Monthly Archive: March 2012

RACE REPORT: D33 Ultramarathon

17th March 2012 – D33 Ultramarathon

5hrs 56mins 48 secs
160th/192 finishers

18th in age group, 44th female (out of 59)

5:50am, the alarm goes off, my eyes pop open and I immediately sit up and look out of the window to my left to check the weather. The skies are clear, the sun is rising and a new moon hangs low in the sky. Perfect.

I check what’s happening in the world via my phone and read the #D33 hashtag on twitter before getting up. I prepare a coffee, a glass of nuun electrolyte drink and a bowl of porridge with peanut butter.

The coffee goes down a treat even though I’m already wide awake, but the porridge sticks in my throat and I have to force it down. I still feel satisfied from my dinner the night before; eating early in the morning is my least favourite part of a race day.

I go to where my clothes are carefully laid out and put on my race gear. These are my new favourite racing shorts, I like the grey tank top as it’s long enough to cover a tall runner’s tummy, and the blue long sleeve has been a staple in my running wardrobe all winter since I got it at the Fraserburgh Half Marathon in November. Fetch buff, 2XU calf sleeves and Ronhill running gloves.

I double check my drop bags and triple check my fuel. A bottle of powerade and a bottle of water are poured into the Camelbak and the pile on the left gets packed into the pockets – hula hoops, four jaffa cakes, three caffeinated gels, two gummy chews, and a partridge in a pear tree. The pile on the right goes into my half way dropbag along with the remaining bottles. I prepare a final bag with a waist pouch and a pre-mixed bottle of powerade/water for the Fetchpoint at 27 miles as I plan to leave my Camelbak there to keep me strong for the last few miles.

Time is slipping by and already it’s 7:30am. I allow myself one final double check of everything, put on my rucksack with everything in it and step out the front door in to glorious sunlight.

The short walk to the start takes around 15 minutes and gives me plenty of time to shake off any last minute nerves. I listen to upbeat tracks on my iPod and think about how grateful I am to have made it to the morning of the race in one healthy piece and what a great day of running I have ahead of me. I make sure there is no room for negative thoughts in my head as the anticipation grows when I enter the Duthie Park for the first time that day – how am I going to feel the next time I come through these gates? What will it feel like to be completing a 33 mile race and running down this path in a few hours time?

I pass the starting line on my way to registration and another wrench of excitement and nerves twists my stomach. I’m finally here, there is no going back now. I’m about to run my first Ultramarathon.


When I got to registration I was immediately greeted by Race Director George, his glamorous assistant Karen, and Julie of Watching The Trails fame. I quickly got my number and some safety pins and took some time to wander around and say hello to everyone that had already arrived. I don’t think that up until this point I fully appreciated how many people I knew that were involved in this race; either by taking part, marshalling or supporting. If I had any remaining nerves they were quickly banished and hugged away by my friends who were all as equally excited that the day was finally here.

I made sure my drop bags were in the right places and found my parents who had graciously come down to see the early start and cheer us all on. My Dad took a couple of pictures of his fledgling ultramarathoner daughter blinking in the early morning March sunlight, probably wondering what on earth he might have done in my past for me to think that doing this was a good idea:

With George, and his fantastic race director’s shirt:

With some of my gang: L-R Me, Alan, Tommy, Annette, Ian, Donna.

After everyone was registered, George blew a whistle and the 199 starters were summoned to the starting line for the race briefing. I appreciated the warmth of the other runners around me as out of the sun, the air was quite cold. More greetings were exchanged and final good luck hugs issued as George dealt out the race instructions. Next year he needs to get a mega phone as unfortunately I did not hear a word!

With Sheri:

After the briefing there was a final few moments wait until the clock finally hit 9am…

Photo: Elaine Sandeman

photo: Ian Russell

…and we were finally, finally allowed to start our journey to Banchory and back.

photo: Ian Russell

Photo: Muriel Downie

Photo: Julie

Photo: IanS (Fetch)

Miles 1-8.5 (Checkpoint 1) – 1:27’36

The relief I felt to finally get going was almost tangible. I started in the last quarter of the crowd and held pace with everyone around me until we had left the park. The picture above shows the very start of the old railway line, which is accessible by a ramp just out of  shot to the right. There were one or two older ladies walking their dogs who found themselves enveloped in a sea of neon as we passed. Any other early morning users of the railway line were unfortunately sidelined until the pack had passed them, however most seemed to happily join in the cheering as we went on our way.

My parents had left the starting area before the gun went to get a good spot a little way up the route to take some pictures. They picked the old Holburn Railway station which gave them a great (and safe!) elevated view of us all as we streaked past.

Ultras are of course, known for their sociable reputation. Not even a mile in and I’d already made a new friend to chat to – Jenny, in pink.

“See you at half way!” I called and off they went to get on with their morning.

I kept checking my pace these first few miles and happily it was steadily at 10:00 minute miles which was exactly what I wanted. I felt ecstatic as I made my way up the trail in the sunlight with the Spring birdsong in my ears; I had my iPod with me to use later on in the race but for now I was happy to talk to my fellow racers and soak up the atmosphere.

After 3 miles it was time to take my first, reluctant, walking break and a gel. I reminded myself how important these early fuel breaks were and willed the five minutes away so I could get moving properly again.

For a while I spoke to a lady named Ann who was from Stonehaven Running Club. She and her friend run half the race – 33 miles is too much for them these days she said, but just to be able to participate in half of a wonderful race like this is a huge draw for them.

Photo: Julie

At around 6 miles we came to cross a relatively busy main road which was manned by a bunch of Fetchies. Haggis (yellow jacket) was in charge of stopping traffic, Duchess (Julie) was taking photos and Nywanda and MummyNy were manning a small refreshment table. Even early on, seeing friends was a huge boost; by now the field was quite spread out and at times it was hard to remember we were running a race.

After we got out of Peterculter and away from houses I was ready to take an alfresco leak so started looking for suitable bushes. A big bonus for training on this route is that I know when I can expect to safely and discreetly be able to, er, relieve myself, when required.  Shortly after, the route went onto the road for the first time and before I knew it I had completed a quarter of my race and was saying hello to Naomi and Carol at Checkpoint one!


1 – 10:09
2 – 10:21
3 – 10:43
4 – 11:31
5 – 10:23
6 – 10:01
7 – 11:37
8 – 11:10

Miles 8.5 – 16.5 (Halfway Checkpoint) – 1:32’15 – accrued time 2:58’39

I was very happy to see the check point and more friendly smiling faces. They were standing under a gazebo with a table of food, water and drop bags. I had debated getting rid of my long sleeve top here for a few miles – after emerging from the relatively shaded built up area of Peterculter, running in the direct sunshine was getting toasty. There were gusts of a fairly brisk breeze every now and then though so I decided to hold on to it until half way as planned.

There was a spread of sandwiches and jelly sweets but nothing really appealed. I sipped on a cup of water briefly to rinse my mouth out and quickly got on the move – my mile splits show I can’t have spent more than 30 seconds at the check point.

Despite the array of food I was a little mystified as to where my hunger was. Usually in training runs the thought of my next food break is always appealing but so far I’d had to force fuel down. Whilst I was running there was a constant low level of nausea which perpetuated the lack of appetite – not enough to disturb my rhythm but enough for me to take note. Gels seemed to be going down the easiest so I was glad I had several with me.

After leaving the checkpoint I felt truly alone – I could see no runner in front nor behind me, so I decided it was time to listen to some music and picked Florence and the Machine’s new album. At an hour and a half in length the duration would see me through to half way, I settled in for the long haul feeling very comfortable and the miles ticked by steadily without event.

Shortly after passing Drumoak at about 12 miles I realised the leaders would soon be passing me. I got excited and looked forward to seeing my faster friends and the boost that it would give me. At 12.8 miles I was passed by the leader who I didn’t recognise – how exciting; we all expected Grant Jeans to lead from the start and he was obviously facing some competition today. A minute or two later Grant passed me and one by one the fastest runners came into sight ahead. I passed Team Pyllon who were excitedly waiting for Paul to come through, unfortunately not long after he passed me walking with a furrowed brow looking most unhappy. I tried to think of something motivational on the spot to say but fumbled my words and blurted something like “Keep going Paul!” which is probably the least tactful thing I could have come out with – sorry pal, my running brain doesn’t think on its feet very well.

I was worried for Paul, but quickly focused on saying “Good job!” , “Well done”, “Nice running!” to the trickle of runners that were passing. Just about everyone greeted each other with a smile and a cheery greeting – the sense of camaraderie in the shared experience was amazing and I felt like I was running on cloud 9. I felt so lucky to be a part of the race and felt inspired by those speedier than myself.

In the distance I recognised Mike and waved excitedly, we passed each other with a big high 5 and wide grins; on the outside he looked strong and happy. Further on in the distance I saw a little red car I recognised and realised my Mum had pulled up ahead and was waiting for me. Hurrah, more smiley high fives! This was truly unlike any race I’ve ever experienced and was so far a walk in the park compared to Loch Ness. I saw her little fiat 500 carry on further up the road to the next checkpoint and wondered how many cars passing by were full of support excitedly scanning the trail for their runner, hoping to see them running strong and looking happy.

Just passed Crathes, Photo – IanS (Fetch)

Some Stonehaven runners including Vicki and Iain Shanks, and Alan and Tommy
Photo – IanS (Fetch)

Much as I was enjoying greeting every runner, my enthusiasm was getting a bit out of hand as I kept on catching myself running far too fast. Easy as it felt, I knew I had to hold back if I was going to finish strong in a couple of hours.

The sun was getting more intense as it got closer to midday, but it was probably only about 12C. Whilst this is March and the sun doesn’t even get that high in the sky this far North at this time of year, for runners who have training in the cold all winter it is a shock to the system to have to work hard in the sunshine.

Looking at my watch I realised half way was tantalisingly close. Eventually I could see some people moving in the distance and breathed a sigh of relief as I could get some cold water and get rid of my top. As I got closer I couldn’t see the recognisable figures of my Mum or my friends. Where were they? Maybe behind that crowd? No… By the gazebo? No. What? How is this happening?! Where are they?

There were cheers as I came in but I was anxiously scanning the small crowd for my support. No, my eyes weren’t deceiving me; they were definitely 100% not present. Looking at my watch revealed I was 5 minutes ahead of schedule – not a drastic deviation from The Plan at all. What the hell had happened to them?!

“My support isn’t here!” I exclaim incredulously to Fetchies Laurie and Susie who are manning the checkpoint; “I can’t believe this, I had this planned so well – they should be here!! Whenever they do turn up – please tell them they suck and I’ll see them at the finish…”

Rather than have assistance to sort things out I realised I was going to have to get my heat and mileage muddled mind in gear and do everything I needed to do myself. I located my drop bag and silently thanked my instincts which had told me to leave the drop bag with the half way crew and not my Mum, JUST IN CASE. I peeled off my top and poured the contents of my bag on to the ground, staring vacantly at it trying to figure out what I needed to do. “Dammit this is why we have support” I thought; “I can’t even tell you what my name is after 16.5 miles never mind figure this puzzle out”.

Photos: Laurie

“Right, Mitchell. Wise up; what are you doing? Quit doddering!” I chide myself; no time to waste energy on being annoyed. I crouch down on the ground and my calf muscles scream at me. “Empty gel wrappers and rubbish out, new gels in. Hula hoops in. Take some jaffa cakes out of the packet and put them in a ziplock. Put them in. Close the pockets. Right – unzip the bladder pocket and take out the bladder, no; unhook it first dumbass…” I speak to myself like a wayward child as my sweaty, swollen fingers fumble with the unco-operative twist lock of the camelbak. I can’t seem to figure out how to free the drinking tube so whilst I’m filling it up with powerade the whole backpack swings around precariously attached to the bladder. I eventually get the excess air squeezed out and the thing back into the backpack but not without excreting some language that would make a sailor blush.

After stuffing everything back into the drawstring drop bag I take a good look at the amazing spread of fuel – again the thought of anything solid turns my stomach. I force myself to eat one or two hula hoops and look longingly at the ‘ultra flapjacks’, made with almonds, cherries and pistachio which I’d looked forward to trying for so long, but my stomach was having none of it. “Alright guys, I’m off – see you at the finish!” I bid farewell and head back down the track with a final look back to see if I can see my support. For a moment I think I catch a glimspe of my Mum’s red hair in the distance but I tell myself I can’t wait and I need to focus on the task in hand: running back home to Aberdeen.


9 – 10:14
10 – 11:34
11 – 10:50
12 – 9:54
13 – 11:06
14 – 10:03
15 – 10:04
16 – 10:27

Miles 16.5 – 24.8 – 1:33’44 – accrued time 4:31:05

On this return journey home for the first few miles I was able to see how many people were behind me and to greet the rest of my friends who I had yet to see – Sheri was looking strong, Ian and Donna were running together and both looked quite happy to me but sadly Ian dropped out shortly after when he became a bit ill.

The feeling of the sun on my skin was good, but I was missing the suncream that I’d asked my support to bring. Some mild irritation remained but in the end their absence hadn’t affected my race, however the irony wasn’t lost on me that a similar thing happened to me when supporting Mike on the West Highland Way race last year – he ran a stage slightly faster than expected and we missed him by mere minutes.

A mile or two in and I passed the last runner, again I found myself entirely alone in the race. As it got hotter I began to feel tired, my legs felt strong but I recognised that the easy bit was over and I’d need to start digging deep. I spotted a red flash out of the corner of my eye and realised it was my Mum’s car speeding past me and I felt minor relief – I had a small worry that she’d perhaps had an accident and that’s why she’d missed me at half way. An irrational fear but the mind can play tricks on you when it’s tired. Not long up ahead she found a place to leap out and ran towards me with some suncream, she ran with me for a minute or so until I had coated myself sufficiently with the stuff and said she’d see me in a few miles again and that Niall and Fiona were finding a place up ahead to catch me as well.

I think miles 18 – 21 were probably the hardest of the race for me. It was an unfamiliar part of the route, I was fatiguing a bit and I lost some of my positive attitude as I ploughed on alone. My stomach was still a little funny but was accepting of the gels and hula hoops I force fed myself. I made sure to keep on drinking as well, even though my fluid was warm and sickly to taste.

Mum, Niall and Fiona all caught me at about 19 miles and it was great to see them all cheering for me. I was deep in the burn and couldn’t think of anything else to blurt out other than the mileage showing on my garmin and keep on putting one foot in front of the other. After I passed them I realised the chilled out music I was listening to wasn’t really doing me any favours and decided to switch to something far more upbeat. The difference was instant – what did I have to be feeling grim about? Nothing was hurting badly, I still had loads left in the tank, I was making great time, and all I needed to do was concentrate on running for the next 30 minutes. I didn’t allow myself to think any further than 3 miles/30 minutes at a time – negative thoughts of how long I still had to go tried to creep in but as long as I just thought of 30 minute chunks of running at a time it seemed perfectly achievable.

Miles ticked by one by one and soon I was back on familiar trails. I maintained my speed but passed slower runners as they either slowed down or lost steam. Everyone I passed said “Hello! doing ok? Feeling good? Good work!” or some variant and carried on their own race with a smile. Again the camaraderie of the shared journey shone through – everyone wants everyone to have the best race they can and we all know that the tiniest bit of encouragement can give the biggest boost to a runner.

I knew there would be the big, slow hill at mile 22/23 to account for, but I felt I was ready for it. I really wanted to keep running up it as I thought walking would hurt more. I weighed up the options and decided to go for it, after all it was the last hill of the race and after that everything was downhill (ish). I kept the pace steady and slow and passed three runners who were walking, including Robin who I had spoken to during the Devilla 15k. He was running with a Carnegie Harriers runner named Sue and asked me what on earth I was doing – ultramarathoners don’t run up hills!? I said “I’m feeling ok actually, I’m just going to go for it!” and kept on chugging. I was determined to stick to my run 30/walk 5 for as long as possible and was proud to have somehow conserved enough energy to keep going uphill.

On the other hand I knew that not long after the hill I would be back at Checkpoint 1 and Naomi and Carol would be waiting with smiles and hugs. I couldn’t wait to see them! I was so happy that things were still going ok and felt like I was having the race of my life.


17 – 15:19
18 – 10:14
19 – 10:35
20 – 12:19
21 – 10:22
22 – 10:33
23 – 11:49
24 – 10:48

Miles 24.8 – 33 – 1:25’43 – Finish time 5:56’48

I was greeted by the checkpoint team with big cheers and smiles. There was one other runner there who was looking weary but was enjoying some jelly sweets and a laugh with Naomi. I gulped hungrily at the cool cups of water and washed the taste of powerade out of my mouth but again did not fancy eating any solid fuel. I didn’t want to lose momentum so pushed on and left the checkpoint, I knew at this point that if I made it this far then I would definitely finish and I felt relieved and excited that it was going to happen soon!

I reached Peterculter and the marathon point in roughly 4hrs 40 minutes if I recall correctly – that time is 32 minutes off my Loch Ness Marathon time and includes all check point pauses and walking breaks. I shook my head in disbelief and couldn’t believe the difference in these two races! I made up my mind to definitely sign up for an Autumn marathon soon to destroy my marathon Person Best officially.

Niall, Fiona and Mum popped up again, still full of endless enthusiasm and high fives. I blurted out my ‘marathon’ time and raised my hands in disbelief – everything was going better than I could possibly imagine, and I was about to lose my excess weight at the Fetchpoint for the final push.

Just before the Fetchpoint and the final road crossing (27 miles) something started feeling a bit funny in my left knee. Funny, as in, grumbly ITB funny. It wasn’t a sharp pain but more of an unpleasant wrench and I became very aware of my knee. On the approach to the Fetchpoint I rummaged in my pockets and found my emergency paracetamol – prevention rather than cure, I needed everything I had for the last 10k.

Nywanda, Haggis et all were all still holding fort strongly hours after I had first passed them. It goes without saying but the input of the volunteers at Saturday’s race was amazing – they selflessly volunteered their entire Saturday to look after us all and did such stellar jobs with their cheering. Nywanda had my waist pouch ready and helped me wriggle out of my camelbak whilst I grabbed my phone and two gels. “Right! I’m ready to get this job DONE!” I shouted as I left.

I took out my iPod and found the hour-long playlist I had entitled ‘Last gasp’ which was going to pump me up sufficiently to get me home in good time. Before anyone asks – no I will not share it as my taste in music for running is horrendous, embarrassing, and not for your eyes! I took the time to assess how everything felt now that I had the rucksack off; the knee was fine, my feet felt good, my shoulders were stiff but loosening up now they were free from carrying the camelbak. A quick look at my watch revealed I was yet to pass 5 hours – I forced my befuddled brain to do some maths – I was at 27.5 miles at nearly 5 hours, so that meant even if I ran 11 minute miles to the finish I would finish under 6 hours. It didn’t sink in for a minute or two as I thought I was making a mistake – how has this happened? Where did this speed come from?! I vowed to leave nothing on the course and beast these last 6 miles as hard as possible to come in as far under 6 hours as I could. I decided I’d go for three sub-10 miles, take a short walk and a gel, then go as hard as I could for the final three to the finish.

When my watch passed 30 miles I grinned and said “WHAT?!” out loud – “30 miles?! I’ve run 30 miles today?!” It was an amazing feeling to have. I passed a few male runners around this point who were doing an ultra shuffle towards the finish – they all seemed pretty tired, but there was a young girl up ahead of me who’d over taken them too and looked strong so I decided to try and keep in pace behind her. I don’t really remember much from these miles – there wasn’t really very much in my brain other than focusing on the girl’s (I later found out her name was Noanie Heffron) swishing ponytail.

With about 1.75 miles to go, suddenly Maz and her daughter popped up again on their bikes – they’d been at the Fetchpoint and were riding up and down the trail cheering runners on. “You look amazing! Finish strong!” they screeched “SUB-6 OR BUST BABY!” I bellowed as I ran past.

I was quite close to Noanie now and she kept on looking behind her so I decided to pull up by her side and say hello. “Are you out for sub-6?” She asked? “I am now” I replied “Come on; we can totally do this, let’s go!” Due to the nature of the trail we couldn’t run side by side as there were too many kids on bikes, families walking hand in hand or wayward dogs with sticks. I slipped in behind her though and pushed hard to keep with her pace, but she started pulling away gradually and I just didn’t have it in me to keep up. A glance at my watch revealed sub-9 minute mile pace – it was inconceivable to me that after 31 miles I could run like this.

I passed the Old Holburn railway station where my Mum and Dad had stood so many hours before, and although I knew I only had less than a mile to go I felt myself flagging; there was just nothing left in me to keep up the pace. I allowed myself a 30 second walking break to get my breath back and re-steele myself for the final, final push to the finish where so many loved ones would be waiting. I’d been deliberately not looking at my watch but I allowed myself one last peek – 5hrs 50 – and sighed with relief, it was ok – I had the sub 6 finish in the bag.

Photo: Laurie 

My eyes scour the distance for the Granite pillars which with show me I’ve come to the end of the railway line and the entrance to the park. I’ve run this route so many times before and I know how far I have left but I seek out the pillars regardless – hoping for a sign that it’s nearly time to stop. My lungs are on fire but my legs are still pushing strong and I send up a prayer of thanks to the running Gods for letting me race without injury. I finally spot the pillars and push my arms back and forth drawing myself closer to them, and safely navigate the twisted path which takes you in to the carpark. A van pulls in up ahead of me and I glower at the driver – no mate, after 33 miles you wait for ME to cross.

I finally sail through the gates and force myself to concentrate on the potential hazards ahead by the children’s play area; animals and toddlers are on the loose, sweet Grandparents are shuffling in to my path and I run the risk of getting clotheslined by a dog leash but I make it safely past and move my gaze to the distance where I can see crowds of supporters anxiously awaiting their runner.

The crowds come in to focus and some of the blobs start jumping up and down shouting my name and my face breaks in to the biggest of smiles – after 33 miles and nearly six hours on my feet I’ve made it home.

Upon crossing the finish I stagger towards Julie, George and Karen laughing. I’m incredulous and struggle to find words other than “Wow, ohmygosh, that was amazing!” and variants thereof.

Julie gives me a big hug and Karen puts my medal around my neck and I’m swamped with hugs from my Mum, my Dad, Laurie, Naomi, Carol, Niall, Fiona and countless other runners. The next half hour is a whirl of excitement as I catch up with everyone and find out how they got on, interspersed with breaks to cheer others as they finish. Everyone crosses the line with the most wonderful smile but the biggest smile belongs to Mike’s girlfriend Annette who finishes with her arms held high about her head – finishing her first ultra after four months of training and only a couple of short races under her belt. She falls in to Mike’s arms and everyone’s heart melts

photos: Laurie

My flatmate Scott and his girlfriend Alo arrive, shortly followed by Kynon who’s been in the pub watching the rugby. I ask the score…and then immediately regret it. I grab myself some cake and force it down before allowing myself to open the bottle of beer which has found it’s way in to my hand. It might be Miller, but it’s the best beer I’ve ever had.

So here I am, an ultramarathoner. Days later I’m still glowing with the memories of what a wonderful day it was. Naturally I’m already trying to decide which race on the Scottish Ultra circuit I want to do next – dipping my toe in to this wonderful world is not enough for me. It wasn’t long after I finished that I said to myself – I can do better. I can go for longer, go faster, run harder

This is the start of something big.

Belief, not barriers

When this post goes live at 9am on Friday morning, I will be entering the last 24 hours before the start of my first Ultramarathon. To say I’m nervous would be accurate, but I think the major nerves have passed earlier in the week and I am now ready to step up to the biggest challenge I’ve ever tackled.

Naturally I am still labouring under a healthy amount of apprehension. As long as you’re fully prepared, to have nerves before a race is a good thing; It means you’re taking it seriously enough. They say if your dreams don’t scare you, then your dreams aren’t big enough. For me, I guess this is a damn big dream.

This week has been pretty agonising, but I’m glad to have had social media outlets and Fetch to share some of my nerves and worries with my fellow racers. We are all stretched to the limit by taper stresses and everyone is gagging to get started. For some like me it is their first nerve-wracking attempt at anything longer than a marathon, for others it’s the start of yet another SUMS season and ripe with hopes of new PBs, new distances, and new achievements.

The way I cope with stress is to micro-plan everything down to the last minute. My family and supporters have already been sent race plans and instructions. My meals for the entire week were planned and purchased on Monday. I can even tell you which underwear I’ll be wearing on Saturday morning and how many teaspoons of peanut butter will be in my porridge. It’s all about control for me, if I don’t know exactly everything that is going on around an important event I feel like I’m losing my grip.

The one thing I can’t control however, it what happens when I cross that starting line. I expect I’ll be calm and excited and will chatter to my friends as we slowly seperate out and take our own paces into the race. I’m not planning on running with anyone for the duration of the race,  I expect I’ll need to control my initial pace carefully, and I know it will be a chore to force down that first gel after 30 minutes… But that’s all I know. Unfortunatley I know from experience that things can fall apart in races – I felt equally as prepared and controlled before the Loch Ness Marathon, but by 13 miles my race was over as I was disabled by crippling ITB pain.

What if that happens again.

What if, what if, what if. What if it happens again? At 13 miles? When I have another 20 to go? What if it happens at 6 miles? or 16? I can’t shake the spectre of what happened to me in October – it is haunting my race preperations. Common sense tells me that every race is different, every RUN is different, that I haven’t been bothered by that pain since my  recovery last year, that I’ve trained smarter this time, that I’m stronger, that I am going into this race with as much a chance as anyone else as either getting injured or not getting injured. Common sense tells me that there is no point in wasting energy worrying over it.  But it will always be there in the back of my mind, in the shadows of the trees, in the whistle of the wind….what if….

The D33 finish last year

There is little to be done other than to find the courage and to take the first step across the starting line on Saturday, and then take it step by step after that. If I run strongly and smartly I have no reason to worry, I will complete the 33 miles and run straight down the hill to the finish with my arms held high – an ultramarathoner. I am made of belief, not barriers.

“It is not our success that give us strength. It is not accomplishment that make us persevere. It is the struggles, the hardships and even the failures that give us the hopes, the dreams and the ability to achieve the impossible” –

See you at the finish.




D33 Ultra: Final Race Preperations


This is a quick brief post about my race plan for Saturday; for information, for future reference and also for those who might be wondering about the logistics of what goes on in a (future) ultramarathoner’s race day and prep. It will also be interesting to compare this in hindsight one I know how it actually turns out…

On Friday I will be eating a breakfast of Porridge with peanutbutter, and a very carb heavy lunch (likely macaroni cheese and chips). I don’t want to be having a huge, huge dinner as often I feel effects of large dinners the morning after – still feeling full and bloated – and I want to be able to stomach a hearty breakfast. For dinner I will have another pasta based dish – spinach and ricotta tortellini with tomato sauce, and some ciabatta bread. All washed down with huge amounts of nuun electrolyte drink and water.

In the evening I’ll be attending a public lecture by Dr Andrew Murray at Aberdeen Sports Village. Last year Andrew ran the equivelent of 101 marathons in 77 days, from Scotland to the Sahara, to raise money for charity. He is a well known ultramarathoner with a published book “Running Beyond Limits” and will be taking part in the D33 the following morning. I expect to leave the talk thoroughly inspired and ready to take on the world!

The following morning I’ll be eating porridge and peanut butter and a mullerrice yogurt, before walking to the start to register at 8am – just over 1 mile. I think this will serve as a good warm up and will allow me to shake out any cobwebs whilst waking me up properly.At 8:30 there is a race briefing, and then the race commences at 9am.

As I’ve documented here, my race strategy is to run 30 minutes then walk 5 minutes whilst eating – in training this has had me cover 6 miles in and 1hr 10 minutes, which over the whole race evens out at 11 minute miles, projecting a finish time of 6 hours and 5 minutes. Anything can happen however, so these times are obviously a loose guideline – I won’t be arrive at any of the checkpoints before the noted times but if I can stick to my pacing strategy I will arrive on time. The last 6 miles will be rogue – in training I’ve actually sped up in the final miles of a long run but I’ve never run longer than 27 miles so who knows what will happen…

10:10 – Expected at Fetchpoint (B979 Milltimber Road crossing) (6 miles)
10:30 – Expected at CP 1 (8 miles), Peterculter Station
12:00 – Expected at CP2 (16.5 miles), Banchory

At this check point I will have a drop-bag awaiting for me with the supplies I need – 1 bottle of powerade, 1 bottle of water, 3 gels, some jaffa cakes and some hula hoops. I will be topping up my camelbak, emptying pockets of rubbish and replacing with more fuel for return journey. I’ll spend about 5 minutes at the Checkpoint before setting out again, my parents and some friends are planning to come and see me here so I’ll look forward to some hearty cheers!

1:40 – Rhona expected at CP3 (24.5 miles), Peterculter station
2:00 – Rhona expected at Fetchpoint (B979 Milltimber Road crossing) (26.5 miles)

This is the last outpost before the final miles. I am likely to leave my camelbak here to lose the excess weight and continue on with a handheld bottle and a waist pouch.

3:00 – Rhona expected at the finish anytime from here onwards.

I’d like to think that I’ll be finishing strongly with a smile on my face and will be able to stomach the fine spread of food and beer at the finish…but who knows. To be honest I think anything other than being carted off in an ambulance will suit me! I expect Mike, Dave, Alan, Tommy and Vicki will have finished ages before me, and Ian, Donna, Annette and Sheri will probably be coming in around the same time as me so I’ll look forward to cheering them in over the finish line if I’m not last.

The after race plans involve plenty of food and beer and a trip down to Stonehaven for the afterparty where hopefully I’ll get the chance to get to know some other ultramarathoners a bit better. Twitter, facebook and Fetch have meant that I’ve been able to interact with many other starters over the last few weeks so I’m looking forward to meeting some people for the first time in person, either on the course or in the pub after.

Incidently, these lovely bottles arrived this morning:

Those are two bottles of the very special edition Islay Cask Bitch Please! by my favourite brewery, Brewdog. I’ll be saving one for another monumentous occasion but one will be chilled and waiting for me when I finish. I can’t wait!

That’s it for now – you can expect one more post with a few more thoughts and feelings about the race tomorrow, but for now I’m off for my final shake out run – taper tantrums be damned!


D33 Ultra – Training week 9 – Taper week 2

It is quite shocking to be writing this final training post – the last 10 weeks have flown by and I can’t believe that there are only 4 days until the race now. This week will consist of yoga tonight, 3 miles tomorrow and 2 on Thursday, with plenty of rest, hydration and  clean eating in between.

D33 Ultra – Training week 9 – 5th March – 11th March

Monday – Yoga
Another great hours’ practice. I feel so strong – my shoulders in particular. Tricep dips and press ups are now a breeze.

Tuesday – Rest
Had planned to run after work with Niall but the weather was awful so I postponed til the next day.

Wednesday – 5 miles, 45m 56s
My first run in my new shoes, and they felt amazing! My legs felt brilliant too – and effortlessly fast. I felt like I could have gone forever – every time I looked at my watch I was surprised by the speed.

Thursday – 7 miles, 1hr 10m
A lovely steady run with Kynon in Stonehaven. We agreed to actively slow our pace down after the last few weeks of fast 10ks. I love running fast with him but I  really didn’t want to risk a hard run and just took it easy.

Friday – Rest

Saturday – Parkrun – warm up; 1.5miles in 13 mins, 3.1m in 24:53 – a new PB!

Back at the start of 2012 I set myself a goal to achieve a sub 25 5k – yesterday morning it happened without me even trying. I knocked 1min 34s off my PB! I just went out strong and found it remarkably easy to maintain the pace. I looked at my watch in the first mile and it was consistently showing 7:XX miles – again I was surprised by how easy it felt! In the last half mile I felt like I was going to throw up but I knew I was on course for a great time so kept pushing ’til the finish. I finished 2nd in my age category and 6th Lady overall – that’s incredible for me.

Honestly, I was delighted – I’ve never felt in better shape and this improvement in shorter distance is a clear nod to the general improvement in all aspects of running that this ultra training has given me. It was a real surprise – but I know I can go faster. I look forward to achieving sub-24 soon.

Sunday – Rest
After Saturday’s smashfest I took Sunday off and enjoyed the unseasonably warm weather in the park with friends. We relaxed by the river and drank cider in the sun. It was most odd to be enjoying such warmth when there were no leaves on the trees!

I am SO READY for this race now. Half excited, half terrified. I am getting aches and pains in my legs and feet but I’m trying hard to keep remembering it’s probably just taper phantoms. Saturday’s run was a great reminder that I’m in the best shape of my life and I’m ready to tackle this 33 mile race strongly; I just need to hold my nerve and keep myself mentally focused.


RACE REPORT – Arbroath Smokies Ladies 10 Mile Race

1hr 42 mins 5 secs 288th out of 333 starters

After feeling so ragged and run down the day before I was quite apprehensive about how I was going to feel when I woke up on Sunday morning. Fortunately I seemed to have perked up a bit but I still felt very groggy; I forced down some coffee and nuun and made myself eat a bowl of porridge. At 7am when I got up it was dry but overcast – I optimistically picked the following outfit:

Naomi was coming to mine at 8am and we were being picked up by two friends from Fetch, Louise and Jamie, shortly afterwards. By the time 8am rolled around the rain was on, and it got heavier and heavier as we headed South…

We arrived at the Sports Centre in plenty of time at around 10am and shivered our way from the car to the entrance in pouring rain and sleet. It was cold, windy rain as well; the absolute worst weather to run in. Give me -10C, a foot of snow, summer deluges…anything but typically wet, windy, North East winter with rain that cuts right through you.

It was a fairly standard number pick up, we met up with the rest of the Fetch gang and all partook in our pre-race rituals: pin number on, banana, stretch, queue for toilet, jelly beans, water, queue for toilet…etc etc.

Here’s most of us: L-R LouC, RedWineRunner, crooked-smile, TorryQuine, TikkiSue, MotherDuck, Maz and mrs shanksi. Picture courtesy of TheDuckinator. We were down a couple of ladies due to last minute injuries but all in all it was a pretty good FetchFest.

On the drive down I’d been contemplating whether I wanted to race the event or stick with Maz who was being paced by mrs shanksi to her goal of sub 1:45. I knew pacing Maz was the better plan but given the nasty weather I was having second thoughts – I didn’t want to be out there any longer than I had to! It was a frustrating choice as I know I’ve got a good PB in my legs for that distance but now is just not the time for it.

Around 11 we were called up to the starting line and we made our way outside where miraculously – it had stopped raining! It was chilly but much less windy – suddenly the day became a great day for running, but I insisted that Maz and Vicki (mrs shanksi) forbade me from taking off at any point.

The start was fairly underwhelming – 300-odd women chatting away meant that any form of race briefing was lost in the furore and suddenly there was an air horn. What? Oh, we’re off!

The race wound out of town on roads which were still open to traffic, but there were few cars around anyway. Everyone stuck to the left hand carriageway and cars passed slowly on the right. There were quite a few people on bikes riding around for the first mile or two and some bystanders and dog walkers every now and then who were patiently waiting for the stream of neon and lycra to pass. We set out at a conservative 10:30 pace which was Maz’s goal to maintain for the whole race.

Vicki and I were chatting away and Maz joined in every so often but seemed to be mainly focusing on saving energy for her race. After about 2 miles the race had really spread out as we made our way along the ‘undulating’ road. There was a water stop at mile 2.5 which we walked though before we tackled the first big hill.


It was quite a steep hill but Maz really plugged in and powered up it. The course was uphill until about mile 4.5 where we reached a further water stop manned by TorryQuine. Running with friends really makes the miles slip by – before I knew it we were at half way and all I’d done was yap away to Vicki constantly and look at the scenery. It was quite a different race experience from usual!

Maz got a couple of stitches which she pushed through diligently and kept on trucking regardless. We were making great time and it wasn’t long before we’d completed the ‘lollipop’ part of the course and were back at the first water stop which meant we were now at 7.5 miles. A couple of marshalls took this opportunity to tell us that if we were talking then we obviously weren’t working hard enough… Maz was working damn hard at this point so I don’t know how she was supposed to take that comment as the sweat dripped from her brow!

There was another slow incline before we crested the last hill and Arbroath came back in to view. Maz said she was ready to dig deep and she picked up the pace a little as we headed for home. The town was tantalisingly close but so far – I imagine that if i’d been racing that this mile would have gone on painfully long.


We were directed around the side of the Sports Centre and on to a rather muddy slope to the finish. I wonder how many people careered around this corner and skidded onto their backsides?! If you were going full pelt it would have been pretty risky I think. We crossed the finish line together well under  our target time and finished in 1hr 42m 5 seconds.

We were handed a goody bag and met up with the rest of the girls – there were great PBs all around from most and Mother Duck flew home to take 3rd place overall and first Veteran, with an amazing time of 1:04’47.

Here she is getting her prize.

The Sports Hall had huge trestle tables of food laid out so I filled up a plate of pastries and cakes. I felt a bit guilty though as I hadn’t put a big effort in – I didn’t really feel like I earned it.

In the goody bag was a banana, water, a twix, a can of deodorant (what were they trying to say?!) a commemorative tshirt (design above) and a mini bottle of wine. Again, no medal! There’s nothing quite like getting a medal for finishing a race – I’d much rather have a medal than a tshirt. I got a bottle of rose but thankfully I managed to find someone to swap with me for something far more appropriate for me…


All in all it was a great day out running with friends. I would have like to run it hard and PB but that can wait until next year. I stored all my racing energy and will release it next Saturday when I find myself on a starting line once more…

D33 Ultra – Training Week 8 – Taper Week 1

Week one of my three week taper is now out of the way and as many people are now beginning to remind me…the race is less than two weeks away! This week’s ‘training’ didn’t go quite as planned but there were no disasters, so as long as I can keep on keepin’ on, I can’t complain.

D33 Ultra – Training week 8 – 27th February – 4th March

No yoga for me this week – the class was sold out by the time I got to work to get on to the website to book. Endlessly frustrating as I felt I really needed it. I’m all sorted for this week though as I rang them the moment I woke up on Wednesday at 06:30am and secured a spot!

Tuesday – 1hr Spinning class and 4.5 mile run
Tuesday was a very unseasonably warm and beautiful day – the mercury reached close to 18 degrees in Aberdeen! I dutifully did my spinning class and then decided to head out for a few miles – I was really craving a run and I couldn’t resist the draw of the warm air outside. This was the first time I’d ran straight off a bike however – I was effectively subjecting myself to a ‘brick’ workout! Running was very weird at first and I had to really force the run out of my legs as they were just not interested in moving. I was concious of the fact that I was heel striking hard as well and my calf muscles were screaming! It was a great run though and it felt great to be outside in a vest and shorts enjoying the crazy weather!
On a seperate note I think the spinning class is perhaps to blame for my random pain/injury which popped up a couple of Wednesdays ago and ruined a week’s training. During one or two tracks where we do press-ups on the bike whilst pedalling hard with our legs in the standing position (just as painful as it sounds), I started feeling the same kind of pain in my knee that I had been suffering from. I immediately backed off the intensity and had a think about what I was doing to cause it. Despite spinning being in theory a non/low impact cross training activity for runners, this particular move is really tough on the knees as with your pedal stroke forward your whole body weight goes forward on one knee, until the weight transfers on to your arms as you fall forward into the push up. It is very easy to spend the whole track going forward on that one knee in time to the music unless you manage to switch it over to the other one, but that means getting out of rhythm with the whole class. Ironically that is one of my favourite tracks of the class; although in the interests of my race I shall not be returning to spinning until after the race just in case I do any further damage.

Wednesday – Rest
Since I worked very hard the night before I didn’t run again on Wednesday. This is a taper after all!

Thursday – 10k with Kynon – 53m 36s
I headed down to Stonehaven after work to run with Kynon again with hopes for another fast 10k around the town. We took a slightly different route this time which started with some hills and then a steady climb until a steady descent. We pretty much shot off straight away when we left, which we both agreed later was a bit of an error but regardless we pushed through and knocked out some good fast miles. Kynon led for the first few; I was still feeling Tuesday’s double workout in my legs when I was pushing up the hills and it took a good three miles before I felt like I was ready to let loose. Helped by some descent we really sped up and even ran two sub-8 miles which is amazing pace for me right now. Our overall average pace was 8:40 which was my goal pace to beat my 2010 PB at Baker Hughes 10k last year. This year I need to be knocking out 6 sub-8 miles on the trot to get the sub 50min PB I seek. Despite my sole goal right now being the D33, I don’t think it causes any harm to keep one eye on the future and remember what’s coming. Sub-50 10k…I am coming for YOU!

Friday – Rest, as scheduled
An end to a challenging week at work; I was mentally run in to the ground and could barely move once I got home.

Saturday – Rest, not scheduled
I guess this is the first run of the whole training cycle that I just completely missed. I was scheduled for 14 miles and woke up at 6:25am ready to get 6 in before Parkrun; but I had slept terribly, had a monstrous headache and generally felt unwell. I dithered over the decision for some time whilst pounding water and trying to wake up but I just felt awful. I decided to forgo the early morning run, go back to sleep and tackle it later in the day. I never did. It was pouring with rain and windy and I felt run down, exhausted and sick all day long – running was the last thing I could imagine wanting to do. I had some jobs to do however, including stopping by the Running Shop to buy some new shoes!

My old Saucony Guide 3’s have just over 500 miles in them, I’ve been wearing them since September but my low mileage post-marathon injury in October and November and lazy December meant they have lasted quite long. I got a good deal on a pair of Saucony Guide 4’s which were the last pair in the shop and in the sale too – these are basically the new model of the Guide 3 from last year, the Guide 5 is out now but since the 4 is cheaper I went for that one.

Just a couple of short runs in these and then they’ll be all ready to carry me 33 miles to the finish line of my first ultramarathon!

Sunday – RACE – Arbroath Smokies Ladies 10 Miler
Race report to come tomorrow or Wednesday. This was truly a race in taper mode; just as well as I still wasn’t feeling 100% right. I ran with my friend Vicki as we paced our other friend Maz to a sub-1hr 45 minute finish and came in at 1hr 42 mins 5s.  All in all it was a great day out with lots of Fetchies, I would have loved to get a PB as I knew I had a great time in me but it’s just not worth it as all roads right now lead to the D33…


RACE REPORT – Devilla Forest 15k


302nd/354 finisher, 43rd in age group

NewRunnerNiall and I decided to do this race on a bit of a whim after a twitter friend of mine suggested it a couple of weeks ago. It is a brand new event run by the Carnegie Harriers and featured both  5 and 15k races starting and finishing at the Scottish Police College just outside of Kincardine with the routes making their way through the expansive Devilla Forest. NewRunnerNiall has been running for about a month and a half now and has completed a couple of Parkrun 5k events but wanted to put his skills to the test in a race scenario. I’m always up for a race and having never done a proper trail race this really appealled. The races were a bargain at £6 and £11 respectively for non-SAL affiliated runners.

We arrived around 9.30am and found parking was more than ample which was a nice surprise. Registration was clearly signposted and found in a big hall where were able to pick up numbers and our bottle of beer. Yes, beer – and good Scottish beer at that! Another reason this race was a good one.

I forgot to take a picture of my bottle so this shot is borrowed from who covered the 15k event amongst many others around the country throughout the year. Downloads for personal use and admiration are free – it’s a great site.

I felt so happy to be back in race mode again – after all the last race I did was the Fraserburgh Half Marathon in November! Race mornings for me are a heady mix of nerves and adrenaline; the ritual fumbling of pinning on your race number, glancing around for a familiar face or a Fetch vest/hoodie/buff, nervous jogs and strides to warm up the legs,  banter between strangers in the endless queues for the ladies loos, that twitching butterfly in your stomach that never quite goes away until you’re about 0.5 of a mile in to the race…

Of course this race was by no means a goal race for me (although an automatic PB as I’ve never raced 15k before) so it was strictly for fun, but there’s something about race morning atmosphere that gets you wound up tight as an elastic band ready to go regardless. Just before 11am we got ready to head down to the race briefing and I attempted to give Niall a few sage words of advice before we parted ways to our respective starting areas:

  • Don’t get carried away with the crowd and go out too fast
  • Finish strong and push hard right to the end
  • …and the old favourite; “Don’t be a dick”

There was a brief race briefing and the race started shortly after 11am. The start curved up towards a forest and we quickly found ourselves on rough forestry trails in a dark wood which smelled divinely of pine needles and freshly chopped wood.

The first few miles were very crowded as the 350odd runners found their place in the pack. After about a mile and a half the route went completely off road and we were running on a path which would only take single file runners. Everyone quickly ended up quite splattered in mud due to the wet trails, but the weather itself was dry and grey with a slight chill in the air. Perfect running weather, really.

It was quite technical running in places – I had to concentrate hard on where I was putting my feet and where the people behind me were. I was wearing road shoes but I think if I were to do it again I would want to be in trail shoes -there were a lot of slippy muddy inclines which if you’re at the back of the pack, like I tend to be, get more difficult to traverse the more runners are ahead of you.

I wanted to maintain sub-10 minute miles as a sort of standard, but as I knew the terrain would be challenging I was happy just to get a good run in regardless (with no knee or blister pain either, preferably!). After a few miles I got talking to a couple of ultra runners who were complaining about the hills and how that in short races such as this one it is not acceptable to walk up inclines! They are both doing the D33 this year and having done many ultras over the last few years, are looking forward to yet another year of SUMS events. I had settled in to my stride now and found that after our conversation had passed I was pulling away ahead of them.

The course was very undulating for most of it; basically if you weren’t going up you were going down. There was a water station at 4.5 miles at the base of a hill and after taking my gel I decided to plug in one ear of my iPod for an extra boost. At this point we were back running on forestry tracks so it was a bit safer to switch off from the world. I’ve been enjoying running with no music quite a lot during this training – there’s a lot to listen to once you turn off the noise. I do still like to listen to some tunes if I’m feeling a bit done in after a few hours though; it never fails to perk me up.

After a steady climb which got quite steep for a while necessitating a short walking period (~1 minute tops) we were high up above the reservoir and could see the neon flashes of faster runners disappearing back in to the woods on the other side after circulating about three quarters of the dammed water. I found going around the circumference of the water the hardest – there was a choice of running on a very rocky path or the grass beside it which was pitted with boulders and looked like a recipe for a broken ankle. My feet and muscles took a pounding here and my stride went all over the place.

Still, I found that my usual steady slow-start pacing strategy for a negative spilt was paying off as usual, as one by one I caught up to the runners in front of me and passed them by. At 7.5 miles we passed the water station again on our return to the finish and after a refreshing cup I was ready to get going.

I think it was a combination of being a bit tired and hungry and just wanting to be done and the confidence boost from passing so many people, but I found that I could push my pace to around 9 minute miles and below and maintain it easily. I always find my shoulders and arms tense up after a few miles of racing; I concentrate on loosening my arms and relaxing  my shoulders down and back and suddenly it feels like I’m gliding effortlessly across the ground. The tantalising allure of the finish line growing ever closer only serves to encourage me to keep pushing in a way I find hard to harness in training runs. One thing that crossed my mind was that at some point I am going to have to learn to harness this ability to run this smoothly, fastly and effortlessly and apply it to races in full. Of course maybe it’s all in my race-addled mind – maybe I actually run toward the finish like the cookie monster; but it sure does feel good.

Towards the end of mile 9 I was constantly looking ahead for the break in the forest which would signify the last few hundred meters of the race back towards the College. Runners out to do a few more miles on the trails after finishing their race passed us slow-pokes and shouted encouraging words as we navigated the last parts of the race. As the trail spat us out of the forest and on to the tarmac I gave it all I had and powered down the road, overtaking a few more people as I went. Two male Dundee Roadrunners up ahead started to sprint and I decided to make ‘chicking’ them my goal, I pushed it up a final gear into puke-threshold and heard a couple of unknown voices call my name and say ‘Go Rhona go!’ as I flew past one. I couldn’t quite catch the other however and he finished a second or two before me as we staggered panting and grinning into the finish chute.

There was a struggle to get my utterly caked with mud timing chip untied and untangled from my laces, but eventually I got back on my feet and grabbed some water and some snacks. There was no medal which was a shame, but I didn’t think there would be since this was a new, fairly low key event. I found Niall and heard about his race which he really enjoyed, and he smashed his 5k PB down to 28min 50s which was great work for a trail race.

I was happy with my time – in theory it looks like I’m on a good course for a PB at the Smokies 10 mile race on Sunday since it’s flat and fast and my 10 mile PB is currently 1hr 38. 1hr 30 for 9.3 miles on trails should translate in to a good time should I wish…but since I’m tapering I ought to not push it. Not sure yet – I’ll call it on the day I reckon.

I really enjoyed this event – it was superbly organised by the Carnegie Harriers and would wholeheartedly recommend it despite the journey from Aberdeen. It’s a beautiful course with interesting terrain and I can only see it getting more popular in the years to come. I’m not sure if the trails could support more than 400 runners with the beating they took from 350, so perhaps it ought to stay the size it is. I’ll definitely be bearing it in mind for next year, though who knows what I’ll be up to by then…