Mapledurham BYU 2024 – A Crew’s Eye View

Going to Mapledurham was a bit of a last-minute plan, but we’re glad we did! After the Cow Shed Backyard Ultra was cancelled due to short notice, Julie had a bit of a gap in her schedule before her next race in June and was still looking to find a few extra yards to secure her place on the UK team after having posted 38 at Rasselbock BYU in March. Held on the May bank holiday and looking like a not too difficult course, Mapledurham was the obvious choice. Handily, they offered a discount to runners transferring from the cancelled Cow Shed race too, which was nice! This would be the first edition of the race (in fact the first ever event run by CG Trails) so besides the race info pack which was emailed out we didn’t know exactly what to expect.

We packed up the new van with all of our camping gear, Julie’s running gear and enough food to feed a crew of four (Iain plus three kids) and a hungry runner for 48 hours! It was nice not to need either a roof-box or trailer, and still have more room inside than our old car. After picking up the kids from school, we set of on the long road trip down to Reading. Mapledurham is just a little to the North of Reading itself, on the other side of the Thames. The journey took about 8 hours, so we eventually arrived and checked in to the local Travelodge at around 1am. After a short but decent night’s sleep (plus Julie had a bit of a sleep in the car on the journey too), we set off again early in the morning to arrive at Mapledurham at 7am when the site opened.

The venue is in the grounds of Mapledurham House, with the corral on the lawn directly in front of the house. We were able to pitch our tent in a great spot just a few metres from the start line and the runners’ aid tent (with hot water supply). Motivated by the prospect of breakfast, we had the tent up in no time and by 8am had bacon frying on the stove. For the rest of the morning Julie was able to rest and get ready for the start, while we had lots of time to chat to other runners as they arrived and set up camp. We also got to meet Chris and Georgia (the C and G of CG Trails), who were really friendly and helpful. If they were feeling the pressure of their first even race day, they didn’t show it! In total there were 40 runners on the start line, including our friends the Parkins, Eleanor Gallon and Vic Owens. Eric and Jonathan from Rasselbock Running were also there to provide a live stream of the event (as well as running the first few yards) so it was nice to catch up with all of them.

Just before 11am the runners gathered in the corral and after the customary 3,2 and 1 minute whistles they were off on the first yard! And time for the first hour of waiting for the runners to return for those of us crewing on the camp site. Iain was quickly in to the hourly routine of tidying up our tent, hanging around for half an hour, then preparing whatever food and drink Julie was likely to want, before watching the runners come in from about quarter to the hour. The last half mile or so of the course is visible from the finish line, so we had a good view of the runners approaching from the distance.

As is customary for events when Julie is running, the weather was excellent throughout and Iain even had his shorts on for the first time this year! Throughout the day runners gradually dropped out, but many of them were first time BYU runners so it was great to see most people matching or exceeding their goals – even Eric, who completed one yard and was the first runner to DNF when he returned during the second. Getting to speak to almost all the runners at some point is one of the best parts of a BYU as a crew member. Generally the runners might have a few chats here and there with each other, or even team up for a few yards, but often after someone has DNF’ed they may well have packed up and gone home by the end of the next yard, never to be seen again by the other runners!

The first day went by uneventfully for us. Julie had a couple of toe blisters that needed taping (fairly common for her), and wasn’t enjoying the heat, but nothing much too worry about and was consistently lapping around 52 minutes, coming in with a smile on her face.

As we got in to the night, the clear skies meant that the temperature dropped sharply, from around 24C in the afternoon heat down to 3 or 4C by the early hours of the morning. Rhona is a capable crew deputy in her own right, so once it got dark she did the 9pm-1am shift, and Iain got several hours of solid sleep. It was definitely cold by the time he took over at 2am, and it got worse through the night as a cold, thick fog settled and the grass got damp with dew. Fortunately, the first light of dawn appeared well before 5am and within a few hours the fog had burned off leaving another bright morning. As usual, the night thinned the field out significantly, with only 12 runners continuing beyond midnight, and only 6 making it all the way through to midday and the 24 hour, 100 mile mark! Surprisingly, George Parkin had dropped at 1am (13 yards, well short of his PB of 30) but the other ‘favourites’ Eleanor, Allan and Vic were still in, along with Benjamin and Peter who were both running their first Backyard. Julie had enjoyed the night as she always does, especially compared to the heat of the day. She slowed down a little bit just so she could go a bit more carefully on some of the trickier trail sections in the dark, but was still moving well although had quite sore lower legs for no apparent reason. Application of the magic “freeze spray” became a regular part of our between-yards routine.

Things moved rather quickly on the Sunday afternoon! Benjamin opted not to continue after reaching 24 yards, and Eleanor timed out on the 25th yard due to a combination of issues. Vic pulled out after completing the 26th yard with what looked like excruciating IT band issues, leaving Allan, Peter and Julie left as the final three! They all completed several more laps, but Peter was looking distinctly wobbly at times, and Allan was struggling with severe stomach issues. After completing 30 laps (a great effort for his first Backyard), Peter decided to stop leaving Allan and Julie out on yard 31. It was 4pm and Julie had wanted some proper food at the end of the yard, so Iain had just gone back in to the tent and started cooking pasta when Allan was spotted returning to the corral (via the portaloo, sadly)! Julie had been ahead of them but she had no idea that she was now the last one standing. Everyone gathered round the finish line at about 4.45pm and soon we could see her in the distance (and on the zoom lens of the live stream camera we could see she was still looking behind her to see where Allan was). With about half a mile to go, a passer-by who was following the event broke the news that he had DNF’ed, and all she had to do was complete the yard and take the win! If it hadn’t been for that I think she might have been a bit confused about all the shouting and whooping from us at the finish 🤣

Although we said this blog was a “crew’s eye view” here’s a few notes from Julie about the course itself:

This is a lovely route and although I was disappointed to not get a few more yards on my PB the route itself is great and as always I was able to have some nice chats with friends old and new. The course is ideal for a backyard as nearly all the climbing is in the first miles which makes pacing much easier. The only downside was a “kissing gate” at the bottom of the hill which caused a bit of a bottleneck and then it was hard to get past people on the hill. This meant there were a lot of early laps where I just had to accept I would be going at the pace of everyone around me rather than choosing my own pace – I tend to walk uphill faster than a lot of people! Midway up the hill was a short runnable section before the rest of the climb. The climb is through a lovely woods and as you near the top there was a beautiful patch of bluebells to enjoy on the right of the path. You then leave the trees behind to cross a field to the second kissing gate on the route which opens up on a farm road and the end of the first mile. Because of the big climb I found this mile came in at a 14-15mins which is slower than I would usually aim for on a backyard but with the other 3 miles downhill or flat it was easy to make up the time to average out at just over 12min/mile. The next 2 miles are mainly single undulating track with the odd section of farm road. With a mix of views it is a route that has plenty to keep you interested. A few low hanging branches meant I had to pay attention at night and nettles close to the edge of the path woke you up if you veered to close! There is one short section of steeper down hill in mile 3 before a long flat run back to Mapledurham house. This flat section starts in trees and had the only really muddy section of the course. The final mile is on farm road and did begin to drag as the yards passed by. It also runs past a farmers yard and barns where it was fun to say hello to the dairy cows but they really did stink! The roads are unusual as they are all slab concrete which several people were finding tough on the legs. All in all a lovely little route with plenty of interest, I would recommend it to backyarders old and new.

One of the strangest things if you make it to the end of a Backyard is the everyone else has usually gone home! Once Julie had finished the final yard, received her memento, posed for a few photos and eaten some food it was time to pack up and go. Chris, Georgia and team were packing up the race HQ, Eric and Jonathan were packing up the live stream kit and we got our stuff packed up pretty darn quick too. In the end I think only George and Allan were left on the campsite on Sunday night.

Despite a pretty decent amount of sleep, driving all the way home (leaving at 7pm, arriving home about 3am) wasn’t a good plan so we stopped off for a welcome sleep in a real bed plus an all-you-can-eat breakfast at the Birmingham airport Travelodge before eventually making it home early afternoon on Monday!

All in all a great weekend. Although she was very happy to come away with the win, no-one else was able to go far enough for Julie to extend her current PB of 38 yards. The Portland Pig BYU was taking place the same weekend (starting on the Friday), and the top two runners there reached 38 and 39 yards respectively, meaning that Julie was now (at least until Suffolk BYU) occupying the final spot on the UK national team list and Iain was off the bottom! Hopefully we’ll get a chance to change that before the end of the qualifying period in August 😬

Thanks again to Chris and Georgia for putting on a fantastic event at Mapledurham – we’d definitely recommend it to anyone, if you’re run a Backyard or not. It sounds like they are aiming to grow the event a bit more for next year, but we hope it doesn’t lose the relaxed and personal charm along the way.

One final takeaway from this year’s event (for Iain) is not to let the kids charge their phones off the car battery! And special thanks to Peter Johnston’s family for lending a pair of jump leads to get us out of that particular spot of difficulty 🤣

Training for Ultramarathons

It’s something that both Julie and I get asked quite a lot, so I thought it would be worth taking the time to write a proper blog post explaining what sort of training I do, but also why as well as some thoughts on how to construct a training plan. A few caveats before we dive right in. First, I’ve been running for more than ten years now and completed more than 30 ultras but I have never been formally coached or been trained as a coach so everything in this post is based on my own experience, what I’ve learned from others, and what I’ve read and researched. Second, what works for me might not work for you – so don’t try to copy my approach exactly, but feel free to pick, choose and adapt it for your own needs. Finally, I have several years of conditioning myself to moderate to high volume (40-50 miles per week) training. If you’re trying to put together a training plan for your first half-marathon, or even your first ultra this is probably not the way to start! With that in mind, grab a cup of something and read on… this could be a long one!

Building Blocks

Easy Runs – Also known as recovery runs, these should make up the majority of your weekly mileage, they give the body time to recover and adapt after harder training sessions. There are various definitions such as being in heartrate “Zone 2” (60-70% of your max heart rate), being under the “first ventilatory threshold (VT1)“, or simply being at a pace where you can hold a conversation comfortably. For me, this usually translates into around 8:30-9:00 minutes per mile pace, and a heart rate of 120-130 bpm. Mostly I run ‘to feel’, with my watch turned to show time of day only. If it’s a flat run I might be slightly faster and in the low 120s, if it’s a hillier or tougher underfoot route then I’ll likely be slower, and maybe around or above 130. The main point is to avoid drifting into the “moderate pace” zone where you are working hard enough to tire and inhibit recovery, but not hard enough to promote positive adaptations! Typically, I’ll go for 45-90 minutes and clock up 6-10 miles at a time.

Intervals – A hard session containing multiple shorter sections at a high or very high intensity. A typical interval session for me would be a mile warm-up at easy pace, either quarter, half or whole mile intervals, with an easy pace recovery in between, and a mile or more’s cool-down at the end. Usually I’ll aim for 4 or 5 miles in total of intervals e.g. 16 x 1/4 mile intervals, 8x 1/2 mile intervals, 4 or 5 1 mile intervals. The target pace is adjusted depending on the length of the interval, aiming for a pace which I can sustain for the whole workout. For example 5:30 min/mile for 1/4 miles, 5:45 for 1/2 miles and 6:00 for 1 mile intervals. The first few reps it should be easy to hit the target pace, then percieved effort will increase throughout the workout, and usually I’ll go ‘flat out’ for the final rep (or I might just be hanging on to stick the pace)! Usual sessions last about 60-75 minutes. At the moment I use a 1.5 mile tarmac loop around a local park, but in the past I have done there-and-back repetitions along a straight road – anything where you can avoid road crossings or anything else where you might have to slow down.

Here’s a screenshot (and Strava link) of a recent session – 2 sets of 5 reps of 1/2 mile at 5:45 min/mile pace, with 1/4 mile recovery between reps and a whole mile recovery between sets:

Tempo Runs – a run done at a faster pace than “easy” but easier than a race or interval level of effort. For me this means aiming for a pace that I can maintain for the distance while maintaining good form, consistent breathing and without feeling like I am “blowing up”. Typically this might be around 7 min / mile pace or a little bit faster for a 6-10 mile effort. Tempo runs are a lot of fun!

Long Runs – As the name suggests, just go for a long run! Conventional wisdom seems to be that your long run should be about 20-25% of your total weekly mileage. For me, the long run is usually around the 15 mile mark, sometimes up to 20. Usually I try to mix in a good amount of trail and hills into this run, and run it at easy pace.

Hill Intervals – This workout specifically adapts the body for running faster up hills. I like to find a hill of roughly half a mile long, as steep as I can reasonably run up (maybe 300-400 ft of climb). Run to the base of the hill at easy pace as a warm-up, do several climbs at a hard but sustainable pace, and easy jog back down to recover, then run back again at easy pace as a cool-down. The main point is to focus on climbing form with a high cadence and good knee drive/lift, so the pace should be maintainable. Of course, not all hills are the same gradient all the way up but avoid sprinting off and then shuffling up the rest!

Races – Personally, I like to mix in some (short) races in with my training. Typically these would be ~10k or less, usually trail or hill races. They give me a little bit of extra motivation to push to the absolute maximum level of effort that I can’t replicate in training, but are short enough that I can recover from them in a day or so and they can be slotted in alongside regular training runs.

Of course, it’s OK just to “go for a run” too, not every single run has to fit into one of these categories. Sometimes I’ll mix things up like running an easy pace up a hill, and tempo pace on the way back again. Or I might pick a Strava segment or two to aim at, throwing a couple of race pace efforts into an easy run. If I’m doing a big day out in the hills, I might well walk parts (especially uphills), and run the flats and the downhills. Occasionally I’ll do a Tempo Long Run, which is a proper hard workout to improve my pace endurance!

Strength Training – building in some simple strength exercises is a good way to “injury-proof” your body. Since I started including a twice-weekly 30 minute strength session into my training in mid 2023 I’ve definitely had less niggles or injuries that would cause me to take a break from regular training. I have a set of dumbbells and a step and do a variety of exercises that mainly target the legs and core, including single-leg squats, bridges, heel raises, deadlifts and the like. Usually I’ll stick with the same programme for 2 or 3 months, then swap out some of the exercises for some variety and to work on different muscles. I’ve been fortunate enough to have access to a Physical Trainer through my work’s staff benefits scheme who helped me design the programme, but you can find plenty of example workouts on YouTube or coaching websites.

I don’t do any other regular cross-training, but I do aim to do a 10-15 minute stretch / flexibility / mobilisation routine every day – again there are lots of routines that you can easily find on YouTube like this one from Trail Running Scotland.

Planning

Macro planning – The first step for me in building a training plan is to set decide on my weekly mileage. Using the principle of periodisation (essentially, giving the body a rest every so often to allow for recovery and avoid overtraining), I tend to gradually increase my mileage over a period of 2-3 weeks, then have an easy week with a reduced mileage. Over the whole year I try to aim for about 50 miles per week, so a 4 week block of training might be 50, 60, then 70 miles, followed by a week of approx 30-35 miles. Between my last big race of the year (usually November), and first big race of the year (usually March or April), I try to fit in 3 or 4 of these blocks. Planning recovery, training and tapering between races is a topic for another post, maybe!

Micro planning – Adaptations (a.k.a. getting stronger or faster) never happen from a single training session, but after repeated workouts (with recovery in between) which over time the body responds to. So when building a weekly training schedule, I try to include the following key elements each week. Usually one or two hard workouts (one interval session, plus a tempo, hill run, or short race), one long run, and the rest of the weekly mileage target made up of easy runs. For lower mileage weeks I’ll include one or even two rest days with no running, but even on high mileage weeks have a day with only a short run (maybe 30 mins / 4 miles). For a typical 50 mile week this might look like:

  • Monday: Strength session + 9 miles easy
  • Tuesday: 10 miles intervals
  • Wednesday: 4 miles easy
  • Thursday: Strength session + 9 miles hillier route at easy pace
  • Friday: 6 mile tempo run
  • Saturday: rest day
  • Sunday: 12 mile easy (long run)

Generally, I don’t plan to this level of detail (although many people do). I know roughly what sessions I plan to do in a given week and the mileage target I’m aiming for but for me it’s helpful to have the flexibility to adapt the week’s training plan on-the-fly (more on that later) while still hitting an overall mileage goal.

Specificity – So far, I’ve described training which is pretty generic – it will generally improve my overall speed and conditioning but is not targetted at a specific performance goal such as improving my time in a 10k or marathon, or a 100 mile ultra. I do include typically around 50% of my running off road (mainly trail, some pathless hills too), with roughly 3000-5000 feet of climbing, as represents the terrain I will mainly race on! However, another important element that I build in to my training is adapting to the upcoming demands of a specific race.

For example, when preparing for a particularly hilly race, I will deliberately include more hills into my weekly running, and usually set an elevation goal of maybe 8000 feet per week, and put in a long day in the mountains instead of a normal long run. In the run-up to a Backyard Ultra, I’ll do some sessions where I do a significant amount of walking at “race pace” (<15 min/mile) to make sure my legs are well conditioned. In preparation for a race like Cape Wrath Ultra (less than 2 months away now!), I’ve started taking a weighed backpack on most of my medium and long runs to get used to carrying it and getting use to the extra effort for a given pace.

Executing the Plan

It’s said that no plan survives first contact with the enemy… so how do I go about executing the plan week by week, in and around family responsibilities, holidays, and the random curve-balls that inevitably crop up! Firstly, it’s worth saying that I have an incredibly supportive and accommodating spouse 😍 and obviously it helps that she understands why I want to run for ~10 hours per week (and she does too). I work from home, so usually I will do my strength training sessions during my lunch break, and occasionally a short run. Julie typically runs early in the morning most weekdays, so I get most of my running in the evenings. At least 3 days per week one or other of the kids has an activity or sports club, so typically I’ll take them there and fit in a 60-90 minute run before bringing them home again. I often find that easier than heading out of the door for a run as it doesn’t require any real motivation – I just do it!

I really like to have a lot of variation in where I run and I don’t enjoy taking the same route again and again. Usually during the day I’ll have a think about the session I have planned for the evening and come up with a route which is approximately the right length. Usually I will try to fit in a good mixture of road, trail and hill (sometimes all in the same run!) and I often use Strava’s Route planner to find paths I haven’t been down before. That’s getting harder and harder as I have covered almost everywhere reachable within 90 minutes from all my common start points! On the plus side, I do know pretty much all the local routes, so I can adapt my route on-the-fly, adding a little extra loop if I know I have the time left in a session.

More rarely, I have a few “no-brainer” routes that I can just do without any planning if I have had a busy day, or just don’t want to spend the effort of planning a route. The main exception to the above is for interval sessions, where I have one or two go-to locations which are flat tarmac loops and I don’t have to think about navigation at all – just run!

Most weeks, unless I am doing a particularly high mileage, I will take one complete rest day. I’m flexible about which day depending on how I am feeling and what I have been doing beforehand. Commonly, if I have done a hard race, or a very long run on the Sunday, I might take Monday as a rest day. If we have something planned as a family on Saturday, I might plan to have my rest day then. As I said earlier – I just try to keep flexible while making sure I’m roughly on track for my mileage goal. That said, the length of Sunday’s run often ends up being whatever distance I have left to do 😆

Strength training days are typically Monday and Thursday (alongside either an easy run, or a rest day) with intervals typically done on a Tuesday, but I’ll move any of these depending on what is in the diary for the week – especially if I have lunchtime meetings I’ll often move the strength session to a Tuesday or Friday.

Sometimes if I’m aiming for a high mileage week e.g. 70 miles, I will double-up with two runs in the day. At least one of them will be short and easy, to allow me a bit of recovery time. Often that would be a morning run with Julie at the weekend, or a lunchtime run during the week, then another session in the afternoon or evening.

It might seem a bit haphazard, but it works for me!

In Practice

That all sounds good in theory, but how does it work in practice? I’ve extracted the last 8 weeks from my Strava Training Log and added some comments. All in all, I think I stuck pretty well to the plan!

So there you have it – that’s how I train to run ultras! Hope you found it interesting and it gave you some ideas you can incorporate into your own training. I’m always on the lookout for new ideas and ways to keep my training fresh, so if you do something completely different I’d love to hear about it. As I said at the start I’m not a trained coach, but if you have any questions or want some help creating your own training plan, just get in touch and I’ll be happy to help out!

Rasselbock Backyard Ultra 2024

Well it’s two weeks since Rasselbock Backyard Ultra and I am still trying to get over the disappointment of stopping at 38 yards 😭. That’s the thing about Backyard Ultras that makes them so hard but at the same time makes you want to go back for more. I was determined to go into this race to time out or win however hard it was and yet at 38 yards (2am on the second night) I was 100% happy with my decision to stop and not risk injuring my already swollen knees. I still finished the yard with plenty of time to spare (in roughly 55mins) but didn’t go back out – my mind had played tricks on me and in that moment I was completely happy with what I had done. It wasn’t until after a few hours sleep that the regret and disappointment kicked in and after a couple of days when the knee swelling had gone down and there was no real injury the regret got even worse. But what is done can’t be changed and can only be used to go into the next race stronger. Bring on the Cow Shed Backyard Ultra in 4 weeks!

As a silver ticket event with some big names attending the build up to Rasselbock felt quite intense and by race day I was feeling the pressure of my own expectation and others! I always knew I was going to have to go down without a crew as Iain needed to look after the kids and work, and I knew this would make it harder. Also with limited time off work myself I decided the train was the best option there and back as I could then head back straight after the race finished rather than have to catch up on sleep before it was safe to drive. However a train strike was announced for the Friday so I messaged Mike Raffan who was driving to see if I could get a lift. He kindly agreed and picked me up on the Friday morning for the journey down. I still had to travel light as I needed to be able to carry everything back home again on the train. In the end I ended up with one large holdall containing all of my camping stuff, race clothes, shoes and electronics and then had two bags for life that contained all my food and drink and finally a folding chair for between laps. After a good journey down we arrived mid afternoon on the Friday and were able to get set up and settled in before it got dark. Mike got his camper and gazebo set up and I found my spot in the aid station marquee where there was plenty of tables and space for solo runners. I then pitched up my bivvy bag where I would be sleeping for the night (it soon got described as the body bag by the other runners!).

The early evening crawled by with runners and crews arriving and getting set up. I had a chat with folk and hung around in the marquee making sure I stayed warm. Eric had organised a Domino’s order for the Friday evening and I was very much ready for it when it arrived at 8pm. The size of the gluten free pizza was as always disappointing compared to everyone else’s pizza but it tasted good and had over a thousand calories. I crawled into my bivvy bag about 9.30pm fully clothed (I even kept my coat on) as the temperature was round about freezing 🥶 and I had a surprisingly good night’s sleep. I did wake early but didn’t mind as I had slept well. I crawled out of my bag and got breakfast sorted (porridge pots, fruit and a much needed cup of tea) and hung around as people began to wake up and arrive. The solo runner area soon had a buzz about it but it still felt like a long wait until midday – I don’t like midday starts as it feels like you waste half of the day. It didn’t take long to register and get my bib number (140) and timing tag. I borrowed an empty gazebo to get changed in (I had been told I could the night before!) and then hung around trying to relax and use as little energy as possible (and keep warm)!

Eric gave a quick race briefing in the marquee (it was raining!) and then we had about 20 minutes until race start. I was unsure if to wear waterproof trousers for the first lap as some of the rain showers were heavy but in the end decided to risk it and it was the correct decision as the rain eased up and then stopped completely. At 11.57 the three minute whistles went off and we were finally about to start. At 12 the bell rang and we were on our way. With 130 runners it felt busy and it was hard to find a rhythm at the start. Once we started along the forest track it became easier. The route is mainly on wide forest roads (some more muddy than others) with just two sections of technical single track. There was no option but to go at everyone else’s pace through these as they were busy! They were also muddy and only got muddier throughout the afternoon! They also had hidden stones and tree roots to keep an eye out for – I didn’t like these sections and it highlighted to me how I need to improve my running in mud as others were making it look a lot easier and were much more confident than I was. I was also deliberately taking it easy as I didn’t want to slip and twist anything or trip over a hidden obstacle, as there was a long way to go! I was soon heading up past the Go Ape on the final section to the camp and the start/finish line. I was surprised to find that my watch pinged four miles as I crossed the line – everyone’s were measuring short because of the tree cover and the twisty path for the single track sections. This meant my first yard was faster than I intended – I planned on 52 minute loops but was in at 49 minutes for the first loop. I mentally readjusted my pacings and after that my loops were much more consistent at around 52 minutes.

The time between loops went quickly with sorting out food and drinks and any other jobs that needed doing. The three whistles would soon sound and it would be time to get ready to head back to the corral after the two minute whistles. The afternoon loops all passed in much the same way with some chat with other runners on each loop and then a focus on eating/drinking and using the portaloo between loops. It was great to chat with other runners and find out what their goals were. I would see the same faces each loop as I was surrounded by those runners with a similar pacing to me. Before long it was time for head torches and night. That’s the problem with a midday start – it’s night before you know it! It was also cold as the sun set but I had a good system of zip tops and a pair of gloves that I was able to take on and off to regulate my temperature overnight. I am happy to run with the tops round my waist so this worked really well as a system. I also wore a cap during the day for the first time and this worked well. I took it off for the night loops with the head torch and in fact didn’t need a hat at all (I find my head gets warm with a head torch on). There were 13 loops where a head torch was mandatory from 6pm to the 7am loop. As I expected the course was much trickier at night with the mud and I think some people found the cold tough.

It was still busy this first night and I was finding it frustrating through the single track sections as everyone running at my pace was running them faster than I wanted to – I preferred to run more of the forest roads and then go slower on the single track (everyone else was the opposite). It meant I spent the whole of the single track sections very aware of runners behind me and kept stopping to let them past. Apart from that and a few other muddy sections to be avoided it was just a case of getting the laps done. Everything felt surprisingly good which I was really pleased about and I wasn’t even too tired. The numbers did thin out through the night so the single track sections gradually became easier. After a long night it gradually came light and suddenly the track was so much easier again. A porridge pot, banana and cup of tea and I was good for the day. I had had to tape up one toe (a blister at the nail bed) and was getting annoyed at having to keep emptying dirt out of my left shoe (I would consider gaiters in future) but otherwise was feeling pretty good and looking forward to 24 yards at midday. 😁

Yard 24 finally arrived with 35 runners still in the corral. This was fantastic to be a part of, but there was still many more yards to go! There were still plenty of people to chat to which was great and it was making the laps pass more quickly. I was finding it trickier keeping everything organised in between laps but was managing to get everything done. On yard 28 I noticed my knees aching and when I looked down I noticed some swelling around them which I was very concerned about but it didn’t hurt to run or walk on them so I used a deep freeze spray and some paracetamol and carried on. I mentioned them to Sarah Perry during the loop and she pointed out it may be the compression socks that I was wearing so when I got back I swapped into ankle socks for the rest of the afternoon. The swelling didn’t go down but also didn’t get any worse which was good. The number of runners dropped quite quickly after 24 yards and there was only a few of us that started the second evening of dark loops with head torches. I had swapped into leggings for the night now I no longer had my long socks on but otherwise planned the same approach as I had the night before.

I guess this is where it all started to go wrong as in the back of my mind I was worried about my knees and didn’t want to cause a serious injury. Without a crew it is hard to keep things in perspective. Yes, my knees had some swelling and ached but they weren’t causing me any bother to run on and I had certainly finished previous races with worse! I enjoyed quite a few miles chatting with other runners, including Vic Owens (“The Happy Runner”) which was great and certainly helped the laps pass, it also distracted me from my knees! I think chatting with other runners also had a big downside in that I had become quite dependent on the company. We made it to loop 36 which would be a new UK women’s Backyard record and there were still three women running which was fantastic and very cool to be a part of. This was Vic Owens’ final lap. She had met her goal and was falling asleep on her feet. Suddenly on lap 37 with only 5 runners left I was on my own and I hadn’t mentally prepared for this. Even listening to music my focus was on my aching knees and I couldn’t distract myself from this. I also fell into the trap on some level of thinking others looked stronger or in better shape than me – I really do struggle to believe in myself! I guess I must have spent a lot of the lap with my brain convincing me that after 38 laps when I was above Iain on the UK At-large list, that was a sensible time to stop (we have a healthy level of competition in our marriage!). So when I went out on lap 38 I had decided to pace to finish in about 59 minutes so Iain wasn’t disappointed in me for not going back out (it’s funny how the brain works). I didn’t think to give him a call and talk it all through I was 100% confident in the decisions I was making – big mistake! On the final loop I cut out a lot of my runs and speed walked instead and still made it round in 55 minutes. A chat with Eric at the finish line and I crossed the finish line for the final time happy with what I had achieved. I stood at the side while the final 3 runners headed out on lap 39 and then I gave Iain a call. I don’t think he really knew what to say as he hadn’t been expecting me to just stop! After a quick chat I headed to my bivvy bag to try and sleep (I managed a bit). When I woke up after a few hours I was already feeling disappointed especially when I found everyone had stopped pretty soon after. Mike Raffan won the race on 42 yards with Sarah Perry as the assist on 41 yards and a new UK women’s Backyard record. Andy Day finished 1 lap after me to finish in 3rd (I know everyone DNFs but the winner but these guys did amazing).

The biggest thing I learnt from this race is that I need a crew (ideally Iain as he knows how to keep me going during a race) to meet my full potential. I just don’t believe in myself enough (yet!) and let the doubts creep in or convince myself I am heading towards a serious injury – I was fine in a couple of days! Also managing everything in the short breaks at a Backyard on your own in tough – hats off to Sarah Perry and Mike Raffan who both made it look easy.

I also came away determined to run more trails in training (it’s going well so far and I had forgotten how much I love it). I fall into the habit of road miles as it is easier and I am more confident on the roads but for my long term growth as a runner (and my own enjoyment) more trails between races is definitely the way to go. Bring on the mud!

Nutrition went well at the race, although finding more ‘meals’ for between laps would be useful – I think pasta may be the way to go. Also sleep deprivation wasn’t a big problem during the race and I never felt like I was about to fall asleep which has boosted my confidence. I also managed my temperature well in cold conditions and was never shivering in the corral at the start of a lap which was great.

Overall I did OK, finishing 4th on 38 yards, the second furthest women’s UK Backyard distance and a place on the UK team (at the moment) for the world team championships in October and I need to keep reminding myself of this and use my disappointment to focus me for my training and next race. Iain is running as well and I am really hoping that this time I will be able to time out (or win) – who would have thought it would be so hard!

Since finishing I am really not sure 38 yards will be enough to make the UK team, I’ll have to wait and see (or go further at Cow Shed). There are so many strong runners in the UK and with many more Backyard Ultras in the UK it is difficult to predict what will happen over the next few months but I am kicking myself for not going a few extra yards and making my position more secure. Hindsight Is a wonderful thing!

Rasselbock Backyard Ultra is a fantastically well run event. Eric puts a lot of effort into all runners having a great experience and it really pays off. His family are lovely and also make you feel incredibly welcome and Eric’s mums cakes are amazing (and his dad makes a great cup of tea!). It really was a brilliant event, the main camp area is well set up and there is plenty of space both for crewed and solo runners. With some of the poraloos being female only this really improves the race experience for ladies and I don’t think it is too detrimental to male runners (although I never asked)! Anyone considering having a go at Backyard Ultras I would really recommend it (although they do mess with your head!) and I would recommend Rasselbock Backyard Ultra specifically as well.

Finally, a big thanks to everyone that donated to Beth’s fundraising page to raise money to volunteer for a year with the charity Project Trust in Malawi. I will also be supporting her fundraising when running The Cow Shed Backyard Ultra in April. If anyone would like to donate even a small amount the link to her Just Giving page with more information is: https://www.justgiving.com/page/beth-mclean-foreman-1700424340081

Enjoy you running everyone and all of your outdoor adventures!

Ultra Scotland 100 2023

Over 6 months after the race I am finally sitting down to write the race report. This one has been a hard one to write! It is the race I came closest to DNFing, I completely fell apart and somehow managed to pull myself back together mid-race to finally finish first female and fourth overall. I like to keep my in-race struggles to myself but didn’t manage this time… It is a race where I learnt a lot about the power of the mind to nearly ruin a race and then to overcome the challenges and push on. Iain’s race report from 2022 has a great description of the route which I won’t go over again as he remembers far more of the terrain details than I ever do!

The run up to the race went well, I allowed myself a couple of recovery weeks from Thames Ring 250 (no running for a week and then gradually increasing the mileage), fitted in a couple of 50ish mile weeks and then a couple of weeks taper before race day. The only thing I didn’t manage was very much hill running before the race, I was really hoping my overall fitness would mean this wouldn’t cause too many problems! I was feeling good for race day. My main concern was we were forecast a really hot weekend and I don’t like running in the heat! It ended up being 29C on the Saturday.

We made the same plan for race day as the previous year when Iain raced, dropping 3 of the 4 kids with Iain’s parents on the Friday night before heading to St John’s Town of Dalry to camp for the night before an early start (race registration and then race start at 6am). Iain and Rhona were going to crew me to Moffat (the half way check point) and then Iain was going to drop Rhona back at his parents before getting a lift to the check point at Ettrick where he would meet me and run the rest of the route with me. He is a star 😁

We were up at 4am on the Saturday to have plenty of time to register, have breakfast and get ready! Just before 6am all the runners for the 50 and 100 mile races were ready to start. I was nearer the front than I usually choose to go but knowing that there is a bottleneck at the foot bridge just after the start meant I needed to be nearer the front so as not to get held up for too long. The midges came out to see us off and at 6am we headed off to the sound of bagpipes. It is a lovely start with a great atmosphere. After a quick walk up the hill out of the village you are soon on farm track and then hill land. It is a beautiful start with amazing views and I was really enjoying myself. I was running with poles for the first time as I figured the extra weight was worth it for the benefit on all of the uphill climbs – I was glad I did.

As usual I kept to myself and my own race pacing with a few brief chats with runners around me. It is a busy start with everyone finding their own space and placing but this doesn’t detract from the beauty and peacefulness of the location. It is nice undulating start with nothing too steep and I was soon at check point 1, which is a no crew check point (although there were an awful lot of vehicles there 🤔). A quick stop at the check point to let them know I had passed and to grab a quick bite to eat. GB ultras check points are always well stocked and have amazing volunteers but I wasn’t planning to stop and was keen to head on to the next check point at Sanquhar where I would meet Iain and Rhona.

This next section is usually a wet and boggy path but this year was completely dry! It meant my feet stayed dry but the temperature had already climbed and it was hotter than I would have liked. This section also has the first big climb up Benbrack. I was happy with the pace I was managing, as I had a good walking pace up the hills and a reasonable running pace. My main concern was the heat and managing fluids and electrolyte levels as there is very little shade on a lot of the course. Once over Benbrack it was a nice run all the way to Sanquhar and the next check point. I was really looking forward to seeing Rhona and Iain after what felt like a long stretch. The final section of the run into Sanquhar was unpleasant as the heat increased dramatically as we ran into the valley, I was looking forward to being up in the hills again (hot but not as hot!). It was lovely to see Sara Fabien who was volunteering and was at one of the road turnings just before the village. An ever ready smile and cheer was a great boost in the heat.

Iain and Rhona were all set up and ready for me at the check point and I was soon stocked up and ready to go again for the next shorter section to the check point at Wanlockhead. The heat was really unpleasant over this section and I was really beginning to feel my temperature rise, all I could do was keep going at a sensible pace and make sure I was drinking and eating plenty. There were still plenty of runners around on this section and a few looking like the heat was really taking its toll. Another cheery volunteer was out on the road before Wanlockhead showing people where to go and I was soon at the check point and ready to see Iain and Rhona who had an ice cream which was just amazing. It was great to get inside for a short stop and cool down, although my legs did start to stiffen up (that lack of hill training was beginning to catch up with me)!

I was soon on my way again with a steep climb up Lowther Hill and over to the next check point at the A702. Iain had warned me that the section after Lowther Hill was actually really tough with a steep descent and equally steep climb back up before the descent to the road. I still seriously underestimated this section and in hindsight in the heat pushed too hard. The climb up Lowther Hill is steep but not difficult – it is the section after that really tests you. I don’t know why but I was determined to keep pushing hard and in the heat it was a mistake, I was exhausted, my legs hurt and I was beginning to really feel the heat. I arrived at the next check point beginning to question if I had it in me to finish but rather than having a proper break I had a short pit stop and quickly pushed on. At least one female runner passed me while I was at the check point and I let this bother me, it also played a part in my quick stop. I had gone into this race wanting to finish first female and beat Iain’s time from last year and it felt like it was all falling apart.

This is where things began to go really wrong. In hindsight I think I should have had a proper stop and lie down at this check point and then I would have had more energy and drive for the next section. I also let other people’s races affect how I was feeling about my own and the doubts really began to creep in. I quickly left the check point for what should be a really runnable section to Daer Reservoir. Instead I walked along feeling sorry for myself. I tried the odd run but just couldn’t find it in me. I was too hot, my legs were really sore and I wasn’t even half way etc. etc. The doubts and reasons to stop went round and round in my mind as I plodded along. Loads of people from both the 50 and 100 mile races started passing and I felt rubbish. By the time I got to the extra water point at the dam (put on because of the heat), I was not happy and did what I always try not to do – I started moaning to other runners and the volunteers. I always try to have a smile for volunteers and a positive word for other runners so I am really sorry to anyone who had to listen to me moaning about the heat. I also started to voice that I was going to stop at Moffat.

Then I noticed all the cars and families at the reservoir enjoying the gloriously hot day and decided to phone Iain and get him to collect me from the reservoir. I gave him a call and asked to be picked up. He wasn’t keen and said I should get to Moffat before making a decision, particularly as it was now past the hottest part of the day and would soon start to cool down. I wasn’t happy and threw all my toys out the pram having a good cry and strop. Poor Iain, I’m sorry! I then saw Assistant Race Director Laura at the water point before the climb up from Daer Reservoir and I again had a good moan, but thankfully didn’t hand my tracker in then and there! I headed up the hill feeling very sorry for myself and in a real state, still convinced I was going to stop when I next saw Iain. He had agreed to come up and meet me at the forestry carpark just before Beattock and a few miles from Moffat but it still felt a long way away in the heat.

This section lasted forever, it should again have been very runnable, and plenty of people were, but I had given up and was just doing what I needed to do to get to the car! As I had said to Iain I didn’t want to just finish I had wanted to finish first female and now that wasn’t even a possibility I didn’t see the point of carrying on (not a good mindset for a race). I finally got through the forestry section and saw Iain, Rhona and the car. They had put the bed roll out in the shade and I lay down and shut my eyes. It was great to be off my feet and feel a little cooler. I was still trying to talk myself out of the race but there was also a little stubborn fire inside that wanted to carry on… that desire won and after a 10 min lie down and some food and drink I headed on down the road. I made myself start running (it was after all down hill and tarmac all the way to Moffat) and found I was enjoying myself again and my determination and spark gradually came back as I ran to Moffat. By the time I arrived I was back in the game and determined to carry on and finish.

At Moffat I had another lie down and some more food and drink and then said goodbye to Rhona who I wouldn’t see again until after the race and headed off up the road for the next section. I felt like a new person, I had cooled down a lot and was looking forward to the night. I love night running. After a couple of miles there is a woodland section and then I was soon up in the forestry plantation. The weather was OK so we were able to take the high route of the Southern Upland Way (although it was still quite windy on the top) and I was soon walking as quickly as I could up the steep paths. I soon had to stop to get my head torch out as in the trees it was now pretty dark. I finally reached the summit of Gateshaw Rig in the dark and then had the most amazing run along the narrow path in the heather in the dark. It was amazing and the best bit of the whole run. There was a strong breeze which was cooling me down and being somewhere so remote on my own I really felt alive. I could see a couple of head torches in the distance but otherwise it was just wilderness. Once at Croft Head the path zig zags down steeply and I took my time to be careful in the dark. I soon reached a slightly easier path and around here passed another runner which was exciting. I can’t find the words to express how amazing this section was and how alive it made me feel. It was just what I needed at that point after the low of the afternoon.

The run into the next check point in Ettrick village feels like it goes on for ever. It starts as forestry track and then turns into single track road and then goes on for miles and miles. I was still managing to keep up a good pace but beginning to feel tired again but then I saw a head torch heading up the road towards me and there was Iain ready to run the rest of the race with me. It was lovely to see him and a real boost. We headed on down the road together, catching up on chat and just enjoying running with the odd walk break added in. It was nice to know Iain could take over the navigation having run the race the year before and having the route on his watch. We were soon at Ettrick for a quick stop. I had a lie down and stretch and enjoyed the food provided. Iain had to make do with what he carried as as a support runner wasn’t allowed to use the aid station food. After a quick stop we were soon on our way heading back the way we had come back onto the Southern Upland Way. Iain was amazed with how well I was moving considering the mess I had been in in the afternoon!

I enjoyed this next climb up and over to St Mary’s Loch and we passed a few more runners which felt good. We did catch up with another runner and their support runner who were very confused about the route. I didn’t want to stop or slow down as I really had the bit between my teeth, so after we had reassured them they were in fact on the correct path and offered that they could run with us but it would need to be at our pace so we headed on our way and they followed behind. I was slightly concerned that Iain was going to slow me down as he had his usual struggle to stay awake in the early hours, but once we reached St Mary’s Loch and the sky began to lighten he picked back up again and was raring to go! I am not sure when but at some point over night I discovered I was first female as several runners had dropped out, second place female wasn’t too far behind so it was a real motivator to keep moving as quickly as possible and thankfully the legs were now working again! It started to rain as we ran along the bank of St Mary’s Loch and we did have to stop and put rain coats on. I was still warm from the temperatures the day before but didn’t want to get soaked so decided the rain coat was the best option.

After St Mary’s Loch it is a steep climb on a very unclear path and then a lovely run in remote hill land before running down the road to Traquair. We were soon at Traquair, although this year the check point wasn’t in the village hall and was a gazebo in a field! Iain and I enjoyed a good reminisce about his hallucinations in the Traquair Village Hall loos as we headed on our way. I now had very tired legs and feet but was determined to keep a reasonable pace to stay first female and it was nice to know the finish wasn’t too far off. I was also looking forward to the next section having run parts on the Tweed Valley Ultra and shorter hill races. This next section is more stoney underfoot which I was really noticing but the views, good company and generally feeling so much better than the day before meant I was having fun. My only small annoyance was my watch battery died – I had thought it would have plenty of life for this race but hadn’t factored in using navigation in the dark and how much battery this would use. It was annoying that I wouldn’t have the last 10 miles of the race recorded but Iain had the map on his watch so navigation would not be a problem!

We were soon at Fairnilee and the final checkpoint, another quick stop and we were on our way again for the final section through Galashiels to the finish at Langlee. I was still running as much as I could not wanting to risk anyone catching up and actually I was still having fun. I was ready for the finish but still enjoying the morning. We had an amusing few chats with runners out for their Sunday morning runs and soon we were on the last short climb up to the finish at Langlee community centre. I didn’t manage to beat Iain’s time from last year (he was relieved) but did finish first female and fourth overall.

This race highlighted to me how important it is to base your goals on your own timings/pacing and not worry about placings until the later stages of a long ultra. As this race highlighted things can change really quickly. I also learned the importance of a positive mental outlook – when I was planning to quit I saw everything in that light. As soon as I decided I was finishing the race everything became easier. Legs were still tired and feet were sore but I had decided I was running the race and so everything became more enjoyable and therefore easier. Having that desire and drive to finish and keeping that flame alive makes all the difference in a race.

I have been left feeling I didn’t give this race my best but rather than run it again I have signed up for Race Across Scotland this year. I am sure the whole of the Southern Upland Way will have more lessons to teach me. And I can’t wait to get back and enjoy the amazing views!

Glenfarg Railway Tunnels

This isn’t a complete route per se but more of an interesting place to run that can easily be visited as part of various different possible routes. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been through the tunnels now, but last weekend I went back to take a few pictures and share them with you.

Most of you from Perthshire will know that to get to Edinburgh on the train to you need to either go via Stirling and in to Edinburgh from the East, or through Fife and over the Forth Rail Bridge. The Fife route actually goes straight through Bridge of Earn not too far from our house but there is no longer a station here, sadly. Less well known is that the line used to split near the old Bridge of Earn station with a fork heading South via Glenfarg and Kinross towards Dunfermline. You can read more about the history here, but in the end the Glenfarg line was closed in 1970 and built over to make way for the M90 motorway. Where the M90 goes up and over the hill past Glenfarg village, the railway took a more direct route through the hill, and this approximately 2 miles section is still accessible and a fun place to run!

The Tunnels

The runnable part of the railway starts where it crosses the “Wicks o’ Baiglie Road”, roughly 3 miles South of Bridge of Earn. It passes over two impressive stone viaducts, through two tunnels (about 1/3 of mile long each) and a deep cutting before rejoining the B996 – a total distance of about 2 miles. It’s also possible to join the route in between the two tunnels via a farm track which leaves the road near the Bein Inn.

For my run, I set off from Bridge of Earn and headed South out of the village. As the road starts to steepen you can see the remains of an old bridge where the railway used to cross the road with the embankment running off to each side. From here, go through the gate to the left and up a short grassy ramp too reach the old railway track bed. Just ahead is the first viaduct, which crosses the Baiglie Burn. Following the railway just a few hundred metres further on you’ll come to the mouth of the first tunnel.

Both tunnels are approximately 500m long and are slightly curved. The ground inside is fairly level, sandy and mostly dry barring a couple of places where water drips through from above. There is a little bit of graffiti but otherwise they are in remarkably good condition. The first tunnel curves just enough that when you reach the mid-point you’ll be in complete darkness as you can’t see either end! Before too long you’ll see daylight again and pop out of the Southern end of the tunnel onto a level (obviously!) section which runs along the hillside, high above the River Farg and the A912 below. This section can be a “bit” boggy underfoot, and there were several fallen trees blocking the way from the storms earlier in the year but nothing difficult to cross.

In total it’s about 1km between the two tunnels. As you approach the second tunnel there is a track up to the right that crosses back over the cutting on a high bridge and leads down to the road. This provides an exit route if one tunnel was enough for you 😱 Keep straight on, under the bridge and pick your way through the boggiest section to enter the second tunnel. A similar length to the first, this one is not as curved – just enough you can’t see from one end to another but for most of the way you can see both exits.

Exiting the tunnel you are immediately on to the second, and more impressive viaduct, towering high above the road and river. There is a little path to the right which gives a good view of it. Crossing the viaduct, the railway runs straight ahead through another cutting and the road rises up to meet it. The track bed does run on ahead for a while but turns into farmland and peters out where it meets the M90 with no option but to retrace your steps or make a nasty scramble down a banking, across the river and back up to the road!

Possible Routes

The B996 is a rather fast road and not much fun to run along, so the best onwards route is to follow the road Southwest for 100m and cross over where a farm track leads up and over the hill to the Wicks O’ Baiglie road. From here you can turn right and follow the road back too where you first joined the railway path to make a roughly 4 mile loop.

Alternatively, it’s possible to turn left and up to Glenfarg Village or take the Wallace Road back to Bridge of Earn via Dron. Another option is to take the farm track between the two tunnels and head up to Binn Hill and on towards Castle Law, Pitmedden Forest, or Abernethy. Take a look at Strava Global Heatmap for more ideas of where to run!

I hope this has inspired you to get out and explore. If anyone local fancies a run here just let me know and I’d be happy to show you around. Just don’t forget to bring a torch!

Year in Review: 2023

2023 was a whirlwind of a year! We’re just back from a proper good break over the Christmas and New Year period… including both taking a few days off from running 😱

It’s always fun to look back on what we got up to last year, take stock of what went well and look ahead and set goals for the coming year. We hope 2023 was a good to you as it was to us and you’re refreshed and ready to take on 2024 too 😁

Iain

2023 turned out to be a bit of a mega year for me! Besides the Lionsgate Backyard Ultra (more on that later), I managed to win all of the ultra races I entered (By Way of the Glen, Loch Ness 24, and Ochil 100) as well as a couple of shorter races earlier on the year (Bertha Park Trail Race and The Drop). Running races isn’t all about winning but it’s certainly nice when it happens and it’s finally been my turn to add some silverware to the Miles Together trophy shelf 🤣

The biggest positive for me from the year was increasing my longest race distance and time to 170 miles and 48h50 at By Way Of The Glen – I was especially pleased with the way I managed to overcome issues throughout the race including sleep deprivation, achilles tendinitis and some grim weather and pace my effort well enough to pass the other competitors and finish strongly at the end. Next year’s “big race” challenge will be the 8-day, 250 mile Cape Wrath Ultra. After volunteering there this year I have a good idea what’s involved but have never done a multi-day race like that before. I’ll be spending the first few months of the year building up my hill fitness and preparing as best I can to give it a good shot. I haven’t yet worked out a time goal, but I’d like to be able to finish in good style, not hobbling to the lighthouse on day eight!

The other highlight for me was our joint last-person-standing DNF at God’s Own Backyard Ultra in November. I can honestly say that I enjoyed every minute of it and it was a perfect way to cap off a great race season for both of us. In 2024 we’ll both be back at the Cow Shed BYU in April, representing Team Scotland in the Four Nations Backyard championship. My first outing in Scotland colours at this year’s championship race at Lionsgate in May ended with an abject 10 yards. Looking back, this was due to a several reasons – I was carrying an ankle injury that flared up on loop 2, failed to manage my electrolyte levels well enough in the heat, but mainly it was a mental capitulation that I didn’t genuinely believe I could win! Both years at GOBYU I have had an absolute belief that I had what it took to out-run everyone else, and it worked! I’m aiming to arrive at Cow Shed in great shape and with the right mental attitude. We’ll be running firstly for Team Scotland and secondly for Team Miles Together – but we’ve agreed there will be no mutual DNF allowed this time 😲 As far as goals for the year go for Backyard Ultra, I am currently on the roster for Team UK at the Backyard World Champs in October so I’m aiming to stay there, and if things go well put in a mega effort to book a spot at Big’s in 2025!

Two other goals from the last few years have been carried along in the background, and both of them are possible (depending on how Cape Wrath and the BYU go). I made a second attempt at Ramsay’s Round this summer, going both further and faster than the first time but stopped at the Mamores (2/3 of the way round), about 2 hours behind schedule. If my hill fitness improves – Spring hill races and Cape Wrath will prove if that’s the case – and there is a good weather window in the summer, I might just have another crack at it. I’m also seriously considering attempting a “fast” Marathon effort which would most likely be the Loch Ness Marathon in September, if I can fit in a solid training block during the late summer.

Keep an eye on my Strava throughout the year to see how I get on 🤞

Julie

2023 has been a great year of epic races, where I have learnt so much in every single one! It has been great to catch up with friends old and new and I have had the added bonus of finishing first female in all my ultras this year 😲 I started the year in January running my own accumulator (=496 miles in total) which really set me up for the year and boosted my confidence in my ability to keep going even when I wasn’t feeling it!

In April I headed down to London for the Thames Ring 250 which was everything I imagined and more. I was made up with finishing joint second and hope to go back in the future to try and beat the female course record. There is something really special about this race and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to try a really long ultra.

In June I ran Ultra Scotland 100. This was probably the most challenging race of the year and the only one I thought I wouldn’t finish. I struggled with the heat and the amount of hills, in particular the section after Lowther Hill, but with the help of my amazing crew I managed to turn it around and again finish first female (4th overall). This race was mentally challenging and I didn’t cope with it well. The write up is still in progress so watch this space to find out all the details, how I fell apart and managed to put myself back together mid race! I feel I have unfinished business with this route and have signed up for Race Across Scotland this year to see if I can run the whole southern upland way with a more positive attitude!

July was another highlight of the year with an outright win at Orkney Backyard Ultra. A fantastic event in an amazing location. I hope a return trip will be possible in 2026 when it next runs. This run will always stand out as I enjoyed it so much and was smiling every single lap.

And then Lon Las in October, another tough one. This time the biggest challenges were sleep deprivation and the cold and wet. Another mentally taxing race where I had to dig deep at the end to hold on to 2nd place. It taught me a massive amount about the importance of believing you can and what the body is capable of. Again the write up is still in progress – in part because I was so tired there are large sections I can’t remember!

The year was rounded off with GOBYU in November. It was great to run with Iain and DNF together. It was a lovely finish to an amazing year.

After a few quieter weeks over Christmas it is back to training for 2024. We have a few short hill races over the next couple of months which are always far too hard and leave me so impressed by those that bound up (and down) them at amazing paces. My first ultra race is Rasselbock Backyard Ultra in March and I am super excited for this one – I know I can do several days running but can I put it together with the pace needed for a backyard? I have now completed 31 yards at 2 backyard ultras and on both occasions I had plenty still to give so it will be great to see how far I can go.

In April I have the privilege of running on Team Scotland at the Cowshed Backyard Ultra. Iain and I will also be going head to head again and this time there will be no joint DNF, we will support each other to go as far as we can, the big question is who can go further??? [That’s fighting talk! – Iain]

In June I hope to run the Whopper 12hr looped course with plenty of elevation in preparation for Race Across Scotland in August. It will be great to have the chance to run the Southern Upland Way in better form and I will again be lucky enough to run in some beautiful hills and countryside.

The end of the year is more open at the moment. I am also hoping to get a place at the BYU world team championships in October and also loved the course at Golspie Backyard Ultra so would also love to run there. Whatever I end up doing it is shaping up to be another year full of amazing events.

Training will continue to be based around what fits into family life and work with lots of easy runs and 1 or 2 harder efforts each week. There will be more hill running and I will also be adding more strength work having joined a gym in November. Whatever you have planned for 2024 enjoy the journey, learn from the event and most importantly, have fun! 🏃🏻‍♀️🏃‍♂️😁

Interview: Heather & Geoffrey

If you’ve spent any time reading this blog you’ll know we’ve done some unusual races. Escape From Meriden is a rather unique event where, starting from the village of Meriden (allegedly the geographical center of England), you have 24 hours to “escape” as far as you can. You can take part as an individual, a pair, or even as a “chained” pair complete with orange prisoner suits for an authentic on-the-run experience! We were following the event this year and spotted that among the entry field were Heather and Geoffrey Daunis who had flown all the way from the USA to take part. After the event we had a chat with them about how it went.

Great to meet you guys! Please introduce yourselves to our followers.

Heather: My name is Heather Daunis, I am a 44 year old mom of four, grandmother of 2. I am a registered nurse in the operating room at a local children’s hospital and a retired Army veteran of 20 years.

Geoffrey: I’m Geoffrey Daunis, I am 41 years old and we’re from Gonzales, Louisiana (a growing town just outside of Baton Rouge). I am currently a stay at home dad as I retired from the Army almost 2 years ago after 23 years of service.

How did you both start with running?

Heather: I started doing triathlons after the birth of my third child. I was looking to be more active due to some health problems. After completing a full Ironman in 2019 I got into ultra running. I did my first ultra in 2020 right before COVID hit.

Geoffrey: I ran track when I was a kid until I was about 12 years old. I never ran much more after that until I joined the military when I was 17. For a while, running was a chore and I never really enjoyed it. It was not until my late 20’s or early 30’s that I really started to enjoy running.

So how did you end up taking part in Escape From Meriden, then?

Heather: I am a member of several ultra running Facebook groups. Someone shared about the event in 2022 and I followed along. It looked like a fun adventure and my husband actually agreed to do it with me.

Geoffrey: When I agreed to the race, I agreed to the 24 hour unchained version. She signed us up for the chained version and didn’t tell me about it until it was already too late.

Bet that came as a shock! How did you cope with being physically chained to each other during the race?

Heather: It actually wasn’t too cumbersome being chained together. The worst parts were the bathroom trips. I tried to minimise those as much as possible by being very aware of my fluid intake. Of course I had to hydrate properly, so there was a very fine line I was teetering on with this. The one time that I really wished we weren’t chained together was the first stop in McDonalds. Geoffrey was asleep and I wasn’t. I really wanted another cup of tea but I didn’t want to wake him up. I tried to download the McDonald’s app on my phone thinking I could order on the app but apparently I downloaded the US app and that didn’t work. Eventually I gave up and got comfortable and took a nap and we ordered more tea once we were both awake. Geoffrey and I are pretty patient for the most part so being attached physically didn’t seem all that terrible. He may have a different opinion, but I didn’t hate it.

Geoffrey: Being chained to each other was honestly not as big of a deal as we thought it would be. The most difficult part was using the restroom, but that also provided us with the majority of our funny moments during the event.

We’re sure everyone wants to hear about that (we certainly do 😳). Talk us through the race, we’re sure you have plenty of other stories too!

Heather: It began raining right from the start (at midnight) and it was pretty cold. We had a solid gear plan – we wore the orange jumpsuits for extra protection and we also fashioned some velcro hoodies to keep us warm but our feet got wet right away.

Geoffrey: Initially, our plan was to start out running and try to run at least the first marathon. However, my body decided it had different ideas. I have a heart condition called AFIB and on random occasions, my heart decides to beat in an unorganized manner. The majority of the time it does not bother, but at the start of the race it came on in full force. So, we had to start off walking for the first 2-3 hours. The wind and rain made it difficult to really get running anyway. We ran some and walked mostly through the night until we got to McDonald’s in Stratford.

Heather: We stopped at the McDonald’s for breakfast the first morning and stayed there for over two hours waiting for the rain to pass and trying to dry some of our clothes and socks. My phone kept blacking out so we actually ended up going to a different McDonald’s than originally planned, but I think it actually worked out for the best. It had a big couch in the back corner and a large unisex bathroom. That was our first bathroom experience chained together. Since we were wearing the jumpsuits, I had to take off my pack and take my arms out of the suit in order to use the toilet. Geoffrey had to hold my pack so it didn’t have to be put on the floor of the restroom. It took a little bit of time but we got the hang of it pretty quick. The only problem was that McDonald’s had the largest restroom that we came to and one of the only two that were actually unisex. We did take a quick nap there waiting for the rain to stop and one more bathroom trip before we headed out.

Geoffrey: We took our shoes and socks off so they could dry out while we had a little rest. We had all of our clothes laid out on the tables and were sprawled out on the couch. The interesting thing is that if we had done something like that in a McDonald’s in America, we surely would have been run off.

Once we got through Stratford, we followed a public footpath where there were many people walking, cycling, and running. We got plenty of strange looks, one older woman even asked us “Are you a bit lost?'”We weren’t, we were just making sure we were going the correct way.

Heather: Our route was planned to the extent that we knew the direction we were taking but we didn’t plan out the path entirely ahead of time. What I did was, once we reached a stopping point for our next meal, I would then choose the next point we wanted to reach depending on facilities and distance and time of day. This worked out really well for us because at each stop, we knew how we were feeling and what was an appropriate goal for the next several hours. There was one little village where we stopped for a snack because we were getting hungry but it wasn’t quite lunch time yet. We came across a small grocery shop and there were no public restrooms there. We got a few supplies and ate a snack on a little park bench. We decided to go into a hotel across the way in search of a bathroom. It was such a cute little hotel and they were very kind to point us in the direction of the bathrooms but there were no unisex facilities. We decided to go into the ladies room, luckily it was empty. We went into the stall which was MUCH smaller than our first toilet experience. Shortly after we heard a woman enter the restroom so we had to pantomime with each other in order to each use the toilet and get dressed. Once we heard the lady leave we made a beeline for the door and got out of there without being caught.

The next time we had to use a ladies room, we were at a public convenience in a different village. We waited for several women to finish and then we went inside and went into a stall. This one was slightly bigger in size, but once again a woman entered while we were taking turns using the toilet. I thought I heard the lady leave so I opened the stall door to see her still standing there looking right at me. She said, “Is this your umbrella hanging here?” She was completely unfazed by this man and woman in a ladies room, wearing orange jumpsuits chained together! I said, “nope, not ours!” And we quickly got out of there. It was the funniest thing 🤣

Geoffrey: As we made our way to the next village where we planned to stop for dinner, we were also looking for a place to sleep. Unfortunately, with all the rain, my feet were soaking wet and I started to get blisters. This made our travel much slower. Not to mention how we always seemed to end up on a road that had no pavement. Trying to dodge cars and having to jump off the road every couple of minutes seem to make things go that much slower. We made our way to a little town as the sun set Saturday night. We decided we would try to find a place where we could rest and hopefully take our shoes off for a bit.

Heather: For dinner that night I found a place that said it was open and looked like just a typical pub. When we walked up to the place it looked a bit more fancy than a pub so we were unsure of whether we should go in or not. The whole front of the building was glass windows so the lady popped her head out and asked if she could help us. We told her we were looking for a place to eat so she warmly welcomed us to come in. She began getting us a cozy table for two situated with chairs opposite from one another. I had to explain to her that we couldn’t really sit across from each other due to the fact that we were chained together. She just said “I’ll need to hear that story” and configured the chairs appropriately. It was a small restaurant and they had a nice sized unisex bathroom for us to use. The other patrons were also very curious about our situation so we spent some time explaining the race to others while we were there. The food was fantastic and we left there feeling refreshed and energized to make it to our next destination.

Geoffrey: With our bellies full, we got back on our way and headed to a little town called Burton on the Water where we had booked a room and planned to get some much needed rest. The lady at the desk looked very concerned with our condition. We were able to lay out all of our wet clothes and socks to dry them out while we slept. We got about 8 hours of sleep even though we had our race packs and orange jumpsuits piled up in the middle of the bed since the chain prevented us from taking them off.

Heather: As awkward as it sounds, we actually had a great little sleep there because we were pretty tired at that point. We went to the bakery across the street the next morning and once again had plenty of funny looks but everyone was so warm and inviting everywhere we went. We really loved the hospitality of the shops and restaurants in the UK!

Geoffrey: It was quite wonderful walking through the Cotswolds and seeing all the little villages there were seemingly stuck in time. However, we were not prepared for the relentless wind that was constantly blowing throughout the race. I don’t think it hindered us much but it definitely kept us from being too comfortable during the race.

Heather: It just so happened that our finishing location was near a place called the Prison Cafe which was actually an old prison. It was the most fitting ending to our adventure! The looks we got when we entered the cafe were priceless.

That sounds like you had an awesome time – and got quite some stories to tell for it too! Given that you’d come over to the UK for the race, how did you go about choosing roughly which direction you were going to “escape” in?

Heather: Being that we are not from the UK, nor had we ever been before, we wanted a route that would give us the best scenery and everywhere I looked said that the Cotswolds area was beautiful. They were not wrong!

Geoffrey: Heather used the GPX files from last year’s race to determine a direction that we wanted to head in. Our route took us through Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare’s birthplace) and then through the Cotswolds. Ending up in the old prison was just a lucky coincidence as our route took us there and we decided we were ready to call it quits.

The route worked out very well indeed then! You ended up doing a little over 60 miles we believe. How does that compare to other events you’ve done before?

Geoffrey: The longest event I have ever participated in was 12 hours, and the furthest I had ever run was 30 miles. So, this race was a first for me in many regards.

Heather: First off, Geoffrey doesn’t race with me all that often so it was really nice to do this with him. That was the biggest difference for me. We have also never made an international trip just for a race.

I did a race last year called the Last Annual Vol State 500k. It’s not really the last one, they just call it that. It crosses through 5 states, mostly along Tennessee and you can choose to do the race supported or unsupported. I did it unsupported and it took me seven days. For that race, it is a pre-planned route that is used every year so the people that live along the route are very aware of the runners and many of them put out mini aid stations in their yards. Some of those aid stations are pretty elaborate and all of them are very much appreciated. They have been given the term “Road Angels” by the racers. This would be the closest race that I’ve done that compares to EFM. I do enjoy the adventure of having to make your own way in a race, I would like to find more races to do in this format.

Iain has done several of “The Drop” which is is opposite concept – you have to find your way back to the a fixed finish point from an unknown start location. They are much shorter though and we are not sure if they exist in the USA!

So apart from epic chained adventures, do you often run together?

Heather: We do run together a good bit at home. I have specific running goals for myself and Geoffrey is more of a casual runner. I have a coach and a strict running calendar to adhere to but anytime my run fits into his schedule, he usually comes along with me.

My advice to other couples is just to be flexible and patient with one another. Your goals do not have to coincide in order for you to enjoy time running together. We don’t always run at the same pace when we run separately but we easily adapt to each other’s pace when we are together. Sometimes the most important thing isn’t how many miles you manage to get, but the quality time spent together within those miles, so give each other grace when you are able to run together.

Geoffrey: Yes, we do run together a good bit. Heather is training for much longer races and trying to get faster, whereas I just run to stay fit and keep moving. My advice would be to try to run together and make it enjoyable. If it is miserable for one person, that person will never want to run. When we go on trips, we always try to run together at least one time. This way, you get to explore new places together.

That’s great advice – we agree! What’s your next adventure? Although we guess it will be hard to top this one!

Geoffrey: I am more of a casual runner so when I do races, I like to stick to the shorter runs like 5 or 10 miles. Heather likes to do the longer races. We are participating in a local race called Q50 Extravaganza in February. It is a trail run and they have a distance for everyone. Heather is running the marathon with my daughter, and my son and I are running the 10 miler. Our next big trip will hopefully be to Leadville, Colorado so Heather can run in the “Race Across the Sky”, the Leadville 100.

Heather: I’ve got some big goals for 2024. There are a couple of redemption races on my calendar. A 50 miler, Wild Azalea – it’s a local race here in Louisiana. I ran it last year and totally underestimated it. I finished it, but was not happy with my performance. I’m excited to give it another shot this year.

I am running the Barkley Fall Classic in Tennessee again for the third year in a row. I have managed a “marathon finish” the previous 2 years and I am determined to make it the whole way this time around! Like Geoffrey said, I have also just entered into the lottery for the Leadville 100. It’s a fairly notable race here in the US that I have had my eye on since I got into this sport and I think I am finally ready to take it on. EFM will be a hard one to top for sure in so many ways. I’m always searching for new adventures for us and I can’t wait to see what I come up with next!!!

Wow, BFC and Leadville are definitely big goals – we’ll definitely be watching to see how you get on. Good luck!

We saw you followed your Escape from Meriden with some tourist time visiting Scotland (great choice, by the way!), do you have family connections over here?

Geoffrey: We actually started our trip by staying in London for five days, then we spent three days in Coventry for the race, and then went to Scotland. Heather’s maiden name is McGuffee which comes from the Macfie clan. I however, do not have any family connections outside of her.

Heather: I had never been to Scotland and had always wanted to go. My ancestors are from there but I do not have any friends or family that reside there now. We only got to see a small portion on this trip, but we are already working on a return trip in the future.

Well be sure to drop us a line if you’re visiting – we can take you out on some of our favourite trails! Macfie/McPhee/McVie is quite a common name where Iain grew up in the Scottish Borders, he went to school with several McVie brothers! Never heard of McGuffee before but it makes sense!

Any final thoughts before we wrap up our chat?

Heather: I don’t have a huge social media following or anything, but I love the idea of inspiring others and being inspired. I would have never heard about this race had it not been for Facebook. That being said, I encourage everyone to share their adventures with the world. You never know who you’ll be an inspiration for!

Geoffrey: I would like to say that EFM was an amazing adventure and I recommend everyone not be afraid to go out of your comfort zone and try something new and challenging. Especially if it means you get to travel thousands of miles away from home to a foreign land with foreign people. We have done several races together as a family and this was by far, the best.

That’s a great place to end our time with Heather and Geoffrey. We hope you’ve been inspired to find your own adventures, whether that’s your local 10k race, or an ultra while chained to your other half 🤣

GOBYU 2023

Went to Leeds, ran 31 yards, DNF’ed, went home again. That’s pretty much what our weekend at God’s Own Backyard Ultra amounted to, but at the same time it was so much more than that! Hours spent on the trail, time in camp catching up with our “backyard family”, seeing many people smash their own goals as the race went on and then finishing as we started – together – made this one of the best events we’ve been to in a long time. So here’s the full story…

After our first time at GOBYU in November 2022, we knew for certain that we’d be back. Iain had the course record of 37 yards to defend, and Julie knew she had more than 27 yards to give. We signed up as soon as entries opened and were looking forwards to ending our 2023 ultra racing season on a high. Both of us had won several ultras already this year, but this would be our first chance to race together – and we both wanted to go out in style. Spoiler alert: we had agreed beforehand that even though there can only be one winner at a Backyard Ultra neither of us was going to race for the win. Our only goal was to go as far as we could together, aiming to be the last two left in the race and then finish together, the only question was how far that would be?

We won’t repeat a detailed overview of the event format and the course – see last year’s race report if you want that. This year we both took Friday off work and after seeing the kids off to school and welcomed the grandparents who would be left in charge for the weekend (and more), we packed and set off for Leeds. We arrived by late afternoon and checked in to the Met Hotel which was just a block away from the train station. We were glad only to be staying here before the race, as the lift was out of service and we had a room on the 5th floor! Time for a final carb-loading meal at Zizzi’s (a favourite of ours as they have an excellent gluten-free selection), last minute shopping trip and then off for an early night by 9pm.

We both slept amazingly well for the night before a race, although we did hear the rain in the night – which more than justified the decision not to be sleeping in a tent! Unfortunately the 6.30am train out to Kirkstall Forge was cancelled, so we had to take a taxi but we still arrived in plenty of time just as dawn broke to the event HQ / campsite at Hunter’s Greave. It was really nice to see many people that we knew from last year’s event or that we had seen around at Orkney, Lionsgate and Golspie BYUs throughout the year. We managed to bag ourselves a decent table at the back of the competitor’s marquee – furthest from the corral, but more importantly close to the hot water urn, kitchen and the toilets! We had loads of time to have a couple of cups of tea, plenty of breakfast (including sausage rolls 😋), collect our numbers and say hello to folk before the 3 whistles sounded at 7.57am and we headed in to the corral for the first time. Funnily enough, we had race numbers 1 & 2 – but it wasn’t a seeding, just that we happened to be the first ones to sign up when entries opened – at least that’s what we were told!

We were still chatting away in the corral when the cowbell rang to signal the start of the race so we hastily started watches and set off onto the course. We had planned to adopt a run-walk strategy, aiming for an average of 12:30min/mile or roughly 52 minutes per yard. This was a couple of minutes slower than last year, but we felt that 8 minutes rest was just about long enough to do everything we needed as we didn’t have our own crew. Since we can both walk pretty fast, this meant that well over half the distance could actually be walked, which is a great way to minimise the impact on your body when planning to go a very long way. Several people commented on our walking speed (usually as we overtook them on the course 🤣) and while we’re sure having long legs does help it is also something that you can train for! Last year, Iain kept having to trot after Julie during the walking segments but this year we were both able to keep up a <15 minute mile walking pace throughout the entire first day and night. We also found that last year being dead set on hitting the exact same pace every mile is counter-productive – not only are some miles more difficult than others, it’s also mentally challenging when you eventually cannot hit your target pace any more. This time, we aimed to bank a faster 12 minute first mile on the canal, and allow for a slower mile or two then make up any time we needed in the last mile, back on the canal path.

This year, the second mile had a couple of obstacles – firstly a fallen tree which had to be climbed or diverted around (via a very muddy field), followed by a major course change as the section of Bramley Falls Park which the trail should have passed through was cordoned off and had been treated to contain an infestation of Japanese Knotweed. Instead, we headed straight up the Leeds and Bradford road for around 2/3 of a mile before entering the park. This was a bit of a blessing in disguise as although it introduced more elevation gain, the section of trail near the “Spaceman” was deep in standing water after the overnight rain and would have been hard going! The third and fourth miles were the same as last year, although the ground was very muddy in places in the park, and being a couple of weeks later in the year there was a lot more fallen leaves and slippery mulch.

It didn’t take us long to settle in to a good rhythm, although Julie was surprised by different niggles starting after only 3 or 4 yards – perhaps 5 weeks since Lon Las Cymru meant she wasn’t 100% recovered. The first day loops passed quickly – there were lots of runners on the course, many dog walkers on the canal path and in the woods, and runners from another local race were also passing by on the final canal section. Before we knew it, 8 yards were done and it was time to switch to the night loops.

Head torches on, we set out on the out-and-back-and-out-and-back night loop. It was still light enough not to need a torch at 4pm, but half an hour later and it was properly dark! We aimed again to average 12:30 min/mile but since every mile is almost flat we were taking it a bit easier on the first mile than we had been during the day. One of the nice features of the night loop is that at each turnaround point you get to see how many runners are still in the race, and how far ahead or behind us they were. As the night hours ticked on we saw the fast front runners gradually drop off the pace and eventually drop out, and runners at the back struggling to make it back within an hour. Several times, runners would make it back to the corral after the final whistle, and either head back out on a doomed final yard, or DNF there and then!

Julie loves night running, which is just as well as Iain’s body likes to go to sleep during the night, so we were able to keep each other going throughout. Neither of us slept at all, although we both took turns shutting our eyes for a few minutes in a chair before returning to the corral to start the next yard. As the number of runners still in the race dwindled, the marquee became emptier and by the early hours of the morning, Iain was able to first commandeer some more comfortable camping chairs, and eventually an entire extra trestle table, which he folded flat and used as a bed!

16 hours of darkness is a long time, but eventually dawn arrived. Despite the (arguably) easier course change, and the relatively benign weather (no all-night fog, little rain, and mild temperature), only 10 runners were left at the 24-hour mark. Having said that, everyone was still looking strong, and it definitely seemed like the race had the potential to go on for a while. We managed the shift back on to the day loop pretty well – this was something that Julie had struggled with last year – going a little bit faster in the first mile to allow for slower second and third miles over the hillier and trail-y parts of the course. After the usual night of gels and energy drink, Iain’s stomach had woken back up, and there were pork pies for breakfast, and porridge for Julie!

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a few more runners dropped after completing their 24-hour, 100 miles effort and by the 26th yard there were only six of us left in, all veterans from the previous year: Eleanor, Craig, George, Luke (last year’s assist) and the two of us. Craig dropped after yard 27 (looked like he’d taken a tumble somewhere on course), leaving the final five. George was having a great race, having at long last pushed past 24 hours and was looking strong. Eleanor after having a wobble on one of the first loops on day 2 was approaching a personal best, and Luke was (as usual) trundling round at the back of the field looking like he would keep running for days! We tried our best to ignore what everyone else was doing and kept banging out 52-ish minute loops. We reminded ourselves that in the backyard it doesn’t matter how far in front or behind you are of anyone else… you just need to make sure you finish the loop with enough time to take care of yourself, and keep doing that until everyone else stops!

On yard 29 things started to get interesting! Eleanor and Luke had generally been behind us for a few yards now, but George had been out in front and on this yard we left them all far behind as we pushed on up the hill on mile two. We didn’t see anyone behind us at any point during the rest of the loop, and just before the end one of the marshals said something about the others being picked up in a car and us being the the last 2 runners! We got back the corral to find Luke and Eleanor had indeed bailed out mid-loop but George was still out on the course. When the one-minute whistle blew we went to the corral and suddenly George came sprinting down the course and made it back with a few seconds to spare. His Dad thrust a fresh bottle of drink into his hands, a bit of food and he sprinted off again to start yard 30 😱

Not really sure what to make of this, we just kept to our pacing plan and sure enough we caught up with him part way up the hill in the park. We made it back to camp in about 52 minutes again, and this time George was back with a bit more time to spare. The three of us set off again on yard 31, but just around the first corner, George stopped, shook hands with us and headed back to DNF – we had made it to the final two, just as we had hoped and planned!

By the time we got off the canal path and started up the hill, we had made our minds up – we already knew that we were going to DNF together but decided we were going to complete this one and final lap. Just like a normal Backyard Ultra finish, we’d do one more lap than the next person and that would be the end of the race. Both of us definitely had the legs to keep going longer – much longer if it had been needed – but were both completely content to wrap up the race there and then. We enjoyed the final lap so much we were actually a little bit faster, even running the whole of the final tarmac section down in to the corral where we had a big hug and announced that we were both Refusing To Continue and the race would end with no winner at 31 yards!

It’s always a bit of a funny anti-climax at the end of a BYU as most of the runners have packed up and gone home. Luke, Eleanor and George were still around, along with crews, the marshals, medical support and the organisers so we had a nice little crowd for the presentation of our Yorkshire goody bags – including (rightly), a pair of DNF mugs! There had been a lot of speculation about whether we would race for the win, or how long we would go on for – so it was quite fun to be able to spring a double-DNF surprise – and we think most people agreed it was a fitting end to the race 😄

We both had Monday and Tuesday off work, and no return travel booked as we had been prepared to run as long as it had taken to outlast everyone else. As a result, we didn’t have to rush home that night – we had the luxury of a takeaway dinner, 12 hours sleep in a hastily-booked Travelodge, and an all-you-can-eat breakfast before taking the train back home on Monday, followed by a day of unpacking and recovering on Tuesday. A perfect end to a perfect long weekend!

It’s true of every ultra race, but GOBYU more than most is simply an amazing community of like-minded people. We have absolutely found our “tribe” and loved every minute of our time with you all (even Darren 😜). Thanks to everyone involved in putting on and taking part in the event, you make it what it is and although we don’t think we can make it back next year we’ll be watching with interest and are sure it will continue to go from strength to strength. If you’ve never tried a Backyard Ultra before be sure to keep your eyes peeled for when entries open – you won’t regret it!

Thanks to everyone who took photos and shared them to the GOBYU Facebook group, we’ve used many of them here!

Orkney Backyard Ultra 2023

Orkney Backyard Ultra was my third big race of the year and I had deliberately taken it easy since Ultra Scotland 100 four weeks before. This felt quite strange and left me nervous that I wasn’t doing enough, but was definitely the correct approach for me as my final two runs felt great and I felt strong on the day. We were combining OBYU with our family holiday so lots of planning was needed for the race combined with a week’s camping for 6 and a dog! But all was squeezed into the car and trailer and we set off early Friday morning for the 4hr+ drive to Scrabster for the ferry. We were a little early but everyone was quite happy waiting in the car as the sun was shining. The bonus of having the trailer was we went in the large vehicle queue which meant we loaded first (and unloaded first at the other end). The ferry was all straightforward and we spent some time outside on deck and then the rest of the crossing in the dog lounge! We met a couple of others travelling for the race and I began to get a little nervous. The crossing is less than 2 hours so we soon arrived at Orkney and drove straight up to the race field on Twatt Farm with only one small detour when we missed the turning in Twatt!

We arrived late afternoon as the course was being set up and a few others had already arrived. Sarah, the race organiser, was really helpful and we found where we could camp and soon had the tent up and car & trailer unloaded. I was getting quite nervous now as you can see the route from the camping field and it looked like quite a big hill! We sorted tea – pasta, tomato sauce and cheese with apple pies for pudding and then took the dog for a leg stretch. The kids were happy to be out of the car as well! The portaloos deserve a special mention as they were an eclectic mix of what was locally available. The children were particularly horrified by McLoo and his interesting door fastenings!

I had two aims this race, the first was to believe in myself and not let the self doubt monsters take hold and the second was to win (or come as close to winning as I could). I intended to keep starting every lap until I timed out or won and I wanted to do it in as positive a way as I could. Too often my races are affected by doubting myself and questioning my ability and I really wanted this race to be different.

The weather forecast for Saturday was surprisingly warm (and windy) so I planned to start in a vest top and skort and then adjust my top layers as necessary. I wore a buff on my head when the sun was high and there was no cloud, and loads of sun cream was needed. The race didn’t start until midday so we planned to get up and have breakfast and then Iain took the kids and dog for a walk so I could get a couple of hours to myself. I slept surprisingly well on the Friday night considering we were in a tent and got up feeling ready to go. While Iain was away I managed another hour’s nap and then got up and registered picking up my goody bag of local treats, t-shirt, and buff. I also got my race number (no. 8).

By the race briefing at 11.45 I was more than ready to start – it had felt like a long morning and I was desperate to get going and get the first few laps under my belt. The 3 minute whistle was blown at 11.57 and we were in the corral ready to go. At exactly midday the tractor horns sounded and we were on our way, everybody with their own strategies, plans and goals. It was also great to see a nearly equal mix of male and female runners, a pleasant change from most of the races I have done where there are only a handful of women compared to the men.

My plan from the outset was to average 12 minute miles for the lap. With the elevation of the course this meant the first two uphill miles were slightly slower and the last two quicker. The route itself is an out and back. You start by running to the bottom of the field, along the bottom fence back up the side of the field and then down again to the gate in the corner. The field had a few inches of stubble in it and was fine for running although I think a few people were finding it hard on later laps when feet were sore. Once out of the field gate you turned back on yourself to head back up a farm track. This had two deep tracks that were quite stoney and a slightly grassier middle section for about half a mile, just before the track improved and became steeper there was a very overgrown section where it was tricky to see where you were placing your feet (this did get easier in the later laps when it was more trampled down). The track then becomes less rutted and hard packed for a shortish steep section to “abandoned car corner”. A right hand turn here, a more gentle incline and the one mile point. The track continues for a short way before another right turn onto a dead end road. This road passes a few houses and several fields of cows that were very inquisitive and fun to watch / have a chat with! This road is a gentle undulating uphill to the turn around point around a milk churn at the end of the road. Just before this point is the party caravan where amazing volunteers were there to give a morale boost, great music and some fun dancing! There was also water for those that needed. The second half was a reverse of the first. I found I was able to walk most of the ups, run/walk the road to the turn around point and then run back down the road until the turn off onto the farm track. I then tended to run the hardpacked top section of track before walking most of the rutted lower section. I ran the downs in the field and walked the ups. This strategy enabled me to keep to between 49 and 51 minute loops for nearly every lap (a couple were nearer 52 minutes).

Iain and the kids were an amazing crew and Iain was always waiting at the field gate to find out if I had any particular requests for food and drink. He would then nip back across to the tent to get everything ready while I ran the rest of the yard around the field. There was always a lovely welcome as we runners headed back up to the start/finish line and then headed to our individual crews. The first few laps were busy with some fast and some slower runners but the course doesn’t have any bottlenecks so everyone can just do their own thing. During the event I consumed lots of beans and sausages, banana and custard, crisps and sweets, and cups of tea and coke were my go to drinks. I was also making sure to lie down between laps whenever possible and stretch out my legs. The 3 minute whistle would soon sound and by the last whistle I would be ready in the coral. The tractor horns sounded on the hour and we would be off on the next lap. I soon settled into the rhythm of the event and although I enjoyed a few short chats with other runners I made sure to keep to my own pacings and do my own thing. The Saturday afternoon very much felt like I was just getting it done ready for the race to really get started over night and into the next morning. There were a few laps that felt a bit boring but overall I was really enjoying myself and started and finished every lap with a smile on my face. It was too hot for my ideal and I was looking forward to the night and it cooling down!

The sun sets late on Orkney in July and we didn’t need head torches until very late in the evening. It was an amazing sunset and I loved seeing the sun set over the sea as we headed up the hill to the top road. It was stunning! It got windy as you headed up the hill and along the top path. This didn’t really bother me too much but I know some of the other runners weren’t enjoying the wind at all. The night soon passed with only 4 or 5 hours that were actually dark, some runners didn’t even use head torches. I used a head torch as I don’t have great depth perception in the dark and didn’t want to fall over. Into the evening and night it was great to see many runners really pushing themselves and reaching new distance PBs. The field was gradually thinning out and in fact by morning there were a lot fewer runners left than I expected. I was still really enjoying myself and feeling really strong, eating well and drinking plenty. In fact I probably drank too much through the night as I was needing to pee a lot in the morning! I need to give another shout out to the party caravan who were an amazing boost through the night and in fact on every lap.

By the 17th loop there were only 5 of us left running which was a surprise, Ella Corrick had finished 2nd female on 16 yards so it was me and 4 men left in the race. I was pleased to be the last female but also still very confident I could win and most importantly of all was still enjoying myself. I remember saying to the men in the coral that it was now down to me to win it for the girls! Adam “Tango” Holland completed lap 17 and then turned back on loop 18 – we were down to 4 and still a good few laps away from the 24 hour milestone. Martin Gordon turned back at the start of loop 19 and then we were down to 3 runners. The course was now really quiet which was strange, but we had had a nice sunrise and I was still enjoying every lap. The cows were still entertaining me and good for a chat 🤪 Iain and the kids were still keeping me well fuelled and hydrated and all was good. Don’t get me wrong, I was tired and the legs were feeling the miles but I was definitely still having fun and enjoying myself. I had short chats with Mark and Allan during the next few laps but this was now getting serious and I was determined to win so I stuck with my pacing plan and stayed focussed at the task at hand. Mark was doing amazingly and reached his first ever 100 miles at midday and then stopped – we were down to two. I knew Allan was a strong runner and had previously run 31 yards so I was fully expecting and mentally prepared to run into the high 30s of yards. I was slightly nervous as we ran through the afternoon as it was becoming harder work to stick to me lap pacing. But I was still managing it and decided the best strategy was to keep running at the same pacing with a smile on my face and hope that Allan would decide to stop sooner rather than later! By lap 29 my I was beginning to develop shin splints which I was a bit concerned about but I still wanted to stick to my pacing for a few more laps so I walked some of the rougher down hills and made up the time on the top road. This meant the overall lap time was still much the same and I was still smiling.

I have to give a big shout out to the amazing couple who lived on the top road and started coming out on the Sunday morning to give us a cheer each lap. This was amazing and gave me such a boost each lap. I would look forward to seeing them as I came up the hill and then would look out for them as I ran along the top road. Every hour they stopped what they were doing and came to cheer three (and then two) crazy runners on as we pushed to see what we were capable of. Thank you it really helped make a fun event even more special.

When you are down to two runners I discovered it becomes more of a mental as well as physical challenge. The unknown of how long you will be running for is really strange and makes it an guessing game as to whether you should slow down or stick to the same pacing. I was sure we would run to at least 32 yards as I felt certain Allan would be working towards a new PB. So when we started lap 31 and Allan stopped, shook my hand and said that was him done I couldn’t quite believe it. And then the final lap was the strangest of all! I was really worried I was going to do something silly and time out or fall over or somehow mess it up in the final lap! I was also an emotional mess – Iain was at the gate as I ran round the field and I was crying my eyes out shouting at him how much I loved him and the kids. I then had a final run up the hill and passed the lovely couple who had saucepan lids to bang itncelebration of my final lap. It was really special, although the horse in the field opposite wasn’t as impressed! A final thank you to the party caravan and I even stopped for a quick drink (the first time in the race) and then back on down to the field and the finish line. By the time I reached the finish line I was slightly more composed!

It was lovely to run back into the field on the final lap with everyone clapping and cheering (even with it having started to rain). A run over the finish line and I had done it, I had won Orkney Back yard Ultra with 31 yards. I got a fantastic horn trophy and a bottle of gin and a big hug with Iain and the kids. It was a truly fantastic well run event. A huge thanks to Sarah and the team for making it all happen. To Allan as the assist for a great race and to all the other amazing runners and crews – you were all amazing.

It was my favourite race to date and I enjoyed (nearly) every minute of it. I don’t think I have ever smiled so much during a race! Things I learnt from this race and will take forward into future races:

  • enjoying yourself makes everything feel easier
  • pacing is really important
  • smiling makes everything more fun
  • celebrating other runners successes makes the whole run more enjoyable
  • eat and drink every lap. But not too much fluid through the night!

Foods that worked for me included:

Hula hoops, baby bels, banana and custard, Kellogg squares, beans and sausages, shrimp and banana sweets and KMC gels. Actually I seem to be quite lucky and can eat most things as long as they are gluten free! As for how much I just ate something at the end of each lap and didn’t worry at all about number of calories etc – it worked for me!

Clothing:

I wore my Flanci shorts again and found them really comfy the whole race (as always), I also always wear Runderwear which I find very comfy and I wore Hoka Torrent 2 shoes which I have been wearing more and more for longer runs.

Recovery:

I did get mild shin splints but I think this was mainly down to not running enough hilly trails in preparation (something I will be working on this winter). It was a week later that I went for my first 5k and one ankle was still slightly sore but was ok to run on. I then had a couple of quiet weeks before getting back into a training block mid August when the kids went back to school. I find running during the school holidays really tricky so always planned a quiet few weeks. I only had a few small blisters that soon sorted themselves out. All in all my recovery was straight forward. My only thing to note is planning a family camping trip the week after a big race isn’t the best idea – sleeping on the floor with just a bed roll was not the best!

Some photos by event photographer Peter Fay – thanks!

Interview: Allan & George

We first met father and son combo Allan and George Parkin at God’s Own Backyard Ultra last year, and since then we keep bumping in to them at events from the tip of Wales to Orkney (where we randomly ended up on the same campsite as them for several days after the event too 😲). We’ll be seeing them this weekend again as they are both running in the inaugural Golspie Backyard Ultra, which we are volunteering at. So it’s been long overdue to sit down and have a proper chat with them both!

Thanks for making the time to chat to us! Let’s start by telling our readers a bit about yourselves.

Allan: I’m just about to hit 59 years young. I’m married to Joanne, my biggest fan and cheerleader extraordinaire, and I have three children. I support disabled adults for a living.

George: I’m George, 24 years old. A football enthusiast that enjoys travelling around the UK exploring different football grounds. I’ll stop there as it sounds like I’m trying to sell myself on a dating app 🤣

So how did you first get in to running?

Allan: It was on December 29th 2012. After around six years of weekend countryside walks, often organised events with the local rangers, I decided to go for a jog. It was way before I had even heard of Strava but being a bit of a geek, I logged all of my early activities. Here is what I jotted down from that momentous morning…

“Decided to start running to get rid of some flabby belly and man boobs! Set off about 8:15am. Cloudy with spots of rain then HEAVY rain on way back! Couldn’t have picked a worse day to start but will carry on. Made it to the halfway point without stopping. Joanne about 3 or so mins behind which ain’t bad as she has done NOWT for months!”

It was a 2.2 mile run and I was wearing a fleece top that was about triple the weight once the rain had soaked in at the end. For some reason this baptism of moisture didn’t put me off running and I have been going pretty much non stop for nearly 11 years. I’ve had a few niggles and a couple of injuries that have kept me sidelined for several weeks but all in all I have been pretty lucky and have always managed to keep my motivation.

George: I first started running in 2020 and in true beginner style I wore a pair of Adidas trainers for my first run. I’d say I got into running by simply starting off by doing a one mile run & not having a clue what I was doing. Something must have clicked to start doing healthy hobbies and change my lifestyle. Although he never forced me to start running if it wasn’t for my Dad I don’t think I’d have ever started running, certainly not ultras.

What are some of your favourite places to run?

George: Although most of my runs are on road I do prefer to run on trails. A route I enjoy which is local to me is named “The Dovestone Diamond”. It’s a 6.7 mile route all on trail with some incredible views. The name given to this route is simply due to its location which is at Dovestone Reservoir and when it is complete the run on a map is shaped like a diamond. It even has its own Strava Segment.

Allan: I started off mainly road running but it wasn’t too long after that I got a taste for the muddy trails. We have plenty to choose from where I live. There’s local trails right from my front door which can easily connect to trails such as the Pennine Way and Trans Pennine Trail. Like George, I suppose one of my favourites is Dovestone. It can definitely give the Lake district a run for its money.

I’ve done a few 24 hour loop events including Endure in Leeds a couple of times. I’ve also done a race called Escape from Meriden four times. The beauty of this race is that you start in Meriden, the centre of England, and run in any direction you want for 24 hours. Your mileage is based as the crow flies, so you have to plot a route and keep it as straight as possible to avoid wasted miles. To add to the wackiness of the event, it starts at midnight. Seeing people run in all directions at the start of a race has to be seen to be believed. There’s the option of running solo, in pairs or chained. I’ve done both solo and pairs and have my eye on the chained event for the future. I just need to find an idiot that I can tolerate being chained to for 24 hours.

Escape from Meriden is basically the opposite of “The Drop“, which Iain has done 3 of now. Good luck finding that idiot, though 🤔

George, you recently completed the Accumulator and Allan a 99 day run streak. What were those personal challenges about, and why?

George: I recently completed the accumulator challenge, normally this challenge is 31 days of increasing your daily mileage by 1. E.g. Day 1 = 1 mile, Day 10 = 10 miles up until Day 31. I did the 31 day challenge around 18 months ago. Midway through October I decided to give it another go. Why? I believed it would be perfect training for my up and coming backyard ultra races. However this time I would put an extra day at the end making it 32 days = 528 miles.

Allan: I decided to do a run steak to keep me motivated right up to the backyard ultra at Golspie. It was always designed to finish on the Saturday, a week before the race. I was super chuffed when I worked it out and realised that the streak would end on 99 days. I set my minimum miles per day at just 1 and only did this a handful of times. The run streak spanned two holidays, Madeira and Scotland, so kept me motivated when it would have been all too easy to not get out.

How do you get on running together?

George: We very rarely run together, probably due to my Dad not being able to keep up with me 😉. Maybe running together is something we should try at Golspie Backyard Ultra in the later loops.

Allan: When we do it’s either a parkrun, a backyard ultra or the tail end of one of our personal challenges. We usually end up chatting about backyard ultra stats and the usual running nonsense.

Between you you’ve done more than a dozen Backyard Ultras, so what got you in to BYU running?

George: My Dad had told me about Backyard Ultras as he had ran one several years before I started running. It sounded easy, but how wrong I was! I liked the concept of them and now I’m hooked!

Allan: I’d done my first ultra in 2015, the Oldham Way 40 mile event. I got hooked and was soon looking around for other long distance stuff. In early 2016 I came across a race called Last One Standing. It had happened the week before in Castleward, Northern Ireland. Just over 4.1 miles on the hour, every hour until there was only one person left. I remember thinking how easy that would be. All I had to do was run a fast lap in around 40 minutes or so and then have twenty minutes rest. How wrong I was! I entered the event the following year and managed 30 yards (laps, hours) and ended up in the top 6. I was hugely chuffed with myself to not only get my first 100 miles but to then carry on for another 6 hours.

I’m definitely a huge fan of the backyard ultras these days. Golspie this weekend will be my 11th BYU. I’ve had a mix of success and failures from that glorious start at Castleward. 13 yards being the lowest and a PB earlier this year at GOBYU in Leeds of 31 yards. I used to think that it was a 50/50 split between fitness and mental strength in a BYU. Now I believe it’s 1/3 fitness, 1/3 mental strength and 1/3 luck. If everything doesn’t come together on the day (days) you’re soon in trouble. The backyard ultra is now a huge worldwide event, with hundreds of races. Back in 2017 there were only 9 events, and in 2016 there were only 3. With the lack of events in 2017 I was actually joint 7th in the world in the backyard ultra format. A stat that I will tell anyone and everyone whenever I can. Right now, I’m joint 778th.

Have you got any goals for Golspie this weekend?

George: Ahead of this weekend at Golspie I’m feeling really positive. I’ve put in plenty of miles and I want to be up there. I’m still yet to do 24 loops = 100 miles so as a minimum I would like this to happen at the weekend, then carry on pushing onto the win however many loops that may be.

Allan: I’d be a fool and a liar if I said I haven’t. My main goal is to beat George and I’m pretty certain one of his is to beat me. We both have a bit of a competitive edge which keeps us both on our toes. Obviously I’d like to increase my PB but I’ve learned to just keep chipping away the yards and to not think of the bigger picture. I definitely need to control my mind as the laps get tougher. At Orkney BYU in July I got to within 1 lap of my PB and simply gave up. I said at the time that I was more than happy to be the assist to Julie! Days later I was pretty annoyed with myself. I was coming in late at the end of the laps but still had time to sort myself out and answer the bell. Will I learn from this? Let’s see after the weekend.

We’ll be watching with interest to see which of you comes out on top! So what’s next, got any other events or challenges planned?

George: A fortnight after Golspie I’ll be running another Backyard Ultra – Gods’ Own BYU in Leeds which is one I’ve taken part in each time. My personal best of 20 loops is recorded at this race.

Allan: The only event I have is the Cowshed BYU in April. It’s the Four Nations Championship and I’ll be running for Team England again. I ran in the team at 2 events in 2022 with 13 and 20 yards. I hope to massively improve on this next year. I’ll be doing some biggish miles in training leading up to the event. I stick to around 60 miles a week for between 4-6 weeks including a 20 miler at the weekend.

Good luck – we’ll see you there! Now all the questions are done and it’s over to you. Anything else you want to share with our readers?

George: I “run” my own Facebook page called “The Oldham Groundhopper” where I document where I go on my travels which consist of watching football at many different grounds. From small non-league grounds with 100 spectators, to Ibrox in Glasgow watching Rangers with over 50 thousand. I’ve been doing this for over 3 years now and currently have over 52,000 followers!

Allan: I’m not going to jump on my soapbox, but I will say that being Vegan for around five and a half years has massively improved my running. Maybe not so much speed or anything but the recovery rate sometimes surprises even me. I can be up and out on a decent recovery run usually the day after a big event. I’m a great believer in active recovery. If I can’t quite manage a run, I’ll always get out for a walk. If you’re interested, check out the Vegan Runners website.

Thanks for sharing, I’m sure some of our readers will check our those links!

Hope you enjoyed our chat with the Parkins! You can wish them luck and see how they both get on at Golspie by joining the Golspie BYU Facebook group or following Golspie BYU on Instragram. We’ll try to share bit on our FB and X pages too. See you soon 👋