River Ayr Way Ultra race report

The River Ayr Way Challenge

TIME: 7 Hours 03 Minutes and 21 Seconds

OVERALL : 20th/70 finishers (2 DNF)

GENDER: 3rd/16 females

I entered the River Ayr Way race in a total moment of madness. I’d heard really good things about the race from a couple of club mates who ran it last year, and then when I discovered they were going back this year to run the relay I thought I might as well stick in a last minute entry and join them for a lovely day out and run an ultra I’d never done before. Silly, silly decision. I manged to write the dates down wrong in my diary and only discovered the week before Glenmore that the RAW race was actually only 2 weeks after Glenmore, not 3 as I had initially thought. But never mind, the season is coming to an end and it was a pretty quiet race, so I thought I might as well give it a bash and at least enjoy a nice day out with my Wee County Harrier ladies.

A 9am race start meant we didn’t have to set off too early, and after meeting and splitting between 2 cars we were on our way down the road to Glenbuck where the race began. As mentioned, I’ve never ran this race before and started to have a panic the night before about getting lost. I printed out the map, stuck it all together and it pretty much covered the length of my living room! Apart from the Cateran, I’ve never ran an ultra somewhere I don’t know like the back of my hand, or that has so many people running you’re guaranteed never to be on your own. This had neither!

The Wee County ladies.
The Wee County ladies.

The runners all met near Glenbuck Dam, which was in the middle of nowhere. With no toilets! Never mind, nothing else to do but get running! This race is a little different from any other Ultra I have competed in, in that it is supported by the council. The entry fee was next to nothing and yet we still got fully stocked check points that had water, juice, sweets, fresh fruit, cereal bars etc etc. Your own drop bags were almost not necessary! As well as 4 fully stocked check points there were countless water stations along the way. Amazing!

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Just before 9am there was a quick race briefing and then we were off! I’d been warned not to set off too fast as although it is pretty flat for the first 10 miles or so, running on the grass would take it’s toll on the legs so to take it easy. Well, that didn’t happen! My biggest downfall when it comes to ultras is getting ridiculously carried away at the start and paying for it early on, having a low for a couple of miles in the first 20 miles, but then picking up again and managing a strong finish. I always wonder what would happen if I started just that little bit slower. My main worry is that I won’t be able to pull it back towards the end, but I’ll leave that wonder for another day. Today was not the day of starting slowly…

The route runs along beside the road for the first few miles, on an embankment where there once was a railway. I was happily running along on my own for a while and about 4 miles in I caught up with Sean McMinn. We ran pretty much the first half of the race together and it was good to chat and take my mind of some of the tougher parts of the races (massive steps over high bridges and running through fields of knee length grass). There were one or two sections where I would probably have gone the wrong way had I been on my own (coming out of Catrine after the bridge crossing there was no race route sign post, and then the road leading up to the water treatment plant where the RAW goes off on a small path to the right, I carried on up the road for a few hundred meters!). However, the route was absolutely stunning. The weather was perfect and I was really enjoying myself.

Coming in to the first water station. Going too fast!!!
Coming in to the first water station. Going too fast!!!

Having blasted through the first half of the race, I slowed down quite a bit coming into check point 2. I spent a good few minutes here, refilling my bottles and eating properly (no more Glenmore moments thank you!) and then headed off up the hill on my own with my ipod and a sandwich.

The next few miles wound around fields, through a forest section and then on to the only part of the route I disliked. We had to run across a main road and then follow it for nearly a mile down to Failford. Despite plenty fluorescent “Caution Runner” signs and us running as far in to the side of the road as possible, people we still flying along this road and at one point I had to jump into a ditch off the road as a car travelling way too fast beeped at me and refused to swerve slightly out for me. Hence the grumpy face as I came into the next water station:

Not a happy runner after jumping to a ditch! Photo - Zander Beggs
Not a happy runner after jumping to a ditch! Photo – Zander Beggs

The route then got back on to forest trails and we were running right beside the river for a few miles. I caught up with another runner (Gordon Halliday) here who wasn’t sure which way the route was meant to go and ended up running with him all the way to the finish. There were a few points we probably could have pushed on slightly faster, but neither of really wanted to in the heat, so took our time enjoying the trails and chatting about all the other races we had completed that year so far. Turns out Gordon was one of the few nutters who had completed the double Cateran both this year and last year. I contemplated trying it next year, but very quickly reminded myself that was in fact a very silly plan and I would regret it if I did!

The weather was still beautiful and I was drinking a lot. Tailwind was definitely working for my today and I was feeling the benefits of it (whereas at Glenmore I just hadn’t been enjoying it). I had a quick catch up with the WCH ladies at checkpoint 3 where they were waiting for the next relay changeover, stocked up on fresh fruit and white chocolate mice and then it was on to the last section of the race. After a mile or so on tarmac, a few miles through fields and a bit of a detour right down on the river bank when we weren’t quite sure which way the route went (turns out we went the wrong way, but our technical detour was way more fun than a million stairs anyway!), we were then on to the last few miles of the race. The route followed a rather muddy path high above the river and at one point we found ourselves squelching up a very muddy hill and nearly losing some shoes! The forest then spat us out to check point 4 and the final few miles followed the road back towards Ayr. Tarmac was not my friend at this point and my legs were starting to really tire after 2 ultras a fortnight apart, so I just took my time and slowed to a walk every so often. Not knowing how far we had to go probably slowed us down more than had we known there was just over 2 miles to go, but soon we were following a main road for a couple of hundred meters before dropping back down to follow the river and into the last mile. That last mile went on for quite some time! Gordon suddenly sped up when he spotted someone catching up from behind which spurred me on to push right to the finish line as well! The route zigzagged back over the river, along the river bank on the opposite side, past the University and finally onto the running track at the Dam park stadium for a lap of the track and round towards the finish line. The clock had just ticked over 7 hours but time hadn’t been a issue today, finishing without illness or injury had been my main concern.

Pretty sure the shoes were dark purple when I started!
Pretty sure the shoes were dark purple when I started!

The goody bag was amazing! A lovely purple technical t shirt, a medal, a wee whisky and a hip flask along with a folder full of maps and information about walking routes and wildlife in East Ayrshire.

Awesome goodies!
Awesome goodies!

The next few hours were spent chilling, catching up with friends and cheering in the ladies when they finished their relays. The weather was perfect and the drive home was full of high spirited chatter about how much we had all enjoyed our day. It may not have been a race that was part of the initial plan for the year, but I’m glad I did it and I’ll definitely be back!

Now that the ultra year is coming to an end I need to start thinking about what races I’d like to enter next year. I know for a fact I’m going to try a few more that I haven’t ran before (the Great Glen being the big one for the year) and I’d love to go back and do the Cateran 55 again. I’ve just bought a road bike, so I’m hoping a triathlon will be part of the pipe dream, but after a bit of a tumble a few weeks ago I need to get the confidence back and get back out there!

5 weeks until the last race of the season which will be Glen Ogle round 4. The race that holds a special place in my heart as it was my first ultra, but also because I am SO determined to run it in under 5 hours. Let’s just see what the legs have left after such a huge year I guess!

Happy running 🙂

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