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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Ashby

Isle of Arran Double Ultra 2021

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

I thought: it’s a civilian event. Surely with the amount of health and safety regulations in place these days, it can’t be that bad….I was wrong.

I’m talking about the Ultra Tour of Arran 2021, an ultra marathon on the Isle of Arran, an island off the North West coast of Scotland. An island famous for its wildlife, mountains, whiskey, gin-clear rivers, and calm sea.

I first spotted the event six months before in Spring when I was looking at ultra marathons. Facebook was listening to me and the race popped up on my Newsfeed. As anyone who knows me will know, I like a challenge. And I had found something that would test my stamina and mental ability.

I mentioned it to Demsey. He thought I was mad, but he was interested. We’re both very competitive and have that drive to win at all costs, a never-give-up attitude.

So we started preparing for our first ultra marathon across trails and mountains. What trainers would we wear? What kit would we need to camp in Scotland in October? What training was required to run 2 x 30 miles across mountainous terrain?

We paid the entrance fee and committed. The sponsors started rolling in.

On the day, October 2, it was a 4 am start to drive to Glasgow. Watching our ferry come in at Ardrossan, we could see the sea was far from calm. Luckily, our ferry arrived on Arran after a choppy 55 minute crossing, ahead of the storm that was brewing. We disembarked in Brodick, registered at the event village, picked up our satellite trackers, and then set up our tents. It was cold, and very soon the rain came. Then the wind. We crawled into our tents for an early night but it was a cold, wet night.

Day One

The next morning, our alarms were set for 05:30 to get breakfast for 06:00. A briefing announced the start of the race on day one had been delayed from 07:00 to 12:00 due to ferries being cancelled because of the rough crossing. Staff and paramedics were stuck on the mainland.

We were glad when we did start, a loop of the south of the island, the less mountainous of the two days. After a mile of the run, we headed up a good incline, and then another very good steep slope. This was to be the theme of the day. Dropping down from the hills to the coastline, and then climbing back up.

We were rewarded with spectacular views and enchanting woodlands, but the inclines were crazy! However, after an amazing day’s effort, we completed the 21 miles in 4hrs 40.

Day Two

Day two: a 33 mile loop of the north of the island, the mountainous section. We were ready for the 07:00 start from Brodick beach, and pretty soon we were climbing the first mountain. It was savage; rain, fog, sleet, freezing temperatures.

We crossed the mountain ridge and then headed down to the sea, no path, just peat bogs and plenty of water. We were literally running through ankle deep water for long sections. We dropped down into Lochranza, a small village on the coast. The sun came out and we enjoyed a 10 mile leg around the north east coast of the island across rough beaches, picking our way over large rocks. As we approached the village of Sannox, we were required to complete a slippy river crossing. Then we headed back into the mountains.

The climb was once again brutal. We had already ran a marathon, and now we had to scale Goat Fell, the highest mountain on the island standing at just under 3,000 feet.

When we were about 200ft short of the summit, a marshal greeted us adorned with ropes, harnesses, and climbing gear.

“Climb up to James lads. He’ll tell you what to do from there” he told us.

We began free climbing a vertical rock face. James watched us and was apparently happy with how we handled the climb because he instructed us to carry on climbing. Off we went again, water pouring down on us, no ropes to hold us safe if we placed a foot in the wrong place.

We hit the summit and had a six mile run back to the finish line. A new energy came across us as our competitive edge emerged. As we ran down the mountain, I looked back and saw a group of five people closing in on us.

“Demsey, we ain't being overtaken now mate, lets get moving.”

As we got below 2,000 ft, the sun came out and temperatures rose. We still had our waterproofs on and we needed to strip back to our t-shirts to avoid overheating.

“Dean, I need to stop to take my waterproof off” Demsey said through heavy breathing.

'No, do it on the move”.

We kept moving, heaving off our rucksacks and waterproofs on the move. Our don’t-stop tactic paid off. We overtook another six people and lost the group chasing us.

The last leg was a mile run down the beach across sand. With one last push, we crossed the line. We were running on pure adrenaline. I had not felt that way for many years. It’s a reminder of what the human body can do: 54 miles across incredibly hard going with over 9,000 ft ascent.

Thanks Demsey. You delivered. And in the process we have raised £4,000 for Myton Hospice - so a huge thanks everyone.

Exhausted, wearing out finishers' medals.

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