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London Marathon 2017 | Race Report

London Marathon 2017London Marathon Medal 2017

23rd April 2017

Time: 4h 22m 0s

Place: 18,533 of 39,349
Gender: 5030 of 14,468
Category: 2750 of 8768

Getting to the start of the London Marathon has not been a straight forward journey for me. Entry through the general race ballot is notoriously hard to achieve, and even more so nowadays when the ballot is open for five days. Estimates put your chances of gaining one of the precious 10,000 ballot places at odds of around 1 in 26, with your other options being a Good For Age place, a UK Athletics Running Club place (one granted per 50 members of an affiliated club), or taking on the responsibility of a charity place with the associated fundraising.

After seven consecutive years of failing in the ballot, I was royally fed up. It seemed that year after year I defied the increasingly smaller odds to continue to miss out on a place which I found endlessly frustrating. My running club is not affiliated to Scottish Athletics, I chose increasing distance over increasing my speed a long time ago, and other than my very first race seven years ago I have never been a charity runner…

When I was offered the opportunity to run the race with Reebok as part of a team of ambassadors celebrating the launch of their new Floatride shoe, I was utterly delighted. Not only a place in the race which had evaded me for years, but the services of a coach, a bundle of kit, and two pairs of shoes as well! I felt very lucky that the blog which I set up so many years ago to write about my training has blossomed into something which attracts opportunities such as this.

Then, the week before the race I got the flu…

I have already covered the gory details in my previous post, but I was very ill in the seven days before the race and was only able to make the final decision to race less than 24 hours before the starting gun went. Not ideal preparation by anyone’s standards, but let it never be left unsaid that when I’m determined to achieve something I will fight tooth and nail until I achieve my goal. I was sitting in a hotel room under a mile from the start of the London Marathon 2017 – and nothing was going to stop me crossing that finish line.


I was staying in Canary Wharf, so my journey to the Red Start was very straight forward. A quick ride on the DLR and I was in Greenwich and walking with the masses to the starting area. I had no idea what the best time to arrive would be, so I aimed for about 8.30am which seemed sensibly early for the 10 am start. I went to the toilet before finding a tree to sit down under and lean against and tried to listen to some music. Unfortunately the mobile networks seemed to be overwhelmed already and I couldn’t connect to Spotify, so instead, I just people-watched and tried to relax.


I was nervous in case I had radically misjudged how recovered I was; perhaps I might get a couple of hours into the race and then have to pull out. Unlike most pre-race nerves I couldn’t rationalise this away – it was a real concern and a very valid one. I kept on worrying in case I had made a poor choice and one that I would live (or not) to regret.

I ate a banana at 9.30am and went for one last pee before moving to my corral. I was in Red 4, which was relatively close to the starting line meaning no half hour wait to get going after the gun went! I had purchased a cheap Primark hoody to wear to keep warm in the final hours which reluctantly I stripped off and threw to the side as we started moving forward; in the sunshine it was warm, but there was an early morning chill in the air which was cold on my bare skin – thankfully I’ve been running long enough to know that these conditions were perfect, and within 10 minutes of the race I would be perfectly warm.


I wasn’t sure how I was feeling; sadly the week’s illness had really taken some of the shine off the experience for me. I was expecting some huge waves of emotion to hit as I finally found myself on the starting line of the London Marathon, but in all honesty I couldn’t think beyond the first 5k. I didn’t know anyone in the Red Start to meet up with, and I’m an antisocial creature at the best of times so I wasn’t talking to anyone around me. I was excited to finally get moving, but was underwhelmed by the starting line experience – the footage you see on the television with the grandstands, the music, and the hot air balloons is the Blue and Green start…the Red Start has a gantry and a timing mat with a sprinkling of people clapping and that’s it – you’re on your way.


I’ve been thinking about how to write this race report in an engaging manner – there is only so much you can say about running the 26.2 mile distance when you do it over and over again, especially if on an occasion your effort is just to finish rather than to reach a goal. There’s no point in listing my mile splits – I ran a metronomic 10 minute mile pace for almost the entire race, splitting the first five 5k splits around 30 minutes each, before slowing a little for the last three 5k splits, recording 31:34, 32:21 and 32:22 in the final 15k after having a couple of short walking breaks. Here’s some of the data provided by the race – a very solidly average performance…

london marathon 2017

london marathon 2017

So what did I see on on my 26.2 mile journey?

The first 5k heads out East, deep into residential London; I knew about this but was pleasantly surprised to still see moderate support out and about at just after 10am. People were sitting in their gardens in the sunshine enjoying a glass of fizz with their breakfast, and there were already community bands out performing. We passed a couple of huge Evangelical or Baptist churches where the congregation was out in force with megaphones and music, piling blessings and encouragement upon us all as we danced by.

I loved how engaged the crowds were; every pub was open early and people were getting stuck into the booze and shouting with the enthusiasm that only an Englishman on his third pint of pre-noon Carling on St Georges day can deliver.   It’s the British way; if there is live sport on, you grab a beer and go and shout at the underdogs. We’re so used to being shit at sport that we are born happy to get out there and cheer on competitors, especially if they’re not winning. We love to see people fighting hard for whatever it is they are working for, and events such as the 2012 Olympics and the Commonwealth Games have only brought mass participation sport further into the public eye.

By 10k I was beginning to realise there was a common theme to the shout outs being thrown in my direction – they all seemed to involve Jesus in some regard, so I should have been less surprised when I was overtaken by a bearded and shaggy haired man, naked but for a loin cloth and a massive crucifix strapped to his back, running barefoot. Obviously. I’ve come across Barefoot Jesus before and he’s a pain in the backside. His cross has a habit of bashing you on the shoulder, and he doesn’t like people taking selfies with him. You need a sense of humor if you’re going to be that much of a twat in a race, but he obviously didn’t have room to pack one in his minimal attire. He’s been pestering runners at World Marathon Majors around the world for a while, and on Sunday it was my turn…

london marathon 2017

I feel like it is at this point in the story that I should mention that my friend Mary’s very, very Catholic Mother was quite worried on my behalf when Mary told me that I was poorly, but was still attempting to run the race. Mary’s Mum decided to say a decade of the Rosary for me to help me on my way. Due to me being a massive Atheist I guess the prayers got a little diluted, and what I got instead was my own personal Jesus following me around the course, annoying me into going faster to get away from him. I guess the Lord works in mysterious ways…

Moving on, and a highlight of passing Trinity College was the balcony of people dressed in slightly disheveled Tuxedos and ball gowns still going hard on the Champagne after a marathon session of their own. 10/10 awarded for enthusiasm and some superb singing to Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing. This was quickly contrasted with the slightly more gritty streets of Bermondsey where there were DJs playing some dank beats straight out of their Mum’s front garden bringing a different flavour of party out on to the streets altogether. Everything which I had read and heard was true – the London Marathon is a Tour de Force of the best parts of British culture, served with a healthy dollop of London attitude.

13 miles in

Before I knew it I had danced myself half way around the course and the iconic crossing of Tower Bridge was upon me. Here I took my one and only picture during the race; it was so, so busy that I was scared to drop my phone and then have to stop to collect it, causing a runner pile-up and being a huge pain in the ass.


By now my face was hurting a little from grinning so hard; the vibes from the crowd were INSANE, I’ve never experienced so many people giving a crap about the sport which I graft away at day-in-day-out. They were cheering every single last runner like they meant the world to them, and it filled my heart right up to the brim. Of course I wasn’t feeling great; I was feeling dizzy, nauseated, and coughing like a drain, but those crowds made it easy to ignore the struggle and focus on anything other than my churning insides.


Turning a hard right after we crossed the bridge took us on to the two-way section where the fastest UK club runners were making their way through their last five miles. This was a welcome distraction from the rising temperatures as I saw so many awesome International athletes grinding away – Devon Yanko, Chrissie Wellington, Scott Overall – along with a selection of familiar vests from Scotland including the three speedy Metro Aberdeen lasses who went under 3 hours. I wanted to join in the shouts of support to the other side of the road, but my breathing was a tricky balance and I needed to keep my heart rate under control.

I had known since the start that to succeed in the race I would need to keep my heart rate low and not work too hard – basically I needed to ‘ultra shuffle’ my way around and never get out of breath. Thankfully there are no serious hills on the London Marathon course so trotting around on minimal effort was easy. However, as the heat rose to somewhere perhaps around 16C, it became more of a challenge and I started to feel a bit more ‘spangly’ – dizzy, anxious, and panicky. I took on a sensible amount of water and Lucozade when each were offered, but also used the remaining water in my bottles to cool myself down which helped a lot.

The crowds on the Isle of Dogs were less intense and contrary to many reports I’ve read, there were actually some gaps at the barriers between miles 15 and 20. This was almost a welcome break from the noise, but these were tough miles for me (as they are in every marathon) and I had to play some mental tricks to keep my head in the game. I knew that as soon as I hit 20 I would be fine, and the ‘difficult’ five miles of a marathon are usually over in 45-50 minutes. When you think about it that way, I think it seems much less of a challenge.

One in 40,000

At this point I will address the crowding on the course. We all know how busy the London Marathon is and you just need to look at any of the television coverage of the masses to know how challenging it is to run in your own space unless you really are up the very sharp end of the race. I knew that this was going to be a hazard and I tried to not let it bother me, but by 20 miles in, many of my fellow runners were working my last nerve. Stopping dead in the middle of the road, diving across peoples paths to go and see supporters, throwing bottles or litter with no due attention, slowing to a walk without moving to the side, and then there was the monstrosities which were the Pace Groups; filled with many runners who believed that their right to a time they desired trumped my right to run a safe race… In particular, the Red Sub-4 hour pace group, comprised of a cloud of a couple of hundred runners taking over the entire road, steamrolling past and shoving runners out of the way. I was ‘run over’ by them about 10 miles in and I wanted to clothes-line the whole bunch for their bad race etiquette – very poor behaviour indeed.

But – it’s London, and that’s what you get out there. I’m just glad I didn’t try to achieve a Personal Best as the crowds would have made it impossible and I recorded a distance of 26.7 miles as I ducked and weaved around those who exist within their own oblivious bubble.

The Final Push

As I eased into the last 6 miles the miles became less easy, and I started to have to try a little harder to keep it moving steadily. However, impossible as it may seem, the crowds were getting even more enthusiastic and they pulled me on when I was desperate for just a tiny walking break. I took my first walk of the whole race somewhere in the 23rd mile, and one final one in the Blackfriars Underpass in mile 24, where a festival-sized PA system was blaring the Chase and Status song ‘Blind Faith’ which gave me chills as I got ready to run again. In an amazing bit of timing, the chorus dropped just as I left the tunnel to the roar of the crowd cheering us like heroes as we ran out into the sunshine – it was here that the emotion finally hit and I found tears prickling my eyes as I ran into the final mile of the race.

The finish is just as spectacular as it looks on television. Curving around the last bend on to The Mall, with the flags flying, the grandstands full of people, and the finishing gantries… is an amazing feeling. I looked for the finish line cameras and waved and blew kisses, keeping everything crossed that Kynon and my family would be watching at home. I know I put them through a lot of worry at times and my poor Mother was probably beside herself following me on the tracker all day in case I stopped moving, so I really wanted them to see that I was ok.

london marathon 2017

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were handing out finishers medals in one finishing chute but I didn’t fancy my chances of not throwing up all over the Royals, so I gave that chute a swerve and chose the one right next to it instead. It goes without saying that I am fully on board with their #HeadsTogether charity campaign which has gained so much publicity from the race and associated media coverage. I’m not the biggest fan of the Royal family, but it is fantastic to see the younger generation put their platform to excellent use.


After snapping a quick victory selfie, I began the long stagger to get my kit bag which was unfortunately in the furthest away lorry – a good quarter mile or so down the Mall! I desperately wanted to sit down in the shade but I knew the sensible thing to do was to get my kit so that I could crash and then stay on the ground as long as I liked.

That turned out to be a good half hour – there was a muscle in my back which wouldn’t stop cramping and I felt very dizzy. I found a free patch of kerb next to a lorry and sat myself down and made myself eat and drink as much as I could stomach from the goody bag, whilst wrapped up in my foil blanket like a freshly baked potato. After a short while I managed to make it over to the reunion area where I met the previously mentioned Mary and her husband, Jo, who had come up from Reading to cheer me on, and then we all went to drink wine on the South Bank in the evening sunshine, and it was the perfect end to a pretty damn good day.


And with that – against all odds – London is finally done.

Some Final Thoughts

The London Marathon effect is weird. People get obsessed with doing it for a variety of reasons and I’ve certainly been guilty of that for long enough. Outside of the world of running, it’s one of the few races that most people know about and it gets very grating having to explain why you haven’t done it to people that don’t understand. They don’t understand that other marathons are the same distance as London and can be just as tough to run but London is toughest to get in to! Unless you’ve done London, the one race they can relate to, they don’t see you as a real marathon runner. It’s exhausting and boring to explain, especially justifying why running for charity in order to get a place is not really a viable option.

However the flip side of this is that when you DO run London, it’s the one day of the year where there is a huge interest in a sport which normally nobody cares about. Friends download the app and track you, they excitedly tell you that they are going to look for you on the television, colleagues ask how you got on. This is not normally what happens when you’re a long distance runner.

It’s both satisfying and frustrating; running is my hobby and my life. I graft away at it 365 days a year in one way or the other, and for 364 days of the year, nobody gives a shit. People glaze over when you tell them about your training runs, they call you crazy, they try and get you to stay out for ‘just one more’, they cannot get their head around the concept of running an ultramarathon or getting up with a hangover and doing a marathon as a training run for fun. It’s nice to have people care about my sport and be interested for once, but I’ve already done a marathon and two ultras this year so far and no-one outside of my silo of running friends really knows or cares… and I kind of like it that way.

So my final line on it is this – the London Marathon is amazing and every distance runner should try to do it once, if only to remember why they run and what it is that they like best about their sport. Is it the iconic British tradition, the television coverage, the social media circus, crowds screaming your name, tripping over someone taking a selfie, or broadcasting the experience on Facebook Live? Or is it the quiet local races, familiar faces, signing up on the day, pensioners with clipboards out in the rain, and weak orange squash at the finish? There is no right or wrong answer here; running is running and I am not here to pass judgement on anyone’s experiential preference.


London, you were incredible and I’m so glad I finally got to tread your streets and see you at your sporting best. For the first time in nearly a decade though, this year the 1st of May did not see me submit my name into your public ballot and I’m not sure when I will again. That’s the only thing that’s changed though…next April I’ll still be running; pounding the trails out there somewhere in the countryside, and quietly getting on with it on my own terms…

Do you prefer big races or small races?
Have you entered the 2018 London Marathon ballot?
What’s the stupidest costume you’ve ever seen in a race?

 

London Marathon | Final Thoughts


This is not the post I expected to be writing 24 hours before the London Marathon, but I need to give you an update on how the last week has gone. I’m writing this on my phone in my hotel room, so firstly let me apologise for any typos or random formatting which may occur. 
A week ago today I woke up with a tickle in my throat and feeling really run down. I got on with my day, but needed a two hour nap before I made it along to the pub for a couple of soft drinks before quitting at 9.30pm to go home to bed. The next day I felt pretty grim, but I was just relieved that race day was 7 days away and I had plenty of time to recover…

I was awake at 4am the next morning to travel back to Edinburgh and I muddled and coughed my way through my day before retreating to bed feeling terrible as a dose of ‘proper’ flu took hold. I didn’t get out of bed for the next 48 hours; swathed in an agonising fever which felt like acid was coursing through my veins. Every limb ached and I couldn’t sleep, eat, or think straight. 

Whilst the race was on Sunday, I had chosen to fly down on Thursday morning in order to attend The Running Awards on Thursday night, and the Women Run Strong event which was hosted by Susie Chan and Kelly Roberts. With my company having an office in Central London, this made perfect sense as I could still go to work and enjoy a couple of days of fun London life.

As you can imagine though, I was in no fit state to take a red-eye flight on Thursday morning. However on Wednesday night I felt a bit improved and was convinced I was on the mend. A 4am alarm and five hours of travel by bus, plane, train, and rush hour tube, meant that I got into my office and almost collapsed, much to the horror of my colleagues who were working there that day. Not my finest moment, and I’m actually genuinely mortified…

The long and short of it, is that it has been very touch and go whether I would be able to run on Sunday. If it was any other race I would have given up the pressure days ago, but it’s LONDON; I’ve been desperate to do this race for years and the opportunity to run it as part of Team Floatride was a dream come true, and one which I was stubbornly not going to give up on.


So I’m going for it. Whilst I’m not fully 100%, in the last 36 hours I’ve seen a massive improvement, regained my appetite, and feel like a new human being. My incredible body has done an amazing job of seeing off these bugs, and after the 3 mile run at the  Women Run Strong event, I felt good. Fatigued and a bit lead-legged, but good! 


I can cope with feeling shitter than normal, but I wouldn’t be stupid enough to run if I thought I was still too ill. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’ve decided that I can do it. It might take me five or six hours, but my bread and butter is running for ten, fifteen, twenty hours, so I can cope with being a bit more uncomfortable than usual for a bit longer than usual. Some might even say I’m getting more value for money…

So tomorrow will be about FINISHING LINES not FINISHING TIMES. I want a new PB in marathon fun; I want to dance through the streets of the Capital enjoying the biggest celebration of the sport I love the most. I want to take selfies with running Rhinos, high five old ladies, dance to the bands, and wave to the cameras. My sub 3:45 goal can wait for another day; tomorrow is going to be all about enjoying the experience no matter how long it takes me!


Good luck to everyone taking part tomorrow – I hope you get the races you want and finish with big, happy smiles!

Reebok Floatride Shoe Review

Back at the start of February, I was offered the incredible opportunity to join a small team of bloggers and influencers to participate in the launch of the new Reebok Floatride shoe. As an ambassador with Team Floatride, I was generously provided with a place in the 2017 London Marathon, two pairs of Reebok Floatride to train in, a bundle of lovely Reebok kit to run in, and a coach to make sure I run my best race. I’ve been training in the Floatrides for over two months now, so it’s time to write up a review and share my thoughts on these brand new kicks.

reebok floatride

When you think of Reebok the brand these days, many active people would immediate associate it with modern fitness trends such as Crossfit  or the Spartan race series. In recent years, huge title partnerships and sponsorship of these events have kept Reebok relevant to many in the fitness community, but they have not been a go-to brand for distance runners.  With the distance running market dominated by big players such as Nike, Adidas and Asics, Reebok are back fighting with a renewed focus on running and are launching their return to this market with the Reebok Floatride Run shoe.  Floatride has been designed to compete at the top of the performance running shoe market alongside recent popular releases like the Nike Flyknit and the Adidas Boost, and is found at an equivalent price point in the market.

Reebok Floatride – Key Features

reebok floatride

There are several factors which make the Reebok Floatride a unique-to-market shoe. Firstly, there is the unusual knitted fabric upper which feels almost like a sock, the 3d moulded seamless cup heel, and the light foam sole cushioning which all add up to make the shoe a whisper-light 233g. A lot of science, technology and testing was invested in the development, with over 300 runners testing the shoe in its many earlier beta forms.

  1. Floatride Foam: The Floatride Foam has a consistent cell structure that delivers the seamless integration of cushioning and responsiveness. This is over 50% lighter than standard EVA foam (ethylene vinyl acetate) which is used in most cushioned shoes.
  2. Ultraknit Upper: A seam-free Ultraknit upper construction is engineered in zones to provide adaptive comfort that offers support and breathable flexibility.
  3. EVA Support Rim: Supportive foam rim centers and balances your foot throughout the gait cycle.

What I think

reebok floatride

We’re now at a point where I’ve used up all the technical information available to me about the shoe, and I’m at risk of losing everyone’s interest. If you’ve read this far, then you’ll be wanting to know my honest thoughts.

These are definitely the most ‘fancy’ shoes I’ve ever trained in, and quite the departure from my OnRunning Cloudsurfers which I have ran almost exclusively in (on roads) for around five years. Generally I know what I like, and I stick to what I know; I’m not one to drink the KoolAid of new shoe releases and only seek out new solutions to problems as and when they occur. I don’t really care what kind of foam is in my sole, as long as it feels good to run in.

The fit: I wear an EU42 in road shoes, which is either an UK8.5 or a UK9 depending on the brand, and sometimes even a UK8. If at some point we could achieve some consistency on that, that would be GREAT… but I digress. It’s an awkward size of foot to have as often I find that the women’s sizing will stop at an 8, and men’s 8 will be too big (a wider fit). Perhaps you’re beginning to understand why I don’t change my shoe brands often – if I find that rare magic slipper that fits just right, then I tend to stick with it. So, having relayed this sob story to Reebok, they sent me a men’s UK8.5/EU42.5. This fits me perfectly, with plenty of room in the toebox for toe movement and feet swelling; important when it comes to marathoning.

Cage Lacing Support: You will see from the pictures that the sides of the shoes have a plastic cage grid encasing them. This provides additional stability and support, gripping this foot in an adjustable manner via the lacing. Given that the upper of the shoe is basically a toughened sock, this means that all of your support comes from the cage. This is new to me, but I liked it. I have to be careful not to tie too tightly though, as it makes your little toes go numb.

‘Ultraknit’ Upper: Another new-to-me feature of a shoe, but I like how breathable it makes your entire foot, which allows for easy sweat wicking and  drying. In theory you could probably wear these without socks, but I am definitely a fan of socks and I don’t like running without them. It took me a while to find the right pair though; Injinji Trail Weight toe socks do the best job for me as I needed the extra padding on the Achilles area.

Run Feel: The most important part. The Reebok Floatride feels light like a minimal shoe, but the fancy, light foam cushions like a long distance road shoe.  I’m really intrigued to see how this shoe performs in the London Marathon because every training run, both long and slow and short and fast, has been extremely comfortable so far. The sole is appropriately ‘grippy’ so that you feel confident flying downhill on wet pavement and even on light trail, and the shoe really comes into its own when you’re cruising at race pace.

Colours: As I have the men’s shoe, I have the blue and black colourway which is shown in most of the pictures. Ladies sizing comes in a zingy neon yellow and silver which I have to admit I am quite envious of. They also feature reflective heels which adds to the futuristic vibe. From a purely stylish point of view, these are the kind of trainers which you could easily wear all day if athleisure is your thing.

reebok floatride

In summary; if you’re looking for a modern, neutral shoe which is a break from the norm then the Reebok Floatride Run would be worth a try. I’ve ran about 100 miles in these shoes, and my only issue thus far has been finding the right socks in order to get maximum comfort on long runs. These seem to really suit me and I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to try them out before they hit the shelves on April 1st, and of course to pound the pavements of London in them on the 23rd of April, in pursuit of my first London Marathon finish.

The Reebok Floatride Run retails at £119.99 and can be bought from Sweatshop.

Disclosure: I was provided with these products to test and review as part of the Reebok #FloatrideLondon ambassador team. Images and some tech details are courtesy of Reebok (I don’t know THAT much about trainer foam), but this article and the opinions expressed throughout are my own.

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…

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