Red Wine Runner

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Category: Race Reports (page 2 of 20)

John Muir Ultra | 50k Race Report 2017

The John Muir Way Ultramarathon

John Muir 50k 2017

John Muir 50k
1st April 2017

5hr 37m 47s
105th of 165 Runners
32nd of 65 Females

The John Muir Ultra is a relatively new race on the Scottish Ultramarathon scene, with the 2017 race being only the second running of the event. The race is delivered by the same team who run the Foxtrail Winter Running Series, and it follows 50km of beautiful East Lothian trails and roads from Port Seton to Dunbar along the John Muir Way.

john muir ultra

The race first came to my attention when I read about Antonia’s third place finish last year; it was then consequently on my radar when I was looking for races to do this Spring to keep my long runs longer in the lead up to the Cateran 55 in May. Without a training squad and adequate transport to get places that are beyond the reach of Lothian Buses, I’ve not been doing any exciting running so far this year; this was a great opportunity to go somewhere I hadn’t been before and knock out a little ultra in preparation for the upcoming medium-sized ultra.

As it happened, the week before the race was somewhat stress-heavy and I found myself lacking in enthusiasm for what should have been a great day out. Kynon was still in Stonehaven for the weekend and with a slightly heavy head from one too many beers consumed the night before, I found myself sitting alone in my kitchen in the dark at 5:30am on race morning, eating a breakfast I had no appetite for, and seriously questioning my motives.

It was a mix of a crisis of confidence and a slight fear of the unknown; perhaps I underestimate how much I rely on Kynon’s support to lift me up, and finding myself at the end of a hard week without him at the last minute due to a clash of events, I started doubting whether my legs had it in them to carry me so far that day. It was reminiscent of the singular time I’ve come close to a DNF at the Cateran 55 in 2014, when troubles in my head overtook the strength in my legs and nearly pulled me under. We all know that in this sport the body will try to give up long before the mind will, so keeping a strong head throughout the ups and downs of ultramarathoning is imperative.

I’m usually good at using running as both a cathartic release and/or a way to hide from my troubles in life, but when life gets particularly bad, the fight becomes a lot harder. I really didn’t want to run. I wanted to get back into my bed, turn my alarms off, and sleep until I woke up again. For any new readers, my husband and I have been living apart for 10 months now due to various shitty circumstances, and it ain’t great.  Right now life is hard and confusing, both financially and mentally, and the irony was that the only thing which was guaranteed to fix me, was the one thing I didn’t want to do.

However, striding down Clerk St at 6am in the morning, wearing my favourite Houston Texans bobble hat and my lucky racing skirt, I knew I had taken the hardest step of the day. I got the train from Edinburgh to Dunbar and then hitched a lift from the station to Foxlake Adventures with a chap called Norrie, who was a solid gold legend for helping me out at the last minute. I got myself registered easily and looked out for any familiar faces; I knew a handful of others doing the race, but it was an unusual situation where there were very few friends running this particular race. The buses to the start at Port Seton left promptly at 8am, and by 8:45am, the runners were assembling for a pre-race photograph and briefing.

John Muir Ultra

I had studied the course briefly at the last minute and knew to expect three aid stations, but I had no real idea what to expect in terms of terrain. I should have read Antonia’s helpful blog again, because then I would have been less surprised to be on sandy beach paths quite so quickly after the start! Even though there were only 165 in the full 50k ultra, the narrow paths were quickly crowded and we followed one another in single file, carefully watching where our feet were going.

John Muir Ultra

It was quite a bright, warm morning, and the first 4 miles on the beach gave us some lovely views. Passing through Aberlady at 6 miles gave us a little water stop, and then we headed onto some walking paths and roads to take us to Gullane.

Picture - Neil Scott

Picture – Neil Scott

Even though the sun wasn’t really out, it was a humid and ‘close’ day which meant I stripped off my outer layers quickly and drank my full litre of water before the first check point at Archerfield Walled Garden. I drank deeply from the cups on offer and refilled both my soft-flasks before swiftly moving on, following a winding path through a forest filled with daffodils.

John Muir Ultra

One of the features of Archerfield is a beautiful ‘Fairy Trail’ where little houses are hidden in tree-stumps and roots. I would have loved to stop to examine them all closely, but I just stopped by this one for a brief photographic memory.

John Muir Ultra

We continued on with the sea on our left towards North Berwick and the half-way checkpoint. I’ve never been to North Berwick and I enjoyed the brief detour through the town which allowed me to admire some beautiful houses. The route took us across the West Bay on the sand, before we reached to Lifeboat Station where the checkpoint was based. Here, I refilled my flasks again and enjoyed some banana chunks and fresh orange slices, before heading out across Milsey Bay on the sand towards the imposing loom of Berwick Law.

Thankfully the route didn’t take us anywhere near the summit and we circumnavigated around the base avoiding any serious incline. The next few miles were then across farmland and fields which would have been very muddy had it been a wet day (or even a wet week!) but thankfully we traversed the packed earth relatively unscathed and approached the next water stop at mile 20 deep in a forest, by a fishing lake.

John Muir Ultra

This little checkpoint was the first to be equipped with the nectar of ultrarunning, full fat coke. I also had two slices of a vanilla traybake birthday cake which was inexplicably delicious. The miles which followed saw me skip through the forest with a smile on my face in genuine delight – I had finally cheered up and achieved the sweet release of the runner’s high which keeps me coming back to these events. I felt strong and capable once more, and ready to fight home to the finish.

Amazing, happy picture by John Lochhead

Amazing, happy picture by John Lochhead

The miles leading to 26.2 and the final checkpoint were largely nondescript, although I found the going tougher as the clouds had burned off and the temperature began to rise. There was also some kind of factory processing plant which was giving off the most horrific smell I have ever had the misfortune to breathe into my body; I think it was processing animal or fish material for fertiliser, and was polluting about half a mile of the route with the awful stench. I dry-heaved a couple of times as I ran as fast as I could to get upwind of it…

Passing through the last checkpoint at 26.2 miles, the amazingly cheerful marshalls buoyed us with reminders that it was only 8km to go. Not being a metric thinker, 5.5 miles seemed a lot longer in my head. I ran a little with Amanda and Fiona around this point, but eventually the direct sunshine started to get the better of me and I threw in some walking breaks. The last few miles were definitely my favourite part of the route; a little pathway by a river for a while which lead to a coastal path where the beautiful white beaches reminded me of the Moray coast.

John Muir Ultra

John Muir Ultra

John Muir Ultra

The race concluded with a glory lap of the Fox Lake itself, and a final sprint towards race HQ. I finished in 5hr 37m 47s and thoroughly enjoyed a good sit down in the sunshine on the deck for a while afterwards, pumping myself full of orange squash. I was feeling decidedly ropey for a while upon finishing; having drank an estimated four litres of fluid during the race, I had yet to need to go to the toilet. I was dizzy and nauseated; these early Spring races are always so hard when the temperature sneaks up on you and you’re used to running in the snow!

Remarkably, despite my body’s best efforts to the contrary, I managed to pull off a top quality finishing pose in the last twenty meters which was captured perfectly by Bob Marshall Sports Photography. I’ll await my ‘Best Actress’ Oscar nomination in the post…

John Muir Ultra 2017

So all in all, the John Muir Ultra is a great day out and I’d love to do it again. For a brand new race, they’ve got all of the important race features executed perfectly, and served with a side of East Lothian’s cheeriest marshalls. A stunning route and a very achievable distance for a first trail ultramarathon, I expect that the popularity of this little race will explode very soon.

Once my nausea had cleared I headed home on the train and was back in my flat in Edinburgh within an hour. The morning’s troubles seemed like a distant memory from another lifetime ago and I headed out for some beers in the sunshine. One of my friends had commented earlier in the day on my reluctance to do the race by saying ‘I don’t know why you do something you don’t want to do?’. Well; not a lot of things in life make sense, least of all ultrarunning. I do it because sometimes, I feel it’s all I can do.

Next up: London Marathon…

D33 Ultramarathon | Race Report 2017

D33 Ultramarathon
11th March 2017

d33 ultra medal

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.

d33 ultra 2017

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.

d33 ultra 2017

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.

d33 ultra 2017

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.

d33 ultra 2017

Picture: Running in Scotland

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.

d33 ultra 2017

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!

d33 ultra 2017

d33 ultra 2017

With Lauren and our medals afterwards

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.

d33 ultra 2017

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.

d33 ultra 2017 _6

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:

d33 ultra 2017 _7

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.

d33 ultra 2017

Photo by Sandra

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!

 

West Highland Way Race 2016 – Support Crew Race Report

West Highland Way Race 2016
The West Highland Way Race 2016
Support Crew Report

My 2016 has been…interesting so far, so in the end it was no surprise that the 2016 West Highland Way Race ended up being a bit of a strange one for me. I decided quite quickly after my own West Highland Way Race in 2015 that I didn’t want to come back for a second attempt in 2016, so I hoped that I would be able to support someone else to achieve their goals at the race this year instead. When the time came to put crews together, I agreed to support my friend Jemma in her first attempt to claim the goblet. As it happened, 2016 was not to be her West Highland Way Race year, so in May I found myself potentially missing the race for the first time in 5 years. It was around then that a Jury summons arrived in the mail for Kynon, messing up any potential plans for this most important of annual events even more. If selected, his presence would be required in Aberdeen High Court at 8:30am the morning after the race and of course the way the UK judicial system works, you call up the court the night before you are required to find out if the case is still scheduled to start on time. Hugely frustrating, but we wouldn’t even be certain if he would need to attend court until the very last minute. Everything was up in the air.

Enter Steve. Steve comes from Los Angeles and was heading over to Scotland for his second attempt at the West Highland Way Race, after DNFing with hypothermia at the same point in last year’s race which nearly ruined me. Steve needed a crew and put out a shout in the West Highland Way Race Family Facebook group, asking for some local assistance. I was more than happy to help and put myself in touch with him immediately to see if we could work something out.

It took quite an exchange of emails before the final plan was made, but the important thing was; at around 8pm on Friday the 17th June, Steve’s team assembled in Milngavie to start a big adventure. There was myself, Jemma, Patrick, and an Astra hatchback stuffed full of supplies, ready for the journey ahead.

West Highland Way Race 2016

In short, we had a (dreadful) meal at the Milngavie West Highland Gate Beefeater (they’ve changed the menu since last year and the service was a horror show) before heading to Tesco to stock up on food. Next was registration, then the usual dance of hellos, hugs and well-wishes before we put Steve to bed in the car to rest for a bit and joined Mike, Jeni, and Sharon (David Scott’s crew) to chill out and chat in the last hour before the off.

It was amazing to be back at the race, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t harbouring a few nerves. Whilst I have supported twice before, I’ve never been 100% in charge of a crew, and indeed, someone’s race. Jemma and Patrick were newbies to the race – which is no impediment if you’re smart, committed, and in possession of an enduring spirit – but in general everyone will do better if there’s someone in your crew who knows what they’re doing and can take the lead.

At 12.30am we got Steve to the start and joined the Midnight hubbub of activity. Alongside the crowd of around 500 people there was the usual confused amazement of those alighting from the last train back from Glasgow, and an assortment of local neds scooting around getting in everyone’s way. I caught up with the Stonehaven Running Club crew and wished them all well, and managed to get around most other friends to deliver hugs and well wishes. It brought a lot of memories back. It was hard to believe that I was one of the runners 365 days before, but it was not the time to dwell on those meandering thoughts.

After the briefing we said our final goodbyes and took up a good position on the High Street in Milngavie to shout and cheer our loudest for the runners. It was the most perfect night – about 15C, clear skies, and with a full moon hanging above the hills. If you’re going to pick a night to run though – this was it.

A ripple of cheers flowed up from down the street as the runners came towards us. Headlights dancing, eyes bright and faces stretched with smiles. They were doing it! It was actually happening! As my eyes brimmed with tears and I screamed and hollered for them, for a moment I was one of them again. Running up a Scottish high street on Midsummer’s eve into the darkness, and towards the hills.

But, this isn’t about me. This is about Steve who came to Scotland from California to avenge the demons he left behind on the Lhairig Mhor in 2015. Steve wasn’t sure how fast he was going to run, which made it challenging to work out how best we could crew for him. He declined any assistance until Balmaha at 19 miles which was very useful – it allowed us to drive straight there and attempt to get a little sleep. Together we had previously estimated his arrival at 5am, and alarms were set accordingly…imagine our surprise when the agreed ’10 minute warning’ phone call came at 4am!
This was a little miracle – we had agreed that Steve would call at the top of Conic Hill and my phone was placed on the dashboard in full signal, ready. Except it didn’t ring. I woke up about 4:05am and decided to check the time, only to see a message received from Steve only minutes before. Had my sixth sense not been on the ball that morning them we would have been in trouble, but some things you just can’t explain I guess.

Balmaha at 4am was oddly devoid of midges. No nets were needed and the air was calm and moist – it didn’t make sense at all, but we just got on with the job. For those who had been standing still it was cold, but the runners all came in dripping with sweat. Steve was running fine and with nothing to report, so we just refilled his pockets with gels and his Camelbak with TailWind and off he went. There was one thing which made crewing infinitely easier, which was Steve’s choice of nutrition. Coming from the school of ‘stick with what works’, with a side of ‘keep it simple’ he just eats gels – one GU every 30 minutes and that’s it. No really – that’s really it.

West Highland Way Race 2016

After we saw Steve off, we drove up North for some more sleep after a hot drink and a breakfast roll at the Oak Tree Inn. Here’s where the insider knowledge comes in handy – there is a public car park half way between Balmaha and Beinglas where you can park and rest in peace until you need to meet your runner hours later at Beinglas. No slamming doors, no engines, no chat – just silence. We arrived before 6am and clocked up another chunk of rest, before arriving at Beinglas in glorious sunshine before 8am.

We really had no idea when Steve would arrive, but given his accelerated performance in the first 20 miles I didn’t want to take any risks. It became immediately obvious where all the Balmaha midges were hanging out when we reached the checkpoint area at Beinglas and were instantly swarmed with bugs. Jemma and I wrapped up to defend ourselves whilst we left Patrick to sleep in the car.

West Highland Way Race 2016

Steve came blasting through at about 9:20am looking and feeling well. He had really struggled over the Lochside section in 2015 so getting through that was a big mental hurdle for him. I was very pleased to see how ok he was and began preparing for him to reach the quicker end of his projected potential finish time.

By now it was really shaping up to be the most glorious day – clear skies and hot sun. Glorious if you are a Southern Californian perhaps, but all of our Scottish compatriots were having to seriously consider their options and ration their water in between check points. Not something we’re usually used to doing, but the West Highland Way Race has been well over-due a scorcher for several years. A race in June in Scotland, does not guarantee good weather; in case that was ever in doubt.

West Highland Way Race 2016

So we fast forward another 12 miles to Auchtertyre, and the half way point. We arrived around 10:30 and enjoyed catching up with the other crews with runners around Steve’s pace who were now becoming familiar. We basked in the sunshine and I got ready to run the first support segment, although it would be touch and go whether I would be able leave with him to due to race regulations. The revised criteria for 2016 state that runners may have a support runner after Auchertyre after 11:30am only – with Steve going at the speed he was he would be faced with waiting until 11:30, or pushing on for the next 10 miles to Bridge of Orchy alone.

However. Right on target I received a phone call from Steve, calmly reporting that he’d cracked his head off the sheep tunnel about 5 miles out from Auchtertyre and it ‘looks a lot worse than it is’. Right then. I had a quick chat with the medics to forewarn them and spoke to a runner who arrived who had been with him when he did it. When our warrior turned up, it was obvious he was right; it did look a bit drastic, but once the blood was wiped off it was just a soft tissue scrape. Steve passed the medical test despite having lost a chunk of weight, but we weren’t too worried as it was 11:31am and we were allowed to leave the checkpoint together.

West Highland Way Race 2016

Off we trotted and I got the chance to gauge how he was really doing. All in all he was fine and he even managed to cope with my dreadful chat which I was pumping out just to pass the time and keep him distracted. I soaked up the sunshine and couldn’t believe how lucky we were to be out there enjoying it.

West Highland Way Race 2016

It goes without saying that the weather was basically Scotland turned up to 11 and the run could not have been more beautiful. This section remains one of my favourite parts of the route.

West Highland Way Race 2016

West Highland Way Race 2016

West Highland Way Race 2016

At Bridge of Orchy, Jemma took over pacing duties. Everything was going perfectly so I have nothing else to report other than we refilled his fluids, took his litter, and gave him more gels, before kicking him out on his way. F1-standard ultrarunning at its finest.

Next stop: Glencoe. On the road this is a short journey so we arrived a good couple of hours before Steve would arrive and allowed us to enjoy the breath-taking beauty of Glencoe in perfect summer. There were parasailers circling high up above us, having launched themselves off the ski slopes, and if we weren’t surrounded by scorched heather there would have almost been an alpine feel to the day. I’ve never seen Glencoe look like that before; we arrived at 2pm and enjoyed an afternoon in the sun at one of Scotland’s ski resorts – when can you ever say that?

West Highland Way Race 2016

West Highland Way Race 2016

West Highland Way Race 2016

Steve arrived at 4:30pm and we sent him off with Patrick, who would then take him though to Lundavra. I then drove Patrick’s car along the road to Altnafeadh which blew my mind; despite my own car also being an Astra, it is ten years older than his and from an era when electronic handbrakes, clutches, and lights on the dashboard telling you what to do were not a thing. I can think of fewer times when I have been more anxious than when I was trying to negotiate Patrick’s car in and out of the hilly boulder field which passes for a road at Altnafeadh, with nothing but an electric handbrake for support. If this is the future of driving then I am not impressed at all.

Jemma and I then headed to Kinlochleven where we basked in the last of the evening sunlight. It was clear that barring disaster, Steve was going to really smash it. His vague goals or expectations had been, maybe around 24 hours, 21 on a really good day, but maybe 30 if things aren’t ok. Parking the car at Kinlochleven, we were expecting him around 8pm, with a potential 22 hour finish on the cards.

I wasn’t due to run until Lundavra and had a raging craving for some hot food, so I went to the chip shop and enjoyed a portion of hot salty chips. It came as a little bit of a surprise when our support runner rang on time as expected, but letting us know that he didn’t want to run any further because he was tired. He also offered a suggestion that we might not bother going to Lundavra and just go straight to Fort William, for a sleep. The less said about that the better, but unsurprisingly I found myself saddling up to run another 14 miles with a belly recently stuffed full of fried food.

Before long I found myself back on the trail which I both love and hate the most. I have never managed to enjoy a crossing of the Lharig Mhor; it’s always at the end of something – a race, a support stint, a big back-to-back. I want to love the desolate beauty, but every step I take there is always full of wishes that I could traverse it more quickly.

West Highland Way Race 2016

I knew I needed to bring my strongest self for this section as I could see Steve start to flag in places. He still had a lot of fight in him but it was getting to the point where he was going to benefit from a secondary mind working on his behalf. I told him when to run, when to walk, and when to eat. I mostly ran a few steps ahead of him, setting the pace and willing him on behind me; pulling him on in the obscene cat and mouse chase which is ultramarathon pacing. We worked well together and didn’t need to say much; I gave him walking rests when he needed them but kept the relentless forward progress ongoing. All with a belly bursting full of chips.

My early concern in this section was the temperature. There was a cold wind rushing down the glen which chilled my sweaty, sunburned skin to the bone. I was concerned that Steve might not have enough clothes on and kept in contact by text message with Jemma, asking her to run back towards us from Lundavra when arrived, with a thicker jacket for Steve. My main concern, as was his, was getting him past the milepost of Lundavra and on to the final 7 miles. There is a reason why there are Wilderness Medics out on Lharig Mhor; it is a cruel and barren place where the weather can turn on a sixpence, ending the strongest of races without mercy.

Despite Steve’s physical strength he was beginning to give me clues that things were beginning to get tough. He constantly asked how far we were away until the next checkpoint and other than that, the chat had dried up. There was an unspoken knowledge that the time had come to dig in and work together to move onwards as efficiently as possible as a pair.

When Jemma came into view there was less than a mile to go to Lundavra. Knowing this seemed to fire up Steve into another gear and he shifted his position to be in front of us with us chasing behind. Chasing is the right word; when he reached Lundavra, he blasted right through and on up the hill at speed. I paused for a cup of red bull, thinking I’d be able to catch him up quickly, until I saw him rapidly disappearing into the distance as he RAN up the hill.

Jemma and I hastily chased after him and for the next few miles we had to work really hard to keep pace. Steve was pausing for no-one; even when I tripped over my own feet and ended up tumbling off the path and smashing my elbow on a rock with a yelp, he gave nothing more than a cursory glance behind him as he continued onwards without pause.
Just before the final ascent up towards the fire road, we took a walking break for one last gel as I talked Steve through the final couple of miles of the course and what he had left to cover. Moments after he summited the hill Steve took off again, and we began the quad-juddering descent into Fort William at a comfortable but swift pace.

Upon reaching Braveheart car park we took a final walking break to catch our breath before the final push. As a group we locked into a solid pace and covered the last mile towards the leisure centre in just over ten minutes. It doesn’t matter whether you are running, crewing, or sweeping, making that final turn into the car park is very special and my heart leapt when I was finally able to tell Steve “Go on – it’s all yours” as we peeled away from him to give him his moment of glory sprinting towards the finishing arch and the end of the race.

Everyone is happy when they finish a race, but Steve had to be one of the most ecstatic finishers I’ve ever seen. He seemed genuinely surprised and delighted to have achieved his goal – as if it were ever in doubt! Steve completed the race in 22hrs 39m 17s. He didn’t want to hang around at the finish line, so within half an hour we had checked into our hotel and Steve was getting ready to have some well earned rest. I was certainly tired, but having a runner that finishes well under 24 hours makes a massive difference, so Jemma and I spent some time reflecting on the weekend in our room before we went to sleep, drinking warm beer and eating cheese and chocolate.

The next morning, after checking on Steve and eating some breakfast, we went back to the finish line to cheer in the final finishers. It was as emotional as it always is, and seeing those final warriors come in to reach the finish after 33 or 34 hours is amazing. Cheering Norma (the oldest female finisher ever) and Adrian (achieving his 15th goblet!) reduced me to a blubbering wreck of happy tears.

West Highland Way Race 2016

West Highland Way Race 2016

We then headed to the goblet ceremony and cheered all 159 finishers until our voices cracked and our hands hurt from clapping. I got the chance to catch up with most of my friends before we parted ways, but Steve had booked us an extra night in the hotel so I still had the after-party with lots of peole to look forward to later on that evening. We both went back to the hotel for lunch and then to rest for a little bit, but I ended up taking a little walk back down the course in the rain to see one last runner cover his last miles of the day…

Whilst the race was officially over, Keith was still out on the course. He had a legitimate excuse though, as he had started his run on Thursday evening in Fort William. Having ran 95 miles to the start in Milngavie, he turned around and came right back again, just because he could. After shooting the breeze with Lucy, Dod and Karen, a very tired looking figure came into sight as he entered Braveheart carpark. He stopped to say hello before his support runners chided him for not moving, so we quickly drove back to the Leisure Centre to be there when he finished.

In the pouring rain and devoid of any gantries or ceremony at all, the finish of this run looked quite different to the official race finish a couple of hours earlier, but the small group of supporters cheered like banshees when he inexplicably sprinted into the carpark after finding one last burst of energy. The amazing accomplishment was complete when Keith slapped his hands on the Leisure Centre doors in traditional ceremonial style, much to the surprise of the staff inside. A lady came out and disapprovingly wiped the doors clean of his hand prints – quickly erasing any lasting visual evidence of the 190 miles of hard work which had been clocked. A sobering reminder that not everyone ‘gets’ it.

Wrapped in an embrace of warm, happy running feelings, I went back for another nap before the party. I finally got to my bed at 4am after the after-after party and drinking champagne with a bunch of friends including esteemed guest, Hal Koerner, but that’s perhaps another story for another day.

West Highland Way Race 2016

Stonehaven Half Marathon 2016 – Race Report

Stonehaven Half Marathon 2016

Stonehaven Half Marathon 2016

3rd July 2016
1hr 56m 28s
236th of 372 Finishers
65th of 137 Females
44th of 80 Female Seniors

Stonehaven Half Marathon was  my very first Half Marathon back in 2011, which I completed in 2 hours and 15 minutes. With the notoriously hilly course it was a baptism of fire for my first race at that distance, but I came back again in 2012 to knock over 15 minutes off my time and achieve my first sub-2 half marathon time. Due to other commitments I haven’t been back since, despite it being my home half marathon which is organised by my own running club. This year was the first running of the brand new, even more challenging course, and with the weekend being free for the first time in four years, I couldn’t resist.

When we woke up on Sunday the weather was deliciously cool and cloudy. I breathed a sigh of relief as running a race in July always carries a risk of heat. Even with Stonehaven being next to the sea, as soon as you go inland a couple of miles it can get very hot out on the sheltered roads. Of more concern was my tummy – I had prepared for the race by attending a Mexican themed birthday party the day before, and whilst I had managed to stay off the tequila, I could not resist enjoying extra helpings of spicy food. Living only half a mile from the start made this a minor issue however, as I was able to enjoy the comfort of my own bathroom right up until 9am.

Kynon and I made our way to the start at Mineralwell Park where a healthy crowd was gathering. We quickly registered and went for a warm-up mile jog. I don’t usually bother with warm-ups unless I am seriously PB hunting, but the Stonehaven Half Marathon course starts its 7 mile uphill climb almost immediately after the start, so beginning the race with muscles which are ready to rock is a must. We had also ran 12 miles the day before to make for a nice back-to-back weekend of training, so we needed to shake out the legs a bit before getting started anyway.

When the hooter went we trundled off down the narrow road, restraining ourselves so not to clip the heels of those in front. We waved hello to our friend Mary who had somehow defied the odds of homemade cocktail consumption to come along to cheer us on, and turned the corner to begin the first steep climb.

Stonehaven Half Marathon 2016

Picture: Mark McGillivary / Facebook.

My goals for this race were to finish well under two hours, blast the downhills hard, finish with nothing left in the tank, and not look crap in my club vest running in my club’s race in my club town. People down the pub sometimes labour under the misinformation that running lots of miles and long races makes means you are a good (i.e ‘fast’) runner…we all know this is not the case for 99% of us, but at least I could try my hardest on this one to prove them right.

Obviously the long, long drag uphill to Swanley burned like hell like it always does, but I just kept reminding myself that this was my back yard and my bread and butter; every long run every weekend in Fetteresso forest starts with the long drag up from my house at sea level, so I knew every twist and turn.

Stonehaven Half Marathon 2016

Picture: Ali Robertson

That didn’t mean I had to like it, though. That hill never gets easier, and this perfect picture captures how I felt at mile 4. At mile 5ish the course changes from the past route and pulls off road into the forest for even more climbing, with a short out-and-back just for LOLs to make up some extra distance. I enjoyed this section as I do all out-and-backs, where I get to cheer on and high-five my faster mates on the way out, and do the same for those behind me on the way back.

I power-walked much of the final climb as I knew this way I could climb with just as much speed but less effort, and it let me use some different muscles for a bit. After some high-fives and water pistol skooshes from the gals at the Fetchpoint on the highest point of the course, I was ready to switch on my fast legs and take advantage of gravity to get me home quickly.

Stonehaven Half Marathon 2016

Picture: Michael Levack/ Facebook

My next miles were super speedy and I was feeling really strong. I was wary of keeping a consistent speed and trying to stay as loose in my torso as possible in order to avoid getting a stitch. I began passing people one by one which kept me happy, and kept my focus on pushing hard. I knew that mile 12 once we re-entered the town would be flat and a bit of a shock after the downhill, so I eased off a little to save the last of my energy for a really fast finish. It turns out that ‘easing off’ come out at an 8:17 mile, which is a refreshing change!

In the final mile I gave it everything I had as I knew exactly what I had left to cover on the route. The last mile goes on to a forest path and has a few sneaky hills before you re-enter Mineralwell park, which I much prefer to the old road road which takes you back down the steep Belmont Brae road where the race starts. With about 500m to go I saw three ladies in front of me and decided I was passing them all before the finish. I attacked on a short hill and flew down the other side straight towards the line, holding on to my churning guts as I red-lined it to out-sprint the counter-attack from the club runner I had just passed.

And then it was done; there was the usual finish line staggering and dry heaving which will have traumatised a few under-fives, but at least I didn’t actually vomit this time. I felt the great satisfaction of feeling a bit wibbly and totally gubbed; the sensation of having truly left everything out on the course.

Stonehaven Half Marathon

Splits: 8:57 / 8:49 / 9:41 / 10:16 / 8:50 / 10:07 / 9:48 / 10:01 / 7:49 / 7:44 / 8:09 / 8:17 / 7:40 

I was, and am still, really pleased with this run – another strong race with a massive negative split and powerful finish. All that as well as having ran 12 miles the previous morning (and having had a fair skelp of  booze in the afternoon too). It gives me confidence that my running form is coming back slowly, and my strength and speed is returning.

This is all in aid of Autumn races though, so this summer I need to keep building and building the fire, and at just the right moment…I will light the match 🙂

 

 

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