The Outer Hebrides Traverse 2019 | How to Slay the Hebridean Way.

I am guessing if you’re reading this, you’ve read the other blogs. You know the deal. If not go back and read them. It will make more sense. The premise is pretty easy. I set out to take an all-female team to run the Hebridean Way, a 156-mile journey across the Outer Hebrides followed by a 30-mile extension up to the Butt of Lewis. I wanted to do this in 5 days. This was a test pilot trip for Rat Race Adventure Sports. If successful, it will go on to become a Bucket List event. We would be route finding, route checking, and sense checking if it could be done.  Of the women I took, none of them had notable experience of multi day ultras. Of the women I took, all of them inspired, flourished and fought their own battles along the way. This is our story.  Or my version of it.

That start line . Photo Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

That start line. Photo Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Day Zero: Travel Day

 After a full days volunteering at the amazing Centurion Autumn 100, I hot footed it over to Stanstead and got to the last flight of the day to Glasgow. There I met Anna and Lorna – two of my 8 woman team, at the travel lodge at the airport where we drank wine and talked about nerves. The next morning we were met by Laura and Gary Tompsett – the only male member of the team and our king of navigation and safety processes. What Gary doesn’t know about road crossings isn’t worth knowing. We jumped in the vehicles and headed towards Tyndrum where we would RV with the rest of the team, and it was there, in a coffee shop just off the road about an hour from Tyndrum, that the team came together for the first time over coffee and cake. Our drivers/crew turned up (Davy and Bill) and we almost had a full house. Our video crew would join us later. 

So we have me, Lorna Spayne, Anna Brown, Amanda Butler, Kim Hopkinson, Laura Fisher, Gillian McColl, Kirsty Aplin and Alice Kirk. Only three things link us all. We are all female, we all like running and we had all said yes to this huge challenge. We were finally joined by Kate Worthington – expert mountain leader, all-round legend, and the final piece of our jigsaw – she would help look after us all once we set out on our journey across one of the remote parts of the UK. 

Ferry squad.

Ferry squad.

We bundled into the vans and tried to get some sleep. Once at the ferry terminal at Tyndrum, we picked up our film crew (Leo and Oscar) and boarded our boat, headed for Vatersay. The crossing was 4 hours – so plenty of time to talk team tactics and overall plan. The team split, with logistics and film guys on one side of the boat talking strategy, and myself and the running squad on the other, talking mainly shit. I took the time to try and explain what to expect – even though I had no idea. We talked pace and what we would do if the group started to separate, what we would do if someone got injured and what we would do if the weather turned. It was about managing expectations. Of course, we all wanted to complete – that’s what we were there for. But it was a big ask on a route that was largely unknown in weather we couldn’t control. I wanted the team to understand that. I’ve learnt from experience that these trips don’t always work out the way you want them to. I’m not sure any of them really understood the reality of this happening at that point. We were all high on the excitement of the ideal scenario. Outside, pods of dolphins followed the boat as the Outer Hebrides stretched out in front of us. 

 Our shelter for the first night was the legendary Castle Bay Hotel in Vatersay. Everyone disappeared for a bit of kit faff and then we all had dinner together. Final briefing done. We were leaving at 7am the next morning to head to the start of the Hebridean Way. It was happening.  

Girder! The start of the Hebridean Way  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Girder! The start of the Hebridean Way Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Day 1 – Vatersay to South Uist

33.5 Miles // Start time 8.15am  // Moving time 10:31:24 // elapsed time: 14:02:34

After the first 6am wake-up call of the week, a swift breakfast and final kit check, we were in the van headed for the start line. The Hebridean Way is marked by what looks like a big old rusty girder. It was the first of many insanely stunning mornings. The sky burnt pink as the sun came up. We headed to the beach, touched the water. Alice read a poem. I tried not to cry.  

The poem Alice read before we set off.

The poem Alice read before we set off.

And like that, we were off. The pictures say it all. This was what it felt like. This was what it looked like.

Laura touches the water at the start of the 158 mile Hebridean Way.  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Laura touches the water at the start of the 158 mile Hebridean Way. Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

The day started on quiet sweeping roads and then took us upwards on trails that although marked by posts, were in no way obvious. Very few people pass through here. The ups were steep and boggy and the downs were steep and boggy. Stepp and boggy was the order of the day. And week. There was a lot of falling over as we got used to the terrain. The term “adventure bum” was coined due to the fact that we all looked like we’d had some sort of terrible accident from behind. The day was so clear that from the hill tops we could see St. Kilda – a world heritage site 50 miles off-shore. Uninhabited since it was evacuated in the 1930s, now home to millions or rare birds and sometimes the military, a place stood still in time. Look it up. I want to go there so badly. Gary told us that some people never see that sight in their lifetime. It was only because the day was so clear that we could see it. 

The route continued over the cliffs, sometimes taking us on road and then quickly off again, and down onto the beach. We saw fat seals lolling about. We were all full of beans and making really good progress, more or less managing to stick together as a squad. There were definitely stronger runners in the team, but we were managing well. Lunch that day was overlooking Barra Airport.  An airport that operates off the sandy beach when the tide was out. The beach is the runway. I know, right?

This is a photo of a real beach in Scotland. I know, right?  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

This is a photo of a real beach in Scotland. I know, right? Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

We watched planes coming and going. The crew had got us hot water and ALL the snacks. It was brilliant. We ran the remaining mile to the ferry terminal. Here we had a 2 hour wait for the ferry – the lunchtime sailing had been cancelled which meant we were missing out on vital hours of running. We took the time to change our wet socks, eat and drink warm coffees in the little café. We agreed to run off the ferry and go as far as we could – we wanted to make it to 28 miles that day and so we had at least 18 miles to complete on the other side. The ferry would get in at about 5pm. 

Laura smashed it towards the beach. It’s the plugging away  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Laura smashed it towards the beach. It’s the plugging away Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Causeways. Windy fuckers.  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Causeways. Windy fuckers. Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

As we ran off the ferry the locals stared at us. They’re obviously never seen anything like this before. On we pushed along roads and a huge causeway. It was at this point Kim took a tumble on the road, managing to cut her head and smash her glasses in what was, looking back on it, quite a comedy moment. It wasn’t at all funny at the time. She fell hard and was obviously pretty shocked. We patched her up best we could and pressed on.

Patching Kim up.

Patching Kim up.

It was starting to get dark as we approached the beaches. The sunset was ridiculous. People talk about the light in the Outer Hebrides, and now I know why. It’s insane. Leo and Oscar were having a field day. We pressed on across beautiful white beaches and trails. It was very, very windy. As darkness crept in, we were RV’d by the crew van. We decided to eat and keep going. We would try and make up as many miles on this easily runnable trail as we could before retiring. At a previous pit stop, Alice decided to get in the van. She said she felt like she was holding the group up, and having done 20 miles that day was OK with her decision. She said that she only really wanted to do 20 miles a day anyway. I didn’t beIieve her then and I don’t believe her now.  I took note of this. Alice would head to the accommodation and we would continue into the night. We gave her a cheer and got on with it. 

That light.  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

That light. Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

These were decent firm trails so, whilst we couldn’t see anything but cow eyes glinting in the light of our headtorches, they were runnable. We called it a night at around 10.30pm and got in the van back to the accommodation which was a repurposed old peoples home and quite frankly weird as FUCK.  We had covered almost 34 miles. We were all knackered.  We were suffering from the travelling the day before and having dealt with some pretty punchy terrain and strong winds that day, we just wanted to get to bed. But the day doesn’t end here. You need to unpack your kit, repack your kit, eat, wash and get ready for the next day and that 6 am wake up. We got to sleep around 1am. 

That sunset  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

That sunset Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Day 2 – South Uist to North Uist via Benbecula

40 miles // Start time: 7.42am // Moving time 12.21.57 // Elapsed time: 13:04:42

6am, up and about. I had packed my stuff the night before, because that’s how I roll. My strategy is get in, unpack bag and repack bag with everything – snacks, emergency kit, everything - before you allow yourself to wash and eat. It makes the morning so much easier, and gives you time to eat and drink coffee. If you leave it until after you’ve eaten and got changed, you won’t do it and will rush in the morning. Do it whilst you’re still semi sharp and can remember what you have used that day and need to replace. We got back in the vans and headed to the point at which we had finished the day before. The sun burnt red on grey as it started to come up above the mountains. It was like we had found Mordor.

Once again the morning trails were really runnable but the wind was up. The route took us along the beach and then onto a road and into peat bog land. I loved it. I love boggy trails, they’re fun and challenging and if (like me) you’re wearing sealskinz socks, you have warm dry feet the whole time. The groups was now really spread out between two camps, with Alice and Kim towards the back and the others out front. I tried to stay in the middle with Lorna. I was worried about the girls at the front overcooking it, and worried about those at the back feeling shit.  The sun started to come out and we were treated to the sight of deer running up ahead of us. It was stunning. The heather was burnt red. The wind caught it, making it look like fine fox hair. I was truly happy here. We didn’t see a single other soul. We ran up hills, through bogs, over the occasional boardwalk and under huge wind turbines and on towards Davy and Bill and the vehicles. 

Morning Skies  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Morning Skies Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Dem bogs  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Dem bogs Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Beach squad  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Beach squad Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

We eventually came off the moorland and onto the road. I had started to slowly feel REALLY shit. I thought about what I had eaten and realised I hadn’t eaten ANYTHING that wasn’t beige or processed for at least 24 hours. It had all been crisps, biscuits and just add water pouches. The vehicles were parked in the co-op car park at Benbecular. As soon as we got there I went in and bought a bag of baby spinach and ate the whole thing like a bag of crisps. I immediately felt better. Davy and Bill had boiled water for coffee and couldn’t look after us enough. They are the fucking heroes of this trip.  I’d also bought my own stash – Purdeys (drink of champions), Ginsters vegan pasties, rice pudding and bananas. Those would be my staples. Those were my dark times foods.   

 The team dealt with their feet – some people were suffering more than others. I have never had so many women ask me for lube in a car park before. Spirits were up. I bloody love food. We pressed on, with the next section presenting long, beautiful white beaches. A bit of dune training for Anna who is training for MDS followed, plus a girl band style photo shoot on some old hay bales. We were taking this whole thing very seriously. The beaches stretched on and on - pure white sand and not a single soul on them. They opened up into dunes and farmland and then roads which lead to a mountain that Gary kept referring to as a “big hill”. In front of us stood Ruabhal, the highest point on Benbecular, with the most mental 360 degree views. Once up there it was beautiful. I have pictures, they don’t do it justice. From the summit all you can see is mini lochs and heather moorland. No people. No cars. Just you and the outdoors. 

Climbing to the summit of Ruabhal  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Climbing to the summit of Ruabhal Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Way better than my photos.  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Way better than my photos. Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

The run down was brilliant fun, avoiding the rocks and falling in bogs made me feel like I was 8 years old again, and at the bottom we found the support vans. I was STARVING at this point. It was vegan pasty and banana time, people. Except it wasn’t. Because the jerry can that was in the back of the van had leaked half a litre of diesel onto everything in there. Including my snacks. I could feel the ultra-strop brewing.  I didn’t want anything else. I wanted my pasty and a banana. I stuffed a load of crisps into my bag and grabbed my head torch. Fuck this shit. Fuck it all.

On top of the world before diesel gate  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

On top of the world before diesel gate Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Ultra-strop mode on, and I caught up with the rest of the squad on the road. We were running towards darkness again. At around the 20 mile mark Alice announced that she was once again getting in the van. Amanda tried to follow but we stopped her. I didn’t want her to be making the mistake of cutting the day short. I was sure Amanda was just having a moment. Alice had made up her mind. Amanda had not.  I should have paid more attention to Alice on this day. I wish I had. She’d been behind us most of the day. She went back to the accommodation while we pressed on. Amanda was NOT happy about carrying on, but Gary and Kate were breaking the mileage down into bite sized chunks and were spoon feeding them to her. Good strategy. It worked. 

Anna check the map on Day 2.  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Anna check the map on Day 2. Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

 We went on for what seemed like miles. It was mega windy and dark and the track was difficult. Navigation was nigh on impossible, and at about 9pm we agreed to stop for the night. We would get more miles done in the day. We ordered Chinese food for Davy and Bill to pick up. YES, STEAMED VEG! (please note 5 of use ordered this). We would pick it up on the way to the hostel we were staying in for the night. We got in the van. It STUNK of diesel. We got to the Chinese. Lorna threw up in the car park. Good woman. We got to the hostel and got the food out. No steamed veg. I could feel another strop brewing. But I just ate cold wayfarer and thought about my dog instead.

 That night before dinner, I went upstairs and found Alice in bed. She had definitely been crying. She asked if she could talk to me after I had got changed, but I told her to talk to me there and then. She said she felt shit. Mentally shit, like she wasn’t good enough to be there. She said she was too slow and was getting left behind. She said she felt like a failure. This broke my heart but also made me weirdly angry. I explained that, yes, she WAS slower because she was 30 years older than everyone else on the trip but that DIDN’T mean that she shouldn’t be here, and it certainly didn’t mean she was shit. She was putting those thoughts into her own head, she was imagining what other people were thinking (some people had made it very obvious what they were thinking to be fair) and then beating herself up with those thoughts. We had a long talk and I reminded her where she was and what she was doing. It was down to her to make the best of this situation. We had to work as a group, and if that meant some people making sacrifices, that was how it would be. Part if the experience of doing stuff like this with other people is learning about how groups work and how to make them work for you. We would have to think of a way to make this work for Alice and everyone else. I went back downstairs. I think Alice was OK. She had stuff to think about. 

Needed to break the text up so chose this one.  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Needed to break the text up so chose this one. Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Downstairs with the rest of the group, we talked about our progress. Would we get to the Butt of Lewis? Was it too early to tell? Sure enough, the issue of pace came up.  We didn’t have the support crew to have two separate pace groups. This was part of the test. Definitely something to think about should this go ahead as an event. We would have to work it out together. People were tired and some were snapping and saying things that I hoped they didn’t mean. Tiredness does that to you. I suggested everyone go to bed, and stayed up a bit longer chatting about the route and various solutions with Gary and Kate. We agreed to see how it went the following day and make a call. The following day would be crucial. I got to bed at about 1am. 

Day three begins with a photo shoot on a pier.  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Day three begins with a photo shoot on a pier. Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Day 3 North Uist – Harris

30 miles // Start Time: 8.17am // Moving time: 10.39.52 // elapsed time: 14:09:22

I got up early to make scrambled egg for everyone because I am a hero. Food unites people. Unless you’re a vegan. Then it starts fights with people. No vegans on this trip though. I made sure of that. (JOKE EVERYONE). The girls marvelled at the amount of butter I put in the eggs. I explained this was a Somerset thing. The eggs were great. People were full. People seemed happy. It was time to go.

Lauras game face day three.  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Lauras game face day three. Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

It had rained during the night but was now clearing and the sun was starting to rise. We drove back to where we had finished the night before, jumped out and got on with it. We had to run 16 miles to the next ferry crossing. It was another beautiful morning and the trails were easy to run, if not totally fucking soaking wet. We ran past a small stone circle – like hobbit small, and up and over towards a short section of road that led us up onto more boggy moorland and some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever run in. I kept an eye on Alice. She was clever. She wasn’t getting left behind, instead she was running to catch up and tucking into the middle of the group, using the others as pressure to keep moving. Other people were falling back – Kim and Amanda and Lorna bought up the rear. Strong and well paced. Stags and deer stared back at us from far away. I felt happy and strong. The team were running well. We turned off the road section back onto the moors. The terrain was rocky, wet and boggy and just seemed to go up and up. The sun was out, and it was raining slightly. Rainbows appeared everywhere. We ran towards them and through them, up ‘Gary’s Hills’ (aka mountains) and all of us were on Otter watch. We knew they were there, but they’re shy wee fuckers (as Gillian would say). I think it was that day that we all started to go totally mental. We were tired and we had all been on our own journey to this point and also been part of each others. We were basically reverting to the state of 10-year-old boys, especially when it came to any talk of going to the toilet or Gary’s Road Safety Briefings™, which we all found hilarious. As necessary as they were, we did want to remind him that we were all women of a certain age, some of us mothers, none of whom (bar me, drunk outside the Hammersmith Apollo) had ever been hit by a car. Every time he started, Gillian started giggling and then it spread. Sorry Gary. We do love you. But please stop blowing that whistle at us.

The use of drones by Oscar and Leo was also making “using the shovel” (aka going for a poo) very difficult. I believe that both of them were obsessed with catching us in the act, and I had noted Leo’s long lens (not a euphemism). I wondered if he was selling photos to www.picturesofgirlspooing.com. If not, he should. Regardless we ran on.

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Literally running to catch the ferry  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Literally running to catch the ferry Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

This was my favourite day. Everything was just so beautiful. Don’t get me wrong it was hard, really hard. We climbed up and over a huge Gary Hill (mountain) called Beinn Mhor, and at the top were rewarded with a view that I will never forget. White beaches and tiny islands spread in front of us as we gazed down at Port nan Long. I can’t explain what it was like, so I won’t try. We ran down the Gary Hill like kids, splashing in and out of bogs, over rocks, sliding over on our arses, to the bottom where we continued on the road and causeway to the ferry terminal at Berneray. The Ferry would take us on the 50 min journey to Leverburgh where we would continue. But how far would we continue? We had to talk about that at lunch and I was dreading it . And we had 2 hours to kill before the ferry. 

The view from the top of Beinn Mhor.  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

The view from the top of Beinn Mhor. Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

 We found a bistro and all ordered massive amounts of hot food and coffee. There was a feeling of unease in the air. I knew some people were way more capable of getting the next part of this journey done than others. But I wanted us all to give it a go.  The ferry would get in at 5pm which meant we would have about 90 mins of daylight. Again, we had wanted to get the lunchtime sailing earlier in the day and would have easily made it, but it had been cancelled due to low tides. I blame Donald Trump. 

We went through times (Gary’s Numberwang) and maps in the bistro. There were choices. Run into darkness, not run into darkness, Put some of the team in the van and meet them later or not do that and al call it a day early. By all accounts, the terrain on the other side was very challenging – our old friend peat bogs was there as were his mates rocks and mountain pass. Kim, Laura and Alice all opted to get in the van and meet us on the other side of the pass – about 5 miles in and then run that bit with us and see how they went. We had still not made a group decision about whether or not we were still aiming for the Butt of Lewis or the end of the Hebridean Way in Stornoway. That all depended on how far we go today and tonight. I made a quick exit to the shop to buy a birthday present for Anna. She would be 38 on Friday. I got her a card and an otter mug and a notepad. That’s what I would have wanted. 

We were all in good spirits as we got off the ferry. Alice, Kim and Amanda got into the van with Kate and the rest of the team set off with Gary,  who tried to lead us the wrong way. The terrain was difficult, so boggy it was marchable but pretty unrunable. We did our best, and RV’d with the rest of the group after 5 miles, continuing up and down hill together for another 3 or so miles.

Gillian nailing the leap shot.  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Gillian nailing the leap shot. Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Night descents  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Night descents Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

It was getting dark and it was getting cold. We met the support vehicles and got changed into night kit. Alice, Kim and Amanda bowed out and said they would go back to the accommodation. They didn’t want to come out not knowing how far we would go or how fast. And to be quite frank, they made the right decision. The first part of the night section was road – we ran along quietly. Then we hit the unknown. The terrain was ridiculous. All uphill in the pitch black. Bogs, holes, rocks, barbed wire poking out the ground and dead sheep EVERYWHERE. I shit you not, they were everywhere, in varying states of decay. More dead than alive. That tells you something about the environment. Gary and Kate were on navigation and doing a brilliant job, but the ground was life sapping. We fell over more times than I can count, and it got colder and windier. We seemed to be going up, up, up forever. Our average pace was 2 miles an hour and we were all really trying to move as fast as we could. I was exhausted. I started stumbling a bit, so took a lot of caffeine but it wasn’t cutting it. I was just very, very tired. I kept falling in holes and laughing uncontrollably but then almost crying. We kept going for about 4 miles, until we found ourselves in another boggy field – it was someone’s back garden. We stopped and Gary started explaining that we were fighting a losing battle. We decided to call it a night (it was 10pm) and go back to the accommodation, revisiting this in the morning. We were now 14 miles behind schedule. 

The moment we made the decision to stop.

The moment we made the decision to stop.

 To get out of our predicament, we had to climb over a fence and run down a long driveway. We were in the middle of nowhere. Just a couple of houses. Suddenly Oscar appeared carrying two boxes of chips. Poor Oscar. He should have just left them there and run. 6 feral, hungry women descended on him like starving seagulls. I imagine it looked like something out of a horror film. Those were the best chips anyone had ever given me. Gary went ahead to find the support vehicles and we wandered down the drive to the main road. Headlights appeared in front of us and I ran over thinking it was Oscar. It wasn’t. It was the most confused old man I had ever seen. He lived in the cottage at the end of the road.  “What are ye doin’?” he asked. “Erm…we’ve just come off the Hebridean Way” I said. “Does ye want a cup of tea” he says. “No thanks!” I say. “Well away with ye then”. He drives off. I’ve seen The Human Centipede. I ain’t falling for that one. 

 We make our way to a car park to wait for the support vehicle. Kate decides to get out her emergency mountain tent and attempt to get 6 tired, slightly deleriousl, hysterically laughing women to try and use it. I stand there and watch as she tries to instruct grown women to do something that most Girl Guides can do. The tent goes above people’s heads, they try and sit down, someone says “sorry I’ve farted” and the whole thing crumbles on the floor like a chernobyl Mr Blobby. Screeches of laughter echo around the car park. This is like the worlds shittest and best hen do. 

“It’s HOW far?” Ferry LOLS from earlier in the day.  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

“It’s HOW far?” Ferry LOLS from earlier in the day. Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Bill turns up and we bundle in. I think deep down we know we won’t make it to the Butt of Lewis at this point. We get back to the accommodation for the night. I go and sort my kit then come down where the rest of the team are sat talking animatedly AT (not with) Gary, looking at maps that nobody understands. Alice, Kim and Amanda have long been asleep, and Lorna’s in bed, so it’s just the 5 remaining runners, Kate and Gary. I know things are going to get difficult. Of course, everyone wants to be able to continue, but tonight has been a wake-up call. What will we find tomorrow? We just don’t know. Will it be a 2 mile and hour day, or can we go faster in the light? I know that Kim and Amanda are injured. I know Alice can go on but slowly and she is not great on this type of terrain. I do not want any of them to feel victimised, short changed or bullied. They all deserve to be here as much as anyone else. We just don’t have the man-power to support two crews going out at two paces. Once again people are tired. People make assertions, assumptions and various suggestions. Once again we suggest bed. I stay up and talk to Kate and Gary. I have a Plan B. 

The constant number game.  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

The constant number game. Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

 I didn’t want to pull people out of this challenge against their own will. I wanted them to complete in some way, even if their journey was different to the rest of the groups. I decide I will pull out of the full challenge and let the faster group go on. I will then take Kim, Alice and Amanda onto a section of the route tomorrow that looks less boggy and rocky and we can run along that for 20 or so miles, as much as they can do. The other group will catch up and then the van can take anyone who doesn’t want to go on into the night on to the next accommodation, where we will be staying for two nights. It means I won’t complete the whole route, but I would rather that than people feel they have to pull or be pulled out. Kate will come with me for navigation. Gary, Kate and I decide to offer that option to the sleeping group in the morning. I’ve had enough. It’s 1.15am and I need to sleep. I now have to get up at 5am to talk the new plan through with them. 

Running into day 4.  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Running into day 4. Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Day 4 – Horgabost – Loch Seaport

32 miles // Start Time: 7.47am // Moving Time: 09:27:13 // ELAPSED TIME: 15:04:56

 I get up at 5.30 and go straight into Alice, Kim and Amanda and explain the options. I explain the terrain that we had been facing the night before and how slow we had been. I explain we now have a 14 mile deficit. I explain my new plan. I also offer them the chance to not do today at all, go to Stornoway for the day and have a ‘nice holiday’ as I put it in the lovely bunkhouse we have there, and then see how they feel on the last day. 

 Kim and Amanda’s response is clear. They do not want me cutting my run short and they do not want me risking my full route. They are clear, kind and brave. They make the decision to pull out of the day, but not to go and have a ‘nice holiday’ in the bunkhouse, to actually get involved and crew the team in the vans with Davy and Bill. This is one of the most selfless acts that I have witnessed as part of a group. I won’t ever forget their strength, their conviction or their kindness. They were 100% thinking about other people which is something I don’t think would have been reciprocated had it been another way round.. Alice wants to take Plan B and I am happy to go ahead with this. The problem is now it is just her. Not three people. It means that Kate and I will have to accompany her – I am not a qualified group leader or first aider, so I need Kate with me. I go downstairs. Davy gives me a massive hug. I nearly cry. Kate comes outside to talk to me. She feels like we can’t do this for one person, but I don’t want to let Alice down. I want her to get the most out of this trip too. Kate is right though. It is too much resource for one member of the group. Having us both with Alice means Gary has responsibility for everyone else. That could put bigger group in danger. I go back upstairs. I explain to Alice. I feel awful. Alice is brilliant. She accepts that we can’t just take her on that section. She agrees to sit today out and crew with the others. I know she is disappointed, and I will make this up to her, I promise her that. Another example of grace in the face of adversity. Alice joins the crew. The day will go ahead as originally planned. The remaining 6 runners have a lot of ground to cover, but a swelled crew of 5 on the support vehicles to help them achieve it. 

All this running up and down the stairs means breakfast has been relegated to my 34th priority but I have already hit my stairs goal for the day. Silver linings. I manage to stuff some toast down my gullet, and we get back in the van. We are now aiming for Stornoway and Stornoway alone. Unless there is some sort of miracle (i.e. the whole route transforms into road) we won’t make the Butt of Lewis. We all know this. We managed to get ourselves quietly back over the fence and onto the private land and we start where we finished the night before. It is MUCH easier in daylight but still very slow and very steep. A few pictures of day four from my phone above. We work our way up another “Gary Hill” and again the sunrise is astonishing. It’s coming down the other side that’s the real eyeopener. If we’d have done this at night it would have not only been terrifying, it would have been pretty fucking dangerous. I fall into random holes up to my waist. Funny in daylight, not at night. Once we get down, we hit a really runnable bit of trail. It’s amazing. We spread out and hammer it, it’s not muddy or boggy and we are all having the time of our lives. It continues like this for a few miles. Up and down through landscapes that look like they belong on another planet.  We pass shearing pens and find a discarded sheepskin. This happens. It’s probably the best photo ever taken of me. I did not kill this sheep. 

Sheep Shit Shuffle. Debut album. Coming Soon.  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Sheep Shit Shuffle. Debut album. Coming Soon. Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

The trail continues to be steep in places, rocky but runnable and we are making good time. We float past lochs and rivers. The squad are getting tired but there is grit and there is determination. I am so proud of everyone. So proud. Anna and Kirsty have started to complain of pain in the tops of their ankles. Tendonitis. I’m not surprised. We’ve covered over 100 miles. They have never done anything like this before and they are smashing it.

I don’t have any words for this picture. Don’t think I need any.  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

I don’t have any words for this picture. Don’t think I need any. Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

After about 13 miles we reach Tarbet – the place we stayed the previous night – and there in the car park are Alice, Kim and Amanda and our support crew. They rally around making us sandwiches and coffee. They are happy and pleased to see us. I feel incredibly grateful to them. We laugh a lot at this checkpoint. Like a real lot. Everything was hilarious. Looking back, we stopped for too long here – an hours break. Everyone was feeling tired and some people were in pain but it was too long. After taping people up we started off again towards out destination of Loch Seaport. There was a lot more road on this leg but again it trailed off up onto moors. We kept pressing on, regularly seeing the van to top up water. 

Lorna making the most of that runable trail  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Lorna making the most of that runable trail Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

 After a big climb we find a downhill section of trail which is wet, boggy but runnable, fuelled by lunch we fly down it. It is utterly glorious. At the bottom a car stops. My friend Harriet gets out, I haven’t seen her for about four years. She’s a friend from London. She just happened to be in the area and saw us running and caught us up. Its mental and amazing to see her.  Again, we start back up a road. It’s starting to get dark.

Water stop earlier in the day  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Water stop earlier in the day Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

We can see some people walking towards us. I comment on how weird it is to see other people. Then we realise it’s Oscar and Leo and they are holding boxes. When we reach them, they open the boxes to reveal perfect little cupcakes with strawberries on top. They had found someone selling them at the side of the road and bought us one each. It’s such a lovely thing for them to have done. I try to think of something sarcastic to say, but can’t because I feel like I might cry if I talk. 

Oscar and Leo come up with the goods.

Oscar and Leo come up with the goods.

 I’ve found it quite hard to remember the leg after this – I know we run into darkness and I know Anna in particular is in a lot of pain. I know that we get a call from base - Kim has offered to make us dinner. A home-made dinner.  I know we take a minute at the top of the hill to turn our head torches off and be silent for 30 seconds. I know that I appreciate everything about that trip in those few moments. I know we finish on a road next to Loch Seaport. I remember getting back to the bunkhouse in Stornoway where Alice, Amanda and Kim have made us pasta bake and got us two bottles of red wine to share. I know this is an amazing thing for people who have been sidelined to do for others. 

Earlier that day Lorna had suggested that we ask Amanda, Kim and Alice to join us for the final leg into Stornoway the following day. The last 10 miles are all road and we started this together, so we should finish this together. That night we ask them, and they agree that they will try. Amanda wants to run the whole day and I believe she is fit enough to do so. The band is getting back together. 

 I can see people flagging, but I can also see fight in their eyes. I can see fire in them. I know tomorrow we will make it to the end as a team. This is why I do this. To see people’s realisation that they can do it to. 

Running into darkness for the last time  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Running into darkness for the last time Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Day 5 – Loch Seaport – Stornoway

25 miles // Start Time: 07.55 // Moving time: 07:12:10 //Finish Time: 15.07

This is it. The final leg. We wake once again at 6am and eat a quick breakfast. We have agreed to meet Kim and Alice 10 miles from the end and run it in together. Amanda is coming with us the whole way. We drive to where we finished the night before. Davy puts on one of his many motivational bangers and we have a car park rave up. This is the song he played. 

https://youtu.be/SoMEUnJJ3kU?fbclid=IwAR12tXNarQePk1vDv41KLKU0zIQyaxolA0-tetnRJ853CndByIh_qh3vO6A

Running into the final day  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Running into the final day Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

 We start strong, full of life. We run along a road before finding a track just off it that leads up onto moorland AGAIN. The heather and grass were burning red, the sun was streaming over the mountains. We were doing it. We were running it in.  

The final bit of trail  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

The final bit of trail Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

The trail was boggy but runnable for the most part. Anna and Kirsty were now really suffering with their injuries, but Amanda, Gillian, Lorna and Laura were still very, very strong. I was in awe of all of those women. I felt proud of every single one of them. Although we were nearing civilisation, if felt like we were still miles away from anywhere. The Outer Hebrides continued to stretch out in front of us. It just went on and on. In the distance, herds of deer stood staring. And then, just like that, we were back at the support vehicle and back at the road. This was it. The final ten miles. 

Here come the girls!  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Here come the girls! Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Kim and Alice got out of the car and we all ate and filled up our packs for one last time. Then, as a crew, as the crew that had started, we set off together, with Alice leading, setting and extraordinary pace up front. She had a point to prove and she was proving it. Lorna was close behind her. I later found out this was because she’d had two bowls of cold pasta bake from breakfast. Imagine if Kipchoge had done that. I had been dreading the road section, but it was very quiet and extremely beautiful. It wound up, down and around towards Stornoway. Oscar and Leo were in the car in front of us, making us run fast, run slow and just generally being annoying. We’d all grown to totally love them. I have no idea what they thought of us. 

Stornoway bound….  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Stornoway bound…. Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

And then the final few miles. We had formed a group, like the worlds slowest pacing team, the worst sub two team ever. We kept that group tight and strong. The last mile felt like it was going on forever – I could feel us getting faster and faster until suddenly we turned at the castle and there, in a half empty car park, with nobody but Leo and Oscar, was the rusty girder that marked the end of The Hebridean way. We had done it. It was over.

The final 200 metres.  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

The final 200 metres. Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Lauras face says it all. We’re done.  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Lauras face says it all. We’re done. Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Cheeeeeeeeese.  Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Cheeeeeeeeese. Photo: Leo Francis/Rat Race Adventure Sports

Epilogue

 I could go into detail about the end and what we did. But you can imagine what we did. We went to the nearest pub and drank wine. We sat there in a semi dazed state. We all acted like it was normal to run 156 miles in one of the most remote places in Europe. We went for curry. I went outside and cried a lot then came back in. 

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But I won’t go on about that too much. Instead I will focus on the facts and the learnings from this trip. Learnings I think can be taken away not just by those who completed it, but by you, who have completed an endurance challenge of your own just by reading this blog. 

 The facts? We finished the route in 4 days and 7 hours and 28 mins. 103 hours and 28 minutes. A new female FKT. Was it hard? Yes it bloody was. Was it amazing? Yes it was breathtaking. Is this bucket list stuff? Fucking YES IT IS. By far and away one of the most beautiful places on earth. On that trail we only saw 3 people in 4 and a half days. I saw more people in Panama! All of them looked at us like we were mental. This is trailblazing. This is adventuring. The Hebridean Way is a marked, known trail, but you need guts to complete it. Guts and trust in yourself and your team. I would do it again in a heartbeat. If the weather had been different, this story may not have ended the way it did. We were incredibly lucky. 

 And the lessons? I put into practice all that I had learnt about fuelling, pacing and listening to myself. All of it worked. But there is more to this. The most important skills learned on this trip were those of patience, kindness and understanding. None of those things are ever wasted. Learn them and learn to deal with your own emotions in order to develop them. I learnt more about resilience. I learnt more about acceptance. We all wanted to get to the Butt of Lewis, and given another day we could have done it, of that I am sure. But we had to accept it wasn’t going to happen this time and that was OK. I accepted that early on. Some people didn’t and that made the whole thing harder for them. Save it for another day. There will always be another day. This was a Test Pilot trip. A TEST. We tested it and it worked. It just needs another day added onto the end to work fully. 

 I learnt about friendship and camaraderie between strangers - how that can lift people up to be stronger than they thought possible. I learnt to be more supportive. I learnt to care more. I learnt that it’s better to try and please everyone 80% of the time than one or two people 100% of the time. 

 To take 8 people who don’t know each other, and to complete something like this together is exceptional. I am proud to know every single member of this team and I doubt Gary, Kate, Bill and Davy will ever understand how grateful I am for their support in this challenge. To Rat Race, I salute you. From tiny seeds grown great trees. This event is mind blowing. You continue to set the bar higher than anyone else. I set out to prove that this is possible for ordinary women. And we did. We started together as a team and we finished together as a team. We just all had very different journeys. 

 Finally, huge thanks to Gary, Kate, Davy and Bill for being the cool heads when everyone around them was losing theirs, to Leo and Oscar for documenting our memories so beautifully, looking after us and looking out for us, for chips and cake. And to Alice, Anna, Amanda, Lorna, Laura, Gillian, Kate and Kim. Your achievements are incredible. Live with them, remember them and revel in them.

A few days after the trip, Davy emailed me a poem. I wanted to include it here. He told me it was ‘a poem celebrating an individual's will & determination to succeed.’ It’s only right that I end on it.  

Gazing Upwards 

I rode a cloud, and felt the wind

Blow keen and free, across my face;

A lonely man 

With jealous eye

Gaze upward at my sky

 

I sat on a star, and felt a void

That knew me there, and cared for me;

And shared with me, 

On Earth, I felt 

All lonely men with jealous eyes, 

Gaze upwards at my skies. 

 

High was the hope and free was thought 

That bought my freedom from the Earth.

Truth was youth!

Timeless lies

The world denies, 

Were plucked from wordless worth. 

 

I climbed a hill, and felt the wind, 

Blow keen and free, 

Across my face;

And in my place on earth, I saw

A lonely man with jealous will 

Gaze upward at my hill.
The worlds most badass girl gang. Thank you for everything.

The worlds most badass girl gang. Thank you for everything.

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