Tour of Arran

The Tour of Arran 2-day off road ultra, April 14-15, 2018 A 50km run for 50 years sounded like a good enough challenge to me. ‘Why one?’ asked Nicola. ‘There’s a 2-day off-road ultra on Arran we could do’. Neither of us had run marathon distance for over 10 years. Far less two, back to back. This would be a challenge.  Over the winter we gradually stepped up the distances of our own runs and included long weekend runs in the Pentlands (sometimes in wild winter conditions). In the 3 months leading up to the event we ran the Half Moon trail half marathon, the Glen Tress trail marathon and my ’50 by 50’ birthday run. The weather showed no signs of getting springlike, various body parts started aching and we had no idea if we were ready to do back-toback ultras, but the time had come.                                                      

A reminder to each other of our rules for the weekend: go slow, keep drinking, keep eating, walk the steep hills, stop at pit stops to rehydrate and refuel. 

Day 1 – south Arran circuit

On the map the start of day one looked like a lovely coastal path from Brodick, down the east coast of Arran, taking in Lamlash and Whiting Bay. In reality the route took us along irregular stony/ weedy beaches interspersed with slippy boardwalks. It was a stunning coastline with gorgeous views of Holy Island but it was slow going and we had to concentrate as every foot had to be carefully placed. From Whiting Bay a beautiful path took us up a hill to the Giants’ Graves, the sun came out, and we had wonderful views east and south before heading down to Pit stop 2 (and a cup of tea) at Kildonan. 23km and over half way of day 1.                  

 We tried to ignore the fact our legs were tiring. We still had a long way to go. Off again and the path took us north and upwards towards the Glenashdale Falls. For a kilometre or two we were duped into thinking we might be running on forestry paths but suddenly the markers veered left into the forest and for the next 10 km we were running through forest and bog with nothing more than (well placed) route markers to show us the way. Very hard going, but fun and mad (at one stage Nicola was stuck up to her knees in a muddy bog and needed pulled out). Eventually we came to a path that took us to a welcome pit stop at Monamore. One more big hill, more lovely trails through hills, forest and along burns, continuous chatting to distract ourselves from the sore bits, then a few welcome supporters as we neared houses again, and finally emerged at the back of the race camp with the finish in sight. What a day! A fabulous route but a lot tougher and slower than we had thought for day 1, which was supposed to be the easier day. We were greeted with friendly cheers, water and hot food and then walked to the nearby beach where we stood as deep as we could in the freezing sea. Horribly painful but we convinced ourselves it would help prepare our leg muscles for day 2. Maybe it worked as the sorest bit for both of us was bruised lower backs from our rucksacks – we didn’t go in deep enough to reduce the swelling in those muscles.

Final stats for day 1: 45.2km, 1,136m climbing, total time 6.03 hours (5.26 hours running). 


Day 2 – north Arran mountain circuit

The weather looked better than forecast as a diminished group met at 7.15am for the start of Day 2. We headed straight up the beautiful Glen Rosa towards the saddle of the Goat Fell ridge. A stunning route with a reasonable track, wonderful views, a very steep climb and then an extremely windy run along the ridge, through patches of snow and up to the top of Mullach Buidhe at over 800m. 


From there the route markers once again took us off the beaten track, with difficult running down rugged hillside and along a wet, stony river track to come out at the first pit stop at Lochranza, in the sunshine. Feeling refreshed we enjoyed a wee stretch of our legs on a short segment of road before joining the coastal path along the north east coast of Arran.              Again the route was a mixture of beach, track and rocks and not the easiest running, but the chatting and companionship helped us ignore the headwind and tiring legs and enjoy the beautiful route. The second pit stop was at Sannox Bay so we rehydrated, drank tea and ate what we could knowing the weather was closing in and we were heading back up into the mountains again for the big climb of the day. We rounded the headland and were confused to see what looked like an impassable river ahead, with no bridge. A man on the other side confirmed that we were to run through it and suggested the best angle to take. I went first and very nearly lost my footing, but thankfully made it across, soaked right up to pants. We seemed to hit the river at high tide – apparently it’s normally an easy crossing and only ankle deep! We were both pleased to be running again to warm up and dry off
before the next river crossing, this time with helpful stepping blocks (normally above water but again, due to high tide and rainfall, ankle deep water for us).


We then crossed into Glen Sannox as the cloud fell and the rain started. Another stunning glen, river flowing over great slabs of rock, and mountains looming ahead. We kept running as far as we could, keen to make progress and stay warm, until the path turned into a near vertical ascent with a final bit of scrambling up a narrow, rocky gully to reach the saddle at the top. At this point there was a choice to descend down into Glen Rosa, still doing the distance but missing out Goatfell, or putting on full waterproofs, hat and gloves and carrying on up to complete the
full course. With dropping temperatures, a few metres of visibility and high winds the marshal on the top was doing a good job of putting people off the final climb (‘more than half the climbing still to go’, ‘very technical’, ‘dangerous  conditions’, ‘an extra two hours’ etc). We pulled on our gear, joined up with another runner and headed up. Excellent route markers meant no navigation was required, but we did have to watch our footing with narrow paths, some snow on the ground and a bit of scrambling accompanied by rain, high winds and a short hail storm. Fuelled by gels we climbed up North Goatfell then on to the top of Goatfell at 874m, and despite no visibility or views, were very pleased we had done it. After that we had a a boulder field to navigate and finally we were running again, down a good path, feeling great and knowing we were on the home straight. We quickly started to overheat, took off our waterproofs and enjoyed a lovely run down to the sea, a tough- feeling final run on the sand and back to the cheerful sounds of home camp. Another superb, long, tough day but what a tremendous feeling of satisfaction and exhaustion at the end! The route-designer said he sees his role as creating routes to ‘make memories’. He certainly achieved that.

Final stats for day 2: 50.2km, 2,204m climbing, total time 9.23 hours (8.54 hours running).














Sally Rolland and Nicola Ross