Chantelle Kelly took some time out with Elspeth Luke to find out more about the first woman to run the Scottish Watershed.
Earlier this year Elspeth Luke made history as the first woman to complete the 680 mile challenge across Scotland. She travelled from Peel Fell at the Scottish boarders to Duncansby Head near John o’Groats.
“The watershed is the geographical ‘line’ where rain water lands and splits; it either heads west towards the Atlantic or east towards the North Sea. Needless to say this tends to be at a high elevation and the watershed averages 450metres above sea level. The route is around 680 miles and covers 44 munros, as well as numerous corbetts,” explains Elspeth.
I wondered, what inspired the Glasgow musician to take on such a gruelling challenge? “Peter Wright has recently mapped up the route and written Ribbon of Wildness. I’ve known Peter for a number of years and when I met him for a coffee a couple of summers ago he told me about Colin Meek who had just run the route. It immediately appealed as an unusual challenge, seeing some of the most remote parts of Scotland.”
The Scottish Watershed route includes a vast range of landscapes from dirt tracks, bogs and forests, featuring 44 munros and 24 corbetts. The 34 year old decided to raise money for Funding Neuro, a charity close to her heart: “I chose Funding Neuro as a charity to run for as my dad has Parkinson’s. Funding Neuro are pioneering a new treatment which is currently in its second phase of trial. The research they are doing has the potential to treat a number of neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s, motor neurone disease and Multiple Sclerosis.”
Training & Stamina
Elspeth trained for the ultra-distance trail run by running between fifty to eighty miles a week in the lead up to the challenge: “I tried to include a hilly run or a munro in that as well.”
During the challenge she ran an average of twenty miles per day, how did Elspeth keep up the stamina and momentum? “I gained a lot of strength and fitness along the way. As long as I didn’t focus on big picture and just concentrated on each day as it came, the journey felt like it was in manageable sections. I had to eat a lot to keep up my strength; I was eating about 5000 calories a day.”
This isn’t the first time Elspeth has completed an endurance challenge: “I’ve always done a bit of running, but I really caught the bug five years ago after my cousin suggested we go to the Alps and run the Courmyer-Champex-Chamonix race. It’s around 60 miles and includes 6000m of climbing. It was a baptism of fire but I got hooked on ultra distance running then.”
Since then she has also completed the West Highland Way Race, 3 Peaks Challenge, and cycled from Lands End to John O’Groats. Was the Scottish Watershed the toughest? “Hard to say! In many respects yes, because it was a personal challenge and there were many elements to it besides running. I had a lot of logistics to consider before the start and was responsible for all the navigating, which was quite tough over so many days.
“It wasn’t quite as brutal on my body as the West Highland Way Race but at least that was over within 24 hours. Mentally to keep going for 34 days was really hard.”
Highs & Lows
Elspeth faced a number of highs and lows throughout the 680 mile run, but Scotland’s natural landscapes and stunning scenery made it all worth it: “I felt particularly happy and lucky to be able to take on the challenge when the sun was out and I could admire Scotland at its finest.
Waking up the next morning with every one of my shoulder and arm muscles aching still didn’t manage to put me off! I would also highly recommend the Lakeland Climbing Centre, they have a fantastic range of facilities for all types of climbing and all the staff I met on the day were extremely friendly and welcoming- it’s certainly worth a visit if you’re in the Kendal area
Although there were special moments, Elspeth had to deal with challenging aspects too: “The days I struggled with were when I wasn’t mentally prepared. There was a notable day when I only had 13 miles to do and there were no munros. I thought this would be an easy day and when it dragged on I felt like I was trapped in a nightmare, unable to make any forward progress. It ended up being one of the worst days of the trip.”
How did she manage to keep motivated? “My support crew and friends who ran with me were brilliant. They were all full of enthusiasm and made such an effort to help me, it was easy to feel motivated.”
Elspeth’s friends and family regularly visited her along the route: “I had various people joining me at different points. I had a lot of friends joining me to run at different times, but others also helped to drive the support vehicle which carried all my kit and took me to accommodation. They were all integral to the success of my journey.”
Did they have an effect on the experience for her? “My support crew made the trip possible, and the encouragement and generosity they showed was a massive help. The effort people made was overwhelming.”
The Finish Line
So how did it feel when she finally crossed the finish line after 34 days of trail running? “Crossing the line was a really special moment. I had family and friends waiting with a banner and lots of fizz! Duncansby Head is beautiful and I could see the sea stacks from a couple of miles away, and my pace fairly picked up from that point onwards.”
Looking to the future, Elspeth is just grateful for completing this challenge: “I have a bucket list of activities and challenges to complete, but I’m not too sure of my immediate plans. I loved the uniqueness of doing the watershed challenge, but it relied on the good will of a lot of people. So I’m more likely to participate in organised races. I’m open to suggestions though!”
Elspeth’s Just Giving page is still accepting donations for Funding Neuro, go to: www.justgiving.com/Watershed-Scotland