February 03, 2023 8 min read
I first met Rebecca in our new London store at 7 Dials and was immediately taken with her enthusiasm, passion for the outdoors and general zest for life. Both her and her partner, Nick loved Meander and we bonded over a shared love of the outdoors, adventure and of course, Scotland! We told her about some of our own adventures and Rebecca very casually mentioned that she’d recently completed the Cape Wrath challenge. She would have happily left it at that, but Nick gave us the complete picture, that the Cape Wrath trail is gruelling 250 miles that most people take weeks to finish, and Rebecca had not just completed it, but ran in just over 5 days and set the Fastest Known Time for a woman while doing so!
Rebecca has raised over £13k for Breast Cancer Now and ran in memory of her mum, Dorothy, who passed away the year before. Her story is a truly inspiring journey filled with the most amazing tales of friendship, laughter and emotion, which had to be shared. Below is the full story from Rebecca.
On the 1st of August 2021 I was due to start the Cape Wrath Ultra in Scotland, a race that had been postponed since May 2020 due to Covid. Instead of starting that race I held my Mums hand as she passed away after 2.5 years of living with secondary breast cancer. We were all left with a giant hole in our heart never to be filled.
Cape Wrath is a place not everyone has heard of, it’s the most north-westerly point in mainland Britain. The Cape Wrath trail is 240/260ish miles long (depending on your route) from Fort William to the lighthouse on the MOD firing range at Cape Wrath, the nearest road is10 miles away plus one short ferry journey.
After losing my Mum I couldn’t get the Cape Wrath trail out of my mind, unable to defer my race entry (despite my personal circumstances) I thought shall I re-enter the race or could there be another more symbolic way of doing the iconic trail.
After a long chat to my coach and well know ultra-runner, Nicky Spinks (also a breast cancer survivor) we decided rather than do that race, that I could maybe do my own race and could aim to get the Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the course, doing it for charity and doing it in my Mums memory.
So that was it I had an idea and it was starting to build. After talking to a few people that had competed the route and hold the record and a few people that started the trail and never finished (having to be mountain rescued off the trail) I decided to do my attempt as a supported female.
My crew included Dan Milton, Ash Ward and Roger Barr. All three of them experienced and hugely successful runners having completed the Spine, the Bob Graham, and the Arc of Attrition to mention a few…
Unfortunately, after a great block of training in Autumn 2021, I got a knee inquiry which came out of nowhere. It was so swollen, I couldn’t walk, never mind train! I was diagnosed with Patellofemoral Syndrome, basically a very irritable knee that had swollen so much I was unable to weight bare for 8 weeks. The Cape Wrath 2022 was now in jeopardy.
I spoke to a friend, who said to me, don’t focus on what you can’t do, focus on what you can!
For the ten weeks that I couldn't train, I looked at my diet, I did any gym training that I could do to help prepare me for the race and I spoke to Iain Harper, the author of the guide book to the Cape Wrath Trail! Ian has walked the trail around 11 times and memorized the full 260 miles! He gave incredible insights, including, whatever you do, don’t go the short way to the Falls of Glomach, go the longer route, which is far less technical (but much faster). I spoke to the man with the FKT for the Cape Wrath Challenge who ran from the Lighthouse to Fort William. He told me it’s faster to do it that way, but I had to run towards the lighthouse as that was my connection to my mum! He also said you risk running into the army as the MOD do their training here and if they have their flags up then you can’t run over it until the finish. I called and spoke to the MOD, and they told me it was unlikely but they can't guarantee they won’t be in training. I decided to do it anyway, that I’d take the risk and do the run that way I planned, towards the lighthouse.
After weeks of planning and intensive rehab with Sam (Pace Physio) I returned to running in January 2022 with the Arc of Attrition 50 (a 50-mile ultra-marathon) as a tester race. The knee was a bit twinge, but it was ok and we were back on!
May the 10th 2022 5am and there I was ready to start my Cape Wrath FKT attempt. I set off with Dan for the first section, about 23 miles of trail and one mountain pass to Glenfinnan and my first checkpoint. A quick change of socks and a sandwich and within 5 minutes I was off again, this time my new running partner Ash, for what can only be describes as a very eventful 15-hours of running through the night to follow.
Whilst the first 5 miles started well the weather was getting worse and the terrain was more and more mountainous. At 3am with the rain in our faces, and high winds, we arrived at a river that there was no way to cross without wading through it waste deep! We’d be told not to go through the river, if it was any higher than knee height as we’d rise being swept away and this was up to our waists. We looked at our options, which were, go back to the Bothy and sleep and hope it went down, or attempt to cross it! I thought about my mum, i know she wouldn’t want me to do it as if we’d fallen, we might not survive but we just had to get across. We held on to each other shaking but somehow, we found the strength to get through it.
We’d arrange to meet my friends in the campervan and were already 4 hours late. We saw lights flashing in the distance and were excited to see our friends. But we realised it was someone else shouting, “Heart attack”, we thought he was telling us we’d have a heart attack but then realised it was his friend. A helicopter came and took his friend to rescue - that was just day one!
The Next 5 Days
After an hour of sleep, myself and Dan were off again for more mountain fun, the weather was still bad, and it never looked like getting any better.
So, this was the routine for the next 5 days, run, change socks, food, maybe nap if I could but keep moving forward. I never in my head thought I would get to Cape Wrath lighthouse, but I also never thought I wouldn’t get there, the goal was so big I decided not to think about it at all. Just move forward suspending all thoughts.
I had to keep it fun then everyone else would enjoy it. I never allowed myself to feel negative, I just embraced every moment. Even when the rain was lashing in my face, I felt joy to be alive in the wilderness. I was alive and living and breathing and doing this in memory of mum whose life had ended, and I was going to embrace and enjoy every minute.
When you have a compelling reason for doing something then you’ll get through it no matter what!
I finished the Cape Wrath Trail on Sunday the 15th of May at midday with Roger Barr making me do an 8-minute finishing mile, clocking a total time of 5-days, 5-hours, and 36 minutes, 261 miles and over 12,000m of ascent. Nick, my dad and my brother were all there to cheer me in my dad and I cried as we realised, we had made it to the lighthouse and how the only person that was missing was my mum.
How did you feel at the end, were you emotional on a high - how did it feel?
There were two endings - the serene and the celebratory.
The Serene Ending.
On the last day I came to Sandwood Bay which was a perfectly serene moment. There is almost a grass runway that takes you to a sandy beach. I imagined I was there with mum. It felt very emotional at the beach, thinking about mum and I realized at this point, there was only 8 miles to go and I was going to do this!
Then the last 8 miles were so tough - it was more like an 8 mile bog! I was knee deep at times wading through it but I knew that I could do it, that the end was insight.
Then there was the celebration.
My dad and my brother had caught boat to the lighthouse and were waiting for me to arrive, and in perfect timing my other two friends, had arrived at the same time. It was pretty amazing, given that the boat is only every 3 days, and we didn’t know when I’d arrive. We ran the last mile all together, (except my dad who lagged behind with his bad knee)!! We celebrated at the end with champagne, and I lay on the ground taking it all in! I was done. I realised what has started with a journey in memory of losing mum, but I’d gained friendships, connections and memories that I’d never forget!
Favourite part of the challenge?
When we arrived at Loch Stack. In the middle of the wilderness, all of a sudden you arrive at this perfectly manicured lawn and place where people worked and happened to be having a party. I asked if I could use the toilet and they welcomed me in. We told them we were doing the challenge and they asked how long we had been walking for, (keeping in mind that most people walk the challenge in 3 weeks). We told them 3 days and they were in awe - we told them we were running! They welcomed us into their party and gave us food before we continued on our journey.
So, what did I learn on the trail…?
I started running in 2001, I am an average runner, my first 10K in 2001 I came second to last. May 2022 and I’m the Fastest Known Female to run the Cape Wrath Trail, not only that I’ve raised over £13,000 for Breast Cancer Now, to help the charity ensure by 2050 no one dies of breast cancer again.
My biggest learning of all is surround yourself with good friends that believe in you (sometimes more than you believe in yourself) and it’s amazing what we can achieve together.
Cape Wrath was my FKT, but it was a team effort and not only was it the best experience of my life, I also so laughed so hard my stomach hurt, 261 miles can be fun.
We’ve been really inspired by Rebecca’sincredible journey and are happy to hear that it’s inspired her to do more. When I asked what’s next, she said she’s aiming to do the Bog Graham round this year in under 24 hours and after that she’d like to run the length of Ireland. She has the most amazing mindset and having accomplished this amazing challenge, we’re sure that she can do much more.
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