My first ultra of the season is fast approaching! My mind is buzzing with how I plan to run it, how I think my body will react, what/when to eat and drink and very importantly… what to wear!! I’ve been keeping a close eye on the 5 day weather forecast and so far so good – but then again, no weather report told me we were getting 3 inches of snow last week, so I definitely won’t hold my breath and will prepare to expect a medley of four seasons in one day.
My training is all done, my legs are feeling good and I completed my final pre-race run on Tuesday at training feeling positive and ever so slightly competitive. How will race day pan out for me? Will my little legs carry me the distance? So far I have planned the following;
FOOD – During my ultras and training runs up until now, I have always craved sweet stuff early on and then more savoury stuff later in the race, so with this in mind I will pack a bit of everything in my drops bags and also carry some stuff with me. I wasn’t sure if I was going to run with a race belt or not, so I think I’ll run with my one bottle belt instead of my Camelbak and then I can refill it at the checkpoints if need be. Better safe than sorry! I will definitely have my pockets crammed with sour haribo sweets – A saviour late in a race for me on more than one occasion!
CLOTHES – I’m hoping it’ll be dry, but as this is North East Scotland in early March, I can only cross my fingers and hope for the best. My shoes (brooks adrenaline gts), socks (long stripy mega bright club socks), calf sleeves, buff, gloves and running skirt are all definite, but the number of layers on my top half could vary from 1 to 4 or 5, so again I’ll judge it on the morning of the race. I’ll only take my jacket if it’s tipping it down, but that decision I may live to regret…
RACE STRATEGY – No idea yet! I’ll be treating it as a long training run for both the London marathon in April and the Cateran 55 in May. If I can run all 33 miles comfortably then I might be able to pick up the pace at London. If things start to hurt, I’ll know I went out too fast and will know to start the Cateran much, much slower. Either way it’ll be faster than Glen Ogle as there are no hills. I’ll keep my goal times to myself just now and I’ll let you know whether or not I made them when I write my race report in a few days time!
GOALS – 1) Don’t get injured!!! Too many big races in the next few months and I’d be devastated if I had to pull out of anything! 2) Finish with a smile. This won’t be hard – it’s hard to wipe the smile off my face recently. I’m lucky to be back running so quickly so I take nothing for granted now! 3) Run the majority of the route. It’s only 7 miles more than a marathon and if I can do that at a fair pace then I can hopefully do 33 if I dial it back ever so slightly… I hope! 4) Remain positive!!! Your mind plays a big part in running and finishing big races. I will NOT give in to negative thoughts this weekend. I’ve got this!
So that’s about it! As soon as I finish work tomorrow I’ll be on the road North to prepare for ultra number 3. Ultra runner extraordinaire Rhona is very kindly letting us stay with her for the weekend so I’ll no doubt be picking her brain from the moment I arrive tomorrow for hints and tips on how to approach this race as she’s running it for the 4th time this year!
As I watched the rain batter off the windows and pavements on Sunday afternoon, I started to regret that I hadn’t leapt out of bed at the crack of dawn and got my long run miles in before the worst of the weather had arrived. After having a lazy morning, I was dressed and ready to go by 12.30pm kitted out for the elements in an outfit that included 2 long sleeved layers over a vest, gloves, waterproof jacket and 2 buffs… And then I sat back down on the couch. I put off heading out for another half hour or so and then when I eventually did head out, the heavens opened and I couldn’t see the road ahead for fat drops of rain bouncing everywhere. So I promptly turned on my heel and went home. 0.2 miles later.
As I stepped back into the house, my husband Craig just burst out laughing. “You clearly don’t want to do this today, so why are you making yourself suffer?” he asked. I mumbled something about long miles and big races, but I knew I wasn’t really in the right frame of mind to head out just then, so I had a cup of tea and waited for the worst of the weather to pass – however long that would take.
I’d been feeling pretty miserable all week. I don’t know if it was a combination of high mileage, back to back weekend runs, not being as social as I normally am or just the rubbish weather but most of my runs that week had felt like a chore which is odd for me. Usually if I don’t feel in the mood for a training run, I won’t go. However with so many big races ahead in the next few months and the fact I’m still trying to get back to full fitness means I have been pushing myself a bit more than normal over the last month or so. I promised myself if my training ever got to this stage I would stop and take a break, but with a mere 3 weeks until the D33 I’ve now opted for the grin and bear it option. There’s no winging it in these races!
Training last week consisted of some yoga on Monday, a speed session of 8×4 minute sprints on Tuesday with a few miles before and after training, a 3 mile lunch run and a 4 mile steady evening run on Wednesday, a ridiculously cold hill run on Friday (see elevation below!) and a 15 mile slog in the rain on Sunday.
Most of the training was enjoyable, but when I got to Friday I was exhausted but had already agreed to go running in the hills with some club mates. By Friday afternoon on a normal week I’m usually pretty tired but today I had pretty much no motivation and just about mustered a smile or two on the way there. I had stupidly asked if there was still snow on hills, only to be told “not much!” which to me meant shorts weather. Oh how wrong I was! Luckily I had long socks and calf sleeves on so it was only really my thighs and knees that were exposed to the elements, but it was cold. SO COLD! And it snowed. Not just normal soft snow that lands gently around you and muffles your footsteps but horizontal snow. Snow that went across the way… and straight into my ear!!! I was so glad to get off the hills that day…
My legs were pretty heavy the next day and I’m sure the weather at the summit had something to do with how I’m feeling this week, but I’m glad I went as it just proves to me how much my strength is improving. This time last year I would never have made it up the first incline, never mind the scramble up the side of the hill. However I’d definitely rethink my wardrobe choices for the next one…
So, along came Sunday which usually I look forward to as it means catching up with friends and bagging my big miles for the week. However this week I couldn’t make the early run with everyone so I set out to clock the miles alone. And I really did feel lonely!! My ear was still sore and my legs were heavy but I eventually gave it a second attempt at heading out and luckily a few miles in the rain started to ease off and I could actually take my hood down. I had planned to do 20 miles but not feeling 100% I scaled it back and headed home after 15 with just a slight niggle in my hip. This wee I have developed yet another cold so my weekly mileage so far in a big fat 0, but fingers crossed it has clears soon as I’m hoping to get one last long run in at the weekend and then the tapering begins. Hoorah!
Medal : No, but we did get a super technical tshirt
When Jemma signed up for this race last year, I was at the stage where I thought I’d never be able to run a marathon. I was just about comfortable with half marathons and I had just joined my running club with the main aim being to build my confidence in running and improve my speed over shorter distances.
Fast forward a year and many, many, many miles later (including a marathon and an ultra marathon!) and I was signing up for the Strathearn marathon without a second thought. After having to pull out of the Lochaber marathon in April I was keen to make this my big race of the year. My plan wasn’t to race it but more to get out and run it comfortably and get through without the pain and fatigue I’d felt at Loch Ness last September. If I got a good time then it’d be a bonus, but being able to drive home afterwards was my main goal!!
Race morning came and I was up bright and early to have a big breakfast of porridge, an electrolyte drink and some coffee. I took my dog up to the park for a short walk and to try and calm my pre-race nerves before I picked Catriona up at 7.15am. Just before I left I checked the forecast and with promises of “scattered showers, overcast skies and light winds” I slathered a little sunscreen on my shoulders and then didn’t give it a second thought. First mistake of the day…
The race begins at Cultybraggan camp which was first used as a prisoner of war camp during World War 2 and then later as an army training area. These days it’s owned by the Comrie Development trust and is used for a variety of projects. We met up with our team mates, registered and plodded about saying hello to various people for the next half an hour. At about 8:20am we decided to get in the toilet queue and then make our last-minute preparations for the race. I’d read on the race brief email that there was a tap available on the campsite but no one seemed to know where it was and then spent a stressful few minutes panicking I had no water and trying to find one! I eventually found it, got my bottles sorted and then bumped into Rachel who had signed up just a few days before and was using it as her last long training run before a big race in a few weeks time. By this point the sun had really come out and I cursed myself for lending my husband Craig my sunglasses to take away on his bands tour with him!
We all gathered for a quick race briefing just before 9am and then with a count down from 3, the 190 or so runners were off on our 26.2 miles journey around this beautiful part of the country. First off was a lap of the campsite and then it was out onto a minor road for the first 4 miles of the race. And they were pretty much all up hill – superb! You don’t join the Wee County Harriers to run on flat surfaces I can tell you and straight away I could feel that my training was going to pay off. This was by no means and easy course!
I settled into a comfortable pace and enjoyed the scenic landscape as I plodded on up the first set of hills. About 5 miles in the road evened out a bit and then from 7 miles there was a lovely gentle downhill section that lasted a few miles. At 10 and bit miles there was the first of the personalised water bottle stations and having guzzled most of what I had on me already, I swapped the bottle I had on me for another one full of tasty electrolyte water. We took a sharp turn out onto the main road for just over a mile and then in the distance I could see our next obstacle – the old Roman road. The term ‘steep’ would be an understatement, I couldn’t see the top of it! I slowed my pace right down and power walked up remembering how I had run up hills early on at Loch Ness last year and majorly regretted it about 20 miles in. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again and as it was only getting hotter and hotter I could see things getting messy further on in the race if I didn’t take things easy now.
By now I was really looking forward to the next water station so I could grab a bottle of plain water. Mainly to tip over my head but also so I could wash the taste of electrolyte water away. Note to self – the tropical one was not something I looked forward to drinking. I’ll stick to summer fruits in the future! The miles ticked by and I was feeling pretty fresh – slowing right down on the up hill sections and taking my time on the down hills so as not to ruin my quads. The rain came on at around 17 miles and it was a welcome and refreshing change however it didn’t seem to know which way it was falling and came down in all directions. Makes running exciting I can tell you! We came into Crieff just after the 18 mile mark and ahead was the second of the two personalised water bottle stations. I was glad to pick up another bottle with a different flavour in it and I drank hungrily from it. Coming out of Crieff we were met with yet another hill but this one had Stewart from the Wee County Harriers on it who was cheering us round, catching us at various stages of the course and taking pictures of our deteriorating performance! There was no way I was walking this one and kept the momentum going, powering straight to the top. By now my feet were starting to hurt and I had a slight pain between my shoulder blades but it was more annoying than sore. I was this far into the race and things were feeling pretty good, what was going on?!
The next few miles were a bit undulating and every time I saw a hill I made myself run up it and then slow down on the decline until I got my heart rate down a bit. At one point I slowed to a walk to take a drink and then struggled to get my bottle back in my belt. The guy behind me caught up, slowed to a walk to help me and then said “come on!” which got me back to a run , so whoever you are thanks so much for that! Not sure how much longer I would have walked had it not been for that. At 23 miles I got into a bit of a negative mind-set and started feeling a bit light-headed and sick but there on the horizon was another water station and some very, very cheery marshals who were just SO encouraging! The Strathearn Harriers are our neighbouring club so all the Wee County Harriers got extra amazing shout outs and to the lady who cheered my on going by 24 miles and told me I was looking amazing, Thank you so much! I definitely didn’t feel it at that point but you definitely spurred me on just that little bit further. And then the guy at 25 miles who told me my socks were amazing – you also pushed me on just that little but more. At this point every single cheer and shout helped, especially the little kid in Comrie who was cheering us all on and telling us we were nearly there – what a star! The last mile is along the road which runs right beside the Camp and you can see the runners entering the camp and the announcer shouting everyone’s name as they cross the line. So very, very close…
I glanced at my watch for the first time in miles. I knew that sub 4 was well out of the picture but coming along the last road I noticed my watch had just ticked over 4 hours!! I pushed through, back into the camp and onto the finishers straight to hear my name being called over the tannoy and my club mates cheering me on. I grinned and blasted over the finish line in just over 4 hours and 4 minutes. That’s just over 12 minutes off my personal best – how did that happen? I collapsed on the grass and tried to stop my legs from shaking and once I’d recovered I went to congratulate all my friends and cheer everyone else in.
This marathon was wonderful and I’ll definitely be back next year for another shot. The organisation, marshals, volunteers, set up, setting….. it was all perfect.I much prefer this type of race to the bigger commercial ones and with it being so close, I just can’t refuse. My only regret is that I didn’t put sun screen on my face. Rocking the tomato look at work today got a few giggles from the kids!