Many people take on huge endurance challenges, they train super hard to set new records. When these achievements pay off it is truly admirable, however, it's also important to talk about and commend those adventures that don't quite go to plan. All the preparation, training and research takes place, but sometimes it just doesn't work out during the challenge. Running couple Bex and Meg set out to achieve the FKT (fastest known time) on the Southern Upland Way - a coast to coast route across the rolling moorlands and rugged cliffs of southern Scotland. Get an insight into their experience, and the many obstacles they faced, in their own words.
It is often said of ambitious plans that they grow arms and legs. Well, this one grew a number of appendages, and two heads. Over 18 months we would end up pouring a large amount of time, energy, patience, and money into a well-intentioned but inevitably ill-fated attempt to set an FKT (Fastest Know Time) by running the length of the Southern Upland Way, with no support and very heavy bags. But goodness did it live up to the adventure we hoped for!
The Southern Upland Way is 214 miles / 344 km long and is traditionally completed over 2 weeks by very sensible hikers, or over a few days by runners completing the annual race. We wanted to go somewhere in between, combining the heavy packs of hikers with the pace (a very loose term here) of runners but with zero support along the way. No pubs, no shops, no B&Bs, and no food drops. Something that as far as we can tell had never been attempted before.
This would require us to carry absolutely everything we would and could possibly need for the duration of the trail, including all food, camping gear, and any emergency repair kit. If we were to stop and buy anything or ask for any assistance, we would no longer be unsupported but fall into the self-supported or supported category. Even a sip from a private tap from a friendly local would rule us out.
So the preparations began.
The biggest hurdle, other than actually being fit enough, was the weight we would need to carry. By our tentative estimate, a realistic pack to carry could be anywhere between 10 and 15kg. And so we set to researching. Warmth to weight, weight to calories, volume to durability became our mantras. There were even multiple excel spreadsheets.
With the amazing support of the OMM, Nordisk, Våga, and DexShell we managed to keep our kit down to 6kg. Kit-wise we chose to be very brutal with what we allowed ourselves. While we were aiming to be out for 5.5 days, we had two t-shirts, a pair of shorts, two pairs of pants and two pairs of socks each. I (Bex) had never been a big fan of wearing waterproof socks myself, however knowing that my feet were going to be in quite the mixture of terrain with the added fact it was October it made me stop and rethink that. With a bit of research, and also chatting to Debbie Martin-Consani, I decided to give DexShells a go. Man, I wasn’t disappointed! Dry feet and super comfy, what more could you want for an epic adventure like this?
The next issue, and where we perhaps made our fatal error, was food. We aimed for 3000 kcal a day to replenish what we lost. Even with help from Nevisport generously supplying dehydrated meals, this still came to 7kg of weight. And with water on top, we were closer to 13kg in total. Oh dear.
Never mind, we thought, this would go down by 1kg a day and we’d be flying by the end!
Our final tick box was training.
How on earth does one train for something like this? Only one of us (Meg) had ever even run more than a marathon distance, and we were aiming for about 60km a day! We are average runners, and in the world of FKTs, complete punters. But we were determined.
After bumbling along for months, taking on races and weekend mountain runs, we decided we needed to get more serious. Enter our new training programme through AlpasFit. And under the watchful eye of the amazing Landie Greyling we beasted it for 9 weeks straight. Up and down Munros and Corbets with weighted packs. Torrential rain, gale force winds, and knee-deep bogs our frequent companions over the hours we spent in the hills over weekends. But we made gains. Quad muscles were becoming defined and hill repeats were starting to become fun (with the help of running poles of course)!
The day finally dawned.
And what a stormy dawn it was! 5am came round and we were greeted with rain pelting against the windows of Portpatrick Hotel, the wind howling and the sea smashing off the shore. We gave it another 1hr, and then another, and when the sun eventually came up the wind and rain finally slacked enough for us to remain upright on the cliff edges. We set off! And after a false start and restart once we figured out our tracker, we were actually off!
The weather was thankfully more stable and we could enjoy amazing views out to sea. Neither of us had ever spent time in the area so it was a delight to wind along the coast and over the farmlands. The rougher seaside paths eventually gave way to gravel tracks and tarred roads as we slowly made our way along, the weight of the packs definitely making themselves known.
5km turned into 10km and into 20km. By 25km Bex began to feel some pulling in her groin and hip. This immediately sparked panic as we knew what this could potentially mean. It’s an old injury. One that hadn’t reared its ugly head for quite some time. Through all the training there was never an issue, but here we were at the beginning of an epic journey and that feeling of dread was starting to settle in. Bex continued on without even a complaint until around 35km when the pain got too bad. And the hobbling began.
We eventually had to make a tough call. This was not our day. This was not our week. Our challenge and attempt was done. Our next big decision, do we push on to the Beehive bothy, another 12km away? As this would require a big, slow, and painful walk out to the nearest town the next day, we decided to make camp in the moorlands just outside New Luce. Unfortunately, as we were having this heartfelt and serious moment, some curious cows (with calves) made a very hasty approach, running right at us! We quickly realised we had a little left in the tank and sprinted our way to the gate and safety. Insult, meet injury.
But the universe wasn’t done. Not yet.
We set up camp, dried off, warmed up, and fed ourselves. We were managing to get comfortable with the rain now properly coming down again when the sky was lit up. With lightening!
Here we go again.
We waited a bit and counted the gaps between the strikes and the rumble of thunder, before deciding it was safer to move from our high position on the hill. A quick dress, decamp, and we made a dash for the stone wall lower down. Our pegs and poles were left behind, our bags and tent in a ball and pile. We crouched down, we laughed, and then we watched as the sheets of incredible light made it practically day.
Eventually it rolled away and we could return to our now very wet tent. Back inside and warm once more we could finally fall asleep, dreaming of what might have been.
Morning came and we could slowly make our way to rescue in New Luce where a friend very graciously came to collect us. The only mercy? Putting on our soaking wet shoes with the warm comfort of a fresh pair of DexShells. We were down, but not out, as we assessed our training, mistakes, and good calls over the months of sacrifices, new plans were already being made. The walk down became a brainstorming session. What other FKT’s could we go for? Do you we need to focus on shorter races? Did we really need to bring the hip flask? The answer to the last question was a resounding yes! We were proud of what we had attempted, amazed at how much we had gained, and are excited to keep going. Bring it on!
Both Bex and Meg wore the DexShell Running Lite Socks
Published November 2022
Written by Bex and Meg Currie Moodie, edited by Alethea Lund-Wright, DexShell UK Marketing