Cape Wrath Interview with Jo Meek

Jo Meek is a world class athlete taking on several high profile races. She has raced Marathon Des Sables (and continues to be the fastest ever British female at the MDS!) Everest Trail Race, UTMB CCC, Comrades and several UK races to name but a few. Her race list is most runners bucket lists! Her latest challenge was the Cape Wrath Ultra in the stunning Scottish Highlands. It is a 400km, 8-day ultra running adventure that takes on some awesome trails. We caught up with Jo to get her thoughts on the race and obviously talk kit!

How are you feeling after your epic run at Cape Wrath Ultra?

Over the moon with the result. Although the body is fairly exhausted and battered!

Have you run since your win?

No my shins which started hurting on day 6 have said no. However, I did cycle for 2hrs today in the glorious Devon sunshine.

So the winner of Cape Wrath 2023 and a new female record! Congratulations. Did you set out with this sort of time in mind?

No definitely not. I wanted to be on the podium but the goal was to just do my best each and every day.

What did the lead up to this race look like Jo? What would a training week look like for this multistage?

My weekly comprised a long run, a speed turnover session, a moderate/ tempo run and some easy miles along with strengthening and conditioning. As I look back over my training, I averaged per week 56miles/ 90km and 10000 ft/ 3120m. However, it wasn’t as consistent as this in reality. I did some big mile weeks and one of them was too big; my body was tired and I rolled my ankle. It seems I can do the big training week but not recover in time to repeat it the following week. I have a life and job that also needs my energy. So I stopped running to let my ankle recover and cycled instead. I did manage to build another big week towards the end because it was close to tapering, so I knew they’ll be plenty of recovery time afterwards. Some of the weekends looked like back to back long runs but that wasn’t intentional. It’s just that that was the only opportunity to get them in. Luckily for me the bank holidays helped meaning I could spread the longer runs out with a day in between. My longest run was 25miles/ 5hrs with full kit over Dartmoor where the terrain is very similar to Scotland with bogs, peaty soil and uneven tussocky grass. 

Cape Wrath is unmarked and no official line. You had a Garmin issue on day 6 so had to navigate your way back to camp. Talk us through this part of your race?

The day started off with lots of runnable trail, along which my Garmin 945 watch catastrophically failed around 20km. I still had 52km to go. The triangle of doom appeared to my horror. I managed to factory reset the watch but the courses uploaded to it were lost. This was a nightmare- the last 8 miles had me navigating across peat hags in the wind, rain and cold with no paths and no one around.  I had a melt down, pulled myself together, made it to my tent and then cried! I was emotionally exhausted.

Some of the trails are very remote and overgrown, do you like this sort of terrain and how do you train for this environment?

I don’t mind them because Dartmoor National Park has prepared me well. It’s pretty much identical terrain to the Scottish wilderness just not as mountainous.

The river crossings can be precarious and unpredictable, how did these go for you during the race? 

None of them were in spate so we were really fortunate for them not to be an issue. I just used them to fill my flasks.

Cape Wrath is known for its weather conditions and didn’t you have it all this year! How does that impact your race from a mental perspective?

I was just so pleased it didn’t rain the whole time like last year. 2 days of rain when high up was bearable. It got cold when the 40mph winds blew but I tried to keep pushing forward in order to get back down again.

Did you manage to get much sleep in between stages?

There was time to sleep but my legs didn’t want me too. They were so restless for the first 4 nights that I just wriggled until eventually sleep came. Frustrating but there was nothing I could be about it. I do suffer from restless legs anyway so I was familiar with the sensation.

Did you have a favourite stage in the race?

I loved day 2 I think the best. The scenery through the Knoydart with its remote wilderness was a privilege to run through. I had also periods of company and enjoyed sharing the route with my fellow runners.

Let’s talk kit. You need a lot of items for this race due to the weather conditions, but what was your main kit choices for Cape Wrath this year?

The main things were:

The pack – Salomon 12litre adv skin– was great for me.

Merino wool injnii socks were so good. No blisters!

Scott Supertrac RC 2 shoes covered all the different terrains perfectly.

Did you test lots of kit for this race?

Not really. I’ve raced a lot in the past and so have an understanding what works.

Did you take poles? What are your thoughts on running poles?

I took poles and used them on one day only. I tend to use them on long ascents like in some of the European races and didn’t find the ascents in this race warranted them. Hands on knees worked well!

Was there a specific piece of kit that saved the day that you can no longer live without?

Merino wool socks!

You had the magical Gurney Goo, what were your thoughts?

It was great. I’m amazed I haven’t come across it before. I used it on my feet and all potentially chaffing areas. Gurney Goo

How did you fuel for this multistage? Is there anything you would recommend?

I went with 60g carbs per hour. Ideally one would consume more but knowing my stomach I needed a realistic plan to start with. In reality my plan worked well for the first few days but after forcing the food in my stomach grew tired of it and what I used in the last few days was just gels and energy drink only.

Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone taking on this event next year Jo?

It’s a challenge that needs your full attention and highly recommend it as an experience. Take one day at a time!

Your race CV is epic Jo. Do you have any favourites that stick out and for what reason?

The Cape Wrath Ultra is right up there. The Coastal challenge in Costa Rica was also pretty spectacular as stages races go. In terms of results go my MDS was incredible special; it was my first race into ultra running and I came 2nd. I’m still the highest British female finisher. 

You had an amazing race at the Amazean Jungle race in Thailand earlier in the year (1st female Betong 50) very different from Cape Wrath! Do you prefer the warmer races?

Yes I think I do. My hands work so much better in the warm although I’m not sure my stomach does!

You are gearing up for UTMB later in the year. What does training look like from now until then?

I really need to let my body heal so will give it 3 weeks or so of cross training. I’m having to adapt here because ideally I’d have run sooner. Training will change to accommodate the longer climbs and descents when I’m ready to run.

Do you prefer the multistage events or going straight through?

I think my body prefers the multi stage efforts. I definitely haven’t mastered the longer races yet in terms of fuelling which is crucial.

Do you have a race that you NEED to enter?

Not really although Western States 100 would be cool! I like using my races to travel so my race motivation is often dependant on the place it’s in in order to inspire me.

As we have a lot of Marathon Des Sables customers can you give us your best piece of advice for newcomers taking on this race?

Don’t be afraid of it. I found acclimatising to the heat beforehand was the most useful thing I did.

Photo courtesy: no limits photography

Big thanks to Jo for catching up with us.

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