Marcus Scotney dominates 2016 Cape Wrath Ultra

8 days, 248 miles

Over the last few years, the mountain running scene across the world has boomed, not least in the UK. Sky running, fell running, adventure racing and trail running, to name but a few have become widely recognised, both within the running community and in the media. Not content with taking part in half or full city marathons, runners are turning to the distinct challenges of off-road ultra distance races.

Endurance races have seen numbers of entrants rise year on year. All 1,050 places on the 2015 Montane Lakeland 100 & 50 in July sold out in 6 minutes flat; race rosters for the 2017 Montane Spine Race and Spine Challenger are also already full and the race was the subject of a BBC documentary for the Pennine Way’s 50th anniversary in 2015; the Montane Tor des Géants is legendary across the globe for its toughness; and the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultrahas also come to the forefront through increasing international participant and media attention.

Five years ago, to launch a new ultra race and attract significant levels of competitor and media interest would have been tough. Roll on to 2015 and the first Cape Wrath Ultra (CWU) attracted pre-registered interest from almost 1,000 runners who then went on to battle for only 150 race spots last June.

The CWU takes place in the picturesque Scottish Highlands, providing a genuine wilderness experience for competitors. Its format – a multi-stage race covering 248 miles (400km) in 8 days is one of the longest in the UK.

Having never competed in a multi-stage race before and looking for his next challenge, the CWU immediately appealed to ultra distance runner and Team Montane athlete Marcus Scotney and he had already bagged his race spot back in 2015.

Fast forward several months of semi-obsessive training, nutrition and kit preparation and the first day of the CWU was all set for 22 May 2016.

To skip to specific race days, please use the navigation options below:


Day 1 | Sunday 22 May – Fort William to Glenfinnan

STATS:

  • Approximate distance: 23 miles / 37km
  • Approximate height gain: 500m
  • Number of checkpoints: 1

A total of 95 competitors prepare at Fort William for the inaugural CWU. Taking a boat from Fort Williams across to the Ardgour peninsula, they are ready to take on the clock. It’s a beautifully mixed bunch, ranging from 26 – 68 years old, with experience on the UTMB, Montane Spine Race, the Himalayan 100 mile Stage Race and other international and UK long distance races, as well as alpine races and plenty of hill walking and munro bagging experience. Racers have travelled far and wide for this race – including competitors from Australia, South Africa, USA and Canada, as well as more widely within Europe.

Marcus Scotney is up against some tough competition, including Pavel Paloncy, the gritty Czech Republic runner who has previously won the Montane Spine Race twice.

At 10:15am sharp, they are unleashed en masse into the Highlands.

The first day is relatively straightforward at 23 miles, allowing racers to settle in to their stride, adapt to the Scottish Highland terrain and weather conditions. Relatively few wrong turns and inclement weather ranging from dark heavy showers to glorious sunshine combined with mild temperatures and sometimes boggy conditions underfoot.

The running is swift and Scotney flies through at the head of the pack, clocking a time of 2:46:08. Fellow racer Thomas Adams finishes just 1 second behind. Paloncy finishes just under 10 minutes later in 3rd in 2:56:53. Ita Emanuela Marzotto is the first lady, finishing in 3:57:48, in 29th position overall.

The atmosphere post-day 1 race in the campsite is relaxed, with competitors getting to know each other around an evening meal and thinking about the challenging day tomorrow: “the race properly starts tomorrow”, commented event director Shane Ohly.

SUMMARY of overall standings:

Men

  • 1: Marcus Scotney (GB) | 2:46:08
  • 2: Thomas Adams (GB) | 2:46:09
  • 3: Pavel Paloncy (CZ) | 2:56:53

Women

  • 1: Ita Emanuela Marzotto (ITA) | 3:57:48
  • 2: Louise Watson (GB) | 4:02:53
  • 3: Laura Watson (GB) | 4:12:48

Day 2 | Monday 23 May – Glenfinnan to Kinloch Hourn

STATS:

  • Approximate distance: 35 miles / 57km
  • Approximate height gain: 1,800m
  • Number of checkpoints: 2

Cue the midges. As early as 6am, entrants bat the pesky insects away in their quest to start race day 2 promptly. Although everyone set off at the same time on day 1, from now on there is a rolling race start between 07:00 – 09:00am. But while the initial rush was for a 7am race start, those who had led the race yesterday opt to enjoy a more leisurely start, setting off closer to 9am.

‘Beautiful and brutal’ is the billing for today’s race and the racers attack it with gusto. For the most part, the weather is idyllic and the scenery is amazing, lifting spirits to help counter the harshness of the physical demands.

The first checkpoint (CP) at Loch Arkaig is staffed with a full complement of medics and marshals, but it isn’t until around CP2 that we see any more dramatic race action. The faster runners decide to make their move and a leading group of Scotney, Adams and Paloncy move forwards at a markedly different pace to others. While Scotney and Adams are wiry, light on their feet and speedy, Paloncy is stockier and taller but doggedly determined. “It will be interesting to see how the rest of the day pans out between these three”, remarks Ohly.

The end point is a campsite at Kinloch Hourn, situated at the end of the longest dead-end road in the UK in the mountains.

SUMMARY of overall standings:

Men

  • 1: Marcus Scotney (GB) | 9:08:57
  • 2: Thomas Adams (GB) | 9:24:59
  • 3: Pavel Paloncy (CZ) | 10:23:53

Women

  • 1: Ita Emanuela Marzotto (ITA) | 13:32:26
  • 2: Laura Watson (GB) | 13:58:47
  • 3: Louise Staples (GB) | 14:02:06


Day 3 | Tuesday 24 May – Kinloch Hourn to Achnashellach

STATS:

  • Approximate distance: 42 miles / 68km
  • Approximate height gain: 2,400m
  • Number of checkpoints: 2

Despite taking a pummelling from race day 2, most competitors are up early once more, ready for a 7am start. And whilst this isn’t quite the longest day in terms of distance, it is the day with the most height gain – 2,400m. Staying ahead of the two cut-off times today is a concern, although the race staff assure participants that the terrain is easier than day 2.

To accommodate for the increased distance and height gain, most runners leave towards the early end of the morning start. The route starts by winding across the Kintail mountains (with CP1 at Kintail Lodge Hotel), climbing between Sgurr na Sgine and The Saddle before finding the coast at Shiel Bridge. After heading back into the wilderness, runners pass the Falls of Ghlomaich before finding CP2. The route is full of river crossings beyond CP2 and also includes a tricky zig zag cliff descent. The weather is almost too hot for running, with blue skies and scant cloud cover adding to the endurance required for day 3.

Following few drop-outs from days 1 and 2, race day 3 sees some casualties – some from pre-existing injuries, some from blisters sustained on days 1 and 2, some from mental exhaustion caused by the unpredictable terrain. After a strong first two days, sadly a large navigational error by Peter Fairhurst and Darren Grigas costs them dearly and they arrive at CP1 well after the 12.30pm cut-off.

Scotney however breezes through, finishing in 7:49:09, making the struggle and survival of others pale into insignificance. “I’ve been running 100 miles a week in training for months ahead of this race to prepare. I guess about 30% of that is across the bogs and peat hags on Kinder”. He takes advantage of his training to gain a full 20 minutes on his nearest competitor, Adams. Meanwhile, Paloncy seems to struggle today, dropping to finish in 5th position for today.

The women’s race sees Watson finish today’s stage 1st, although overall Marzotto retains her lead.

SUMMARY of overall standings:

Men

  • 1: Marcus Scotney (GB) | 16:58:05
  • 2: Thomas Adams (GB) | 17:36:28
  • 3: Pavel Paloncy (CZ) | 20:24:51

Women

  • 1: Ita Emanuela Marzotto (ITA) | 25:29:00
  • 2: Laura Watson (GB) | 25:54:06
  • 3: Louise Staples (GB) | 26:30:40

Day 4 | Wednesday 25 May – Achnashellach to Kinlochewe

STATS:

  • Approximate distance: 22 miles / 35km
  • Approximate height gain: 1,400m
  • Number of checkpoints: 1

Today the intrepid racers take on the Torridon peaks. At 22 miles and markedly less ascent than day 3, this can be considered something of a ‘rest’ day. Many competitors take advantage of this, leaving the campsite a little later in the morning than the 7am rush of the last two days. Amusingly, Scotney is under orders from Ohly not to start before 9am to try to stop him finishing this ‘shorter’ stage too early.

Initial cold winds in the morning and low temperatures lift to yet another day of blue sky racing in stunning surroundings. Many runners, including leader Scotney, stop to take photos of the breathtaking views along the way, with the peaks of Beinn Eighe and Liathach clearly visible ahead of runners. At this halfway point, the numbers have whittled down to 69 participants – endurance and navigation catching some out.

Scotney continues to extend his lead, finishing the stage in a mere 4:05:52. Though Adams is close to him at the middle of the stage, he can’t sustain the pace. Paloncy finishes 4th for the stage.

Marzotto feels the boost of the stunning surroundings, enabling her to extend her overall lead. Meanwhite Watson and Staples are battling each other in stage positions and overall standings.

SUMMARY of overall standings:

Men

  • 1: Marcus Scotney (GB) | 21:03:57
  • 2: Thomas Adams (GB) | 21:58:50
  • 3: Pavel Paloncy (CZ) | 25:07:23

Women

  • 1: Ita Emanuela Marzotto (ITA) | 31:43:51
  • 2: Laura Watson (GB) | 32:36:32
  • 3: Louise Staples (GB) | 33:04:44

Day 5 | Thursday 26 May – Kinlochewe to Inverlael

STATS:

  • Approximate distance: 27 miles / 44km
  • Approximate height gain: 1,400m
  • Number of checkpoints: 1

Our racers are beyond the halfway point of the CWU – can Scotney and Marzotto retain their leads in the picturesque but brutal Scottish Highlands?

Another chilly start from Kinlochewe. Temperatures hover around 5°C with a bitter wind but with the promise of a further good day to come. Day 5 has runners enter the Fisherfield Forest. ‘Forest’ is a misleading name here though, since this forest has no trees and feels distinctly remote. Another moderate day in terms of distance and ascent however and while competitors act cheerfully setting off, blister-influenced muscle aching gaits, weather beaten faces and pinched or puffy eyes indicate how tired they are.

In what has now become ‘traditional’ race fare, Scotney stormed the stage in a race that he has dominated from the get-go in a truly impressive show of endurance, physical and mental strength. We begin to question whether this race is actually testing his limits sufficiently, as his lead over the field is now well over an hour and it would take a heroic effort by Adams to catch him. Otherwise, overall race standings did not change.

SUMMARY of overall standings:

Men

  • 1: Marcus Scotney (GB) | 25:12:43
  • 2: Thomas Adams (GB) | 26:34:51
  • 3: Pavel Paloncy (CZ) | 30:15:06

Women

  • 1: Ita Emanuela Marzotto (ITA) | 38:08:00
  • 2: Laura Watson (GB) | 39:25:09
  • 3: Louise Staples (GB) | 39:47:05

Day 6 | Friday 27 May – Inverlael to Inchnadamph

STATS:

  • Approximate distance: 45 miles / 72km
  • Approximate height gain: 1,400m
  • Number of checkpoints: 1

To compound the exhaustion felt by many yesterday, today is the longest day in the race at 45 miles. To soften the blow, it is another full day of glorious sunshine – most unlike the usually damp and cold Scottish climate! The route is remote heading into Assynt range, then swings through Glen Douchary and Loch an Daimh, before reaching CP1 at Oykel Bridge. Continuing northwards to Loch Ailsh (following the River Oykel), the terrain becomes more mountainous. Today’s route terminates at the Inchnadamph campsite beside Loch Assynt.

Text book racing by Scotney makes the stage look easy.

SUMMARY of overall standings:

Men

  • 1: Marcus Scotney (GB) | 32:21:17
  • 2: Thomas Adams (GB) | 34:22:47
  • 3: Pavel Paloncy (CZ) | 39:39:48

Women

  • 1: Ita Emanuela Marzotto (ITA) | 49:03:02
  • 2: Laura Watson (GB) | 51:18:08
  • 3: Louise Staples (GB) | 52:11:49

Day 7 | Saturday 28 May – Inchnadamph to Kinlochbervie

STATS:

  • Approximate distance: 38 miles / 61km
  • Approximate height gain: 1,600m
  • Number of checkpoints: 2

The penultimate day and a lot of extremely weary competitors tackling 38 miles and almost wall-to-wall sunshine in the Highlands. The remaining 62 participants take a little longer to get going, struggling to dig deep and find the motivation and energy to set off from the campsite. The amount of remedial preparation each morning has noticeably increased – more taping, more plastering, more stretching. But today is the final ‘real’ push before day 8’s 16 mile route, so there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Scotney is once again untouchable, looking relaxed and totally in control. While Adams maintains his 2nd place ranking and is racing consistently, fatigue is taking hold. Paloncy is finding the going tough but grits his teeth and ploughs on to keep his 3rd position.

In the women’s race, Marzotto finished the stage in 3rd, to Staples and Watson respectively.

SUMMARY of overall standings:

Men

  • 1: Marcus Scotney (GB) | 39:03:22
  • 2: Thomas Adams (GB) | 42:51:45
  • 3: Pavel Paloncy (CZ) | 48:31:11

Women

  • 1: Ita Emanuela Marzotto (ITA) | 49:03:02
  • 2: Laura Watson (GB) | 51:18:08
  • 3: Louise Staples (GB) | 52:11:49

Day 8 | Sunday 29 May – Kinlochbervie to Cape Wrath

STATS:

  • Approximate distance: 16 miles / 26km
  • Approximate height gain: 700m
  • Number of checkpoints: 1

Finishing at the most north-westerly tip of the UK at the Cape Wrath lighthouse, this should be a day for the athletes to savour at only 16 miles and take in their achievements.

At 11:05am, Scotney pelted down towards the lighthouse to cheers. Although he wasn’t actually the first to finish, the rolling start on days 2-8 meant that he was indisputably in 1st place. Today’s stage took him 2hrs 30 mins and he was berating himself for having made a navigational error.

“I think my total time is around 41 hours 50 minutes. Originally I was thinking it would be nice to do 48 hours then when I studied the route maybe 45, but I managed to be quicker so I’m pleased with that. I didn’t know what would happen. This is my first multiday race and could all have gone wrong and broken me. I trained so hard for it, always long slow runs over rough terrain where I could and it paid off.

“It was an amazing route. No two days were the same and each one offered something different. I always loved the area and the race has made me want to come back and explore even more. I think the day around Beinn Eigh was the most stunning. I always wanted to run around that mountain.”

SUMMARY of overall standings:

Men

  • 1: Marcus Scotney (GB) | 41:38:00
  • 2: Thomas Adams (GB) | 46:08:00
  • 3: Pavel Paloncy (CZ) | 52:18:00

Women

  • 1: Ita Emanuela Marzotto (ITA) | 66:49:00
  • 2: Louise Staples (GB) | 67:58:00
  • 3: Laura Watson (GB) | 68:37:00

A huge congratulations to Marcus on this inspirational achievement from everyone at Montane.

Read more about Marcus here.

Photography by Jen Scotney.

Comments are closed here.