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Ythan Challenge 2013 – RACE REPORT

20130616_191302Xodus Ythan Challenge 16th June 2013

Chip Time: 1hr 18m 31s
235th/470 Finishers
23rd/119 Senior Females
39th/179 Females

For the first time in my three runnings of this race, we were greeted with glorious sunshine when we arrived at the Meadows Sports Centre in Ellon. It was a gorgeous day for running a race, especially one which involved a refreshing dip in the River Ythan and stomping through mucky forests.


Kynon and I arrived to register at about 10am and were once again pleased with the smooth operations in place. I was especially glad to receive a small t-shirt this year! I have never worn last year’s as it was far too large, but I particularly like the design of the 2013 tshirt so I’ll be wearing this a lot.


We went straight back out into the sunshine and met up with lots of friends. There was a big contingent from Stonehaven Running Club and plenty of other well known faces. I was in the second wave with Kate and a couple of the other girls, but Kynon was in the 3rd wave much to his displeasure. I have no idea how they work out the seedings for the corrals in this race; it seems inconsistent as Kynon’s 10k PB and previous Ythan Challenge times are better than mine, but he was seeded slower.


The race was a prompt start at 11am and the first wave swept off to tumultuous applause. Five minutes later it was my time to go and we were  soon gallavanting across the playing fields and down the hill to the riverside. The course followed exactly the same format as the last two years – approximately 2.5 miles of easy running by the river, mainly on tarmac or gravel, 2.5 miles of antics in the forest of the Esslemont Estate, and then 2.5 miles on the same route back to the sports ground with a few final obstacles in full view of the spectators to enjoy.

The riverside path was hot and uncomfortable. I took it reasonably easy as I had 16 miles in my legs from the day before and I didn’t want to go off too fast and hurt myself. The sun was beating down and there was no breeze at all – the river itself was very inviting and I looked forward to the dunking we’d get soon. There were lots of people out and enjoying the sunshine so the were plenty of cheers and encouragement as we headed off to the private estate and the obstacles that awaited.

We entered the forest and first up was a cargo net. This caused no problems other than my ill-advised choice of hair do – a bun on the top of my head which kept getting tangled. In amongst more forest running there were haybales to vault, tree trunks to hurdle and steep slopes to scramble. The descent to the Bog Of Doom followed and I gleefully leapt in and used the high-knees technique to safely and quickly traverse to the other side. It had been beautifully cultivated as usual and the thick, black, smelly mud came up to my knees.

With no hesitation at all it was straight in to the river for a wade/swim of about 25 ft upstream. The water was deliciously cool and washed all the mud off quickly as it came up to my tummy. After pulling ourselves out we had another short run before jumping back into the river again for a longer wade through water which was only knee deep. This was fine apart from the gravel stirred up by competitors which was finding its way into my shoes…

After leaving the water we ran along the river where thankfully last year’s cargo net obstacle had been left out. This caused a huge bottle neck and left runners cold and wet as they waited up to 10 minutes to take their turn. Instead there was a maze marked with tape in amongst labyrinthine pine trees, more haybales, tires, scrambly hills, haybales…haybales etc. I enjoyed the haybales as I’m tall, so traversing them is relatively easy as long as I jump up twisting and roll over on my back. Others of more shorter stature   struggled with upper body exhaustion by the end of the race after hauling themselves up and over.

It felt like there were less obstacles than last year and that the section passed quicker. All too soon we were back on the road back to Ellon and back in the hot sunshine; it really was a gorgeous day and I was glad I had sunscreen on. I was able to pick up the pace on my return journey and kept under 9 minute miles whilst overtaking a few. In the last mile the fastest runners from the heat behind me caught me and I wondered how Kynon was getting on…

vicki2picture by Vicki Shanks

I was pleased to finally get back to the Meadows and had saved some energy for the final tasks. Like last year it involved climbing up and down embankments on tired legs and vaulting more haybales but this time with an audience.

vicki1Picture by Vicki Shanks

In the final meters of the race I spotted Ali on the sidelines hollering “First Stonehaven Lady home! G on, you can take him!” referring to the man a few meters in front of me. What the hell; I decided to be an asshole and put the foot on the gas and overtook him, but he put up a good fight and we accelerated across the line together laughing as we finished.


There was a great spread of food available and I picked up cereal bars, fruit, juice and water and staggered away whilst scoffing my spoils. I caught the announcer saying Kynon’s name and was surprised to see he had finished only minutes behind me in a time of 1hr 16 – two minutes faster than me! He had made up so much time on the course even though his wave started five minutes after mine that he was almost on my heels at the finish.

400698_10151675175384704_407271498_npicture by Vicki Shanks

We settled down in the sun and cheered on the rest of our friends as they came in one by one.

20130616_123624Including Rachel

20130616_124233…and Ronnie.




Another stellar day out from the Ythan Challenge. This remains one of my favourite races in the North East and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes an adventure. It’s extremely well organised and brilliant value for money. Set a note in your calendars to start looking out for entries in January – it usually sells out within hours on the day it opens.

We headed home and enjoyed the rest of our day drinking beer by the harbour – not a bad way to spend a Sunday at all.


Xodus Ythan Challenge 2011 – RACE REPORT

Ythan Challenge 2011– 1:28:18


7.3 soggy miles of mud, mayhem, madness and…wasps?!

I’d been looking forward to the Ythan Challenge race ever since i first heard about it early LAST spring when I found out it had already sold out. This race is quite notorious around the North East of Scotland for being huge amounts of fun and it sells out every year with some competitors coming from as far afield as the Central Belt to compete. It’s a tough and punishing course which is between 11km and 12km in length and features numerous obstacles and challenges, but as it changes every year it’s hard to know exactly what to expect – especially for a 1st timer.

There is a field of approximately 500 runners, which is split into three waves starting in five minute intervals, fastest predicted runners going first. The course starts and finishes at the Meadows Sports Centre in Ellon but leaves public land after about 3km to disappear in to the Esslement Estate which is privately owned and not usually accessible to the public. Obstacles include devilishly steep muddy inclines, a bog which is lovingly cultivated in the Spring purely for race purposes, haybales, cargo nets and a couple of dunks in the river Ythan for good measure.

All in all a huge amount of fun made even more so by tackling the challenge with friends! The weather was absolutely atrocious but did nothing to detract from the event which says a lot about the impeccable organisation and fabulous marshals. I will be back next year without a doubt!



Race day started as is customary with a bowl of oats pimped with mixed seeds, dried fruit and a dollop of almond butter.


It was a fairly early start given race registration began at 9am and Ellon is about 14 miles away so I was up around 7am and was greeted with grim, grey skies and torrential rain.


Sad kitty! The look in Azul’s eyes betrays his confusion over why Mum consistently goes out to play in the rain when she could be at home on the couch. Still, I figured since we’d be getting wet in the river anyway, rain made absolutely no difference. Cold racing beats hot running any day of the week in my book!


Customary shot of walking to registration here.


We were there rather early in fact and I clearly could have had an extra hour in bed, but it was interesting to see competitors come in in dribs and drabs.



I wasn’t sure what the ratio of ‘serious’ runners to happy amateurs to novelty runners would be. It appeared that several clubs had the race in their club championships as there were strong contingents from Perth, Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Metro and Edinburgh clubs running in club vests. There were fewer novelty office/charity teams than I thought but then it is a reasonably tough race and you need to be stronger than 10k fitness to complete it easily so I think that would put a lot of people off picking it for a charity event. The field was mainly made up of lunatic runners who liken getting soaked and muddy on a Sunday morning to be their ideal way to start the day.


Like this one.


Soon the rest of the gang turned up – Mike and Annette, and Ian and Donna; aka the University of Awesome.


Once everyone got registered, changed and marked with their numbers we were ready for a group shot.



Well some us were Winking smile Ian had created his facial hair masterpiece especially for the race and I have to say it’s done a lot for the standard of my pictures.



Would you mess with this man if you came across him running through the Esslement Estate?! Only joking Ian, I happen to be a big fan of extreme moustaches so it gets my vote.


We had some time to hang around before the start at 11am – I don’t know whether this was some kind of crazy ultra runner’s pre-race ritual or not, but as usual Mike was on fire throughout the race so maybe i should give it a go.

Soon enough we decided it was time to get outside and brave the rain for a warm up. It wasn’t cold or windy, but the rain was…serious rain. 30 seconds in it and you were very wet.




A quick sprint around the park and we were good to go. At this point I’d like to take the opportunity to thank my lovely, patient and ever supportive partner Badger who continues to indulge me in my hobby which, at times in his opinion, borders on lunacy. Especially when he comes to support us at races in the rain Smile


Mike was in the first wave which started at 11am so we got to cheer him on before I departed in the 2nd and Ian, Donna and Annette went with the 3rd.


Lots of runners in red – had a lot of runners out on Sunday; they’re a group of runners based locally and around the country who run in memory of their friend Andrew Dunne who tragically died in the first Scottish Kilomathon race on October 3rd 2010. They always wear their distinctive red shirts and have some damn good runners amongst them as well. They raise money for charities in every race they run – I think what they do is pretty cool so do check out their site to read a bit more about it.



Mike ready to go.




Soaked to the bone, it was now my turn to line up. There was good banter in the corral with everyone looking forward to the surprises in store.






Soooo wet!!


And thus concludes the pictorial part of this re-cap until the first of us arrived back at the finish around an hour later.

The route made it’s way around the football field once before heading down towards the river Ythan and following it for a couple of kilometers. There were some steep steps and some uncomfortable terrain but that was about as extreme as it got, until we ascended to and crossed over a bridge, with a very steep muddy slope down the other side. I had been overtaken by quite a large amount of runners before this section and thankfully things were a bit spread out by this point as there was no point in trying to hurry or else you would have ended up on your backside. I was particularly careful here as I did not want to fall foul of the banks of tall nettles as well – not a great way to endure a race I thought.

I think it was about 4kms when we entered the gates to the private Esslement Estate. The route then went off the concrete road into the forest where we found ourselves running on soft pine needles and dodging spikey branches. The first obstacle was a series of fallen tree trunks to traverse – easy; being tall helped me spring right over them. The path joined some landrover tracks which were nice and muddy and then there was the first set of haybales to clamber over. I ran straight for the middle of the two (they were set on their round ends side by side) and jumped and twisted so I landed bum first facing left. I then swung my legs over to give me momentum as I sideways-rolled over on my back and landed deftly – winner! I decided to stick with that technique; no clambering for me. At the time I wondered why some bales had been cordoned off – it turned out that the first pack of runners to cross them had revealed a very angry swarm of wasps to be living in the bales. Many of the front runners got stung (including Vik Lomax who won the woman’s race). You can read Vik’s race report here – I love how the wasp stings only get a trifling mention!

Still deep within the forest, the next task was to get down a verrry steep, narrow, slippy, muddy incline. I don’t think I can describe it in any other way than downright precarious – it had to be take one at a time and due to the amount of runners which had already gone through, the mud was ripe and slippy with nothing underfoot for traction. I remained upright, which was a good start. At the bottom of the hill was the infamous bog – about 15 foot wide with rippling deep, black, stinking mud. I had watched videos of this online so I knew the secret was to go as fast as possible and lift your knees up high. I went for it and was surprised at the depth – it was mid thigh! Still I got through without assistance (there was a marshal here with a pole in case anyone got stuck!) and continued on my way.

We were now running parallel upstream to the Ythan River travelling north. There was no path here, just your average grassy river bank which thankfully by now had been trampled down. I could see the water section was up ahead and people were either up to their chests or swimming; hang on, this wasn’t in the brief…I thought it was only wading in the river..?! A marshal guided us one by one into the river and we had to go out a few meters into the depths of the middle before travelling upstream into the current for about 15 meters. The water was SURPRISINGLY not cold, but adrenaline and being 100% soaked already probably helped. There were also marshals from the local Sea Rescue and Coastguards in the water to guide us who also had buoyancy aids in case anyone struggled. These guys did a fabulous job and the race wouldn’t be the same without them – as was the case last year when they were called away to an emergency and the course had to be changed at the last minute.

Shortly after re-emerging from the water cleansed of all mud, the course re-ascended up an impossibly steep, muddy slippy vertiginous slope. Wearing road shoes with no extra traction, my legs were going like I was on a travellator as I tried to find some grip. Persistent scrambling saw me to the top with a nice gash on my leg and shredded hands to show for it. More haybales and more running occurred before another decent and another dunk in the river – this time the water was only knee depth but the current was much stronger. Looking down at the rushing water as I moved was quite disorientating and it felt like I wasn’t going anywhere at all!

Out of the water and back into the forest on flatter ground there were new obstacles such as cargo nets to climb up and over, scramble nets to go under and tunnels to go through. Also conquered – gates, fallen trees and other random blockages. Oh, and more hay bales of course. Eventually we ended up back on a proper road where I was able to re-gain my stride, settle my heart rate a bit and get back into some proper running.

At this point it was probably about 7km in and the course was verrry spread out. I was just behind a lady from the Arbroath Footers running club though and she was chugging along steadily so I decided to pace with her at about 9m 30s a mile. During these sections of normal running I wanted to stick with my half marathon pace and go no faster in the interest of not damaging anything. Or at least having one less thing to blame if I did damage something. After a while I could see she was tiring though and I over took her when she slowed to a walk; I then ran the final 4km along the paths back into Ellon pretty much by myself, with encouragement from cheery marshals every now and then which was always welcome.

There were quite a few members of the public along the river path and I suddenly became quite aware of how messy I must have looked – my make up had long been washed away and I was coated in mud (although the rain did help shift it). Everyone was clapping and saying ‘Well done’ and I made sure to thank them all – it was lovely to have some support when I was just plodding along by myself! Until, I experienced something which has gone immediately to the top of my ‘Weirdest and rudest running heckles EVER’ list. A little boy, maybe about 8 or 9 years of age, was sitting on a bench with what would appear to be Mum and Granma. There were some other people around who clapped as I passed, but this little cretin stood up, pointed straight at me and said “You, are SO FAT!”. No, really. I’m not kidding – I wish I was. I was expecting Mum to batter him and chuck him in the river for being so rude but instead they both giggled as I passed. Utterly baffled, my first response was to smack my lycra clad backside and holler back “Tell that to my ass ‘cos it’s AWESOME!”. Of course, hindsight is always 20-20 and a short while later I realised the most appropriately hilarious re-heckle would have been “Not as fat as yo Momma!!”.

Seriously though, what the hell?! What kind of mother raises her child to think that that’s ok to shout at women? Note the plural – he also said it to Donna and Annette, and presumably every other woman in between. As I ran on trying to figure out what the hell just happened an advert came to mind…


Whatever kid – wise up. Fat talk is so 90s. Once you grow up you’ll appreciate the booty.

Before I knew it I was passing the 11km mark and turning back into the field!


In the interim of course, Mike had finished in under an hour – lets take a look at how he finished:



Aha – I see he went for the climber’s approach. No undignified bale-hurdling for him.






He came in in 59minutes 6 seconds. Just for those of you who might have missed out on last weeks antics – he finished the 95 mile West Highland Way Race in 21.5hrs just seven days prior to this!


Now, back to me. After this piece of grass there was another killer hill to scramble. No mud, but slippy wet grass.



And here’s my bale hurdling technique; I’ve trademarked it the “Mitchell Ascension”.



Making this face is essential to successfully complete the manoeuvre.




After this the performer gracefully plops to her feet and continues onwards with all the adroitness of a sugar plum fairy.




Wheeeee! They announced my name as I crossed the finish line which I liked Smile




Hawt. The gothic emo eyeliner tears extended down my face, across my face and right down my chest. I’m remarkably not muddy though! The rain helped of course.



Such a fun race! I felt like a big kid again, roaming through forests and caked in mud without a care in the world. I normally race by the saying “Look good, run good” but in this case I clearly didn’t need a scrap of makeup to have a good run Smile



Too chuffed to even hold my medal the right way around!


It wasn’t long before we spotted then Duggans who had managed to stay together.


Here you can see them making a valiant attempt…







Oh Ian; don’t desert your wife! Whatever happened to for better or worse?!


Donna got the last laugh though;





As she steamed home to a victory over Ian Smile


I don’t think he’s the least bit pleased about that at all…

I had to go and change out of my wet clothes at this point as I was getting a chill, but the lads stuck around to see Annette in shortly after.



We stuck around for some home baking courtesy of the local Girl Guides, and the carnivores amongst us were able to feast on BBQ’d burgers and sausages. We watched the prize giving and the rain *almost* held off for the end but another tropical-style downpour started and we made haste to the car before I drenched yet another set of clothes.

As I said before – a fantastic race, well organised and well attended. I can’t recommend this enough to anyone with a sense of humour and in need of a challenge. The course changes every year so they keep it fresh and you never know what’s in store. Stick this in your diary for January 2012 if you want to get a place though as it usually sells out within a week or less. I will definitely be back Smile

Zen Running

There is an argument that running should be enjoyed for what it is and that the addition of technology such as iPods and Garmins in to the mix takes away from the pure joy of untainted running. Whilst I do appreciate this I have never been one to subscribe to this view and up until Friday I could say I have never run outside without my iPod. I only got my Garmin Forerunner in January and since then it has never left my wrist when I’m out on the trails – I love it and all the data that I can get from it!

So on Friday I found myself needing to collect my car from my Grandad’s house as Badger and I had joined him for dinner and drinks the night before. It’s only 4.5miles to his house so I decided to run it and pick a hilly route to push myself, until I remembered that my iPod was in my car. Disaster! Never mind, I thought, I’ll just have to see what it feels like to be undistracted from the various pains we encounter as runners. I was ready to leave, but sadly my Garmin was not co-operating and refused to pick up GPS satellite connection – after waiting 20 minutes I got fed up of hanging around and resigned myself to tacking the run sans technology…

One thing I hate about running without music is having to listen to the sound of my heaving breath. I genuinely think it makes me feel more tired hearing myself wheeze away so distracting myself from that with music is essential for a great run (or so I’d have myself believe). In truth, after about a mile I just didn’t notice any more. I was too busy thinking about the blog post I was going to write about it Smile. Not having the garmin wasn’t a pain as such, but I did run my first mile in about 7 minutes which is far too fast for me to sustain right now, although it was interesting to find that I’d settled into such a swift pace. Anyway, it was an interesting run – it is good to mix things up a bit every now and then so maybe I’ll try adding a few Zen runs into the mix just for fun every so often.


So tomorrow morning sees me compete in my 7th race of the year so far, the Ythan Challenge. This will be my 10th race since I started running competitively last May and I still get as much out of racing as I did the very first time – long may that continue. The Ythan Challenge is a multi-terrain adventure race that is between 7 and 8 miles in length – however they change the course each year and keep the obstacles secret so no-one actually knows what to expect! It’s almost a given that there will be haybales to traverse, cargo nets to climb over and under, steep vertical ascents, muddy bogs to wade through and a section of the Ythan river to run up as well. All in all a wet, muddy, dirty adventure race. I can’t wait Smile

I’m running it with Mike, Annette, Ian and Donna, under the auspicious team name of the University of Awesome since we all work at the University of Aberdeen. I’m not planning on doing any crazy splits but more just to enjoy myself and have a good run with friends. I have the Stonehaven Half Marathon the week after so I need to look after my joints – I will be running in knee sleeves in an attempt to minimise the impact on them and will be using older shoes so not to wreck my current racing shoes as well!

Registration is at 9am so it will be an early start tomorrow – I should really get to bed but there’s something about going to bed before midnight on a Saturday which just isn’t quite right for me so I think I will have a glass of wine and read before banking some Zzz’s. Race report hopefully to follow on Monday!

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