With a name like Deadwater, competitors should know the multi-day 235-mile ultramarathon race from Scotland to Wales is a feat of endurance not to be taken lightly. Edinburgh runner Anna Gilmore was the fastest woman to complete this year’s race, coming third overall. She explains what it takes – and why she’s in no hurry to do it again.
Even before the race starts there are important decisions to be made.
Runners must carry all the food and bedding they need over the six days it takes to reach Chester near the Welsh border from Deadwater on the Scottish border.
Do you take a light pack and suffer even more on the race with few supplies and warm clothes or do you weigh yourself down like a pack mule?
Anna Gilmore chose to travel light, carrying just 3kg with her including her food.
The 35-year-old lawyer faced constant heavy rain, an unnerving encounter with bulls and sleepless nights because she was shaking from the cold.
Without a jacket, she had to lie on the ground in a tiny sleeping bag that weighed just 280gm – and she had no spare clothes.
“What was also extremely hard was each day when I got to the next camp I couldn’t dry off because I had no towel and nowhere to dry my soaking wet clothes,” she told the BBC Scotland news website.
“I was just shaking uncontrollably each night too and was therefore unable to sleep. When I thought to wrap myself up in my survival foil blanket that was the life saver.
“But the cold was relentless at night and I burned a lot of calories from the shivering and trying to eat powdered food is just revolting.
“I was eight stone to start with and my clothes are just hanging off me now.”
Over the course of the race, she had to climb about 27,000ft with a double distance day in the middle which took her almost 18 hours, leaving her just a few hours to recharge before the next ultramarathon.
So tough was the event that only 12 runners completed it from 50 competitors, who had been carefully selected only after demonstrating they had a serious history of taking part in endurance races.
During the race her ankle started to swell and she was unable to flex it; another runner developed a stress fracture in her ankle while a third had to pull out of the race with trench foot, so boggy and wet were the conditions on the course.
But despite extreme adversity Miss Gilmore crossed the finishing line on Thursday – completing the race in 52 hours 38 mins.
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She had previously won the gruelling Arran Man and City to Summit, which included swimming under the Forth Road Bridges, cycling to Fort William and running up Ben Nevis all in one day.
But after completing this year’s Deadwater Multi Stage Ultramarathon, she declared it her toughest challenge yet.
“That was so tough, I feel so emotional and broken,” she said after crossing the finish line.
“The weather was so insane, it was torrential rain all the time and thunder and lightning, that lots of people dropped out.
“I got totally lost at the top of Cross Fell – you had to follow cairns and it was so misty with driving rain, I couldn’t see anything and I actually cried when I found myself on the map.”
At one point the course followed a section of the Pennine Way and she found two bulls blocking her path.
“There was no other way to get past but to push through them,” she recalled.
“Normally I wouldn’t have done so but I was so beyond caring about anything that I just did it.”
In preparation for the race, she was running 120 miles a week with hundreds of hours of strength sessions, swimming and walking.
But despite being fully trained and prepared, it took her to the limit and she does not think she would take on such a challenge again.
It has, however, made her appreciate the vital role played by race marshals. She has vowed to volunteer to marshal at more events.
“The marshals were incredible,” she said. “They had to stay out on the course until all the runners had finished each day, which on the long day was 24 hours and then they were back out the next day. Just unbelievable.”
John Parkin was the overall winner.