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Ultra runner Alasdair Meldrum sets FKT on Ayrshire Coastal Path

Written by Fiona

November 11 2020

Alasdair Meldrum has set a Fastest Known Time (FKT) time for running the Ayrshire Coastal Path. He completed the 161km (100 miles) route from Glenapp to Skelmorlie in 23 hours and 38 minutes and 40 seconds. There is a total elevation of 1801m (5912ft).

Alasdair, 50, of Ayr, had completed a shorter version on the Path of 88 miles over two days some eight years ago. He said: “It has always been on my mind to try the full route – I ended up running 107 miles actually – and I felt confident I could do so this year.

“I had supported Jack Scott on his record run on the Southern Upland Way and run 53 miles then so I knew the Ayrshire Coastal Path was possible. Although it was my first time running 100 miles in one go.”

Alasdair, who has been a keen ultra runner for around four years, took on the Ayrshire Coastal Path on October 30, 2020. The day started at 3.10am alarm call. His friend Mark Canning, who provided vehicle support, picked him up at 3.45am.

The official start of the Ayrshire Coastal Path is a small carpark at Glenapp, half way between Stranraer and Ballantrae.

Alasdair said: “I remember the last time I did the Ayrshire Coastal Path, eight years ago. It was a 12-hour run from Glenapp to Ayr, an overnight at home in Ayr, followed by a very painful 12-hour stint to complete the 88-mile route in 36 hours.

“This time, my aim was the extended route, which includes local landmarks such as Burns Cottage, Dundonald Castle, Kilwinning Abbey and Knock Hill and, according to the official guide book, is 100 miles.”

Turnberry beach with Ailsa Craig in the background.
River Ayr.
Alasdair and Mark Caldwell at Lendalfoot.

First 38 miles of the Ayrshire Coastal Path

Alasdair set off at 5am accompanied by friend Mark Caldwell for the first section to Ballantrae on a track, followed by single track road. He said: “The biggest challenge was keeping the pace down.”

The route takes in many beach sections and the first was Ballantrae beach and then up over the hill to Lendalfoot. North of Lendalfoot the route rises sharply, with the A77 hidden below and with views over iconic Ailsa Craig.

Alasdair said: “The day had started cloudy and overcast but it was as if someone had swept the clouds away and I had clear views to the north to the rest of the route and out to Arran and Ailsa Craig.

“The strong south-west tailwind stayed with me for much of the day.”

From Girvan harbour the route to Turnberry goes from road to track, to rocky shoreline, to boggy fields, back to rocky shoreline and then finally a sandy beach as you approach the famous Turnberry lighthouse.

At Maidens, Mark called it a day after 31miles (5hrs 36mins).

Alasdair said: “I was ahead of the planned schedule at this point and I was expecting an easy section through Culzean Country Park and then north along Croy shore. However, because I was ahead of the plan, I ended up without a support runner and I also hit a bit of a problem with the tidal sections.

“What should have been a sandy beach turned into long sections of seaweed covered rocks, rocky foreshore and generally tricky terrain. Then, just when I thought I was over the worst, I realised I had to get round the small headland at the north of Croy shore.

“I ended up knee deep in water, trying to step from boulder to boulder as the waves crashed in.”

By Dunure, Alasdair had run 38 miles in 6:56.

Alasdair and Bobby Miller reach Burns’ Cottage.
Alasdair and Bobby on Ayr shore.

More tough running

Alasdair describes Dunure to Bracken Bay as probably the hardest section of the route, with a mix of soft shingle, muddy farmland and a section of slippery and rocky shore. A friend Bobby Miller joined him at Bracken Bay and ended up running all the way to Troon.

Just before Greenan Castle was the first detour of the day with a loop to take in Burns Cottage, (46miles, 8hrs 32mins).

Then came a run through the coastal towns of Ayr and Prestwick.

Alasdair said: “I had a good turn out from friends from the Rotary Club of Ayr, Bannatynes gym and my work as we progressed through Ayr and Prestwick.”

He was now 1.5 hours ahead of schedule having run 57 miles in 10:40.

After running around Troon harbour, Alasdair did the second detour of the day with an out-and-back over Smugglers’ Trail to reach Dundonald Castle at about 60 miles in. By this time the moon was out, the sun had set and the head torches had come out.

Dundonald Castle is on the Ayrshire Coastal Path.
Dundonald Castle is on the Ayrshire Coastal Path.
Left to right, Bobby Miller, Kirsten Oakley and Alasdair on Troon Beach.

Running into the night

The next section follows a cycle route to reach Irvine harbour and by now Alasdair had completed 71.5miles (14:05). He said: “My steady pace of the day started to decline and the walking became more frequent than the running. I asked for a big warm jacket at Irvine when we met the support and I had a lie down with my feet up to try and bring some life back to my tired body.

“I am not sure it worked but it was quite pleasant looking up at the night sky and the full moon. I could have stayed for longer but had to keep pressing on.”

Still with Barry, Alasdair headed on to the final detour with an out-and-back to Kilwinning Abbey, again following cycle paths.

Alasdair said: “Along the way, we saw some head torches ahead, which then disappeared only to be surprised a few minutes later by friends Fran and Anna who had come to out to join us.

“Then, a missed turn led us on to the dual carriageway, but we could see the underpass and we managed to get back on the route. Cycle paths in the dark can be confusing places but eventually we got to Kilwinning Abbey, only to turn around and head back again.”

By Ardossan, Alasdair had completed 84 miles in a time of 17 hours and 20 minutes. He said: “My pace slowed. My left foot had been bothering me and then the top of the toe on my right foot felt like it was getting a blister.

“I headed into the warm van to try to work out what was going on and I eventually worked out it was a small stone, which was stuck to the top of my toe and was rubbing against the shoe. Once it was removed, there was no more pain.

Barry left having completed 30 miles and another friend Colin Anderson joined Alasdair for the rest of the route.

Alasdair said he stared having major “cold shakes”. He said: “I decided I should put on a jumper, then a jacket and then a hat. But I was still shaking as I set off to try to get some heat back in my body.

“This was probably the lowest point of the day.”

Night running and more rocks.
Alasdair at the finish at Skelmorlie.

Ayrshire Coastal Path finish

Just before Seamill, the Ayrshire Coastal Path heads on to a beach again and then around a headland to Portencross. It was mignight by now and high tide again and Alasdair faced rocks and rough ground again.

A quick food and drink stop at 90 miles saw him trying to force down scone – “I wasn’t eating much by this point,” he said – before progressing past Hunterson Port and Hunterston Nuclear Power station.

Towards Fairlie, Alasdair and Colin joined a cycle path. A calculation of the finish time gave them the motivation to run and walk, rather than just walk, in a bid to go under 24 hours for the entire route.

Alasdair said: “Along the cycle path, we passed some marinas and the wind was howling in the yacht rigging. The run-walk strategy was working well and was sometimes aided by an increasingly strong tailwind although it sometimes turned into a headwind, which gave us another excuse for a walk.”

At a deserted Largs promenade, decorated with colourful lights, Alasdair and Colin met the support van again. (99 miles, 21:33).

Alasdair was only too aware of Knockhill ahead and they set off for the final section in rain. After a slight navigational error, the pair took a very boggy path up the hill.

Alasdair said: “The wind and rain became progressively worse, so we went as fast as we could. Then I noticed with dismay that my watch had stopped working. Rather than getting off the hill quickly, we stood around trying to get the watch to restart. Looking back, I think I only missed about 200m of the route on my watch but it was frustrating.”

Familiar with the last part of the route, Alasdair revealed that the final few miles passed relatively quickly. He said: “Then, suddenly, we were on the last downhill to the finish post at Skelmorlie. It had taken 106.83 miles, 5912ft of elevation and 23 hours 38 minutes to run the full Ayrshire Coastal Path. It was a relief to stop moving.”

Alasdair wants to thank Mark Canning, who gave 28 hours of support, and his support runners.

Note about the route distance : The official guide states the route is 100 miles, however when plotting the route it came in at 104 miles. Alasdair’s mistake with judging the tides meant he ran much of it at the high-water mark and increased the distance to almost 107 miles. 

What is the Ayrshire Costal Path?

The Rotary Club of Ayr came up with the idea for the Ayrshire Coastal Path. It opened in 2008. The responsibility for the route has transferred to Ayrshire Coastal Path  but it still relies on a volunteer help to keep the route in good condition and maintained. To help support their work, you can donate on their website or buy the official guide.

The management committee have set a protocol for any FKT attempts, so if you do plan to take on the route, please contact them through their website.

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