleway 55 but more in the shorter PB18 which took place, (out and back) across the first 9km of the PB55 later on the same day. I feel the race deserves to have many more competitors because it is a wonderful running experience and if you decide to join Ranger Ultras at the next running of the event then you’ll have a wonderful time.
My Race I had a race of two halves really, the first half was reasonably fast and furious with lots of fun going up and down and around with the second half a more speedy walking affair as I looked to support my fellow runner. In answer to the question, ‘why would you help another runner for half a race?‘. The answer to that is simple – I’ve needed help from time to time during an ultra marathon, I’ve needed someone to put their arm around me and tell me to ‘get it done‘ therefore I was paying it forward and supporting a wonderful runner get to the end.
It is important to note that the experience of running with Richard was also hugely rewarding but I’m sure there were times were he wished I would simply shut up because I am an irritating knobhead but I hope he won’t hold that against me too much.
The travel down from Scotland left me exhausted before I started and I was surprised that I finished with lots of energy remaining! I really enjoyed the trail sections of this race, even the very slippery stones and the tarmac, while harsh on my back and knees was mostly fine. Thankfully the weather was wonderful in that we had pretty much everything from sunshine through wind to rain and it felt like a lovely fresh day to go running in the Peaks. I do wish I had taken my poles as I had underestimated how the elevation would play out – I won’t make that mistake again but in better kit news the Topo Ultraventure Pro were amazing and I found the Salomon ADV Skin 12 a really good choice for the event, both would be perfectly suitable for significantly longer distances.
Ultimately I had a very enjoyable race.
My only real issue occurred after the race and that was the search for diesel… people of the Peak District and Manchester, please stop panic buying diesel or I might not be able to come down for the Yorkshire Three Peaks. My car with a full tank of fuel could make the round trip to The Peak District but it would be a close call requiring all my wits about me and no traffic issues and let me assure you after running an ultra marathon you just want to get home as quickly as you can and not be thinking too hard about fuel economy or whether some knobhead has crashed their Audi further up the M6.
Conclusions Great race, great organisation, lovely award and a very interesting start to the grand slam of races with Ranger Ultras. I’d be keen to try the original PB57 or take a stab at 270km version of the Pennine Bridleway in the future because the route had something really wonderful about it, to say it intrigued me would be an understatement.
I would highly recommend having a crack at one or many of the races on offer with Ranger Ultras and it is worth saying that having travelled from Scotland to be on the start line I have zero regrets about doing that as it was such a great event.
As we walked down through the rain and wind from the campsite to the Kerrera ferry I think we all wondered what madness had we gotten involved in, but here we were, as a family, about to be part of the Craggy Island Triathlon from Durty Events.
In a twist to our usual family adventures it was the GingaNinja who was competing meanwhile I and the child would be on volunteering duty at the junior triathlon event. We headed for our crossing to the island about 8.30am and lined up with dozens of other competitors, spectators and volunteers. It was a real electric atmosphere as we waited those few minutes to board one of the many boats that was whizzing people and gear to the registration.
What I can say is that in organisational terms the whole team worked brilliantly and not just Durty Events but also the islanders who help make this happen. Boats moved across the water transporting competitors in a constant sea of movement – it was a magnificent sight and when we arrived on the beautiful Kerrera we were greeted by the brilliant hustle and bustle of the event that was even more electric than the mainland.
Before we had departed the slipway we made our first new friend of the day – a lovely chap called Adrian, who had competed the day before and had come back to volunteer on day two. Myself and ASK chatted with him and others for quite a while as we awaited the beginning of the briefing for volunteers.
At a little after 9.30am (too busy chatting to competitors, so we were a few minutes late) we headed to the volunteer briefing and caught up on where we were supposed to be and what we would be doing. Diane lead the briefing and gave clear and easy instructions and noting any pressure points that might occur during the day. ASK and I had been handed junior stream crossing duty on the bike and run section and we needed to be there for about noon – so we had time to spare and with that we got chatting to other marshals like Linsey and Freya who were both awesome and ambled around supporting the GingaNinja and some of the other competitors as nerves started to get the better of them.
Thankfully the GingaNinja got into the spirit of things and made a few new friends herself including the awesome Pauline and Jane who were competing as a relay team in the triathlon, I had no idea that there would be so many brilliant options for this event and this gave the whole thing a vibe of being super friendly and incredibly inclusive – it had a really welcoming feel that just lifted the spirits even if the rain was bouncing down on top of you.
But with time ticking away competitors needed to head back to mainland for the start of the race – yep that’s right – registration is on the island but the start is on the mainland – you’ve got to swim back to the island to complete the bike and run sections!
What a superb and brutal idea!
Anyway ASK and I took up a spot overlooking the swim exit and cheered everyone into transition while awaiting the arrival of our athlete. The GingaNinja should have been quick in the swim and I was probably expecting a time of about 11 or 12 minutes but as the first swimmers came out and then the next and the next she wasn’t there.
In the water you could see the current was strong and it found swimmers being dragged significantly off course and this was going to be a massive drain on them as they pushed for the slipway. The GingaNinja, who would argue that the swim is her strongest discipline, struggled in the early stages and resorted to breast stroke until she found her footing.
By the time she was in gear and back into front crawl mode she had used up the energy reserves in her legs and lost a bit of the competitive advantage that a good swim would have given her ahead of the sections she wasn’t so confident in.
However, she pulled herself out of the water to a rapturous roar from the crowd, pulled the big girl pants on and managed to jog up the hill into transition where a battle with a wetsuit awaited. ASK and I followed as quickly as we could offering as much encouragement as we could.
ASK and I shouted advice down to her but she looked pretty pissed so I let her get on with it and instead turned my attention to the gentleman who had just approached me. Paul is one of the key organisers of the event along with the rest of the Durty Events team and the awesome Duncan (the wonderful ferryman and also my original co-conspirator in the special reason for being on the island).
What was my special reason for being there? Well, I had contacted the team at Durty Events to ask if they could help me in proposing marriage to the GingaNinja.
On one of of our test trips to the island, in the months before the event, Duncan had identified himself as co-organiser and so when we were there for our final test trip I stopped and asked if he might be able to help. Duncan with his broad smile and a little twinkle in his eye said, ‘leave it with me’.
And now as the GingaNinja was pulling the bike up from the grass to head out on the course, plans were being finalised for me to be able to ask her to marry me front of all her fellow triathletes.
But before any of that could happen there was the business of marshalling the junior race. ASK and I had been stationed at one of the outlier but most beautiful points. So at about 11.45 we, and Adrian, made our way up to our marshalling points, saying hello to the other event volunteers as we went by and cheering the adult race competitors as they hurried past us.
Looking into the sky, the grey had now disappeared and what remained was beautiful, blue sky! This was wonderful and I had no doubt would make marshalling a much easier task (especially with a 7 year old in tow) and also a more mentally enjoyable effort for the juniors.
ASK set herself up by the directional signage, grabbed herself a hot chocolate from the flask I had brought and sat upon her recently purchased inflatable seat (from race sponsor and local Oban outdoor wear store Outside Edge, a really good shop to visit might I add). The only problem, that I wouldn’t discover until we were packing away was that she had planted the seat in the sloppiest sheep shit imaginable!
Could have been worse of course she might have dumped herself in it.
Within minutes of our arrival at the marshal point we saw our first bikers, ASK steeled herself for motivational cheers and frantic arm waggling to inform the athletes the direction to go. I on the other hand found myself a little rock amongst the sea of sodden ground and stood just above the stream of water that the competitors would have to get through to continue onwards.
Adrian would later describe my motivational cheering as like an old style PE teacher on steeplechase or cross-country day as the runners were hitting the water! That said I like to think I was a little more encouraging to those that looked like they needed to hear that they could do it! We whooped and hollered at all the young athletes until both ASK had become rather hoarse.
What is undeniable though is that I was incredibly impressed by the skill, speed and tenacity of these young adventurers and I very much admired their abilities – from the youngest to the oldest they all did an amazing job. ASK also really enjoyed being part of it all and wanting to have a go herself. She called over to me at one point as one of the younger athletes came through and said, ‘that boy only looks about 8, I could do this next year when I’m 8’.
Of course I explained she was a bit too young yet to meet the age requirement but when she is old enough she’s welcome to try – but she’ll need to improve her biking skills first because there’s no way she’d get through the mud with her current bike riding.
What I do know is that while the biking was impressive from the juniors it was the running that really impressed me, those who had perhaps fought with the bike a bit, looked sharp in the run, and even on the boggy, muddy, slippery conditions there was real grit shown from everyone. If I had been wearing a cap as I stood on my rock I would have doffed it in the direction of each and every one of them.
With the race all but over ASK and I ate some lunch, a delicious curry pie for me and a macaroni pie for the child. As we were finishing them and with no athletes having been seen for some time we caught sight of the other marshals heading towards us collecting signs and so we joined them, clearing the field of event signage – leaving no trace.
It was a lovely wander back with some lovely people, good chat and Teddy the black Labrador that had been hanging round the food tent earlier and looking to snack on any tasty treat that a careless athlete might have lost.
But now it was back to the real event of the day for me and that was taking place back at the finish line.
We deposited the race signage at the registration tent and then ASK and I set ourselves up at the finish line hoping that the GingaNinja would be here soon. The Durty guys were keeping a special eye out for her so that they could time things as efficiently as possible and this meant that when I arrived back I knew she had already been out on the run for about 45 minutes.
I spoke to Paul and said if she isn’t back in 15 minutes then they should just go ahead with the prize giving – I had no intention of keeping cold, hungry and exhausted triathletes from getting home but the Durty team seemed very relaxed about the whole thing and just played it by ear.
I however, was anxious, very anxious.
Although the GingaNinja knew the deal we agreed many years ago – complete an ultra marathon, a long distance walk of 100 miles or an any distance triathlon and we would get married she would have little or no idea that I would have roped in the help of the event organisers to force her, through embarrassment, into saying yes!
I kept checking my phone to see if she was in trouble but nothing she was still out there. Other triathletes crossed the finish line to great applause and while I was happy for them I was nervous for her and then Paul came over and said, ‘she’s a few minutes away’. My heart started racing but I got myself together and headed down the final strait so that ASK could finish it with her mum and then with prize giving underway I needed to move the GingaNinja and ASK into position quickly without giving the game away.
I stripped her of her soaking kit and hurled her dryrobe on, I gave the child a camera and with just a minute to spare we were settled at the prize giving at which point I was almost immediately called up to the front of what felt like a million people.
Now I had relayed my story and what was about to happen to lots of the people at the event and almost everywhere I looked I saw someone who knew what was about to happen.
With microphone in hand I began.
‘We’ve been on a million and one adventures together… I wondered if you fancied a million and one more… starting with this one…’
At which point I removed from my pocket a ring that had been specially made for us by a wonderful lady called Sally Grant in Burntisland and moved to the traditional single knee position.
‘Will you marry me?’
The GingaNinja moved from the crowd, looking rather sheepish and then whole world fell silent and disappeared. She came, took the ring from my rather trembling fingers, which would refuse to fit on her triathlon fattened sausage fingers and said yes.
I informed the crowd of the answer and there was a cheer to break the silence and more importantly there was an easing of my breathing. Hellfire I even cried, which is most unlike me.
Holy turd. She said yes.
The Durty Stuff But enough of this you aren’t here for the emotional proposal stuff you’re here because of Durty Events. What I can say is that the Craggy Island Triathlon must be a massive logistical challenge but the team make it look effortless. It was smooth, it was brilliantly executed and it seemed to be very elastic, if something needed to adapt then the team could move with that need. Brilliant.
Location In terms of location I think Kerrera might be a little hidden gem in Scotland’s arsenal of little gems. The place is full of little secrets to uncover as you explore and it is certainly worth seeing the castle and the views across to Mull and the mainland but there’s so much more to the island. The islanders themselves that I met on my various visits were incredibly friendly and welcoming and there’s a real community spirit about the place. Then you’ve got the event route which the GingaNinja described as ‘absolutely glorious’ and you’d have to agree, it has absolutely everything in it, all muddily packaged in to about 22km of eventing and the junior route was equally exceptional – you don’t get this kind of thing everyday.
This is an event worth doing as a seasoned eventer or first timer – it’s something you’ll never forget and never regret.
Marshalling & Volunteering As for marshalling? Well I definitely had a pretty easy time of it, I answered a few questions from some of the competitors and spectators, then got a fantastic view of the junior race for a couple of hours – it was a truly wonderful experience. What I can say is that it was brilliant and everyone should try and give a bit back by doing some volunteering and let me assure you that you’ll have a great time if you choose to do it in a Durty Events kind of way. Importantly though any kind of volunteering and marshalling makes a difference in any kind of endurance sport and your participation makes it so much easier for events to take place and for athletes to be supported.
Mountain Rescue It’s also worth noting that this event also serves as a fundraiser for the Oban Mountain Rescue and I can’t think of a service that deserves your support more, you can donate to them at any time (or your nearest mountain rescue) because without their dedication and commitment, events like this wouldn’t really be possible. We might think we’ll never need their aid or their exceptional skills but on the day we do then I’m glad I’ve donated to keep them going.
Thanks And now to a few thanks, first of course is to Durty Events and team, not only did they provide a triathlon event that my partner was keen to participate in but they made room for me and my little piece of proposal mischief. Paul & Diane especially you have my thanks.
To Duncan, our wonderful ferryman, co-organiser and all round star I must say thank you for being a brilliant support and a real gentleman, you inspired all of the madness of the proposal at the event! Plus being sped from the island by you was the perfect end to a perfect day.
To Freya, Linsey, Adrian and all the other volunteers and marshals – your company, wisdom and videography skills were much appreciated, I hope we one day come across each other in another muddy location.
To the many competitors who took part, especially those such as Jane and Pauline who we chatted to throughout the event it was a pleasure to share the Craggy Island Triathlon with you. Congratulations to everyone who took part you were amazing snd my apologies if I’ve forgotten to mention you.
To my little munky, ASK, the 7 year old marshal and daughter who managed not to moan at all, despite soggy feet and missing her mum. She was a superstar and came away wanting not to be an ultra runner like her dad but be a triathlete like her mum.
And finally to the GingaNinja – thanks for finishing and for saying yes.
And so that’s one of the Tales of Kerrera, what’s yours? And what will your next adventure be?
Durty Events have lots of lovely looking events to get your teeth into (or volunteer at). I know I’ll be signing up to a first triathlon with them (probably Craggy Island) and the GingaNinja is already eyeing up both the Foxlake and Aviemore Tri events. It wouldn’t surprise me if we become not just durty but filthy regulars because these guys know how to put on a splendid event. You can find out more at durtyevents.com and let me assure you I’m not paid or sponsored to say any of this they are just a brilliant events team.
Apologies if I got a name wrong or if I missed anyone out – it has been a mad few days but thank you to everyone and see you again soon!
Imagine being stood at the start of a race and you’re faced with a potato dressed as a superhero, yes my Saturday was feeling a bit weird but we were here and there were three races to complete.
In the pantheon of stupid races I’ve done I think I may have to put this near the top, because though it was short, it was an amazing mix of hell and balls out fun.
I had convinced the GingaNinja that she wanted to run a mile race armed with 10kg of potatoes on her shoulders and better than that I had convinced ASK that she wanted to run a mile while hauling a 2.5kg bag of spuds. My only failing was that I had to run that mile while weighed down by 20kg of potato goodness.
But let’s roll back a bit, why where we here?
As a family we owe a great debt of gratitude to Perth, where the race took place. It was here that our love affair with Scotland began and also where the idea of moving to this wonderful country began when we were attending a friend of the GingaNinja’s wedding. I therefore retain a very soft spot for this rather beautiful little place and any chance I get to visit I’m going to take and let’s be honest who could say no to some free spuds?
With the race being set in the middle of the afternoon it meant that we could go about our usual Saturday business (in this case a party at which ASK was an attendee) and still have more than ample time to get to Perth before we hosted an evening BBQ with some of ASKs school friends and family. If timing went well it would be a great little way to spend the final weekend of the summer holidays, if timings were off or the potatoes were too heavy for any of us, then it could be a disaster!
However, we arrived at Perth with plenty of time to spare and found parking near North Inch Park at the leisure centre and although it was paid parking it was very reasonably priced, as is the case in much of Scotland. With time to spare we grabbed our bits and pieces and headed out to the park after ensuring that we were in the correct place and seeing in the distance dozens and dozens of bags of potatoes we guessed that we had arrived to the right place.
Now I had made a bit of mess of the entry and so I had assumed that we would be spending the spare time we had fixing my own stupidity. I had entered the GingaNinja for the under 18s junior race and had also entered ASK into this as well without any thought for the fact that she might therefore be racing against juniors up to an including 17 year olds. Therefore we spoke to the volunteers who told us that the GingaNinja could simply just line up in the women’s race and that ASK would be fine in the juniors race.
We ambled around a bit and got chatting to a couple who recognised my beloved Jedburgh Three Peaks race shirt. Oddly the lady in the couple looked remarkably familiar but I couldn’t place her and I clearly couldn’t know her as she was something of a speed demon – racing a second placed finish in the ladies race. They said they’d arrived early and were pretty much the first to arrive and much like us had hoped that more people would turn out as with about 30 minutes to the first race there weren’t that many people in attendance.
Thankfully it didn’t take long for the park to fill up with runners and supporters and across the three main races, a series of spud and spoon races and a wheelchair race there were more than 300 entrants. The atmosphere was big, warm and friendly – it was really lovely and it felt like a race should feel even though lots of the runners and supporters were still sensibly adhering to some social distancing.
Unfortunately there was a slight delay to the beginnings of proceedings – with the organisers wanting to ensure that the course markings were 100% clear. The very minor delay was a good idea given that after the two adult races there would be a series of youngsters taking to the field alone and their safety of course had to be paramount.
With the course ready and the runners ready there was time for a few words of encouragement from the local Provost and the race organisers. Clearly the organisers were keen to make up for lost time as the ladies race was prepared with a bit of vim and vigour. That said it never felt rushed, the atmosphere remained fun and enjoyable, therefore, ASK and I headed out to the course to catch sight of our runner as she would surely come hurtling by us in mere moments.
The route was an out and back, out and back, out and back on the grass in the park – not the most inspired idea for a race you might think but actually it was perfect – each 400 metre section provided supporters and fellow runners the opportunity to cheer each other on and also, if you were racing, the ambition to catch the runner ahead rather than watch them disappear off into the distance.
The GingaNinja headed out with the 10kg sack of spuds wrapped round her neck like a very heavy string of garlic – it looked heavy and the usually light footed suddenly looked heavy footed as they struggled with the packages. We whooped and hollered as she passed us by and then we grabbed our own bags of potatoes and moved in so we could get a better look for when she would come thundering back towards us.
A mile is not a very long distance but the dead weight on your shoulders makes things much more challenging and yet it was no surprise, with all the good triathlon training under her belt recently, that the GingaNinja was making exceptionally good time and we cheered once more as she came towards us and then away from us to the second leg of the race. ASK doesn’t get to see the GingaNinja race as often as she sees me, so it was good to see her smiling with immense pride at the pace that her mum was delivering.
We cheered on the other runners as the race progressed and took up a position about 50 metres from the finish – we were able to cheer in the young lady we had been chatting to earlier as she finished in a tremendous second place. I looked on enviously at the gloves she was sporting and wishing I had had the foresight to bring such an item. Then after around 9 minutes of racing the GingaNinja appeared and with all that she had left in the tank delivered a finish worth of the term, ‘a sprint’.
Even with the bag of potatoes rested across her shoulders she was determined not to allow the runner at her side beat her to the finish and I watched as she increased her stride to ensure that she crossed the line mere centimetres ahead.
The GingaNinja roasted the competition in those last few metres.
I hurled some potatoes on my back and immediately headed over to the finish to find her, more so she could take my race vest than for congratulations but time was of the essence.
Despite the late start of the race there was no rush to get the final runner home and instead they were greeted by the loud cheers of the crowd. It was genuinely a wonderful atmosphere.
However, there was clearly a determination to get the second race of the day underway and the men were invited to haul their spuds upon their backs and head to the start line.
I understood how heavy the spuds were and have carried many a rucksack much heavier than this however, what I hadn’t accounted for was that the bag had very little give in it and that gripping it was going to a challenge. I hoisted it upon my back but couldn’t get comfortable, perhaps I was the wrong shape for the bag I thought.
Still too late now, I got as comfortable as I could and waited for the race start. Boom we were off and I pressed as hard as I could although that was nowhere near as hard as some of the other competitors who thundered away with more conviction than I ever have. The first 400 metres moved pretty quickly but I was in a constant state of flux as I could feel potatoes sliding down my back – I kept trying to readjust on the move knowing that race at only a mile would be over within minutes. Eventually I pulled the bag onto my right shoulder and slipped a couple of fingers on my left side through the netting to try and give myself some semblance of control, albeit at the cost of balance.
The GIngaNinja said upon seeing me at the race that I looked incredibly uncomfortable and was leaning very far forward – this was very much in response to trying to get this dead weight under control but now with half the distance done I knew that I just had to hang on, both literally and figuratively.
I was now struggling though and the weight on my back was making running even more of a challenge and although I pushed hard as I came into the final 100 metres or so I knew that I would not catch the half a dozen runners ahead of me as I simply didn’t have the lift in my legs that the GingaNinja had.
Thankfully I crossed the line (in about 8 and half minutes) and dropped my lovely bag of potatoes to my feet – collecting a much needed bottle of water and my hard earned medal.
I can say that Ultraboyruns was totally mashed!
Shortly after finishing my family joined me and we quickly turned our attention our final race of the day – the juniors.
Now ASK has a bit of history in racing having competed in about 25 races since she started doing events but this one was different – carrying 2.5kg of potatoes for a rather slight 6 year old was going to be a big ask. Having seen lots of the other children struggling to keep the bags in one piece even before the race had started and were manhandling them in a way that suggested that the running would be cumbersome I suggested to ASK that she simply put them into a dry bag and carry that instead. I had suggested she hold it in front of her to make things easier – although what she did was something a little different.
We asked her if she wanted one of us to run with her but after much consideration she decided that she wanted to run it alone. I told her that one of us would run alongside the outside of the course to give her encouragement and this seemed to be a decent balance.
Interestingly, as she lined up for the race, with neither myself or the GingaNinja in sight, she looked calm and ready. She had decided to start reasonably near the front, something unknown to me, but as she stood around the much older and larger children she looked like she might get trampled by the her! Thankfully not though, and as the runners set out I was pleased to see that she used all her experience to run steadily amidst the junior runners who were hurling themselves as fast as they could up the first 400 metres.
As can be the case with kids who come to race very often they make the mistake of going out too fast (to be fair I think we all do that) and by the time the first 400 metres had passed the race had settled into those who had gone out too fast and those who hadn’t. ASK moved steadily through the runners ahead of her and I ran the outside of the course to give her encouragement when she felt the weight of her tatties.
Interestingly despite me advice she chose to have the bag she was carrying the spuds in bouncing on her back and this must have been both quite painful and having an effect on her running flow. I shouted to her to bring them round to the front but she ignored me and carried on regardless. With 1200 metres down she had gotten into the home run and I ran down to where the GingaNinja was waiting and we called out to her to push as hard as she could. ASK did take this piece of advice and she ran with as much gusto as she could manage and passed a couple of other young athletes on the way in and crossing the line in a very respectable time of a little over 10 minutes.
The man on the microphone, who had been incredibly jolly all afternoon, approached the child to interview her as she finished asking her if she did this much and that the bag to carry the potatoes in had been a great idea – ASK answered as she should, that she races quite a lot and that the bag was her parents idea! Good girl. I managed to get to the finish line before she managed to get her breath back and start chattering at the lovely chap and I took her away for a banana and a medal – she was a very happy young lady.
ASK Adventurer is a real chip off the old block I’d say!
And so we ended the race with 32.5kg on potatoes to take home, three medals and a great experience.
Conclusions The Great Perthshire Tattie Run is a wonderful community event and deserves to be run by everyone – genuinely one of the most joyous events that I have had the opportunity to run. Not only was it hugely inclusive with races for all ages and abilities but it didn’t take itself too seriously and understood the madness of running with a bag of tatties on your back.
A massive thank you should go to the organisers of the event Great Scottish Events and also Perth & Kinross Council, a huge thanks should also go to the supplier of the tatties because without Branstons then this is just a 1 mile run in a park.
Basically what more can you ask for out of an event? A race, a medal, a community experience and all for free. Well done guys and I look forward to running this again next year. I suppose the big question is, ‘would I pay to run this race?’ And the answer is absolutely, it was brilliant. This event is clearly a labour of love for the organisers and clearly an event that we should all be doing.
Thanks to Great Scottish Events for a couple of the professional photographs (bottom four images in the gallery)
I was looking forward to the Tour of Tameside, on paper it looked like a good mix of distances and a race series with lots of heritage and in a place I had never run before. It’s therefore with immense sadness that I didn’t enjoy it, that’s not to say it was terrible, it wasn’t, but there were a number of issues that really hampered my enjoyment.
The tour consisted of four races starting on Thursday 29th July and concluding on Sunday 1st August and took place in and around Tameside. Organised by the Running Bee Foundation it promised agonising race after agonising race all in order to support charity – so far so good.
For me personally I had travelled from my sunny Scottish location to rainy Tameside in order to meet a lady from the Running Friends Scotland Facebook group. Nicky and I have chatted extensively across the pantheon of running topics and had hoped to record a podcast episode (more on that later) but it was mainly just a great opportunity to meet her.
And so on Thursday I thundered down the M74 out of Scotland’s sun soaked landscape and down the M6 into the grip of North West England for a few days of fun. I unpacked quickly upon arrival at my hotel, got my race kit ready and prepared the podcasting gear incase tonight was a good night for a record.
Race 1 X Trail 10km With the first race taking part in the evening I ambled along from the hotel down to the parking at the local rugby club. I was amazed at the amount of people who were there – I had assumed that the Tour of Tameside would be quite a small race with a few dozen runners but it turned out there were hundreds. Clearly some where here just for one day of the tour but I saw lots of full tour runners who would compete in the four races.
The start line was about a 10 minute walk from the parking and so having not being able to see Nicky I decided to head down to the start line and see what all the fuss was about. When I arrived it was even busier at the start line than it had been at the parking – it wasn’t quite a mass participation event but it was the biggest event I had been a part of since long before the pandemic began.
I was quite surprised by the way in which people were interacting even with the relaxing of the pandemic rules in England. I wandered around a bit exploring the course and trying to see where the trail was, this had the benefit of maintaining social distancing but also allowed me to experience the Tour of Tameside vibe.
But then it was time to go.
I headed to the back of the course and finally came across Nicky and we had a few minutes to chat before the race began but soon it was time to go. I hadn’t really thought about whether I would be running alongside Nicky or whether I would just go and do my own thing. But as it turned out we mostly stayed together and ambled gently around the course, which was very nice indeed.
It quickly became apparent that the best way to approach the Tour of Tameside was to just have a bit of fun with it and not take it too seriously. And so as we pushed up the hilly tarmac roads of Tameside and I awaited, with eagerness, the arrival of the trail to bring me the joy I was looking for.
The route was hillier than I imagined but not unpleasantly so and the running was interesting enough as we ambled through little villages where the locals had come out to support the competitors. Wonderful. The route though was tight in places and making progress through the throngs of runners was challenging even as the competitors began to spread themselves out. I made a nuisance of myself by making jokes with volunteers and supporters alike, always keen to mostly poke fun at myself and I am sure that runners both ahead and behind me must have found me a real irritant – wishing I would just piss off. I’m confident that the supporters near the start line who heard me calling for a change in the music from whatever shit it was they were blaring out to a bit of George Michael must have wondered what the fuck was going on.
But I’d found my fun groove and began a little sing-a-long or two, told some terrible jokes and hurled out a few expletive laden anecdotes but it wasn’t enough to make me love the race.
The key concern was that the route showed little sign of trail despite the name – I had assumed that the last minute change of route was responsible, although others suggested that the original route ran along a disused railway line, which I suppose could be considered a trail, although not my preference. and with a good portion of the run now completed we still had yet to find some good old fashioned mud or woodland trail.
The route looped in and out and down and around the roads of the villages until we ended up back at the start once more and finally we found a narrow piece of trail – this was fun and there was just enough room to go past the other runners.
Nicky was thundering along just nicely and as we approached a little bridge and I took a moment to grab a photograph or three and then it was a race to the finish – all downhill, through a tight gate – up and over and then bomb it down to the end. Boom.
And bomb it I did – I love a fast finish and I flew past several other runners and into the funnel for the finish where Nicky’s other half and the first medal awaited us.
The end of the first day and I had a lot to digest, it had been an odd race but now it was time to stretch, relax, hot bath and get ready for tomorrow. In the walk back to the car we met a young lady called Hatty who was both an absolute delight and an awesome runner and somebody that I would cross paths with several times during the next few days.
So as we ventured towards the car park with Nicky and Rob (Nicky’s other half) we chatted about life and colourful running leggings and then departed rather quickly – sadly without recording a podcast episode, but there was always tomorrow I thought and put it to the back of my mind.
Race 2 Hell on the Fell Living in Scotland gives me access to some wonderful hills and mountains which from time to time I am known to run and down. However, I tend not to run the hill races here because I feel I wouldn’t be competitive enough and I’d be guaranteed to miss checkpoints or timing points. However, the Hell on the Fell sounded like a great little bomb around some hills in Tameside and so this was the one I was most looking forward to.
Again the race was in the evening and on a cool but very runnable evening I made my way to another part of Tameside where I was greeted with a decent walk to the start line once more. Parking had been allocated at a local leisure centre but given the legions of runners, supporters and organisers this was clearly not going to be enough. However, everyone squeezed themselves in and around the local area and made their way to the start line – which was overshadowed by a couple of small hills and a picturesque reservoir – this is more like it I thought.
Nicky and Rob once more rocked up close to the starting time and took up their positions alongside me near the back just in time to hear me grumble about the man operating the PA. I’m aware that race information needs to be given out but there was a lot of that, ‘don’t worry it’s all downhill’ and ‘it’s a nice flat one tonight’, I didn’t find it funny I found it mostly tiresome but I am confident he had some fans, just not me.
Just prior to the race start though there was a disagreement between a couple of runners and I had stupidly gotten involved, I found myself in a heated exchange that I really didn’t want to be in and to be honest it really ruined the start of the event for me and while I won’t go into details I think it may have ruined the race for others too.
Still, this was a fell race and I was going to enjoy it but then we turned to the tarmac and headed down it, up it and around it. Hmmm. Now I realise I’m not a regular fell racer but I was fairly sure that fell running usually involved mud, trails, off trails, beating back the bracken, Walsh trainers and generally being covered head to toe in shit.
This was not that and the events at the start line were weighing heavily on my mind, although outwardly I was doing my best to project the happy go lucky, expletive delivering runner that I usually am recognised as.
Eventually we did finally leave the tarmac behind and climb a bit of trail and this was really good fun running, I leaped and lumbered up the hills chastising Nicky any time I felt she was starting to slip behind. The 30 minutes that we were actually on a hill, on an actual trail were really enjoyable and if the bulk of the running had been like this then the Tour of Tameside would have been right up my street but it really was just these 30 minutes that were like this.
Because we were at the back of the pack when we came to the narrow descent off the hill the pace slowed to a crawl and we couldn’t move any faster than the person at the front of the queue and so I was a bit disappointed as this would have been great to hurl ourselves down in the way the front runners had. However, once clear of the backlog we, like everyone else, began to fly down towards the end.
At this point Hatty had joined us and so I took the opportunity to mess around a bit and make aeroplane noises amongst other things, I’m sure both my lovely companions must have been wishing I would once more sod off but I didn’t I just carried on regardless. As we approached the finish the marshal advised me of a step down and I advised him that I was stopping, which must have looked strange but I was keen to capture the finish line moment as Nicky and Hatty battered towards the line. Annoyingly though another runner came thundering through and so I decided to put a little spurt on to the finish, stopping just short of the finish to allow him to cross the line before me – he must have thought me a dickhead too.
Boom, we crossed the line and collected another medal as the man on the PA system commented on my video-ing of the event. Something I noted as I entered the final day was against the rules of the race.
There was still a finish line photograph to do and then off but in all the excitement of the event, thoughts of podcasting were lost but I’d suggested ice-cream post race tomorrow to help celebrate Robs birthday and hopefully we could do it then.
Race 3 Hero Half Marathon I can’t remember my last half marathon but I think it might have been the 2013 Royal Parks Half Marathon and the half, in my opinion, is the toughest of all the race distances – it’s the one I struggle to judge in terms of pace and so I’ve found I don’t bother with doing them any longer.
Therefore it was going to take an amazing route and experience to make this one a great day. Once more I arrived early to ensure that I managed to get parking in the large field the organisers had arranged and I felt fortunate that the weather conditions were overcast and a little cooler than of late which meant that running conditions would be fine.
Not knowing much about the race I asked one of the organisers if I was better in road or trail shoes and he immediately advised road – I was glad therefore that I had invested earlier in the week in the Fli-Lyte 3 (a shoe I shall be reviewing once I’ve fully tested it).
I also had the good fortune to meet fellow instagrammer and ultra runner Karl and it was lovely chatting to him about the event and also about Topo Athletic shoes. It’s always fun meeting people from the internet, I very rarely recognise them, but my collection of Oddballs T-Shirts, wild beard and brightly coloured race packs makes me and easy spot. I’ll assume this is also how Nicky and Hatty picked me out of the crowd too!
Therefore, phew we had made it to race 3 mostly in one piece – but this was the one I was worried about. My already destroyed hamstrings, after the previous weekend of racing at the Solway Coast Marathon (read the review here) and the Splash & Dash (read the review here), were on fire and the hill race the night before had done them no favours – nor had my titting about on the route.
I knew that I had to run this one slowly if I had any chance of making it to race day 4. Although to be fair I was already having serious doubts about whether I wanted to continue with the Tour of Tameside given my experiences at the events and also in the wider Tameside area.
However, I was here and Nicky was here and that meant I was running.
We set off at a leisurely pace and ambled along the course, we passed through the village that sat just before the start line and then headed for an out and back race along a hard packed path. Annoyingly the day was now warming up but thankfully the course had a good deal of cover and we able to avoid much of it. I don’t recall what we talked about as we ran along the path but I punctured our chatting with attempts to soak Nicky as I launched myself into every puddle imaginable. This tactic didn’t start well when I found myself sliding towards the water instead of leaping into it but it was something I stuck with – although I think that Nicky soon became well educated to my sly watery tactics and knew how to avoid me.
Puddle after puddle I ran through and I’m sure it wasn’t only Nicky that I soaked but few complained and so I just happily did my own thing. I’d also taken my Insta360 camera so that I could capture the race and at one point one of the marshals told me to put it away (it would later be explained to me by the marshal that she thought it was a whip – wtf?).
The landscape and the scenery in the background was as pleasant as you can get but the route itself was a little devoid of excitement and interest, hence why I found myself leaping into the puddles and the second half of the out section felt like a real slog and mentally you knew you had to come back this way. The benefit of the out and back though is that you can cheer on runners that you have met along the way and I passed several runners that I was happy to cheer on or give support to because at the back of the pack there was some tremendously tenacious running and that deserves a cheer.
I noted that Rob was checking to see if Nicky was interested in a new PB because he was clearly keeping an eye on the clock but this is something that doesn’t really interest me and I’d decided that if they fancied cracking on for that new personal best then I’d just sit where I was and finish a bit behind them. However, I think Nicky picked up a bit of injury somewhere here and the PB looked like it would have to be saved for another day. Therefore once more the three of us just plodded back towards the finish and with me just looking to finish without incurring the wrath of my already dilapidated body.
Rob being relatively local knew quite a lot of the runners and would say hello or be able to provide interesting insights into people, places or clubs and that was fun and we as a trio would interact with other runners.
Then in the latter stages of the race I met a lady called Emma who was clearly having a crisis of confidence using terms like, ‘I’ve failed’ and ‘it’s such a disappointment’ and I immediately took her to task. The thing is, with 3 miles still to go you really don’t want to punish yourself mentally like that and so I hope that I gave her the tough love inspiration to finish.
Emma eventually managed to power her way back up to running properly and it was so pleasing to see her do so – watching her power away from me was a joy. That said I caught her on the final climb to the downhill sprint to the finish and I urged her on, well shouted at her really – I don’t really remember the final push but I remember that she crossed the line about the same time as me. Nicky and Rob were close behind but it appeared that Nicky really was nursing an unpleasant foot injury. Not exactly what anyone wanted for her and we would have to see if it would clear for the final race.
Again there were some finish line photographs and I congratulated a few of the runners I had spoken with on the way round – including Emma and Hatty. Nicky, Rob and I headed off into what I assume was Glossop in search of some ice-cream but ended up with a coffee, a poor choice of cakes and Rob feeling rather sickly after the race (not a great start to his birthday!).
Nicky and I agreed that we’d do the podcasting therefore after the race on day 4 and so ended the half marathon, I’d survived but it seemed that the rest of my little band had been given a right kicking by it.
Race 4 Dr Ron Hyde 7 mile By the time I came into the Dr Ron Hyde 7 mile I had pretty had enough of the Tour of Tameside and Tameside itself. I had considered not racing and just returning to Scotland but having gotten this far into the event I felt like I should at least finish and obviously there was Nicky to consider who I had enjoyed running with and didn’t just want to not turn up.
Therefore, I parked in the town centre, as advised, but with all my gear in the car and pretty exposed I became a touch worried when the driver next to me fitted his steering wheel with a huge stoplock… ‘is this not a nice area?’ I inquired. I don’t know Hyde at all but the man suggested that it wasn’t the nicest of places but it was too late now – I was here.
I ambled around once more, attempting to avoid the bits of rain that were hanging in the air but without going into the town hall as there were too many runners congregated with very few of them wearing masks or socially distancing. I realise that the pandemic has been hard for people but I didn’t really want to expose myself any more than I felt was appropriate.
The race was busy and had attracted what looked like every racing snake from far and wide but I did my usual and headed to the back, only really looking round to see if I could see Nicky or Rob – but there was no sign. Then I saw Nicky coming to the barrier and she was still hobbling with what sounded like a nasty foot injury, I did for a second think – ah fuck this, perfect excuse I can just go home – but she was visibly distressed by not being able to compete in race day 4 and therefore I felt it wouldn’t be right for me not to complete it.
That said I really wasn’t in the mood for it, I wasn’t in the mood for running on tarmac once more and when the race started I just tuned into my own personal little bubble, avoiding eye contact with my fellow runners and I just wanted to get this done.
However, Rob caught me up after a mile or so and started chatting but whatever it was he said it opened the floodgates to my frustrations with the last few days and I wasn’t in an appeasing mood and when a fellow runner passed comment I was rather unapologetically robust in my commentary. Ho-hum.
‘There’s no need for language like that’, she said,
‘The thing is’, I said, ‘if you know who Paul Dacre is – there is need for such language’.
As road races go this one was okay, the route itself didn’t have anything spectacular in terms of its scenery to write home about but there were some up hills, there were some down hills and there were a few bits were you could stretch your legs on. I met a young lady in the middle of the race who I joked with that I was going to make her earn her overtaking and she was a fabulous little pocket rocket of a runner who did in the end overtake me – but I really did make her work for it.
Now I was simply bumbling my way round, once more silently sitting in my own bubble and for a change focusing on just getting to the finish, I stopped only to say hello to the wonderfully colourfully attired spectator in the dungarees who I had seen the day before and had a bit of a laugh with.
As the race was winding down to its conclusion I could see that the route was mainly going to be downhill and so I pulled my big boy pants on and gave it some welly.
I ran hard along the road, I could feel the energy burning through my legs and in the distance I could see a young girl and her dad perhaps coming together to hold hands – I didn’t have the time to move around them and so shouted, ‘out of the way’ and barged through them.
In the distance I could see the little pocket rocket I had encouraged earlier and overtook her – closing a huge gap. As I went past her I turned and told her she could overtake me again but she just didn’t have a last blast of power in her legs and then another chap who had gone past me earlier thought he could race me to the finish but I still had a bit in the tank and having hit the afterburner of rage I pipped him to the line.
I slowed in the finishers funnel, ‘did you enjoy that?’ asked the marshal.
‘No’ I answered honestly.
Annoyingly I couldn’t find Nicky or Rob at the finish and after about 40 minutes of cantering around looking for them where I saw Hatty finish and Karl come in I had to leave because it was going to be a long journey to Scotland and I couldn’t risk time slipping further and further away. So the Tour of Tameside came to a conclusion but it’s not one I enjoyed writing about and I am confident you didn’t enjoy reading about it either.
Distance: 10km / 6 miles / Half Marathon / 7 miles
Date: July 2021
Tough Rating: 1/5
Routes The Tour of Tameside has been going for 40 years and I am sure that most of the people who run it, love it. I’m confident that lots of them are relatively local and know this area of the world well and love battering around their own stomping grounds. I on the other hand travelled a reasonably long way to test myself on what I thought would be awesome routes and I’m sorry to say that for me they were not.
As I mentioned earlier the second half of the ‘Hell on the Fell’ and some bits of the Hyde 7 were a bit of fun but mostly I found the routes uninspiring – the half marathon and the X trail being the least inspiring. It actually pains me to write this because I don’t want to put anyone off doing this, but I, as a mostly trail runner and adventurer, found these routes disappointing.
Who might these routes suit? Well if you enjoy tarmac running in mostly closed road situations, where supporters can line the routes then this would be a good series for you to consider.
Organisation There was a lot of organisation that went into this I would say, from the road closures to the permits required, to the actual on the day organisation and setting up the starts and finishes which were not always located in the same place.
There must have been a massive logistical effort that went into staging the Tour of Tameside. The amount of volunteers and marshals seemed enormous, the amount of toilets seemed enormous and the amount of road closures seemed enormous – I can’t fault any of that.
On course signage and marking was also excellent and that can’t be faulted.
I also liked that the parking at races 1 and 3 were supporting local community with a £1.00 donation per car, this meant that unused parking space was generating income and helping a race happen. That said the field that race 3 used for parking looked like if any more rain had come down then we might have needed a tractor to get out. I do very much enjoy it when the community gets involved in local races and this was very evident at the Tour of Tameside.
However, I did feel Covid took a real back seat at the Tour of Tameside and that was both surprising and disappointing.
Late in the day there was an email that suggested lateral flow tests should be taken for each event you attend and I did do these tests for each day but I wonder how many of the other runners did? Social distancing would have been near impossible because of the numbers involved and the amount of spectators but there wasn’t much evidence of people trying not to get too close or wearing masks even in indoor settings.
It must be incredibly difficult to balance the needs of the event against the pandemic but I’m not sure a good balance was struck here. However, I did note that race numbers were sent out ahead of time and that did at least reduce the need for queues at race starts – so it wasn’t all disappointing.
On a final note and one very large positive is The Running Bee Foundation who organise the event use these races to generate funds for charity and the winners cash award of £3,000 is given, not to the winner of the tour but, to a charity of the winners choice. In that sense the Tour of Tameside is a community project that benefits others and for that the organisers should be congratulated.
Litter and sustainability So sustainability is something we are seeing increasingly in races – numbers are not posted out, information is provided digitally, goody bags have been dropped in favour of say one good quality item such as a medal or decent technical t-shirt. Sustainability is less of a buzz word and more of an action word but I’m not sure the Tour of Tameside was quite as sustainable as it could have been, it is important to note though that if you want a sustainable race then it is the responsibility of both the runners and the organisers to make this happen and I hope in the future the tour addresses some of the issues around sustainability.
Let’s start with the good – the race handbook was digital and most communication was via email. Race numbers were sent via the post but I imagine this was a Covid issue.
There has been an increase in plastic reduction at races by suggesting that runners should carry some form of cup if you want water and while is mostly relevant at ultra distance running I have seen an increase in the idea at shorter distance races too. To be fair the water bottles are recyclable and there was clear guidance at the race about disposal to help marshals clear them away but there were water cartons spread over a very wide area, much wider than I imagine the race organisers would want and therefore some cartons might have been missed.
This brings me to the other issue – I have gotten very used to not seeing litter on race routes but here there was litter, not tonnes but enough for me to notice. Now be it deliberate or accidental it still gives runners and running a bad name and makes it much more difficult to say that races are good for the community. I’m sure the organisers will have done the best job they can in clean down but littering is something we as people, never mind runners should not do to our community.
And then there was the goody bag at the end, the tour really didn’t need it and it was a very mixed bag of stuff, the tour top was excellent quality as it was Ronhill but there were bits of plastic nonsense from the sponsors and the bag that it was all in was just more plastic. Then of course there were the bits of paper to advertise future races – I think in future the organisers and sponsors might be better finding more sustainable ways of presenting themselves to the audience.
Value for money It was about £15 per race when you break it down and for that you got a lot of stuff, there were medals each day, there was lots of marshal support, there were so many toilets, the road closures, etc. If you like racing and you don’t care about running beautiful routes then this represents excellent value for money.
Awards Let’s start with the good stuff – the Ronhill top that I mentioned above for completing the full tour is excellent. In addition to this you could purchase a range of other tops and vests (which I did) and they were also excellent quality and will be used as training shirts.
The bag, stress balls, piggy bank, cup, etc are less welcome – the race didn’t need it and I would rather the money was funnelled into the charitable aspect of the race and I hope that is a conclusion the race directors come to as well.
The other thing is the medals – there were four of them, one for each race and that’s lovely, as a runner and racer I am rather partial to a medal.
However, there was a problem, the medals are made of either glass or perspex with a sticker stuck to the reverse of them. They feel very cheap and that the stickers are not going to be in it for the long haul. I compare this to the 2015 set of medals which I saw displayed at one of the races and there was no comparison – they’ll still be going strong in 100 years but these ones I doubt will. It also comes back to the sustainability issue again, either get rid of the medals or maybe consider wooden medals which once they fall apart will simply be recycled. I wonder if the stickers on the back of the medal is recyclable?
Volunteers & support There were lots of marshals, lots of supporters and for the most part they were hugely supportive and fun, I really enjoyed laughing and joking with them as I made my way – mostly being a bit silly. There were a couple who were a bit miserable when I tried to have a little joke with them but then I suppose if I was stood for an hour on the top of a hill in the rain I might be a bit sour. Volunteers and marshals have a tough job as they are committed to being out for a long time and while the runners may be out for an hour or two the team will be involved in the set up and breakdown of an event – it can be a long day and they should be applauded.
On the whole though there was some lovely support and of course my ridiculously bright and colourful shirts always attract comments – mostly positive, although there were one or two comments that seemed to draw into question my sexuality, which is fine, I don’t mind you thinking I’m gay, I take it as a compliment.
There was one woman in particular that I must mention and I think she must have had a runner in the races and on the final day she had these wonderful dungarees on at the top of the hill and I’d seen her the previous day when she wonderful colourful trousers on – she was soooo positive and soooo lovely, I really enjoyed chatting to her as I ran past.
Special Mentions There are lots of people I could mention such as Rob, Hatty, Karl and Emma but the special mention must go to Nicky, she was very much the reason I was at the Tour of Tameside and meeting her was an absolute pleasure. She’s a great runner and only going to get better and is a wonderful human being. Despite not having lots and lots of race experience she smiled through most of it and laughed through much of it. Well done Nicky.
It was a massive disappointment to see her injured on the final day hobbling towards me, although it hadn’t come as much of a surprise having seen her the day before, I was also sorry to have missed the opportunity to record the podcast in person and will now look to organise that for a zoom call or some such in the near future.
There was so much to say and talk to Nicky about and I look forward to another opportunity to do so.
Conclusions Well I want this to be as positive conclusion as I can because although the Tour of Tameside wasn’t for me it clearly has a loyal following and is very popular year in, year out.
The charitable aspect of the tour is a wonderful thing that should be supported and the thing is that the issues I had could very easily be resolved by revising the awards given to the runners and examining how the routes could be improved.
If you’re local runner or somewhere relatively nearby then the tour or a couple of the races, even in their current format, are probably something that you do or would consider doing on a semi regular basis and I can see how that works. However, I’m not sure I could justify recommending that you travel any significant distance to come and do this.
I did have some fun during the Tour of Tameside but that was more to do with some of the people I met than my race experience and usually I’ve found that my best races are the ones were I can have a laugh surrounded by stunning scenery.
If I were to recommend any of the races then probably the Hell on the Fell is the most scenic and the most fun. I don’t enjoy writing negatively about races because I know the effort that goes in to staging them and so if the organisers wish to discuss my experience of the Tour of Tameside then I would be happy to go into further detail but it could be that the audience for this series of races is a group I’m just not a part of.
Stood on the beach as the other runners ambled down I could feel that sensation you get when you know that you’re about to do something brilliant. Having recently run the Frostbite 5 with wonderful Trails of Fife, at Lochore Meadows, I was confident that I was in for another belter of a race.
And let’s be fair what more do you want from a race other than to have to run out into the middle of the surf and stare down a giant red lobster? More on that later.
I had made the relatively short hop across from sunny Falkirk to an equally sunny but also rather windy St Andrews, a place I had not yet managed to get to. Therefore, when the Splash & Dash came up and I had very little planned I knew I had to finally pay St Andrews a visit and this would make a great starting point for an epic week of running.
With a marathon to run the next morning I knew that this evenings event should be taken as easy as possible and so as the start line was being set up I made my way to the back of the hundred or so runners. I had no intention of sprinting off like a startled gazelle, no sir, I was going to sit at the back, come last and bloody well enjoy myself.
As these thoughts were running through my head a fellow runner with those, ‘can’t see your eyes’ sunglasses on approached me and asked, ‘do you have a running blog?’
Now occasionally I might have said something to piss someone off in my blog writing so I’m rarely swift to admit being the author and because I couldn’t see the young ladies eyes she was difficult to read but I figured it would be fine and so I carefully answered ‘yes’.
Turns out she had read the Frostbite 5 posting, the previous race I did with Trails of Fife (you can read that here) and I ended up chewing with fat with her little group for a couple of minutes – mostly extolling the virtues of running up Benarty Hill.
I must have gotten rather caught up in chatter though as I barely noticed the start of the race and I found that my legs had assumed control and decided to thunder away with the rest of me. The afterburner was spent pretty quickly though and I had just enough juice in the engine to catch up with local legend Fiona. It is always lovely to see Fiona, she’s one of my favourite runners and a genuine inspiration – I was also very impressed with her choice of top for the race (I’ll be looking that one up and making a purchase if I too can get it in orange!) But now it was time to press on and I slowly managed to pull away from Fiona and the group of runners behind me, not something I can usually do but I thought I’d put a bit of effort in before the old hamstrings gave in.
But here’s the thing – I couldn’t find my groove and the hamstring that has given so much woe since March had clearly been pulled and the tightness was impressing on me, the need to slow down. However, there was a problem – I had picked up a shadow in the form of another runner and she was sat right in my blind spot but I knew that at least for a while I could try and use her as my own personal pacer. Therefore, every time she got within a few metres of me I would open out my stride and pull ahead of her again. I must have done this about 10 times on the run back to the start line of lap one – I’m sure she could have cheerfully put my head in one of those sandy pools and drowned me but instead she simply ran a superbly consistent pace and it was hugely impressive.
At one point I turned to her and said, ‘you can overtake me but I’m going to make you work for it’ but really what I meant was, ‘chase me, I’m desperately trying to stay ahead’. In the end of course I was overtaken but it was a fun game to play even as the sand sapped all the energy from my legs.
Despite only being a mile down the beach and back twice this felt like a very long loop and as the first lap was concluding we were ushered by the amazing volunteers into a meeting with the race mascot.
In the North Sea there was a vison of red loveliness awaiting us, it’s claws ready to snap at unsuspecting runners and a massive flag stood proudly blowing in the wind. Yes we must face the lobster in the water before the lap could conclude.
In less covid times I would have been very happy to have gone and had a little nibble (cuddle), I mean lobster is delicious, and this lobster looked very tasty indeed. However, the times being what they are, I had to settle for a cheery smile and photograph – but I’d see the lobster again on my run to the finish line.
As I am sure we all know that running through water is a real bum ache, it drains your legs, it drains your spirit and it makes everything feel tough – but running in the sea is also the greatest buzz and gives me a tremendous joy. All the time I’ve spent in the water recently has meant that I’ve become rather adept at moving reasonably quickly through moving water and so while some found it a struggle to get out of the water I was able to make reasonable progress up the beach and in to lap 2.
Lap 2 was much like the first in that the beautiful beach at St Andrews gave us an amazing backdrop whichever direction you were running in and the conditions being warm and windy were absolutely magnificent. A couple of runners passed me by, including a chap who was running barefoot and brushed me aside with ease! I could also sense that I was slowing and bit by bit the pretence of a reasonable time was being eroded. However, once past the volunteers at the far end of the course I started to work my way back – I’d found a bit of a second wind and I got chatting to another young fella who was also clearly feeling the burn. We said hello and exchanged a bit of banter that really gave me some encouragement as we entered the final run back down to the water – speaking to him at the end I think he thought he’d get beyond me but I have my little secret weapon for race days…
Yes I’m a terrible runner but there’s one piece of advice that I have stuck by through the thick and thin of racing, ‘always finish strong’.
So as my feet entered the water I pulled my knees up and cried out my love and thanks to the lobster before blasting through the water to a sprint up the beach. I did give a little half a glance behind me to make sure I wasn’t going to be overtaken by the young fella I’d done those last few hundred metres with, thankfully though but he was a few precious seconds behind, though given how much ground he made up on me he more than deserved to finish ahead of me.
However, I crossed the line and inside all I could do was smile. Absolutely wonderful.
Conclusions Trails of Fife are quickly becoming my favourite race organiser, I’ve now done two of their races and both were just the most fun filled experiences. For me part of the joy is that they aren’t ultra marathons or long distance races, I can turn up, race and have a bit of laugh. I’m sure some people take this very seriously indeed but when there’s a giant lobster insisting that you run to him in the sea, well you just can’t take it too seriously can you?
The beach setting of St Andrews was amazing and the late start meant that there was lots of parking available and most of the tourist traffic had departed. This certainly helped with the use of the excellent toilet facilities and in fact by having the race later in the day there was a lot less pressure overall I felt – more early evening races I say!
The organisation was as brilliant as my first experience of Trails of Fife and the volunteers were that lovely blend of cheering you on and making sure that you were going in roughly the right direction. The volunteers are always the stars of the show as far as I am concerned and at Trails of Fife they make you feel that enormous warmth that I find comes with these lovely local races. So my thanks to you. However, I must of course say a special thank you to the lobster for whom standing in the sea for the best part of an hour cannot have been as much fun as it looked – the sea gets cold pretty quickly and he didn’t look like he had a wetsuit on under his outfit. His good humour and commitment to the role was outstanding and my only problem was that I didn’t get to take him home and put him a pot of boiling water and have him for dinner – still there’s always next time.
As for the medal? Well Trails of Fife seem to know how to do a damn fine medal – they’re big enough to make them feel special and nicely designed as a lovely memento of your event. I’m a big fan of these races and the organisers should be very proud of themselves for putting on such fine events. Easy collection of race number? Yes. Good facilities? Yes. Beautiful locations? Yes. Amazing team and volunteers? Yes. Cool medal that you’ll treasure? Yes. Really fun route and event? Yes. Any complaints? No.
If this returns with a winter edition I’ll be adding my name to the list because this is a corker and I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for further events from the lovely guys at Trails of Fife.
The only downside about writing this is that you may now feel the need to sign up to their races and I might not get a spot but here’s the thing – I feel everyone who loves running and loves a trail or being outdoors should do one of their events. Being as inexpensive as they are means they are as accessible as races get in cost terms and although I can guarantee you’ll love these events I will say that if you don’t have fun then you’ve probably had your fun bones removed.
Covid 19 has created so many delayed and cancelled races with medals having being purchased and monies committed and the Frostbite was probably one of those affected. However, with restrictions eased a little the organisers managed to put on a little 5 mile blast around Lochore Meadows Country Park and it was a real corker!
I happened to be visiting Lochore Meadows that weekend anyway and so the race dovetailed perfectly into my planned weekend of paddle boarding, open water swimming, cycling, running, exploring, kayaking and eating. If you haven’t been to Lochore Meadows Country Park then it is worth looking up and well worth a visit as it offers an abundance of exciting things to do all in a wonderful space.
I woke up in the motorhome park nice and early and went down to the water before the day properly got going and then headed back to Rona for a cup of coffee and the change into my running gear. The day was already scorching and it was barely 8am. By the time I was ready the organisers of the race had set up and were ready to hand out race numbers and medals – presumably one of the Covid secure systems that they had in place to minimise groupings around the finish line.
I gave in my allocated number from the email that had been sent round and excitedly took ownership of number 185 in papery form – it was lovely to be sticking a number on my shorts again. I then bimbled around the start line and the loch for a while before making the short 5 minute walk to the start line down at the golf course.
It was here that I ran into a local Falkirk legend and it was a delight to see her after all this time.
Although I didn’t say it, the last time I ran into Fiona she gave me a proper pasting at the Skull Trail Race and that was 100% fair because I wasn’t fit enough to compete at any distance, but when she came over at The Frostbite 5 to say hello my immediate thought turned to revenge, albeit a very quiet and understated revenge. Actually this isn’t true at all really – my thoughts were around the bloody scorching temperature but keeping ahead of Fiona was certainly in my head as an aim for the day.
And so as 11am approached we all headed down to the start line and spaced ourselves out appropriately, I turned around, as I often do, to look over the other competitors and noted every single one primed with their fingers ready to hit the buttons on their GPS watches. I on the other hand was fumbling around trying to put my camera back into my race vest. I did manage to get myself set just before the off and I even managed to switch on my Garmin and then like a rocket I thrust myself forward around the field that we would circle on our way out to the course.
The course itself was a lovely mix of gentle up and down with well maintained paths offered throughout and the course had been thoroughly marked and was incredibly well marshalled by cheering and presumably overheating volunteers! For my part I felt the heat of the day affecting me but I pushed on with all the energy I could muster and although I was overtaken by a few of the runners I had blasted past in the early stages I was mostly holding my own and found myself at a comfortable pace as I thundered into the main section of Lochore Meadows Country Park.
Knowing this was an out and back meant I was memorising how the course went in terms of where I would need to give it a little bit of a push and as I ran alongside the loch side I knew that the turning point had to be soon – although I had still seen no sign of the returning front runners. On I pressed and into what would be the final straight to the turning point and I could see runners approaching, one then another and another – but not as many I expected. I have very much gotten used to being at the back of the pack and so it was a surprise as I joked with the marshal at the halfway point that I was still running rather well.
I’d now warmed up a bit too and found myself cheering on the runners coming towards me and then something happened to ensure that I maintained my pace.
Behind me I could feel the hot breath of another runner which proved a little dispiriting given I thought I was doing okay and so I casually moved over and offered my breathy shadow the opportunity overtake but he didn’t.
Now whether he was being polite or he didn’t have enough in the legs to shoot past me he remained in my shadow for the next mile. We introduced ourselves and said hello but there wasn’t really time for any ‘ultra type’ chat – both of us where clearly busting a get to get back. John though provided the inspiration I was looking for and I was able to hold my pace and my position ahead of him.
Occasionally I would turn around to see where he was and he was moving from just behind to several seconds behind me and as I approached the field that we had started I had about 10 or 12 seconds on him and knew that this should be enough to get me to the finish ahead of John because I felt a sprint finish in my legs.
The field was long though and I felt myself slowing as the heat beat down upon me and against the short stretch of tarmac I started to slow significantly, I was looking downwards rather than concentrating on what was ahead and so I raised my head, looked forward and pulled myself together for a suitably flying finish.
Bounding to the finish, bouncing along like Bambi I felt amazing and hurled myself across the finish line and enjoying just a little moment of pleasure knowing that for the first time in ages I had run pretty well.
John came in a few seconds behind me and I thanked him for pushing me all the way – I would have slowed down if I hadn’t felt his chasing in the early stages of the second half of the race – really inspiring.
But what of revenge? Well Fiona made it back a minute or so after me and looked as cool as a cucumber, out for a morning stroll rather than a hard race (I looked like a fat bloated and sweaty pig in comparison). I have no doubt that had she had it in mind she would have given me another drubbing but I’ll take a finish ahead of her – just this once.
I ambled back to Rona, the motorhome, taking my medal out of the pocket I had kept it in during the race and put it around my neck, I felt a deep swell of pride wearing it and felt like a million dollars for running on that hot Sunday morning. Awesome!
Conclusions? What a great race, great location and brilliantly organised. This is one of the first times that racing has felt like it is returning and I’ll be looking forward to more events from the guys at Trails of Fife (you can find their Facebook group here) and I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to do their race at the end of June. It is races like this I feel that really being the running community together, for not much more than a tenner you get a medal, a well organised event, a classy route and the opportunity to run with runners from your community – what more could you ask for?
When I am not off doing ultra marathon events these are the types of races I enjoy the most, relatively short distance with a wonderfully mixed group of runners and an inclusive, friendly atmosphere.
Great job guys.
Video Below is a short video of the race from my perspective, enjoy.
I’ve been hiking hills for a long time but the exploration of the Scottish hills is taking new twists and turns all the time. This weekend we thought we would leave our beloved Ochils behind and try something a little further afield. With going further afield though came the question of how early a start we would need. And this is where the twist comes in – let’s get Rona out and we can head up the day before and have an easier start to our hiking.
It was an undoubtedly good idea.
We looked at several Corbetts and Munros including Ben Lui, Ben Cruachan, Scheihaillon, Ben Vorlich (Loch Earn) and Ben Vrackie. However, we are still relatively green to the whole motorhome, ‘off grid camping’ experience so feel the need to go softly, softly into it rather than headfirst and this would have an effect on our decision making.
Additionally with the weather seemingly going to be a bit rubbish we immediately discounted Ben Lui because nobody fancied a river crossing followed by a boggy hike and anything up near Tyndrum ruled itself out as having limited indoor activities available (just in case it was too grim to hike). I’d already run Ben Vorlich and while happy to do it again will always favour something new and so it came down to Ben Vrackie and Scheihaillon.
And so the research began as to were we could park comfortably for the night before, and go to after the hike, to take in a bit more of Scotland. The more we looked at Ben Vrackie the more enthused I became because there were both campsites and simple overnight parking options. Both of these were relatively close to the start of the hike and more importantly Pitlochry (the nearest town) seemed well endowed with pre and post hike entertainment.
Ferry Road Car Park Parking: £4.20 per day (Free Sunday & free overnight for motorhomes) More information: Search for Sites
The Ferry Road car park behind the Main Street in Pitlochry is a very simple affair with no facilities but it’s spacious and surprisingly quiet given it’s centre of the town location. When we arrived there were half a dozen motorhomes and there was room for more but it would quickly become crowded at about 20 reasonable sized motorhomes. The overnight cost is free but during the day you need to feed £4.20 worth of coins into the machine and Sunday is free all day – it’s good value if all you require is the parking.
The parking is mostly flat and requires no levelling and once you’re set up then you’re fine and there was very little disturbance, though to be fair I was exhausted and passed out pretty early and would have struggled to hear the sound of stampeding elephants.
The walk into the town was just two minutes and if you cut through under the railway bridge there’s a lovely looking coffee shop right on the street corner!
Near the railway bridge there are public toilets although we found these closed, whether due to Covid 19 or other reasons so this parking option definitely relies on you having on board facilities – it’s also worth noting that it does say that caravans and tents are not permitted.
All in all a perfectly good stop for a night or two if you’re not planning on staying in Pitlochry or it’s surrounds for a long period. For longer stays there are campsites and the like nearby but this was perfect for us as we were there less than 12hrs.
Ben Vrackie Car Park Parking: Free
Ben Vrackie is the local hill hike from Pitlochry and comes with a small but perfectly useful parking facility at the foot of the hike. We had walked up there from the town and through Moulin to check it out when we arrived and realised that we could probably bring Rona up here in the morning.
There were a couple of smaller vans parked up here but the angle of the car park was such that levelling would be very challenging and you risk annoying the locals should it become an extension of the excellent parking facility provided by the town. However, upon leaving the town I was perfectly happy to park up here as we went hiking. Rona at 6.6 metres isn’t a massive motorhome but we could use the grass verge for our rear overhang and therefore took up no more space than a car.
There is a second car park further up and as we hiked beyond it we noted a couple of campervans but this was a small car park and unsuited to motorhomes or caravans. You might find yourself in a world of tight turning and excessive swearing if you head up there.
Should you be inclined to hike Ben Vrackie and fancy a little celebratory beer there was the delightful looking pub in Moulin that certainly looked cosy and comfy and on another day we might have stopped there for food as it’s a mere two minute walk from the lower Ben Vrackie car park.
Ben Vrackie Cost: Free Maps: OS Landranger 43 – Braemar & Blair Atholl / OS Explorer 49 – Pitlochry & Loch Tummel Route Information: Visit Walkhighlands
The reason we went to Pitlochry was to hike up Ben Vrackie and so on the Sunday morning with the rain pouring down we left Rona behind in the lower car park. With a full set of waterproofs on we started a slow but steady ascent through a delightfully varied terrain. Tree lined paths open out to sloping open landscapes with beautiful peaks all around us. There is an excellent path that makes for mostly easy navigation and the route is dry and lacking things like bogs and river crossings – Ben Vrackie is a nice hike. The first half is pretty gentle but as you reach the second half of the 5 or so kilometres to the top you’ll note that the gradient of the climb becomes tougher and the stone stepped path is more of a challenge. However this should be no deterrent as it remains eminently climbable for even the least fit amongst us.
We were incredibly fortunate the large lurking grey clouds cleared briefly for our reaching of the summit and there were gloriously spectacular views in all directions across Scotland. Outstanding. That being said the conditions at the top were incredibly chilly and windy and even in the springtime the right kit is required for making such efforts. Much as I admired my fellow hikers who decided to take a little dip in the loch just below the summit I would suggest that Rhi is only for those brave, foolhardy or very experienced to risk. I’ll admit had the family not been with me then maybe I’d have stripped off and joined them!
Ben Vrackie is well worth the effort if you are in the area and if you’re interested in hiking and collecting summits then there are others in close proximity (not for the Munro baggers necessarily but just for the joy of the hike) and many of them offer stunning views and challenging walks.
Ben Vrackie at 841 metres is a descent sized Corbett and may well serve as a wonderful introduction to those slightly higher climbs, just be prepared for any and all weather conditions and take a sandwich for the little bench on the lochside about 650 metres up!
Upon completing our hiking we returned to the Ferry Road car park with Rona and headed off into the town.
Pitlochry looks like a very small place, smaller than Moffat that we visited on our last trip but appearances can be deceiving. The town has the Pitlochry Hydro Electric dam with its brand spanking new visitor centre which sits beside the River Tummel and holds back the beautiful Loch Faskally. The dam is also home to the huge fish ladder which helps the spawning of the fish that pass through the local waters and fascinated both myself and my 6 year old.
There is also the fantastic Pitlochry Festival Theatre with a wide range of shows for those looking for some indoor culture after hiking, eating and shopping, I have no doubt we will be back once the theatre reopens properly and welcomes back theatregoers!
With the river running through it there are a series of very beautiful riverside walks that will take you as far as you wish to go and you really aren’t far from places like Loch Rannoch and Loch Tummel.
The town itself has one of the best kept train stations I’ve ever seen and the town itself is full of those little independent shops that I love so much. We decided to get some take-out cakes from Hetties Tea Rooms (Chocolate, Crunchie Cheesecake & Lemon) which were absolutely delicious, the lemon cake for me was the winner but the family might have different opinions – big slices and full of flavour. We washed all that down with some motorhome made tea and hot chocolate and all in all it was a lovely time indeed.
With the lockdown starting to open things up a little bit the tourists had clearly started to return and there was a visible life to some of the bars and restaurants – all of which looked lovely and delicious. There was a decent mix of shops including some tourist type shopping, a John Muir Trust Information Centre & Shop, a Christmas Emporium and a really good looking second hand bookshop that we arrived too late for me to look around. Covid 19 rules means that numbers in shops and the like can cause a few delays but all the businesses are working incredibly hard to ensure that this is minimised and for the most part it all felt very conventional and tourist friendly.
You could easily pass a very happy afternoon here.
For key supplies that town has a good sized Co-op and that has pretty much anything you are likely to need in terms of keeping your motorhome topped up and there is a BP petrol station not too far outside the town.
For me places like Pitlochry are best visited during just outside the busier summer period or even the winter months because I think you’ll get a really relaxed and enjoyable experience. Summer I suspect is busy, though that shouldn’t stop you going, just something to think about if you are planning on going – especially with your motorhome.
Scotland really does have something for everyone and the thing I have discovered is that it refuses to hand it to you on a plate – you have to look for it and seek out those little rewards and perhaps that is what has made coming here and places like this so wonderful – I feel I am earning my joy.
So, whatever you’re doing in Scotland, enjoy it.
To note this overview is NOT a recommendation, endorsement or paid for advert for any of the parking, facilities, tourist destinations, motorhomes or anything else this is just my experience of them.There is no commercial benefit to this blog post.
Becoming an owner of a motorhome had always been part of the plan when we moved to Scotland, we wanted to be able to explore more freely and have the time and space to do all the adventuring that we pleased. Then of course Covid 19 arrived and poor Rona (named for the Scottish island), our motorhome, had to go and live in storage without us.
However, with the return of our first few freedoms we chose to take Rona out at the earliest available opportunity and so to the borders of Scotland.
The borders of Scotland are not somewhere that we associate with the dramatic skylines and the beautiful landscapes of my adopted home. However, you don’t have to look too far to discover that the south of Scotland has some real beauty just waiting to be explored and if you have a motorhome to do it in then all the better.
I’d combined our first trip away of 2021 with the Ultra Scotland 50 race (read the review here) and having decided to use Rona, our beloved Sunlight A68, we settled on visiting of one of the Forestry Commission Scotland – Stay the Night park ups.
We arrived after 6pm as per the instructions from the Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) to find a large, very open, gravel car park with outstanding Loch side views and facing out towards the slowly dipping sun – this would be a spectacular location.
Clatteringshaws is bang in the middle of a well established Dark Skies park and therefore is the perfect place to come and watch the stars on a clear night and despite the race early the next day I intended to do just that. But first there was paying and setting up.
The cost for the night was two full price car tickets (£6 in total), the one small bugbear was the need to pay by coins – something that as we veer into the cashless society becomes increasingly difficult to do and something I imagine organisations like the FCS have to be considering.
The parking location was mostly flat enough to get away without levelling blocks, perhaps, had we not been leaving at the crack of dawn then maybe we would have levelled but ultimately it didn’t need it. There were some facilities but having not checked them out that could well have just been a bin but there are listings that say there is a chemical toilet disposal point – worth checking with the FCS to ensure this is accessible before relying on it.
The place itself had a small walk near the cafe and visitor centre (which looked delightful but was well closed by the time we arrived). The walk or rather gentle stroll took you up to the Bruce Stone, one of those big rocks that it is suggested might once have been in the vicinity of Robert the Bruce (probably sniffed his armpits or something). Well regardless of its infamy it was a delightful and short jaunt to stretch our legs after dinner.
The surrounding area was full of lovely little nuggets and trails to explore as well and you certainly wouldn’t be short of delightful and picturesque walking if you visited. Both the GingaNinja and ASKadventurer detailed some of the walking they did nearby as I raced across the Southern Upland Way and confirmed it as delightful hiking country.
It is worth noting that despite being on the only real road through the park the noise level was very low and in the middle of the night it was mostly quiet. Though there might have been the odd romantic assignations happening further along the car park but it’s perhaps a better location for it than a knee trembler round the back of your local Tesco Metro.
Perhaps more importantly though is that are lots of little lay-bys and parking spots all over the region and you may wonder why you should park here? Well the loch location is one, but also having a facility like this is useful, especially if there is a disposal point. I use the ‘Stay the Night’ parking between wild camping and campsites because they give me flexibility and because I’d like this kind of thing to grow a little in the UK – so use it or lose it I guess. Having relatively accessible locations from which to begin our adventures is a wonderful thing and much credit must go to the Forestry Commission Scotland for continuing with it and it does make you wonder if organisations like the National Trust and the Woodland Trust are looking on to see if there is a possibility of monetising some land to support this growing motoring activity without adversely affecting the already established camping community?
A mere 7 hours after I finished my 50(60) miles of running I found myself getting dressed and heading off to Grey Mare’s Tail – a waterfall near Moffat. We decided to set off early as we knew that parking might be tricky and we were keen to get the dry weather of the day which was predicted for the morning.
We arrived at 8am and discovered two reasonable sized car parks and both with room for larger vehicles albeit you’ll need to park as considerately as possible (as I am sure we all do). Even though we did park as reasonably considerately as we could there was still a woman who mouthed abuse at me through the window. Thankfully that was the extent of the unpleasantness and a wonderful hike up to a beautiful view was had. It is worth saying that arriving much later than this and I think we would have found ourselves parked along the road as many of the others visitors did.
Grey Mare’s Tail is a steep, narrow in places but relatively short climb and there are a number of hills around it and Loch Skreen that make for easy extensions to your hiking adventure. We chose just to hike the waterfall given my exertions the previous day but it would certainly be worth a second visit.
Truth to tell the view from the very summit of the waterfall isn’t as dramatic as on the climb up but there is a lovely sense of completion reaching the summit and on a pleasant day it would be an excellent stop for a bit of lunch or a cup of tea. I did neither but I did eat a couple of sneaky mini-snickers while the GingaNinja wasn’t watching.
Below are some of the images from the hiking.
Green Frog Campsite Cost per night: £9 / £15(EHU) + £2 per extra person (pay on arrival) More information: thegreenfrogmoffat.co.uk
Post hiking we returned to Moffat and our campsite – The Green Frog, a small independent campsite right next to the C&CC site. It was a bit of a higgledy-piggledy kind of place but with hard standing pitches and all the usual facilities it was a good place to rest your head.
The best thing about Green Frog was that it was relatively inexpensive and although we went with EHU for the second night we didn’t really need it but it was less than £30 for 2 nights which I consider to be something of a bargain for 2 adults, a child and a dog.
The one thing that might annoy some is that you can’t use your awning on a standard pitch but it’s a small price to pay in my opinion and there didn’t seem to be many restrictions on the size of your vehicle (some massive motorhomes there). So definitely worth some consideration if you are fancying exploring the Scottish borders.
There were a few added bonuses here too including the fishing, garden centre and play area if that’s your thing or of use to you, and there is a decent shop and cafe with helpful staff. Also being a short walk into the centre of Moffat makes it a good location if you don’t fancy moving your motorhome too much during your stay.
The aforementioned Moffat is a lovely place, real chocolate box kind of location (but with a good standard of resources for all your everyday needs) and if you’re looking for a good Scottish Borders location to base yourself then this is somewhere to seriously consider.
As well as the town of Moffat with its collection of independent shops and eateries (excellent little town centre garden centre too) you’re a stones throw from the coast, several decent sized lochs, the Southern Upland Way and of course the motorway to Glasgow, Edinburgh and my mighty Falkirk!
In my recovery haze around Moffat I managed to spend a small fortune on ice-cream, gin, plants and glassware but I did so willingly and I know if you visit you will too.
Moffat was lovely and friendly and I’ll definitely pass by that way again.
Motorhome Friendliness? For the most part the roads are wide enough and in good enough condition for all vehicle sizes and I say this being relatively new to driving around narrow roads in a big vehicle.
There were an abundance of places to park up in Dumfries and Galloway – presumably to encourage stopping and viewing some of the breath taking scenery that fills the area, although we did note that some of these large lay-bys became home to long distance haulage lorries overnight. Apps like Park4Night don’t have much listed in this region but that shouldn’t discourage exploration and hopefully we will see a rise in things like the FCS Stay the Night initiative.
Have fun out there, the Scottish borders await you!
To note this overview is NOT a recommendation, endorsement or paid for advert for any of the campsites, facilities, tourist destinations, motorhomes or anything else this is just my experience of them.There is no commercial benefit to this blog post.
Have you ever looked at a bar of chocolate and thought that looks amazing?
It’d be oozing caramel chunks, little flakes poking from the sides and then you taste it and you realise it’s a giant turd you’ve just bitten into but you’ve got to keep going because you’re in polite company and don’t want to miss out on the thing that everyone else is devouring. Welcome to my review of the Ultra Scotland 50!
I should at this point mention that the metaphor suggests I didn’t enjoy the race but the truth is very different – I very much enjoyed this like chocolate but also endured the race like a tough as buggery turd, but we’ll get to that later.
I suppose this is very much a tale of the pandemic and so that’s where it begins.
I, like lots of others, in 2019 eagerly entered our 2020 races assuming that we would once more spend the year running around beautiful trails and the occasional bit of cruddy car park. When 2020 came around I found that I wasn’t in the best place either injury, fitness or weight wise and I trudged my way through the mutually awesome Tyndrum 24 and Falkirk Trail Ultra, I then missed the inaugural F50K because of my grandmother dropping dead but figured with a race calendar full to brimming it would be fine. At the start of April I’d start my Ranger Ultras Grandslam and that would swiftly be followed by the Ultra Scotland 50 from GB Ultras.
I think we all know what happened nstead and races became consigned to the dustbin, albeit on a temporary basis.
And so when offered the chance to run the Ultra Scotland 50 as my first race of 2021, mere days after the latest lockdown ended, I knew I had to be on the start line whatever my condition.
As I stood at the side of Clatteringshaws Loch, watching the beautiful stars twinkling in the dark skies park with Rona at my side, a cup of tea in hand and I was listening to the man outside his motorhome playing bagpipes truly beautifully, I realised that I am a very fortunate person who was being presented with another awesome opportunity and I would not waste it.
The various lockdowns have meant that I’ve been able to focus on some of the key problems I’ve had when I’m running – so I’ve dropped more than 20kg in weight, I’ve returned to active, focused training and I’ve mostly been injury free and this triple gave my decent confidence as 2021 arrived. It was therefore with great dismay that despite my desire to race as I stood looking at those stars that my hamstring hurt like an absolute shit and I’d been struggling with it for over a month.
Typically, the moment there’s a race opportunity and my body decides to send me to a start line hampered.
However, as I gulped down the last of my tea I knew that my hamstring wasn’t going to deter me from leaving the Loch side in about 8hrs and set off from St John’s Town of Dalry and try and reach Moffat, a mere 56 miles away.
Rona, the motorhome, afforded me a nights peaceful and relatively luxurious sleep and when I got up the following morning I was able to get ready close to the race start with the benefit of my own toilet. For those who aren’t regular readers then you should be aware that my pre-race poo ritual is a well established marker in my race preparation and should not be disturbed. Milkshake, milky coffee, poo time – it’s simple and effective and reduces the need for me to spend half a race looking for a place that a) nobody will see me drop a turd and b) find a place to bury said turd.
What I can tell you is that, despite following the ritual, very little happened in the bowel department and this was next worry of the day but I just assumed I’d be going ‘full bear’ and making a mighty mound somewhere on the Southern Upland Way.
Having read the Covid guidelines for the race and watched the video from the organisers I felt quite confident that I was turning up ready to race and arriving ‘just in time’. The race start was very well organised, in covid terms and despite the mildly wet weather most runners were managing to stay dry and knew what to do in preparation for the start line.
We ambled into the registration point, in race number order, which I felt was rather cute, were given a few course correction notes as we entered and then were processed
Bag drop (I had chosen not to bother)
Queue up for race start
All very easy, all very seamless – you’d have thought that GB Ultras had done it like this a thousand times – I was actually quite impressed.
The thing that was less impressive, and is no fault of the organisers, was the muted start.
Covid guidelines meant we were sent out one runner at a time in 15 second intervals and although practical did take away from the atmosphere. That said because the start line was located in a town it meant that there were people lingering around, including friends and family who cheered runners on which provided an improvement over the covid start line of Ultra North (my only comparison).
Anyway pretty much bang on the money of 6.07am I set off from the town and headed on the first of many uphills, waving goodbye to ASKadventurer and the GingaNinja knowing that it might be as much as 18hrs before I saw them again.
As I rolled out of Dalry I could immediately feel my hamstring but I was determined that I wouldn’t resort to using running poles unless I had no other choice and so I pushed on enjoying the early delights of the Southern Upland Way.
Despite the Covid guidelines it was still very likely you’d meet other runners on the route and as we entered the trail, after less than a kilometre of running, I came across my first major runchat opportunity – Patrick (first time organised ultra runner) and Alistair (seasoned mountain goat he looked like). We bimbled along, with me mostly bemoaning Falkirk’s lack of mountains to train on and they in good spirits. The trails were fun and fast but with less than 4km on the clock I made a huge mistake jumping on a bridge and sliding straight off it and landing on the edge – cracking my hip, leg and back in the process – this was not a good start. Although I leaped back up quickly I had to let me running colleagues slowly disappear into the distance as I needed to let the wind fill my sails once more.
I was shaken by the fall but mostly alright and I managed to pick myself up enough to start picking up the pace but there was pain in my knee on my already bad leg and I’d clearly hurt my shoulder as that was now acting like a dick. Thankfully I had a wonderful course to distract me and I was provided non-stop entertainment by the sheep bleeting at me as I ran and being the fool I am I chose to converse with the sheep whenever they were in range.
Heading downhill I could now see the 8 mile point and watched as it drew ever closer, the thing was I hadn’t yet touched my water supply, nor my food and so with little more than a nod and wink (with my mask on of course) I simply ran through and stopped a little way up the road to adjust myself and stow my face covering.
The adjustment was necessary as the fall had left a painful reminder on my shoulder and I found myself regularly readjusting my pack to try and reduce the pain on the injury but nothing worked.
Therefore with a gob full of kinder chocolate I began the real assault of the Southern Upland Way and from here it really felt like a proper trail race and with 15 or 16 miles until the next checkpoint across some tough ground this was going to be an interesting test of my body.
What I was still working out was how the breadcrumb mapping trail works on my Fenix 6X because despite following the signage it was saying I was off course… how the sweet arseholes could I be off course? I was following the map! The thing was I was heading up a hill with no path and no clear way forward – I was clearly off route and then I turned around and saw two runners heading in a different direction and I hastily headed towards them. Down I strode through the rough undergrowth and spilled my way back into the path – another knee trembler of a mistake, how many more of them was I going to make today?
I was a little bemused as to why neither of the two runners just a few feet ahead of me had issued a warning of my impending stupidity but maybe that’s just something I do when I see a fellow competitor about to do something navigationally erroneous. But ho-hum I was back on track now and heading towards the first big climb of the course.
The route here was overgrown and very green and a real delight, the trail wound upwards and onwards and as you climbed a little higher the temperature dropped despite the morning getting brighter.
Why was it getting chillier you might ask? Well that was simple – there was snow underfoot to chill your hard working and burning feet.
Having recently dropped my second layer of socks I could feel the cold through my Lone Peaks but it was a lovely sensation and it wasn’t very thick and therefore nice and easy to run through. On I ran and picked my way through the gently rolling hills and the short sharp ascents but all the while knowing that there were some significant spikes to come.
It was here that I came across Wayne Drinkwater, the race director and what a very welcoming sight he was and also a pleasant surprise as we had a bit of banter and he pointed the dreaded GoPro at me. I did ask that if I said horrific things about companies like Glaxo and GE would he not be able to use the footage? Thanks to Sue Perkins for that little tip.
I passed Wayne and pushed on up the hill and noting runners behind me, it was a steep but wholly achievable climb and in the distance I could see one of the key markers on the course, a large stone arch overlooking the Southern Upland Way. Obviously I stopped to grab a few pictures and the like and then set off down the path off Benbrack.
After a few minutes the path started to disappear and so I veered off to the fence line to see if that was likely to hand me a clue as to the direction I was supposed to be on. The Fenix 6X map was also about as much use as a chocolate teapot – simply saying ‘off course’. Over the top of the hill I had descended I saw two runners and scrambled across to meet them. Kirsty and Christophe seemed in good, but equally lost, spirits and between us we figured out a direction and once more headed off.
Down and down and down and down we went, heading towards what looked like the tree line on the map.
‘Ring, ring’ went Kirsty’s phone and it was race HQ to tell us we had fucked up big time. Bottom of hill – go back to the top, find the arch and start over. Another mistake that would lead to jelly legs but the three of us powered up the hill and retraced our steps. When we arrived we had clearly all been distracted by the sculptural arch at the summit and wholly ignored the way marker – now corrected we thundered downward in completely the opposite but correct direction.
Kirsty was a bit of a powerhouse and looked incredible as she bounded across the route and Christophe reminded me of all those tall French runners who would tower over me as I straddled the start line of the SainteLyon, it was quite comforting to be in their company. However, their pace was outstripping mine quite significantly and I was forced to say goodbye too quickly.
Thankfully I enjoy a little solitude during a race and the route wound it’s way through the hills and provided glorious views and well worn trails, I was probably alone for a good couple of hours before I came across a fence. ‘Hello fence’ I thought.
Through the fence I could see the next southern upland way markers but couldn’t reach it. I had a choice, follow the fence line low or follow it high. If my decision was incorrect it would be a long way back.
Time ticking, decision time, come on Ultraboyruns.
I chose high, assuming that if I messed up I would have less climb to correct and then I was off, soon regretting my choice between a wire fence and a dry stone wall with barely enough to squeeze through even the most snake hipped runner.
This ‘path’, I use that term loosely, was hard going with near non stop up and down and surrounded by construction work but the map said roughly ‘yes’ and I could see another marker but as I came to the top I’d lost all sight of the markers, I was lost.
Retreat or amble around looking for directions? Well I did both until I felt my Garmin shaking telling me my phone was ringing.
‘Let me guess I’m off course,’ I said as the GB Ultras team said hello. They told me that I and others were off course and they advised how I could correct it. I said I understood but I didn’t really and I just headed back – jumping walls and wooden pallets and fences in the process hoping that I could correct my direction with relative ease.
Thankfully just when I was about to say ‘fuck this for a game of golf’ I saw other equally lost runners, I think it was Dave, Michelle (more on Michelle later) with Kieran (more on Kieran later) and Nick (more on Nick later) – sorry Dave (but I did like your spectacles/goggles). We were all either going the wrong way or about to and after introductions were completed and we had bemoaned our lack of good fortune, having all done extra distance, we caught a break – a sign for the Southern Upland Way.
It’s things like this that could turn an atheist into a believer… actually no but you get the idea.
A convey of runners is always a slightly odd thing and this one split itself into little micro-pockets of covid-secure groups which moved fluidly between one another.
For the most part I found myself with Nick (looking forward to that YouTube channel fella), a truly spectacular dude with a big positive outlook on life, we chewed the fat extensively, as you do and he explained that he had entered the 215 mile GB Ultras Race Across Scotland.
Over the course of the next couple of hours I could clearly see that he had all the attributes needed to complete such an effort – his hill climbing was fast and furious even without poles and his general pace kept me going at a reasonable speed for all the time we were together.
We arrived into checkpoint two at Sanquhar together and were greeted by Nicks other half, the GingaNinja, my little Satan and our respective dogs.
At nearly a marathon in we both needed to refuel and we did so in the Covid secure hall. Chocolate (Mars and Snickers), cake (delicious and I believe homemade) and a belly full of cola were on my menu followed by a resetting of my race kit. I did dump a couple of items on the GingaNinja such as my water filter and waterproof trousers – neither of which it looked like I would require and I stuffed my waterproof jacket away properly to balance my pack better and then, after thanking the awesome GB Ultras team I was off, hunting down Nick in the process.
The first half had been quite eventful in terms of navigation, injury and pain management but it had also been filled with really beautiful trail running and as the day wore on I hoped for more of the latter and less of the former.
The good news was that the next two sections were relatively short at just 8 and 6 miles or so and I should be able to make up a bit of time here. Nick and I continued our jibber jabbering, much I am sure, to the annoyance of anyone else within earshot but that’s the thing about these races you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do to get through.
In the early stages of the climb out of checkpoint two Nick, myself and now Kieran came across a complete sheep’s skull and it was with some great surprise that Nick picked it up and attached it to his race vest. I’ve done some batshit stuff in my time and collected stuff off the trail but never a sheep’s head and certainly not while in a race! It was here that Nick also started pulling away and much as I tried to keep up I had to slow down a touch.
Slowing down isn’t always a bad thing though and it gave me an opportunity to soak in the route which in terms of its look had changed. The earlier stages seemed more confined and tighter trails but these seemed to have been replaced by large swathes of rolling hills and all around us was a sea of green. I was very much enjoying the scenery and Kieran had become my new running partner and we ambled along as briskly as our little bodies would carry us.
Kieran was aiming for a GB Ultras 50 mile Grandslam in his 50th year – although delayed due to Covid 19. If my recollection is correction he’s already got L2M done and was now north of the border taking on the Ultra Scotland 50, and much like me, delighting in the surrounds.
We chatted for hours about all things, from races to politics to family and everything in between – it was easy chatter and quite delightful.
It was early into my time with Kieran that I welcomed my biggest issue of the race though – an inability to move downhill if the there was any level of steepness. Holy turd there was a horrific burning in my knee and ITB with every single step downhill and running it off wasn’t really an option.
If I thought the fall had been bad or my hamstring had been shit, it was a truth that neither of these had anything on the excruciating pain I was in now. I mean I must really have pissed someone off to have this much go wrong.
In my head I looked over the remaining elevation and realised that there was still a significant amount of climbing to do, which meant a significant amount downhill and while the magnificence of the hills was a truly beautiful sight, my legs cursed them for being there.
The odd thing was that my uphill movement was actually pretty good despite everything and so I would set the pace uphill and Kieran was setting it in the down.
I was surprised that we managed to reach checkpoint 3 still at the head of the little group of runners that had all met about 10 miles back but there was nobody very far behind and I’m sure that as they came down from the hills and into the old mining town they’d have been impressed by beautiful summit ahead of them and the chocolate box town to our right.
As we approached the village one of the volunteers laughed with us a bit and gave us cheery advice about the next section – cheery I think because she wasn’t running it! The GingaNinja and ASK were also at the village just before the checkpoint and gave both of us cheers and waves before leaving us to find solace in some serious checkpoint chow down!
Checkpoint 3 would be our last significant stop, as the final checkpoint was in a lay-by, and so we made sure we took what we needed here. Kieran used the time to deal with an ever expanding foot (don’t ask, he didn’t) and some blistering and I did my best efforts at amusing the volunteers.
We didn’t stop long as other runners were making their way in and it seemed sensible to avoid creating a Covid hotspot at the checkpoint and forcing the awesome volunteers to move us on!
The next challenge was a nice, seemingly never ending and mildly dull climb – punctured only by the tarmac that looped through it several times. It was here I first noticed the cold and that our speed had dropped a bit. Although I was pressing hard I wanted to keep sight of my companion as I knew that both of us stood a better chance of finishing together than we did alone – this though had the effect of chilling me and as we arrived at a bit of a peak and a little mountain bothy I considered layering up. What stopped me though was a look at the time and Garmin’s estimated time of arrival – I relayed the bad news to Kieran and then set to work increasing our pace.
However, even as the clock ticked down both of us stopped to draw breath and capture some images of the sun going down over the hills because it’s moments like this that we run ultra marathons for.
But tick tock, it’s about 6 o’ fucking clock and we need to get a move on! And we did, Kieran increased his pace on the uphill and I swallowed the pain and went as quickly as I could on the downhill. This section though was full of steep, difficult terrain and I found myself using every expletive known to man and creating a few new ones along the way. I found myself apologising several times for my rather fruity language but Kieran simply shrugged it off and was hopefully not offended by my potty mouthed antics.
There was a lot less chatter now – partly due to being about 10 metres apart but also because of a need to concentrate – with time against us we had little capacity for further error. Then the route hit us with a series of difficult and slow going ascents and descents. In conventional circumstances you’d have laughed them off, enjoyed bouncing up and down them, but, on a day like today they felt cruel and unnecessary. We battered up and down, never quite losing hope that a friendly checkpoint smile awaited us.
We could see the road to our left as it wound its way through the hills and assumed that we would be heading down there to find some much needed respite because in front of us now loomed a large, steep climb, Kieran and I clearly had fingers crossed but as we closed on both the turn to the road and the steep ascent we were fired up the ascent. Our creaking bones and cracking optimism were pained by this latest news but ascend we did and with a little pool of runners now below us.
I was in no mood to be beaten to the next checkpoint though and I think Michelle and Dave were both in this little group that was around us and we may have had a bit of banter to try and boost moral – but moral seemed low and we needed that checkpoint. I remember reaching the top of the summit and noting that the checkpoint would surely be down there.
To improve my mentality I set to thinking about the spectacular borderlands that were laid out before us were and how they were probably oft missed by visitors – on another day, were I wasn’t chasing a clock, I’d very much enjoy a jaunt along the Southern Upland Way and it’s surrounds.
Kieran and I made it to the road and while he strode purposefully towards the checkpoint I felt like giving my legs a little shakedown and ran up towards the final checkpoint to devour as many of the little cakes as I could.
Here I found myself in surrealist territory as I asked questions like, ‘if Linford Christie was half a teapot which half would be the teapot – top or bottom?’ I believe I may have confused or befuddled the lovely volunteers but then I was 40+ miles into my first race in ages and my biggest distance and biggest elevation since last September – I was probably delirious.
Kieran rocked up a minute or two behind me and filled up on water and then we were off to the finish. 14 miles left but only about 5hrs to go until we had extinguished all of the allocated time.
Invigorated by reaching the last checkpoint we pushed on hard, assuming that most of the elevation had been dealt with, therefore it came as something a blow to realise that there was enough elevation in the final section to slow us down and that our efforts to push were being hampered by both the course and our exhaustion. Add into the mix that darkness would also soon be upon us and I made the decision to stop briefly and put on my waterproof jacket to protect me from the wind and also to grab my head torch. With this done we ploughed on and straight into a lovely big boggy section of trail that permeated straight through the Lone Peak 4.0 that had served me so well.
My feet felt cold for the first time since the climb up Benbrack and it would be a couple of minutes before my awesome Drymax socks warmed my feet again.
Chatter was now reduced to the minimum, I was doing the mental maths and calculating my likelihood of failing and being determined not too. Kieran, for his part remained on ‘team get to the finish’ and knew what needed to be done to claim a medal.
Up and down the course went with Scotland beautifully illuminated by the dancing darkness in front of us and the couple of twinkling headlights. In darkness this was lovely but by day I suspected this would be fantastic and much more reminiscent of the route in the first few miles of the race.
We knew that every step was a step closer to home – Kieran had salted caramel chocolate milkshake awaiting him at the B&B, I had a walk to find my motorhome wherever it was hidden! Ha – how different our post race experiences would be!
Before either of us got to an after the race situation we had more work to do.
Darkness had now surrounded us completely and even with less than 10km to go there was no sign of Moffat in the distance and time was ebbing away, we hurried through mostly good, hard packed trail and followed the way markers home – that was until Kieran had a dose of the batshit and thought we were going the wrong way.
I should have ignored him as the signage was pointing the way I had headed but I was also nervous of making another mistake with so little time available. We therefore doubled back and retreated to the last way marker and Kieran went thrashing about in the undergrowth looking for a way through. Two runners managed to catch us again in the time that we had spent doubling back and searching for an alternative route and as they headed off in the original direction I called out to my comrade that, ‘it’s this way, let’s crack on’. Kieran seemed rather trapped in the undergrowth but after a couple of minutes he fumbled his way back and we were off again and in hot pursuit of the couple ahead of us.
We made swift progress in hunting down the runners ahead and once we crossed paths again we travelled together to make this final push that bit more enjoyable. Martin and Nicola were relatively new to ultra running but they looked mostly strong despite a tough day (I understood that) and were from Berkshire, an area I know very well having run several races in the region.
Once more chat consumed us but we were driving forward with purpose. I found myself chatting with Nicola, while Martin and Kieran took up the rear but we ended up starting to separate a little and after so long together I wasn’t keen on leaving Kieran.
I always feel a sense of togetherness when you’ve come so far with a person or people and I genuinely looked forward to getting through this together.
Mere moments after the couple had departed we found civilisation again, tarmac, roads, lights, life. My spirits immediately lifted – we must have made it? but the watch still said 4km.
Surely it must be wrong? It wasn’t wrong.
I found myself waddling along as quickly as I could trying desperately to finish but also trying desperately not to release the shit I’d needed for the last 10 miles, this would be the final ignominy – shitting myself on the side of the road just a mile or so from the end.
I wonder what it says about me that I’d put a medal shaped piece of metal ahead of my bowel health in terms of life importance? Still no time to think about my poo or question my life choices because a support vehicle broke the thoughts of my introspection
The vehicle pulled up alongside us and I did wonder if we were being timed out but Wayne simply checked we were all okay. Well the answer to that was no, I did for a moment consider asking for a lift and a load of bog roll, but I’d worked too hard to give up now so bollocks to that and we replied, ‘yeah, all good’.
The road to Moffat seemed to take forever and again seemed a little cruel, having already travelled much more than the 50 miles of the race title and more than the 56 miles offered in the race description. At this point we picked up another runner who had been round the houses in terms of going in the wrong direction, Mark (may have gotten your name wrong, it was a long day) despite this he remained intensely jolly and I feel he helped make this last stretch seem that little bit less agonising.
But when we arrived into Moffat and the town square there was no immediate sign of the finish, our exhausted brains couldn’t see the thing we needed, a sign, a person, a marker – we found ourselves hunting round the town square and then I saw the bus that would be headed back to Dalry. I ran through the town and asked the driver if he knew where the finish was but he didn’t, thankfully one of the members of the bus did and they showed me on their phone but as I turned to race it in the RD rolled up with a grin on his face. ‘I’ll take you down’ he said.
I was relieved – though my ever gurgling bowels were at the point of collapse!
We ambled through the town and Wayne asked if fancied running it in as we closed on the finish line and of course I’m such a sucker that’s my feet rose and sprinted those last few hundred metres, in fact I was going so fast that I overshot the finish line and had to double back. What a numpty.
At the finish line was Kieran and a few others collecting their medals and without much fuss it was all over.
I was relieved to have survived but survive I did and just in time.
Distance: 56+ miles
Ascent: 2800 metres
Date: May 2021
Location: St John’s Town of Dalry
Tough Rating: 3/5
Route I’ve often driven the M74 and wondered, ‘what are those hills? They look fun, one day I’ll go and run amongst them.’ Well GB Ultras helped my achieve an ambition and the route for the most part did not disappoint. There was a really good mix of scenery to keep you entertained and it was often breathtakingly beautiful – reminding me a little of The Pentlands but without the monotony of their nearby sibling.
The little villages that we came across on the route served as excellent stopping points and often reminded me of those little chocolate box towns that you only get in places like the Cotswold or the Highlands. These border locations really are a treasure that deserve a greater degree of exploration by those visiting Scotland.
I really appreciated that the race route was mostly trail – sometimes a race can be described as trail but with have large swathes of the route on tarmac, but not here. The Southern Upland Way offers a route directly through and mostly over Scotland’s greenery and the race is all the better for that.
Perhaps that is the benefit of being run on one of the great trails of Scotland – the trail has already been defined. This though is also one of the downsides of the route – the hidden paths and trails around the Southern Upland Way clearly had so much to offer and although we got some fantastic views and a great route there were so many interesting pockets to explore that the route bypassed.
I understand the practical and technical reasons for following the Southern Upland Way but I could see how there might be opportunity to return to the area and experience a very different running or hiking day.
The elevation at around 2800 metres was fine and although steep in places it was nothing to overly concern yourself with, regular hill training would cover what is effectively like climbing three small Munros. Over the course of my additional mileage I managed to clock up nearly an extra 500 metres of elevation – my legs felt every single centimetre of that! Ooof.
The downhill of the route was different and reminded me of some very rough and tough races I’ve attempted like MIUT. I was incredibly grateful for my running poles, as once my knee had gone I needed the poles to reduce the searing pain while descending even the lightest incline.
Ultimately the route was beautiful and wonderful but also very, very cruel and it asked much of those running it, I suspect it asked even more of those, like myself, who haven’t seen a hill in the last year.
What I will add is that the Southern Upland Way for all its beauty lacks surprise or perhaps one great money shot moment – perhaps I’ve been spoilt by things like the Skye Trail Ultra which is mostly money shot or the SainteLyon which has a couple of really outstanding ‘take your breath away’ moments. The trouble with that is that when I look back on this I won’t find a defining moment of the race in terms of the route, it’s not a bad thing, it’s just a thing and worth pointing out if you like your routes filled with those ‘Instagram’ moments.
Organisation GB Ultras remind me a little bit of Centurion Running in that they are well organised, highly regarded by the running community, have a decent social media presence to create strong word of mouth for their events, have good, well marked routes and put on events that people want to run. As the RD, Wayne Drinkwater is very visible and this I think gives confidence to the runners that a well organised event is upon them, and they’d be correct – it is well thought out and well executed.
Pre-race communication was lengthy but full of detailed information and the Covid video was helpful (though I did struggle to find the mandatory kit video).
The thing that was hardest was probably the social media stuff – lots of different pages, lots of different events, lots of crossover and that was a little confused – perhaps some rationalisation of these pages would help in terms of finding things and knowing where to ask questions. For example despite reading through everything I could not find mention of whether running poles were allowed and I didn’t want to bother the RD and the team knowing that they would be incredibly busy in the final days leading up to the event. I’m sure that information is available but I couldn’t find it.
The covid secure systems they had in place seemed to work very well and although they reduce the overall atmosphere of the event they did allow it to take place. I found the race start to be perfectly well executed and despite my trepidation about doing these covid secure events I would say GB Ultras got it spot on.
I would also like to mention the tracking which although perhaps not 100% accurate was certainly mostly accurate and when you were off course the team knew about it and were trying to get in touch with you. This is a vast improvement over some of the tracking we’ve witnessed over the years and that’s a clear indication that the technology is finally catching up with the idea. It’s also worth saying that the Southern Upland Way has pretty good phone reception and so if the GB Ultras team is trying to get in touch they may well actually get through. Not all locations in Scotland have phone reception on a race route – something I quite like because you can’t be disturbed and you can keep your phone in airport mode!
It’s also worth noting that there were pictures and videos aplenty flying around the event and it’s quite an achievement that the GB Ultras team had time to be capturing pictures and footage as well as ensuring the more important stuff got done – like feeding me cake! Well done guys!
All in all the GB Ultras organisation was on point and handled incredibly well given the Covid guidelines.
Value for Money This is always a big one for me in terms of determining whether I would run it again or perhaps more importantly whether to tell other runners about this race. So the cost is £79 and what do you get for that? For starters there’s the race itself, the excellent indoor checkpoint locations, the race tracking and the support when you go significantly off route. There’s the medal and there is a decent crack at good and varied checkpoint food.
So £79 (plus about £10 for the bus back to the start if you need transport) is it worth it? I think so – it’s not really much more than the magic £1 per mile which used to be a significant marker in race costs – what you’re getting is a lovely, tough, well managed day in the hills and that is well worth the money being charged.
Awards Medal, big medal, golden medal. Done.
I was glad there was no t-shirt because I’m not sure I could wear one that had the Union flag on it, as a pro-Scottish Independence, SNP voting Englishman living in Scotland it would have felt weirdly hypocritical to put one on, however, I thought the medal was very nice and really quite understated – it sits proudly at the top of my stairs with its brothers and sisters.
Volunteers I remember thinking at my first ultra marathon all those years ago as I stared at the poor volunteers, ‘fuck I hope I don’t die because you guys couldn’t handle dealing with the dead body’. As I ran into each and every checkpoint of the Ultra Scotland I knew that each member of the checkpoint probably not only knew how to deal with the body but probably had a good idea on how to dispose of me too. The volunteers were exceptional, every single person knew the drill and they remained Covid secure throughout.
Kudos to them for remaining both diligent, supportive and in some cases amusing. Being a volunteer at an endurance event can be a cold, lonely and thankless job but these guys were amazing – so thank you all.
The Runners I sometimes think that when we consider races or write reviews we forget that actually it’s mostly about the runners – we tend to focus on medals, routes, organisation but having the race against the background of the pandemic reminded me that without runners willing to train, travel, get wet, potential fuck themselves up – well then races wouldn’t take place at all.
I’ve mentioned the awesome Kieran whom without, I wouldn’t have made it to the end, I’ve mentioned Nick who was simply brilliant and I expect to see his name against some really big challenges in the coming years – there was something about him and I’ve mentioned a whole host of other names but I did say I’d come back to Michelle and here we are! I was introduced to Michelle via social media a few days before the race through a mutual acquaintance – the evergreen Grant Wilcox. Anyway we exchanged a couple of messages and wished each other well saying we’d chat if we saw each other.
Well I met Michelle several times over the course of the race and even stated out loud that I hope she was going to make it back in time – what I didn’t realise was the Michelle I met on the route was the Michelle I had spoken to via social media.
What a dumbass I am.
Worse than that it would take me at least another couple of days to connect the two. Bloody numpty! Anyway the good news was that she made it and I’m happy about that. Should I meet her again I will definitely tell her the real story of the Snowdonia Marathon though and how I came to meet our mutual buddy – Grant!
I suppose the thing about this running of the Ultra Scotland is that only about 50 runners turned out for it but actually it felt like many more and the runners should be congratulated for their part in making the event of the success that it was.
My Race Well as you’ve read I had a both brilliant and torrid time, I went in injured but reasonably well trained and I came out injured further and totally ruined. That said I had a great time getting this ruined and despite a late finish I got up to hike Gray Mare’s Tail the next morning and was back running on the Monday. I wish my knee had held up because I knew about my hamstring and felt I could manage that but the knee was unexpected and that both threw me and slowed me significantly. So it wasn’t a disaster for me – I mean I finished but I didn’t finish the way I wanted and that’s disappointing.
Conclusions What can I say about the Ultra Scotland 50? Well it’s a tough as old boots challenge that lives up to trail running label, it has superb organisation and a great team behind it. GB Ultras deserve all the plaudits they get from the running community and managing to stage a Covid secure event deserves extra credit.
There are a few niggles though, but nothing dramatic and certainly nothing that would stop me entering – the big bugbear was that this is closer to 60 than 50 miles even in the official distance and by the time you’ve added on your extra mileage it is definitely reading more like a 60 mile race, I suppose I could try and get better at navigation but where’s the fun in that? I understand that for marketing it’s better to have a set of 50 mile races but it is inaccurate.
I enjoyed the race and I feel like it’s one that you could easily have a good crack at regardless of your level but it’s a ‘no prisoners’ kind of a race and if the weather was shit then this would be a real ball breaker – something to think of given this is Scotland, in early spring and snow, wind and rain isn’t unusual! We got pretty lucky with the weather but even in decent conditions the wind at the hill tops was cold and happy to give your face a good blasting.
Would I do it again?
Well I’d be in no rush to sign up again because I feel that I’ve experienced the Southern Upland Way path and if I were going to run there again it would be on new trails. That said I enjoyed this enough to consider going back and improving on my performance at some point in the future and I felt that GB Ultras put on a great event and therefore I’d be very happy to go and try one of their other races next year – the Pennine Barrier being the one that most interests me.
Is it worth you doing it? Well that’s up to you – you can find out more about this race and their other events on the GB Ultras website.
As for me I’ll be polishing my medals (not a euphemism) and reviewing the Great Glen Ultra in July, once I’ve run it – 71 miles, argh!
Three sleeps to go until the Ultra Scotland 50 will be well underway and the question is no longer will it go ahead (hopefully) but will this middle aged numpty make it to the finish? I think it is fair to say that we have all hoped that races, in particular for this blogs audience, ultra marathons would start again – because it is what we adore doing.
In recent weeks I’ve seen the Bonnie Prince Ultra, the Loch Ness 360 and the Pennine Bridleway be postponed again and so with the Ultra Scotland taking place just a couple of weeks after the restrictions were lifted it was a big ask that it would return. However, GB Ultras cautious optimism seems to have paid off and the event will go ahead as planned and I’ve committed to running it in those few days time, because ultimately if racing gets stopped again I’d love, just once, to get back out there and feel the wind on my back and a race number on my front.
The only trouble is that the moment I submitted my marathon PB, as requested by the race organisers to sort runners into waves, my hamstring went pop and has been a little shit ever since. So now, despite all the training and weight loss I’ve managed in the last year all of that may be useless because I’ll be hanging on for dear life just to finish.
So it’s going to be a ‘hello there’ from me to racing and a ‘hell here’ from racing to me.
I don’t live in the Highlands, so this isn’t a post about surviving the big snowy, icy, wet conditions that can be had up there, I’m not Scottish, so this isn’t a post about a lifetimes experience of the Scottish Central Belt and its regularly changing weather patterns. No this is a post about how I run through the winter in the Central Belt of Scotland with the minimum of fuss.
Now let’s be fair, I’m an odd guy, I’ve been described, often, as idiosyncratic , weird, a fucking nutter and all sorts of offensive and less offensive things. So what might be right for me might not be for you but this overview of how I do a Scottish winter running might be a starting point to keep you going out through the year. I’ll also be listing kit with this overview to try and show that you don’t have to have lots of fancy gear or for it to cost a fortune to get you out there year round.
History I moved to the Central Belt of Scotland nearly three years ago after the ridiculous English voted to leave the European Union (politics over). In that time I feel I have grown rather accustomed to the unpredictable and yet rather serene nature of life north of my former location.
So head to toe this is how I get ready to face the outdoors in the chillier months!
HEAD | Buff | Hat The head is the easiest bit to get right and I have a couple of items that make sense in surviving the winter here in Falkirk.
Buff Buff Traditional | £10-£30 The first is obviously a buff (or similar), it is possibly the most versatile piece of running gear that you own, intend to own or want to own. It’ll wipe your nose, it’ll wipe your arse, it’ll keep your face covered or it’ll act as a hat. I have several types for winter running – so if I’m going on a long run I’ll often choose the Buff Visor because as well as having a neoprene peak which is very soft and flexible you can still use it as a conventional buff and even still chuck it round your wrist. The peak though is the thing that gives you longer running protection from wind and rain in your eyes and can be wrung out if it gets wet! Perfect.
For shorter running more traditional buffs are used and I tend to carry a couple as they are so versatile.
Hat Big Bobble Hat £20 I’m also very keen on a hat – not always because you need one to keep your little head warm – the buff will do this but because the bobble hat always makes me feel nice. If you get a medium weight running hat then that would cover almost all scenarios and if it isn’t too heavy or bulky it will nicely scrunch up and can be tossed in a pocket of a jacket or a running vest. The Big Bobble hat pictured does not scrunch up so well but it is lovely and toasty and you’ll never say, ‘I didn’t see you coming’ while I’m wearing it.
Alternatives Rab Beanie Hat £15 | Oddballs Bobble Hat £15 | Kalenji Running Hat £6
BODY | Long Sleeved Shirt | Short Sleeve Shirt | Gilet Running hot is a nuisance sometimes, especially during the warmer weather or even on those milder winter days and so I need to have a solution that allows me to be both warm and well ventilated. The solution, as with all things for me, is layering and the three layers I discuss below offer the benefit of being easily removable, wicking and protecting me across a range of runs and a version of this would be used as my race day kit.
Long Sleeved Shirt Ronhill Core Long Sleeved Shirt | £25 A popular choice as a next to skin layer would be something like a compression top but I have never fared very well in these and prefer something that I have a little more control over and so I’ll wear a long sleeved Ronhill top. The benefits of this as my base layer means I can easily roll my sleeves up if I’m warming up too much, I can un/tuck the top into my shorts to minimise the amount of cold air that comes into direct contact with my skin and as it is usually neon in colour it offers a good level of visibility.
Alternatives Salomon Agile LS Shirt £30 | OMM Flow LS Shirt £40 | Kiprun Care LS Shirt £20
Short Sleeve Shirt Oddballs Training Top | £17 Over the long sleeved top I’ll wear a shorter sleeved shirt, usually something very lightweight to account for the fact I have two tops on and I’ve found that the Oddballs training shirts are the ideal combination of weight and durability against the various weather conditions that I’ll face. No they aren’t waterproof but they dry quickly and they have a good fit for a standard shaped man and so there isn’t a lot of spare fabric flying around to catch pools of water in. The best thing though is they are available in a range of batshit patterns and colours, are relatively inexpensive and are a perfect companion to my long sleeved top. If Oddballs ever do a long sleeved training tops I’ll be buying some!
Alternatives Salomon Agile SS Shirt £30 | La Sportiva Advance Shirt £45 | Alpkit Vayper SS Shirt £29 | Kalenji Dry + Feel £6
Gilet WAA Gilet | £45 If it rains while I’m out then the training shirts will dry out pretty quickly but for winter running you should have some form of waterproof or water-resistant cover for moist days – cold will cut through most materials in winter when it is wet and if you’re up a hill or out for several hours then even the hardiest of us will begin to feel the chill.
There are lots of options that you can go for such as a wind/water resistant jacket that will offer a little bit of protection from the elements, a full on waterproof jacket that would be best suited to those long days in the rain or for passing a race kit check but for my day to day winter running I usually take with me my WAA running gilet. The gilet offers just enough protection from the elements combined with a tiny form factor to make it great for distances up to about 13 miles or a couple of hours of running. The front of the gilet is single piece of fabric which means that the wind won’t pass through you too easily but on the back there are mesh panels that allow your body to breathe. Sadly I don’t believe they make this any longer but it was a great piece of kit when I first purchased it about 5 years ago and remains a great piece of kit. Oh
Alternatives OMM Sonic Smock £60 | Soar Ultra Running Gilet £135 | Alpkit Arro Vest £35 | Kalenji Run Wind H £10
HANDS | Overmitts | Gloves | Watch The hands are something that I never had to worry about until I arrived in Scotland and even up here it isn’t a major issue beyond the first few minutes of a run. However, those first few minutes are crucial in determining whether it is going to be a good run or not.
Wind/Waterproof Mitts Decathlon Overmitts | £15 The Decathlon overmitts are both waterproof and lightweight and have a tiny size in both form and weight. One of the key things about keeping warm is that you keep the wind out. I tend to find when running that I don’t need insulation as much as I need to keep the chill from passing through me. The overmitts provide a perfect wind protection layer until my hands have heated enough to be self supporting against the conditions and at about £15 a pair they are much more inexpensive than the nearest rivals.
Gloves WAA Gloves | £15 I’ve had a number of pairs of gloves over the years and most have been rubbish but the WAA gloves offer a thin level of insulation and combine this with still being able to use your fingers (a common problem with any level of insulation in gloves I find). There is no option to operate a phone with these gloves but I find this to be a benefit – it means I leave my phone in my pocket – but the fingers are usable enough to allow me to operate the action camera buttons should I need to. The WAA gloves are also the easiest on and off gloves I have ever bought – handy when you only wear them for a very short period of time, sadly these are no longer available at the WAA website but there are alternatives…
Watch Garmin Fenix 6X Pro | £550 A watch of any description is quite a handy thing to have – yes I happen to be using the rather fancy Garmin Fenix 6X Pro but something much simpler would be more than sufficient. I find that I don’t always track my running with the GPS or record it (I don’t use or like Strava) but I do like to keep an eye on how long I have been out for and also what kind of elevation I am running or hiking at. The watch allows me to do these things but I am not a slave to it and in winter I find it useful to remind me that I have or haven’t been out long enough.
The Fenix 6X Pro was bought as the replacement for my Ambit 3 Peak (a much loved multisport watch) with ultra marathons in mind but the alternatives offer many good features at significantly lower price points. The Polar impresses in particular and my partner has this watch because of its smaller size and lower weight as well as its many activity features.
LEGS | Shorts Whenever I post new running content to either Facebook or Instagram it will be adorned with the hashtag ‘shortsallyear’ because for me there is simply no better feeling and because my body can handle it. Not everybody can handle the cold as well as I do and therefore I can fully appreciate why you might opt for running leggings or even winter running leggings. Legwear is the most complex choice I think as they are difficult to change when you are out on a run and it’s the thing that you are most unlikely to carry a spare of so you’re stuck in whatever you choose to go out in.
Shorts Ronhill Tech Revive Twin Skin Shorts | £35 In the decade I have been running I have owned just 7 pairs of training shorts and given that I run on average a little over 300 days per year that is a lot of running for just 7 pairs of shorts. To be fair 2 of those pairs have been in the rotation for just a couple of months and 2 of those pairs have been there since 2018 – so for nearly 8 years I used just 3 pairs of Nike twin skin running shorts (no longer available) and I wore them in every possible condition. The latest additions to my running shorts armoury are Ronhill because they are good fit for me and I have had many happy adventures in their tops.
I wear twin skin shorts as a general rule because the brief style shorts are a bit like trying to fit a 500ml bottle of cola into a space designed for a 330ml can of fizzy drink. It also means that my legs mostly stay dry even if the outer fabric takes a bit of a pounding from the wet or the mud. In the cold I appreciate the next to skin layer especially given that I have a tendency to be nut sack high in wet muddy trails and worse icy waters.
FEET | Drymax Socks | Gaiters | Trail Running Shoes The feet represent my weakest point and therefore this is the area I pay most attention to during the winter months, I rotate my shoes on a daily basis and often have at least five different pairs going at once – this allows each pair to dry out fully before they are next used. Beyond this it’s about management of my feet to ensure they stay in reasonable condition for the next run
Socks Drymax Socks | £10-30 I recently wrote a piece about how I’ve evolved the set up of my kit for racing with specific reference to my feet (read about it here) and a key component of that are the Drymax socks. I’ve pretty much gone from only using Drymax during races to using them in anything other than warm, summery conditions.
The key benefit of Drymax is the warm while wet approach that means that even if your feet take a serious dunking the socks will keep your little footsies warm and relatively toasty. During a Scottish winter of running it is not inconceivable that you’ll come across snow, ice, freezing water, oodles of gooey mud, oodles of sticky mud and worse and so the socks need to be robust enough to handle all of the above and more.
During winter I tend to wear higher up the leg socks rather than the crew length ones I opt for in the summer and this also helps to keep the crap of the trail or ice away from skin which can an absolute bastard if it slices into you. If there’s one thing I want protected it’s my feet and these really help.
Alternatives Injinji Toe Socks £10-25 | Hilly Off Road Socks £10-20 |
Trail Running Shoes Topo Athletic Terraventure | £120 My first choice running shoes for the winter are my Topo Athletic Terraventure followed by the Inov8 Trail Talon 290, these two workhorse shoes will do everything and they are bombproof, they will go everywhere and nothing can hurt them. Both pairs of shoes will eat up tarmac if they are asked to but they are designed for the trail and that is where they will have the most fun and where you will get most benefit.
Footwear choice is, of course, very personal and you should only wear the shoes that are suited to you but these are the ones suited to me.
I would suggest that whatever shoe you wear during the winter that it is suited to the conditions that you are facing, If you do lots of tarmac then you don’t need aggressive lugs but if you are facing mud and hills on a daily basis then you’ll need something that can dig into the terrain. One thing that has seen me invest in is some specialist equipment for the ice and I’ll discuss this in the extras section.
Shoes don’t need to be super expensive or a super popular brand but go to a retailer (when we are allowed) and try them on, get a feel for them and listen to your feet. It took me a long time to find shoes that worked consistently but issues with my feet are no longer caused by the footwear I choose, just the conditions I run in! Do your research and you will be rewarded.
Alternatives Altra Lone Peak 5.0 £140 | On Cloudventure £150 | Kalenji Evadict TR2 £50 | More Mile Cheviot Pace £30
Gaiters Topo Athletic Gaiter | £15 Let me start by saying that the Topo Athletic gaiter is not my favourite gaiter, that award goes to the Dirty Girl gaiters that have been following my adventures since my first ultra marathon. However, I own the shoes so I might as well own the gaiters with the correct fitting for the footwear. The gaiters during winter provide added protection from the trail, there is nothing worse than stones, grit or other flotsam and jetsam getting involved with your feet. A pair of gaiters will instantly improve your running experience especially, if like me, you’ve got weak feet.
CARRY | Waterproof Jacket | Overtrousers | Light Year round I wear a running vest, I prefer it to a running belt or the Freetrain phone holder, I feel that a running vest or bag is designed to hold stuff and distribute weight across you better than any of the alternatives. Plus as a former Runcommuter I am very used to the idea of running with a bag on my back and in winter I believe that running safely requires the carrying of a few kit extras.
Waterproof Jacket Montane Minimus Waterproof Jacket | £140 I always come back to this jacket for one reason and one reason only – it has never, ever failed me. I own two of these but I mostly wear the one I have owned for nearly a decade, it doesn’t age, it doesn’t show signs of wear and its a beautiful green colour.
The Montane Minimus comes with me on those longer runs or when I head into the hills or if it really is chucking it down – how often do I wear it in the winter? Not that often, but occasionally if I’m having day where I feel a bit shit and frail then I’ll chuck it on and feel that bit more secure about going out and facing the trails.
Overtrousers Montane Featherlite Trousers | £50 This may surprise some readers but even I need a bit of help in the leg department occasionally and the thing that I carry with me are my much underused Montane Featherlite Trousers.
Now let me start by saying that these are not waterproof trousers they are water resistant and wind resistant and this is the key to why I like them so much. They are so light but never let my legs overheat and they dry incredibly quickly meaning that if I have had to resort to putting them on they are going to provide the kind of layer that I need. I own a much heavier pair of waterproof trousers that I use for hiking – the brilliant Berghaus Deluge but these would only be suitable as running cover in the most unpleasant of race situations (say something like the Spine).
This winter I haven’t worn my Featherlite Overtrousers because the lockdown has kept me relatively close to home and therefore away from the hills but in previous winters whenever I go near an area that might leave me a bit isolated these are straight into my running bag and the best thing is that they scrunch down into a tiny little stuff sack.
Light Olight Baton | £90 First off let me assure you that I paid a lot less than the price on the Olight website for a light that is the same length as my thumb (I have small thumbs). However, the important thing is that you are going to want a light if you are running through the winter – in the Central Belt it can be dark for up to 16 hours a day and that means the hours of daylight are likely being taken up with things like childcare or work or watching Netflix.
I have a number of headtorches that all work very well but I wanted something handheld as I find wearing a headtorch is a little uncomfortable (something I’m happy to put up in race conditions but not on my pleasure runs), they interfere with action camera footage and of course it can create the tunnel vision effect that can make running in the dark a lot less enjoyable.
The Olight baton benefits from being tiny in size, as already mentioned, but also incredibly powerful in terms of its beam (up to 2000 lumens) and there are three brightness settings available. Battery life is reasonable even on the brightest setting although in race conditions I think this would only ever be a spare light. The good news is that the Olight Baton can be recharged on the go with the use of an external battery pack and has a very secure magnetic charging cable that means you could chuck it in the back of your pack and leave it there to charge until you need it.
I use this extensively on my local trails if I am running late at night as there is very little moonlight that penetrates the canopy of my trail and so each step is in total darkness – this light really does lead the way. A very worthwhile purchase.
EXTRAS | Spikes | Survival Bag | First Aid Kit | Water Bottle
There are things that I have had for a very long time that form, part of my running kit and there are a few extras I have bought to face the Scottish winters – the first thing I bought as an extra was a pair of running spikes.
I am fortunate to live close enough to my local trails that if it ices up I can manage the few hundred metres of tarmac in spikes to get to the trail. Spikes aren’t the only solution to running on the ice and they certainly are not perfect but they let me keep going out even when others have been sidelined by the weather. Because I have rather large hobbit like feet I bought the Altra Golden Spike which are both surprisingly cushioned and grippy. The alternatives include the excellent YakTrax Pro or the rather expensive studded running shoes from VJ Sports, Inov8 and Icebug.
I have a plethora of water bottles that I use with my absolute favourite being the first generation hard bottles from Ultimate Direction, those bad boys have been hard to beat over the years and despite the advances in the technology and taste of the soft bottle I still prefer these beauties. That said I use my Salomon 150ml soft bottle for runs in winter up to about 21km and anything after that I’ll use a 300ml soft bottle because they are more flexible and fit better alongside the action camera that often accompanies me on runs.
I would always recommend carrying a survival bag of some description, I’ve never had to use one but on the day I do I will be extremely pleased that I have it with me. If I am going off trail or will be on my own for any length of time then this is an essential piece of kit that might well save my life and my life is probably just about worth the £10 that you’ll need to spend to get your hands on one of these.
As for a first aid kit I’m a bit skinny with this, I take a small used Compeed pack and put in it some plasters, a needle, painkillers, blister plasters and a small dressing and keep this at the bottom of my bag – again I have never had to use it while out training, although I did use it while racing on the Isle of Skye and that kept my feet in one piece until the end of the race (I say one piece my feet were fucked – you can read the race review here).
WHAT’S ESSENTIAL? I would say that of the kit listed above the essential bits are the buff, the long sleeved top, legwear, running shoes, socks, gloves and a water resistant or waterproof jacket – the rest I could have survived without but they made my daily jaunts to the trails much easier.
In 2011 if you’d have looked in my running gear drawer this is what you would have found the following;
my old ASICs trail shoes that I ran on roads and trails in | £27
my 3/4 length Nike running tights |£17
a couple of pairs of white cotton M&S socks | £3.50
a black buff that I stole from my partner who used to wear it while visiting farms | Free
a second buff I bought from a Rat Race event | £5
a pair of Saucony running gloves that fell apart after about 5 minutes | £14
a sale Adidas wind resistant jacket | £19
a long sleeved Ronhill running shirt that I still wear to this day | £21
a couple of short sleeved Rat Race overstock t-shirts from previous RR events | £10
It is also worth noting that these days I tend to run daily, especially in the winter and therefore I need a bit more kit to see me through otherwise my washing machine would never be off.
Only you can really decide what is essential for you to go running during the winter but for a relatively small investment you could probably have all the essentials that you need for running regularly and safely.
I tend to invest because my view is always that I’d rather have kit that does the job and does it for a long time and I like good value. My Montane Minimus is the best example of this, I bought the waterproof jacket many years ago for about £80 and it will probably last me another decade or more if I continue to look after it – that’s value for money and I’ve discovered value for money rarely means cheap. That said my £3, 18 year old Kalenji running base layers are still going strong and get worn often, get washed even more often and are super useful for running and other activities, so good value isn’t always expensive either!
WHERE? Where do you get stuff like this? Well that will be down to you but I like to use a mix of independent retailers, direct from manufacturers and online resources.
To make it clear I am NOT sponsored by any of these (or anyone else), I purchase all the products I use and nothing is ever taken for free or testing.
If I am looking for well made and inexpensive kit then I will always look at Decathlon because as well as having a significant shop presence I think they’re brilliant and then places like Cotswold Outdoors and Runners Need will always have something useful that the others can’t cover.
I NEVER buy from Sports Direct.
TOP TIPS I should point out that the kit and products I have listed I own and have used extensively in the cold of Scotland’s winter months, sometimes over multiple years.
The alternatives that I have presented here are merely examples of the things that I might own, might have researched or looked up as alternatives specifically for this blog and if you like the sound of them then get your research hat on and start deciding if it’s right for you. You are the best decision-maker for what will fit and work best for you, not some bloke on a blog or someone answering a Facebook/Twitter question.
And the reason I am posting this towards the tail end of the winter running season? Well it will soon be time for retailers to dispose of their AW20 kit and you might pick up a bargain or two that will be perfect for AW21.
FINALLY I do hope though that you realise that is possible to run all year round and that while you can spend an absolute fortune you really do not have to, the combination of excellent sales and the increase in the UK visibility of places like Decathlon means that choice has never been better and the quality of brands like Crane (via Aldi) has much improved in recent years. The sad thing is that the last couple of years has seen the loss of a couple of excellent independent running stores and these will unlikely be replaced – therefore please support local or independent running/outdoor stores were you can.
Most importantly of course is, enjoy your winter running and do it safely.
I wasn’t going to review the Harrier Run ‘Ultra’ bundle but after several months of use I felt it would be churlish of me not to jot down my thoughts for you to consider whether this is something that might be useful for you.
I shan’t bother with an incomplete history of Harrier as others have done this better than I will but it’s suffice to say that they are new on the block and something of a disruptor in, what has fast become, an overcrowded market. The company and its founder have, in an impressively short space of time put together a product range of running kit suited to the ‘couch to 5km’ runner all the way to the adventure/ultra marathoner and beyond. For this we must applaud the team who must work tirelessly.
I decided that although I did not need a new running vest that the Harrier Kinder 10 litre looked like something I wanted to try and with its low price point I was happy to purchase one and if it was ‘great’ then that was a bonus and if it was only ‘okay’ then it would go into the rotation and that would be fine too.
I didn’t purchase it straight away though, it was after I’d seen one in use at the Ultra North event that I ordered it. Having seen it in person I felt that it would be a useful addition in my running armoury. And so while literally travelling back to sunny Scotland from a very wet Northumberland I put my order in but not for the vest – for the ultra bundle.
The Ultra Bundle The ultra bundle provides an excellent value packed array of gear designed to ensure that you, the runner, have all of the basics and a few key extras for your big adventures. So what’s in the ultra bundle?
A choice of 10l (Kinder) or 5l (Curbar) race vest (includes whistle)
2 x soft water bottles
2 x soft bottle long straws
1 x hydration bladder
1 x snood
1 x collapsible heatproof cup
1 x collapsible cup
1 x Emergency first aid kit (not available at the time I purchased the bundle)
1 x Survival bag
1 x dry bag
Perhaps the amazing thing is the variety within each item. The main event, the running vest, comes in two different colours in the Curbar and Kimder, there are four fit sizes. There is also an extra large for the bigger framed runner called the Stanage. Options don’t end at the race vest, in fact they barely start there – each of the water bottles and cups comes in a range of funky colours, the drybags are two colours and two sizes, the snood is available in blue and orange and even the running poles are available in multiple sizes and two different materials. It is an enviable amount of choice that the major manufacturers either don’t or can’t offer.
Choice Sometimes choice can be a bit overwhelming and the trouble I had when putting my ultra bundle together was how do I co-ordinate? The answer was I couldn’t really – I wanted big bold and bright colours and these didn’t always match across the various products. I would quite happily have had everything in pink or purple but this wasn’t an option so I mixed and matched a little bit and after a little while I found what I believed was the perfect set up.
My only gripe was in the colour of the race vest itself which was much more muted than the rest of the options – that said the blue colouring that I chose was actually very pleasant but if there had been a pink or purple or batshit colour then I’d have chosen that. It may come as no surprise then that when both the Curbar and the Kinder became available in less discreet colours I ordered both the Orange and the Red.
Bundling The company have the bundle system for lots of good reasons I imagine, if you’re starting on your ultra or long distance running journey then you may need a reasonable amount of kit and a bundle that offers a very healthy discount would be much appreciated. The bundle presumably also allows Harrier to get rid of stock that might not be as swift as seller – so hydration bladder and water bottles might not be bought at the same time but if part of a bundle then you’d take both and use whichever better suited your adventure that day. The bundle, because of the cleverness of Harrier, allows you to easily identify what kind of kit it is that you are going to need – there’s no research involved, you just buy a bundle and put it on and you’re on your way to thrill seeking.
Experiences Experience with the Harrier Run Ultra Bundle will vary but the reception has been overwhelmingly positive but it can be difficult to judge something until you’ve been trying it out on a daily basis for several months and that is something that I have been doing. Almost all of the items in the ultra bundle have seen some running and most have been used multiple times – they key elements such as the vests, the poles, water bottles and drybag have been a near constant companion since they arrived and I feel very comfortable about being able to assess whether they are good for me or not.
Kinder Running Vest I like a larger than necessary race vest because, ‘you never know’ and I have been known to start a run or a race with what some might describe as, ‘the kitchen sink’. The Kinder would still be at the smaller end of my race vest sizes even at 10 litres but I felt having seen it in real life that it looked acapable of supporting the amount of kit I traditionally transport in an ultra marathon.
So what does the Kinder have?
10 litre capacity
Lots of pockets across the vest
7 x front pockets
Pull through back pocket for waterproofs
Deep mesh side pockets
Zipped phone pocket
Multiple connection points for running pole
Race number toggles
Adjustable sternum straps
Dedicated bladder pocket
Substantial bladder clip
Multiple bladder hose configurations
Bungee pull on the back for tighter fit
Main compartment zipped closing
Figure hugging fit
Toggles and straps across the vest to keep kit tidy
Choice of colours
Curbar Running Vest Despite liking a larger capacity running vest I have to say that since the Curbar arrived a couple of months ago I have worn nothing else as a running bag (the Curbar was not part of the bundle, but bought separately along with a second Kinder). I have found a huge amount of running comfort and joy in the Curbar as I have been improving my training and ultimately improving my running.
So what does the Curbar have?
5 litre capacity
Lots of pockets across the vest
7 x front pockets
Pull through back pocket for waterproofs
Deep mesh side pockets
Zipped phone pocket
Extra back pocket
Back pole holders
Race number toggles
Adjustable sternum straps
Dedicated bladder pocket
Substantial bladder clip
Multiple bladder hose configurations
Figure hugging fit
Toggles and straps across the vest to keep kit tidy
Choice of colours
When wearing either of the race vests it probably most resembles either a Salomon or early Ultimate Direction Signature series pack – that shouldn’t be considered a negative as the UD in particular was an exceptional race vest. It has a figure hugging shape and moves with you rather than bounces around and this is where the Harrier shows that it is superior than the old UD PB1.0. When moving side to side the vest has enough give that it comes with you but without ever feeling slack and yet is tight enough that when running it moves along with you rather than bouncing around in your mid lumbar region.
From fabric through to fit this is very, very comfortable running vest experience
If movement is an impressive feature of the Harrier vests then it is matched in impressiveness by the amount of available space. Both the 5 litre and the 10 litre have lots of upfront space and the pockets are cavernous. In fact this brings me to a favourite feature – for the first time ever in a race vest I can have my action camera stored upfront while at the same time as having two 500ml water bottles there too. I am sure that the makers did not consider the needs of the action camera user when designing this but the fact my DJ Osmo Action and my Insta360 One X2 both fit perfectly mean that this race vest will often jump to the front of the queue for racing. The rest of the pockets are equally excellent but each one has a purpose – so those front mesh pockets are ideal for a buff or a pair or gloves while the phone pocket is okay for a phone I find it better for a small amount of wallet or keys or basically something you aren’t going to use – there are better pockets for a phone.
The side pockets are as massive as their front siblings and also much more accessible than many of its rivals and the springiness of the fabric makes everything deceptively spacious.
On the reverse the space inside the back of the pack is mostly excellent but if you’re used to something like an OMM backpack or even a UD race vest then the Harrier vests will feel more confined and the mild tapering towards the bottom of the vest mean that the way you pack your kit may need some consideration – I don’t feel like I can just throw stuff in here.
The Curbar has a neat ‘through pocket’ where wet or dry waterproofs could be stowed and also has an extra pocket that sits at the bottom of the vest – I’d be tempted to keep only the lightest of gear here as I feel using it might unbalance my weight distribution – but remember that whatever you store in here should be in a small 2 litre or smaller drybag just incase you caught in a bit of precipitation.
The Kinder meanwhile benefits from a bungee cord rather than a through pocket and this is welcome addition as it offers flexibility to connect whatever you need to carry there and it also allows the vest to be cinched down if you aren’t carry much kit – something that the 5 litre vest doesn’t need. It is worth noting though that the Kinder runs just as well as the Curbar if it is empty and not cinched down.
One thing to keep in mind is that neither are waterproof and although when I’ve gotten soaking in it the back mesh, and therefore my back, for the most part stay dry, the outer layers will wet through and aren’t as quick to dry as say a ripstop material. What does this mean? It’s simple – you’ll need drybags (and don’t worry Harrier have you covered there too).
From here the Harrier mostly goes straight into party mode with little flourishes and finishes that will simply make your running life that bit easier – from multiple points of connection for your poles on the Kinder to back pole holders on the Curbar. The race number holder, the easy pull zip cords and multiple points of attachment for your bladder hose as well as those front pockets being more secure than the average through to the plethora of hoops, loops and bungees that can tie down pretty much anything – it’s almost like an S&M party on these vests – these vests have it all.
I do have a bugbear and it is quite a big one – the fastening system for the front. Once its fitted that is lovely and it is great but if you need to adjust the height of the chest straps then it is a bit of a bugger, if you needed to do that with freezing cold or wet hands then it would be a nightmare. It reminds me of a lighter, less good version of the crossover system that Salomon employed on some of their bags a few years back (and my well still do). It’s not the worst but nor is it the best. The other thing, directly related to the chest straps is that they come loose as you are running, not massively and not all at once but you will find yourself regularly tightening these up. You might say it’s the sizing or what I’m carrying but I have both medium and large sizes and both the 5 and 10 litres and have tried them all in different configurations and the chest strap just loosens much more than say my beloved Raidlight Olmo 20.
Is it a big issue? Not really I just pull it tight as I run (and it super easy to adjust on the move).
So bugbear aside I think the Curbar and the Kinder are astonishingly good value and brilliant kit even if there were double the price. For less than £60.00, at full price, you simply won’t get better.
Running/Hiking Poles I’ve used my Black Diamond Z fold for several years now and never had a moment where I thought, these aren’t good enough, they were expensive but they’ve lasted and they felt like they would last from the moment I bought them. The poles from Harrier (at a mere £69.00) arrived to much online fanfare, lots of the runners who had tested them out had lots of good things to say about them. The thing for me is that I tend not to use poles outside of the more mountainous running events like MIUT but again as part of the ltra bundle it seemed silly to turn my nose up at this bargain.
When you pick the poles up they aren’t as light as some of their more expensive alternatives, however, the difference in weight (209g) isn’t really very noticeable and should certainly not be a deterrent to ownership. That slightly heftier feel though contributes to a sense that these are built to last and during my tests I have not once worried that the poles might snap, something I have seen happen to other poles during events. The handle is soft and runs long down the shaft with an easily adjustable and strong wrist loop. The poles are ‘z fold’ rather than telescopic which I feel suits runners better, once out of your pack you just fling them in front of you and lock them in position – no faffing around.
Are they as easy as my Black Diamond poles? No, not quite – the tightening flip lock clamp at the end of the handle means there is an additional step compared to my Black Diamond poles. However, this lock, I feel will give them a greater longevity and also allows a certain level of adjustability in height – another improvement over some of the competition. Add this together and with the reduction in the amount of little metal locking buttons, which are a potential place for water or grot to sit and cause damage, then you’ve got a product that is both practical and innovative. The Harrier alternative to the metal locking buttons are locking discs which sit at the end of each section of the pole and simply clamp together – easy.
The poles do follow some conventions though and have such as a coated metal inner cord to ensure that the pole has strength when you are running and doesn’t just come apart. A spike at the end to help you grip in the worst of terrains, mud basket and a rubber tip cover should you suddenly find yourself on the tarmac.
What I can say is that I’ve used these for about 30 miles of running since they arrived, I have bounced around the muddy trails on them, I’ve run on the ice using them (without Yaktrax) and I’ve hiked several of the Ochils (when I was allowed to go there) and they have been superb.
As for the fitting around you when you are racing, well if you’ve bought the ultra bundle then there are lots of places that the poles can go and the race vest(s) have all been given consideration to how a runner may way to run with poles. That said these poles would fit almost any race vest, I’ve used them in my Raidlight Olmo 20 and my UD PB3.0, they’re unobtrusive and they’re right there when you need them most.
And the best thing? Well for the money you’d think you were perhaps only getting one pole but no, you’re getting a pair. I would really struggle to find any criticism of the Helvellyn poles – but if you think that the £69.00 isn’t quite worth it and you don’t mind a little bit more weight then they have now produced an aluminium version called Catbells these will set you back a mere £39.00 at the time of writing and although I haven’t used them myself can you really argue with this kind of pricing?
Soft Water Bottles (500ml), Standard Caps and Long Straw Caps There are very few soft bottles that enhance the flavour of water, most of them make it taste a bit shitty to be honest. Thankfully the big brains at Harrier seem to have it sorted, the taste of the soft bottles is better than most (perhaps the only better one I’ve used was the 350ml Hydrapak soft bottle which was a little bit special). These soft bottles work incredibly well in the context of the Harrier vest and the long straws and wide opening makes them very easy to use. When the race vest is full it can be a little bit of a faff to get them in and out but then this is where the long straws come in handy and you could (if being careful) fill bottles without removing them from the pack (and yes I have done this, although not when exhausted in the middle of the night on an ultra marathon).
The range of colours and options is exceptional and there is something for everyone, mine are the 500ml option and might be purple, although they look very pink, however, regardless of the colour, I think they’re fantastic. These bottles have so far been zero leak and zero problem. Even if one of the bundles isn’t for you then perhaps when you’re looking for new bottles these will be on your list for consideration.
Hydration Bladder I mostly stopped using a hydration bladder when I bought my first UD Signature Series race vest – the revelation that you could have front mounted water bottles seemed so revolutionary back them, however, given the smaller form factor of the Harrier vest I felt the need to try out their bladder (and it was part of the ultra bundle). The bladder itself has a good quality feel to it, the mouth piece is easy to use when on the move and it fits well inside both the Curbar and the Kinder. The vest has a dedicated space for the hydration bladder and it all feels very secure when it is locked in via the clip at the top of the pocket. The length of the hose is more than adequate and perfectly suited for being cut to a size that suits and there are multiple configurations for wrapping the hose around yourself and the vest.
What I did note though was that when filled the bladder sits deep in the vest and takes up much of the available space at the bottom of your race pack, now although you can work around this I find this is the space that I use to keep my waterproofs in (in this or any other race vest) – therefore I want easy access to them but in the Harrier vests I find I have to choose between storing my waterproofs at bottom of the vest or having the bladder in.
My biggest gripe about the bladder though was that it leaked. I took it out on a first run on a very chilly December morning (about 6am) to discover that by the time I gotten to the bottom of my hill my back was soaked and starting to freeze up – I turned around and headed for home. Thankfully I’d caught it in time to stop myself getting to cold and changed all kit and went out running but this was a disappointment. Having looked over the bladder the leak is somewhere near the seal between hose and bladder and therefore this makes it unusable (this was the only piece of kit that got one outing).
Snood Snood, buff, neck gaiter, wrag, scarf, arse wiper – whatever you want to call it, the Harrier version is very pleasant, a little more taut than some of its Buffwear alternatives and fits nicely. The two colour options and designs are very nice, I preferred the blue design over the orange and this piece of fabric I imagine will be as much a life saver as the other 50 I own.
I wonder if I’ll ever need to wipe the old rusty bullethole on it though? Hmmm something to ponder dear reader.
Collapsible Cup With an increased need for events to be more sustainable and environmentally conscious we have seen a huge reduction in single use plastics and difficult to recycle materials. This has meant that the use of a refillable cup is now often a requirement on kit lists of longer races. It’s a simple thing, a scrunchy, weigh next to nothing cup that can easily attach to a race vest.
The Harrier collapsible cup comes in a range of excellent colours and works as well as any other cup of its type, the one downside of these cups is that they can’t really sustain hot contents and in the middle of a loooong race that might be something you want to consider but the good news is that Harrier has something for all you tea and coffee lovers too…
Hot Collapsible Cup I’ve seen collapsible hot mugs before but they’re often heavy and unwieldy, found in the handbags and shoulder bags of the ladies and gents who shop in Fenwicks or on Bond Street and need to be seen to be environmentally supportive but regret that their skinny latte is creating a stench in their overpriced handbag or might drip on to their overpriced ripped jeans. The good news is that the Harrier option is far removed from being a fashion item. Truth to tell it is actually a bit ugly but then I’m no oil painting myself so do I care if my hot collapsible mug wouldn’t walk the runways of Milan and Paris? No.
The hot collapsible cup is sturdy, robust and surprisingly small given the size it can reach when fully erect (I’ve heard that said about myself boom-tish). It’s useful, practical kit for running, fast packing and more general hiking days where space might be an issue.
Drybag I think I’ve owned every type of dry bag in every size over the years; Lomo, Decathlon, Osprey, Exped, Alpkit… the list goes on. Of all the dry bags I’ve used the Alpkit was, and remains the best but be assured the Harrier drybag runs it a close second. Once more the kit is available in a couple of colours and sizes, you’ll want some of these if you intend to use the Harrier running vests because they are not waterproof. I’ve been out for less than a couple of hours in my Harrier vest and the kit on the inside while not soaked through haven’t been dry either. The slim 5 litre drybag is an excellent fit for most key kit and the smaller 2 litre drybag is better for things you want quicker, more immediate access to.
If racing in the Harrier vest and living in Scotland as I do, I would 100% want a series of smaller drybags to supplement the vest and make sure my kit was dry when I needed it.
Survival Bag & Whistle A second whistle in the bundle (the first is attached to the race vest) and a proper survival bag in case you’re totally fucked on a mountain somewhere – much better than a foil blanket and might just save your life, £8.00 seems like a bargain
Fit Now this was a nuisance as I sit between a variety of the Harrier sizes. With the poles I’m 5’9 and therefore could have gone for the large and set them to the minimum sizing or gone for the medium and set it for the longer setting. In the end I chose the medium because I felt that having poles that extended beyond my height would be of little value but having slightly shorter ones might have an application. It turned out I was right and I have found the ability to shrink the poles down a little very useful for going uphill.
When ordering I was shrinking my waistline at a reasonably rapid rate, I’d moved from a 34 inch waist to 32 inch and my chest had started to shrink a little as had my middle and I was facing the annoyance of being between a medium and large. Both sizes fit me but the medium is better though when carry larger amounts of kit I find the large is a good fit too – basically, if you’re right in the middle of a sizing it might be worth going with the smaller size, at least this is my experience with the Harrier race vests and poles.
How much has it cost? That’s a difficult one I bought came without the first aid kit and this was reflected in the price, in total for everything in the ultra bundle it was £170.00 and some change – the bundle saving was around £30.00, so this should have been around £200.00. The second Kinder race vest was a further £59.00 and the Curbar was £54.00. Delivery times were amazingly swift and after ordering it on a Thursday I had it by the weekend and was testing it out on the Sunday morning. Can’t say fairer than that.
Buy or Not? On the trail or on the road this kit performs superbly but it’s not all sunshine and sweet cheeks and we need to understand that no matter how good kit is, there can be issues and Harrier is no different. You have to take into account the value that is in the ultra bundle though and that value is VERY HIGH, you can’t deny that Harrier have gone all out to produce bundles that really do tick every kit list box.
Obviously some of the things in the bundle will be of more use to than others but then on the day you need it, you need it and it will already have been covered by this excellent market disruptor.
It’s worth noting that there aren’t really any alternatives to the ultra bundle, bigger companies will make you buy all the things individually but there are alternatives to the individual items and you should do a comparison before purchasing – because it isn’t ever one size or rather one brand fits all. However, I bought the ultra bundle because it looked great, it was well reviewed and it was at a price point that it almost didn’t matter if it was a load of old shit – but it wasn’t a load of old shit and it has been my joy to be running in it and I expect to get many good years out of most of it.
So to buy or not to buy? That’s for you to decide.
I was hiking up a glacier in Iceland some years ago when I asked the guide, ‘why do you give the kids ice axes?’ He explained that an ice axe gives the less hiking inclined children something to do.
I could see his logic.
No such thought entered my head when I bought ASK adventurer a child specific hiking pole from Decathlon. I bought a child sized hiking pole for her because I figured at some point the child was likely to run out puff going up one of these hills and I did not want to have to carry her.
I’m still waiting for the end of puff.
The MH500 Junior Hiking Pole The junior hiking pole is much like its budget adult variant, it is simple, lightweight and effective.
The sizing moves between 75 and 100cm and is suited for children between about 100 and 145cm. There are a series of small metal holes on the pole that serve as height points and so although not completely adjustable as a more expensive option would be, there are enough height options for all within the range offered.
There is a simple and yet surprisingly comfortable soft foam, ergonomic grip along with a strap to keep it connected to the junior hiker and the pole has an optional basket for the bottom to stop mud and/or snow collecting around the spike. Weighing in at just 170g and a folded length of 58cm this also makes only the smallest of dents in the parents hiking bag when the child has had enough of the pole. On the rare occasions I find myself being handed ASKs pole I will usually store it the side pocket of my OMM Classic 25 and it sits there rather nicely.
Practical use ASK has been using the junior hiking pole for about a year now and although she rarely actually needs it for the uphill hiking it has allowed her to become more skilled in good pole etiquette and use for when she faces the more testing challenges to come. Where it does come into its own is on the downhills, as we hike my partner tends to zig-zag a little bit to reduce the impact on her knees and back and ASK likes to join in with this and so she uses to poles to steady herself as she goes. I also find the pole useful for where loose stones or heavy mud are all around and I can have ASK use her pole to work with me to get the pair of us through to safer ground (yes in difficult situations I do keep my daughter close to hand).
More recently and with a frosty Scottish winter upon us we have seen that the pole has been as valuable in the ice as it has been on climbing hills, ASK has successfully used the pole as much on icy streets and paths as on the hills in recent weeks.
When not in use ASK has also been known to use a bungee cord or two and add the hiking pole to the Universal Gear Rail of her OMM Ultra 8 and this has not impeded her hiking at all. Given her size I would not let her carry the pole in her side pockets for fear of injury during a fall but as she gets older, taller and more secure I am sure this will become an option.
Being so lightweight we find that ASK is more than willing to carry her kit up and down and mountain without complaint whether it is attached to her or whether she is carrying it. Don’t get me wrong she isn’t weighted down with gear but she might carry her own snack and small drink (150ml) and perhaps some gloves or a spare set of buffs for the whole family.
In terms of durability we have had zero issues, over the year we have had it the pole has hiked lots of Scottish hills and many icy trails, there has been no sign of damage, bending and thankfully due to it’s aluminium construction no sign of rusting. Will it last forever? Probably not but it’s not likely to fall apart either, the chances you aren’t planning on climbing Mount Everest with something like this (or your 6 year old for that matter). It is designed for the rough and tumble that a child will subject it to but perhaps without some of the pressures that an adult will exert and to be fair if a child did in some way manage to break this would you really begrudge paying another £5.99 for a replacement?
What does ASK say? Perhaps the best reviewer is my daughter who says, ‘I like it, it helps me up the mountains in Scotland and I use it pull myself along in the deep mud or put it in the river to help me jump over the water. The best thing though is when I dig it in the ice and it helps keeps my feet on the ground’.
Conclusion Cheap, simple, effective. The phrase, ‘you get what you pay for’ doesn’t always apply and when it comes to decathlon gear I feel this very keenly. I opened my conclusion with the word ‘cheap‘ but that is inaccurate I should have said, ‘outstandingly good value’ because as well as being cheap it is well constructed and durable. If you have an adventurously spirited child that looks at mountains and hills and says, ‘let’s go up there today fellow adventurer‘ then this might be an essential purchase for you.
I loved my GoPro Session, I still love my my GoPro Session, the tiny size combined a waterproof body and with really, rather good quality video meant it was the perfect companion to join me on races and document my journey. However, that was 2016, a lifetime ago in technology terms but I’m never that keen on upgrading for the sake of upgrading. I change my kit usually when the old stuff is coming to the end of its useful life.
But the GoPro still works perfectly. A quandary for me to ponder.
The Session though was starting to not do what I wanted and what I wanted was greater, faster, higher quality control. So I started looking at options but the reality is you are left with just a couple of genuine contenders as a replacement. The first is the GoPro Hero 8 (now the Hero 9 too) or the DJI Osmo Action, I opted for the DJI Osmo Actino.
I’m not going to be reviewing this from a technical perspective because there are already dozens of those kind of blogs and vlogs that you can look up. Instead I will be reviewing this from the perspective of an ultra runner/adventurer who uses the Osmo Action to tell my running stories.
Form So for those of you familiar with the GoPro Hero then you’ll be fairly familiar with the DJI Osmo Action. It’s about the same size as the GoPro and about the same weight. Anybody you meet will likely think you’re carrying a GoPro. Compared to my old Session it’s bigger and heavier but in its favour it’s not as wide so when I’m running it sits closer to my body and when teamed with a selfie stick or similar then you can arch the camera firm against your shoulder and you barely know it’s there.
Stability Image stability was a big issue with the Session, when running it would perform poorly in lower light conditions and even in good light conditions there were no guarantees that you’d be able to pull good photographic stills from video footage. (The photo mode simply isn’t fast enough for shooting running pictures). The Osmo deals with this via its image stabilisation process called ‘rocksteady’. But also in general the photographic technology has moved forward significantly and the DJI is superior than the camera it is replacing.
Rocksteady is awesome. It’s the perfect balance between getting footage that looks high energy and getting footage that is usable. I’m not a fan of gimbals as they make everything look so boring and static and therefore the camera needs to offer a decent level of image stabilisation. Remember that running is as much about moving up and down as it is about propelling yourself forward and the Osmo captures this without leaving you with blurry footage.
In the edit the footage that you are achieving is good for both stills and also for video. It means that whether you are taking 12mp photographs with your Osmo or you are grabbing HD stills from the video footage the output is remarkably good. It should be noted that I often only shoot at 1080p/30fps/Rocksteady because the footage I’m shooting is for things like YouTube & Instagram and therefore 4k video seems overkill.
Image stabilisation is available though in 4k/60fps which should pretty much cover most social video needs and beyond. Certainly if, like me, you’re buying this to record runs and races with then you’ll be more concerned about space on your Micro SD card than you will about super high density footage.
Flexibility The flexibility of the Osmo was the reason that it won out over the GoPro (Hero 8) for me with the big thing being the front facing screen which allows for easier set up of shots, especially those that are on the move. I was also impressed that it was super easy to switch between the two screens. This means that if I’m filming during an event I’m spending less and less time faffing about trying to get the perfect image for the blog post.
Front screen is impressive at 1.4 inches, just large enough to be usable and viewable and the 2.25inches of screen space you get on the rear is genuinely excellent with a ‘just sensitive’ enough touchscreen.
However, it isn’t just the dual screen that I find very useful there are a number of other features that make transitioning between running with a camera and putting it away much easier. The voice commands (which are a new feature to me) are super easy to use and even with my lovely Liverpudlian tones it picks up my commands very easily, that said it’s not so happy listening to my little Scottish 6 year old ordering it to ‘take photo’.
The various options for settings are expected but I’m often shooting at the widest possible angle because I’ll be looking to capture landscapes as well as the running and I’m grateful for auto orientation of the screen and therefore for the shooting because this often saves time later in the edit of footage. The Osmo simply gets that I’m not Martin Scorsese and wants to try and help me out.
Waterproof: The waterproof nature of the camera without the need for extra casing was a must, one of the reasons I avoided earlier action cameras was the need for a separate waterproof case which I felt made everything much too bulky and carrying that either mounted to yourself or in one of the valuable pockets of your race vest wasn’t practical over 50 or 100 miles.
I was dubious whether with the removable battery section and various moving parts of the Osmo whether it would truly be waterproof, however, I am very happy to report that the camera is waterproof. I’ve had the Osmo since about August and I’ve out it through some seriously watery adventures, often muddy ones, filthy canals, mudflats and often in icy lochs – never once has the Osmo given me a moments trouble.
DJI claim the camera is waterproof to 11 metres and -10 degrees, I’ve probably only had it down as far as say 3 metres but in freezing water and if I get down to 11 metres I’m probably drowning.
It has been the definition of an ‘action-ready’ camera whatever the situation it has found itself in.
Battery: One area of flexibility that has really impressed me was the ‘action pack’ I purchased as it came with three batteries (cases for each of them) and a few additional goodies.
Those (lightweight) extra battery packs mean that I can keep shooting footage through the whole of an event rather than say having to be concerned about how long my battery will last. It makes good sense that they would throw a couple of batteries into the pack because the battery does not last as long as the GoPro Session (Session has no screens) and you do want to ensure that you get your start line and finish line picture and everything in between. DJI claim that a battery can last over 2hrs and while this probably isn’t far short of the mark the chances are you going to to use the camera in a non-optimal way and therefore reduce its efficiency.
It is also worth noting that the battery change is relatively easy, although when fingers are cold or exhausted it could become a little bit fiddly but then I feel that trying to do anything with fine motor skills after 18hrs on the trail is a proper head fuck anyway.
Lens: Finally on the question of flexibility we have the removable and replaceable lens cover (with the option to add practical filters too). This means that should you damage the lens cover you can still have a fully functioning action camera, this was certainly a big bonus over the GoPro Hero 8 (the Hero 9 now has a replaceable lens cover). If like me you are prone to adventures that come with higher than average risk then having the option to replace the lens is important
Quality I was impressed by the Osmo, but that said it is a relatively expensive piece of kit and I would expect it to be made of materials that are both robust and feel nice. Running your finger over the buttons they have a lovely chunky feeling and the rounded edges feel like they’ll bounce back nicely from a fall or three. Perhaps thats exactly what you want from your action camera, the ability to throw it about and that when it lands it looks as good as the moment you took it out of the box.
Ease There are three parts to ease of use as a runner, the first is deployment of the camera for taking pictures – so form, the second is ease of use of the camera functions and thirdly the ease of se of the software.
Form, fit and ease of access The form I have mentioned, yes it is wider than the Session it is replacing but it is also less deep and because it is waterproof and needs no separate casing it sits comfortably next to the body. I have used this in several of the my race vests front pockets (including my Harrier Kinder, Raidlight Olmo 20 and Ultimate Direction Signature Series PB3) and each of them it has sat in such a way that I had no problem running.
Getting the camera out and putting it back in to my race vest is much easier than I ever imagined and actually is no more hassle than the Session ever was. There are obviously other ways of wearing this as a runner such as in a chest mounted harness of even a head mounted harness. What I will say is that the head mounted harness is hard work, its like having an uncomfortable head torch on and the chest mounting means that you can’t really use it with a race vest or bag (well I can’t), plus both the head and chest then have severe limitations to the angles and type of footage that can be achieved.
A shitty self stick or an expensive gimbal? Much of the fit also goes to the kind of selfie stick that you use with your action camera and I always team it with something nasty and cheap. Why? There are a number of reasons why I refuse to invest in a gimbal but the first is that the kind of adventures I go on often finds me facing giant turd sized perils. Those perils are the thing that make for the most exciting footage, the cost of this is that the selfie sticks often get broken, snapping is not unusual and they certainly don’t last given the beatings they take in all weathers. Gimbals tend to very expensive and therefore breaking them can become an expensive habit that gets costly quickly.
Gimbals also tend to be bulkier than the selfie stick, (though there are some very compact options in gimbals) and these can be something of a nuisance to carry during a race. One of the things I want is to be able to pull my camera out at a moments notice and if the gimbal or selfie stick is too big then getting it in and out can be complicated. Having a lightweight, compact selfie stick gives me the best balance of flexibility in terms of storage and also accessibility.
The final and perhaps most consistent reason that I choose the cheap selfie stick over the gimbal is because I feel that the gimbal creates really dull footage for runners. Now in some sports such as say skiing or water sports then having the gimbal to remove the worst excesses of bounce would be useful. However, in running terms you actually want some bounce, you want movement because that is the natural way of running – when running is done via a gimbal or drone from a POV then it removes all its energy. With good image stabilisation then I see no reason to use a gimbal at all.
And action… I’d been running for about 7 hours in the rain, my hands were 100% fucked and my body felt like a sponge it had soaked up so much water but I really wanted footage of me crossing the Tyne during Ultra North. I yanked out my Osmo, switched it on with the big fat square button on the top and then squeezed the equally big fat red dotted circle to record. A second later the little red light was flashing on the front to indicate recording. Once I had finished recording I pressed the circular button again and the the recording stopped and a minute later the screen auto shut down because it knew I had simply forgotten to power it down.
My head was pretty mashed in the later stages of the race and often is and I have been known to only shoot footage from the first half of an event because of it. However, during the maiden race for the Osmo I was happily able to use it from start to finish and this was down very much to the ease of the software and button setup of the camera.
It is true that I’d prepared my settings 1080p / 30fps / video but beyond that it was then simply a matter of pressing two buttons and to be fair the powering up step can be missed out if you’d rather just hit the circle button – it will then just record footage. I don’t mess with the touchscreen when I’m running because I figure this is a way to mess things up but changing recoding resolution, aspect ratio or frames per second on the move is easy enough to do should you really wish.
The footage stores itself sequentially on your SD card(s) and so this makes it easier to recall running or eventing for when I might be editing several days, weeks or months later. Its a damn fine user experience and this is extended, thankfully, to the software that comes with it for your smartphone.
And edit… I wanted a better camera to device experience than the GoPro Session when I upgraded. I mean the Session was mostly fine but a little bit cumbersome and the desktop editing software was a massive bag of wank, so DJI didn’t have much to improve upon. DJI MiMo (My Moment) is the software they offer and it is a huge leap forward in the way to handle and edit video. As a graphic designer I am used to using Adobe Premiere and After Effects for video work but this running footage needed to be editable in a quick fun way, not have all my time and effort devoted to crafting Hollywood style blockbusters. Therefore DJI MiMo from my iPhone offered quick connectivity to the camera, easy downloads and then a full suite of excellent editing tools to craft very social video files that have been doing the rounds of some of the Facebook groups and my IGTV feed in recent weeks.
MiMo is also the beneficiary of regular updates which makes the software more stable and more usable, and on the subject of software updates, the camera itself is the recipient of semi regular updates too and all of this takes place in the background ensuring that your camera is ready for adventuring when you are.
If you follow me at my blog here ultraboyruns.com or on my new Facebook page there are a variety of videos that I have been creating and I usually split the editing between iMovie and MiMo, not because one is better than the other but because they offer slightly different tonal outputs. MiMo is the superior of the software though and is incredibly easy to use.
I suppose there is the question of, ‘would i find it easy to use if I didn’t have a background in creative?’ Well the answer to that is I believe that while I perhaps have a small advantage in the edit process that this is something that anybody who knows how to use a smartphone would be able to do. DJI have made action video creation a real option for those who want it, though you might just be somebody that wants to take pictures with your action camera and that is fine too. If you are likely to be using your Osmo for shooting video and then grabbing stills from it there is no way (as far as I can tell) to grab a still within the MiMo environment, for grabbing video footage stills I tend to use Framegrabber which is an app available for both iOS and Android.
Footage & output Output is created in either .mov or .mp4 format. The footage is of a generally very high quality and can be captured at 4k/60fps with an excellent in-built microphone, though this can be upgraded by adding an external microphone. For the purposes of running I find the supplied mic more than sufficient and the lower end of the video spectrum will cover most needs. When casting 1080p footage I have edited to a 4k 55inch Samsung television the output has been very good – not quite movie quality but more than sufficent for showing to your nearest and dearest as they fall asleep watching your running movies.
Why? The question of why I bother shooting my running and editing the footage together for social media has come up more than once. The reason I take the action camera with me and share so much running related video content is because it combines to two things I enjoy most – creativity and running. I really don’t give two flying fucks if you watch it, don’t watch it, love it or hate it – I make this stuff for myself. However, if one person is inspired to get their running shoes on or go and get muddy on a trail somewhere then that is a bonus.
Conclusions I can’t judge whether the Osmo Action is better than the latest version of the GoPro Hero because I haven’t extensively tested the GoPro but I have extensively tested the DJI and I can tell you that the Osmo Action is an amazing action camera.
The combination of quality, ease of use, output and importantly price point make this a very real option for purchase. I paid less than £250 for the camera, three batteries, charger, cage and a pair of mounts (the app is a free download). To put this in perspective I paid nearly £200 for my GoPro Session which offered no additional power sources (sealed unit meant you couldn’t change the battery) but a couple of mounts and that was 5 years ago.
I love the ease of use of Osmo and have both increased and improved my adventure video and photographic output. If you are interested in action cameras and shooting your adventures then this is very much worth considering.
I’ve used my Osmo Action for all sorts of activity and although running is the primary thing that I capture footage of I have also regularly used it for open water swimming, mountain biking, sledging, paddle boarding, kayaking, fast hiking, roller skating, hill walking and even motor homing, the options are limitless. The question is in camera terms is how far will you go in search of adventure and do you want to record it?
Perhaps the key features that determined which action camera I was going to buy were the dual screens and the replaceable lens cover (both now available on the Hero 9, a product that wasn’t available when I bought the DJI and remains significantly more expensive than the Osmo Action). When you’re researching which one to buy you’ll see that the difference in footage quality, colour saturation, image stabilisation, warping, image correction, microphone, etc is nominal and so it really comes down to personal preference but it was the Osmo that made me part with my money.
About half a dozen years ago I bought a Montane Prism gilet, I’ve worn that gilet thousands of times during my ownership, I’ve used it in every condition, races, hiking, shopping and everything in between. It has been (and remains) one of my all time favourite pieces of kit that I own. It’s never failed me and it endures.
But this isn’t a review of my six year old Montane Prism gilet – this is a review of the latest edition of the Montane Prism jacket which I bought recently. Could this jacket be anywhere as good as the gilet it was brought in to support? The very simple answer is, ‘yes’.
I’m a self confessed Montane fan but that doesn’t mean that I love everything they do, there’s some of their kit that simply isn’t right for me but the Prism is not one of these things – the Prism jacket fits me like the proverbial glove. So what do Montane say are the features of the Prism;
CHEST POCKET External chest pocket with YKK zip. UB says: The chest pocket is a small easy accessible place to store your phone, snack or train ticket that won’t be impeded by your rucksack or bag. It’s large enough to be useful but not large enough to allow you to overfill. The angle that it is set at also means that you’ll find access even easier when you are on the move. The addition of the YKK zip is welcome too, at least for me, having used some of lightweight zips I find them to be much more easily broken, I’d rather have the miniscule extra grammage to ensure I’ve got a zip that works and will last.
ELASTICATED CUFFS Low bulk elasticated cuffs to reduce heat loss. UB says: Nice and simple close fitting elasticated cuffs, your gloves will go beneath if they need to and the cuffs will move around with you if you’re doing something active. Adjustable cuffs are a good but for something that you might throw on when it cools down a bit and your hands are already chilly this is ready to go the moment you put it on.
HELMET COMPATIBLE HOOD Fully adjustable roll-away insulated climbing helmet-compatible hood with stiffened peak. UB says: Montane are correct in saying this is a fully adjustable hood, I have tested it with my kayaking helmet and can confirm it is helmet compatible and the adjustability is excellent for both those foul days where you need your face protected but also those dog walking days where you just fancy keeping your ears warm and you’ve forgotten your Big Bobble Hat.
STUFFS INTO OWN RIGHT POCKET Stuffs into the right-hand pocket with internal carabiner loop. UB says: One of the things I love about the gilet was that it stuffed inside itself and was further compressible to make a very small little package indeed. The jacket is equally impressive in its self stuffing pocket and although it doesn’t compress down as far as the gilet (more fabric to stuff) it remains a very tight and compact unit. Additionally the overall weight (around 390g) of the jacket means that carrying it in your rucksack is no chore as it is neither heavy nor bulky unlike say my Montane Extreme Smock.
PERTEX® QUANTUM 30 Denier PERTEX® QUANTUM outer with Durable water repellency. UB says: You assume they aren’t lying about the material it’s made from but the water repellency is rather good, yes eventually it’ll take a soaking but for the most part its good in a heavy shower or a lighter shower for a long time. I normally team my Prism with my Montane Neo Further Faster which is one of their heavier duty waterproofs and this provides an excellent layering of insultation and waterproofness from the Scottish mountain environments.
INSULATION 40g/m2 PrimaLoft® Silver 100% recycled insulation. UB says: I use this jacket up mountains and while shopping, its got a versatility to it that other jackets simply don’t. The level of warmth isn’t so much that you can’t use on a chilly summer evening but it will also help protect you in the middle of winter. The level of insulation means that it works perfectly in a layering system – so a base layer and mid layer will easily fit beneath it and it can be combined with any number of layers over it such as a waterproof. I’ve never been cold in my Prism jacket and my Prism gilet saw me through multiple winters in the South East of England – I never wore a coat I would just chuck my gilet over my running gear and stand on freezing cold train platforms and never be bothered by a chill. The jacket does the same job just that bit more all encompassing.
RIP-STOP LINING FEATHERLITE™ Mini Rip-stop 20D nylon lining. UB says: Soft to the touch and durable – the Prism is made to last and the lining is lovely.
ARTICULATED ARMS Articulated arms for high reach movement. UB says: Does the Prism jacket ride up when you raise your arms? No. The freedom of movement provided by a jacket that retails for around £120 is fantastic. The articulated arms are perfect for giving you the ability to make the moves you want to without letting the cold air in from underneath.
YKK VISLON & ZIP Full-length YKK VISLON® front zip with internal storm flap. UB says: Two way zip only on alpine red? Meh, fine – it is certainly no deal breaker. The YKK zip is again worth the few extra grams and the storm flap keeps everything cosy, I’ve never had a problem with it and I doubt you will either.
MAP-SIZED HAND POCKETS Two insulated map-sized hand pockets with YKK zips UB says: I have dozens of Harvey and OS maps and I prefer not to use a map holder therefore having map sized pockets is actually quite important to me. The thing you can say about these pockets is that they provide an excellent roast- toasty location for your digits. Even when weighed down by gloves, technology or Mars Bars I find the pockets remain comfortable and don’t make me look too much like a man with a massive beer gut.
CONCLUSIONS My experience with the Montane Prism jacket has been exceptional, I’ve already said that I use it both on mountains and also while shopping. It is comfortable, the new styling is fantastically attractive and it does exactly what it supposed to. Traversing the Ochils or climbing up mountains in Glencoe this jacket, in the short time it has been with me, has done it all and I feel like it will be around for a long time.
Can I find fault with the Montane Prism jacket after 6 months of ownership through the Scottish autumn and early winter? The easy to answer to this is, No. I usually like to find something I dislike about a product but it’s hard to find anything bad to say. Customer service from Montane is exceptional, colourways are excellent and the product performs as expected and beyond.
In harsh conditions I could easily use this for running, although obviously that is not its primary function, but on a harsh multi-day running event then this would be first to make my kit list. Overnight wild camping this jacket would be right at home and would be perfect for those nights you’re wanting to sit out under the stars before you retire to your bothy, tent or motorhome (yes I said motorhome).
Yes you could pay a lot more and get a jacket with features that you don’t need but why bother? The Montane Prism gives you so much for your money and perhaps that is why is one of my favourite pieces of kit, it offers exceptional value from a trusted brand. Of course there are excellent alternatives out there and Montane might not suit your frame or might not be to your aesthetic tastes but this Update is certainly worth considering if you need a new ‘catch-all’ jacket.