As some of you may know, earlier this year I was made an ambassador for Rat Race. I am a lady woman beast, and they didn’t have a female ambassador at that point, plus I spent a lot of time in Mongolia bending Jim Mee’s ear about how I thought that Rat Race events were marketed at men and brilliant fast runners, and that they were being elitist, and that scared your normal mid pack run of the mill human from taking part. That was just the impression I had from their marketing, and a lot of people had told me that wasn’t the case at all, but I stood by my guns, having never done an event (TWAT), and told him I would judge for myself. Jim listened to my rants, and after getting bored with my constant nagging, and noticing my huge gob and opinions, asked me to be an ambassador and take part in the events that Rat Race were putting on in 2018. I had already signed up for the Ultra Tour of Arran (2 days, 10,000ft elevation across and up Arran coming in at 100K) because I love Scotland and I love running. So that was to be my first one. And fuck me, was everything I ever thought about Rat Race wrong. I was so, so wrong.
There she is - Arran from the Ferry Boat
Arran’s a tricky one to get to - taking a plane, hire car and ferry to get onto the island, and me being a lazy fuck decided to hire a bell tent so I didn’t have to carry all my gear from London to Scotland. I was sharing with my Mongolia pal G-Law, and my other pals David Hellard and his “long suffering” missus Claire Briggs. The bell tents are great because they come with a mattress, bedding and a heater and I can’t be arsed with getting all that stuff up from London so it was ideal - it meant I got good sleeps, and also me and G-Law could relive the wonder of Mongolia. I was basically in a tent of over-achievers.
Tent Lyf #marketing
We got there on Friday night and obviously went straight to the bar for a couple of sports pints before bed. The atmosphere was brilliant. There were a good few people I knew there - some of the Bad Boy Runners, a couple of people I had met at other races - even the people I didn’t know were lovely. There were inside toilets and showers and electric hook ups everywhere. The organisation was second to none. I was already impressed and felt pretty at home. After having our kit checked and getting our numbers, we went to bed. Or we tried to. The generators powering the kitchen were right behind our heads and they were loud AF. SO LOUD. I reckon I got about 4 hours sleep which is not ideal when you have 28 miles to cover the next day……
Saturday morning, and the race briefing is at 8.15am. I went to grab some coffee and food but all they had that I could eat was porridge and I didn’t want it. Mental note - must do breakfast pick up’s pre race (see previous blogs for my many fails at this). I am so, so shit at breakfast. Once again, I start a race hungry. We pick up our trackers from HQ and trot down to the beach for the briefing. There is a button on the trackers we are not allowed to press because a helicopter will come. I immediately want to press it. I bump into Spike - a Do-Badder who I haven’t met before, but he’s wearing the uniform, so I get chatting to him - it’s his first ultra - he has never even run a marathon. The closest he got was walking 26 miles the previous week with Lee-Stuart “Monarchs Way” Evans. This, my friends, is classic Do-Badder behaviour. I like Spike immediately. I’m also with Amie, another BBR runner who is a bit of a living legend in the OCR/ultra world. She has been injured for a while and like me, is taking it easy today, so we trot off together. Little do I know I will spend the best part of 18 hours with these two legends over the next 2 days, and it will be GLORIOUS.
The route for day one is quite simply epic. It takes you out across the beach at Brodick and around the south of the island in a 28 mile loop. Total elevation for the day is about 4000ft, but nobody tells you about the bogs. More on that later. The race starts on the road, but quickly takes you up into the woods dropping down onto the coast. It’s simply beautiful, and I am having a LOT of fun trotting along talking to people. The terrain is hilarious. The beach is mud, boulders, rocks, seaweed and grass. All the slipperies.
LOL terrain! (Poo emoji)
There is a good couple of miles trotting whilst trying not to break your ankle, followed by a slippery but amazing boardwalk through the woods. It’s so peaceful and so beautiful - and that makes it more difficult - you have to watch your feet, not nature, or you will slip and go flying. I like to look for seals but I am in danger of killing myself.
Team Bog Squad on tour.
CP one is around 10 miles in and I am starving so I eat 3 packets of crisps, 7 jaffa cakes and a packet of peanuts, washed down with a coffee in a china mug. No shit. I stuff 2 more bags of crisps in my bag and fill up my water and off we go. The next section is up hill, which is good because I need to finish my highly nutritious snack selection. The hills here mean business, and it takes a good 45 mins to climb to the top, where you return to the woodland and heath. The views are ridiculous. The weather is amazing. I am having the best time with Amie and Spike.
As we trot downwards towards the sea we have a quick stop for sock change (it’s wet from the minute you start) and so I can try and cuddle a lamb, Amie can fall off a bench and Spike can think he is attached to some tape. We quickly head to checkpoint 2 at mile 20 where I eat MORE SNACKS ALL THE SNACKS. Crisp count - now on 7 packets. Lucky I stocked up on 3 more for emergencies, because we are about to take on the woods of nightmare dreams. But not before we come across this. Possibly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen on a run.
Waterfall, trees, Scotland. I am in love.
Myself, Amie and Spike are now at that stage where you’ve had a lot of sugar and caffeine and you start to feel mental and laugh A LOT. Which is good because we have just entered the most amazing but difficult wood I have ever been in. I can’t explain it properly, and the pictures don’t do it justice but these woods are ethereal. You feel like the only person that has ever been in there. It’s like being in a film. It’s like a cross between The Princess Bride, Labyrinth and Never Ending Story. The trees are covered in dripping moss and the fog makes the greens so green and the white litchen beards on the trees glisten and it’s magical. Under foot it’s a bit like green and brown fluffy porridge - a weird, bouncy, mossy mush that feels a bit like super furry, very wet, ankle deep snow. It’s just the best ever. I can’t believe how lucky I am to be here.
Fluffy green porridge (playing at a pub near you soon)
The woods give way to beautiful, foggy, still Lochs, and peat bogs, which I love to splash through. It’s now calf deep mud, moss, rocks, dead stuff; but the beauty is breathtaking and I feel like I might cry. I am so happy.
Loch of death
We plough on through this 4 mile stretch of not knowing what we are standing on, laughing and chatting and being idiots until suddenly my leg vanishes beneath me; THE BOG HAS CLAIMED ME AS IT’S OWN!
I am literally thigh deep in peat and crying with laughter, as are my new “friends”. I eventually manage to pull myself out, when my best pal, ‘Karma’, catches up with Spike and he ends up literally balls deep in the same bog. I am now laughing so much that a bit of wee has come out, and I can’t help him. I can take a picture though. Here it is.
“Hi Pete!” “MY NAME IS SPIKE”
This is what it’s about. This is the joy of people and running. All the other runners behind us are trying to help, but we are laughing too much. Eventually we have to pull Spike out and roll him away from the bog. How I love the bog.
The rest of the day flies by because everything is funny. We run past the remains of a long dead deer and teddies strung up in trees. Amie starts referring to farm machinery as “cannibal cages”. Spike is holding up well, and we are taking everything easy as we know we have the biggest challenge tomorrow.
Cool. So we don’t have to go OVER it then?
We pass waterfalls, stop for snacks, drive our legs up hills and laugh on the way down. We finish day 2 tired and happy in around 7.5 hours. I spend the rest of the evening telling people that I have had simply the best day. We head to a local restaurant and eat ALL the food. Back to the beer tent for beers and debriefs with Rat Racers I have never met before who treat me like an old friend. Then it’s bed. Tomorrow we start running at 7.30am. Looking back, I had no idea just how hard Sunday would be.
I wake up my camp mates (talking about you there, Hellard) at 6.30 - Hellard and Briggs are knackered from WINNING yesterday and G-Law hates mornings and his life choices. I’ve slept OK thanks to a kindly friend giving me earplugs and beer and I am all excited about heading up to the highest peak on Arran - Goat Fell. Here she is! In the cloud holes!
Now, let me tell you something. I have a problem with heights. A big one. I once had a panic attack on Arthur’s Seat (not a euphemism). I’m OK if there is a barrier but NOT if there is a sheer drop, narrow path and no barrier. I will never be a skyrunner. Having spoken to Jim and lovely, handsome Pete Rees the night before, I felt like I will be OK today. I’m worried about the “scramble” section but I feel like everything else is do-able. I down a coffee. I pack extra base layers and waterproofs - I know we will be up in the clouds and in Scotland you can get 5 seasons in one day. I pick up my tracker and eat a banana and half a bagel and put on my X-Talons. I wore my Altra Lone Peaks yesterday, but today is way more technical, muddy and rocky and so I opt for the deeper tread. We head to the start for the briefing at 7.15 and at 7.30 myself and Bog Squad (Amie and Spike) are off. We trot north this time, along the beach and boardwalk, past the brewery (it’s shut FFS). Quick high five from Jim - who even though he is the boss, man’s aid stations and claps through all the runners because he is just a brilliant human - and we’re up the first hill into beautiful woods and through a gate into the valley. It’s a beautiful morning and the views are breathtaking.
Valley of Joy
There’s the first “hill..”
And there she is again. Jesus. Need to get to the top of that.
I bump into Pete, who I met at Millennium Way a few weeks ago, and run with him, catching up and having lols, until he leaves me for dead - Amie and Spike are a little behind, but I feel good so press on. I can’t believe where I am. I take time to stand in the stillness. The beauty of Arran is beyond words. In the distance I can see the first ascent, I press on over wet rocks, through streams and across waterfalls. I meet new friends, I chat to everyone, I am having simply the best time. The first check point isn’t until 11 miles and I notice I am hungry already. And then we start the ascent.
False Summit FFS.
It’s power walking territory, and I am doing well. JCC and my WSR races have made me very good at walking up hills, but I don’t have any food left. It’s starting to get cold. I put on my waterproof jacket. I press on. The path narrows. It’s very wet and rocky, and I start to feel scared. I press on. I am now pretty much alone. We are going up and up and up and the path is so narrow. My heart rate increases and my chest tightens. I am very afraid. I use my hands to steady myself and the wind is picking up. I am shaking a bit. I start talking to myself, trying to calm myself down. I talk to rocks. I am now pretty much crawling up, trying to talk to anyone I pass or who passes me to make myself feel better. Up, up, up, more and more narrow. Don’t look down. Look at your hands. Be confident on your feet. And then, finally, I reach the top. And it’s a false summit. There’s another summit ahead of me and in the distance I can see the jackets of people on a ridge. I am now completely terrified.
ARE YOU FUCKING JOKING M8? All the way round this ridge….
I am very hungry and I am very, very scared. The wind is picking up, whipping my jacketed almost taking my hat. I take a caffeine bullet. I try and stay positive, being false chirpy to people. I tell people I am afraid of heights and I don’t know why I am telling them this. I think I am basically asking them to stay with me, in a round about way. I press on. I start the second assent and it is on a ridgeway. To my right there is a sheer drop of about 4000ft. The wind is now so strong it is nearly knocking me over, and I am trying to look at the floor and at my hands that are grabbing the floor in front of me. I spot a small cave with moss in it and want to crawl inside. There is moss in there and I could hide there. Like a toad. I press on. I just want this to be over. There is snow and there is rain and there is wind. And then….the cloud. I am suddenly enveloped in cloud and I am calm. I can’t see anything apart from the guide flags. And this is good news. I can’t see any edges or drops. I press on and then I am coming down the other side. I am so relieved.
I’ll just run down….oh….
I think I will make up time coming down the other side - I have my X-Talons on and so can simply trot through the bog right? WRONG. The other side is a mixture of steep bog, holes, waterfalls, streams and rocks. It’s some of the most difficult terrain I have ever come across. It takes me a lot longer than I thought coming down, and I am exhausted from the climb and concentration on not dying. The terrain is SO tough and I can feel myself fading. I have eaten all my left over snacks and so I have a gel - I am desperate. At the bottom of the descent, the trail is just as difficult. Mud, bog, streams, boulders and I am still 3 miles from the checkpoint. I miss my Bog Squad. I should never have left them.
Sort of down? Right?
I can’t wait for London Marathon
I press on. As I trot through the valley I keep checking behind me. I stop to take off my jacket - the sun has come out and it’s boiling. Fucking Scotland man! As I stop, a couple of ladies stop near me and I mention I am starving. One of them gives me half a Trek bar and I am so happy. People are so kind. And then, like a dream, I see my Bog Squad coming up the trail and I stop and wait and I am so happy they are there, and we trot our way down to the first check point at 11 miles telling each other tales of that horror mountain and laughing and identifying the many different types of bog. False Bog, Peat Bog, Horror Bog, Mini Bog. The checkpoint is at a Whiskey Distillery. As it comes into view I shout “ I CAN SEE HOUSES!” WHAT ARE THEY TRYING TO DO TO ME????
Same day. Different world. Just past Checkpoint 1.
It’s turned into a beautiful sunny day, and we refuel on crisps and jaffa cakes and Pit Stop Bars and coffee and we’re off. The cut offs are very real today, and we only have 25 mins to leave check point 1. I have been told that the next part of the route is 10 miles of “very runable” coastline. I was lied to. In the nicest possible way.
We run through a gorgeous village and see sheep and deer and seals, then we hit the coastline again and it does indeed look very runable. And it is. For about a mile. Then we get to this.
The “runable” section
We run and speed walk along the coast, and it starts to rain. I feel better now I have food in me, and I am so happy to have Bog Squad back. The boulders and rocks are never ending. We run, walk and climb over them for a good 9 miles. We see dead stuff, abandoned buildings, seals and the beauty of the sea bouys me (GREAT PUN BAILEY).
Guess the ribcage is a GREAT game for bored runners.
We get to checkpoint 2. I feel positive. I know there is another climb to come and I desperately want to reach the summit before they cut it off, so I stuff the snacks in my pack, think about changing my socks, don’t, make a mocha out of the hot chocolate and coffee at the aid station and set off. 9 miles to go. I am so glad I haven’t changed my socks because this is the first thing we have to do.
River deep, mountain high, feet wet. Again.
And now it’s raining. REALLY raining. Amie suggests we put on our waterproofs before the climb. I am so glad she did. It was the best idea ever. Waterproof trousers on, and my legs start to warm up. We trot along the rest of the coast in the pouring rain, and begin the slow climb through the valley. It is beautiful and wet and never ending. There are lambs. I can see the summit, but I am with my friends. I can do this. I can do this.
See that thing in the clouds. We have to get up that. There’s Amie!
Amie presses on, the little speedgoat, but Spike is with me. Spike is a caver. He climbs in caves. He is on the second day of his first ultra and he is doing so well. I want him to finish and I want him to have fun. Selfishly, I need him to be with me. I stick with him. We begin the climb. I am every bit as terrified as before, but Spike is behind me. The rocks are wet and scary and I am scrambling again on tiny narrow steps carved into the mountain, but this time Spike is with me. I keep talking to him and he is brilliant. And then we reach the scramble.
I have no pictures of the scramble section because I was too scared to take my phone out, but it was VERTICAL and there was a rope dangling down. There are marshalls there, and I told them I was scared and they asked me if I needed help, but Spike said he would spot me, and so I started to try and pull myself up. I grabbed the rope. It didn’t help. I couldn’t work out where to put my feet, I was so sacred I would tumble backwards or the rock would break. Spike kept helping me, supporting me mentally and physically, and telling me I could do it. The marshalls were amazing (“the rock on the left has been there for a millenium, the rock on the right has been there for an hour. Hold on to the rock on the left!”) After about 3 minutes of some of the worst fear I had ever felt, I saw the flat at the top. I fell on it on my hands and knees and crawled up to a flat step. Spike was behind me asking if I was OK. He said I should sit down and that we could have a picnic and that I should have some crisps. I sat down and got some crisps out my bag. Spike started talking to me and then I started crying.
The top of “the scramble”. Or Crying Mountain as it is now known. We had run all along that valley and the people on the right at the bottom are JUST coming over the top.
It was relief and fear and also the fact that I was so happy Spike had helped and looked after me. We sat there looking at the view, and I ate crisps, and he had a croissant (posh) and he tried to give me a cuddle but there was a rock in the way. My voice went all small. I felt very loved and very relieved. I felt that you don’t know how strong you are until you are forced to be strong. I want to publicly thank Spike for what he did that day, because I will never forget his kindness.
Onwards and upwards. The summit had been closed early because the weather was so bad, so we had to take the lower route. The accounts from those who did summit were pretty gnarly and although I am disappointed I couldn’t go all the way, I am glad that I didn’t have to do it. There’s always next year. And we started the downward trot back to camp and there was Amie waiting for us - the Bog Squad would finish together. We ran back through the valley and the rain has stopped. We ran through the rivers (Cleansing Bogs) the woods and down the hill, along the beach and up towards the finish where G-Law and Adam were waiting for us and we finished as a team. Spike had done it. His first multi day ultra. What a legend. I finished in 10.5 hours taking my total for the weekend to just over 18 hours and 11th lady. I’ll take that for all the LOLs I had!
BOG SQUAD! Spike and Amie finish Day 2!
Post celebrations included food, beer and a debrief with Jim and Rob from Rat Race and all my new pals. We ended up at a lock in at a pub down the road, drank too much and exchanged stories. I felt tired, happy and loved.
This was one of the single best events I have ever done. It was also one of the hardest, but I conquered it. I conquered Arran and I conquered my fears and I made a whole heap of new friends and I was proved wrong. The Rat Race family is inclusive, joyful, supportive and insanely fun. I am doing all their events this year and encourage each and every one of you to do the same. These races are for real people, people that want to challenge themselves and be supported every step of the way. There is no elitism or preferential treatment. Every single person that takes part is a fucking hero. Here’s to Bog Squad.
Happiness is Rat Shaped.
Next up? London Marathon!