16th March 2013
5hrs 26mins 29 secs (30 min PB!)
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.
After hoovering that and enjoying a beer to steady the nerves, I started packing for the day’s racing, starting with drop bags.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Mike leading the race.
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;
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 (!!!)
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!
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.
My first running trophy! We’ll arrange some kind of timeshare so we can each get a shot of having it on the mantelpiece.
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.
53 miles is a long way too, but it’s ok; I can do it.