From PortPatrick to Cockburnspath, from West to East, from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, the Race Across Scotland with an official length of 212 miles / 341.3 km. Add to that a few detours for checkpoints and bull meadows and you come well above 350k. A year before the start, we had our party complete. Maarten Schön, François Flisijn, Martino Corneillie and me. Other Dutchmen and Belgians who had appeared at the start, Benny Keuppens, Kurt Peeters, Erwin Deckers, Ken Rottiers, Jozef de Cock and Christophe Wislet. A beautiful company of 10 Dutch and Belgians. As said before, the route was 350k from left to right and about 8000 height meters. There would be 11 checkpoints (CPs) and we had 100 hours to defeat the physical and inner dragon.
Accept the Race
Behind us I see a ribbon of runners adorning the coastline of Portpatrick, we have started. I feel no fear for the distance , I do respect it. For a brief moment we walk with the four of us, François, Maarten, Martino and me. But soon Martino has chosen a slightly slower pace and we are with the three of us along the Scottish coast. The weather is good, not too hot, not too cold and it’s dry. Slowly the route curves in the direction of the inland and we have quite a step in it. We turn an asphalt road and continue for a few miles. I do not really like it and I realize that it can become a long, boring trip if a lot of asphalt is coming. After a few minutes of internal battle, I understand that I must accept the race as it is. If that is asphalt, asphalt will be my challenge and I will just do it. We move on, I’m slightly behind François and Maarten, everyone at their own pace. It is still far, probably a day or 3.5 walking, so nothing forcing. The asphalt finally turns into some trail-worthier terrain and I come back to live. My speed goes up immediately and I look forward to the next CP.
To the left and right of us, ominous sounds are coming at us, but we do not see what it is because of the fog. They turn out to be windmills. With the construction of the windmill parc, apparently the hiking trails have been provided with a new layer of stones, because in the meantime we have been walking for about an hour over large stones. I really have to talk to myself again and finally accept that it is simply the way it is. I rejoin with Maarten and François and enter the CP ten minutes later. At the CPs we do what we have to do and we do not lose too much time. In previous races we have learned to deal with a CP in a structured manner and not to continue to fling too long. Still on schedule we continue our way to CP4, there is our first drop bag with a new stock of food, batteries, clothing. It will also be a mental boost because of the first 100k. We can sit down and we may sleep ourselves there.
On CP3 we have already seen that in the middle of the night a tail of an Atlantic storm comes our way. Everyone we meet, we already provide the information. We have adjusted our plan accordingly, as we do not want to walk through the sickening rain when it is not necessary. After an hour walking through the darkness, we arrive at CP4 around 2300h. Meanwhile already 17 hours on the road and more than 100k done. The storm is still predicted, so we opt for a big break, as the storm should be over around 4.00am. We do everything we need to do and sleep as good as possible on a half empty air mattress.
Let the pain be
Fresh and fruity we step back out in the drizzle at 400am. We had a break of 5 hours and slept for almost 2 hours. Does not sound like much, but it is a world of difference with the runners who have not slept. We get on well and soon we start catching up with runners. Let’s check briefly whether everything is okay when you catch up with someone, and continue. We hear from the runners that the rain was really harsh and that it was a bad night, we cheerfully answer that we have slept on CP4. Meanwhile, the stone paths and windmills have made way for muddy grass paths that lead us through meadows with their characteristic stone walls. We have to pass all these stone walls through a kind of stairs. I lost count, but there were certainly more than 200. My pace is good and I start to come in my ultra mode. I do not talk much anymore and I start to walk in front of François and Maarten. The last few km before the next CP I speed up and wait for them at the CP. Everything goes fast to me at that moment and within half an hour I am ready to continue. They are not ready yet and I decide to go on alone.
Once outside I immediately speed up and I start catching up with other runners. Food and drinks go very well and my pace remains high. My muscles hurt every now and then, but I let that be so. I deliberately do not adjust my walking technique and let the pain be. Slowly the pain disappears to the background and occasionally pops up again not to be forgotten. The landscape has changed from glowing hills to mountains of almost 1000 meters. I am now in the middle of the race, in the middle of the middle of nowhere. There are no noises from cars, there are no paved roads and even the next 20km there are no huts to shelter. This is a very pure piece of nature with a thin path that I walk over. Further on the mountain I see a runner, five minutes later I walk next to the runner. Again, check whether it goes well and through. A little bit further on, another runner, but coming my way? You go in the right direction, he says, I’m out, my wife picks me up at the road, twisted ankle. I’m sorry for him, we are about half way. And indeed not much later I finally arrive at the sign, Halfway! Great feeling, even though my watch indicates that I am at 187km!
Running is still fine, so, my food intake, trail acceptance and pain seem to work until now. The second darkness falls and I have to walk a little bit in the dark to CP7. The CP where the second drop bag is around 200k. I make a plan at 2215h there. I do not want to stay here too long, but I want to sleep. François and Maarten come in after my one-and-a-half-hour powernap. Little chat, we all go well. Martino is also doing well, but does it quietly. Maarten and François go to sleep, I step into the night at 1:30 am.
Mind controls the Body
I walk into the night in shorts and T-shirts. It is fresh, much fresher than the night before and I speed up. Not much later it starts to drizzle, now it gets cold. I put on a thin raincoat, but wonder if it is enough, and I push on to the next CP. My hands are also cold and my legs too. I did not see this coming at all, but I do not put on any extra clothes and I bet that I can almost get out of the ridge again. After an hour or two cold, the descent is there and I slowly warm up again. It is already starting to twilight and I am looking forward to the warmth of the sun. The mountain path ends on an asphalt road and I decide to walk for a while. The twilight causes me to start falling asleep. Sleepy moments come faster and faster and I can hardly turn them away. I have to lie, but where? You can not lie on an asphalt road. Do you already see the headlines? Runner killed because he was sleeping on the road …. After half an hour, finally a stretch next to the road where I can sit safely and I put my hands on my knees and my head in my hands. Max 5 minutes and I’m fresh again for a few hours.
Standing up is reasonable and I allow my stiff muscles a mile to activate again. Then the route turns off the asphalt road and a steep climb awaits me. I decide to take that climb full power to get back in again and quickly overtake two runners. Did they catch up with me during that mouse sleep or did they just walk around zombie mode too? No idea. It is still beautiful where we walk, and that works very positively. After about 230km your mind has to do something. Arrived on CP8 again nice chat with people. Something that I needed after the lonely night. However, it was not a CP to linger long since it was outside. I thank the volunteer and go on the road again. The route now runs along a fantastically beautiful lake. A number of miles of flat. Running is still fine, but not when it is flat, so I walk on tightly. Although the piece of CP8 to CP9 takes place during the day, I can not remember much of it. I start to get into a kind of meditative state. Time and place become irrelevant, even my actions go on autopilot. I am suddenly on CP9.
Only 50 miles
I do another powernap of 20 minutes and wake up at the same as Christophe Wislet, a runner with lots of experience. I am a bit finished with walking alone and ask to walk together, he likes it. A Portuguese, João Colaço, with even more experience, wants to join, but is not ready yet and we leave. Christophe and I do not talk much, but do not walk further than 10m apart. We have the same pace and understand each other without words. I soon notice that it is a man who does not waste time, there are few pauses and we are making steady progress. We do not really feel like running for the past few hours, and we keep on hiking at high speed. We walk on an idiot long boring decent gravel road when João passes us running. Christophe and I look at each other and put the pursuit. Not much later we walk on with the three of us. I ask João what he has done and hear that he has walked the TOR and Trans Pyrenea (860km with 65.000D + from Mediterranean to Atlantic). Trans Pyrenea partially with Christophe. I walk there with two Trans Pyrenea finishers. My double Legends finish feels a bit small. Just before CP10 I ask what they want and I indicate that after 1.5 hours I am away from the CP. They agree.
CP10 is around 295k and there is the last and third drop bag. I throw everything from my backpack what I do not need anymore and take minimal food for the last 50k. We sleep for half an hour, throw in a few pieces of pizza and want to leave. With us, David Scott (Scottish) and Thomas Steenberg(Danish) also want to leave. With the five of us we go into the third night. It is foggy and it drizzles. Fortunately, it is not really cold to mention. Soon we get back into the swampy meadows and we almost immediately lose the markings as we can not see more than 20m in front of us. I take the lead and take my GPS. Everyone seems to be fine with that and follows meekly. After half an hour of wandering over the imaginary line of the GPS, we see a light in the distance. It turns out to be Ian. This man suffers from his ankle for 100k and has decided to just walk out the race without a break. He joins our group. I navigate drowsy but do not manage to stay on the route and after a few small detours and two hours of splattering through the mist we finally get on a gravel path. Our third night challenge is over. I would really like to sit down to give the legs a little bit of relief, but it’s soaking wet everywhere and there is sheep shit everywhere. So through and through and through to CP11. Holy shit, really we are at CP11 !!! Only 30k and then we are at the finish. I ask everyone again about his plan. Ian goes straight on, Thomas also continues. João, Christophe and David, like me, are going to do a powernap to settle the last part fresh and fruity.
Ready for departure from CP11 we already receive congratulations from volunteers and I can feel the finish. And we are on the road again, I can hardly believe it. We walk, there is no more running. We stay together, with the four of us, until the finish. David keeps talking and talking, he is a good talking replacement for Maarten, haha. We struggle through meadows and sheep shit. Then we finally arrive on a clean and dry asphalt road and we all drop down. No words are needed for this, we understand each other. Just horizontal, just a reboot and through! Farms are starting to make room for houses and roads. The noise pollution is very present after a few days of nature. 9km before the finish we take the wrong direction. 6km before the finish we once again almost go wrong due to some ambiguities in the course and then ……… Then suddenly there is a viewpoint with a view of the North Sea. Tears swell in my eyes. Emotions are rapidly coming up due to the lack of sleep and the enormous physical effort. Tears over my cheeks and we walk on quietly. The pace is slow and steady, we enjoy the last meters, because they are the last. We recall memories of our trip from Portpatrick to Cockburnspath. The last mile lies ahead of us and we veer back into the interior from the coast. On the way to the mini village of Cockburnspath where the finish arch stands. Where our coveted Buckle lies. Another corner, and another one, well one more. With the four of us we walk side by side running the last 100m and finish in a state of Euphoria in just over 78 hours this Monster Trail!
Holy shit what a distance, so cool! Was it me who ran this? Is this really the finish?
Beer? Yes please!
I drink a beer while lying in the grass and call Wendy, my wife. Few words coming out from both sides, overwhelmed by emotions. Unbelievable, I finished!
I bivouac the remaining 22 hours of the race near the finish line and wait for my buddies. After 86 hours of toil and trudging, François and Maarten also reach the finish. There is beer again, pizza ordered. Sleeping a bit, telling a lot of stories. Clapping for other finishers, shaking hands, hugging, sleeping again, laughing a lot, still not realizing what happened.
We sleep again on a half-cooked airbed and wake up because Martino is about to finish. He’s still 2 miles away. Almost finish if he had been in normal condition, now it takes more than 2 hours. After 96 hours, Martino stumbled across the finish line with a big smile. His feet are blisterized (is that a word?!).
Benny, Ken, Jozef and Kurt have also reached the finish. Only Erwin had to stop at 100 miles with a foot injury.
Wayne Drinkwater, Race Director, thank you so much for this incredible race. Memories for live!
Everyone else of the Great Brittan Ultra organisation many many thanks! Love to come over for another race.
Volunteers, without you no race! Love peace and happiness for all of you!
Christophe, João and David, thank you for ending this Beast together!
Maarten, François and Martino, thank you so much for this memorable trip, thank you so much for all the laughing!
Wendy, my love, thank you for understanding. Love you!