Jura Fell Race

The Isle of Jura is a small island off the west coast of Scotland and The Jura fell race is known as one of the toughest fell races in the country. The island its self is also quite hard to get to and for me (and a lot of the other participants) it involved traveling by bike and ferry form the mainland across the isle of Arran, The Mull of Kintyre and Islay before catching a very small ferry (The Skip) across on to the isle of Jura.

The fell race starts and finishes at the Islands distillery in Craighouse. It is a 15.8 mile route with 2300 meters of accent, taking in all three of the Paps of Jura, and some extra hills for good measure. And just when you thought it couldn’t get much tougher, the last 3 miles are along Jura’s only road. So in essence the fell race ascends 2300 meters in only 12.8 miles, with a 5K road race to finish with. Sounds fun doesn’t it?

This was the longest race I’d done by far and my first AL category race. My aim was to complete the race in less than 4 hours as all competitors that finish in less than 4 hours are presented with a whiskey glass, and that’s what I wanted. From speaking to people who have run the race before I knew my sub 4 hour target wouldn’t be easy, especially with this being the first time I’d run the race. However, my dad had told me a lot about the race and preparation for it as he has completed it at least 7 times (none of which he managed sub 4 hours on). I knew I’d need to be eating and drinking enough so I didn’t bonk or get cramp on the very rocky and near vertical descents.

Usually I’d run with a simple bum bag if I need to carry kit for a race but this time I opted for a vest pack. My thinking behind this was that when moving over very  gnarly rocky terrain a vest would be more stable and unlikely to rub or work it’s way undone by bouncing up and down like a bum bag does. I used the Salomon S-LAB Hydroset 5 vest pack, which has a very well thought out lay out of pockets and is also supplied with soft water bottles so water doesn’t slosh about when you run. Having not run in the vest at all before the race or had much of a chance to get used to it the decision to use it was a bit of a risk, but the last thing I wanted was for my back to get rubber raw by my bum bag.

The weather on race day was glorious, clear skies, bright sunshine and a light breeze to keep the swarms of midges at bay. At 10:30 the field lined up in front of the distillery and we were sent on our way up the first fell. It was a steady start and it was very tempting to try and stick up front with the leaders but I knew pacing was key and setting off too quick would ruin me for later in the race. I settled into a nice pace of my own and kept a couple of runners I knew in sight. Running was good until the first of the Paps of Jura. Here is where the runners (with the exception of the leaders maybe) were slowed to a brisk walk by the gradient. Walking gave me a chance to fill my bottle up from the stream; this was a good move as I knew water would be sparse later on. After summiting the first Pap, Beinn a’ Chaolais, it was a insanely steep and fast scree run down to the valley floor before starting up the next Pap, Beinn an Òir. This is where the race really started for me. I was running just behind a Dark Peak teammate (Neil Northrop) at this point and I was eating fairly well, but the climbing was starting to get to me and this was the highest of the three Paps. It was just so steep and sharp rocks seem to be in the way whichever route up you took.

The field had really broken up now but I manage to keep Neil in sight down another seriously rocky descent and up the last Pap, Beinn Shiantaidh. Another though climb up loose rocks and scree. The descent of this last Pap was the worst and a good line was crucial. Luckily Neil was still just about in sight and he knew a good route down that took us on to a fast trod, which we followed up to the last fell. At this point I’d been out of water for a while and was feeling the heat and falling off the pace. I filled up with water from a spring in the valley bottom and pushed on. A kind spectator gave me a little more water on the ascent and the twinges of cramp I got in my quads stayed at bay. I finally reached the final summit and grabbed a  handful of orange segments from the marshals. Neil was out of sight now but my main concern was getting under 4 hours. I checked my watch and picked my route down the grassy descent (a nice change to scree). My feet were all over the place and I realised that the last time I ate was ascending the last Pap. I scoffed a Chia Charge bar in record time and had a gel for good measure. I still felt rough but knew that my mum was waiting at the start of the road section with gels and a drink. When I arrived at the three-arched bridge I had to stop to empty my shoes of scree. The plan was to run straight through so I would gain time on the runners that changed to road shoes but the scree in my shoes would have just shredded my feet. Three runners passed me whilst I was emptying my shoes. When I got going again I took another gel and started to pull back the runners that had just passed me. My mum paced me on her bike and the food I’d taken had started to kick in. I took another hand full of chopped fruit off of some supporters at the side of the road and tried to maintain a descent pace. I could feel the cramp coming back but I only had about a mile left to go and now had only one of the three runners that overtook me at the bridge still to catch. I didn’t quite get him in the end but that wasn’t my main concern. On crossing the line I looked at my watch…

3:43:something. Sub 4 hours, YES!

I spent the next hour or so mainly sitting down either in the stream or on the grass waiting for my dad to finish. Once he was in we had a few pictures, I listened to him complain a bit (although he didn’t complain as much as usual, he must have been tired) and managed to borrow a hotel shower thanks to a friend that was staying there. Cheers.

I later found out the course record had been broken. Only by about 30 seconds, but it had stood for 20 years. It was an absolutely amazing effort from Hector Haines as he must have run every step of the course to clock the time that he did.

I’ve got a lot of training to be doing if I want to even get within half an hour of the record but I achieved what I set out too and proudly went up to collect my sub 4 hour Jura whiskey glass.

For my first Jura Fell Race I think it went quite well, my pack was spot on over a bum bag and my Salomon S-LAB Sense Soft Ground shoes were a great choice for the terrain, but I have noted some things for next time. The main two improvement being gators to stop scree getting in my shoes and remembering to eat more regularly throughout the race, but I suppose that comes with experience.

I look forward to next time and hope the weather is just as good.

Here is my Strava track: https://www.strava.com/activities/146158812
Also here is an awesome video of the race that my sister, Hannah, filmed:

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