The Cape Wrath Ultra - Conall’s epic run to raise money for OXPIP
Conall Platts recently ran the 400km Cape Wrath Ultra on behalf of OXPIP, raising over £5000 for us. We asked him all about it…
So first of all, tell us a bit about the event. What’s involved?
Cape Wrath is a well known hiking route, officially starting by Fort William at the foot of Ben Nevis, winding its way through the Highlands up to the North-western most point of Scotland, Cape Wrath lighthouse. The Cape Wrath Ultra is a 400 km running event following this route over 8 days, with various timed check points each day. It’s a supported event meaning the crew provide breakfast and dinner and manage tent set up. As a runner you just need to carry what you need for the day - catering for weather extremes, navigating, managing food needs for up to 12 hrs and water, topping up from streams as you go.
And what prompted you to take on such a monumental challenge?
So many elements to this! I started running only a few years ago to try and get into better physical shape. As you start clocking up bigger distances you inevitably ask yourself ‘what next?’ In the UK we’re fortunate to have a handful of some of the worlds most challenging Ultra events - CWU is one of these. I remember during a lock down phase watching some of the CWU drone footage - breathtaking scenery, incredible camaraderie, testing of mental and physical limits. That’s been my ‘what next’ for the last couple of years. In my head I knew that if I could successfully complete the CWU I’d have turned a corner in my life.
What were the high points? And the low ones?
There were plenty of tough moments. You might think me weird, but I tried not to give them too much head space; dwelling on them didn’t help me. I can vaguely remember a blur of tough moments, but they’re not vivid memories. There were some incredible ‘passing’ high lights; connecting with two other runners, Rich and Gruff; specific views; beer and Monster Munch with my tent mates on the evening of day 4; breakfast on day 8; hitting the beach on day 8 and seeing the light house for the first time; sprinting the last 5 km like my life depended on it - and so many more. But the biggest highlight was the personal learnings I stumbled upon in the aftermath as a result of being so emotional drained and unguarded. To hit on meaningful, new self-discoveries at my age is a wonderful thing and I’m most grateful for that.
Were you always confident you were going to finish, or was it touch-and-go at times?
On reflection I was very naive entering CWU. My hills at home in Bath did little to prepare me for the challenging terrain. I was fit, able to do the distance, but my ankles took a serious battering. There were some incredibly challenging, long days, days 3, 6 and 7 in particular. I knew I’d need to dig deep on these days, but I never doubted my potential to finish each.
However as the toll of the days started to mount and my ankles took more and more strain I did start to have doubts about whether my body would hold up. On day 3 I just kept saying to myself, get to the end of day 4, that’s the half-way mark, then you’re on the home stretch. Day 6 was a brutal day. Long, tough weather but runnable, more so than any other. I had a moment during that day when I let myself get cold and under-fed. We took shelter in a derelict sheep pen, fed, watered, put some dry clothes on, extra waterproof layers…. I ran the next 20 km like a dog that’d been let off its lead! Day 7 was perhaps my hardest. Ankles were taking strain but I knew if I could get through it, I’d crawl my way through the last day.
Do you get lonely plodding along for all those miles?
Other runners will know that you don’t get to run away from your thoughts or yourself when you’re out there for hours at a time. You definitely need to take charge of your thoughts and learn to work with whatever feelings come up. This stuff can keep you busy enough! Then you’ve got the magic triangle: am I eating enough/have I drunk enough, do I know where I’m going and where should I place my feet in the next step? These three are constantly playing through your mind, and often times as your trying to run on a 6” ledge cut into the side of a 100m ravine, there isn’t much room for any other thoughts.
Then every so often you’ll notice where you are and literally be stopped in your tracks by some beautiful view: a small mountain waterfall, the sun landing on a patch of hill, an unspoilt loch, a splash of colour on a wild flower. And I was lucky enough to do this each day in the company of others, in my case with two guys I struck a close bond with. You mightn’t actually talk much, occasional murmurs of shared appreciation, little check ins, sharing a passing thought, taking the mickey… All bar the last day. Then we were started in time slots and I was by myself for the day, and I’m actually very grateful for that. It was a very special day. Very emotional; I cried for most of it. I was happily in my own company on day 8. Never once was I lonely. There’s such a spirit of camaraderie, folk passing you and being passed by you all the time, it’s so easy to couple up, have a chat, regroup, move on…and whether due to the purity of the surroundings or the fact that you were needing to dig deep to get it done, conversations went straight to meaningful truths.
What made you select OXPIP as your cause for this event?
I’d not heard of OXPIP before I started running with Rob, OXPIP's Chair of Trustees. Self-esteem development and the role of secure attachments and significant others being psychologically available is a topic I’m passionate about both as a parent but also as a practicing Psychologist and Psychotherapist. Amazing things become possible when people feel safe and secure. They can thrive and engage in their lives in remarkable ways. I’m passionate about helping leaders recognise the choices they have in how they help their teams and colleagues navigate situations; just like parents or carers, being properly psychologically available. If they are strangers to themselves chances are they won’t be that useful to others. All too often I come upon adults struggling with self-esteem or ego-fragilities, more often than not stemming from rubbish early years experiences. OXPIP’s work is so important and I feel very lucky to have found them through Rob. I am so so grateful to all my family, friends and colleagues who gave so generously in support of me and OXPIP. It was a genuine win-win.
Thank you and congratulations once again, Conall, and to all who donated via this venture!