How do you type a race report for a race you weren’t really racing? Badly is probably the correct answer but I’ve included a short version for those with ADHD and a longer version for those with a boring job.
The short (twitter) version is I was faster than last year, got destroyed in cow shit at about mile 27 and had a great time.
The long version?
Rather than start at the beginning and tell you all about the quality of the motorway coffee on the trip up to Scotland and the comfort of the Stena line ferry I’ll start with the good bit: the finish.
It’s always good to finish.
That’s a photograph of me at the finish. What I mean is that’s the best photograph of me at the finish of any race over any distance ever.
I showed it to my wife and her sister and they both laughed and said: You know the Paralympics is over, right?
Lee had a few more of me at the finish and I can’t say they do anything to bridge the gap between me and Mo Farah:
Now, I know that most running blogs and race reports are all about how the bloggers trained well, stayed injury free, paced themselves, got the nutrition right, picked off the competition, focused on their target, dug deep and held on for a finish that was well deserved. I must say, I salute these people but I don’t think I fit into that category.
For a start, my race plan can be summed up in three words try and finish.
Everything between the start and the finish of the race just trying…………… (your best not to make a tit of yourself).
If you rewind about 8 hours from those finishing line photographs you’d have seen me nervously sipping an energy drink on the bus up to the start. The fact that the journey was taking over an hour only served to reinforce the idea that this was not a really sensible pass time.
Still, as we disembarked from the bus at Glenbuck much of the nervousness dissolved as the anticipation and excitement of the impending race took over. These emotions usually lead to a sudden desire to squat behind the nearest tree and lighten your load.
The informality of the start is one of the things I’ve noticed at Ultras that makes them enjoyable. The race briefing for this one was about two sentences: If you drop out tell someone at the checkpoint and don’t interfere with the cows (sheep seemed to be fair game).
My support team from last year were out in force but Dave was in fancy dress for the day (he’d come dressed as a runner).
So, after some handshakes and a brief moment of blogging fame (I was noticed for my effeminate running gear – effeminate is another way of saying sexy off the shoulder kit) we were on our way.
My plan was to start slow and to try to keep it that way. What I really meant when I came up with this pearl of tactical planning was that I didn’t want to do too much death marching towards the end while a whole bunch of runners trotted past me.
This race can be divided into 3 distinct sections – I think. The first 12 miles, the next 13 miles and then the last 16 miles.
The first 12 miles
This takes you from Glenbuck to beyond Limmerhaugh. All the upland stuff.
The path for the first 4 or 5 miles is nearly all single track. Your feet are dry and you have dreams of keeping them that way so you leap and hop around the slightest hint of a puddle.
You also settle into running in a group.
It was somewhere around mile 3 that I started to get worried about this. I felt I was starting to run to somebody else’s pace. I wasn’t going too fast and the weather was perfect for running – overcast with a cooling breeze- but I just felt like it was a bit fast. I recall last year on the same race that someone who finished 25 minutes ahead of me said that he thought people were going too fast over the first 10 miles. That and Andy Cole’s start slow philosophy made me think – ease off. I decided to drop back from the group I was attached to. This wasn’t a target race for the year and I was only out to have fun. So what if I didn’t perform to last years standard. I was thinking of the post-race pints.
On we went, through the first check point at Kames, the group stringing out in front of me and I found myself running on my own after around 5 miles. I could still see others but there was no companion to listen to me drone on about whatever bubbled to the top of my head.
That was fine. Part of running all day is just accepting the moment you’re in and not getting anxious about the last piece or the next section.
The route, for the first 6 miles, is remote enough from the river that you can’t see it. It could be called the Muirkirk railway cutting race. That said, the Mountain Ash was in full fruit so, although the autumn colours were not yet out the colours were pretty impressive.
Then, as you pass the Martyr’s grave, the river opens up in front of you and you get to do some running with the brackish waters of the Ayr gurgling along beside you to keep you company. The first taste of the scenery for the rest of the day.
Once I let go of the group in front of me the panic of the first 5 miles evaporated and I settled into a long day of eating junk food. I had the sort of food with me that Dr. Christian normally puts into the big transparent tube and makes the nation think: No wonder you’re a fat bastard.
My plan was to eat something small – about 100 calories – every 30 minutes. I had over stocked the drop bags to allow for a bit of choice and had set the drop bags up for a fade in performance. I had bags at miles 11, 17, 25, 31, 34 & 38. The last few bags were really for mental focus rather than food although I think I kept up the food until about the 6:30 mark.
Last year there was a section of the course at mile 10 that meant you were destined to run for the next 30 miles with wet feet. This year, thanks to the efforts at quantitative easing deployed by the Bank of England over the last 4 years, there was a brand new section of boardwalk at this point. That, and the well strimmed path further on, meant that there wasn’t a nettle to sting you nor a section of the route you couldn’t see. This was the point where I realised that there was an end to the recession (green shoots of recovery they call it, right?)
Just after this I had to do something that I’ve never had to do in a race before. That thing the Americans call a bio-break (that’s a yoghurt with toenails and seeds in it where I come from) and we call having a shit.
I had hummed and hawed about this for a few miles but the minute I was back out and running again I knew it was the right thing to do. If you’ve ever had to good fortune to have an alcopoop – that mythical crap the day after a night on the sauce that takes with it your hangover and crushing headache – you’ll know the feeling.
I was making good time now and the long strung out group of runners who had left me for dead at mile 3 were coming back into focus. I felt that the effort was about the same but the progress was better than before.
Miles 12 – 25
As we came off the moorland and took to the board walks I was back and running with others. I was still running my own race and was happy to let the gap open and close as it wanted to.
It was still all pretty much single file and I found myself running with a bunch of Scottish runners. They were Donald, Lorna & John.
As I found out during the next 10 miles or so John was the organiser of the Highland Fling – my longest ultra to date. He is also the guy in the photos at the start pleasuring himself with the nasal vibrator.
Donald was easy to spot – remember the body-painting fad in the late 1980’s for painting nude women so it appeared as if they had clothes on? Donald (appeared to have) a pair of tartan lycra pants on. I still think they were body paint.
Lorna was between these two and compared to them was completely normal. She did start looking for a bottle of wine and a newspaper at Sorn (mile 17) when John was on the phone to his mother but by then that seemed like a completely normal thing to do.
As we came into Sorn John told me all about how to organise an off-road ultra marathon: keep it simple and there’s no money in it.
At the check point at Sorn the group stated to break up a bit. John and Lorna stopped for a chat about Labradors and the rest of us didn’t.
We came into Catrine at around mile 20 and I was now running with Donald. He told me about Lorna’s part-time job selling newspapers in Glasgow and we discussed the finer points of 12 and 24 hour races.
At Haugh Farm (mile 22) I re-filled the aqua-pack. and popped a few NUUN tabs in it for electrolytes. Somewhere past the farm I realised that I had either a chronic sweat problem or I’d sprung a leak. My back was drenched and my dry shorts were starting to get worried. After unclipping the whole thing and opening it up I managed to re-seal the pack and was off again.
Between here and Failford (mile 25 and the next significant point in the race) we were away from the river again. Somewhere in one of the plantation forests I moved ahead of Donald. He stopped dead in front of me and whipped out little Donald and I stopped as well. Then, realising that this was a solo game and not a chance at a walking break, I trotted on.
It was about here, after 25 miles of going slow that it started to pay off. A combination of less walking breaks and swift exit from the check points meant that nearly all the group who had left me behind at mile 4 were now behind me.
Was it planned? Not really; it was more a side effect of my race strategy as opposed to being my race strategy.
As the second section came to a close and I jogged into Failford I was happy to see my drop bag and a nice bottle of flat coke to wash down all the rice krispie squares and Kinder Bueno bars from the morning’s running.
Lee appeared and asked how I was getting on. I asked her about Dave’s progress only to be greeted by a Guinness drinking ne’er do well at the door of the Failford Inn. Dave has reached that point in his running career where he has so little to prove he doesn’t even have to finish the races any more. As I slurped custard from a plastic pot and he slurped Guinness I could only dream of being that good!
Mile 25 to the finish
How long is this race? I don’t know. The route is listed as being 44 miles long but my Garmin died somewhere in the mid-30’s. I know it was a mile longer than last year as the finish had been extended and there was a long diversion this year at mile 27-28 because of a land slide. After the race most people seemed to think it was 41 miles.
After mile 25 comes the inevitable full marathon distance. This clocked past in almost exactly 4:30 on the clock. I took my ritual ‘He’s mental’ photograph and then, realising that I’d been running with a quiff for 26 miles, I re-took it. Then, realising that I needed a hair cut I got on with running.
There are sections of the route around here that can almost make you forget that you’re running a long way on a Saturday afternoon. The section after Failford is just like that. You feel like you should have a golden retriever, a hot, sexy girlfriend and the sort of turtle-neck sweater that has a little timber button on it. This trio of accessories (dog, girl, turtle-neck) means you are in a New England/Playboy advert for trojan condoms or something equally unlikely and not slogging your guts out in Scotland.
At mile 27 as you were diverted through a farmer’s field to avoid a landslide all thoughts of playboy sex disappeared as you felt the cold oozy mud ‘n cow shit cocktail pour in through the tops of your shoes and through your laces.
Now, as you trudged through the mud with the running equivalent of a pair of diver’s boots on and enough grit and dirt in your feet to make you hate the idea of barefoot running forever, you’d have given your first born for the promise of a puddle.
The only consolation you can take from this sort of thing was that everyone was running with the same gravity boots after that field.
On we went and the miles clicked by. After Annbank – somewhere around mile 31 – the fun started to go out of the running. This is inevitable as the fatigue in your legs starts to shout louder and louder like a kid in the back seat of the car trying to get your attention. From now, until the end – somewhere between 9 and 13 miles, depending on who was trying to encourage you – would be a hard slog.
I ran from here until the end with a guy who seemed to be born for this sort of thing. His name was Doug Walker and based on the fact that he owned a pair of fell running shoes and was a member of an actual running club I guessed he had form. (He collected a prize at the piss-up after the race so I must have been right – although everyone seemed to get a prize except me).
He ran on in front of me and I shuffled on behind him.
As we crossed over Tarholm bridge at mile 34 I met up with Dave and Lee again. I ditched my arm warmers and as I grabbed a flat coke Dave guessed he’d see me in an hour at the finish. I was laughing.
From here to the end it’s another bit of scenic running and then after Oswald’s bridge (mile 37 or 38) it’s a short trot through a field and road all the way to the finish. Given that the last section seems to take so long it must be longer than 41 miles.
As I approached last year’s finishing like I crossed over it in 7:08, about 6 minutes faster than last year.
By now, it was a run down through the town on the northern bank of the river, over an old bridge, onto the high street and, after dodging some buses and shoppers a run to the finish. I had walked the last mile of the route the previous evening as the idea of panicking as I got lost with 500m to go was not high on my list of goals after 41 miles.
In the end I crossed the line in 7:18. I held off Doug but by only a minute. I don’t think that really counts over 7 hours. I counted back on the Facebook up-date and I think I came 24th but I was happy just to finish so it was a bonus after that.
the best thing about the race, apart from the scenery?
The organisers, the marshals, the other runners, the supporters, the man with the jelly babies at mile 22, the good humour of everyone.
To sum it up for other runners (of average ability):
As I crossed the finishing line I was met by the admirer of my effete arm warmers at the start. Andy Johns. . He was the winner in 5:34 and the winner of the overall SUMS prize for the year. He chatted to me like I was a good runner and agreed that the cow shit at mile 27 was not the high point in the race. He drank beer at the finish and posed for photographs.
Apart from the fact that he was very fast he was just like me (wife, kids, over 40, 40 mile a week running habit).
That is why these races are so much fun.
After the race I had the snack of champions – chips and milk.
Then, it was into the nice shirt for a feed of pints and the SUMS prize giving.
All I can remember of the evening was agreeing to run a 100km night race with a man called Mark in Italy and a man called Terry (see the highland fling report) who has a parrot called Poppy that can say ‘big wimmins knickers’ in a rough Scottish accent.
If I remember any more of the night I’ll save it for another blog post.
Thanks for reading.
Thanks to the other endurance athlete – Finola – 4 days with the kids – I’ll drive to Scotland to go running any day with that option.