15th March 2014
5hrs 25 minutes
177th of 306 finishers
20th/40 Senior Females.
The morning of my third D33 Ultra dawned calm and grey after a very windy night before. I awoke ages before my alarm as has become customary in the last few weeks – sleep has become surplus to requirements when my brain decides it’s time to awake and start thinking about table plans, thank you cards and how loud the music should be when I walk down the aisle. However, on Saturday morning I was able to look forward to a five hour break from the wedding melee and just enjoy a good long run with friends. My training thus far this year has been the (mostly) non-negotiable foundations around which I have built my week outside of work. However many other things had to be sorted out on a weekend, knowing that I had two periods of rest where I’d get to drop everything and go out and run has really kept me sane. Yes, weddings are important and it means a lot to a lot of people; but the wedding is just one day. It’s the marriage that is for life – just like running. That’s been our views on it anyway, much to the despair of some of our family and friends who don’t exactly share our priorities. I say our, because it should not be forgotten that Kynon was running at the D33 Ultra as well, and it was his first Ultra. Spoiler alert: he finished, and with a smile as well! Perhaps I can entice him to write another guest race report, however for now it is time to tell the tale of a race which didn’t exactly go to plan, but by all accounts should be considered a PB success. I’m marking this one down as a ‘learning experience’ and one of those dreadful runs which make you appreciate the good ones even more.
I woke up with not great deal of desire to eat, but choked down a banana and some coffee to get my system on the go. We had a lift arranged from a club member at 7.30am, and arrived in Duthie Park about 8.00am after a journey spent discussing our race strategies. My plan was to go out at a comfortable pace and average somewhere between 9 and 9.30 minute miles for the first half, and then push harder for the second to finish strongly at around 5 hours with nothing left in the tank. I was going to treat it like a marathon and take a gel every 5 miles, and not stop at check points. Having done the race two times before and completed a sub-4 marathon last Autumn I was confident that this was a realistic and achievable goal…
Before the race there was the usual hubbub of excitement found at all the Scottish Ultras as old friends are reunited, this time after several months given that the D33 Ultra is the first of the ‘season’. I hadn’t seen anyone since Glenmore 24 in September so there was plenty of chat to be had. I was greeted by Sandra and Julie who were on number pick-up duty and had a special surprise for us, with a pair of personalised bibs for Kynon and I decorated with ‘Bride to be’ and ‘Hen run’. I loved this but was grateful I hadn’t been given a tiara and veil to wear!
In the hour that followed I ate a Clif bar and some Powerade and tried to decide what to wear. It felt like it was getting colder and colder and rain was beginning to fall. I couldn’t shake the memories of last year where I put on some thermal sleeves at the last minute which probably saved my race as the weather turned wet and windy after a few hours. The forecast for Saturday had been a real mix but it wasn’t expected to be cold – hanging around in a chilly Duthie Park at 8.30am wasn’t convincing me however and I decided to put on the t-shirt I had in my bag for after the race as an extra layer, at least for the beginning.
After the customary short and blunt briefing from George, there was a few minutes before the final countdown and the off.
The huge crowd of 300 were raring to go and streamed out of the park to the railway line with a thunderous sound of feet on concrete. Cyclists, dog walkers and other users of the path were forced to stand to one side as the pack streaked up the narrow path as far as the eye could see.
I very quickly spotted Graeme from our club near me so moved over for a chat. He and I run at a similar pace at these distance and are both training for the Fling so had similar goals. Soon we were joined by John and Mags from the Club and we ran as a little pack for nearly 8 miles, ticking each split easily off between 8:50 and 9:20 minute miles and chatting happily. My Mum was waiting to cheer at Holburn Station and my Grandad was waiting at Auchinyell Bridge at the bottom of his road; I was really pleased to see him and glad he spotted me amongst the crowd. “4:59!!” He shouted at me from above “Yes, Sir!” I hollered back, offering a salute as I passed under the bridge.
I was running smoothly and painlessly – I felt exactly how I want to feel at the start of a long road race. I took my 1st gel at 5 miles and by then was already regretting wearing gloves and the extra tshirt as I really didn’t need them, and would need to hold on to them til half way. I made the difficult decision to drop from my little group at 7.5 miles to nip behind a fence for a pee – knowing the route well I knew this was my last chance for a while so didn’t want to miss the opportunity. I stopped for less than 30 seconds but my gang was already gone – I would not see them again until the end of the race.
The first check point came shortly after at 8 miles where I had a bottle of juice to drink. I was really looking forward to a drink since I didn’t have my Camelbak on but it tasted far too sickly and thick; at this point I only wanted water. I kept hold of it however and pushed on.
Running was suddenly becoming a chore. The ease with which I covered the first 8 miles had stopped abruptly and I felt a sick and nauseous feeling spreading throughout my gut. Even cruising the down hills towards Drumoak was not comfortable and maintaining a pace under 9.30 as planned was becoming very hard work. I forced myself to eat and took my sleeves and buff off to cool down as the sun had come out and it was warm. I refused to believe my goals were gone as how you feel in an ultra can be so unpredictable…but not usually after 8 or 9 miles.
When I got to Drumoak I conceded and walked up the hill and drank some more in an attempt to make myself feel better. Plodding along to Milton of Crathes was tough but I was delighted to see Mike in 2nd place behind Grant Jeans when the leaders began to pass me on their return to Aberdeen. I high-5ed him and shouted ‘Reel him in!’ as we passed, and continued to high-5 all my friends until my hand hurt. There were lots of supporters at Crathes including Kate’s husband Ali and their cheers really lifted me up. The sickness was getting worse and I could only begin to conclude that I was in for a very. long. day.
I reached half way in 2hrs and 33 minutes – only 3 minutes behind schedule. The half way party was in full swing and Sandra announced the arrival of the bride, much to my embarrassment. I was really glad to see my Mum there too – there is nothing like a hug from your Mum when you’re feeling crap.
I got rid of my hot layers and drank some precious water. This time I ditched more than half of my powerade and mixed it with water which was a lot easier to drink.
I filled a sandwich bag with hula hoops and some flapjacks and just got right back out there. I didn’t want to get comfortable as I might never have left.
Kynon was not far behind me and reached half way at 2hr 50 race time so had made excellent progress in his first half. Passing more friends and club-mates certainly gave me a further boost, but as the sun began to beat strongly on my back my expectations began to slip. My guts were in agony – all I wanted to do was vomit but I couldn’t get myself to do it. After only 15 minutes out of half way I slowed to a walk for few minutes and thought about how I could handle the rest of the race. I knew I’d finish, but it would be slow and sore. After 10 more minutes before I had to walk again, I realised my revised plan of run 30/walk 5 was even a bit much. My next tactic was to ram more food in and hope it would pay off – I managed half a flapjack, some hula hoops and a gel and kept my fingers crossed it would either refuel where it was needed, or bounce out of my stomach and take whatever else needed to get out of there with it.
For the first time that I can remember in the second half of a race I was being passed, by quite significant amounts of people. Normally this is when I come alive in a race, but in startling contrast to last year I was falling to bits and I was extremely annoyed. I could feel blisters boiling between my toes, my hip flexors were stiffened and waves of fatigue were washing over me. I hit 20 miles at 3hrs 12m and I felt completely rung out – there was no way I could make up the time to hit my goal but if I was able to cruise at a moderate pace there would be no excuse to not get under 5hr 30m.
It was after Drumoak that things began to perk up a little. My stomach no longer felt like I had drunk 10 pints of lager the night before. Perhaps the food had worked? I ran all the way up the long slow hill just before the 3/4 check point and passed at least 20 runners on the way who were walking and had recently passed me. Being somewhat competitive at times this really pleased me and further fuelled my rekindled fire. I refilled my water bottle at 3/4 check point, grumbled a bit with the marshals and set out preparing to work hard again, reeling slower runners in one by one.
I hit marathon point in 4hrs 18m which was 4 minutes faster than last year but about 18 minutes slower than I had intended. I was pleased that I seemed to have been able to pull some of my race back but waves of nausea were still attacking my stomach every so often which forced me to a walk. My feet had become dreadfully sore and I could feel that monster blisters just like last years had formed between my big toes and my second toes. This annoyed me most of all as last year they took 3 weeks to heal and made wearing shoes extremely uncomfortable – not what you want 7 days before your wedding.
My Grandad surprised me again by waiting on Auchinyell Bridge. “Where the Devil have you been?!” he shouted; this was at 5hrs 15m race time and he had obviously been waiting for a while. This made me feel guilty and it spurred me on even more to get this last mile to the finish over and done with – I was absolutely spent, my guts were in knots and my feet felt like bloodied stumps.
Running into Duthie Park is always a pleasure. You are retracing the footsteps you took so many hours earlier and whilst it looks exactly the same you have accomplished so much in the intervening time. I checked my watch and it said 5:2X so I knew I’d shave a PB so I concentrated on running as hard as I could through the Park and enjoying the finish.
There were plenty of supporters cheering and people calling my name. I flew down the hill to the gantry with a smile and stumbled in to George’s arms for a welcome home hug as he put my medal around my neck.
I stumbled my way into the tent and tried not to be too negative when asked how my race had gone. The fact that I didn’t even stop my garmin until Sandra asked what my time was shows how little I cared for goals by the end. As it happened, I finished at 5hrs and 25 minutes on the nose; a 1 minute 28 second PB. If I had ran a marathon and shaved that much off my time I would have been delighted, but that was not what I came to do on Saturday so I felt a little underwhelmed by my whole race.
I drank over a litre of water whilst waiting for Kynon to come in, but I still felt really grotty and didn’t feel like eating anything. I caught up with various people and was delighted to hear that Mike came second and Noanie was 4th lady and 1st FV40. A lot of people struggled though and found the moderate rise in temperature tough to adjust to.
At just over 6 hours race time I saw Kynon’s red cap bobbing into the park. I was so excited to see him and was delighted to see that he was still running. He galloped down to the finish and walked over the finish-line in style, bowing deeply to the crowds.
Just like me, he’d found his first Ultra infinitely easier than his first marathon and finished in great spirits, delighted at his achievement.
After some hearty refuelling and a couple of beers, we made our way home to recover for the after party that evening. Obviously I was glad to have finished but I was sad and frustrated that I hadn’t got the race I wanted. It just proves once more that you can have the best season of training you’ve ever had in the bank, but if your body doesn’t show up on race day then you’re screwed. I’ve been so lucky with races recently and with only one or two exceptions I was very happy with every performance in the last year. They can’t all be brilliant, so I just have to take my teeny PB and be happy I finished another 33 mile race (mostly) healthy and uninjured, and keep my focus on the next race which is the Hoka Highland Fling in a month.
For now it’s time to focus on the wedding though. In less than 48 hours we’ll be married, and after a huge party we’ll be whisked off on honeymoon to return after a fortnight’s adventures a very long way away…
See you on the other side!