14th March 2015
5 hours 15 minutes 45 seconds
174th of 338 finishers
34th of 110 Females
15th of 39 FSeniors
With 424 entries this year, the starting line at the 2015 D33 Ultra was set to be bursting at the seams. Even after the usual attrition rate brought the starters down to around 350 on the day, it was still a healthy increase from last year and double the size of the first year I first took part, in 2012. On Friday I was delighted to welcome two of the newest additions to the D33 family, Iona and Jemma, to our home in Stonehaven, where we all settled in for a night of carbs, gossip and pre-race planning. Who was running what pace? Would anyone get under 5 hours? What shade of purple nail polish would match my club kit the best? It was lovely to have a house full of friends to diffuse the pre-race nerves, but we all headed off to bed early to get a good night’s rest.
The first alarms in the house went off at 5.15am, and Kynon and Duncan (Jemma’s fiance / Iona’s brother) got up and away to be at the start at Duthie Park by 06:20am. Kynon sadly had to DNS his place in the race due to lingering injury recovery, so instead he was filling the position of ‘Race Bitch’, i.e the Race Director’s right hand man, and would be working hard all day. Since Duncan had come along for the weekend of fun he’d been roped into marshalling as well, and spent much of the day assisting Kynon in his various tasks. I’m delighted to say that Kynon will be writing a guest blog later this week about his experiences as D33 Race Bitch, so I’ll leave all further details for him to describe. Be sure to check back and read it – any story that starts with a horizontal portaloo at 06:20am in the morning will be a good ‘un.
Naturally after Kynon was up I was wide awake as well, and got up and set too my race morning preparations. My kit was laid out and all my drop-bags prepared, so all I needed to do was get dressed and eat my porridge and coffee. Thankfully the weather seemed to be exactly as forecast (dry, overcast, calm) so no last minute kit adjustments were required. We left the house on time and soon were sitting in the front seats of the X7 bus to Aberdeen at 7:10am, which left us right outside the gates of the Duthie Park at around 7:35.
Time flew by after I picked up my number and danced around race HQ saying hello to everyone. We had decided not to go to the pre-race pub session the night before as we were too tired, so I had a lot of hellos and hugs to dish out before the start. I decided a second pre-race portaloo stop was required and stepped into the queue for the two toilets about 25 minutes before the race was due to start. When I was still waiting 20 minutes later I started to get a little anxious, but thankfully I was lucky enough to be one of the last who were able to relieve themselves before quickly rushing to where the runners were gathered at the start. To this end I have no pictures of the start and briefing this year, but I have borrowed a couple from Chen Chee Kong/Running In Scotland to illustrate.
I shuffled my way into the top quarter of the field in order to avoid being squashed in the first bottle neck of people as the runners squeeze out of the narrow park gates. Randomly of all the people I could have ended up standing next to, I realised I was next to Jack, one of my lecturers and the course director of the MSc I am currently studying. He was lining up for his first ultra and was feeling confident of a 5 hour finish, with the exception that some surgical pins had dislodged in his lower leg and appeared to be making a bid for freedom beneath the skin. Despite there being few better reasons for worry on the starting line of your first ultra, he was happy enough as it wasn’t hurting! After I boaked a bit in horror at the sight, we wished each other well and I shuffled forward to join Iona as the countdown began.
After being a little unsure of how much effort I was willing to invest in a risky flat and fast race early in the season, I had made up my mind that morning that I was going to give it all I had. You see, this race means a lot to a lot of people, and no more than to my good friend and SRC Clubmate George Reid, the D33 Race Director. Unfortunately George has not been well at all this year, and has spent considerable time in hospital after an eventual diagnosis of Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy. This is the chronic version of a syndrome called Guillain-Barre, which is a condition of the peripheral nervous system that can develop after a simple cold/flu virus. It’s a life changing diagnosis, and whilst George is out of hospital and much better than he was, he has a long way to go and he and his partner Karen (both in life and Epic Shit Racing) have had a really tough time of it lately. This was why Kynon was Race Bitch this year – that is usually Karen’s role, but she took over the Race Director role this year whilst George focused on getting better.
So; regardless of what else I had on the horizon, in honour of George and his present struggles, I wasn’t going to phone it in on Saturday. Races are for racing, and to do justice to it I wasn’t going to mess around. I had picked my pace and made my plan and was going to stick to it no matter what – no taking the foot off the gas in the middle if I got tired, no walking just because, no hanging around at check points. My goal was to bring home a big fat PB for George – hopefully around the 5hr 10 minute mark, or maybe even quicker. My only thoughts at the start was a wish to the running gods to give me the courage to stick with my planned pace at the start and not get carried away. I knew I could make or break my race in the first few miles by either being stupid or sensible and in 5 hours time I would be paying for whatever decisions I made in the first 5 miles.
When the klaxon went, the runners streamed out of the park, through the gates and up the incline on to the railway line. Iona and I cruised off and despite frequent checking of my watch I was going far too quickly. I forced myself to slow down, desperate to keep up with my friends and clubmates but still committed to what I’d promised myself earlier on. After a couple of miles, Amanda and I fell into step and we chatted away for a while until we reached Checkpoint 1. I had a little bag with two gels and a bottle of water/powerade mix waiting for me so I quickly picked them up and almost didn’t break stride. I said hello to the marshals and wanted to stay, but just offloaded my gel wrapper rubbish, drank deeply from my bottle, and pushed on.
Sticking to my 9:30 minute mile pace plan was working well and my splits were wonderfully consistent on the whole way out. I had been mainly alone since leaving check point 1 but spoke to a few other runners here and there. I was blown away to be passed by the lead runner on his way back when I was only at mile 12.8, but it was quite incredible to see Team Scotland Commonweath Games marathoner Ross Houston at work. He was gliding over the earth making it look easy to keep a sub-6 minute mile pace going in an ultra, and still had the energy to smile and reciprocate our “Well Done”‘s. When the rest of the faster athletes started passing, as usual I got a bit too excited and gradually sped up as I high fived and cheered the other runners, which I tried to rein in before I got myself in to trouble, but it was hard when so many of my chums were doing so well.
At half way my Mum was waiting to say hello and cheer me on, alongside a plethora of Scottish Ultramarathon legends who were taking care of everyone at the Checkpoint. Inside the drop bag this time was two gels and a packet of salt n’ vinegar squares, with another bottle of water/powerade. I was in and out of the Checkpoint so quickly that I didn’t really take in much of what was going on or who else was there, but they did have a new one-way system this year which lead us around a tiny loop of trees in order to keep track of who had come in and who had gone out. Once again I forced myself to keep moving quicker than I wanted to, and without stopping for more than a couple of seconds I was back on the road home to Aberdeen.
The next few miles were amongst the toughest in my race. Running over the uneven ground dodging big pitted puddles and other runners on the half mile out of the Check Point meant I struggled to find a rhythm and get back on pace again. I pushed and pushed but reaching the dizzy heights of 9:3X on the average mile pace on my Garmin seemed to suddenly be taking a lot more work. I tried to keep calm and moving as easily as possible (whilst keeping up a steady stream of ‘well done’s to the runners coming the other way) but I knew the time for easy running had passed and it was now time to start working.
Running between Crathes and Drumoak a ‘new for Spring 2015’ pain started to feature in my general discomfort. My left piriformis has been giving me bother after long (+20 mile) runs this year so far, and popped up just as I was expecting it, alongside some general glute stiffness. Yes, running at pace on a flat route for hours can be a test, but this year it was literally becoming a pain in the ass.
20 miles came and went and my splits got slower and slower. I could feel the PB slipping away; I would need to somehow come back from this period of discomfort and slowness in order to come home with a decent chunk off my best time. I didn’t want a repeat of last year where I shaved off a minute; I wanted a proper slice off which would represent a really hard effort. The devil on my shoulder started writing imaginary apologetic Facebook statuses in my head: “Well; I gave it as good as I could today guys, but my best wasn’t good enough…”, “I fought hard but a re-occurring pain got the better of me and I had to slow down”, “The West Highland Way Race is my number one priority so I had to be sensible”… it would have been so easy to mentally click ‘POST’ and ease in to an easy finish.
Whatever the negative voices in my head were saying, in the end it was me that had to cross the finish line and me that would be telling George about my race that day. Anyone that knows George knows that he is tough. The man eats nails on toast for breakfast. Oh, you ran the West Highland Way Race? He completed that race after a wee run to the start of that once. From Fort William. The question here was ‘What Would Loon Dod Do?’ The answer? H.T.F.U.
I grinded my way through the miles until the final Check Point, never taking my foot off the gas and pushing as hard as I could in an attempt to keep a steady 9:30 pace. Passing through it, I grabbed my drink and kept on pushing, knowing that in just a few miles I could almost relax and enjoy the slight downhill finish. My glutes and piriformis were still aching terribly but I just had to ignore it as there was no other choice. Passing through marathon distance in 4hrs 11m, I kept a vision of the reward of running through Duthie Park to the finish at the forefront of my mind. I don’t know why this was such a motivation this year as it’s not a terribly spectacular finish and there’s usually a risk of running over a stray child, tripping over an old lady or being clothes-lined by a dog leash on your way in, but I just craved that feeling of being in the last 200 meters so badly. Passing though the gates, engaging the sprint finish and running towards cheering friends and loved ones after a long day out – there is no greater feeling.
After marathon distance I was obsessively checking my watch to see if it had reached 28 miles. At this distance I had promised myself I could listen to my iPod and to a specially prepared playlist designed to power me through the last 45 minutes of the run. I was delighted to finally plug myself in and dance my way down the railway line whilst gathering my resources to try and speed up a little. I had calculated that a PB was still possible, especially now I was out of the dark third quarter of the race and the finish was within reach. I also had a wave from my Grandad to look forward to, as he would be waiting on the Auchinyell Bridge for me to pass at about 31.5 miles. Last year he did the same but I was later than I had planned – as a man of the Navy this was not acceptable to him: you show up on time or you don’t bother to show up at all. Thankfully he did stick around for me, but this year I was determined to not make him wait any longer than he ought to and I passed right on time. With a celebratory shake of his walking stick and an obvious tap on his watch he smiled and sent me on my way into the final mile and towards my finish line reward.
I floated towards the end of the railway line as the park gates came in to view. Julie was on duty here and gave me a big cheer, whilst Kynon was running across the park just ahead of me from his marshalling position in an attempt to get to the finish before me. I was gaining on him and for a brief moment I thought it might be amusing to try and beat him, even after 33 miles, but then I thought better of it as it would probably result in a finish line vomit and nobody really wanted to see that. Instead I just ran in as hard as I could and enjoyed the cheers all around me as I passed under the arch. Everything got a bit blurry as I caught my breath and steadied myself after the big effort, but I was able to glance down and see 5hrs and 15 minutes – a 10 minute PB!
Karen came over to give me a hug and Neil put a medal around my neck. I was delighted to see George in the finishing chute sitting on a high stool, where he was still able to cheer in every runner like he always does each year. I was very happy to go over and give him a hug and report that a decent PB had been achieved.
Kynon still had lots of work to do so I wobbled off with my Mum to go and see about getting a massage to loosen off my glutes and piriformis. Thankfully some guys from the SPEAR clinic at Aberdeen Sports Village were on hand, and for the princely sum of £5 I was able to get my pain in the ass sorted out quickly. I then moved to the food tent to fill my face with a delightful selection of Indian snacks (an inspired post-race choice), flapjacks and cake, and caught up with everyone else who had completed the race. Iona did a great job in 5hrs 4m, and Jemma sneaked under the 6 hour mark in 5hrs 59m. We gathered our things and headed back to Stonehaven on the 3.30pm bus and were back with plenty of time for showers before cracking open some beers for the Scotland V England rugby game. Saturday was a great day for running, but the less said about the rugby the better, I think.
The after-party in the Station Hotel later on was great fun, and the perfect way to catch up with everyone’s races. There was a quiz, a bottle slide, and an auction, all to raise funds for GAIN – Guillain-Barre and Associated Inflammatory Neuropathies. As you can imagine this Charity is close to the hearts of all involved with the D33 Ultra this year; organisers, runners, marshals, and supporters. So far we’ve managed to raise £1,850 of the £2,500 target set by Mike a few weeks ago. So if you ran the race and missed the donation buckets, or didn’t have any money on you, or missed the news about this completely, or if you just enjoy my blogs and have a spare tenner in your bank account to support this – then you can make an online donation via JustGiving by clicking HERE.
So all in all another epic day out from Epic Shit racing. The next morning I was up and out to do 7 miles in the sun after our guests left, and then after that I indulged my runger with a macaroni pie supper – an extremely rare treat only earned on the most rare of occasions. Huge thanks to Karen and George and all the Epic Shit team for all their hard work in the challenging circumstances. See you next year for D33 Ultra #5!