On the drive over from Edinburgh to Glasgow basking in the Scottish summer of lashing rain and high winds I did question the sanity of going to run a 50 km ultra through Whitelee Wind Farm, the largest on shore wind farm in the UK. What made me question this even further was Dion egging me on even further to “Sack it off and head to a greasy spoon”! But thanks to the lovely event organisers from Breaking Strain Events, Garry and Lee, who had kindly given us free entry to try out the inaugural running of the event we felt we couldn’t let them down. It was also part of my training plan to fit in the 50k so it needed to be done one way or another and I’d never run in a wind farm before which for some reason I really wanted to.
On arrival the race banners were up, just, nearly being taken away by the winds (obviously they found the right location for the wind farm!) and the guys explained they did have some race marquees but couldn’t keep them down in the weather so suggested to hang out at the interesting visitor centre until the pre-race briefing at 9:40am. Thankfully the cafe in the centre wasn’t open otherwise Dion might have got his way with a fry up and watching the race from afar.
A quick brief to explain what the race markings looked like and to warn us that if we saw lightning to call the emergency number straight away, none was forecast thankfully, but if it came the race would most likely be cut short as wind turbines are highly vulnerable to strikes. To save us getting cold once the briefing was done the race began immediately and it was a nice wee downhill to start. For the first kilometre it felt like we were all out for a social run together more than a race as there was a group of about 10 of us just easing into the run, we were probably all suffering from cold bodies so once we warmed up the pack split up pretty quickly and spread out. Even though it was wet and windy, it was humid and having started in a waterproof jacket it suddenly dawned on me it wasn’t a good idea wearing it so I dropped from the main pack to take it off losing sight of the first lady. Dion who had started extremely slowly as thoughts of dropping from the race due to weather finally managed to get warm and get going and as he went past me I then enjoyed seeing him ahead pick off the mid pack and work his way up to the front of the race. This pushed me on to pick up my pace and work hard on chasing down the first female ahead.
The race was a little toughie, with 1,400m of ascent over unforgiving hard-packed trails which I certainly felt in the ankle joints and groin muscles towards the end and afterwards. Some sections were rocky, still runnable but that awkward rock where your ankles are turning left to right, and of course the 30mph winds along with the drenching rain throughout added another element of toughness. I worked hard to the first checkpoint overtaking first lady along the way. I knew there was a solid field of females capable of chasing me down so I used that energy to push me through the tough conditions on offer.
Being the inaugural event it was pretty low key but well organised, the route was well marked with no chance of getting lost and the checkpoints, though basic, had water, an electrolyte mix, some bits of food to choose from and portaloos at each one. I carried my own gels, went through 4 gels and some energy chews as I prefer to rely on myself for my nutrition and just take water from the checkpoints, and a cheeky swig of some coke at the 3rd and last checkpoint of the day. Kudos to the volunteers stood out in that weather to support the runners, I’d rather be running any day, and at least you stand a chance of keeping warm!
I’d never run through a wind farm before and it was fun running under these huge wind turbines making the loud whooshing noise as you ran underneath them, I kept feeling like I needed to duck as it would knock my head off but they were obviously way up above me.
Whilst I’d won stages of multi stage events before I’ve never gone on to win a race completely so this was a big step up for me and my first chance to run through the winners tape was a great experience, one I am very keen to repeat. Finishing 1st lady with a time of 4h 55m I was one satisfied customer. Dion did amazingly well too, coming in 3rd overall in 4h 12m. His training has really started to pickup again from his recent health issues at West Highland Way race a few weeks earlier and I know he’s building to some bigger results going forward. Both of us left with our confidence built up and having met a great new group of people, and an old favourite of course with Graham Kelly waiting at the finish line to cheer us in.
Fancy running in a wind farm then come along and give this race a go, I think it will grow to be a much bigger race in a few years to come and even with good weather this would be a tough race as it is so exposed it will never be an easy one.
With the legs almost recovered, I’m off to try out another inaugural event this Sunday 26th July, the Fort William Marathon up in the Scottish highlands.