• Sarah Russell

Cape Wrath Ultra (with a stoma)

Things that 'might' be challenging to someone with a stoma:

  1. Not having a place to change your stoma bag

  2. Sharing a tent with a stranger

  3. A diet of beans, pulses and vegan food

  4. Camping - no shower or wash facilities for 8 days (only streams)

  5. The only toilet being a portaloo or a bush on the side of a mountain

  6. Being out on a mountain (in all weathers) for up to 14 hours a day running and hiking

  7. Having to source water to drink from Lochs, streams and waterfalls

  8. Kit regulations of less than 20kg total requiring military precision packing

  9. Oh... and the challenge of completing 250 miles of running/hiking over 8 days in the Cape Wrath Ultra

In less than a week. I'll be facing all of those challenges and more...

The Cape Wrath Ultra is a 250mile (400km) expedition ultra running event in Scotland. Starting in Fort William and finishing (8 days later) in Cape Wrath - the most Northerly point of the UK.

The average mileage is around 30 miles per day.. with the longest day being 45 miles and the shortest a mere 16. All across boggy, heathery, mountainous terrain of the Scottish Highlands. And apparently there are over 100 river crossings.


Dry feet are not on the menu.


Who would do something so crazy? well for some unknown reason, I am. This event (I won't call it a race, as I certainly won't be 'racing') has been gently drawing me in since around 2016 when I first heard about it. I've enviously been dot watching and absorbing everything about it since.



It's been one of those things that I felt so drawn to.. that I just HAD to do. Watch this video about the race and you'll see why.


I entered in April 2021 thinking I had a year to train. Plenty of time. Ha.. not so fast. It has flown by and suddenly here I am with only a few days until I hop on the Caledonian Sleeper and it transports me by magic to Fort William ready to start the Cape Wrath Ultra next Sunday.


When I tell people about it. I get a mix of reactions. Some just look a bit shocked. Some (the hardcore nutty running friends) are like 'Oh that'll be fun, it's not that far'. But most are just a bit perplexed as to why anyone would want to put themselves through so much suffering. My mum just thinks I'm going to fall in a bog and die.


So why am I? well I've asked myself that very question a lot.


I love stage events like this where you do nothing but eat, sleep, run and repeat. You live in a perfect running bubble for a week and forget about life outside. It makes everything so simple and gives you so much gratitude for the life you have back home.


Since my stoma surgery in 2010, I'm acutely aware that life and health can be snatched from under you nose at any moment.. so a big part of my motivation is just to live life to the max, enjoy adventures and do things while I still can.


I also love the scenery and the wilderness. We'll be going through some of the most majestic Scottish mountains, and anyone who knows me knows I LOVE mountains. I'm so excited to be experiencing some of the most remote and isolated parts of the UK, getting to places you can only get to on foot.


Ok so it sounds and looks romantic, gorgeous and stunning. But it's also going to be gruesome and hideous and without doubt the hardest thing I've ever done.


And having a stoma certainly adds an extra challenge. My fears about my bag leaking at night when I only have one sleeping bag (no change of clothes and no way of washing anything) and not having showers or washing facilities for 8 days. Taking stoma products is another issue. Thankfully the race organiser/medic team are transporting my medical supplies/stoma bags and products for me. I say thankfully, as it wouldn't be possible otherwise. The black dry bag is the mandatory drop bag (which has a 20kg limit and is full!) and the green bag to the right is my stoma stuff... about 1/3 of the entire bag. It would be a huge disadvantage otherwise as on this sort of event, I'll need to change my bag twice per day.


Then there's the food situation. The event organisers have chosen to feed everyone a vegan/vegetarian diet, including lots of pulses, lentils, beans, nuts etc (for a sustainability perspective). Things that usually send anyone with an ileostomy into a cold sweat in case of the dreaded blockage (or at least that's what we're told.. Food fear is real!). But I've been training my gut (by having more vegan meals) as well as my legs over the last few months and actually my stoma seems to quite like it. Let that be a lesson to all ostomates.. we don't need to be scared of vegan food. Try a little bit of things like lentils, pulses and beans and build it up gradually... I actually feel really great for it.


Gut problems - inflammation, swelling, blockages, nausea etc - are all real risks at any time for anyone with a stoma, but during intense running events like this, they'll be even more of a risk. And this is actually my biggest worry. Forget blisters, getting lost or falling in a bog. A blockage would end my race.. or worse have me in hospital (not easy from the Scottish highlands).


Historically, I have had swelling of my stoma during long endurance events and often throw up.. but I'm learning some tricks involving Rennie and working on my gut health which are helping hugely. So fingers crossed. I'm hoping for a vomit free event this time. ha!


And THEN there's the issue of hydration. Hydration with an ileostomy is tricky. I lose about 1-1.5 litres of fluid per day more than someone without a stoma (mine is especially stroppy), so it means I have to be REALLY on it.


I've been doing endurance events with my stoma since 2013 and I've learned SO much since then about the importance of the right electrolyte drink and managing my output by slowing it down (with both immodium, but also by eating the right things - not always easy).

My routine (this is just MY experience, not medical advice) is to start the day with 6 Immodium, 2 Rennie and 2 sachets of Dioralyte before I set off :) yum. It has the effect of slowing my output down, settling any nausea and pre-hydrating me. Then during the day (of up to 14 hours) I will likely take on board 2-3 litres or more of SOS hydration solution and/or more Dioralyte. Rarely plain water.


Honestly.. the whole thing is insane really. I'm going alone without my regular wingman (hubby) who basically decided it just looked too hard. I think he probably has a point.


I've been struggling with an achilles issue since January and then got Covid in April, so it hasn't been the best preparation. BUT I've been doing loads of cycling, weight training and hiking (walking with the LDWA has really got my speed hiking up) and recently have managed to get back to long runs and actually I feel pretty good. Ask me again in 8-10 days or so.


I don't think I've ever stood on the start line of an event before not knowing whether I can finish. I mean like I really really don't know how it's going to go. There's a 40% drop out rate. So I'm not being melodramatic.


This is so far out of my comfort zone and beyond anything I've done before. There are so many variables that need to be managed and planned for... before I even start worrying about bowel blockages, bag leakages, dehydration and vomiting. My biggest concerns are about not making the time cut offs, getting some sort of horrible injury or show stopping blisters. Then it's all over.


So... there we are. The nuttiest, craziest, toughest thing I've ever attempted. I really don't know if I'll be able to do it.


But as a wise person once said... 'But what if you can?'..

So I'm feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Because frankly, life is just too short and who knows what's around the corner.


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