Cape Wrath Ultra 2022
by Phillipa HaworthWhere do I start with this race? Do I start at the start line? Or at the real start… Over a year ago I got an email from the Cape Wrath Ultra saying that entires would open the next day. It was a race that had been on my mind for a while, I’d watched all the videos, seen the photos, trawled through the website and signed up to the mailing list. But I always thought it would be for me in the future, when I’d done more running and gained more experience. Over dinner that evening it came up again. Mum’s response to it was “why not?” you never know what is going to happen in the future, you might not be able to enter the race in a few years for whatever reason, why not find out if you’re capable now? So the next morning I entered, and went for a 20 mile run to ponder what the hell i’d done. So there we were, a year later, in Fort William, after hundreds of miles of running, compiling kit, deciding what food to take, packing and re-packing and re-packing, fretting and doubting. Registration is always nerve wracking for a big event like this, you feel like you’re being searched at an airport. But i spotted Debs White across the tent and gave her a wave. She was also taking part this year, and we’d be sharing a tent with five other ladies that we’d been chatting to on social media for the last few months.
Day 1 dawned, and we walked down to the Ferry in the rain, It definitely started as it meant to go on. Bagpipes were played at the start line, and we were off. Not the usual sprint out from under the gantry, most people spent day one walking and talking, a sensible option with what was to come. That evening camp was set up right by the Glenfinnan Viaduct and we had a first taste of how our evenings would be for the next 8 days. Day 1- 22 miles Day 2 was a real taste of the terrain that was to come, with several miles of wet bog, a few big climbs and some technical rocky sections. The first half of the day was wet, but cleared up to reward us with some fantastic views around Knoydart. Camp that evening was at Kinloch Hourn, and probably our final evening of fine weather. People washed in the river, ate chips and dried clothes, but after a day of rough terrain, you could feel the apprehension rising for the next day. Day 2 – 34 miles Day 3 was tough for me. Probably the hardest I’ve had to push myself mentally. The cutoffs today were tight and I knew I would not have time for any faff or messing about. I felt good on the big climb out of camp, grateful to have the Lake District as my training ground, and made up some good time on the descents. I made the first guidance time with 20 mins to spare, good, lets keep on top of that. Another big climb took us up and over to the falls of Glomach, just time for a quick photo before descending to checkpoint 2, 20 mins ahead. The rain crept in and by the time i’d completed the last climb it began to hail hard, the descent here took you over a section of cliff and It was the only section over the 8 days to be flagged. Once I got over the rocks I realised I had an hour and a half to the cut off, but I could see camp off in the valley and that spurred me on to the finish… 20 mins ahead. That evening, entering the food marquee, the safety team was issuing a weather warning for the next day. Cold, and very wet. Theres no such thing as an easy day on Cape Wrath. Day 3 – 42 miles
Day 4 Brutal. Not much else describes it. It rained from the get go and strong gusts of wind were enough to bring you to a stand still until they passed. Today was one of the shorter days on the race, but a large percentage of the route was pathless. We only caught brief snippets of views over the vast valley, with the triple buttress looming above us, hidden in cloud. We’d crossed plenty of rivers at this point in the race, but todays put them to shame. I’d caught up with a few others and we were directed up river by another group shouting across to us. There was no way we were going to cross where the route crossed, the water was a mass of white water, with no clear line across. Upstream we found a wider section where the river had slowed and we managed to cross while holding onto each other. It was a relief to reach camp earlier, and have plenty of time to refuel and chat to other competitors. I made my first visit to the medical tent with two swelling ankles and got a nice early bed time. Day 4 – 22 miles Day 5 Another wet day. Its just the norm at this point. But today, i’m feeling the pain. I ran the first half with Debs and Ellen from my tent today. We had a laugh alongside a few tears and plenty of swearing at our aches and pains. Today was nearly the day I bailed. I kept moving, thinking, I’ll just finish today, but there’s no way my ankles could do another hundred miles…. Red Flag!! Top tip, no matter how long the race is, don’t think about how far is left. I’d done well so far, only thinking checkpoint to checkpoint, and as soon as I thought about the distance I had to cover the next couple of days, that’s when my head said, you can’t do that! We got caught in another hail storm before the last descent and on arriving into camp it was the first time i noticed how few competitors were left. We were the last few arriving. I went straight to the tent to change into dry layers, then I sat down, made the most of the rare phone service, and rang mum. I immediately cried…. I don’t think I can do this. I received little sympathy. Just set out tomorrow, and go to the first check point, If you make it on time, go to the next one. See how much further you can get, because If you bail now, without giving your everything, you’ll be disappointed in yourself. She was right, of course. That evening I read my ultra mail print out in bed, and saw the message from Ian Stewart (last years CWU winner) saying that I held the dubious honour of having the longest accumulative time out on the course and wishing me the best of luck for the next two days. So with mum’s advice, and Ian’s message of support, I had some new armour to get me though. I couldn’t run for me, so I’d run for the dot watchers. Day 5 – 27 miles Day 6 Lets just assume every day had a wet start. I’d ditched the lighter running waterproofs days ago. I’m now in my full mountain walking waterproofs. Someone had mentioned at dinner that this wasn’t a test of your running skill, this was a test in mountain craft and grit. It took me about 3 hours to get into the swing of things today, the first half consisted of more man eating bogs and muddy trail and then we were onto endless forestry track. So despite being the longest day, It is far from the hardest. After checkpoint 3 we headed back up into the hills for a long valley climb. I remembered to look behind once we reached the saddle, and was greeted with an epic view sweeping away down the valley. We followed a rocky river path back into camp and were greeted with cheers and well dones. The atmosphere had changed, suddenly It didn’t feel like a race I was trying to finish, It was a team event, and we would all make it to the end together. Day 6 – 45 miles
Day 7 The last push. I had heard that the two days I needed to worry about were days 3 and 7, the first half of today followed some technical, steep and rocky ground. Not exactly what you want this far in. The first checkpoint was only a guidance time of 1:45 pm, and I knew after that, that the timing and terrain was far more generous. Despite another day of cutoff stress, I think today was my favourite. Everyone who made It this far had finally been rewarded with some better weather, and I was able to strip off the waterproofs (although the jacket did make a return later on) Our route in the morning looped around two sea lochs and then headed up to our only summit of the race – Ben Dreavie, before dropping down to the road and checkpoint 2, following some track before joining the worst bit of trail on the whole route alongside two small lochans. Mud, rocks, heather and tussocks for two miles. It was universally hated by all runners across the race. The last four miles of the day were along the road, where Debs and Scott caught me up. Debs hadn’t made the cut off on day three, but had stuck around for a few more days in the bad weather before swapping the tent for her camper van, she walked alongside me in flip-flops as I “ran” the last few miles into camp. A swift hug goodbye and i’d finished day 7. This is the only night where we have use of a shower, I ate, grabbed my wash stuff, hobbled up the slope and had the best shower of my life. One day to go. Day 7 – 38 miles Day 8. Me and my tent mate Isi were the only two in our tent left in the competitive race. So we decided to do the final day together. 16 miles of coastline and Sandwood bay, with the second half being a final pathless stretch to the lighthouse. We walked the whole way, as neither of us could really run at this point, and had an enjoyable day being overtaken by non-competitive runners who were set off behind us, cheering us along. Day 8 is strange. At this point, you feel like you’ve done it, and you’re just walking it all off at this point. We cheered when we saw the lighthouse, walked under the gantry and were applauded by two volunteers and a couple of photographers, a quick hug before being ushered out of the cold into the cafe for soup. We congratulated the final two runners and then all aboard the minibus for and hour long bumpy ride to the “ferry”, 10 mins across to Durness and into camp. Everyone was already in the main marquee watching the videos of the last seven days on a big screen. We joined them and had a haggis dinner and listened to the band play a couple of songs. Everyone I spoke to said the same thing, it was anticlimactic. We watched the video for day 8, then the party began and we had a few beers and watched all of the volunteers dance along to the band before heading off for a final night in the tent. I’m sat at home now, writing this, It’s nearly a week since we finished, and I think I understand why It felt underwhelming on the final night. You can never grasp the enormity of an experience like that. We spent all week saying that no one at home was going to really understand what we’d been through. But at the finish line, neither did we. Its difficult to grasp the fact that you just ran 248miles in the Scottish highlands let alone in those conditions. But it’s slowly dawning on me now what I have managed to achieve and, as a volunteer told me on the last night, no one can ever take this away from you. I was the youngest finisher in 2022 and spent the longest out on the course. A huge thank you to all the volunteers and event staff, and also to everyone who ran with me, gave me advice, left messages of support and followed this journey.
A few race stats: Starters 270 Finishers 104 – 38% (usually 68%) It was classed as he toughest Cape Wrath Ultra to date, mainly due to the weather 81 men and 23 women finished the course My ear worm for the second half of the race was “I’m still standing”