© James Appleton/Rat Race Adventure Sports
Regular readers will remember I interviewed the brilliant ultrarunner and adventure race test pilot, Allie Bailey about her world-first running exploits earlier in the year. Now, she’s back with a new challenge and she’s taking an all-woman team to do it with her.
In what’s believed to be the first ultrarun of its kind, Allie and a team of intrepid, kickass women will traverse Scotland’s Outer Hebrides – all 185 miles of it – on foot, covering up to 37 miles a day for 5 days. And it’s all kicking off on the Monday 14 October. Naturally, I had to quiz her all about it…
So, what have you been up to since you last came on Lessons in Badassery?
EVERYTHING! It’s all gone a bit mental. I have been out with Rat Race testing routes in Malta (crossing the country in one day by foot and kayak), Spain (Sea to Summit – from the sea up to the second highest point in Western Europe) and Scotland (Coast to Coast foot traverse from Mallig to Inverness using packrafts when it got a bit ‘wet’). I’ve also been out and about doing a few ultras with my friends at White Star running and doing a LOT of volunteering – I’m aiming to complete the Centurion 100 Grand Slam next year, so volunteering is not only an amazing experience but also helps save the pennies. I’m also project managing a new world record attempt – running York Marathon in a 40 person Viking Boast costume. It’s as hard as it sounds.
Other stuff keeping me busy includes curating the Ultra Zone for the National Running Show in January 2020. It’s a new area of the show and for some reason, they have let the Bad Boy Running podcast crew loose on it. It has its own stage and speakers and is completely dedicated to ultrarunning. Our speaker line-up is insane. We have Laz Lake (of Barkley Marathon fame), Camille Herron, Dean Karnazes, Nicky Spinks, John Kelly and loads of other legends. I don’t know how I’m going to manage interviewing them without fangirling everywhere.
I’ve also launched Ultra Awesome– something I am really proud of. I’m trying to build a community of people who actually want to do something epic as opposed to just talk about it. Whether it’s your first marathon or ultra, a world-first crossing or a multi-day running adventure, I want to be able to have the time to talk to people, mentally train them and encourage them to take part in a life less ordinary. We have a couple of projects running in partnership with the Rat Race Test Pilot scheme at the moment, including a world-first crossing of Dominica in July next year and a traverse of the Outer Hebrides next week. So busy!
Yes, tell me the Outer Hebrides traverse you’re starting on Monday?
This is another Test Pilot event for Rat Race. The idea is to cross the Hebrides on foot over 5 days. The exact route is TBC at the moment but it will take in a good chunk of the Hebridean Way, but it will be longer, more arduous and it’s in October. We’re looking at between 30 and 37 miles a day for 5 days.
When Jim (Rat Race CEO) first mentioned it to me, I immediately said I wanted it to just be women. I get extremely frustrated about the fact that when I turn up for these trips, I’m often the only woman on the team. There are loads of reasons for this – guilt about being away from work, partners and children, and lack of confidence, being the primary ones. I want to show everyone, but women in particular, that you can do this stuff, regardless of age, social standing or perceived experience. It’s more about focus, self-belief and allowing some time to go out and be you without the shackles of what is deemed as normal society hanging round your neck. We have a wide range of women from all walks of life on this trip, and some will definitely find it harder than others. But by working as a team, we will get through it – and be the first all-female team to do so!
Where did you find your team of awesome women and how did you pick them?
I basically wacked the trip up on my socials and let them do the work. The response was pretty amazing. There are lots of women out there who want to give this stuff a go. Of course cost, dates, experience etc was an issue but it only took me a week to find my crew. Some of them are seasoned ultrarunners, some of them part time marathon runners, some have done multi-days and some have not, but ALL of them are badass women with the right attitude to succeed.
On trips like this patience and duty of care to others is one of the most important aspects. It can get frustrating when you want to go faster or slower than the rest of the team or you have to change the plan for the day based around an injury or issue that’s out of your control. Learning to deal with your own brain and the way you adapt to change is a big part of this experience I have no doubt that the obstacles – both mental and physical – that these women overcome on this trip will stay with them forever in every part of their lives, from family and work to future adventures.
You’ve done this kind of thing before in jungles, deserts and frozen lakes, but how experienced are your team members?
There is a huge breadth of experience within the group – some people more than others. That’s what’s great about it. You don’t have to be a super-elite ultrarunner to do this. We have people that have won ultras and marathons and people that have never run more than 30 miles before. We have a couple of people coming back from injury, and a couple who have never done anything like this before in their lives. We are all training virtually and preparing together and supporting each other on Facebook and in a little Strava club online – it’s amazing how everyone seems to have bonded without ever having met each other! Attitude is everything here. Patience, understanding, support and kindness go a lot further than having done 24 multi-day ultras when it comes to experience.
What kind of terrain are we talking about in the Outer Hebrides? And what’s the elevation like?
It’s going to be a punchy route terrain-wise. We have a route in our heads and two guides who are overseeing the whole event. Our job as runners out there, is to find the route for the event so we are bound to take a few wrong turns – we always do. Certain parts of the Outer Hebrides are flatter than others. I’m sure that we will meet our match on certain islands, but I’m not one for going mad on researching what might or might now happen. I say wait and see what she throws at us. Be ready for everything. The days will be long – dawn until late at night – so lack of sleep is more of an issue than mountains for me!
Loosely, it’s going to look a bit like this though:
Start at the south of Barra, onto causeway-connected Vatersay. We will then head off-road to reach the far southern shore. Touch the sea. Turn around, and run northwards! The Hebridean Way will take us around and over hills to reach the ferry in north Barra, where we get an enforced rest, before heading north through Eriskay and onto South Uist to our accommodation.
South Uist will be conquered on this day… and more, onto Benbecula, passing beside the longest beaches in Scotland.
North Uist is next, and in time for the ferry to Harris – the most mountainous Hebridean island. Here our route gets vertiginous, and we start to appreciate the bigger country ahead.
Destination Stornoway – the capitol of Lewis, across vast plains of peat bog, with a path. There is more archaeology here per capita/per kilometre than anywhere else in Europe!
Ideally, for the final day we want to complete the infamous Heritage Trail to Ness. And then to the lighthouse at the Butt of Lewis, a Cape at the very corner of Europe. This bit is an add-on to the Hebridean way – which is what makes it a world first.
You’ll be carrying your own kit. What are the ‘essentials’ you’re packing?
Our kit won’t be massive as we have support vehicles that we will see every day and evening. My essentials day-to-day will be silicone lube for feet and everywhere else – it prevents blisters on feet and chaffing issues and doesn’t come off – a merino base layer, my Montane waterproof coat and trousers, trekking poles and dry bags. We will have a mandatory kit list (first aid, warm layers, bivvy etc) and storing it in a dry bag means I know at the back of my mind I always have warm socks. Bloody love a pair of warm socks!
Where will you all be sleeping during your Hebrides traverse?
We will be sleeping in a mix of B&Bs, bothys and campsites depending on the routes we take. We will have to be prepared for any eventuality but having the support vehicles makes things more manageable. I am hoping for more pubs and B&Bs than bothys!
Do you have a tight schedule to stick to?
Yes. That’s the issue. We need to be able to get to the ferry crossings on time. This will mean early mornings and probably late nights depending on the pace of the group. It’s something to aim for right?!
How have you been training/preparing?
I’m always doing something, so I am ‘match fit’ most of the time. I am learning the importance of having some down time after the bigger trips, though. Some of them really take it out of you, and it’s impossible just to get home and carry on as normal no matter how much you want to. I’ve just got back from a four-day crossing of Scotland on foot and packraft, and that taught me a lot about conditions and terrain in Scotland.
The packrafting knackered me out. I have zero upper body strength and sometimes we were in the rafts for 4-5 hours. I didn’t realise how shattered I was until a few days after I got home. I also learnt a lot about slimming down kit and keeping warm and dry – I can pass on that knowledge to the rest of the team now which is ace! The rest of the team will have had about 3 months prep for this and I know from the Facebook group just how dedicated they are. They’re all doing so well and taking it easy as opposed to trying to become experts in multi-day running. They know they will learn a lot on the trip – they just need to be as mentally prepared as they can for what it throws at them.
What do you anticipate will be the biggest challenge you’ll all face?
Tiredness, lack of patience and our own perceived limits, I think! I worked out that I got about 18 hours’ sleep the week I crossed Scotland. Calorie deficit and tiredness and not knowing how far you have left to go is hard on the body and the brain. A mixed-pace group can sometimes be hard to manage too. It’s something we have talked about. I don’t want anyone feeling like they are not “good enough” to do this. Every single person has this in them. It’s not a race, it’s an experience and an adventure. Yes, it’s going to be hard at times and I am sure some toys WILL get thrown out of the pram, but I want to see us pull together during those times and remind ourselves just how lucky we are to be able to take on something so awesome. Multi-Day [ultras] don’t have to be the sufferfest people make them out to be.
Where can readers find out more and follow your journey?
Best thing to do if follow the Ultra Awesome page on Facebook and become a member of the Patreon group – that’s where a lot of the blogs will be going up in the run-up to the challenge and where we’ll be posting updates as we go along (signal dependant). It’s also where you can find out about other amazing adventures that we are planning plus get help and advice on all things endurance running and adventure.
After this challenge, have you got anything else planned for the rest of the year?
Yep! I have a couple of home turf races and then in November I’m off to Namibia again to help crew the first public version of Race to the Wreck with Rat Race. After last year’s recce we sold out the event pretty quickly so I now have about 40 people to look after in the desert. I absolutely cannot wait to go back! Then, next year I am off to Panama (again), Exhuma and Dominica to try and set some routes out there, as well as getting the Centurion Grand Slam under my belt. There are a few other exciting projects for 2020 in the pipeline too, but if I told you about them, I might just have to kill you.
To follow Allie’s traverse of the Outer Hebrides you can join the Ultra Awesome Facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/UltraAwesomeUK/ and follow Allie’s social media channels: www.instagram.com/ab_runs and www.facebook.com/alliedoesrunning. You can also visit: www.alliebailey.co.uk.