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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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!

 

D33 Ultra marathon 2015 – RACE REPORT

D33 Ultramarathon
14th March 2015

d33 ultra medal 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.

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d33 ultramarathon start

Picture – Chen Chee Kong

d33 ultramarathon start

Picture – Chen Chee Kong

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.

d33 ultramarathon start

Picture – Chen Chee Kong

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.

d33 ultramarathon

Picture – Chen Chee Kong

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.

D33 Ultramarathon
Here illustrates the internal monologue battling on inside my racing head between daft and sensible, good and evil, naughty and nice. It only gets worse as the race goes on…

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.

D33 ultra finish

Picture – Chen Chee Kong (who finished just after me!)

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!

d33 ultramarathon 2015

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.

d33 ultra

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.

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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.

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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!

d33 recovery

D33 Ultra 2013 – RACE REPORT

D33 Ultramarathon

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16th March 2013

5hrs 26mins 29 secs (30 min PB!)
140th/292 finishers
24th Female (out of 61)
5th Stonehaven Running Club female finisher (16 championship points).

The 33 mile D33 Ultramarathon was my first venture into distances beyond 26.2 miles in 2012. I had such a successful and enjoyable race that returning for a second crack at it in 2013 was never in doubt. It’s a brilliantly organised race, directed by George Reid of Stonehaven Running Club and assisted by a team of eager marshals who keep coming back year after year. At £12 a place, it also offers astounding value in these days when the eager runner can find themselves paying £25 for a 5k race.

The race, like many other ultras this year, saw a huge surge in interest and entries flew in when they went live at Midnight on the 1st of January 2013. By the time I arrived home from working at the Stonehaven Fireballs parade at 01:30am on Hogmanay, there were 72 places already taken. I quickly signed up and headed out to party and I’ve been looking forward to the race with 349 other eager ultrachums ever since.

As recently documented my goal race this Spring is the Hoka Highland Fling which is on the 27th of April. The 33 miles of the D33 ultra race fitted in beautifully with my training programme which has consisted of roughly what I did last year but with longer runs during the week. Up until the last minute I was truly undecided as to how I was going to treat the race – would I do it steadily and try and glean the most out of a long slow run on my feet? Or would I go for broke, race my heart out and see what I was capable of? The other option for the perpetually indecisive runner, is to just start running and see what happens.

Two nights before the race, the Stonehaven Running Club ladies invited me to a pasta party, where we shamelessly gorged on bread, lasagne and cheesecake and talked about our race plans. I was a bit nervous about going as I didn’t know everyone and would be the youngest, and the only one unmarried and without kids, but naturally the conversation was relentlessly about running so I enjoyed myself heartily and was glad to be included. I am really enjoying being a part of a running club!

On Friday night I continued to eat solidly and enjoyed my typical pre-race/long run meal of a large pizza and stromboli.

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After hoovering that and enjoying a beer to steady the nerves, I started packing for the day’s racing, starting with drop bags.

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Just like last year in training, I’ve been fueling with gels, hula hoops, jaffa cakes and the odd jelly sweet. I packed what you see above into my camelbak and put the same again into my drop bag for half way. I wasn’t sure that I would eat anywhere near all of it but I decided it would be better to have options than nothing at all. Some runs I can’t bear to eat sweet things, others make me crave sugar; nothing was particularly heavy so my choices wouldn’t weigh me down. I usually have HIGH5 Zero electrolyte water in my camelbak but decided to have Powerade at the checkpoints as well for an extra boost. I love drinking that stuff when I’ve been running hard so I thought it would be a refreshing change half way.

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Drop bags labelled with my number (and waterproofed with sellotape), it was time to lay out my kit. As you know I was studying the weather forecasts all week and they reported a full spectrum of precipitation in the days preceding the race. At the last check however it didn’t look like we were going to have a dry day – it was forecast to be very cold and dry and then rain/sleet/snow from mid-morning onwards. Damn.

I chose my favourite Karrimor running shorts and my 2XU calf sleeves, and decided on a merino long-sleeve with a vest underneath and my club vest on top, with gloves and buff. Also in my kit bag I packed tights and a waterproof shell jacket in case I changed my mind at the start, and some warm dry clothes to change into when I was finished. For my shoes, after considerable dithering, I decided to wear my cloudsurfers. At least 80% of the run is on tarmac or hard-packed earth, so I thought they’d be the best choice given the amount of wear I’ve been giving them recently.

Bags packed and clothes ready, I passed the time by painting my nails in SRC club colours and watched rubbish on TV. I wasn’t nervous really, but the hours before any big race are the worst – you just want to get going.

Race morning dawned cloudy and overcast – but dry! I sprung out of bed at 0545 leaving Kynon fast asleep and put the coffee on, donned my racing clothes and had breakfast with the cat. I watched some inspirational videos on youtube and visualised my race and what I wanted from it. My most enduring memory from last year is running fast into Duthie Park feeling so, so strong – I could have been superwoman. I wanted to feel like that again, so my goals were shaping around a strong, fast finish.

At 0710 I headed along the road to meet a couple of the SRC girls to drive up to get our minibuses to Aberdeen. Because there were 23 of us registered for the race, we decided to book transport rather than clog up valuable car park space for those coming from further afield.

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I sat in the front and chatted with the driver about the race. I’m not sure he really understood what we were away to do or exactly why we were doing it, but he was pleasant enough and we arrived in the park in no time. Upon disembarkation, familiar faces were already milling around and the atmosphere was buzzing. I got my drop-bags in the correct place, my kitbag in the right van for the finish, and quickly and easily registered and got my number, 73, from Julie.

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It was COLD in the park. This was only 0800 so it can’t have been much above 0C and there was still a thick crust of frost on the grass. I was grateful to have plenty of people to chat to distract me and spent time interspersing jumping around with the odd stretch – anything to keep moving.

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Kynon arrived not long after I was registered. Wrapped up like the Michelin Man in umpteen layers, he was well prepared for a day of marshaling at the half way checkpoint.

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I kept my waterproof shell on until the start, but wasn’t intending on running in it. At the last minute, I decided to put on my fleece-lined sleeves under my merino top as an extra layer – if they were a nuisance then I could always discard them at a checkpoint. This turned out to be the best decision I made all day.

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A couple of weeks ago my SRC friend Kate and I decided to enter a team in to the mixed team competition – she was running her first ultra with her twin brother Alex as they turned 33 on the 15th of March – the day before the race. Kate goes by the name ‘weekatiepea’ on Fetch so we decided to call ourselves ‘Red Wine and Peas’.

Thankfully the Winter Gardens were open so we could use the toilets this year. I went over to savour the humid warmth of the greenhouses but forced myself out before I got to comfortable. Walking back over to the start with my friend Minty, he asked about my goals for the race. Vague as ever I replied;
“Well…ehhhh, I’m just going to maybe head out at like, 10 minute mile pace for the first half and see how it goes… I’ll walk every 40 minutes or so I think…yeah, and as long as I finish strong, you know…?”
His response was; “What would you say if I said I thought you could run faster? I think you’re under-selling yourself with all the training you’ve been doing lately, and you were so running so well on that day up Loch Muick. They call these things races for a reason, you know?”
Hmm – food for thought. I mused over his comments as I crunched over the icy ground. My biggest fear was running too hard and injuring myself, putting my performance at the Paris Marathon and the Fling in jeopardy. I felt stronger than I ever have, and there’s nothing worse than finishing a race and knowing you could have done more; feeling that there’s still fuel left in the tank.

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Back at the start, and almost everyone had arrived. What a contrast to two years ago when I came along to watch my two ultrarunning friends finish this race; I know so many other runners and each race is an enriching experience to be learned from. Perhaps I had no business playing it safe and maybe Minty was right, perhaps I was under-selling myself. When was the last time I truly pushed myself out of my comfort zone and found out what I was made of? Maybe it was time to find out. You can’t play it safe all the time.

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picture: Ian Russell

0850 and George’s voice on the Megaphone signified that it was time to assemble and listen up. He delivered a short and humourous race briefing as the runners huddled together for warmth. Thankfully he had an amplifier this year so everyone could hear. Out of 346 entries, about 20 dropped out officially and just under 300 made it to the starting line on the day.

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Without great ceremony we were sent on our way, and I was delighted to be finally on the move. My fingers and toes were numb!

ianr5Above pictures: Ian Russell

Just like last year, the stream of neon reached out from the park along the Deeside Railway line in an endless river of lycra. Other path-users were temporarily rendered statuesque amongst us as we (very politely) temporarily took over the road and swarmed around them. There was the usual banter and jokes as everyone settled into their pace and in a flash we had run a mile and we were passing the old Holburn station, where my friends Ryan and Sheenagh and my Mum were waiting to cheer.

P1040069Mike leading the race.

P1040103Pictures: Ryan Roberts

I glided through the first few miles, keeping pace with those around me and not feeling any exertion at all. Every time I looked at my watch it read at or around 9:30min pace – I tried not to let this intimidate me and just ran by feel – I felt good, so I kept going. I was near some of girls from the club and others who I knew were a lot stronger, faster runners than I – going at this speed felt dangerous with 30odd miles still to go but I wasn’t going to be the first one to break for a walk and get dropped. 40 minutes came and went, 50 minutes, an hour passed and still no walking. This in itself is no great feat but it’s certainly not how I planned to race this ultra.

Splits, miles 1-8
9:24, 9:31, 9:30, 9:29, 9:44, 9:33, 9:38: 10:25

1 hour and 17 minutes passed and I was at the 8 mile check point. Sean of the West Highland Way Race was here as well as Corrah and Sheri but I wasn’t stopping to chat. “number 73, going straight through” I called as I sailed past the bunch of runners at the check point and instantly gained 5 or 6 places. It was time for my second gel – even though I wasn’t walking I made sure still to eat, but my hula hoops and jaffas remained untouched. Real food wasn’t appealing.

Like last year, I decided to start to listen to some music here. I had downloaded Calvin Harris’ album ‘Eighteen Months’ on a whim that morning and decided to give it a spin. It had been raining lightly since mile 3 but now the precipitation started to get serious and I was thoroughly soaked through. When the path leaves the road near Drumoak it is very exposed and I felt the wind blow right through me but the music kept me perky.

Due to the miserable conditions I shut most of my senses down; I don’t really remember much other than constantly chiding myself to keep going. I don’t even remember if the album was any good! I thought about having a short walk coming into Drumoak, but then I noticed Mike’s wife Annette sitting taking pictures, so I didn’t want to be caught walking! At Drumoak I noticed I was slowly closing in on three SRC girls and as I crested the top of the hill I walked a few steps with them as we checked in with each other. I pushed on and passed them but was aware of them on my heels – as Donna Duggan captures here beautifully;

DonnaD

Ahem. I’ve never looked better. It was really chucking it down now but thankfully the tree-lined path offered some shelter from the sleet. My hands were soaked and cold but then I remembered that soon I would be high-fiving and cheering the faster runners as they passed on the return journey which would warm them right up.

To my surprise I realised I’d caught up with Al and Tommy – I thought they’d be miles ahead of me by now but instead we ran a few miles together catching up on the news. Tommy is training for the West Highland Way race but sadly Al was one of the 15 runners who missed out on a ballot place this year. Another race that is suffering unfortunate consequences of its own success.

I passed the half marathon point in 2hrs 7 mins. Not long after the lead bike came into sight and the leader passed us, face frozen in a gurn but still nodding to acknowledge our applause. Paul Giblin followed the second place runner, and to our delight we saw Mike bringing up 4th place! He looked strong and very focused.

The next half hour was peppered with ‘well done’s and ‘good running’s which broke up the last three soggy miles before the check point. I was interested to see how close I was to some of my friends the closer I got to the turn-around point. I was really looking forward to a hug and a kiss from Kynon and hoped there would be some ultra-flapjack left.

Splits miles 9 – 16:
9:27, 9:31, 10:23, 9:28, 9:47, 9:45, 9:43, 9:51

I splashed into the check point and called out my number. It was quite busy but Julie had found my bag quickly and handed it to me. I was delighted to see my Mum who gave me a quick hug and helped me get my gloves off and to put more gels in my pockets. I hadn’t touched any of my real food so the supplies in my drop bag remained where they were, other than my powerade which I drank hungrily. Kynon was busy doing his job but came over for a hug and to wish me well – I realised compared to last year I was 20 minutes faster into half way so told him he’d better get a move on if he wanted to catch me at the finish this year. (He was late and missed me last year as he was in the pub!).

I finished my delicious ultra flapjack and knew I had to get a move on – if anything I was now freezing cold. I noticed the other SRC girls were into the checkpoint and the rest of ‘Red wine and Peas’ had already left so it was time to get going. I really didn’t want to be the last SRC girl to finish – where had this competitive nature come from? It is most unlike me…

The next 8 miles were my slowest of the race and were edging more towards 10:30 minute pace. It took me a while to warm up again after the check point and even though I was on my way home, I had a brief depressing period of realisation of how much longer I had to be out in the horrible weather before I got there. However I blocked off all my senses again and pushed on. Eyes screwed tightly shut against the blowing snow, it was just one foot in front of another; splish splash; through a puddle, squelch; oh there’s some mud, another four miles; eat another gel, oh hey look; I’m going to pass this person. A constant train of inane thoughts pushing me along the converted railway line in the rain.

I caught up with Al and Tommy just after Crathes and passed them, I caught the Peas at Drumoak and and passed them, I caught RitchieC just after Drumoak and passed him, I powered up the long slow hill before checkpoint 3 and passed everyone walking. Hang on, wait; what? Where had 8 miles gone? Was I at the last check point already?! Better have another gel then.

Splits miles 17 – 24:
14:23, 9:59, 9:54, 9:55, 10:10, 10:29, 10:20, 10:15

It was at this point I noticed I had yet to be passed in the return leg. Trotting past the check point I felt a huge boost as I realised that I only had 8 miles to go – that’s a simple run-of-the-mill lunchtime run for me. I run 8 miles at lunch three times a week in 1hr 17min on a bad day – I could do this in my sleep. I knew this trail inside out and have run hundreds of miles on it – the race was in the bag.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. Since mile 8 I had had a nagging stitch in my stomach which was getting to be a real nuisance. In many runs recently, the same muscle has been cramping up and causing me a lot of pain, especially after about 20 miles. Thankfully on this occasion it wasn’t causing as much disruption as it has been known to do, but I really  could have done without it. I was also suffering from very stiff shoulders and upper back muscles; I don’t think it was related to my camelbak, but perhaps a build-up of tension in my muscles as I steeled myself against the wind and cold. I was constantly finding myself hunched over towards the end of the race and having to pull myself back up again. As soon as I did, the pain lessened but the muscles were constantly burning like I’d just finished a few sets of shoulder presses with a heavy barbell.

I concentrated on my triceps and pushed them straight back with each stride, imagining them swinging by my sides like pendulums. I made sure that I was picking up and placing my feet properly – no ultra-shuffling allowed! Focusing on these kept me moving at a smooth, decent pace and allowed me to continue passing people at a greatly increased pace. I cruised past 26.2 miles at 4hrs 20 mins – only 30 seconds slower than my PB set at Moray in September. When I realised this and did the sums, I discovered I could run at 10 minute pace between now and the finish and still come in under 5hrs 30. Was this even happening?! Despite the truly awful weather I was having a dream race. I decided it was time for my ‘Last Gasp’ playlist on my iPod – the one filled with my favourite running songs which never fail to make my heart soar with endorphins as I run like I stole something.

The field was strung out with runners separated by about 100 meters each and I picked them off one by one. People who had zoomed past me earlier in the race were flagging and I was maintaining the same pace and quicker than I had started at 5 hours ago. I ticked each landmark on the trail off as I passed them – Bieldside Golf Course, the bridge at Cults, 30 MILES!!!, the 3 Mile to Duthie Park sign, Anderson Drive, Holburn Street, the graveyard….the Duthie Park Green houses…

Into the last mile I just let myself fly – this was the fast finish that I’d dreamed of earlier. There were some people who stopped to clap as I entered the park and I was grinning like a mad woman as I charged through the last few hundred meters towards the finish. Finish! Kynon! Hugs! Beer! Medal! Cake! Warmth!

Mile splits 25 – 33:
10:01, 9:49, 9:44, 9:51 9:47, 9:45, 9:38, 9:26, 7:53 (!!!)

ianr6

picture – Ian Russell

I remember punching the air in delight and shouting “Yes! YESS!!!” as I came in to the finish chute, completely in shock at what I had achieved. A 30 minute improvement on last year’s time. I think I stumbled towards Kynon and George and hugged them both in exhilaration whilst George put the medal over my head. Mum was there too and so was Naomi who was helping with timing. Lots and lots of hugs!

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The next little while is a blur as I struggled to get warm and dry. I was torn between drinking my beer and a protein shake but I made myself down a shake first to get some solid fuel in me before indulging. As the blood flowed back into my hands it was agony – I clutched my bottle of Stella with two frozen paws like a child with a sippy cup – like most post-race beers though, it was the best I’d ever had.

I got a massage from Joey from Aberdeen Sports Massage who has treated both Kynon and I in the past, with the optimistic view that I might be out the next day for a short recovery trot.  I enjoyed some more beer whilst sharing battle stories with other runners before the prizegiving. It had been a very tough day for everyone but the weather seemed to have brought out the best of us and some smashing performances were recorded. Imagine our surprise however, to hear that Red Wine and Peas won the fastest Mixed Team competition! We were delighted, but Alex had got too cold and had already left so is sadly missing from our victory shot.

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My first running trophy! We’ll arrange some kind of timeshare so we can each get a shot of having it on the mantelpiece.

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Everyone was so impossibly cold that it was high time to get home and into the bath. High as a kite and jabbering like an excited 5 year old, I jumped into the car with Kynon and talked all the way home. Further celebratory beers were opened and some spectacular rugby was watched, before we headed up to the Station Hotel for the after party to celebrate another wonderful day of running at the D33 Ultra.

I’m yet to get out for that recovery trot, but I’m being sensible and attempting to let my body recover from that which turned out to be a pretty hard effort. My legs have been mostly fine but my left ITB is a little creaky so I’m nursing that hard. I also have a blister that is the same size as my big toe, on my big toe. It actually started on the 23rd of February and is yet to heal nearly 3 weeks later, so I’m trying to let that dry up a bit.

I am now feeling so much more confident about the Highland Fling – the hay is in the barn so to speak, and I’ve proved to myself that I’m capable of doing a lot more than I thought I could. Between now and then I just need to maintain my fitness and concentrate in keeping myself as healthy as can be. I’m hugely grateful to Minty for putting those positive thoughts in my head on Saturday morning – it just goes to show a little self belief goes a long way.

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53 miles is a long way too, but it’s ok; I can do it.

D33 Ultra – 3 days to go!

The days and weeks keep slipping by and all of a sudden it would appear to be March 2013. Not even the start of March – it’s now the 13th of March which means the 2013 D33 Ultramarathon is only 3 days away!

d33logo

This time last year I was in full race-preparation mode and absolutely raring to go. This year it’s been a little bit different obviously as it’s not my first ultra, but also training does not stop at this race for me this year. I’m taking a far more relaxed approach which has allowed me to enjoy race week so far and just look forward to racing. I have a few ideas about what I’m going to aim to achieve on race day, what I’m going to eat and what I might be wearing, but in comparison to last year I’m so laid back I’m practically horizontal.

The five day weather forecast came online yesterday and I’ve been obsessively refreshing BBC weather to track any changes. I’m not normally this fussed about weather, but right now it has been snowing heavily for the last 24 hours and that does not bode well for a good race. It seems to be melting quickly though, and the forecast actually looks reasonable for Saturday, if a little on the chilly side.

New Picture (26)

I’ve been lucky enough to never yet raced in truly awful weather. I know this will change at some point, but I’d quite like it not to be this weekend. Last year’s weather was perfect and I even got a head start on my dodgy running tan with some excellent stripes from my running sleeves – let’s keep everything crossed for a repeat of that.

Stonehaven Running Club is doing a couple of mini-buses to transport runners up from the South, as parking is limited and we have over 20 runners taking part. This will be a great and fun way to start the day, but I really hope I don’t get carsick! I’m really looking forward to wearing my club vest again and running my first club championship race – there are 10 ladies running so even if I’m last there are a reasonable amount of championship points to be had.

I know this is the first time I’ve mentioned Club Championship races here, so here’s a quick note from the SRC website on what this means: Nine races have been chosen as the basis for the club championship. An individual can enter all 9 races but only their best 5 scores are added up and the highest scoring male and female will win the cup at the end of the year. Points are scored as follows: the SRC runners are ranked on their finishing places within the overall field, with the ‘winner’ scoring an extra point. So 1st finisher scores 21, 2nd finisher 19 and so on down to the 20th finisher scoring 1 point.)

D33

I’m pleased to report that my training has been going very well; I’m steadily churning out mileage weeks in the mid-40s and am suffering no ill-effects. I took a look at what I’ve done this year so far compared with last year, and I was quite encouraged. At times in the last fortnight or so, it’s felt like I haven’t been working as hard as last year…but it’s obviously because it’s getting easier, not that I’m doing less…

2013 weekly miles so far2013 weekly miles so far – you can see in week 6 where I crashed and burned a bit and skipped 30 miles of back-to-back that weekend…

2012 weekly miles from end of Jan2012 miles from the last week of January until D33 race week.

In comparison, 2013 is much heavier on the miles, far more consistent and includes at least two hours of cross training a week on top of the running. I am also about a stone lighter and much, much stronger. All good things.

In terms of my goals for Saturday…I’m still undecided. I will probably call it on the morning, or a few miles into the race. Last year my time was 5hr56m which is 10:47 pace, but I think I could easily shave 10 minutes or so off that without pushing too hard. I know if I decided I wanted to really crush this race I could probably get under 5hr30 but I think that effort might have training consequences which might set me back in my last weeks of preparation for the Highland Fling. I’ve got to keep my eyes on the prize! My Long Slow Runs in training have been at around 10 minute miles, so I reckon I will stick with that kind of pace and see where I am at half way. A steady 10 minute mile pace for the entire race would see me in at 5hr30 but I will be incorporating walking/fueling breaks as usual, although probably every 45 minutes rather than every 30 like last year. It is likely that I will also negative split as well, due to the slight downhill nature of the last section.

So let’s say my goals are as follows:

Bronze – finish strong and uninjured around the same time as 2012
Silver – 5hr 45 or less
Gold – 5hr 30 or less
Platinum – as above, but with a win at the rugby later on that night against France 🙂

Finishing my first ultra - D33 2012

Finishing my first ultra – D33 2012

I am so excited to do this race for the second time and to see my ultra friends again. The last miles of that race last year are still my favourite running memories ever, and I dearly hope I am luck enough to get a second day of happy times. Kynon is marshaling at the half way point so I will get a nice hug and a kiss to set me off on my way back home, and my Mum is planning on popping up on a couple of occasions too. Hopefully one of them will make it back to the finish in time for me but if not it’s no big deal as all my favourite running people will be out and about, either running or helping.

If this is your first ultra – best of luck to you and I hope you don’t have bad taperitus like I did! It is a wonderfully friendly race and if you don’t already know what the big deal about ultras is, by the end of Saturday you surely will. Just relax and think of it as a nice day out running with friends. Chat to everyone who passes you and be sure to try the flapjacks at half way! Stick around at the end and grab a beer and some cake, then get the train to Stonehaven for the after-party at the Station Hotel.

See you at the start, and remember; fear no distance!

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