On December 6th, I drove from Bristol with my friend Will to run our first Goat. I have run several ultras, but this was going to be the longest, toughest and coldest one yet. I was feeling a bit anxious about what I had let myself in for, running through a whole day was going to be a new experience. I had done minimal research into the event (ignorance is bliss) but thought that it sounded exciting and challenging, with the bonus of seeing a Cheviot Goat.
Physically I was in good condition for the event having run 2 x 42 km, 1 x 60 km and 1 x 70 km over the course of the year. I had already prepared my trusty bagels for the race to keep my calories up. I carry a few bagels with varying filling i.e. cheese and chutney or Nutella and peanut butter (an amazing combination). Throughout several years of trail running I swear by bagels as they go down easily, can be packed fully of tasty things and can really help boost the calorie intake. Having real food is essential as too much time eating sugary foods and gels does a number on my stomach
Earlier in the year during the 70 km race, I chatted to a runner who completed The Goat. His words echoed through me in the days approaching the event, “watch out for the bogs of despairrrr“. When registering Will and I were asked by the Montane Crew, “what is your tactic for the bogs?” At this point we realised we had overlooked a key detail, the bogs. To say we underestimated the event was an understatement.The forecast was bad with storm winds approaching on Saturday night which would make for a tough finish. Nonetheless I felt positive as we had our carb loading pasta and studied the route map provided. At 9 pm a message was sent to the runners explaining that due to high winds the race would-be run-in reverse. Anxiety levels were rising but this meant that the bogs of despair would be met in the first half and not the second, win!!After the pasta and the race updates we settled into an evening of packing, repacking, checking and finally, packing. For the race I had opted for:
- OMM Jacket
- Salomon GTX Gortex Shoes
- Salomon Skin Pro 10l Running Vest
- Under Armour Compression Top
- Bridgedale Trail Sport Socks (absolute foot savers!)
chose not to wear waterproof trouser as I find I get too hot and if I get wet, they tend to dry quickly on the move. I also opted not to race with poles, the course did not seem to be too hilly so I thought I would shed the extra weight. In hindsight, I should have pack Gortex ankle gators to keep my shoes watertight.
In the morning everyone squeezed into the Race HQ for the safety brief. The atmosphere was great as we stood in shoulder to shoulder, (the last warm room we’d be in for a while) everyone excited (or terrified) to start. Everyone lined up ready to start, the stars shone in a crystal-clear sky and at 6am The Goat began.
Running up the first section, I could see the sun rising behind us but with an imminent wall of cloud above.
We pushed up the hills and across Comb Fell, entering the clag and the first true section of bog. Another racer, the day before described it as “hell on earth.” He told no lies, these were the bogs of despair. I have never seen a field of runners look more like skiers on a piste rather than runners on a trail. This is the Cheviot Goat.After the boggy slog, we reached the Cheviot slabs and ran up to The Cheviot summit. Being deep in the clag there were no views to be seen. However, the path was a blessed relief after the struggle through the bogs.
Making quick progress I dropped under the clag and was able, at last, to see the rolling hills of Northumbland. Paying far too much attention to the views and not the path I found myself in a “pickle”. I missed a stone and fell waist deep in boggy water. The severity of the situation soon wore off so as I hauled myself out, I was rewarded with laughter from Will. Only one thing for it, run faster, dry quicker, reach soup.
Arriving at halfway was a huge relief. Grateful that the hardest section of the infamous bogs were behind us and my legs were still feeling strong. The warmth of the fire and a cup of hot soup was greatly appreciated. The sofas in front of the fire looked very inviting however, sitting is the enemy and you’ve got to get back on the trail as soon as possible. The crew were brilliant, filling our cups with hot drinks and encouraging us to keep on.
After the stop I ran on good trails but as the light faded, the winds picked up. From here we pushed up to the ridge and followed it to Bloodybush Edge. By now, the fog had descended, visibility was down to a couple meters with gale force winds battering the runners. I caught up to a group and as a pack we picked our way through the bogs and heather taking it in turns to lead. The camaraderie between this group of complete strangers was brilliant, we were all in this together and worked as a team to get through natures booby traps which sent numerous people flying into a watery pit.
Fighting through the dire conditions was exhausting and upon reaching Bloodybush we were directed down the hill and onto a glorious runnable track. The race gives you tracks just when you thought you’d never run one again. Grateful for this, Will and I were able to warm up by picking up the pace. By now, my head torch started to fail, and I was left with a small beam of light that was as helpful as my “Gore-Tex” shoes were at keeping my feet dry. We shared a working light to the finish. After 16 hours of running we pushed our tired legs through the final section and down towards Ingram. To date, this is my favourite running experience, running down the final hill with one head torch between us, the end in sight having taken on the infamous Cheviot Goat. We ran down the hill to the cafe and past the finishing line. At the cafe I ate what can only be described as the BEST SOUP EVER MADE.
Having been nervous to undertake my biggest run to date, I am elated to have finished The Cheviot Goat, in far from ideal conditions. My legs took a beating, but it was a huge achievement which will be stuck in my mind for years to come.
The Montane Cheviot Goat, thanks to Montane, Cold Brew Event & the Mountain Rescue crews for putting on and supporting an epic event. For all future runners in doubt, do it!! Just never forget that Gore-Tex shoes are pointless and BEWARE THE BOGS OF DESPAIR.
Sadly, I did not see a Cheviot Goat, might have to do it next year then…