The First Cape Wrath Ultra is Underway
The participants gathered for the first ever Cape Wrath Ultra™ at the Nevis Centre in Fort William this morning, before walking to the nearby boat pier via the High Street, which was quiet on a Sunday morning.
Participants gather outside the Nevis Centre - the pre-event briefing and registration hub - photo ©iancorless.com
From here they boarded the cruiser Souters Lass for the short journey across Loch Linnhe to the Ardgour peninsula and the first stage of the race. It was a pleasant trip across on a fine morning and there was room for all the participants to gather up on the deck and take in the views of Ben Nevis, still cloud covered as usual.
As the 5 minute sail finished and the Camusnagaul jetty drew near the sounds of a bagpiper carried across the water to welcome the race to Ardgour. The piper, Davy Elder, said it was a new location for him to play his pipes, and no wonder as Ardgour is a very quiet, sparsely populated area. It may be just across the water from one of the busiest towns in the Highlands, but it is a world away. I heard one participant ask; “Where is the main road we run down to start?” to which the reply was; “This is the main road!” He was standing on a single track road with passing places, but its the main highway in Ardgour. (The A861 to Strontian.)
The ferry trip from Fort William to Camusnagaul - photo ©iancorless.com
The runners were taken off the Souters Lass in a small ferry which could pull up to the jetty and disembarked 7 or 8 at a time to walk down the road to the Treslaig Village Hall. This small community hall was originally a school, set up in 1882 and Shane Ohly and some of the organising team were there to set them off after tea and biscuits were served.
When I asked him how he was feeling now the race was about to start he said, “More relaxed now everyone is here and we are ready to go. It’s taken two years of hard work to get here, but I slept well last night knowing all the planning and preparation was done. Now we have to deliver the race and deal with any unexpected turn of events we can’t plan for.”
As the runners slowly assembled some were chatty and animated, others sat quietly to gather their thoughts and calm their nerves. I spoke to Kevin Stuart from the USA and asked him why he’d chosen to come to this race and he said, “A friend suggested it! He said do you want to come and do this race in Scotland?”
Piper Davy Elder provides a musical welcome to the participants as they approach the start line - photo ©iancorless.com
At this point he pointed to Jim Frondorf and added, “There he is. Ask him, it’s his fault!” Frondorf just said, “He’s weak willed, I knew he’d come!”
The pair are on their first visit to Scotland and said their expectations were low in terms of the competition, they just wanted to have fun and enjoy the adventure. “We’ve not run anything this long,” said Frondorf, “but the nice thing is the race is supported, it’s not like you have to carry your own food as you do on Marathon des Sables and we’ll have a comfortable camp each night to rest up.”
Another international visitor is Guido Althausen from Germany, one of 3 German participants. “When asked the same question he said, “I saw the race on a Facebook post. A few years ago I came on a driving tour round Scotland and went up to Cape Wrath, so I thought it would be good to come back and see the mountains close up and personal this time. I don’t know what to expect – its the longest race for me. I’ve run 8 days in the Trans-Alp before, but that is shorter. We shall see.”
Alex Reilly was holding a mug of tea and said, “I’m ready to go and have a lot of pent up energy. I could run down that road much too fast and I don’t really want to do that at the start!”
The start line at Treslaig, the gateway to Ardgour. Ben Nevis in the background - photo ©iancorless.com
After a group photo in front of Ben Nevis the race set off at 10.15 down the A861 (on which we’d seen only a few cars all morning). Strangely they set off heading South! The route took them along the loch side road for a few miles, past pungent gorse in flower and it was a perfect morning to enjoy the race start and the scenery. The sun was out and the midges were not!
On this short first day some chose to walk down the road, most took it easy and a group of half a dozen at the front were competitive enough to run together at a strong pace most of the way to the turn off. As the side turn into Cona Glen approached it was Peter Fairhurst who was the first to break away and he’s won a 5 day race in Iceland before (beating Marcus Olmo), so he will be among the elite contenders.
The inaugural race gets underway - photo ©iancorless.com
After running up Cona Glen the runners will then turn Northwards Glenfinnan, where the first overnight camp is now being set up for them.
Words by Rob Howard @ Sleepmonsters