This is a tough and grueling multi stage Ultrathon of epic distance and ascent , 5 stages that would cover 150 miles and climb just under 20,000 feet . It would test all of its competitors to the limit …Ran by Dave Scott and Phil Briggs of Sandbaggers fame , it’s a race renowned for being tough , they are apparently nick named “The Evil Twins” for reasons that I would understand fully later on in the week …
I approached this race with caution , my feet were still in bits from the Marathon Des Sable and I hadn’t been able to run up until the Sunday before the start and that hadn’t gone well as it had given me a brand new blister !!! despite this off I went down to Glen Trool to have a go ….
I had agreed to pick up Jo Kilkenny and her good Friend Justin McLaurin from Dumfries railway station, however Jo had fallen asleep on the train and missed her Carlisle stop and had arrived in Glasgow !!! ,so as she headed back from Glasgow I headed directly to Carlisle to pick her up , Justin unfortunately had to make do with the sights of Dumfries for a little while longer , but it wasn’t long before we were all deposited in Glen Trool and meeting our fellow competitors .. everyone was a pleasure to be around , a fairly mixed bunch of male and female runners from all over the UK , all age groups from a young and very fit Mark Caddy to a few of us that should have known better !!
Amongst us was Donnie Campbell , a super talented young and without doubt soon to be legendary runner on the Ultra scène . He will soon attempt to run from Glasgow to Skye in one go , this is 184 miles of multi terrain , and after witnessing this lad run over the last week I have no doubt he will finish with something to spare ! : find his cause HERE
Stage 1 .. Bargrennan to St John’s Town of Dalry 22 miles / 1787 feet
The day of Stage 1 was beautiful ,sun was shining and I could hear the birds chirping away as I got changed into my running kit , what a day to start off …..
BANG .. off we all went through the bridge and straight away on to a beautiful loch side path , undulating steeply up and down along Loch Trool , I shot off like I was in an 6 mile hill race , running all the ups and downs , cranking the steeps … then I realised I was in second place behind Donnie Campbell , steady on Mark !! .. you have 150 miles ahead not 6 and you certainly can’t be second place in a field of strong runners like these !!! .. I slowed it down a notch and eventually 2 other runners passed me , fair go , these boys look like they can run a bit .. later on Jo Kilkenny caught me up and I stayed with her for the next few miles , we entered an off road hilly section with only a few hundred metres between us and she disappeared behind a dyke and I never saw her again , she can move over the rough ground so she can …
My blisters were giving me serious aggravation at this point and I couldn’t wait to get to the finish but after I gained the road again it was a long 6-7 mile section of country lane, I had slowed down considerably at this point due to pain in my heels , I later double taped them and had no problems ,just when I thought that the finish couldn’t be far the lane took a 90 degree turn over a bridge and a huge grassy hill climb presented itself to me … no way !! I was knackered !! but I had to press on , up I went , from the top I could see the St Johns Town of Dalry , it was very picturesque and looked like it should be on a post card , a quick run along the top and on the other side a descent so steep that my legs threatened to collapse .. then all of a sudden the campsite was right there and I dived in to the finish .. I had came in 5th behind Jo .
We enjoyed our camp that night , it was sunny , we sun bathed by a beautiful river and shared tales of past experiences ..
Stage 2 .. St John’s Town of Dalry to Wanlochead 35 miles / 5400 feet
We awoke to horrible cold and wet weather which as the day went on was to deteriorate to a full on gale force storm .. but onwards and most certainly upwards ….
BANG!! .. stage 2 started with a fast run in over great cross country paths then up over the very steep Ben Brack Hill , Jo and I had been running pretty much the same pace and decided to stick together through the bad weather , I was glad of her company as it was a long 35 mile day … we worked hard and climbed , climbed and climbed this day , it seemed like we ran forever up hill , the only time I consciously stopped moving for a rest in the whole race was climbing the big hill to the top of Ben Brack .. 600 metres straight up !! fucked !!! there was a huge Stone arch on top of this hill , for what I don’t know but it was cool .. we made good time together and we eventually passed through Sanqhar past the Black Lochs and up into another steep wild section of hills , in the last 5 miles heading to the old mining town of Wanlockhead we encountered severe weather , gale force winds and driving rain , we ran into camp to be welcomed by Dave and Donnie with warm cups of coffee and tea … I was exhausted and hit the sack for an early night … I awoke later in the night with my tent collapsed into my face, the winds and sheet rain were doing their best to rip my tent off the ground , there was nothing I could do , then SNAP .. my tent pole snapped and the whole tent fell onto my body , shit !! ,I was still dry though so I just lay there , fell asleep again and sat it out till the morning .
Stage 3 .. Wanlochead to Moffat .. 24 miles / 3700 feet
This was to be the worst start of the week , in fact if my mates in the Mountain rescue had seen this they would have been sending us back to our tents with a smacked arse , entering the high hills in such extreme conditions , however we are not Sunday stroll walkers , we are extreme athletes , no ? well you get my drift .. we have screws missing ..
So off we went up through Wanlockhead and into the Lowther hills , driving rain , gale force winds and 20 foot visibility .. Jo and I ran up the hills and onto the high moorland , this was tricky , trying to navigate in these conditions and run at a decent pace , we slowed it down and fought our way through the weather , we caught up with Mark Caddy , currently in second place , he decided to stay with us for a while , we hit the next checkpoint and discovered that Andy who was in third place was lost on the hill , nothing to worry about though as he was experienced and would find his way eventually .. we battled on and eventually hit the Daer reservoir , a beautiful distraction to our battle with the weather before heading ever upwards and into another set of steep climbs and 20 metre visibility , eventually we fell out of the mist into an amazingly beautiful forest run where we made good pace and ate up the miles quickly back to our campsite .. this was only 24 miles today but it had felt like 40 !!!
Stage 4 .. Moffatt to Traquair via St Marys loch .. 36 miles / 4000 feet
This was my favourite section of the whole run , maybe because it’s my back yard but definitely because it was the most picturesque scenery we had ran all week , the weather broke around 11am so as to reveal the Borders beauty at its best .. running along forest paths , up windy sheep trails between hills , up over hill tops and glorious sunshine , I was buzzing !
Jo , Mark Caddy and I running as a group again , eating up the miles , it really was an experience I enjoyed immensely , seeing St Marys loch as we came over the hills above it , running alongside it up the south bank , I even tossed my rucksack at one point and dived in .. I just couldn’t resist it … although I later came to realise that this may not have been my best idea ever but who knows … then up and over the hills above St Marys to enter the Tweed Valley above Traquair where we would spend the night next to Traquair House .. AWESOME !!! only 20 miles to go tomorrow , I was in 4th place and was feeling strong .. I couldn’t have felt better …………….. well at leat until 2am that is !!!
*** WARNING *** those of a squeamish nature should not read below … I always write as I feel it was , warts and all I don’t hide anything or hold back .. so read on at your pearl !! this is not pretty !!
I had something going on earlier with my stomach , a feeling , like a nervous stomach , one I thought was related to hunger , sugar drinks , gels , one dehydrated meal to many .. who knows ?? but something was tickling it !
I ate a bag of crisps, scrounged half a fish supper from a Marshall rather than eat a dehydrated meal , I even drank a load of coke to try to ease it if it was a tummy bug but something was definitely going on in there and it wasn’t going away. I was feeling hot and agitated , couldn’t sleep then at 2am I felt it , I was going to be sick .. instantly ! , I jumped up and crawled over Paul my tent mate , I couldn’t get out quick enough .. it was pitch black and pissing down with rain.. instantly I was violently retching everything that was left in my stomach out onto the wet grass , 20 minutes I was out there , my stomach felt like it was inside out , eventually it subsided and I was able to get back into the tent , but only for 10 minutes before it was game on again but this time from both ends .. fuck !!!! I was outside a load of tents , being violently sick , shitting foam and freezing to death in bare feet as they were to sore to get my shoes on quickly enough … this went on for hours , my tent mates must have been up all night , for this I am sorry but it was a near death type experience .. if it was possible I would have shared lavvy roll with god !!!! , I could not even hold down a drink of water .. I eventually ran out of bodily fluids to evacuate and I was able to lie in the tent for a few hours come sun up .. I was severely dehydrated and weak , I could feel a slight temperature building , I knew I was not in a position to head out into the hills .. so I made the decision not to carry on , I pulled out 20 miles before the end , I was gutted , .. later in the day as my fever rose and my health deteriorated further I knew that it had been the right decision.
I was later diagnosed to have a Cryptosporidium parasitic infection , something that I must have picked up during the race … it was NASTY !! lets say say no more 😀
Id like to thank Sandbaggers , Dave Scott and all for the fantastic race , every Sandbaggers event I have been to has had a magical element of fun and great people in attendance , organizer’s and competitors alike ………. thank you and Ill see you in the Gobi !!
NOTE: Later that month I returned to continue my crossing of the Southern upland way and completed it in good style. It is a truly superb crossing of Scotland and walk or run its worth the blisters 😀