When Ultras Go Bad – D33 2013

It should come as no surprise to anyone who read my previous post, ‘D33 Or Bust‘, that Saturday 16th March, the day of the D33 ultramarathon, proved to be a tough day for me. Due to a number of factors explained in that previous post, training just hadn’t gone to plan and, as I approached the day of the D33, the first Scottish Ultra Marathon Series race of the year, I was filled with all kinds of concern regarding how the day was going to pan out. I even considered giving the race a miss but both Race Director George Reid and fellow runner Ian Minty offered some sound advice, telling me to turn up and do the best that I could. Looking back, I am glad that I listened to their advice. Not only did I finish the race, I wasn’t last and, as I found out at George’s pre-race briefing, I was one of only 14 ‘ever presents’, who have run each of the 4 D33 ultramarathons held.

This time last year I had run in excess of 400 miles with a number of long slow runs including back to back sessions, basically the ideal preparation for the 33 mile event. This year I had completed just over 1/4 of that, with no run longer than 11 miles, basically the worst possible preparation for pretty much any event other than, say, a half marathon!

I knew this was going to hurt, and it did!

The legs coped well up to the 11 mile mark, the distance I had become ‘comfortable’ with in training. However, by the time I reached the half way mark at 16.5 miles, just on the outskirts of Banchory, I could feel tightening throughout my legs and, by the 18 mile mark, I was running in pain. ‘Only’ 15 miles to go. I must have been visibly pained by the time I reached the 27 mile mark as a kind walker, out for a stroll on the Deeside Way, took pity on me and offered me some paracetamol which I gladly accepted. This eased the pain somewhat and left me to deal with the cramping that occurred whenever I changed pace (think 1st and 2nd gear only by this point!). I had forgotten just how long that last section felt but was glad to meet in with a number of other runners who were similarly toiling. I was not alone out there at least!

The first time I ran this race, back in 2010, I completed it in a time of 06:03:01. Each year I have chipped away at that time, completing in 05:58:56 and, in 2012, my event PB time of 05:36:10. This year I finally crossed the line in a time of 06:18:33, 214th out of 252 finishers. I’m not sure how many DNFs there were on the day but over 300 had actually signed up to the event.

The weather throughout the day was cold and wet, quite unlike the usual D33 warmer weather that accompanies the event. To be honest, that probably worked in my favour. There have been times in the past where I have toiled in the heat and, this year, that might just have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. As it was, I was layered up with my Helly Hansen Dry Revolution LS and my Montane Minimus waterproof, which kept me at just the right temperature throughout the day.

I did have one particularly ‘doh’ moment. Around the 20 mile mark the rain once again started to pour down with some force and I decided to put up the hood on my Montane Minimus. Without thinking, I unrolled the hood and threw it over my head, at which point, some 20 miles worth of accumulated rain water went straight down my back, soaking and chilling me in an instant. That’s certainly something that I hope never to repeat – beware of hoods! :o)

So it was tough, but I got there in the end – Now on to the positives.

As with every D33, it’s great to finally get the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series underway, even if I was ‘slightly’ unprepared this year. To be honest, the training hasn’t exactly had the opportunity to kick up a notch or two since that day so I think, this year, the challenge is definitely going to focus on completion of events rather than on racking up PBs.

It was also great to see so many familiar faces, and lots of new ones. This year the pre race chat for most people that I met up with was about my newly born son Harris. It was nice to have so many people asking after him. He did make an appearance at the end of the race with Leanne but, given the conditions and my slightly later than usual finish, we didn’t get the chance to introduce him to many of you. I am sure everyone will get a chance to meet him soon enough :o)

It was great to finish. That usually goes without saying but, this year, finishing was particularly important to me and I can quite honestly say that I am content with my time. I expected to take longer if truth be told. I was met by Race Director George Reid on the finish line and had to laugh as he pointed out “see what you can achieve without training”. Thanks George :o) As always, the D33 medal, produced by www.craftrocks.co.uk, was unique and completed a goodie bag that included, among other things, custom labelled Brewdog Beer.

Huge thanks to RD George, his assistant Karen and all of the marshals who gave up their time and stood about on a terribly cold and wet day.

While things didn’t exactly go to plan, I did complete the 33 miles of the route and, in doing so, logged a long slow run session towards my Highland Fling training. There’s not long now until the next of my SUMS events, the 53 mile Hoka Highland Fling on 27th April, and I am already looking forward to getting back on to the West Highland Way for the first time in ages.

I also made the most of the opportunity to test some new kit.

I wore the excellent new Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 12 Set 2013 Backpack for the first time and was delighted with the fit, performance and functionality of the vest pack. Is this the pack I have been searching for all this time? Review to follow shortly.

Given the varied terrain, including everything from concrete and forest trail to gloopy mud, combined with the lack of miles in my legs, I opted to wear The North Face Ultra Guide trainers on the day. I have mostly been wearing minimalist footwear of late but the additional cushioning of the Ultra Guide made for a comfortable race and helped me onwards to the finish on the day. As above, review to follow shortly.

So, lots of positives on an otherwise tough day but now it’s confession time.

I had many lows and highs on the 16th, fairly typical when running an ultramarathon. However, on this occasion, the lows far outweighed the highs. Certainly part of this was down to the lack of race fitness. However, the large part was guilt at leaving my new-born son for so long. By the time I reached the finish line, I had made up my mind to retire from running ultras, at least for the foreseeable future. And then I read a comment on my blog over at The Running Bug“when he’s old enough you will be Harris’s hero when he sees you cross the finish line”. The comment made quite an impact. I would love to think that at some point the wee fella looked up to me, seeing me complete an ultramarathon, albeit far down the field and despite the huge effort required to get to that finish line.

A conversation with a relative in the days following the race concluded that “it’s who I am” and “it’s just what I do“. Right enough, without running a large part of my life would be missing. However, we did also discuss moderation. What’s to stop me dropping down to more manageable distances, at least for the foreseeable future? It’s certainly not something that I will discount. It has been ages since I did a 10k or a 1/2 marathon.

However, when I found myself booking a VW Campervan the other night for my support crew for this year’s 95 mile West Highland Way Race, I knew that my mind was made up, at least for now. So, the news of my ultra retiral is indeed premature!

That was ultramarathon number 16 completed – see you all at my next one, the Hoka Highland Fling.

Happy Running :o)

Gear Junkie

My long awaited Ultimate Direction Signature Series PB Adventure Vest will not be with me in time for Christmas. Fortunately however, I will have a lovely new Montane Minimus to test out on the trail and, given the weather these past few days, it’s going to get a considerable amount of use!

Christmas is a great time of year for the gear junkie, especially when friends and family appreciate that you use the opportunity to get much needed items of kit, whether it be smaller items like socks (Drymax) or larger items such as a new waterproof and vest pack.

I came across a great blog post by Red Wine Runner that documented the transition from ‘casual hobby jogger‘ to ‘runner (with a capital R)‘. The turning point for Rhona (Red Wine Runner) was the realisation that, despite numerous non-running events (festivals, weddings, holidays), all she had bought throughout the year was running kit.

The sentiment of the post struck a chord with me. While I haven’t been to any festivals or weddings this year, I seized the opportunity presented by a holiday in the sun to stock up on some new Salomon running vests and Salomon recovery sandals.

A quick glance in the shoe cupboard confirms my fears. My trainers outnumber my wife’s shoes by at least a ratio of 5:1 (conservative estimate!). Bag check. I win again. Waist packs, vest packs, rucksacks, lightweight packs, all day packs – a running pack for every eventuality.

I have a confession to make. I am a gear junkie, and I have no problem with it. I love the feeling of getting some new kit to try out, be it a new pair of trainers, the latest running pack, or some running clothing. Whoever said running was cheap certainly didn’t have my fondness for new gear! Fortunately, I have received a fair bit of kit this year for review which helps keep costs down, something that will be even more essential in 2013. Thanks to everyone who has supplied product for review.

Hope everyone gets some great new kit this Christmas :o)

Marcothon & A Christmas Wish List

December will soon be upon us. It might only be the 8th November but I am already looking forward to taking up the challenge of Marcothon again. It’s simple. Run 3 miles or 30 minutes every day in December. And yes, that does include Christmas Day. It’s a great way of keeping up the mileage at a time when everything else seems to conspire to stop you from running.

Last year my runstreak consisted of November and December and I have to admit that, come the 1st January, I was more than ready for a wee break from the daily run. Hats off to those of you who have maintained runstreaks for longer, and especially to those with runstreaks that are approaching or have exceeded 365 days!

December is a great time to get some new kit and, as such, I thought I would do a Christmas Wish List post. If anyone out there feels particularly generous, feel free to contact me with regard to fulfilling any/part/all of the wish list! ;o)

Inov8 Trailroc 255

I was lucky enough to try the Inov8 Trailroc 235 back at the inaugural Scottish Barefoot Run and I loved the combination of spacious toebox with super grippy sole. I would love to try the Trailroc 255 with a view to finding the perfect shoe for next year’s ultramarathons.

“Specifically designed for running loose, on rugged and eroded trails. Includes the most under foot protection and cushioning of the trailroc™ range so is suitable for high mileage training and racing. Includes Meta-Shank™ gen3 for increased underfoot protection.”

Yaktrax Run

If our summer was anything to go by, we will likely have a crappy winter and, as such, a pair of Yaktrax Run might go a long way to keeping me out running once the snow arrives.

“Yaktrax Run ice grips are designed for use with running shoes. New for 2012 this ice traction device is anatomically designed & will enable you to run or jog naturally on packed snow and ice, the yaktrax run provides the grip you need. With a combination of removable spikes and steel coils, which provide 360° of unbeatable traction. You are able continue your training during the winter with the same stability you are accustomed to on dry surfaces.”

“Yaktrax Run ice grips are designed for use with running shoes. New for 2012 this ice traction device is anatomically designed & will enable you to run or jog naturally on packed snow and ice, the yaktrax run provides the grip you need. With a combination of removable spikes and steel coils, which provide 360° of unbeatable traction. You are able continue your training during the winter with the same stability you are accustomed to on dry surfaces.”

Petzl Nao Headtorch

The Petzl Nao Headtorch – Superlight, intelligent lighting – just what you need as the dark mornings and nights take a hold!

“The rechargeable NAO headlamp adapts its two high power LEDs instantly and automatically to the lighting needs for greater comfort, fewer manual interventions and longer battery life. NAO is the first Petzl headlamp with REACTIVE LIGHTING technology: a sensor measures and analyzes the ambient light.

The OS by Petzl software, free for download at www.petzl.com/OS, allows the NAO’s potential to be maximized with the option to personalize the headlamp and its performance.”

Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest

Still on the quest for the ultimate bag – perhaps the PB Adventure Vest from Ultimate Direction provides the answer!

“The Signature Series was designed by three of the most successful, most well-known ultra runners in the world. Using power mesh for zero bounce and state-of-the art cuben fiber for its unsurpassed strength to weight ratio, our Signature Series vests integrate load carrying, performance, and comfort into one unified system.  With water bottle pockets in the front of the vest for quick and easy access, the Signature Series represents the next generation of ultra running hydration packs for runners.”

“Peter Bakwin wanted a pack that could do anything from running to hiking, climbing to skiing. Featuring 12 L of volume and a variety of features, The Adventure Vest allows you to stay hydrated and comfortable on any size adventure from quick outings to all-day expeditions.”

Montane Minimus Waterproof Jacket

A number of the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series races require you to be prepared for all eventualities where the weather is concerned. At just 200 grams and highly breathable, you could do a lot worse than the Montane Minimus waterproof jacket, highly regarded amongst ultra runners.

“The Montane Men’s Minimus Waterproof Jacket is designed to work hard during fast-paced endurance activities in wet conditions. It combines performance, weight and breathability to create a jacket that’s as much at home being put through its paces on the mountain top as it is on a trip out in stormy weather. Weighing just 200 grams, the Montane Minimus is ultra-lightweight and can be packed into the size and shape of an apple so that is barely noticeable when not in use. The Montane Men’s Minimus Waterproof Jacket is made of Pertex Shield fabric which allows for exceptional breathability levels and levels of performance that you would usually find at the high end of extreme mountain shells.”

Drymax Socks

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the occasional present of socks and you can’t go far wrong with Drymax socks. As can be seen from my post ‘Drymax – Dry To The Max‘, they are hard to beat and save all of the faffing of lubricating toes etc.

“Drymax Trail Running Socks are a High Density protective padded sock. Dense padding is used, as opposed to thick padding, as it protects feet without adversely affecting the fit of the shoes. The Trail Running Socks were designed for use to be used in cool to warm conditions, keeping feet dry, comfortable and odor free all day long.”