Now That Was Unexpected! I was actually glad when 9am Saturday 12th March came around, when I could finally dispense with the self doubt, and just run the damn thing, the D33, first race of the 2016 Scottish Ultra Marathon Series, and the first of my five planned events for 2016.
Having managed a few 18-20 mile runs since the turn of the year, I didn’t feel particularly untrained, especially when considered alongside the likes of 2013, when my longest ‘Long Slow Run’ was a mere 11 miles. But then, having run so little in terms of weekly mileage, I just didn’t feel that I had the required base miles in the bag either. To be honest, I didn’t really have much of an idea where I was at.
Funnily enough, Leanne mentioned that I hadn’t exhibited any of my usual ‘tells’ in the week leading up to the D33, those little and not so little signs that indicate that I have race thoughts on the mind, from a slight (and sometimes not so slight) tetchiness, to the little cough that appears from nowhere and progressively worsens throughout the week, to the point that I occasionally find myself dry retching come race morning (remind me why I do this again!).
One of the benefits of having a toddler who regularly rises at 5am is that, come race morning, getting up at that ungodly hour actually feels normal. In fact, unlike previous years, when I have struggled to get my act together in time, this year I actually found myself on an earlier bus than planned, such was my state of readiness.
I thus found myself able to take a leisurely stroll from the bus station around to the Duthie Park, and the biggest stress of my morning proved to be where to stick my number. Normally, I would pin my number to my shorts, thereby eliminating any issues with regard to visibility of the number in the event that I start with a jacket on, or need to add one en route.
However, wearing my new OMM Kamleika shorts in a race scenario for the first time, I couldn’t decide whether sticking pins in the shorts would, or would not, compromise their waterproof functionality. I erred on the side of caution, pinning the top of my number to the OMM inner short, leaving it to flap over the top of the waterproof outer short. It’s something that I will need to give fuller consideration to for future events but, for the race in hand, my temporary measure served its purpose.
Other than a few brief words with Colin Knox, I pretty much kept myself to myself, opting instead to try and get my race head on. I was feeling the cold particularly badly and was keen to get started. As such, the arrival of 9am was something of a relief.
Less than 2 miles later I pulled off to the side of the track to remove my OMM waterproof jacket. The temperature was such that the jacket remained in my pack for the duration of the race, even when the rain started to fall, around the 15 mile mark.
Oddly, both of my feet were completely numb for the first 8 miles of the race, and it wasn’t until I arrived at the first check point, stopping only to grab some Coke and Salt & Vinegar Hula Hoops, that my feet returned to normal. I can only assume that it had something to do with the cold, as it’s something that I have only ever felt in extreme cold conditions before but, having said that, on that occasion I had also just waded through knee high ice cold water!
Regardless, things were back to normal and I found myself running on autopilot, content with my pace, feeling comfortable with how things were going, and feeling like I could happily continue.
The out and back nature of the D33 is interesting in that it lets you see the amazing pace set by the front of the pack. A rough estimate put the race leader approx .75 of a mile ahead of second place. I was happy enough to be passed at approx. 12.5 miles by the leader, with the stream of runners on their respective return legs picking up in volume around miles 14 to 15.
I was also quite happy to see my position vis-a-vis those runners who I normally use to judge my own progress, the ‘kent faces’ whose times over the years I have known to be approximate to my own.
A quick text to Leanne and Harris to inform them of my progress as I left the 1/2 way checkpoint, and I was soon back and running, feeling distinctly better than I often do at this point.
It has to be said that my race was pretty uneventful, at least up until the 28 mile mark.
It was a relief to pass the point without incident where, just a year before, I had found myself rooted to the spot by extreme cramp in both of my legs.
At this point, I was feeling strong, and was keen to get to checkpoint 3 and then on to the home straight.
I’ve always found that the last few miles of the D33 dragged, possibly not helped by the ‘samey’ nature of the route. I also have recollections of multiple signs, with quite a distance between them, all saying 3 miles to the park. Taking note of particular points along the route on the outward leg this year, I calculated distances from the park and, based on my calculations, the signs actually appeared to be correct.
I’m not alone in experiencing this so I can only assume that, at some point in the past few years, the signs have been corrected!
In training, I am religiously plugged in to my iPod Shuffle, more often than not enjoying some form of Trance/Dance beats. However, I very rarely, if indeed ever, listen to music during a race.
This time around however, I promised myself that I would run those last few miles listening to the latest Anjunabeats album, Anjunabeats in Miami 2016, released just the day before, and to which I had not yet listened. A quick scan of the track listing revealed that I was familiar with many of the tracks. However, these compilation albums more often than not contain album specific track variations and carefully crafted mixes which I love.
Once through the final checkpoint, I had less than a mile on the road before returning to the safety of the path which meant I would no longer have to consider vehicles.
With less than 8 miles to go, I was feeling strong, and was looking forward to seeing Leanne and Harris at the finish in Duthie Park. The banging beats of Anjunabeats in Miami 2016 were pushing me on to the finish and, for once, I was actually reeling people in, passing more people in those final miles than I have ever done previously.
And then those first tell-tale signs of cramp started. Just a very occasional twinge at first, but increasing in regularity with each mile. Dammit! Checking my Suunto, I was shocked to see that my previous 2012 D33 PB of 5:35:59 was well within my grasp and, thinking back to my 5:59:41 of the previous year, I will admit to getting a ‘bit’ emotional.
I was gutted that cramp should factor into my race now of all times. Rough calculations had me on for totally smashing that 5:35:59 PB, in the event that I was able to maintain my current pace. But, by this point, the cramp was such that I knew that just wan’t going to happen and, in fact, I questioned whether a PB was possible at all.
In those last 3 miles I was reduced to running no more than 5 paces before having to stop, stretch and walk. And that’s how those last few miles panned out, getting passed by a good number of those people who I had passed en route to this point.
Approx. 1 mile from the end, I abandoned the music. The feel good factor was gone, replaced by nothing more than a dogged determination to finish without the catastrophic cramping incident that was looming in my legs.
Crossing the bridge, cemetery to the right, I was almost home. Turning into the park, I was cheered along by someone who commented on my pained expression. As I approached the finish, the usual call of ‘sprint’ came from someone off to the side. Not going to happen! I laughed.
As I approached the finish line, I spotted Leanne taking photos, with Harris readying himself to run in and join me. Taking his hand, we crossed the finish line together, Harris accepting the medal on my behalf.
Done! A confirmed time of 5:28:56, a PB of 7 minutes and 3 seconds.
The happiness of being finished and back with the family.
The relief of not cramping the second I stopped moving.
The delight of a new PB (albeit with a time still to be confirmed at that point).
The anger at being robbed of an even bigger PB by the cramping over those last few miles!
A few words with George Reid, D33 Race Director, and then I was off, hobbling down the hill to the car for a much needed seat, my D33 race experience over for another year.
Most definitely not the blog post that I had been expecting to write, but one that I am delighted to be in a position to write, and one that hopefully bodes well for my forthcoming races. It would be nice to PB at each and every one of my events.
But lets just take it one event at a time!
Huge thanks to George Reid and to Karen Donoghue for putting on the D33, to the marshals who gave up their weekends to travel to Aberdeen from all over Scotland, to help erect marquis, prepare the route, man the checkpoints and road crossings, and generally offer support, and to those whose support along the way made it that little bit easier to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Next up, the Hoka Highland Fling on 30th April.
Photos by Leanne and Running in Scotland.