There’s No Place Like Holmes

David Holmes gives us the low-down on his GB Ultra Scotland 50

The first race for 15 months after all the COVID delays was an interesting one which I began with some trepidation after very little training since the pandemic started….the occasional decent plod around the Pentlands but not a 50 miler.
The race was ran by GB Ultras who kept us well informed about the race beforehand about the rules and regulations we were required to adhere too. We were asked to provide our best recent marathon time and allocated a starting slot based on this. The idea was fastest out first, with c.20 second gaps between runners so there was no bunching up.

As 6:08 arrived, short count down and then I was off up the hill on to the Southern Upland Way.

Start to CP1 (8 Miles)
This was probably the worst start I had to a race….the trail route was for the most part well marked except for a couple of important junctions. After a mile there was a big right turn and like a good “Do Badder” completely missed it and followed the flock of runners in front of me who did exactly the same thing. After about 1 mile or so a runner caught me up and said he thought we were going the wrong way….it was at this point I thought I’d check my GPS and sure enough we were. So a quick turn around, and uphill, to pick up the route again. Now back on route I thought I’d catch up on time, I was one of the favorites after all J, so I  legged it across a boggy area as fast as I could. Coming to a small stream I thought no I won’t walk through it….too early to get my feet wet so took the “safe” route across the duck boards. Of course, I duly slipped banged my knee really hard and ended up in the stream anyway…..after much swearing and admitting the FKT was probably now out of reach I hobbled on. I was only three miles in at this point I thought what more could happen. Fortunately, the next 5 miles were uneventful….

CP1 to Sanquhar (CP2) 26 Miles
The longest gap between checkpoints began on the road for a couple of miles before turning back on to the trail, this was the first time I met Michelle whom ended up being my companion for most of the rest of the run. The section was the first part of the run that you begin to climb…it is largely a good steady climb heading toward Benbrack Summit (581m) in the Carsphairn Hills and one of three Striding Arches in the immediate hills. I avoided the mistakes of following the Arches to Cairnhead, noting that I should probably check my GPS from earlier and start heading down, although I heard rumors some runners  did make this mistake. The hills rolled on for the few miles until c 7 miles short of Sanquhar. It was then I made my second navigational mistake…but I’ll take joint ownership with Michelle on this …A new road had been constructed and obscured the view of the nearest waymarker and oddly the GPS wasn’t very clear at this stage so we headed  up the nearest hill to get our bearings. On the way up we ran in to Paul heading in the opposite direction, he’d gone the wrong way for a couple of miles and was phoned by the race director to turn around.
Sanquhar Community Centre  was the location of the second check point, with a bigger selection of sweet/cakes/bars and waters etc…it was a quick in and out…partially to catch up time but was scared to sit down too long as I  wanted to avoid another DNF.

CP2 to Wanlockhead (CP3) 34 Miles.
This was the dullest part of the run….fully refreshed and running somewhere between a shuffle and a trot headed through middling trail (yawn)….all I remember of this bit was a conversation about my running shoes and agreeing with Paul that Salomon’s where not my best choice. Feet were aching but not so much that it was an real problem. Down off Glengaber Hill you hit a mile or so section of road passing some old mine ruins and in to Wanlockhead Check Point at the villages community centre, very similar to Sanquhar.

CP3 to CP4 40 Miles
This the hilliest section of the route, one of the volunteers at the CP quipped about the “big climb” up Lowther Hill (725m) the highest point to the route. In fact Lowther Hill was an absolute doddle, it’s mostly road/or sold well made trail to the Radar Station at the top. What the volunteers neglected to mention was the F’ing bastard of a hill afterwards, Cold Moss whilst  smaller than Lowther Hill had what felt like a vertical climb, not long but it hurt and it one of two section of the race where I truly shouted out loud “F’ this for a laugh”. Eventually gathering my whits…on I went over Comb Head and dropped down to the last CP which much like the first was very simple…but the volunteers were very friendly/kind and spured us on for the final push.

CP4 to Finish 57 Miles
The first few miles out of CP4 were probably the easiest section of the whole race; It was a mix of very good trail and road heading toward Daer Reservoir. Then I hit the “WALL”…..crossed the Dam and then the step(ish) climb up Sweetshaw Brae, not a high hill by any means but at 43 (ish) miles it wasn’t welcome. I really was struggling at this stage and it was at this point that I began to lose sight of other runners… fortunately, Michelle did wait for me to get up the hill and we ran/walked the rest of the race together. This part of the trail was very undulating and If I was feeling it I’d say the view were great but I was just swearing alot by this stage. After Beld Knowe we started to drop down in the nearby woods. Sun was setting and the temperature was dropping, but had all my kit in preparation for this so it didn’t really bother me too much. Entering the woods the Sun finally set the inner werewolf woke up and I definitely had a second wind. My original plan was to finish in day light which clearly I’d missed, but now I was worried about completing it in the time, as there was an 18hr finish line cut off. We were suddenly out of the woods on the final road to Moffat. By this time it was c.11:30 and knowing that I had to finish by 12:08 to complete the race was getting really concerned now. Michelle and I managed to push ourselves on giving each other confidence. On entering, Moffat GB Ultras had mentioned the slight change of route to the finish…obviously Paul must have gone the wrong way again... I got a message from my wife who was following me on the tracker to make sure I didn’t make that mistake as she saw others take the wrong route.
The finish line was at Upper Annandale FC, one of the GB Ultra crew had wandered to the end of a narrow path to make sure we didn’t miss it and guided us in. Just in time with 8 minutes to spare as Michelle, who crossed at the same time started 2 minutes later than me it meant I was Dead F’ing Last (DFL)…never had one of those before but was happy to Finish, got my heavy gold medal for finishing in the top 100…..I finished 44th.

All in all It was enjoyable (honest), I’ve done a few ultras and it’s amazing how you forget the painful bits. Would I do it again…maybe but not in the October when the next race is to go ahead, it would be much harder (boggier), we had good dry weather heading in to the event….It’s a good route but there are so many good runs if I did it again I’d probably opt for the 100 version.

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