Jack Scott's Fastest Known Time on the Southern Upland Way
What was it that made you decide to run the Southern Upland Way?
In July, I had recently finished another record attempt following the Glyndwr Way for 137 miles in mid wales, setting a record time of 35 hours 35 minutes and I recovered remarkably fast. This opened the door for one more attempt this year, once it became apparent that races wouldn’t be taking place, I start googling long distance footpaths in the UK. The Southern Upland Way jumped out at me firstly because it’s a coast-to-coast route, a journey across a country which I think is brilliant. I saw that Mike Hartley had the record time which was set 30+ years ago in the 80’s. Mike is an absolute legend on the long-distance running scene and I knew following in his footsteps and chasing one of his times was a natural progression for me to see just how far and fast I could go.
What research did you do into the route before you set off?
I got in touch with Wayne Drinkwater who runs GB ultras, they usually run a race following the Southern Upland Way but for obvious reasons that wasn’t possible this year. We met up and went through the maps and the route section by section. After meeting Wayne and seeing his enthusiasm for the route I knew that me going for the record was the right thing to do, it felt like the right time and natural. He had contacts in Scotland who live and train on the route regularly so to communicate with them and get a detailed knowledge was vital.
The route is around 300 miles north of where I live and with Covid restrictions it was difficult for me to travel up there and train on the way. I managed a self-supported 63-mile run which covered the highest sections of the route, I knew when building my schedule that this certain section would be traversed at night and would be around 24 hrs into my attempt. It was important for me to see what the route was about, to get connected to it. I wanted to feel it and build memories on it before hand. So, there was the 63-mile night run and the following weekend I managed a marathon distance running through Galloway Forest in the west. This is a special part of the route. Wall to wall trees, it was simply stunning. I wasn’t just learning the way for navigation purposes, whilst I was up there, I was working out my race plan, going through 100’s of different scenarios in my head about what could happen and the challenges I would encounter, getting a connection with the route.
How was your preparation and training leading up to the run, did it all go to plan?
Following on from the Glyndwr way, I had 12 weeks until the start date of the Scottish record attempt. I had to train smart as every mile mattered. I couldn’t realistically jump into 100-mile training weeks, I didn’t have the time or resources for that. Every run had elevation, tough climbs and long days in the Peak District. The only exceptions to that were when I would do track workouts, fast 5ks, 10ks & half marathons. Not the normal training pattern when you're planning on covering 214 miles but over the years, I've learned what works for me. I knew I had the legs to cover the route, but I needed to fine tune a few areas of my running to make sure I was competitive and able to push for a new record time.
Like I said before, Mike Hartley was a serious competitor. A multi discipline record holder and a former GB 100K athlete. He was able to run over tough terrain extremely quickly whilst also keeping his speed and his ability to do lightning-fast times over much shorter distances. I needed to replicate this. It was difficult but when the attempt came round, I can look back and say I was in incredible shape. I was able to comfortably be out on the mountains for 12+ hours, whilst also setting a new 5km PB within the same week.
341 Kilometres is a mighty long way to run in one go, how do you gear yourself up mentally to take it on these challenges?
I remember looking in the mirror at 5am on the morning of the attempt. I had trained extremely well, pumped money, time and effort into the project. Built a support team and a detailed schedule of where I needed to be at a certain time. I had people waiting in the wings to assist me all the way to the east coast, passionate and enthusiastic people who cared about the route and the journey.
I said to myself, “I'm ready to die a little for this. It's time to perform and show your identity. Who you are when you're running?”. That’s where I was at mentally, I was ready to express myself and find a new level of performance.
Tell us about the route, how would you describe the course?
It is breathtakingly beautiful. The Southern Upland Way isn't as popular as it should be. I'd like to think my record attempt has brought it back into the public eye, I guess. Back to life after Mike’s Journey along it all those years ago.
The variation is interesting. On the banks of Loch Trool 50 miles in, you could push a push chair along the path, and be out for a nice family walk. Then at 100 miles in as you're climbing up to the summit of Lowther Hill which stands at 2,400ft, you're in the exposed hills with nothing for miles around. It's extreme up there. All that mixed with the vast forest tracks and hidden trails deep in the woods makes it one hell of a trail & its left a huge impression on me, a special route.
What were some of the highlights of the route for you?
Following a tiny path through huge areas of forest, wall to wall trees for hours and hours. The smell and the sound of nothing, just being out there. Being in the moment and edging ever closer to the coast. I also saw my first red squirrels whilst I was up there, it’s the small things.
Did you have any low moments, and how did you get through them?
Yes, there were low moments. One that springs to mind was around 160 miles in, I was slowing and falling behind record pace. I had developed a severe pain down in my left shin, I had to manage the injury for 3/4 hours. At this point I had accepted that the time might be beyond me, I was ok with that and just wanted to finish with a smile on my face. All the time I was hoping that my body would hold together and set myself up for a monumental effort over the last 10 hours. When the time came for me to show what I was about, to find my identity with 8.5 hours & 35 miles left to cover, I found another gear. I found the Mike Hartley gear, another level which I hadn't been able to access before. This carried me to the coast, and I got the record.
What did you find were the biggest challenges to complete the route?
Apart from the obvious, the sleep deprivation, I only had 49 minutes over the 55 hours 42 minutes. I would say keeping my feet in some sort of condition which allowed me to move at record pace. Underfoot the Southern Upland Way is brutal; wet, boggy and slow. But when you hit a section through the forest or on the road, where running would normally be easy, I needed to make up for lost time. Turning my legs over and moving fast meant my feet where badly beaten by the end. It took around a week for the trench foot to heal, as well as the blisters and lost toenails. But it’s all part of the experience.
When you finish are you more excited to eat or sleep?
For this one, I was just desperate to get my shoes and socks off and let my feet breathe. There were beaten up, really bad.
Normally I would stay over at the end of an event or challenge like this, rest up and have some nice food and drink, stay there for a night or two. With Covid restrictions it was pretty much straight back home. My road support Glen drove me back, 6 hours to Stone where I live. My legs completely seized up on the journey. He and my partner Jess had to carry me into the house and up the stairs for a bath. It really wasn’t pleasant.
So I'd say just getting clean and tidy again is the best, then sleep. A lot of sleep!
How do you recover following such a big run?
There are two important aspects. The obvious physical recovery but the mental side of it all as well, I think people over look that. When you go that far, that deep into yourself and push through some pretty ridiculous sensations and thoughts, your mind takes a beating as well. It wasn’t until 2/3 weeks later that I finally put it all to bed mentally and took what I needed from the experience. I was driving to work, listening to music and it all just came out, the realisation and satisfaction was pretty phenomenal.
The physical side, I had a week off work to let the body recover, my feet healed up and I got some physio to help reduce the swelling in my legs. I was walking again within 3/4 days, but if I was driving or sat in a certain position for any longer than 10 minutes my legs would just lock up.
I’m now 2 months on from the record run, I gave myself 4 weeks rest from running but I was doing core workouts and some other bits to keep my body strong. I’m now seeing huge benefits from resting so well and being disciplined. The long 5/6 hour mountain days are still there and they are comfortable, but it’s on the track and speed workouts where I’m finding the greatest benefits currently. I’m moving really well and my technique is good. Recovery is a huge part of these challenges and I’d like to thing I’ve got this one pretty much spot on!
What is your key takeaway from this run that you will carry forward into your next?
I’ve covered long distances before, but not at this sort of speed. Even though I’ve got record times on some other long distance paths in the UK they just don’t compare to this. To find the Mike Hartley speed and move efficiently over the hills like I did. To find another level of endurance when it really matters with 10 hours to go and it was looking unlikely I could do it. I’ve learnt I can go to that place now, the elite place when it’s make or break.
The build up to Scotland was superb and looking back at my training I’m extremely satisfied that I managed to peak at the right time.
Trust the process and your training. But when the time comes have confidence you can go to that elite place again, that’s what I’ll take from the Southern Upland Way.
Do you know and can you tell us what you next challenge will be?
It all depends on Covid, I really enjoy the record attempts and how everything is down to me, the organisation and the planning. More so than the races I enter. So, if Covid sticks around and disrupts races, I’ll work out a plan to push for some records. Snowdonia, the Brecon Beacons maybe the Lakes? The options open to me are vast and I’m excited for the future.
I’ll just keep doing things naturally and making the right decisions, the right place at the right time. Always finishing with a smile on my face.
Congratulations Jack! Thank you for giving us such a detailed insight into a remarkable achievement.