A talented national archery competitor in his youth and previously a photographer for the Bank of England, Don Ford is the only runner to have come to all 14 years of the Challenge and run every single race. He tells us why he’ll be back for the 15th event..
Tell us a bit about yourself
I live in Essex, a little village called Tolleshunt D’Arcy, 2 miles from the Blackwater estuary. We’ve been here 10 years and always lived in Essex. I’ve been retired 17 years after working almost 20 years at the Bank of England, Debden, in the design department, as a Technical Photographer.
Tell us about your hobbies, aside from running
DIY, for myself and family! Keep fit, walking, spin-classes twice a week - there just isn’t enough time for everything. I’d love to get back to model making (ships and planes) and painting, which I did in my youth. Photography is now just a tool, not a hobby!
At school, I loved football, cricket, hockey, athletics and was in the archery team, shooting for Essex as a Junior. I was 11th Junior in the Country, three years running, and awarded a ‘Junior Master Bowman’ medal. Unfortunately as a Senior, my equipment wasn’t suitable for competing at a higher level (lack of finances), and whilst giving an archery demonstration in a local sports centre I was introduced to squash which was going to rule my life for the next 10 years!
Tell us a bit about your running history
Through playing in the Bank’s squash team, I heard about and joined their ‘Running Section’, which meant cross-country runs most lunchtimes. I’ve been a member of ‘Orion Harriers’ over 35 years! I love cross-country best - no car fumes, soft ground, mud, and thanks to this, I’ve avoided serious injury.
I’ve run over 50 marathons – London 15 times, Berlin 4 times, Paris, Copenhagen, Cologne and the famous Athens Marathon, along with The Cape Wrath Challenge and other UK races like the ‘Tough Guy’ and ‘Grizzly’.
What brought you to Cape Wrath Challenge for the first time?
A colleague from the Bank, Pete Deadman (another CWC regular) had found this unusual race in the far north of Scotland (CWC) and two other colleagues and I entered. It was to be the first time it was run, but was cancelled due to ‘Foot and Mouth’, so we transferred our entries to the next year.
How many times have you been to CWC?
I’ve been every year; next May is the 15th time! I am the only competitor that has run every race and I always do the long option, including the 30 mile ‘Ultra’ in 2004!
Tell us what makes the event special to you? What makes you come back?
Seeing ‘Old friends’ again - many have also been 14 years, and of course making new friends. In the village hall, at Sunday registration, it feels like we’ve never been away. It’s a strange feeling - it’s like a family. I love the ‘Extras’ – the Quiz night, egg races, Ceilidh practice, beach BBQ etc. But the highlight of the week is the buffet and ceilidh on Saturday night. It’s a fantastic evening, with food second-to-none.
What is your favourite part of the week, or favourite thing to do in the area?
I love the runs - each is different, various distances, off-road and road. If you don’t want to do the long option, you can pick the shorter run, (not an option for me yet!). There’s no pressure to race - just run as you feel. As I do every race, I have to run 60 miles during the week and at my age (70), that’s a Challenge in itself!!
I also enjoy walking from Durness to Balnakeil Beach, over the dunes, to see the Puffins, then back along the sand, before a hot chocolate in Cocoa Mountain. I’ve also climbed Ben Hope, the most northerly Munro, on our free day.
What is your favourite race or run at Durness?
The Marathon to the Cape. It’s on a rough track from the ferry to the Lighthouse, and because we start at different times, according to our predicted times, I leave in the first group, as my target is 5 hours. This means I see everyone at sometime. The faster runners leave 3 hours later, so I see them on my return from the Lighthouse and finish before them. First in the shower and HOT water - that can’t be bad! The first group is usually small, so I often run without anyone in front or behind me - a very strange feeling, quiet and alone. One year, running to the Lighthouse in fog, I heard a rumbling noise in the distance, which turned out to be a herd of deer, running flat out, crossing just metres in front of me.
Describe Cape Wrath Challenge week in three words...
That’s hard! How about RUN in FANTASTIC SCENERY, or FRIENDLY SUPERB WEEK.
Tell us about your all-time favourite run (that's not in Durness)
The Bridge Race, a half-marathon from Copenhagen, Denmark to Malmo, Sweden. We ran over the new bridge before it was opened to traffic and there were 80,000 competitors, all allotted starting times to avoid a mass start, then later bussed back to the start.
Anything else you want to tell the CWC Community?
I’d like to thank everyone in Durness for their kindness, help and friendship, They put on a great show for us, many make us sandwiches, cakes, coffee or tea after each race in the village hall, others will be marshalling or organising drink stations and the school children love supporting us on the ‘Around Durness run’ and taking part in the ‘Beach Run’ in fancy dress.