On the trail of a challenge


The Caledonian Challenge offers endless gorgeous views

Scotland’s long-distance trails offer the perfect setting for a number of walking and running adventures

It’s not long since I wrote about Scotland’s wonderful collection of long-distance walking trails, but they’re worth another look – because many are the focus of a range of challenge events for walkers and runners.

The easy-to-navigate trails allow for mass participation events to take place in relative safety and with a range of A to B distance options to suit different levels of fitness.

And many events, including the West Highland Way Race, the Caledonian Challenge and the Cateran Yomp, are reporting increasing numbers of entries.

The reasons for taking part in a long-distance walking or running event include:

  • The challenge of an endurance event
  • Different distance options to suit a range of abilities
  • Seeing a new part of the country
  • Less requirement for navigation skills (unlike mountain marathon and orienteering events)
  • Fund-raising for charities
  • Team spirit

The serial challenge walker

Bob Ellis has taken part in three Cateran Yomps and will be participating again in June 2014. He’s also a veteran of the West Highland Way Race and has completed 26 marathons, 50 half marathons and countless 10k events.

Bob, of Blairgowrie in Perthshire, says: “I was actually part of the team that designed and orchestrated the 64-mile Cateran Trail more than a decade ago and so when the challenge event, the Cateran Yomp, was launched I just couldn’t resist giving it a go. I know the trail really well and I love long-distance events, especially if I can walk and run. The Cateran Yomp is a fantastic event.”

Bob completed the 22-mile “bronze” distance Cateran Yomp in 2011, the first year that the challenge was held. In 2012, he went for the full 54-mile “gold”. In 2013, he finished at the 36.5-mile silver distance. In 2014, he is returning to the gold.

He says: “The gold is 54 miles and that is a long way, especially non-stop, but it’s manageable if you pace yourself and do the training. I am currently getting fit by cycling, because I am riding from Land’s End to John o’ Groats in May with my son but I am also building up my running. I will be doing lots of walking and running to get fit for the Yomp over the months. It’s crucial that you are fit enough for these events.”

However, Bob believes that there is a walking challenge distance for all. He says: “Walking is such an accessible form of exercise and most people find they enjoy it especially once they get a bit fitter.”

Bob is a keen promoter of the Cateran Trail. He says: “The trail heads through such wonderful countryside. There are hills, forest trails, quiet country roads and open countryside. You’ll walk alongside sheep and cattle and may even spot some of Scotland’s fantastic wildlife. This is a route to delight in and I think it’s a great location for a walking challenge.”

Bob is looking for a partner to do the gold distance this year. He says: “I have entered as a solo but I’d like to walk and run with someone else. It helps the time fly by and I like chatting to new people. I am aiming to finish in 15 to 18 hours so anyone who is keen to do the challenge and can aim for this time, it would be great to hear from them via the event organisers.”

Great walking and running events

Hoka Highland Fling

Location: Milngavie, north of Glasgow, to Tyndrum, Highlands

When: 26 April 2014

What: A shorter version of the mighty West Highland Way Race, it’s still a tough 53-miler.

See Highland Fling

Kintyre Way Ultra & Relay

Location: Kintyre, Argyll

When: 10 May 2014

What: Take part as a relay in this stunningly located event. There are two distances, 35.5 miles from Tayinloan to Campbeltown or 67 miles Tarbert to Campbeltown, along the fantastically scenic long-distance path.

See Kintyre Way Ultra

Caley_Challenge_2012-20Caledonian Challenge

Location: Great Glen Way and the West Highland Way

When: 14-15 June 2014

What: Take on 54 miles of the Great Glen Way and the West Highland Way from Gairlochy to Strathfillan in 24 hours. Walkers and runners participate in teams of four.

Charity: Scottish community groups and charities

See Caledonian Challenge

West Highland Way Race

Location: Milngavie, north of Glasgow, to Fort William

When: 21 June 2014

What: One of the best known yet most extreme events.  Walkers and runners have 35 hours to reach Fort William some 96 miles from Milngavie. The record-breaking time is 15:07:29 in 2013 for the men and 17:16 in 2007 for the women. New for 2014 is The Midsummer Highland Relay, which is a three-person, 43-mile relay covering the northern sections of the West Highland Way from Tyndrum to Fort William.

See West Highland Way Race

Alliance Trust Cateran Yomp

Location: Cateran Trail, starting in Blairgowrie, Perthshire

When: 28-29 June 2014

What:  Walk/run non-stop towards 22-mile bronze, 36.5-mile silver or 54-mile gold (54 miles) on the Cateran Trail.

Charity: ABF The Soldiers’ Charity

See Cateran Yomp

Walk Ten

Location: Three events in Edinburgh and Lothians, Angus and Glasgow.

When: July, August and September 2014

What: Walk 10k at twilight in each of these events. This could be a far more manageable distance for all abilities.

Charity: Marie Curie

See Walk Ten

River Ayr Way Challenge

Location: Ayrshire

When: 14 September 2014

What: The River Ayr Way is a 41-mile long “source to sea” footpath that extends from Glenbuck to Ayr.  The River Ayr Way Challenge is a fund-raising event open to runners and walkers. This year the challenge is being held in “reverse” from Ayr to Glenbuck.

Charity: Scottish Cancer Support

See River Ayr Way Challenge

The Great Pentlands Push

Location: Pentlands, near Edinburgh

When: 20 September 2014

What: Follow trails in the beautiful Pentlands Hills to cover the 12-mile bronze, 18-mile silver or 24.5-mile gold.

Charity: St Columba’s Hospice

See Great Pentlands Push

Long-distance walk training tips

Thanks to Pete Waugh, a personal trainer, for these top tips. Pete is a supporter of the Alliance Trust Cateran Yomp.

Get the right shoes. Don’t start training in the old trainers or walking boots that you’ve had for years. Buy a pair of hill/fell shoes or lightweight boots with plenty of grip, support and cushioning. Your feet and knees will love you for it and when you get to the end of the event your legs won’t feel quite as heavy.

Get the right kit from the start. Go for wicking t-shirts, breathable tops, lightweight waterproofs and padded socks. Avoid cotton clothing and work socks. With the volume of walking you will be doing, your body will be under a lot of stress and simply wearing the right kit will make training much more enjoyable.

Hydration. Drink little and often throughout every training session. Make sure you replace your salts. Add an electrolyte tablet to your water to effectively replace you salts.

Nutrition. During any training session that lasts more than an hour, you should be eating as well as drinking. As a rough rule of thumb, go for carbohydrates before and during training to give you the energy you need and have protein after training to help your body recover quickly.

Leg strength. If hills are part of your event make sure you include hills in your training. It might sound obvious but many people do not do this. Get into the gym and work on your leg strength, too.

Chart your progress. There are lots of free fitness challenge apps that can help you to set a daily goal. Chart your progress on the app and see how much you’ve improved over the fitness period.

 Train as a team. Training together will help to keep each other motivated through the good days and bad; the sunny days and the downpours. When you cross the finish line the sense of achievement will be even greater as you have experienced the whole journey as a team.

Recce the route. If you leave nearby or have a free weekend, head up to Blairgowrie and check out the Cateran Trail route for yourself. Pick up a map or check it out on the event website and familiarise yourself with the route.

Think about the big picture. As you train and improve your fitness, make sure you think about why you are doing the event and what it will mean to you to complete it. This will be a massive challenge but one that you will never forget and in the process you will be helping to raise funds for ABF The Soldiers’ Charity.

Have you taken part in a walking or running trail event in Scotland? Tell us about your favourite.

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