2024 Ultra Tour of Arran Race Recap

The following race recap of the 2024 Ultra Tour of Arran was written by Hart Strength & Endurance Client Tessa Barrera.  The Ultra Tour of Arran is a 2 day off-road running adventure that takes place on the Isle of Arran in Scotland, and covers 60 miles (97 km) on foot. All photos provided by Tessa (thank you!)

So getting to Arran is a bit of trek. Took a train to Glasgow, another train to Ardrossan, then the ferry. My train from London was late and I was sprinting to the connecting train only to see it pull away. Spent another hour at Glasgow Central before getting to Adrossan so it all worked out. Pic from the Ferry of what would be Day 2. I met a lot of other rat racers on there, many of who were doing this race multiple times because they have never finished. That was….a vote of confidence. Everyone said it’s either the deep bog in Day 1 where you get injured or Day 2 with the cutoffs. So nerves and doubt were setting in.

When I got to Brodick, the main town and also the most Co-op supermarkets per square mile (and it’s a SMALL town – just the stores for the entire island). Went for kit check at the event village and it was a village. People were camping, there were two food trucks and then the finish line for both days. So glad I didn’t camp because the noise and the hard ground would have done me in. Plus my hotel was 13 minutes walk, but had the BEST bougie bathtub. This hotel is like the heart of the village with a pub, restaurant, and 19 rooms. So a good place to stay – but the heating was still on and it was like 53F for the high. Weather was mostly gorgeous!

Day 1: Ultra Tour of Arran

Day 1 was an 8:30 am start and they had a man on the microphone chatting for 30 minutes before getting us into the coral. Once in there, he read over the rules and we had to respond “Yes Mikey” after each one. The best one was to be kind to locals because they don’t want to get written up in the parish newsletter.

They then played this music which was just like the thump-thump of the heart. Everyone was like, okay now my heart rate is spiking. They had a videographer in the corral and then we were off.

Day 1 was south side of the island, more villages, more ‘road’ (roads were a bit grim surface wise). Because they are public lanes, we were directed to run into oncoming traffic (ie run on the right hand side vs left). We went through the harbour of Brodick before turning up to the first bit of hill before hitting the town of Lamlash. I was taking it easy per the plan and definitely took it easy downhill where some people were flying! Didn’t want to turn or twist anything. After a few lovely country hop over gates, we hit Lamlash before the beach of rocks. 

The beach was softball size bits of rock mixed in with baseball size. All loose, so it was tough going but every so often, it would turn into the forest into an elevated wooden walkway where you could run again. I’ll send a photo once they post them – but those bits were magical. It alternated rocks to forest until we finally came out and had about 1km more to the first checkpoint.  I met a lovely woman named Sarah who had done this before (didn’t finish day 2 this year!), and we got to the checkpoint. 

The checkpoint was in a town hall, so it had toilets, Scottish folk music, and some treats. No sandwiches or coke which I was craving but fruit, bars, apple and bakewell tarts, crisps, and squash (dilution juice – concentrate you mix with water). After learning from the Jurassic Coast challenge where I burned time in the first checkpoint, I tried to keep my checkpoints as in, out, and go. My reusable cup was a bit fiddly so it took a bit of time there, but otherwise went to plan. 

After leaving checkpoint 1, you turned to go up a hill to the forest. This was a bit of a hike, but you were mostly on what I call forestry roads (or roads built for trucks for timber – not proper roads but gravel). So hiked the uphills and just really soaked in the silence punctuated by waterfalls and bird song. Sarah was an amazing hiker so she was ahead of me. We then got to the Giant’s Graves – old standing stones marking two Neolithic burial chambers.

And then a few more ups and joyous jogging downs before heading into a farm and another wee hall for checkpoint 2. 

Leaving checkpoint 2 was when we got to the ‘Bog of Doom’ (will send a video from Instagram as an attachment. Basically you went into forest, that was magical. You ducked under felled trees and someone had erected a sign saying you are now entering the enchanted land of the fair folk.

From that point on there was no clear path, we were just following caution tape tied to branches. But you had to be so careful where you stepped. Because what looked like solid ground was not. I ended up thigh deep at one point!

The best part was there were the lovely noises of the bog where you the dead silence punctuated by ‘fuck’ ‘argh’ ‘ugh’ ‘NO’ when someone took a wrong step. It was magical and I really think it could become a new sleep sound! I met up with a bit of an odd duck wearing a bowler cap, and he helped me through until we got to the deepest part.  Here’s a video on instagram the team made of it: https://www.instagram.com/p/C6CWpiEizJJ/?hl=en

At the deepest part, there two marshalls gave you a choice, through the deep bog of doom or across some branches laid over it to jump over a gully and go through a bit that was not super deep.  I chose the branches because I had bogged. I also met a man at kit check who got injured in the bog of doom and didn’t finish day 1 last year. I took his advice!

 Once through that bit, it was still through forest before you hit the muddy downhill. A lot of us bunched up here because it was slip and slide city. 

We then turned into a culled forest which was pretty desolate. 

I let everyone else plow ahead, determined to not break my legs and so again walked the ups and most of the downs. So many old tree roots, stumps and rocks, I knew it was a minefield so played it safe.  I was genuinely thinking it was like an apocalyptic movie. Just desolate wasteland everywhere you looked, no birds, no bees, no insects.

Once we got out of that, it was a downhill run with a very hidden sign turning you back into forest. This man in front of me didn’t see it and even after I shouted at him repeatedly he kept going. I realised he had his headphones in and was just enjoying the downhill. But him missing the turn made me question if I was on the right path because I was on my own. So I went slower and then jumped for joy when I saw some tape.  

Then it was checkpoint 3, no toilets, just a table with some treats before we hit a bastard of a hill. This hill, I thought was tough, straight up but easy terrain compared to day 2. Again, there was the sound of the hill with people cursing and shouting. They said it was a taster for day 2 and that was not even close but more on that later.

I caught up with Sarah again on the downhill before heading into a little bit of forest.She ran to the finish where my legs were beginning to be heavy so I shuffled in. The end is amazing, even for day 1, they had music going and they announced everyone who finished by name. So it was just lovely.

Across the entire day the people of Arran showed up with signs in their windows, cowbells, and even one lovely woman who drove to different points and had orange slices in a tupperware. Even one farmer who was mucking out stalls was shouting keep going, great job! It was everything.

I then promptly ordered a burger and fries and ate it in the bath at the hotel. It was an amazingly deep bath. I’m not a bather, but holy goodness, that was a bath. Went to bed early but not before I told everyone I know they have to do this race.

Day 2: The Day of Reckoning.

Woke up on day 2 and my legs were fresh. I did a bit of a massage gun and stretched, ate some awful porridge I brought with me, drank a coke and got to the start line.

A few people didn’t make it to day 2 and pulled out day 1, which given the challenge of day 2 probably was for the best. More remote, less places to bail. It wasn’t many, but still noticeable in the corral.

Mikey did his speech again and told us that the mandatory kit was necessary because there was snow on the mountain tops and the weather was changeable even on a good day.

Everyone on Day 2 was nervous – so many people haven’t completed it. So we were all like oh god. But then the heart pounding music started.

The run went north, starting through the sand, onto some boardwalk, and then through a forest. Lovely, I love the forest, it’s nearly silent and is just so peaceful and dark.

We then went through a big kissing gate onto a very narrow deep path (where you trip over your own feet or at least I did) next to a river. Lots of big gulleys to jump over and with my oft remarked upon (this time by everyone there) short little legs, it was a heft. I let people pass me because I was worried I would trip over my own feet with them breathing down my neck. 

As we wound through this, here came the first big ascent. This ascent was trail at the bottom with some good scrambling rocks. I say scrambling because it was a lot of hands and feet, but the rocks were solid going up, not tipped, and I found my groove, passing the people who had passed me. I like these types of ups. Consistent, not surprising, and yes very steep, but not impossible.

I saw a line of people in front of me snaking to the top and realised….the top was not the top, it was one of many false summits. OH LORD. At the first false summit there were two marshalls there making sure you were okay before you went onto some scary scrambling. These stones were at angles, with big gaps in between. This then led you to the dragon’s back through some patches of snow. It was sheer cliff on either side with a little ridge of rocks you had to scramble over. I actually was surprisingly doing well because lateral scrambling, I’m a go. Apparently even with snow. I was actually in decent time and was getting confident in hitting checkpoint 1.

When we finally got to the summit of the first mountain, a lovely marshall was there and giving us jelly egg sweets (like jelly beans but shaped like fried eggs) before warning us that the descent was tough and boggy. I thought day 1 was bog. Oh no. Day one was a jolly bog. It was the fun bog. The easy bog. This bog sapped everything out of me and so many other people. I don’t run with poles, but this was the one time I wish I had them because those people were able to go quicker and pull themselves out faster. 

Downhill bog should be a thing struck off if they remake the world. It should not exist. I get it, water from the source has to run down the hill and that’s why there’s so many rivers and waterfalls, but BOG?!. This was bog with tufts of heather so if you didn’t hit bog, you may trip over the tufts of heather.  So the terrain was unsteady going down, I fell a fair bit and lost a shoe for a bit (I’m sure you can see where). And then the downhill bog, turned into glen bog. The rest of the way to checkpoint 1 was up and down bog.

The bog signage as with the mountain were just little blue flags. Which typically were close together, but the bog flags either got lost to the bog, or blew away. There was no obvious path. There were points where I was just not sure where to go. And there were so many streams you had to go through. This was good because I fell so many times, the stream gave me opportunity to wash my hands, but some of the little springs were in deep/wide banks meant you had to jump down and then pull yourself up to a few feet to the next bank. I was cursing the bog and close to giving up and having a cry. 

This sapped my legs and my spirit. When I got to a little runnable bit, there was a photographer there, I was just done, and he told me one more mile. I made checkpoint 1 with about 15 minutes to go. My friend Bex and her partner James (RD) were there and saw that I was just done.  Turns out 30 people were behind me and missed the cutoff. They bussed about half of them to checkpoint 2 (again, at the time I was so jealous, they got ahead 9 miles!) and they forcibly turned another 15 away. Sarah my friend from Day 1 did not make it and got cut off.

(forcing a smile while in pain and just done)

I fueled up at checkpoint 1, pit stop, and then with my legs now feeling bad (they honestly felt fresh at the start), I shuffled down a road before getting to the beach. The bog had just done a number on me. All my energy was gone.

The beginning of this beach was fantastic, runnable packed sand, but then the scrambling I’m bad at came in like a wrecking ball. Up and down vertical spiky rocks with tiny places to put your feet before crawling over another spiky rock. I fell a lot, split my hand open, banged my leg, and genuinely popped a toenail off. The man behind me thought I had sprained my ankle, but thankfully no, but was bleeding like a sieve. Painful, but something is always going to hurt and as long as I got it clean after the race, I knew it would be fine.

The terrain then went back to….you guessed it….BOG. So over it. I genuinely never want to see bog again. EVER.  But then over my shoulder I heard a voice calling my name and it was my friend Bex! She had laced up her trainers and found me and paced me to checkpoint 2 (I’m sure you see me speeding up then). She kept my spirits up and when I wasn’t going to make cut off for checkpoint 2 got me there. She is incredible and really just was that uplift of spirits I needed to say I can do this. She helped me reframe and enjoy the beauty I enjoyed in day 1. 

After checkpoint 2, you then ran through a few fields to a river where you have to wade through, hit a graveyard before turning into another stunning glen. It was a bit stop and go for me because there were big rocks to jump over or more gulleys that were tough. I was slowing down, but I was still relatively on pace to get to the saddle. What is the saddle you say. Bex wouldn’t tell me only to say I’ll know when I see it and boy did I ever.

The glen slowly turned into a mountain with steps that were so high I was having to pull myself up with my arms. This was a scrambling for short people. The steepish bits were uneven and very shallow in depth. I had to take breaks every three steps or so. You started to see discarded poles as people gave up using them to just make due with hands. 

My legs were jelly at this point and the thought of how unsteady I was and goatfell was making me nervous. I knew there was an alternate path down that was longer but had better terrain and so I asked him and he told me to tell the professional climbers. You heard me, professional climbers.

You see, before you get to the saddle, they call it scrambling but it is ropes, and a pretty near vertical Whin Dyke handholds, and slippy rock. It’s so dangerous you have to wait in line  – and wait for professional climbers to go up and down in between. It quite literally was spiderman maneuvers with tiny hand and foot holds and sheer drops to your death. You weren’t roped in, but the rope was there if you fell to catch on so they could belay you down.


I told them if Goatfell was like this, I just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t disappointed surprisingly and that made me happy. I made it 5 minutes before cutoff so could have done goatfell, but then I would have been swept and not finished. Instead they made us wait for the cutoff and then a few other people because the alternate route was not signposted and they wanted us to stay together (spoiler we didn’t).

So we waited. It felt like ages at the top but realistically was probably only 7 minutes max before heading down and I was so relieved. The breath was also good to take as I was shaking by that point and took some food in and rested. It was a bit scary without any way markers, but the path was clear and although there were like 5 paces before little rocky bits, it wasn’t scrambling!

The route was longer and took us back the way we came in the morning. The over goatfell way was 1.5km shorter, but seeing the downhill for that, I’m so happy I didn’t do it. My legs were not in the shape to do some of the down scrambles. Longer but doable and yeehaw I was in. One man, rather than staying with us flew down, and we all were going slow to try to stay together. I was leading the pack….on an unsignposted trail heading roughly just ‘through the glen’. Pressure.  But then there was a scream behind me and one of the group said to stop. I stopped and a woman had faceplanted – she hadn’t fallen all day but her legs gave out. We took about 1 minute and decided some people would take her back to the marshalls at the saddle (post race she ended up being fine, scraped her hand like me but skin bleeds and so it looked worse than it was). 

Another girl (also named Sarah – Sarah 2.0) and I descended down. She decided to run ahead and I let her, but then we came to a big river crossing. She wasn’t wanting to get wet, but I thought from my POV, I’m already wet and I’ve fallen in rivers in other races so I just plowed through. She fell about 5 minutes behind and she was faster than I. Bex was also surprised when we ran that I just plowed through, but the only way is through and when you wet and muddy, more wet means cleaner clothes!

We then finally came to a marshall who pointed us left and told us to follow the path through the forest, back to the beach and then to Brodick and the finish. She said it was only a park run to go (5km). So I was doing the math in my head of walk/run and the pace I needed to keep to finish. I had stepped on my own foot (I know) and my toe was in agony again, so I would shuffle about 20 steps then walk 20 steps on repeat.

Going back through the forest was beautiful. It’s just so silent, dark and just magical. And then came the beach. It felt like forever, but I could see the tents from the village in my sights. Again the people of Brodick were out in force so I danced across the finish line. I got my medal and again they shouted out my name when I crossed and gave me a big cheer. It felt amazing!

I ran into Sarah 1.0 and a few others who got pulled off, and 2 others who got bussed ahead, and everyone was actually okay with it which was good. I then met all these lovely people who were also doing the wall and we had a chat.

The 13 minute walk back to my hotel took me over 30 minutes. I ran into Bex and James again and they gave me the biggest hug and I was so happy. And then this crew from Brodick saw me and just got me a coke because they said I needed it. Ha! Went back to the hotel and had another burger in the bath.

I was very ambivalent that night because I was still scarred by the bog, but having so many people cheer me on, I really can’t believe I did that. Even looking at Rat Race’s media, it doesn’t do justice to some of the more treacherous bits. And I did that. 

So thank you so much for all the coaching. My legs felt fresh on Day 2 which hearing about all my London marathon friends who can’t walk today, I know would not have been possible without your coaching.

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