A summary of my 2nd ultra-marathon – the Deeside Way Ultra, aka D33.
Running can be a funny thing – we all do it for different reasons, we are all looking for different experiences and different outcomes. I began running in earnest in 2012 and increased my distance throughout 2013, 2014 and 2015, setting the target of my first marathon in the April of 2016 – Manchester. My training was increasing and although VERY excited to be running in my first marathon, I knew that I was going to be able to do it - it was just a case of how quickly I would do it.
A long discussion at work one day about running (as you do) led me to looking at the TIREE Ultra Marathon, which was in the September of 2016 and with one mouse click leading to another before I knew it I had signed up! Instantly I had that butterfly feeling in my stomach of “what have I done?” I knew though, I had done the right thing – I remember reading somewhere that we should always try to set goals just out of our reach and that make us a little scared.
So, Manchester came and went along with the Edinburgh Marathon 6 weeks later and it was time to look forward to Tiree. I’m pretty sure that the longest run I managed before going was 20 miles and I couldn’t believe that I was about to attempt a 35-mile run/race around the perimeter of an island in the Inner Hebrides. Tiree was a great experience – you are there the whole weekend, the ferry arrives Saturday afternoon, so you have the race brief and a nice dinner Saturday evening, the race is ALL-DAY Sunday lol and then onto the ceilidh, celebrations and prizegiving on the Sunday evening. Back on the ferry Monday morning and back to reality.
I wasn’t sure what to expect on Tiree, so I set off at a steady pace. I passed through checkpoints at roughly 8/9 miles and then the halfway checkpoint around 17/18. Not long after this my left knee / IT band started to tighten and get sore. The first twinge of pain in a race (especially a long one) is usually when the first seeds of doubt creep in… and you start to wonder if you’re going to be able to finish what you started. The terrain on Tiree was varied and there were lots of beaches, climbing, rocks, peat bogs, sand, road and everything in between. I struggled on, run-walking the remaining 15 miles or so and finished in 7:29:46.
I did enjoy Tiree overall, but I was never keen on the varied terrain… I really fancied having another crack at an ultra but one that was a lot more runnable – enter the D33. I have lots of friends who have ran in the D33 and it always got favourable reviews. Very flat and very fast, good for road runners etc… sounded good to me!
I managed to get a few more long runs in before D33 including 3x 20-milers and a 28-mile run from Edinburgh Waverley back to Kirkcaldy. I felt a bit more confident, but we never ever feel we have done enough. The aim was to run at 9-minute mile which would be 4hr 57min and I would be over the moon with this. I travelled up with Gemma Friday night after work, checked in the hotel, went out for tea, back to hotel and bed – all was well. Woke up and got ready to go, we weren’t far from the start line at Duthie Park, only 10 mins or so.
We parked up and walked to the start chatting with my friend Andrew Gordon (owner of The Running Shop in Aberdeen). I picked up my number and got ready to roll. I have to say that I am not usually affected by nerves, I tend to get more adrenaline in shorter faster races and felt really calm as we waited on the race brief and start. Started to see a few familiar faces – Jane and Donald McLeod from Carnegie Harriers, Paul Foster (Carnegie) and Sarah Hutt (KRR). Race brief over, where the highlights were the threat that anyone dropping litter would be stabbed and that for their 10th anniversary next year, there were plans for a 100-mile race – the D100… and then we were off.
As I said the plan was to run at 9m/m, I settled down with a group of 6-8 runners including self-confessed medal-junkie Daniel Kershaw (FTR) at around 8:45 m/m. The miles ticked by as we chatted, and we hit the 1st checkpoint at around 8/9 miles with everything good. I had a wee bite to eat (Snickers I think) and we set off again for the 2nd quarter, if you like. As I thought and had been told the route is fairly flat. There are some longish straight sections but there is also some changeability from road to trail and back again. I started to see the frontrunners coming back after the turn and you start to look for it. I was feeling it a bit now as I approached the halfway checkpoint at 16/17 miles.
Came into the checkpoint, had a squizz at the table and had a nice wee chocolate crispie square and a small cup of cola. Although you pack your own bag with your own nutrition (which would see you through) there is usually always a moment of delight as you select something that a complete stranger is offering… strangest thing :-P lol.
Running back then and really starting to feel it now. First point of pain in lower back and then the glutes closely followed by the right knee. As I said pain is usually closely followed by doubts and as I approached 20 miles I thought “there is NO WAY I am going to manage to run another 13 miles without walking”. I then made the conscious decision to walk (briskly) at 20 miles and I would walk to 20.1 and then run to 20.5, walk another 0.1 mile to 20.6 and then run another 0.4 mile to 21.0. This sequence came as such a relief to my back and knee but also my mind. Instead of focusing on my failure of not running the whole way or having to walk etc, I focused on my achievement of running each little interval. Just as the pain was becoming unbearable it was time to walk and when it was time to run I felt better.
I was amazed at how quickly the miles were ticking by and although I was passed a few times (very slowly by shuffling ultra-runners who looked in more pain than me) I also passed a few people who were struggling as much as I was, if not more. I think this feeling of camaraderie that you get with your fellow runners as you all battle along, whether it is a really fast 5k or 10k or longer half marathon or marathon, is really what bonds us all together. That feeling you get as you look in another runner’s eyes knowing that they saw and did what you did and also know how hard it was.
I maintained by 0.4 mile with 0.1 recovery intervals all the way to the finish, managing to run all the way into the park and across the finish line coming in at 5:40:48. There were emotional outbursts of ‘NEVER AGAIN!” and “Oh, I didn’t enjoy that, it’s not for me!” but as always these soon faded away into something else. As with all races we had been scrutinising the weather and our Saturday was a damp and wet day in between two nicer days – sods law. It started out fair, but the rain soon came and although never heavy, it was ever present throughout the day. I was cruising at a decent enough speed to generate enough warmth, but a lot of people struggled with the conditions I found out later.
After a few munchies we quickly headed back to the car as there was no heating in the finish tent. It was then off to a local swimming pool for a shower and change and back down the road – job done.
As I said at the beginning, we all run for different reasons and a small part of me has always wanted to test my endurance and see how far I could run. I feel I have explored that (for now) and will turn my attention to reducing that marathon time.