What is it like to race the Ultra Tour of Arran?
A new adventure style ultra launched last month on the Scottish island of Arran. The two-day Ultra Tour of Arran was organised by Rat Race Adventure Sports.
It comprised a total distance of around 100km and a total vertical gain of 3254m. The race was aimed at a wide range of athletes, from newbie ultra runners, to have-a-go adventure fans and elites. Training is required to complete the event but cut-off times were generous.
Some 240 people took part and I spoke to three competitors to find out what it’s like to race the Ultra Tour of Arran. None of them had visited Arran before – and all came away saying they are keen to return.
First-time ultra runner
Richard “Spike” Neal had never run a full marathon before although he had walked 27 miles during training and he is a keen runner.
He said: “The Ultra Tour of Arran appealed to me for a number of reasons. I like to run in interesting places and I had never been to Arran.
“I have also enjoyed Rat Races before and when someone bought me a voucher for Rat Race as a gift I thought: ‘Why not?’”
Spike, a software engineer from Bristol, thought he would be prepared for how tough the UTA would be but he confesses it hurt.
He said: “I am stubborn and I knew I would have enough energy but it was hard. My legs, especially when we started on the second day, really hurt!”
Spike liked that the two days were very different. He said: “The first day was a bit flatter, although that is in comparison to the next day, which really wasn’t.
“There was a variety of terrain and this amazing forestry section. Oh, and the bog! I ended up falling into it up to my waist. It was hard but also great fun!
“The second day, well that was brutal. I had tired legs and there were two big climbs. We had to climb up to a lower summit on the Goatfell ridge and then down again and then up again to the actual summit.
“I wasn’t having a good time on the first half of that day and I kept thinking I might give up but once I got to the highest point on Goatfell I knew I would finish the race. I suddenly felt okay again and my mindset changed. I thought: ‘I can do this.’”
And he did!
Spike said: “I am so pleased that I did this race. It was a great overall although it was a challenge. And Arran is such a lovely place. It had every sort of landscape and all kinds of weather. I would like to go back.”
Ambassador for the women
Allie Bailey is a female ambassador for Rat Race Adventure Sports. She wants to encourage more women to take part in adventure races.
She said: “I think that many women are put off these types of races because they think it’s just for the guys or elites but with a good base level of fitness and a sense of adventure these challenges are achievable for everyone.”
Allie was attracted to the UTA because “I love Scotland and I love a challenge”.
She said: “It was my first time on Arran and it was glorious. The landscape is beautiful and so remote feeling, although it is not actually that far from the mainland.
“It was very tranquil, too, and during the race we reached many places that other people would not ordinarily see. There was such a great diversity of terrain and that was something I really enjoyed about this challenge.”
However, Allie is not a fan of heights and on the second day, when the ultra headed along a ridge to the summit of Goatfell, she was pushed to her limits.
She said: “I was really nervous about the ridge and it was outwith my comfort zone but there was a lot of support from my fellow runners and I had such a great sense of achievement when I reached the mountain top.”
Allie participated in the ultra as a challenge rather than a race. She said: “The UTA was good for a range of people. I met Spike, who was doing his first ultra event and I am friends with the winning man and woman, David and Claire, who were on Arran to compete.
“I am already a keen runner and have completed marathons and ultras before but I saw the Arran event as a challenge rather than race. I will be back to do it again because I enjoyed it so much.”
Read more about Allie at Allie B Runs.
UTA winner David
David Hellard, 40, is a fan of Rat Race events and has participated in ultra events before. He said, when prompted: “I do quite well generally in ultra races.”
He was attracted to the Ultra Tour of Arran because “it looked a bit different; more of an adventure than an ultra”.
He added: “I liked the idea of a weekend event with camping at base and the promise of a new destination with a variety of terrain. It was such a great course, sort of a whacky environment and one minute you were on a beach, then knee deep in bog and then scrambling on a mountain. I liked the adventure of it all and the many challenges in one race.”
Despite being a keen competitor, David said the UTA was a tough race. He explained: The first day was fun and beautiful, almost like a warm up to the second day. But the terrain is far more rugged than I am used to because I live in London so it took its toll on my legs.
“The second day was far harder and I found the climb from sea level to mountain top a big challenge. I was also being chased down by two other competitors so I knew I needed to push hard to win.”
David, who is founder of a sports product company Caffeine Bullet, took part in the race with his partner Claire Briggs, who won the women’s race. Claire’s total time was 12:00:51, while David finished in 10:27:21.
He said: “We do train together and Claire is a very good competitor but on the day we did our own race. She also did really well and it was great that we both won.”
He added: “We thoroughly enjoyed the weekend on Arran. It was my first Scottish island and it was surprisingly easy to reach.
“Everyone we met on the island was so friendly and we saw so much of the island in just two days. I would really like to return again.”
Read more: What is the the Ultra Tour of Arran?
Sign up for the race in 2019 on April 13 and 14 next year. The earlier you book your place the cheaper it is.
Pic credit: Leo Francis