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Elizabeth O'Donnell's Highland Trail

Name: Elizabeth O'Donnell
Age: 36
Challenge for 2017: Highland Trail – 550 miles self-supported round the Highlands of Scotland
What made you decide to take on this challenge? How did you prepare for it?
There’s something about point-to-point routes, connecting up the country and travelling through the mountains via the old drove roads of Scotland that really appeals.
The Girona training camp made me think about everything – not just the cycling, but all the other important things you need to get to the finish line. I made a lot of lists – I thought about my kit, navigation, the things that could go wrong and what I would do to prevent them, what I could do to pick my mood up if ever I feel down.
I did some recce rides to get familiar with the route and test out my kit. It turned out that the most important thing I learnt from those was that, any time there’s a tough bit and you feel like your fingers are going to fall off because you’re so cold, there will always be a sunshine (or sunset) around the corner. Scotland is pretty amazing that way.
Elizabeth O'Donnell
Can you tell us about a moment when you realized you might be capable of more than you thought you were?
Looking down the Glen into Cannisp, on the second day of the Highland Trail, I realised that this was really the last point where I could easily bail. I’d missed the chippy in Fort Augustus the night before (by 10 sad minutes!) and I was hungry and tired. But I decided then I was going to finish the HT500 and I had it in me to do that. Never make a decision on an empty stomach!!
Did anything not go to plan on your adventure? How did you deal with setbacks?
After the highly disappointing ‘no-dinner-gate’ in Fort Augustus the whole trip became about food for me. I’m lucky that I’m not fussy and ate everything from peanuts and sandwiches grabbed in pubs and squashed into my fuel pod, to a stellar scallop pasta dish in Lochinver – the ‘carbiest’ thing on the menu in the only place that was open!
I think everyone has low moments and some of the sports psychology tips that John shared at the camp came in useful to stop myself from falling into a downward spiral. It kept me going to the next cake stop or chance encounter with a fellow HT550 scruffster to boost my spirits.
Were you worried or frightened about anything before you set off? What happened to your fears once you were on the road?
I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about camping alone in the wilds. It turned out that the only people I ever heard near me in the night were fellow racers. And now I am a big fan of camping solo in wild places.
Elizabeth O'Donnell
Did you have any heartwarming encounters en route?
So many. In both the recce rides and the event itself. One particular lovely café owner in Tomich stands out as she basically gave me an hour of therapy whilst making me endless sandwiches and coffee. It had been a while since I’d talked to anyone by that point.
How did it feel to finish? Was it as you expected? What happens next?
I can’t remember much about the last day. I must have floated home to the finish line with a massive grin on my face and found a motley crew of other HT550 racers there to greet me. I also bumped into a work colleague – not what you necessarily want when you haven’t washed in a week – but she promised never to tell anyone!
I have been on some smaller bikepacking adventures since then, including a 5pm-9am weeknight trip to The Whangie outside Glasgow. And I’m currently trying to remove all mud from my gear (soooo difficult!) so that they’ll let me into New Zealand for a wee adventure there.
View of sky and lake

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