CAPE WRATH ULTRA BLOG
400km, 11 421m ascent, 8 days
- I didn’t set out with a training plan, instead virtual fell races, lots of running on heather and tussocks with steep ascents and descents, Saunders Mountain Marathon, Howgills virtual MM, along with long days out supporting other people’s challenges were my main training bulk. These all serve to condition the feet for prolonged wet periods and strengthen the feet and ankles for contouring and running on rough terrain.
- My runs were made up from lots of easy miles, speed and hill reps aren’t needed for long multi day ultras, they are where in the past I have picked up niggles so I didn’t do any. Instead, lots of time on feet, forgetting about pace, it doesn’t matter if it’s stop/ start throw a ball or sticks – for this you just need a 3 year old border collie!
- I ate on lots of my long outings, whether runs or walks to train the stomach and digestive system, trailing food I used at different stages of the CWU.
- Strength & conditioning is a key component to my work as a physio and also included in my training with teaching 3 classes on Zoom a week. I use body weight exercises as I don’t want delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) to affect running. As a former personal trainer and now running specialist physio I make sure the exercises are functional to running. This includes lots of eccentric work for the quads and hamstrings, no static exercises like wall squats, instead squat/ lunge/ side lunge circuits across all planes of movement, including lots of lateral movement as off road terrain involves lots of side to side stability.
The Race/ Adventure
- I made sure I didn’t get competitive and get caught up racing early on, it should be sociable, chatting through the early days made sure it was. I was really well matched pace wise with Lisa, it helped to keep the pace steady and sensible by working together.
- There’s no need to try and beat those around you, it makes for a far more enjoyable experience if you’re enjoying yourselves and don’t have your head down pushing hard to win each day. It was great to look up and enjoy the scenery.
- You’re more likely to pick up niggles racing hard. It was commented on how competitors who started earlier would know we were catching by hearing us chatting before they saw us. It was good to take time to have a few friendly words with those we passed, motivating each other. This for me was a completely different approach to single day racing.
- I didn’t do a single stretch all week! The muscles are tight and fatigued, there’s micro trauma from a long day running so the last thing you want to do is add to strain it further by stretching. A frayed piece of string will only tear further at the vulnerable section if you pull and pull at it as we do with static stretches. I did lots of mobility and spikey ball work instead.
- The glutes were tight early on so one afternoon I spent over an hour (probably nearer 2 hours) on the ball, gently working into the glutes, but just gentle work, nothing too aggressive.
- I used my massage stick most days, but again all work was gentle.
- I thoroughly massaged my legs and feet each night. This stopped a previous foot injury causing my foot to stiffen up, but also helped identify any hot spots on my feet, dealing with them immediate so all I got is one black toe nail and not a single blister all week.
- I had a window when I got into camp of about the first 2 hours where I was ravenous, after that I struggled to eat and was more interested in resting! I knew this was my key time to kickstart the recovery so made sure I got plenty of protein on board. As the snacks at camp in the afternoon were carb heavy, lots of salty chips which were good for replenishing lost electrolytes and carbs but not much else, I used dehydrated meals I had taken with me a couple of afternoons. This was the time to get the Mountain Fuel Recovery shakes on board, boosting the protein content further by making them up with whole milk.
- I then just had a small meal later, it was nice the evening meals in the camp had lots of veg in them as you did feel like you were eating junk food all day, but I was glad I had the protein earlier as I thought, for me they could have done with some nuts and more pulses, I did add a big dollop of the peanut butter I’d taken with me to the Katsu curry!
- I wore a new pair of socks each day, I was lucky to be given some by Injinji. I have used their socks for years and don’t run in anything else, they work for me, especially the new Ultra Crew and I didn’t get a blister all week.
- I’m also lucky to get shoes from La Sportiva. I wore the new Cyklon for the first couple of days but then wanted the increased stability of the trusty Mutants. The Cyklon are a great fell racing shoe, super nimble and grippy but the heavier, more stable Mutants worked better when starting to tire and the ankle proprioception isn’t quite as good!
- Poles were extremely useful, I’m very grateful to Malc from Beta Running for teaching me how to use them properly when I couldn’t join the team for a run a few years ago. It’s well worth learning how to use them efficiently as they really do save the legs!
A few highlights from each day:
- Day 1 – 37km, 500m ascent:
- The piper playing use across the start,
- Being sensible and not chasing the guys up the climb and down the first descent, saving my legs for the week to come!
- Day 2 – 57km, 1800m:
- Overshooting the bracken ascent to the north of Ben Aden to find a waterfall to fill our water bottles and take a couple of minutes to sit in it and cool down!
- The schools of Mackerel jumping out of the water as Lisa and Myself approached the finish at Loch Beag.
- The first of the ‘sprint’ finishes between us!
- Day 3 – 68km, 2400m:
- View down to overnight camp from Carn Mor which was the start to a brilliant descent down to camp at Achnashellach.
- Day 4 – 35km, 1400m:
- My strongest running day, really enjoying all the climbs then the tracks around Sail Mhor to the Loch.
- There was a straight line descent through the rocks and heather around Ruadh- stac Mor that would fit right into any fell race!
- After all the heather and pathless terrain coming to a great, fast descent on good trails. Running down with Lisa, Sabs and Ian trying to entice Ian into a race down, after a nudge from Sabs who could see I was keen to go, I upped the pace, Lisa coming with me but Ian was too sensible and didn’t take the bait of a race to camp!
- Day 5 – 44km, 1400m:
- Another good descent down to camp, lots of fun zig zagging through the bracken trying to catch Ian.
- The last sprint finish with Lisa for a few days, we split towards the end of each day after this as Lisa protected her ankle on the descents, until day 8.
- Day 6 – 72km, 1400m:
- The day started with a good climb skirting around Meall Dubh then far too much track and forestry trail running for my old foot injury, which started to ache for the first time, however, after expecting the worst it settled on the softer ground.
- We had a softer finish to the day with a heathery pathless ascent in the wet and clag, running with Ian then on reaching the col Lisa had also caught up before my favourite descent of the CWU.
- A fantastic descent through the gully to the side of Conival, before following the river down to camp, picking up a couple of bruises from bum slides on route!
- Day 7 – 61km, 1600m:
- Climbing to the first Loch of the day, looking around at the amazing views and waterfalls to have a brief chat with a couple of ladies wild camping, at their age I’d love to be wild camping in such remote spots!
- There was a rough, but again brilliant descent after the first climb, I was amazed how well I was descending, the quad conditioning had worked.
- The Loch section was not so great, but the thing that turned this into a highlight was the camaraderie, particularly Sabs feeding me her homemade blondie and passing a good few hours chatting.
- Then a note was left at the checkpoint from Dark Peak friends which really picked me up. I pushed for the finish enjoying some good running and some technical loch side trails chatting to Lyndsay, then ran as much as possible of the uphill final road 5km.
- Despite running most of the second half of the day separate to Lisa, between the final checkpoint and the finish our split was 1 second different, despite me being around 15 minutes ahead for the day. That really showed how well matched we were for pace.
- I had the fastest time for the day, my only stage win of the CWU!
- Day 8 – 26km, 700m:
- I’d really enjoyed CWU and it would have been a shame to have got the head down, racing on the last day when we could continue in the spirit we had run the rest of the race. I was relieved when Shane said we could do what we liked on the last day, no chasing start. That made for a fitting end, setting off with Lisa and Sabs, chatting to fellow runners as we passed.
- We stopped to have a chat with the family who had set up a picnic table outside their house with all sorts of goodies, the kids told us they had needed to take the ponies away as they were stealing all the melon!
- Sandwood Bay was stunning, a fitting view to remember and share with others before climbing into the clag on one last pathless stretch.
- There was chance for 1 last sprint finish, which Lisa won, we’d run all this way to the Lighthouse and then needed it pointing out to us at the finish in the mist!
As much as I enjoyed Cape Wrath Ultra, it did confirm to me, my enjoyment of running no longer comes from putting a number on, instead from exploring the outdoors with good friends. My plans now are for challenges, not races. We will bag a few more Munro’s and Wainwright’s but the next big challenge will be the Paddy Buckley next year.