St Cuthbert’s Way 100k Ultra 2021

Where to start? An absolutely brilliant race – well organised, a fantastic, beautiful and challenging route, and the surprise bonus of being first female finisher 🥇

I was really, really nervous before this race. Life had meant I hadn’t been able to run as many long runs as I would have liked and had only been squeezing in shorter runs to keep up the mileage. I was nervous about navigating myself (usually I rely on Iain as he is far quicker and more confident navigator than I am! Or stick to roads). I was unsure how to pace running a 100k as previously my longest run had been a 50 mile solo run in April that I had found really hard from about 38 miles onwards. I was also unsure how my legs would respond to all the elevation (8000ft) as I hadn’t had more than 3000ft of elevation in a run before. So many unknowns!

The week before was spent studying the route using Strava and Google Maps. It boosted my confidence having seen all the road sections on Street View and was helpful on the day in seeing the way markers! I also planned what I felt were optimistic but possible paces for each of the sections of the race to give myself an idea of what time I hoped to be at each checkpoint! I had no idea if I was being over optimistic but on the day I think it helped me to not go off too fast at the start and boosted my confidence when I saw I was managing to keep a good pace up the hills.

Getting organised for the race was quite stressful as I needed to plan all of what I needed, as well as everything for family camping, as my wonderful family were coming to crew me for the day. We also had a stop off in Edinburgh on the Friday for professional photos for Iain’s PhD graduation (I am so proud of him), this meant smart clothes for everyone added into the mix!

I was undecided which shoes to wear as I like both my pairs of trail running shoes at the moment – the Inov-8 TerraUltra 270s are great and I feel confident in them but I found when I ran in them for my 50 mile run the bottoms of my feet felt very bruised by the end. The Merrell Bare Access are my other shoes that I love and wore at the Northumberland Ultra in May, however I am just not as confident running trails in them. In the end I wore the TerraUltras and took the Merrells as spares and I actually ended up changing into them at the Wooler check point as my feet were soaked through from the boggy run over the Cheviots (I actually shed a shoe in a bog at one point!)

Other decisions were whether to wear my Flanci skort or my running shorts. I went for the skort in the end as the weather forecast was mainly dry (I don’t like the skort in the rain) and I love having my phone easily accessible during the race. Overall this was a good decision as I used the phone quite a bit to check the route and take photos. However the major downside ended up being chafing from the phone in the thigh pocket. I am still unsure if this was because the skort is loose on me or if it is just a problem with having a thigh pocket. I am now unsure if I should try a smaller size skort or just accept that phones in thigh pockets don’t work on longer runs! 🤔

Then I had to decide what bag to use. On all my long runs previously I have used my Karrimor RP25 20l backpack. There is lots I like about this bag as it has lots of easily accessible pockets on the waist strap and although the bottles are on the sides it is easy to get them out while running. However I have had 2 or 3 times where the bag has rubbed on my neck on longer runs which wasn’t much fun. I didn’t want to spend a fortune on a running vest but while browsing online saw Decathlon had their Kalenji 10l trail bag on sale for £20. So I bought it (and 2 soft flasks with straws from Amazon). The only problem was I only had time to try it out on one short run before the race!

Now I know you aren’t meant to try anything new on race day but I decided to take a gamble and use the Kalenji vest as it felt a more comfortable fit and had space for the the mandatory kit and food I wanted to take and the soft shell bottles seemed practical! Luckily it paid off! The bag was really comfy and everything was easily accessible. My only small issue was at the first check point where I found I had done the soft shell bottles up too tightly and couldn’t get the lids off 🤣 Luckily another runner came to my rescue and unscrewed them for me! 💪🏻

For fuel and nutrition I planned to use SIS GO electrolyte powder (blackcurrant) as this is what I had been using in all of my longer runs. I find it does the job but does leave a very sweet feeling in the mouth which I don’t really like (I may try something different when I have finished this tub!), I also planned to carry KMC NRG gels (chocolate mint), pepperamis, fruit jellies, oat bars, salted peanuts and raisins. Iain would have refills at aid stations, as well as crisps, bananas, and tea.

Registration was at Wooler Youth Hostel on the Friday and I picked up my number, tracker, T-shirt and race goodies. I then stayed in the Youth Hostel on the Friday night, a nice room but I didn’t sleep well! Iain was camping at Budle Bay campsite with the kids so we didn’t have as far to travel on the Saturday when I had finished. I was really wound up about the race and far too nervous/excited to sleep very much. The coach was leaving Wooler for the start line at 3.30 am which didn’t help with sleeping as the alarm was set for 2.30am! I think I only got about 2 hrs sleep in the end and tossed and turned the rest of the night!

So an early start in the morning, I wanted time to have breakfast, cold rice pudding and a banana (sadly no tea), and a 10 min walk to where the coaches were collecting us to take us to the start line. I had already planned with Iain that I would be self sufficient until the checkpoint at Morebattle (25miles). I had hoped to sleep on the hour coach drive but again this didn’t really happen! Our coach arrived at the start in Melrose around 4.30am at one of the rugby training fields at the bottom of town past Melrose Abbey. It was great to be starting somewhere that I knew. A couple of port-a-loos soon had a long queue and then we had to wait for the other coaches. Unfortunately these were late and then dropped their runners at the wrong location in Melrose (the main Rugby pitch). By the time everyone had walked down and used the port-a-loos it was 5.40 before the pre-race briefing. The main thing I took from the briefing was that there were a few fields of cows and calves to be careful around – something to look forward to! I found the waiting around really hard as I was really on edge and tired, and got really cold but didn’t want to unpack the bag as I didn’t think it would be that long!

5.46am and we were finally off. I had already decided to try and get nearer the front of the pack as I knew the path up at the start of the Eildons is narrow steps and I didn’t want to have to go too slow (I had planned 16min/mile for the climb up the Eildons). I managed to get my placing just right – I wasn’t being pushed to go too fast but also didn’t feel I was holding others up! We were at the col between the Eildons before I knew it and then the run down the other side. I had an early reminder to not just follow others as we went into the woods – the St. Cuthebert’s Way (SCW) sign pointed slightly left while the main path headed very slightly right, everyone ahead had headed right. I saw the sign but followed everyone else until the guy in front of me suddenly jumped off the path and cut back to the left hand path. I followed, luckily avoiding an early detour and giving me a healthy reminder to check navigation myself!

A lot of this first section is along the river Tweed with short sections through Newtown St. Boswells and St. Boswells. I was relieved to find that the sign posting was great and my time on Google Street View helped build my confidence. The river paths were harder than I expected with a lot of wooden steps up and down and uneven paths. It was quite humid (my least favourite running conditions) and I was drinking lots as I was very aware it was a long way to go and I didn’t want to be dehydrated. The last stretch to Maxton church (CP1) was a lovely run along the open river bank before heading up to the church and road. I had drunk all my water by the check point so planned a refill (but no energy/electrolyte powder until I met Iain at Morebattle). I then found I had done the bottles up too tight and couldn’t get them undone. A fellow runner, with more strength, came to my rescue and the bottles were refilled and I was on my way. Off up the road, eating my salted peanuts, only to meet the photographer! Everyone else was running up and there was me stuffing my face!

The section from Maxton (CP1) to Bonjedward (CP2) went along an old Roman road called Dere Street all the way to Harestanes, before crossing a suspension bridge over the river Teviot. From planning I was really excited about this section as I thought it would be a wide grassy path that stretched into the distances. It isn’t like this at all! The SCW signpost at the start is easy to miss but I already knew where it was, on the left just before you reach the A68. It disappears in the trees and then heads along the side of the A68 for a while. It is a funny path and I think if I ran it again I would enjoy it more but it threw me as it just wasn’t what I expected! It isn’t even completely straight! It heads along the sides of fields and through woods, it is quite undulating and goes on for quite a while before entering the woods at Harestanes. This is a nice little section through the trees, again well signposted. The suspension bridge across the river Teviot is good fun and then it is only a small distance until the road crossing at Bonjedward.

I didn’t stop at CP2 as I had enough water and was planning to get restocked by Iain and the kids at CP3 (Morebattle), I was really looking forward to seeing them and already planned to ask them to be at Hethpool (CP5) as well (I had previously said I would be fine but realised I would need more fluid at this point and would appreciate the mental boost of seeing them all). I was feeling quite tired during this section. I was trying to keep a good running pace with a short walk in each mile, and I was aware all of the big climbs were still to come. My main memory from this section was an interesting field of cows and calves. The cows had collected in the corner where the SCW went and were already looking stressed thanks to the number of runners heading past. I am not sure what others did but at the side of the field was a ‘safe area’ behind a fence of a single piece of barbed wire at the top and a plain wire half way down, so before I even got near the cows I dived under this fence and walked up the side of the field. A quick climb over a fence and the ‘safe area’ continued until the end of the field.

A short distance to the road and then road running into Morebattle. My ankles actually appreciated the tarmac and having an even surface to run on for a bit! And then the added bonus of seeing Iain who had run out along the road to meet me 😍 – a big boost to my spirits! He ran back next to me and we got a quick catch up. It turned out I was doing well and actually had just taken the lead of the female runners in the first wave! I had previously messaged to say I would want a cup of tea, so it was all ready for me. Some of the kids had walked down the village to cheer me in and the others were ready at the check point to sort me out. What a crew, they were brilliant, everything was repacked and refilled super fast and I was off up the road with cup of tea in hand. Iain came a little way out with me and then I was off on my own again.

Out of Morebattle and the highest point on the route to tackle! I loved this next section to Kirk Yetholm. I felt really good, there were some lovely views and I think my body just enjoyed a change with a fast walk up the hill. The route was well way marked and the path good. This section went really quickly and I was soon back on the road heading towards Town Yetholm. The SCW turns off right before the village itself so you get a nice run along the river instead of through the village. Again Iain was there to meet me and run back to the car at the square in Kirk Yetholm. Again a real boost to see everyone 🥰, a quick water refill and I was off again. Up the hill and on to the Cheviots – the section of the route I was most nervous about navigating!

The next CP was at Hethpool, a remote spot in the Cheviots and the first check point in England! The route was again well signposted and the first part was on a good clear path. I had some good chats with fellow runners on this section and enjoyed the amazing views and remoteness. Lots of the path was good running and the inclines could be walked at a good pace. A quick stop at the border for a selfie with the sign post and then on again. I had to be careful on the downs here as my knee was beginning to get sore and I knew there was still a long way to go! The section after crossing into England is hard going for running as it was very overgrown with grasses and heather making it hard to see were you are putting your feet – I slowed to make sure I didn’t twist an ankle or fall flat on my face! And then a nice run on a track into Hethpool. Again great chat with a fellow runner to the check point where he stopped and I headed on to Hethpool itself as support crews were asked to park at the car park further down the road and then walk back to the SCW. Again Iain was there waiting for me, it was harder for him to prepare as he had no phone signal and so didn’t know where I was on the tracker!

My amazing support crew sorted me out super quick again and I was able to head on with cup of tea in hand. I was feeling tired now and the next section into Wooler felt hard! The last big climb of the day up Yeavering Bell and then a horrible peat bog path on the top! I tried hard to avoid the worst bits but still ended up temporarily losing a shoe in one of the bogs. There were some lovely friendly walkers around and good chat with other runners. Sign posting was again good. The run down into Wooler felt long. I was feeling a bit sorry for myself and my very wet feet! There was still good chat with other runners but it was all feeling just hard work. I then got a boost as another female runner caught up and ran past. My competitive streak came out and I tried to keep up with them! 🏃🏻‍♀️🏃🏻‍♀️ (They were actually running the 45 mile race – oops). We had a lovely chat and it was a real boost for me – thank you. There is a really annoying section here where you have to run out to a turning point and then pretty much run back on yourself to stick to the SCW. The most annoying thing is that you can see a path that goes exactly where you want to be and cuts off the corner. We stuck to the route and I had a grumble about it! And then we were heading in to Wooler and there were Iain and Angus ready to run into the Youth Hostel check point with me.

I had decided I was going to have a 10min rest here as I had now run 46miles with about 7000ft of elevation! I was updated on my position – I was still first female in the first wave and my times at the check points were comparable to the fastest females in wave 2, I was doing more than OK! Iain and my crew, bless them, had other ideas about having a little rest and they chivvied me on to get out on the route again after only a few minutes. So another quick stop and I was off. A run down through Wooler, over the river and on! There are still some trail sections here but a lot more road running. I was walking all the ups and having to really force myself to run the downs and flats! I had some chat but was trying to keep running as much as I could so pushed on on my own. The section between Wooler and the next CP at the A1 is the longest section at 12 miles and it felt it! It was also not as flat as I was expecting! Another runner, Chris, caught me up along the way and we ended up running the rest of the race together, this was a massive boost and definitely meant I was faster than I would otherwise have been. Good chat to help take my mind off the discomfort and lots of encouragement.

And then it happened, a navigational error at 56miles 😧 There was a signpost but we obviously didn’t look at it closely enough and headed off down a hill and round the corner. Something didn’t feel right (I hadn’t seen a SCW sign), I stopped and checked my phone and sure enough the little blue dot was not on route. This was a low moment as it meant we had to trek back up the hill to get back on route. Both of our phones rang as our brilliant crews were on the ball and had both noticed our error. Back on track but probably 20 minutes wasted and nearly a mile added to the day! It turned out that it was the St Oswald’s Way signposted down the hill and our route was marked with one of the little square St Cuthbert’s way markers! It felt like we were never going to get to Fenwick but finally we entered the village and the A1 check point. Iain wasn’t stopping here so Chris stopped with his crew and I had a quick water stop at the check point and then headed on having been safely seen across the A1!

I knew Chris would catch me up as a faster runner and he had kindly offered to push the pace across the Holy Island causeway for me. There was a planned route detour to avoid the unmanned crossing on the East Coast Mainline. This detour was well marked and just meant crossing the railway using the road bridge and then using the path along the side of the railway to rejoin the SCW. An added bonus was seeing 2 trains at this point! Then a field to cross with a beware of the bull sign on the fence (luckily no bull in sight!) and then a field with absolutely no path to cross to reach the coast. Chris had now caught me up and was trying to increase the pace slightly (it turned out my legs didn’t really have very much left in them). Iain and the kids were at the end of the causeway to offer plenty more encouragement and then we were on the causeway. I really wanted to be able to run well here but I had very little left to give which was really frustrating! It felt like Lindesfarne was never going to get closer! I think I may have been a little moany at this point (sorry Chris). The finish was so close but so far! Chris was great at keeping with me and encouraging me and finally we were by the Lindesfarne car park and there was Angus and Iain. I couldn’t quite believe it, only a quarter of a mile to go. I dug deep and tried my best to increase me speed but it was tough! Iain says I was looking rather green at this point! 🤢 The kids were there cheering me on and then I was through the finish and there was my chair (named “The Throne” by the kids). The wonderful volunteers quickly provided tea and watermelon and it slowly sank in that I had finished and it looked like I was in first place (we just had to wait for the timing guys to check as there was a second wave of supposedly faster runners in the race). 😀

2 cups of tea later and it was sinking in that I had finished as first female finisher in my first 100k race with an official finishing time of 14:42:32 It was an absolutely brilliant day, some hard sections but that was always expected. I loved it! I would like to say a massive thank you to the race organisers for a great, well organised event, a thank you to all the marshals and volunteers who made the day happen and were so friendly and helpful. Thank you to all the other runners that made a great run even better with lots of great chat and especially to Chris who ran the last section with me, and pushed me that little harder than I would have otherwise gone! And a massive thanks to my wonderful family who gave up their day to crew me, they were awesome 🥰.

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