When lockdown hit Scotland in 2020, Ben Turner was up against it. He’d been preparing for months to take on the Cape Wrath Trail, running 70 to 90 miles a week, with hopes of establishing the Fastest Known Time (FKT) on one of the UK’s most difficult trail runs.
Then came restrictions. Job loss. Eviction notices. The complete inability to train outdoors, let alone a bid for a speed record.
Gutted he would not achieve the obstacle he’d set out for himself, he stayed inside for the next three weeks watching movies. The sheer volume of physical effort that had gone into preparation for the 239-mile trail had evaporated overnight.
“When you work so hard for something and then it’s taken away completely out of your control, you don’t understand how to get over it,” remarks Turner over Teams chat.
The day lockdown ended in Scotland, he moved to England, ready to turn the page. But Cape Wrath still loomed.
The Cape Wrath Trail
The Cape Wrath Trail sits on the most north-westerly point on the Scottish mainland. It is largely unmarked and passes through wild and rugged terrain, far from services and facilities for much of it. Red Bull calls it “easily Britain’s toughest long-distance hiking trail.”
At 239 total miles, the FKT on Cape Wrath was recently set in early 2021 by Rob Bourne (male, supported) at 5 days, 16 hours, 57 minutes, and 20 seconds. An enviable effort for a trail typically completed by avid, experienced hikers in 15 to 20 days.
With a new life in England – a new business, new house and new outlook – but with Scotland now 600 miles away, Turner has once again started preparing for a September FKT attempt, adding it to a long list of already completed physical feats.
After a seven-year career in the British army, with deployments to Afghanistan and winning international military competitions, Turner has led mountaineering expeditions in 13 countries. In 2016, he completed five ultramarathons while carrying a 25kg rucksack, just because. In 2018, he rode solo for 3373km around Iceland for a month. That same year, he ran 16 marathons in 16 days in all 16 national parks across the UK.
With the Cape Wrath Trail – a target he set for himself because of the sheer difficulty and commitment required to complete it in under 3 days (his goal) – he sees the run as much more than a FKT attempt. It’s unfinished business.
“I want this to be a story people can relate to. For a lot of people, 2020 was taken from them and they lost the chance to accomplish things. Now it’s time to reset.”
A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON RECORDS
The beauty of a Fastest Known Time is that anyone can do it. Find a route (or create your own) and you have your target. So, on any given day, anywhere in the world, anyone can set out and challenge a “record.” Therein lies their appeal. But for Turner, the Cape Wrath Trail stands out for being something else.
“FKT’s are the thing right now because it’s something people can own. It’s a new perspective on records, events, or challenges. You can register an attempt on your local trail and have a go,” he says enthusiastically. “You don’t have to be an ultradistance athlete to set them.”
But of the challenges Turner’s completed, he expects Cape Wrath to be different. Perhaps it’s the gravitas of coming out of lockdown, or cancelling the run in 2020, or the changes that have happened in the world since. Either way, it’s been a while since he’s taken on something this big. And come September, he feels there’s more riding on it.
On the trail, he’ll have a team following him to film the attempt – part of a planned submission to the Kendall Mountain Film Festival. All the highs and lows – of which there will be many, as anyone who has attempted big physical feats can attest – will be documented. Adding to the complexity and perhaps the pressure – he also won’t be sleeping much if he’s able to complete the run in approximately 65 hours.
Success could propel him in still unknown directions. But then again, so could failure.
WHEN IT’S ALL SAID AND DONE
When it gets dark and hard on the trail, and admittedly it will, says Turner, there will be nowhere to hide. Of all the major trails in the world where similar records are attempted, Scotland is a harsh place to run, on account of the environment and trail conditions, which is part of the reason the Cape is held up as an ultimate adventure run.
Turner, however, takes pleasure in pushing himself to the absolute physical and mental limit. It drives him more than anything else.
Now more motivated then ever, he is once again keen on exploring what’s possible.
Ben Turner will attempt the FKT on the Cape Wrath trail on September 23rd, 2021. To gear up, he’ll be using a selection of Dual Dry and Blackcomb pieces from the ODLO running collection.