In one of my previous blogs posts I spoke about my training leading up to my first ultra marathon, the D33, in Scotland. On Saturday I did it!
My last week of training had me running a 70 minute run on Tuesday. I felt amazing and ready to go and then on Thursday I ran 30 minutes and the whole thing was a complete slog. It is quite funny what the body does in the weeks leading up to a big event like this. I was quite convinced on several occasions that I was getting a cold, that I had sore knees while I ran short distances and the day before the race I had a sore head the whole day and wondered if I would be able to run at all. My boyfriend Brian gets less and less tolerant of me each event I do.
Brian and I arrived in Aberdeen on Friday morning. We spent some time in the centre of town with my Mum and went down to the start of the race to meet a few of the organisers of the event before being dropped off at Caroline (a friend of mine from University days) and her family’s house where we were to stay the night. Connor, who is six, told me he was going to cycle the whole way with me! We had a perfectly lovely relaxing evening with them, perfect for the night before a race.
I woke nice and early giving me plenty of time get myself ready to go. Little Iona, almost four, was a great help getting my food-to-be-dropped-of-along-the-way ready and for distracting me from my nerves. If you are curious, I had bananas cut into three pieces and wrapped in foil, a couple of gels and a couple of homemade flapjacks (I only ate one and it took several kms to get it all eaten).
When we got to the start there were many people already there. I picked up my number, dropped off my food bags for along the way and my bag for when I finished and joined the toilet queue. Before I was anywhere near the front there was a call to have the pre-race briefing so I had to give up on going to the toilet and join the start. And before we knew it we were off.
I didn’t really know how to pace this run but I started about 10 seconds per kilometer slower than my marathon time from the previous year and this seemed to be a comfortable pace. I kept passing and being overtaken by a guy (Stuart) who in the end started chatting to me as he said I seemed to be going at the pace he was looking for. I was really surprised that I was running along having a chat in a race but it made sense, if we couldn’t talk probably we were going too fast. He told me all about the ultra marathons he had done including a 100 mile (160km) run. I was clearly in the presence of some amazing long distance endurance runners. He told me that he was hoping to beat his friend called Lorna with red hair who at that moment was a bit ahead.
The first obstacle was after about 10km when there was a horse and its owner getting a bit stressed with all the runners going past. We had to slow down to get past them. They weren’t far from a road so hopefully it didn’t take them long to get off the path. At this point we met up with Lorna (I learned there are quite a few Lorna’s in the ultra-marathon world) and another of their friends (Carrie) and we settled into a nice rhythm and had a good chat. I was also aware that the Scottish version of flat is far from the Dutch version. This was quoted as being a flat course but I think they should change it to “flat unless you have done all your training in and around Amsterdam”. It wasn’t really a problem at this stage but I was aware that it was an out and back run and that all the nice downhills I came across were going to be uphill on the way back. The route goes along an old railway line that is now a path and tarred about 70% of the way. I was glad the weather was perfect as it could have been tough had it become muddy.
I had my chief cheer squat with me. Mum had Brian with her in the car and they stopped at many places along the way. The pressure was on Mum to find as many stops as possible to see me as Brian and my in-laws had successfully got her round London marathon to see me in 2011.
Close to the half way mark, Caroline and family were waiting to cheer me on, what a lift! The kids ran a few meters with us, it was so sweet. So we made it to half way and at this point the two ladies got away from us. I saw my cheer squat again and then settled into the way home. The conversation got less and I had to start working on a bit of mental strength to keep me going. Stuart stopped for a pit stop around 30km and this was when I started to struggle. I was on my own now. Luckily, he caught up with me and for some reason I got some energy from this and it got a bit easier again. And then we hit some hills… I could no longer keep up with Stuart but I didn’t worry too much and just focused on keeping going (I can hear some of the experienced Scottish ultra marathoners laughing at me now – “ha ha, it’s a flat course!”). There were a few short steep inclines and a very long gradual incline. At one point a man said to me “it’s all downhill now” for us to turn a corner and hit another short hill. But he insisted that after this one it would be all downhill.
During this section we hit the marathon point – 3:39, not too bad, I thought to myself. I hadn’t seen Brian and Mum for a bit so got a lift around 47km when I saw them above me on a bridge. I think the downhill into Aberdeen really saved me and let me keep my pace up. I was slowing slightly but no more than I expected. I wasn’t sure exactly how far I was from the end so when I came to the end of the path and saw the entrance to Duthy Park I got such a surprise. With a smile on my face I ran the last few meters to the end of the run. I had so many people to see me finish: Mum, Brian, Caroline and family and my sister and family. It was absolutely perfect. I had run it in 4 hours and 39 minutes and was the 10th lady.
I collected my medal – made from a jar lid and a goody bag that included a beer with a special D33 Ultra label, instantly seized up and we headed off for food…
The organisers did an amazing job. It is a small event with less than 500 participants which can only happen because of people volunteering. I think it is always important to remember, when we do any event, that without the volunteers it couldn’t take place. I am also very grateful to my friend Caroline, her husband Tom and their patient kids Connor and Iona for taking great care of us and making it all very stress free.