The Montane Cheviot Goat is a winter ultra run advertised as 55 miles but the 2022 version was 58 miles with about 10,000 foot of ascent. In short, this is a tough race, it is long, remote, subject to winter weather and the last 15 miles are hilly bogs in the dark.
From about the end of September 2022, my running was focused on the Goat and I followed the training plan that Geoff had written for me. Overall, I loved the training and worked hard. This is not to say I found the training easy, many weeks I looked at my work and family commitments and wondered how I was going to fit my training in, but somehow it happened.
As I drove our campervan up to Ingram on the evening of Friday 2nd December, I could feel the usual concoction of nerves and excitement, but I also knew I was in a good place. I was too anxious to articulate it, but I felt confidence in my training, a desire to be out in a wild place and I felt strength. Registration was quick and soon enough I had everything organised and ready for the 6am start, so I could fall asleep in my Arctic sleeping bag in our van.
The next day, Saturday 3rd December at around 5:45am I was with all the other Goat racers waiting for the start. I spotted Sabrina Verjee & Nicky Spinks and smiled as I challenged myself to make the top ten ladies work hard. I had portioned the race into three parts, each of roughly 20 miles between the aid stations. I wanted to do each section in about 6 hours, allowing me to finish by midnight. The starting gun went off and as I expected, there was a fast start and it felt as if all of the runners were overtaking me, so I kept reminding myself to hold back, that 58 miles is a long old way and I would pay for it later if I went too quick. This portion of the race was a treat, it was mostly dry, the route was easy to follow, it was beautiful watching the light change as night became day and there were a few cloud inversions in the distant valleys. There was the odd section of bog but nothing compared to what was to come. As I approached Barrowburn, the first aid station, I was aware that previous Goat racers had warned me of entering the building as it is too easy to spend too long with the cosiness of the wood burner in there. I hoped to stay outside but as I got there, I was told that the ladies toilet was inside and that the water outside had run out. I entered the building and the warmth and cosiness hit me straight away, it was a blissful feeling! With hindsight, I did spend too long at this aid station, I was unlucky in that when I went to refill my water other runners were already waiting for the water to be restocked, new soup was just being warmed up and I waited, maybe the warmth of the building did slow me down, maybe I benefited from the warm soup and time to properly replenish my own stocks from my kit bag. I’m not sure but I do know that ideally, I would have spent less time there.
I was apprehensive about the middle 20 miles as I thought I may start to tire, or my motivation may quiver as I wondered what I was doing running by myself in the hills on a Saturday when my family were at home. In fact, this middle 20 miles was blissful. As I trotted on following my own rule of at least a shuffle run on the flats and marching uphill but never walking, I started to overtake other runners. At home, I get stressed and anxious if anyone touches my race pack or interferes with how it is organised as I love making it work well for me. The benefit of this, is that when I am running, I know exactly where everything is, so without thinking I could go to the pocket that has sweet food in, the one with Ella’s Kitchen pouches in, the saltier or savoury food, the dedicated pocket for rubbish, the place where gloves/hat/buff live, where my map is…etc. During the middle 20 miles of the Goat, I kept myself well fed, focused on the task and thoroughly enjoyed it without really noticing what I was doing. I remember a brief section on the Pennine Way and plenty of undulations each increasing in elevation as we approached The Cheviot. It was a special moment on The Cheviot: the combination of the ground covered in snow, hail and snow falling and sunset meant that I was surrounded by pale pink with a hint of orange. It was beautiful and as if I was in a sunset snow globe! I longed to take a photo but not wanting the faff, I plodded on. It was soon after The Cheviot that I knew I needed to get my headtorch out of my pack and on my head as the dark was approaching, however I was at about mile 19 of the second portion of the race and with an aid station at 40 miles I contemplated waiting until the aid station. The route was similar to the route Stuart Scott had completed in the March edition of the Goat and I remembered him saying that the 40 mile aid station was actually a good few miles past 40 miles, hence I stopped where I was and got my headtorch on. This happened to be a very good move as the aid station was a good few hilly and now boggy miles past 40 miles and I passed a handful of runners rummaging in their packs in the early stages of dark looking for their headtorches.
On reaching the second aid station, I felt good that the first 2 portions of the race were completed, and I was comfortably on target for finishing by midnight. The irony at the second aid station is that I rushed, all the runners were squashed in a corner and I had a tiny spot surrounded by guys getting changed whilst trying to eat. I didn’t like it and just wanted to move on. I did force myself to pause long enough to eat, empty my rubbish and restock my race pack from my kit bag, however I should have put on an extra layer for the cold winter night. Moving on from the final station, I felt very grateful for my final training run which was the second of two back-to-back 6 hour hilly runs largely done in the dark. This final training run I had felt the accumulated fatigue of my training but had still managed 6 hours on the wet hills around Stanhope. I felt great encouragement that if I had managed that 6 hour final training run, I could finish this race. So, I plodded on, solo in the dark. This last section was hard. It was on the highest ground in the Cheviots which is full of hilly bogs, big tufts of vegetation and very little marked trail on the ground. The navigation was tricky and the rain, snow and hail kept making their presence known. At this point, I had hardly spoken to anyone else in the race. I was comfortable looking after myself in the wild, harsh and rugged environment but I was fed up of my own company! I think this was triggered by the nature of running in the dark meaning my view was restricted to the circle of light from my headtorch, with rain, wind and hail or snow coming and going, I felt like I was in a dark microcosm. At least this motivated me to catch up with the headtorches I could see ahead. I completed a fairly long section with a fellow runner from Crook, another with a guy who had travelled from the South coast. In both situations, we chatted away and I was enjoying the conversation but running in the deep darkness of the Cheviots meant that I couldn’t see them and didn’t have a clue what they looked like. With about 10 miles to go, I started to feel cold and I knew I had to move as quickly as I could, so some more solo, dark, tedious miles followed. In one of my training chats with Geoff he had mentioned looking out for the steady headtorches that were finding better routes through the rough, wet ground. I spotted the head torch I wanted to follow and it proved to be Michael Burke, finisher of several winter Spine races, the Dragons Back and the Arc of Attrition. When I caught up with him, there was something very steadfast about him that I wasn’t surprised as I learnt of the races he had completed. We reached the road and the advertised length of 55 miles was completed, but there was still 3 miles to go. The first of the final 3 miles was a mixture of crawling, scrambling and clambering over rocks next to a river with trees that had low branches. It felt more of an obstacle course than a run, that at the time I was not impressed with.
Anyway, soon I could see the lights of Ingram and all I could think of was crawling into my sleeping bag that was waiting for me in the van. I got to the end and was thrilled, I couldn’t believe it, it was done. I came in soon after 11pm, comfortably before my midnight target with a finish time of 17 hours, 3 minutes and 55 seconds and as 7th lady, with Nicky Spinks first and Sabrina Verjee second. In 2019 I had a place for the Goat but I didn’t start, in 2021 I had a place but the race didn’t start and in 2022 the race happened and I was a finisher.
236 runners started the race, of whom 168 completed the course.
Full results can be found at Open Tracking
Race website: Montane Cheviot Goat