Glenmore 12 – round and round we go again.

More of an 11 hour woodland walk and a one hour dash around a field.

A couple of weeks before the race I picked up an injury at the John Lucas Memorial Relay. It was still bothering me a week later and I had to turn back just half a mile into our Jedburgh recce and revert to vehicular support person. I didn’t run again in the week up to the race but I did do a bit of cycling including 19 miles for Cycle to Work Day on the Thursday before. I went for a massage and I hoped things would come right on race day.

We headed up on Friday, this year I had my mum’s motorhome and no intention of being cold like last year. The Ems would arrive on Saturday morning and my perfect, repeat support crew would be complete. It turns out if you’re a nice runner who minds their P’s and Q’s your support crew is willing to come back for a repeat performance.

I messed about a bit, had a wee shot on the mechanical bull and didn’t make the party until most sensible folk had gone to bed. There is no photographic evidence of my outfit…

Not my best look, granted!

Not my best look, granted!

On Saturday morning it was lovely to see lots of familiar faces including some of my local training buddies who were having their first taste of an ultra in the relay but I was a bit subdued in the run up to the race – I saw the worried looks on my crew’s faces as they gave me extra hugs before the off. The thing was, I was a bit worried too.

I’d had high hopes for this race, I’d been keen to break 50 miles but so far my year had been somewhat blighted by niggly injuries and training had not been the best.

I was right to worry, within the first two miles said injury was already causing a problem. I tried stretching out my hamstring and calf and Helen Munro asked me if I was OK but answered the question herself with, “no, you’re not OK.”

I decided to walk and see how I got on, but I knew the reality was that a PB was out of reach on this day and with this injury. I walked a while with Helen and Heather, saw Amanda and Gordon at the water stop before continuing to plod up the hill. Amazingly I managed to pick up a jog on the downhill although it was nothing compared to how I flew down it last year. I’d been thinking of pulling out but the thought of how far my crew had travelled to be there for me made me want to push on – sod it, if I had to walk for 12 hours then I had to walk for 12 hours. Amazingly the second lap felt better and I decided I’d be able to keep going a bit longer and whilst I was walking a lot more than the previous year I wasn’t only walking.

I had ups and downs over the day. I had great support from other runners on the course, and once they knew I was having a painful day they were even more encouraging every time they saw me. The official photographer fell into step with me for a bit as I told her of my woes – she never failed to give me encouragement every time I saw her.

I saw the competition at the front of both the 12 and 24 hour races unfolding in front of me as the runners lapped me time and again – without fail everyone that ended up with a podium place passed the time of day with me and gave me encouragement to carry on. My friend James Stewart¬†ultimately won the 24 and utterly demolished the course record but every time I saw him he gave me words of support and sometimes a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder. I couldn’t be more delighted to see him win the race, especially after his own race was cut short last year by injury on the course. It’s a testament to his hard work and determination, and a thoroughly deserved win. I may have been more excited about it than him, somewhat like his recent win and course record at Clydestride. He’s too modest by far, so I’ll big him up for a paragraph or so ūüôā

Now, it all sounds really tough and awful but there was a load of good stuff too and plenty of smiling as well as wincing. I had a daft game going on with Lois, my Ukrainian flapjack dealer and ended up singing Star Trekking Across the Universe¬†with Des in the dark in the woods at night. It was going through my head because I had a conversation about keeping moving forwards and backwards being the wrong direction so obviously the lyric about ‘only going forwards, we can’t find reverse’ sprang to mind and led to “clingons on the starboard bow” and “we come in peace, shoot to kill” renditions at something like 10pm – Ian was support running with me at that point and I’m not quite sure what he made of that.

I won’t go into all the laps but when I got to 20 miles I was pleasantly surprised and decided I should bash on to 7 laps and 28 miles so at least I’d have gone ultra, not wasted my crew’s time and would be happy taking a medal. 28 miles came and went and it looked like I could still manage 40+ miles, which had been my target last year. Indeed I completed my 10th lap at about 10.20pm. I was pleased to make it to 40 and whilst I knew I would still be going when the hooter blew I decided I really didn’t want to go another long loop, although it was achievable even at a walk – my feet were hurting like mad, a PB wasn’t on the cards and I decided I’d take a wee rest until the small loops started and then see what I could do in the last hour. My crew didn’t argue with me, which probably tells you something. I snuggled up in a jacket, foil blanket round my legs, drank coffee and snacked. Before long it was time for the wee laps…

I started off with my jacket on and carrying a coffee to keep me warm but both were quickly discarded as I heated up. I don’t know if it was the rest and refuel, the soft grass under my feet or the amazing support of my crew and the mad party tents (Noanie, Sarah, Keziah, Carol were just amazing and I can’t believe I YMCA’d after 40 or so miles) but I started to fly round that field or at least that’s how it felt and according to those watching it was also how it looked. My feet had got so sore that I’d stopped feeling my pre-existing injuries and now the soft turf was like balm to my feet. I reckon I packed in about 3 miles in the last hour, which isn’t really flying but it seemed like it.

The long and the short of it is that I think I’m only about 3 miles behind last year despite thinking the game was a bogey right at the start. I definitely walked more but maybe I’m a wee bit stronger even in spite of being crocked, I don’t really know. My watch says 42.6 miles and I reckon the official result will be about 43 miles.

What I do know is I couldn’t have done it without Tom, Emma and Emily looking after me, Ian coming a couple of laps with me, the PARTY TENTS, and all the lovely runners and marshals that make me feel part of the community and who helped me to find the strength to dig in and keep going.

The party tents!!

The party tents!!

I have wanged on about James a bit, but it would be very remiss of me not to mention that Neil MacNicol (of RunRecover in Burntisland) who came second in the 24 hour race also comprehensively crushed the previous course record this year. It is amazing to think that James and Neil each ran over 100 miles more than me in only double the time. Astonishing.¬†Wullie Bishop ran a blinder for third place and the ladies were all blooming lovely too – Lorna Maclean, Jenni Rees-Jenkins and Shona Young. As to the winners of the 12 hour, I really should have paid proper attention to the race I took part in but I got a little distracted by the excitement of James’ performance in the 24 but I do know the lovely Gerry Craig won the 12 hour race and I will update with full results when they come out… [Edit: full results here¬†and my official result was 43.25 miles, so my guesstimate of three miles under last year’s result of 46.17 was pretty well bang on. Position 40 of 60].

Next year, I just might give the 24 hour race a bash – as long as I’m not injured!!

Delighted with my medal and cider. Earned them!

Delighted with my medal and cider. Earned them!

Advertisements

2015 Devil o’ the Highlands 43 mile footrace

The ascents were lung busters, the descents were leg destroyers and the flat bits were really quite hard. Apart from that it was fine!

This year has been hampered with injury and therefore a lack of training. I had been debating whether to start this race at all in the weeks leading up. Training really had been minimal and what I had done was crammed into the month leading up. I arrived for the start severely undertrained and nervous but feeling that a finish was probably achievable. Race registration was buzzing with nervous excitement and I was glad of the distraction of catching up with lots of running friends. Further to my poop problems at Great Glen, I was relieved to achieve pre-race pooping! I may even have shared that information with a few folk, they seemed pleased for me. Soon it was time to start – Donna and I almost missed the start while taking our pre-race selfie…

11794451_10154212638468782_8734007911648257721_o

Tyndrum – Bridge of Orchy, 7 miles, 1:24:22, pos 187 (last place)
This section was relatively straightforward and I was blissfully unaware that I was in last place with the sweepers keeping a very respectful distance at this early stage in the race. The last time I’d been on this section, had been in February and my friend Heather and I were forced to turn back due to blizzard conditions. It was a lot more pleasant this time around! Great support and encouragement from the marshals – there was a timing team, road crossing team and water stop. It felt like five star treatment. I had a swig of water and headed off up Jelly Baby Hill. I tweaked my right calf on a training run the previous weekend, unfortunately it began to niggle within the first few miles. I tried to stretch it off but to no avail. I decided I’d just have to keep an eye on it and consider my options if it got considerably worse.

Bridge of Orchy – Glencoe, 11 miles (18 miles cum), 2:50:38 (4:15:00 cum), pos 186 (second last)
I marched over the hill feeling quite happy, I’d power hiked it and back the previous weekend and told myself well at least I only have to do it once today. I enjoyed jogging the descent and a few tourists asked me questions and gave me encouragement. I spotted ultra legend Ray just ahead of me. As I got to Inveroran and the tarmac section a car slowed to give encouragement and I peered inside to see Robert Osfield smiling back.

I slogged along the road, taking some walk breaks and getting some food into me. Ray remained ahead. I was glad to get off the road but also knew the Drover’s Road is deceptively tough – it looks so runnable but there is a long, steady climb. I was glad to see Ray wasn’t doing a tremendous amount more running than I was. After a while I caught up with him and we had some chat. We yo-yo’d back and forth a while as we made the long trip over the moor. I dropped back so I could go for a wee. I think it was just after this that I heard voices and realised the sweepers were on my tail. I wondered if they were sweeping another runner but a glance over my shoulder confirmed I was in last place. I got a bit upset and tearful and had to remind myself that I was fully expecting last place anyway and I’ve always been proud of a finish whether last or not. I also got hit by nasty abdominal cramps and realised that unfortunately my prediction of getting my period was spot on. Just have to get on with it.

I turned a bend and saw a comical Ray sight – he has a notoriously bad sense of direction, truly a thing of legend. I swear he’d got lost in a plastic bag! Actually he was negotiating himself into his poncho as the weather was becoming less friendly. I would also have to put my jacket back on. We had some more chat but I fell back and enjoyed the solitude, realising that I wasn’t feeling very sociable at all and hoping that 1. the sweepers would keep their distance and 2. my mood would be more sociable by the time I picked up my support runner at Kinlochleven.

There is a rather more stubborn climb before you get the descent towards Glencoe ski centre, but I was glad of it as I knew the descent and cheery checkpoint would be coming soon. The descent was very welcome and I became incredibly motivated to get well in front of the sweepers and see the friendly faces that surely awaited at the checkpoint. I overtook Ray, who by his own admission has quite an erratic style and he told me he’d come over quite tired suddenly. I met Cat walking her dog George so got lovely dog hugs and asked Cat for a hug please and she obliged! I pressed on and got to the checkpoint where Katy Smith gave me a lovely welcome and none other than Debbie Martin Consani tended to my drop bag needs – I guess I didn’t faff too much as she didn’t seem to feel the need to chase me out! As I’d been entering the checkpoint, my friend Marianne was leaving and we shared a hi-five. I was leaving the checkpoint as Ray and the sweepers were arriving.

Glencoe-Kinlochleven, 10 miles (28 miles cum), 3:09:02 (7:24:02 cum), pos 180 (joint last place)
It’s downhill out of the checkpoint so I picked up a jog. I could see Marianne and she didn’t seem that far away, I thought maybe I’d catch up with her and we would have some chat. I dallied a little too long at the road crossing getting hugs from Noanie, Lorna and of course Sam the dog. Noanie and Lorna told me I was going well and could definitely make the seven and a half hour cut-off at Kinlochleven. At this point I felt reasonably confident of it too as I was at 4 hours and 19 minutes, leaving me over three hours to get there – surely do-able?

Off I trotted, but my undertrained legs were asking for walk breaks when they really shouldn’t or perhaps it was my brain. Marianne continued to remain beyond my reach for quite some time. I could see her jogging up small ascents that would reduce me to a walk and I admired her so much for her strength. It was not until I got into some traily descents on the section between Kingshouse and the foot of the Devil’s staircase that I eventually caught her up and she complimented my speed over the section and I declared my admiration for her uphill running! We jogged along in single file for a while, I slid and cracked my foot painfully on the rock of a drainage culvert – Marianne checked I was OK and I pretended I was but in fact it hurt like fury but we were making progress and I felt it would ease off if I kept moving. The weather started worsening, some kind tourists held a gate for us. When we got to the Devil’s staircase Marianne told me to go on ahead.

I slogged up,¬†passing walkers more frequently than I expected given how my legs were feeling. I know this hill, I’ve been over it several times and know what to expect but not usually with as many miles in my legs first. I kept thinking the next turn would be the last and it wasn’t. I muttered swear words and bent my head to protect myself from the wind and rain. Happy days – I heard cowbells and some friendly faces came into view, Pauline Walker and Fiona Rennie were braving the weather in rather fantastic outfits and giving out sweeties and encouragement. A boost to help me make it to the top. By now I could see Ray making great progress up the hill and knew he would be overtaking me again. I could see the sweepers on the path below. I kept pushing on trying to stay in front of them and thankfully was able to pick up my pace for the descent.

The descent to Kinlochleven goes on for-absolutely-*******-ever. The weather became worse and worse, the descent became ever more difficult and the cold water flowed down the path and around our ankles, freezing our feet and ensuring this would be one of the rare occasions I would get blisters. I met Susan Addison coming up from KLL, she gave me a hug and told me I looked great, I kept the tears until we parted ways. I spent some time with Ray and worried about him, he didn’t have enough clothes on, he couldn’t feel his arms. He pulled ahead of me and when I would lose sight of him I worried I’d turn the next corner or dip and find he’d fallen but I should know better – Ray is the most resilient of us all! I know the descent is long but it was taking forever just to reach the fire road and get away from all the slidy, pointy rocks. The cut-off seemed to be slipping away, the going was tough and the weather awful. I found myself thinking that it wouldn’t be all bad if I got timed out, it might be for the best.

Marianne really sped up to make the cut-off, Ray was a bit more chilled (as usual) but we eventually made it into the checkpoint in a group with about six minutes to spare.

The sun came out, the marshals were lovely, my boyfriend was there (a surprise and more surprisingly I didn’t just ask him to take me home!) and my incredibly cheerful support runner was waiting for me and all ready to do her best to help me finish. Damn sun, damn nice people and thank goodness for the G&T in my drop bag. Bolstered by dutch courage, sunshine and the kindness of others I set off, let’s do this!

Smiling again, unbelievably! Photo: Matt Williamson

Smiling again, unbelievably!
Photo: Matt Williamson

Kinlochleven – Lundavra, 8ish miles (?) (36ish miles cum?) , 2:34:28 (9:58:30 cum), pos 178 (3rd last)
I walked out of this checkpoint, explaining to Ruth that we were about to do a horrible climb and I was not sure how much running I would manage at all over the final 15 miles. I hoped the G&T I’d guzzled would sit OK and that it would make me drunk enough to continue! We slogged up the killer climb, my slowest mile of the day was the first mile out of KLL. Thankfully with the nicer weather we did have beautiful views – that was something. Ruth’s enthusiasm was infectious. I had cheerily said to Marianne that there had been joint winners and perhaps we’d be joint last place to top and tail things nicely – she wisely told me it was a bit soon to think about that. Although Ray had left the checkpoint after us, he got a second wind (and I know he was worried about making his bus) and he passed us and off into the distance. ¬†Just as we were heading out onto Lairig Mhor we met Terry Addison coming the other way and I got another Addison hug and words of encouragement that the worst was over and this was ‘only undulating’. I surprised myself by picking up a jog for downhill sections but I had nothing for inclines and not a great deal even on relatively flat bits.

We’d been told another woman was not far in front (having been mistaken for me initially at KLL by Tom and Ruth due to her purple jacket). She came into sight and Ruth made it a bit of a mission to catch up with her and her support runner. I was not convinced but we did eventually catch up and it was my friend, Donna. I thought that was it and we’d be finishing together but after a little socialising, Ruth kept pushing me on. My feet were sore by now and there are some of the pointiest wee rocks known to man on the Lairig. A couple of ouchy moments but nothing serious. Amazingly the Lundavra checkpoint came into view and I hit it at just under the 10 hour mark. It was lovely to see Alexa, Norma and Robin there. Some flat coke and a hallucinatory unicorn later and I was on my way – I felt I had to keep walking and not stop too long. Two hours left but still seven tough miles to get through.

10361453_10204220770580184_7936402205260574315_n

Thanks to Norma Bone for capturing this moment!

Lundavra – Fort William, 7 miles (43 cum), 2:08:04 (12:06:34 total time), pos 178 of 180 finishers
It’s a wee climb and some undulating trails after Lundavra, I tried to get my stomp on, I was staggering around and took something to eat after which I did manage to jog some downhills. I was hanging on for the bit when you get into the forest for a change of scene and some nice pine needle covered paths. The change of scene was good but the paths were reduced to slippery rock thanks to the rain. Steps are difficult when your legs are tired but they had to be done. I knew this section of the route from one recce but Ruth didn’t, I told her there would be a big downhill coming once we got onto the forestry road and I knew I would need to try and make the most of it, although I knew it was going to hurt. In my head the race was 42 miles¬†but now it definitely seemed to be 43 miles and had some new hill at the end that I had never reccied – I felt pretty nervous!

We got on the forestry tracks and picked up a jog, Ruth urged me to let the hill take me – I was trying but only hitting about 12:30 to 13:30min/mile pace, I pumped my arms to try and get my legs to follow and managed to push the pace a little but couldn’t sustain it. I spotted a welcome sight in the distance – a tall man and a wee boy walking toward us, it must surely be Craig and wee Duncan setting off on their father-son adventure. Ruth tugged me away from them, but I insisted on getting my hug and hi-five. We nearly caught Ray again but then he pulled away and I knew he was into his finishing sprint – the kind that those really experienced ultrarunners seem to be able to start from about 2 miles from the finishline. Once we got off this path and onto the road that leads to Braveheart Carpark I was struggling to run and in fact was sometimes more able to manage a 13to 14min/mile pace by walking. Ruth got me to run a bit but I started to feel a panic attack coming on and she managed to talk me down. Cowhill, well that is more than a sting in the tail – it may be smaller than the climbs so far but it’s steep and tough after what you’ve already done. We finally got to the top and Ruth was still thinking we could make it under 12 hours but I suddenly recognised where I was (I had walked my dog on these hill paths behind the leisure centre when I was supporting at WHWR last year) and I knew that I would not get there in less than a minute but I did manage to jog down the hill albeit probably no faster than if I’d walked. I saw the finish line. Everyone joined in the cheering and whooping that Ruth had been doing for the last quarter of a mile (convinced that the finish would appear any second). Round the play park and up the finishing funnel at what I hoped was a run and I was done – in more ways than one. “You fanny!” I exclaimed to the race director, John for the new finish!

IMG_20150802_151047

Thanks to Helen Munro for the photo.

Photos by Colin Knox

Photos by Colin Knox

A great welcome with hugs galore. Tom was waiting for me with my wee dog who jumped all over me with her muddy paws and of course, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Jemma offered me her trousers. I love a reference joke – she was frozen at the end of the Fling and I offered her mine (I had running tights underneath) but a seat and a hot coffee did the trick. If I listed all the hugs, this would go on for some time but it was lovely that people who had finished their race much earlier had stuck around to support the final finishers. I was able to cheer Donna and Marianne over the finish before going for a painful shower.

The nasty finish hill aside, a huge thanks to John Duncan for taking on this race and keeping it in the calendar – the organisation and team of volunteers were outstanding and the atmosphere was wonderful. To those volunteers – thank you for looking after me and especially all the slower runners, you put in an even longer day than even the slowest runner. Special thanks to Noanie for her advice before the race (it worked), Tom for being the very accommodating driver for the day and to Ruth, who was an outstanding support runner.

Thanks to Ruth for this photo

Thanks to Ruth for this photo

It wasn’t my longest race but it was definitely the toughest I’ve done so far. My strava stats say it was 43.8 miles with 6,679ft of climbing but I think there’s quite a bit of variation between people’s gps devices. I look forward to taking this race on again at some point when I am properly trained for it, I think I could do it a little bit faster and definitely under 12 hours. For now, I’m happy to have completed it and I don’t feel like I could have tried any harder on the day.

Thanks Donna for this photo - somehow we've managed to look like we haven't just run 43 miles...

Thanks Donna for this photo – somehow we’ve managed to look like we haven’t just run 43 miles…

Loch Katrine Marathon. To be disappointed or not? That is the question.

I was looking forward to this marathon and then suddenly I wasn’t. I won’t go into lots of detail but I have been really, really sad and down recently. I also did a 16 mile training run on the route and experienced the hills and tarmac for real – that was a sobering experience. All in all I was really dreading it, and in fact spent the night before and a fair proportion of the whole week before¬†it in tears. It’s really out of character for me but that has been the reality lately, hey ho.
I put a lot more training miles in cumulatively before LK compared with Edinburgh. I hadn’t been sitting on my laurels over the winter, there had been hill reps and interval sessions most Thursdays and consistently three to four runs a week although I hadn’t run longer than 16 miles for a few months. When I trained for Edinburgh I pretty much did one run a week, because I was commuting a long way. I was still a novice runner at Edinburgh, I really felt I should be able to do better at my second marathon. This would only be my second marathon for a marathon’s sake as any others took place during an ultramarathon. I have been harbouring the desire to do a sub-5 marathon, just once to have an official time starting with a 4. According to race calculators, it should be achievable going by my 10k and half marathon PBs.
It was not to be at LK, although I could have guessed that after the training run! It didn’t stop me hoping for some kind of race day miracle though.
The first, and possibly biggest, achievement of the day was that I turned up to the start. In spite of hugs galore from lots of good friends, my confidence was still in my boots. This is a really, lovely race – great, friendly atmosphere and a relatively small field even including the 10k and half marathon that make up the Loch Katrine Running Festival. As for the scenery, it’s simply gorgeous.
Once we started, I fell into pace with my friend Heather and actually continued like that for much of the first half. My first half was actually not bad at all, I even ran most of the hills, and if I’d maintained the pace I wouldn’t have been much over the 5 hours. Cue a pretty significant positive split; the first half was about 2.33 (faster than my first ever half marathon!) and the second half was 3.07. Probably a fairly common phenomenon on that route. I’m not sure if the hills are tougher on the way back or if they’re similar but you’re just so much more tired and each hill saps you a little bit more. My friend Minty likened it to being in a boxing match and the cumulative effect of each blow – individually they might not be that bad but put it all together and it’s a potential knock-out!!
Unfortunately, it was painful from the word go. My calves were inexplicably tight despite a proper taper and a sports massage on the Tuesday before, both my Achilles were complaining the whole time. On the return route even downhills were really hurting and I experienced a new pain in my shin, which has since shown up with bruising, but I managed to pick up the pace in the last three miles and passed another runner who was also suffering courtesy of the hilly course. I even managed a little finish line sprint, not the usual triumphant one but more out of desperation to be finished! I think there were three people behind me, fourth last is a new spot for me!
I got a wonderful welcome over the line from RD Audrey, my boyfriend Tom and my lovely friends Katherine, Heather, Ross, Noanie, Amanda, Lois and Robin – it turned into a bit of a group hug and it’s just brilliant the way a hardcore bunch always hang around to cheer in the later finishers.
So, yes I did tough out the whole course and I’m hugely grateful for the amazing support from fellow runners and the wonderful marshals in particular…long list coming – at the water stations: Lois, Lorna, Helen, John, Robin (yes, Robin Wombill who coached me to the end of GO33!) and Ross; at the turn Stuart and Spot the Duck; and on the bikes Norry, Douglas and Dougie. Not to mention one of the homeowners on the route who put out refreshments for the runners – the orange segments were like manna from heaven! Truly these people are absolute gems and I’m so lucky to count them amongst my friends.
I want to give some of the other runners a shout out too. First off, my boyfriend Tom who did his first marathon on this ridiculously brutal course and smashed it. My friends and running buddies Heather and Katherine, who both ran brilliantly and are going to demolish the Highland Fling in five weeks time. The lovely Amanda, who made sure I was suitably hugged before, during and after the race! Gerry, who won – yep I’m chums with the elite athletes too, don’t you know… an absolutely stonking 2.53! A very well deserved win for such a dedicated runner. Just superb to see so many fab folk out on the route and I won’t manage to mention everyone but what about Chen Chee Kong and Fiona Rennie who put in blistering performances whilst nonchalantly photographing all the other runners, marshals and beautiful scenery while they’re about it?! Seriously! Also my friend Fiona who did her first half marathon and put in a stonking performance despite recent injury and the gruelling course. Well done to all the runners, without exception they were encouraging of their fellow runners and respectful of the route. A huge congratulations to Janice who achieved her triple crown having progressed from 10k to half marathon and now full marathon during the three years of the festival – outstanding!!
Nitty gritty time. Performance. Eugh.
I did 5.40.26 (watch time, official race times will be published shortly). Not a PB, a PW in fact. OK, I was pretty disappointed. I’ve done so much more running in the last two years, so many more miles, hills and even began doing speedwork and yet…
I really would have liked to do better but maybe I can cut myself a little slack when I look at the elevation compared with Edinburgh. 174ft versus 1784ft, that’s a pretty hefty difference. Hopefully, 7 minutes slower with ten times as much climbing is actually an indication that my running has improved a bit at least. Based on that, I reckon I probably could go sub 5 at Edinburgh or a similarly flat marathon.
For the sake of some more navel gazing (guess what? There’s nowt but fluff in there), I compared my marathons with my marathon times during ultras.
Marathons (evil tarmac all the way)
March 2013 Edinburgh Marathon – 5.33.20, elevation 174ft
March 2015 Loch Katrine Marathon Р5.40.26, elevation 1,784ft
Marathons during trail ultras:
November 2013 GO33 – 6.17.25 (total 31.5 miles, 7.35.40, elevation 2,728ft)
May 2014 Kintyre Way Ultra – 7.05.35 hilly (total 35.5 miles, 9.35.02, elevation 4,374ft)
August 2014 Speyside Way Ultra – 6.33.36 (total 36.5 miles, 9.24.23, elevation 2,104ft)
September 2014 Glenmore 12 Р6.17.12 (total 46.17 miles, 12.00, elevation 3,348ft)
I’m not sure how those marathons within ultras should compare with marathons for a marathon’s sake but they’re all a good bit slower anyway and the time period is just under two years. Is two years still a novice? I don’t think I’ve drawn any concrete conclusions from my pseudo-analysis right now, except that I do believe I’ve still got more potential and I can do better.
I will keep trying. I don’t do giving up!
Photo courtesy of Lois, bringer of flapjacks and deliverer of hugs and encouragement.

Photo courtesy of Lois, bringer of flapjacks and deliverer of hugs and encouragement.

Glen Ogle 33 2013

Well I did it. My first every ultra marathon. It was hard, the weather was cruel and I took ages.

I loved it.

This is a rambling and garbled regurgitation of my day.

I still can’t quite believe it, but it really happened and according to the folk that know, I am allowed to call myself an ultra runner now. On Hogmanay 2012 I ran ten miles for the first time ever, double figures for the first time – a significant day. Around that time a friend persuaded me that my steady plod could safely get me around a marathon and one way or another I found myself signed up for the Edinburgh Marathon in May 2013. I wasn’t altogether sure I’d make it to the marathon and I certainly hadn’t even considered an ultramarathon – I barely knew what one was! However, I ended up meeting some fantastic ultra runners who helped me not just to train but also to believe in myself and after the marathon I somehow got a notion that I’d like to do an ultra.

At no point was I turning into a great runner, don’t get me wrong but my slow and steady approach was proving reasonably effective in covering miles and I was certainly getting plenty of Time on Feet at my pace!

Fastforward to Saturday 2 November and I ticked box number one – I made it to the start line and was welcomed with hugs from new friends telling me they were proud of me! Before I knew it we were off – jogging uphill and someone considerably more experienced said “What’s all this running uphill in an ultra? We’ve passed the cameras now, we can walk!” and I did, quite a lot over the first couple of miles, which were a steady climb.

I soon fell in with a chatty fellow called Fletcher and then for a wee while we were joined by ultra legend Ray McCurdy who has completed over 100 Scottish ultras. I soon made the acquaintance of the sweepers on their bikes and George told me he’d already eaten the pastrami I packed for him (in the knowledge he’s a lover of red meat and follows a low carb regime). I lost Fletcher after a while and had then been blethering to a lovely couple, Ann and Robin Wombill, but Ann wasn’t having a great race and would pull out a bit later, and I ended up leaving them behind for a wee while. I passed a few words with Marianne who had been keeping ahead of me but whom I caught up on a serpentine of an uphill. I was making steady progress towards the second checkpoint and was thinking a bit about if and what to eat, having never really got the hang of that during training. I’d been sipping water and nibbling jelly babies and a flapjack in the meantime as I’d been told it was good to start eating early.

I headed over the viaduct that I had previously seen from the road and wondered if I’d be running over it – answer yup, twice. So, I guess it was round about this time that I started to meet the first men coming back the way. That’s right, I hadn’t even made it to checkpoint two yet and the first runners were already through checkpoint three and on their way home! They were going to miss the worst of the weather – unlike me! I clapped for these guys and said well done; every one of them gave me a cheery hello, well done or at least a smile and wave. This is what I’ve already come to really appreciate about ultras – it’s such a friendly and encouraging community.

Just before checkpoint two I met a friend, Clark, whose wife was running. He was out taking photos and had his dog with him – smiles and thumbs up for the camera and Clark jogged along with me before my wee hurdle over the barrier and into the checkpoint saying ‘number 41 is here! (hey I did Toughmudder, I enjoy a wee obstacle)’. I think the rain had already started at this point but wasn’t too bad. It was great to see the friendly faces at the the checkpoint – all lovely but especially good to see Lorna and Julie, as I knew them already. I had some flat coke from my drop bag and some jelly babies before being safely ushered across the road heading up towards the forest loop – I didn’t know it yet, but that would be where I’d experience my lowest moments.

Faster runners were cheerily heading past me (I got to shout words of encouragement to a bunch of FUDS, which appealed to my sense of humour. It stood for Falkirk Ultra Distance Squad) as I got to the burger van, where a cheer went up from a decent crowd there and as I headed to the gate into the forest loop I heard the welcome sound of cowbells and eagerly looked ahead to see Helen and John just the other side of the gate, decked out in hi-viz.

I grabbed a hug from Helen and then from John, who gruffly told me to keep running. They directed me (to my relief) down the hill but I clocked the massive hill other runners were coming down and knew it meant that I would have one heck of a climb ahead of me if I was going downhill now and would be coming down from up there later – I got some personal shouts of encouragement from some specks on the hill that I later worked out were Chris and Caroline that I’d met through Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultra the previous week (I was involved in the organisation, not running it).

I tried to make the most of the lovely downhill section but it felt a bit like a Sunday evening – just not quite as good knowing what was shortly to come! Every time I turned a corner or bend, I was expecting the climb to come. As I headed round one of the corners, I heard George say “Well done, Angela” and I wondered if he’d just got there or if I’d been unaware of him for a while, as I looked back he was taking down signs, whilst waiting to ensure Ann and Robin would follow the right route. George then caught up to me on the bike and we had a wee chat, he was frozen though and eventually cycled off to the next sign where he said he’d meet me. The next sign was the turn I knew had to be coming, time to head up, up and then some more up. Time for a walk and to take on some flapjack! It was somewhere up here, I’m not sure exactly when but the weather just got really bad. The temperature dropped and the rain started to lash and as I climbed and climbed, passing Marianne, there was even sleet and hail. This bit seemed never ending and I felt for the poor sweepers – they were frozen, my continuing effort meant I was doing not too badly temperature wise. Eventually, George said he’d head onwards and to keep going this way and I’d get to the gate. I kept on, looking for the gate but giving serious thought to packing it all in at the checkpoint and getting a lift back to the finish line in a nice, warm, dry car. When I eventually got to the gate, all the supporters were away and whilst I’d been expecting everyone to be gone (it would have been crazy for anyone to stand there in that horrendous weather) my heart sank just a little. I saw the gateway was utterly flooded and there was no way through without wading; the gate felt terribly heavy and as I looked back I saw Marianne coming – she looked very tiny (I’m a chubby ultra runner, she is quite the opposite) and utterly battered by the weather and it just seemed rude not to wait and hold the gate open. We both agreed there had been hail up there and then were delighted to receive an almighty cheer from the lovely people inside the burger van (despite the emergency money in my backpack I resisted the urge to stop for coffee, that would have meant quitting). A moment later and to my absolute delight another cheer went up – Helen and John had retreated to their car but they had waited to cheer us! We fair picked up our feet then, I can tell you. Helen, John and the folks in the burger van kept me in the race. My friend, Norrie, came into sight at the checkpoint and came to see us across the road – he was impressed as I virtually skipped into the checkpoint, little did he know that I’d been on the verge of chucking it! Again, kind marshals looked after us and I had my photo taken by another ultra legend Fiona Rennie although I knew very little of her incredible journey until later in the race – an amazing woman.

I decided I better head off, but managed to steal a sip of George’s coffee on my way. I was ahead of Marianne for a wee while but over this section we went through the process of trading places a few times and at one point Lorna even appeared, as she’d decided to run in after marshaling and was playing catch up and chatting to various runners along the way – it was nice to talk to her but she really, really could walk at the dire pace I was shuffling along. A few times I had to break into a stompy walk because it was proving more effective than the shuffle run at points!

The good thing about being on a section I’d run already was that checking off landmarks and things I remembered was psychologically helpful and I told myself if I could just get to the final checkpoint there would be no point in quitting. The sweepers went by and said if I was happy I knew the way to the next checkpoint they would ride on, but almost immediately I caught them up at the top of the serpentine hill – they had to try to get the circulation back into their fingers so they could operate their brakes.

I think it was on this hill that I once again overtook Marianne and unfortunately she was suffering some muscle cramps, the latter part of her run must’ve been really painful. Now I was ticking off landmarks but still no sign of the checkpoint I was wishing for, but salvation arrived in a different form. Suddenly a male voice behind, it was Robin. Ann, at severe risk of hypothermia, had decided to pull up at mile 18 but she had sent Robin to find me and run with me since it was my first ultra. How kind of them both! Well, Robin said that as it was my first ultra he would really like to run the rest of it with me, right to the finish line and I gratefully (and rather selfishly) accepted his kind offer.

We chatted along, Robin doing a bit more of the talking as he’s the far more competent ultra runner! This was when I heard about his experiences of other ultras including the West Highland Way Race, but also more about the inspirational lady Fiona, that I had met at the previous checkpoint and who is good friends with Robin. Well, hearing the things she has achieved really did inspire me to finish. When you hear about someone so fantastic in spite of facing incredible challenges, you realise that you’re very lucky to have your health and you really have no excuse for not just getting on with it. As I said I’d been wishing quite hard for checkpoint four but somehow it still managed to appear from nowhere and surprise me.

I downed more flat cola and decided to try some custard – not easy without a spoon but I think pretty effective as a fuel and off we headed. The rain actually eased off for parts of the last section, it even brightened a little as we passed Rob Roy’s grave. This last bit is all on road and quite undulating but we managed to limit the walking to the uphill and Robin gave me a lot of encouragement, saying that my shuffling technique was effective and that he thought this was the fastest he’d done this particular section in a couple of years – I’m not sure if that was true, but it felt good.

Just as I had wished for checkpoint four, I began to wish for the finish line and when we saw a 20mph sign and houses come into sight we knew it couldn’t be much further – how big could the village be?! Suddenly, Robin was pointing out an arrow and telling me that it really was no more than about 400 yards, just into the trees, over the bridge and down to where we could see caravans. Oh boy, I felt the choked up feeling and tears in my eyes that I’d experienced going into the finishing funnel at the marathon but reminded myself I’d be needing to breathe to finish.

As we came into sight, cheers went up and I heard someone (I suspect Noanie) shout the words ‘sprint finish’, I checked in with Robin and he said to go for it. So I did. I don’t know where it comes from but somehow there’s always a wee bit left for the finish line. What a great feeling coming over the line to see my boyfriend Tom with my dog Brin, Noanie, Emily with her wee dog Isla (looking a bit bedraggled and fed up), my mum appearing from another direction, and¬† my friends and dafties like John and Norry huddled around the fire but supping cool beers which is the ultimate ultra tradition.

Obviously I went straight to my dog before hugging everyone else, you have to get your priorities right ūüėČ I forgot to stop my garmin and when I looked at it during the hugging frenzy it blinked off anyway, as I’d run it to the end of its battery pretty much. I reckoned it was about 7 hours and 40 minutes but it turned out to be 7:33 so I was delighted. I had hoped to stay under 8 hours and however close I got to 7 hours would be a bonus. If it hadn’t been for Robin’s company I might well have been pushing 8 hours, his company made a huge difference. I waited to cheer Marianne over the line, a fantastic lady who would have been well ahead of me if the cold and damp hadn’t caused her such painful cramps.

When I got to the pub, I was met with plenty more hugs and a very welcome bowl of soup and a hot coffee. It was great chatting with the other runners, congratulating each other and reliving the race. I could barely believe I was one of the people that had actually done it, although anyone that saw my attempts at walking probably considered it patently obvious.

So here’s what I learnt:

– I’m still slow and not that great a runner, but losing weight and training more will help with that. I doubt I’ll every be fast though.

– There are lot of inspiring people and I know quite a few. Folks overcome incredible odds ¬†to achieve so much and it’s a good reminder to me to MTFU and get on with it.

– I am bloody stubborn, this is very useful especially for ultras.

– I will run for hugs.

– A finish line does funny things to me. I find a wee surge of energy that I didn’t think was there. A bit like the way you can almost always find room for dessert, you know?

– I really am a social runner and will need to work on the inevitable alone time element of ultra running.

– I wittered on so much in my ‘race report’ that it got rather long without managing to talk about just how beautiful the route was with the autumn leaves and fantastic views. Must report more about the natural beauty that is such an important part of ultra running.

– I really, really, really want to run more ultras.

Last but not least a huge thanks to all the people that made the event possible – the organisers, marshals and sweepers who stayed out in the cold for as long as it took me to get home. Also thank you to the Ultra Dafties, without whom I never would have done this.

(Photos courtesy of Fiona Rennie)

Finish line sprint

Finish line sprint

Robin, who came to my rescue

Robin, who came to my rescue