Interview: Felicity & Alan

We love an epic running story with a happy ending and this is a proper good one! We first met Felicity Elms and Alan Oliver when we were volunteering at CP3 of Race Across Scotland, an 215 mile non-stop journey along the full length of the Southern Upland Way. CP3, at Bargrennan near Glen Trool, is 42 miles in to the race and the runners had just passed over 20 miles of exposed trail from CP2 at New Luce under a relentless, hot sun and were not even a quarter of the way done! When they arrived, Felicity was chirpy and all smiles, but Alan just slumped into a chair with a 1000 yard stare and fell asleep – no offense intended but he looked like he was headed for a DNF! After a short break, the two of them were ready to continue and headed off together on the trail. We saw them again the next morning at CP5 (Sanquhar), where they were still making good progress and although we had to head home on Sunday night, we kept an eye on the tracker and were really pleased to see they eventually finished in 97 hours and 46 mins – just under the 100 hour cutoff time!

Massive congratulations from us on what must have been a huge effort 👏👏👏 We gave them both a few days to recover before pestering them to do a Q&A with us for the blog, and it’s great to be able to share it with you all now. We hope you find their story as inspiring as we did!

Let’s start with a bit of an intro. How did you get into running?

Felicity: In my teens and early twenties, I was a big girl. At only 5ft3 and nearly 13 stone, I decided it was time to do something about it. So, I changed my eating habits and started walking to university. This soon turned into running. Then, after a trip to New Zealand, I fell in love with hiking. Inevitably, this transformed to cross country running! I knew I would never beat my dad’s marathon speed, so I decided to go for distance instead!

Alan: I used to hate any sort of distance running at school (I was a sprinter as well as doing every other sport I could) but a few years on, after putting on weight, I took up weight training and triathlon but funnily enough, running was the part I still disliked the most.

That was over 30 years ago but shiftwork and life got in the way and I stopped most regular sports. When I moved role in January 2018, I had a spare 3 hours a day of non commuting so I started running and struggled to run 5k!

I signed up for the 2018 Great East Run (Half Marathon) in September and trained for that with the aim of doing at least the same time as my previous half over 30 years before. I managed to get a better time so spurred on I went on to run my first marathon in the December of 2018 coming 5th.

Bitten by the bug I signed up for Brighton marathon in the April of 2019 and then went on to run 10 ultras (100km) and another couple marathons in 2019. I have continued to run a mix of road marathons and trail ultras since.

So you both love distance running, but Race Across Scotland is another level! What led up to you entering, and eventually running it together?

Felicity: I met Alan on a Facebook group leading up to a 100km event (one of Alan’s 10 races in 2019), then we bumped into each other at the event. As we were in multiple events, we kept bumping into each other and soon my Dad (best crew ever) was soon supporting Alan too! We never really ran side by side as Alan is a lot faster than me, however, it didn’t stop the ultra-bond that was growing between us!

Alan: A special moment though was when we both crossed the line together on the Thames Path Ultra which was the last of that series we completed in.

Felicity took part in the RAS in 2021 but sadly DNF’d at 150 miles. I had followed her progress throughout and was equally disappointed for her. 

When we talked through the DNF, Felicity was not sure about doing it again but not wanting her to have unfinished business and wanting a challenge myself, I suggested if she wanted to have another go, I would do it with her.

Not sure how you find out what a 200+ mile ultra is like except for just giving it a go, but was RAS what you expected?

Felicity: I trained for RAS in 2020, but it was postponed. So, my first attempt was in 2021. Unfortunately, I had difficulties with navigation and with lack of sleep or running buddy, I made the decision to pull out. It has been my one and only DNF and it hit me pretty hard. A few months later, when Alan phoned and asked if I was going to attempt it again I had been in two minds – it was a lot of hard training – however, when Alan said he was game, there was no way I could say no!

Alan: I had not taken part in any event of that magnitude before. The furthest I had run was 100 miles on the South Downs Way which we did together as a training run. I found the lack of sleep the hardest / most challenging on the 3rd night as I started hallucinating. The pain in my feet was also hard but I had to box away the pain in my head to keep going.

When we saw you at CP3 and CP5 Felicity was all bouncy & smiles and Alan looked knackered and ready to quit – how did the two of you work together and encourage each other on the course?

Felicity: Unfortunately, Alan suffered from the heat. He says that I cheat as I had ten years living in Mexico and get on with the heat quite well! This resulted in different reactions. To be honest, I think a lot of it is patience and silent understanding. I believe we each let the other get through what they need to get through. There is no pressure but there is no abandonment either. At the same time, we are supported by the most important person – my Dad. He seems to know the thing to get each of us through. Whether it is a hug and encouragement, tough love, or a pair of clean socks. He always works his magic!

Alan: I struggled with the heat of the first two days and unfortunately my black dog came with me at the same time! I just went into myself and was not all smiles! In my head though there was no way I was going to quit as I did not want to let Felicity down as we were going to finish together. I also have a massive stubborn streak in that I will not stop until I physically cannot continue and have to be medically stopped.

Having run ultras together before, we knew when to talk to each other and when to let the other have some head space and that seemed to work.

Well it certainly did! What were your favourite moments of the race?

Alan: The beautiful views and changing scenery of the landscape as we moved East. The full scottish breakfast cooked by Martin (at CP12, Longformacus) was a fantastic treat which was so welcome. 

Felicity: I don’t know if it was a favourite moment – maybe a worst favourite. There was a point when I started crying. It was on a long quarry section – hot and dry. I cried as I knew that this time, I was going to finish RAS – and it was at the same point last year that I knew I wasn’t going to finish it. That realisation was emotionally over-whelming.

And the hardest bits – if you can pick anything specifically?

Alan: The hardest parts were the nights. There seemed to be never ending miles of fences on some stretches with no views (it was dark!) Later on it was made worse by fog and then hallucinating with lack of sleep.

I also had such painful feet towards the end that every step was agony.

Felicity: Sleep, or lack of sleep! I knew this was always going to be the biggest challenge! If I have less than seven hours a night, I feel it all the next day! It was a challenge! Hallucinations galore!!

In the end you finished with a little over 2 hours remaining out of the 100 hour limit – were you always confident that you could finish?  Were there parts where you were behind schedule and looked like you would DNF?

Felicity: Nope! This year, I was confident from about the third check point, and that was it! Mental challenge resolved and everything else fell into place! I had come up with a race plan beforehand – a worst case scenario / slowest pace plan. It turned out that we needed it as we ended up on this plan exactly! This plan gave us room for an unplanned 90 min sleep crash, heat fatigue, near zero visibility on the third night and a final 20 miles of very slow movement as Alan’s feet were not holding up well.

Alan: Felicity had used her experience from last year to plan our progress throughout with the sole aim of completion. We knew if we stuck to the plan it would work out and we finished at the predicted time. We knew we would build some time at the start which would give us time later so even towards the end we knew we would make it.

Sounds like your plan worked out then! What advice would you give to anyone thinking about doing RAS next year?

Alan: Do it! It was an amazing experience. The support was fantastic and the scenery magnificent. It will push you to your limits and will be an adventure you will remember for the rest of your life.

Felicity: Be mentally strong. As soon as your belief goes, you are doomed. A strong crew person can lead to success. If you can, a good companion and someone to rely on always results in an incredible, shared experience.

We might just give it a try 🤔 So now that you’ve recovered, what’s next for each of you?

Felicity: I have a ten in ten this November – earning some calories for Christmas! My next adventure is out there – I just need to find it! Maybe some hiking somewhere abroad….

Alan: I am running the Berlin and New York Marathons this year and have booked in a couple of marathons next year. I am looking at what Ultras I can fit in and looking at a GB Ultra 100 mile race.

We both plan to complete the George Fisher Tea Round in the Lake District as we had an aborted attempt (due to storms) in February this year. This time we will hopefully get better weather.

Fingers crossed for the weather! And good luck with those races! Before we say goodbye, anything else you’d like to mention?

We’d both love you to support and join Alan in raising money for the PC Nicola Hughes memorial fund.

No problem, we have – and hope some of our readers will too!

What great guys Felicity and Alan are! Hope you enjoyed meeting them and follow them along on their upcoming adventures too…

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