11th March 2017
5hrs 14m 58s
104th of 241 Finishers
14th of 67 Female runners
6th of 23 in Senior Female Category
In 2012, I ran my very first ultramarathon at the D33 ultra, after having started running in 2010, and completing one poor marathon finish in 2011. Often I find it very strange to take a look in the rear view mirror and see everything that has passed since that first finish, and how somehow along the way I became someone who has ran 25 races of marathon distance or further. On many occasions I still find myself looking at my reflection in the mirror and can’t quite figure out how I manage it, yet time after time I seem to be able to pin a number on to a running top, put on some trainers and knock out another finish.
In 2017 and in the days preceding my fifth D33, I could have done without missing an entire night of sleep due to travelling on the sleeper to London for a day of work, and I could have probably done without casually getting hammered before our evening flight back (although that was awfully good fun). I also could have done without getting the late train after work from Edinburgh back up to Stonehaven the night before the race, and I could have done without my period showing up to join the party on race morning as well; but these things are sent to try us.
Nevertheless undeterred, I woke up to an empty house on race morning (Kynon having left long before to help with Race Director duties) and hitched a lift with some Stonehaven Running Club friends to the start in Aberdeen. It was quite a mild morning, but after half an hour of standing around in a vest and shorts I started getting second thoughts about my minimalist apparel, and added a long sleeved top underneath as raindrops started to fall from the sky.
The start was the usual whirlwind of hugs and reunions of old friends, although it was quite surreal to be saying hello to my colleague Lauren for the first time at a race, who was on the start of her second ultramarathon and enjoying her very first trip to Aberdeen.
When the hooter went, I launched away and sped out of the Duthie Park gates with the somewhat reduced crowd of 240 odd runners. In the last couple of years numbers have really swollen, but this year it felt slightly less of a bun-fight to get through the narrow park gates and up the steep twisty path to the start of the old railway line. I clocked a predictably quick first mile in 8:40, and then settled in for the long haul at 9 minute miles for the first 26 miles.
My coach had suggested that a sensible way to pace it would be to aim for a four hour marathon and then turn up the pace in the last 7 miles, but only if it felt ok. I was trying hard to do what I was told, so I religiously kept an eye on my watch and clocked a solid set of splits between 8:50 and 9:10 until the first check point, where I lost 20 seconds fumbling with a soaking wet water bottle, and then I continued with the metronomic pacing, sliding through half marathon distance at 1hr 58m.
The weather definitely deserves a mention, as by 4 miles it was solidly pouring with rain and by 8 I was soaked to my skin. It wasn’t particularly cold, but this did mean the early onset of some wet kit chaffing (always a joy), and the path becoming slippery and muddy where it becomes more of a trail, after Drumoak.
I reached half way at 2hr 24m which was bang on target for a five hour finish, and decided to take the time required to drink my bottle of Active Root as a walking break. My guts were doing some ominous clenching and I wanted to make sure I took on the fluid I needed. After a minute I set off again and enjoyed seeing a good selection of friends who were not far behind me, and high fiving everyone I could.
Then the wheels began to come off. I got to 20 miles in just under 3 hours as planned, but that was after miles 17, 18, and 19 falling well short of the target as I was beginning to struggle with some gnarly period pain and its tag-along friends, nausea and back pain. I make no apologies if you find this to be TMI; if so, please go and have a wee word with yourself and come back. I’ll still be here. This is an issue which biologically female athletes have to work around, and it’s not talked about nearly enough, so I’m adding my voice to it. Want to learn more? Shout out to Tess and Lauren for their honest blogging lately, and of course our girl, Paula, speaking in the news last year.
50% of the population have periods every month for much of their lives, and chances are every so often one is going to show up on a race day for a runner. I’ve been ever so lucky to avoid this before now, but I always knew that eventually it would happen and that it would be unpleasant. I’ll leave it at that, but it’s hard to keep your pace in check when you’re having to stop to bend over and breathe through a vicious cramp, stretch out your back, or just casually do a dry heave whilst still jogging on.
So that happened, and I quickly came to terms with the fact that there was nothing I could do about it so I just dragged myself back to Duthie Park as swiftly as I could. This was not my goal race, and I wasn’t injured; I had got in a great 20 mile run, and then I would have a nice 13 mile cool down with a medal at the end of it – a lovely way to spend a Saturday. The sun even came out for a little while, too!
There’s not much else to say – I went through marathon distance in 4hrs 07m and cruised back into the park in a total time of 5hrs 14m and 58 seconds – a tidy 47 second PB for the 33 mile course. It would have been great to be reporting on a bigger success, but I’m glad that I didn’t empty the tanks as I can keep on training for London and I can be fit for a strong run at the John Muir 50k on the 1st of April.
Before I close, I’m got a bonus story to share. Firstly, here’s a picture from the D33 in 2012; moments after I crashed over the finish line and landed square in this lady’s arms for a hug, after achieving my first ultramarathon finish.
That’s Julie; who is an amazing part of the Scottish Ultramarathon family, and works hard at nearly every race on the circuit year after year. That was actually the first day I’d met Julie properly; we’d chatted on social media, via blog comments, and on Fetch, but having just re-read her race day blog from way back then, I’m reminded of this:
So; here I am, 6 years and 25 ultras and marathons (including a West Highland Way Race finish) later, sitting in Duthie Park drinking a beer in the cold Spring evening light, and the tables are turned. Despite years of adamant protest to the contrary, Julie is finally running her first ultramarathon and it’s my turn to deliver the finish-line hug. I was lucky enough to be one of a privileged few to know that she had been working hard over the winter to be ready for the D33, which she had sneakily entered under a different name and I was so excited to see her finish.
Finishing was never in doubt, of course; with friends like us you won’t get a choice. Showing a tremendous amount of pluck and tenacity, we got to welcome her home in 9 hours 16 minutes and 14 seconds. Well done Julie; we are all so proud!