Ultramarathon runner Sophie Littlefair has set a new fastest known time (FKT) for the Scottish National Trail. The long-distance footpath stretches across Scotland from Kirk Yetholm to Cape Wrath.
Sophie, 40, completed her 880km assisted run, south to north, on the Scottish National Trail in 11 days, 20 hours and 13 minutes. The race included nearly 20,000 m of total ascent. It ended at Cape Wrath on May 11, 2023.
the only other FKT recorded on the Scottish National Trail is by Matt Girvanwho completed the same route self-sufficiently in 13 days, 19 hours and 35 minutes in 2020.
Matt kindly shared his knowledge and route details with Sophie during her FKT planning. He also left a bottle of whiskey for Sophie at Cape Wrath.
What is the Scottish National Trail?
He Scottish National Trail It was devised by outdoor writer and broadcaster Cameron McNeish and for most people it’s a massive undertaking of around 40 stages or days.
Measuring 864 km, the route follows long-established trails for much of the way, but gets progressively more difficult as the trail heads north. It ends with a tough stretch of untracked and demanding terrain at the final part of the Cape Wrath Trail.
Why an FKT on the Scottish National Trail?
Sophie, who has ridden a number of tough ultra events including the Dragon’s Back Race and the Northern Traverse, was challenged by a friend to « do something long distance in Scotland ». With this in mind, she did an online search and found the Scottish National Trail.
She says: “At first it seemed like a bold idea to try to put an FKT on such a long route, but I thought it would be possible for me to do it, and fun too. I had a chat with my trainer Jen Scotney who gave me the confidence to train for the run.
“I spent a year focusing on the goal and training specifically for the challenge. I always like a big challenge every year and the Scottish National Trail is my big goal for 2023. »
Sophie, who lives in the Peak District, also spent a lot of time planning the logistics. Her husband, Phil Brennan, was able to support her with a van, which meant she had fairly regular access to food and hydration, as well as rest.
She says: “I could have planned to run solo and self-sustaining, but this didn’t appeal to me as much as doing it with support. I wanted the race to be an enjoyable adventure, so having Phil’s support was amazing.
Sophie, originally from Peterborough, was also grateful for the company of a friend, Mike Murray. She says: « Mike was with me from the 7th to the 10th and this was a bonus when I was tired and over difficult terrain in North West Scotland. »
Sophie ran around 12-14 hours each day and the rest of the time she rested or slept. She completed between 53 km and 91 km each day. The last day of the race was the longest at just over 20 hours.
She says: “It was like a multi-stage race event with the support of Phil in the truck. I also slept most nights in the truck, adding accommodation every three nights so I could wash up.”
Challenges of the Scottish National Trail FKT
Sophie was confident that she could complete the distances every day, but there was always the worry of getting injured or lost. She says, « I never, at any time, thought she couldn’t do it, but there was an anxiety that something she couldn’t control would go wrong. »
On the first day, he suffered severe bruises on his back caused by his running backpack. Says Sophie: “This has never happened before and I’m not sure if it was because I was hot or because I was wearing less layers, but at the end of the day I was in a lot of pain.
« I had to bandage my back and after that it was better, but I was worried the first day that something like this could happen. »
In the later stages of the trail, route finding became more difficult and the terrain is rough and often trackless. Says Sophie: “The hardest part of the Scottish National Trail is the last few sections. It is remote and compromised at times and I had a lot of anxiety about being in such a remote place on my own.
“I was grateful for Mike’s company for a few days, but when I was alone I was worried about getting injured or not being able to find my way. I had a Garmin inReach device with me in case something went wrong, but I always had a fear.
Sophie describes the last day as « brutal ». She says: “It was a long day, starting from Inchnadamph to reach Cape Wrath. This is like two Cape Wrath Ultra stages in one.
“I was tired and the terrain is very hard. I ended up running the last part in the dark and it felt brutal. He wasn’t sure he was going in the right direction and it was hard to see ahead. I really just wanted to get to the Cape Wrath Lighthouse at the time. »
Sophie finished the FKT at 2:30 am.
Highlights of the Scottish National Trail FKT
“The highlight of the race was having an affair with my husband,” says Sophie. “It was great to have her support and on the last day, he walked from the end point at Cape Wrath back down the trail to see where she was.
“I could see a headlamp in the distance and that was Phil. He kept me going because all he wanted to do was sit me in the swamp and stop. I am very grateful for all the support from him during the 12 days ”.
Sophie’s friend Mike ran 260km with her. She says: “I was so glad to have Mike’s company and especially after six hard days of running on my own. Mike gave up his own time to run with me and it was really nice to have him around to talk and laugh, even when the going got tough. »
Another highlight for Sophie was the trip to Scotland. She says: “It was amazing to see Scotland and the incredible landscapes. It is such a beautiful country.
“Until FKT, I hadn’t spent much time in Scotland and I think it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
“The weather was also kind. I only had one wet afternoon and this made a world of difference to my adventure. It would have been much more difficult if it was constantly wet or cold.
“It was a great privilege to be able to take the time to run across Scotland and immerse myself in the stunning scenery.
“I was also treated to a fantastic sunset on the last day while racing around Sandwood Bay. It was glorious. »
Reaching the finish line seemed surreal to Sophie. She says: “Even looking back now I can’t believe I ran the Scottish National Trail and set an FKT. It’s so big and amazing that I made it.
“I’m a normal 40-year-old woman who’s nobody in the ultramarathon world, but I tried and completed it. I am very happy with my achievement.”
You can follow Sophie on Instagram @littlefair