Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Jedburgh 3 Peaks Ultra 2014 : Race Report

Recovery, Training and Taper

After a disappointing race at the Great Scottish Run my PB streak for the year was over, and this little Glasgow half marathon road race also trashed my legs so I no longer had high expectations for Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultramarathon.  Rather than attempt to get into peak fitness for running and ultra in the three weeks between the GSR and Three Peaks I simply focused on recovering from the half marathon for the first week and then taking it easy thereafter.

Six days after the GSR I went up with friends to the Cluanie Inn for a couple of nights, on the Saturday walking the 7 Munro's along the Cluanie Ridge.  My legs had only just recovered from the half marathon so I was a bit nervous about a full days walking but they held up fine, and we completed the 17 mile walk just before dusk.  Over 6,000ft of ascent and descent and 9hrs on my feet walking is longest I've been on my feet since the West Highland Way Race so I had DOMS for a few days afterwards. 
Traversing the South Cluanie Ridge with friends
However, I was more than happy to have DOMS, as hill walking served as great training for the covering the Three Eildons come race day. 

The final two weeks training and taper I kept low key, keeping my pace down to 9 to 10min/miles on all runs, mixing in lots of hills and range of distances between 4 and 15 miles.  Everything was done at an low intensity, for a couple of reasons:
  1. Fully recover from the GSR and Cluanie Ridge walk
  2. Avoid over training like I had for the GSR, RAW and Killin 10k
  3. Re-tune my brain/muscles from road racing to hilly ultra pace.
  4. Relax and enjoy the colours of Autumn
The weather wasn't always great but I had some really beautiful runs and rather than taper continued running right through the week before the Three Peaks race, only taking off the Friday before the race as I needed to spend the time getting my kit and food/drink supplies together.

I covered 35 miles in the 6 days before the race, but was pretty happy as my legs felt fresh after each run thanks to the relaxed pace.  This all looked like I had avoided the over training problems I had with my previous races this Autumn, but out of the blue in the last two days my hip flexors decided to become tender. Taperitis even when not doing a normal taper?

The Friday night before the race I went to bed at 10pm and feeling tired, with the knowledge that I'd need to be up at 4:30am and out the door by 5:15am the next morning to get down from Callander to Jedburgh for the race.  I tossed and turned all night but never got to sleep - I didn't feel particularly nervous but my body was just getting itself into race mode.  I have given up trying to fight this process, so ended up getting up shortly after 4am and left for Jedburgh just before 5am with the thought than just maybe I might be able to register and then get a little shut eye in the car.

The 2hr drive down it was dark all the way and got buffeted by some pretty strong cross winds, otherwise it was a pretty straight forward drive - being on my own I also got to enjoy a few CD's that the rest of my wee family haven't acquired a taste for yet.

At registration I was processed very efficiently by Noanie and got to catch up with few of the usual suspects - Karl Zeiner was gunning for a sub 6hr, and Donald Sandeman was loving doing an ultra for his birthday and Craig MacKay was being his usual mischievous self... The friendly atmosphere of ultra's is such a nice contrast to anonymous masses of the big city races like the Great Scottish Run.

Race goals and pacing plan:

Unlike the rest of my races this Autumn I really didn't set out with any strong objectives - I just wanted to enjoy the race and if possible get near to my time of 6:28 that I had done at last year's Jedburgh Three Peaks.  My average calories per mile for my training runs through October were very close to what they were in the weeks before last years race so loosely aiming for around the same time seemed reasonable.

In my previous article Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultramarathon 2014 Splits I included the following goals for the day:
  • Platinum : sub 6:10
  • Gold        : sub 6:20
  • Silver      : sub 6:30
  • Bronze    : sub 6:45
Any faster than 6:30 seemed like a bonus, so I ran with splits for this 6:30:

   Start          8 am
   Maxton         10miles   9:35am   1:35hr
   Ryhmer's Stone 18miles   10:45am  1:10hr
   Maxton         28miles   12:50pm  2:05hr
   Jedburgh       38 miles  2:30pm   1:40hr

This would be just a general guide for progress though, my plan was to run by heart rate aiming to average around 160 like I had achieved in this years River Ayr Way race.  Last year I averaged 158 at the Jedburgh Three Peaks Race but felt that getting cramp had slowed be in the last 8 miles, something I was hoping to avoid this time around and keep the intensity up right to the finish.

Race start: Jedburgh to Maxton, 10 miles, split schedule 1:35hr

At 7:45am we given a short race briefing at the Leisure Centre, then all assembled on top of small mound outside the Leisure Centre.  Before I really had time to sort out my jacket, set my phone to record a GPS trace were sent on our way at 8am so I jogged off still stuffing things in my AK Race Vest.

The field quickly settled down to four abreast doing 9 min/miles heading along the path with some runners spilling out on the road.   The pace was bang on where I wanted to be so just bobbled in the crowds.  About a mile along the road checks against my Heart Rate monitor confirmed that we were taking things nice and easy, and my first real sign that today might be a good day my heart rate wasn't doing it's usual race thing of shooting up to 160+ within the first mile.

In a group ahead I recognized Kathy Henly, in the River Ayr Way in 2013 she had beaten me 7 minutes with her overtaking me after the 5 mile point never to be seen till the finish.  By mile two the the little group I had begun to fracture and Kathy was already 50m ahead and moving away, this spurred me to evaluate my own pace.  As my HR was below 150 I decided I had the headroom to pick up a gear began over taking runners.

This year the entry to the river side path that takes you away from the main road and then over the river was marshalled so there was no mistakes like last year where the whole field headed up the road following the half marathon cones.  Following the official St. Cuthbert's way route was 0.2 mile longer but along a quieter country road.  Along this road section I was moving well enough, but both hip flexors were a little tender and had some tightness in my right calf, neither affected my gait or pace, but it was disappointing to now be warmed up and still having these niggles - would they get worse through the day?

Around the 2 mile mark Craig Mackay appeared on my shoulder, he hadn't started with the main field, instead opting to wave us all off as if he wasn't competing - all as a ruse to convince Donald Sandeman that he was just supporting.  Once we had left he changed into his running kit and sped after us with the "cunning" plan of giving Donald a lovely birthday surprise.  Donald and Craig have established a bit of "friendly" rivalry and take much joy in beating each in other races.

Craig and I ran together for the next two miles, chatting away and steadily moving through the field.  By the time we got the wobbly bridge Donald was only 100m or so ahead.  Crossing the bridge was pretty horrible with so many runners trying to cross at once.  One second you'd be cruising along getting a bit of helpful bounce, the next the waves would suck every once of energy from your legs.  Once over the wobbly bridge there is short incline and here Craig pushed on to catch Donald while I kept to my plan of keeping my heart rate down to around the 160.

The two miles of the trail were mostly gently uphill through woodland.  There were lots of leaves lying on the trail which made spotting footing difficult, and went over my ankle once when stepping awkwardly on a hidden stone.  The trail was drier than last year and the colours were glorious so overall this section felt more like play than running a race.  To my surprise I caught and passed Kathy, did this mean I was going out too fast?

Around the six mile mark we left the woodland and then follow the trail up and over the more open countryside with great views either side.   The relative cool conditions, around 10 degrees C,  meant that my body wasn't having to work hard to get rid of heat like it had during this year's RAW, so found it easy to keep jogging uphill at a descent pace with my HR heading over 160.

Half way along the heath I feel into step with Jedbrugh Ultra first timer David Hanna.  We got chatting, we discussed various things on route, David's goal was for a sub 7hr time, and he mentioned about a blog he'd read in the week about splits for the race... well urghh... that'd be my blog you then :-)

David and I were both moving well, I was pretty confident of being quicker to Maxton than last year and once we got onto the road that takes you downhill to Maxton we were soon clicking away the miles at 7:30min/mile pace and arrived at 9:30pm, 5 minutes ahead of my 6:30 schedule.  My guess for finishing time if we kept up the pace was 6:10 to 6:15, well ahead of my own expectations and far ahead of where David had planned.

At the checkpoint I put my empty bottles in the provided bin bag and unpacked my drop bag and left stowing my snack and two bottles.  As I left David was still busy with his own drop bag, as I had already taken longer than I was intending to I headed off and was on my own once more.

Jedburgh to Maxton, 10 miles, 1:30:08, 44th place, 5 minutes ahead of 6:30 schedule

Maxton to Rhymer's Stone, 6.8 miles, split shedule 1:10

After passing the church at Maxton you go through a short section of woodland heading downhill and then down wooden steps to an undulating section just above the river Tweed.  I enjoyed this little section till the runner I was catching in front discarded an empty bottle from the path with it tumbling down the wooded slope.  What a "fecking tosser" ran through my head, I was close to having a go at him, but with more than a marathon left to go I decided creating a bad vibe wouldn't do either of our races any good so bit my lip and went past.

After less than half a mile you descend downs steps to the river side running through a field of cows.  The sun came out on this section which made the jogging along in lovely surrounds very civilized indeed.  I kept to my pacing strategy of running with a HR around 160 and found myself steadily passing other runners.  Just before the B6404 crossing caught up with Donald Sandeman and Craig MacKay, Craig had entered under the anagram/pseudonym "Gay Crack-aim" to hide his entry from Donald. As I approached Crag shouted out with a mischievous tone "how's the heart rate?".

Craig had caught Donald back in the woods around mile 4 so poor Donald's birthday ultra treat of being able to run without his nemesis had been dashed.  He claimed that he already had enough of the banter, something that he had to put up with quite a while longer as Craig would cling on till they returned to Maxton.  After the final check-point at Maxton Donald finally pulled away for a richly deserved win over Craig who limped in over an hour later than Donald.  This was all to unfold for them, for me I had my own race to run, and as my heart rate was dropping keeping pace with the duo so I bid them good luck and moved on.  Not before Craig called out that I was making my move too early!

Was I?  Well I hadn't actually made any move apart for maintain the same intensity throughout the whole race, the fact that I was steadily pacing other runners was down to them slowing rather than me speeding up.  It was great to be able to run comfortable at the 9 min/miles, my heart rate and engergy levels both looked to be well under control.  I was eating and drinking to plan.

The only physical warning signs were from my hip flexors and right calf, both were uncomfortable niggles but weren't affecting my gait.   As were approaching the 2hr mark I made the quick decision to take painkillers, with 4hrs left to run I couldn't be bothered with having nagging pain for the rest of the way.

The various milestones on route came by quickly, first the golf course, then St. Boswell's.  One of the race route signs had the world "Toilets" on which was a nice touch, I presume they meant the public lavatories across the road rather than pee on the lamp post, woof!

After St. Boswell's you drop back down to the river side which look magnificent with all the Autumn colours and little bit of sunshine.  The trail can be narrow and quite technical in places, but apart from a couple of very short sections was free from mud.  I loved this section, back to play rather than racing.

Eventually we popped up next to the Golf course then across to the A68 crossing.  The crossing was well marshalled, but also unfortunately quite busy with traffic so ended waiting with a follow runner.   We fell in step and chatted for most of the way to Rhymer's stone, just before the check point a friend of his caught up with us.  Once on the downhill road section to the check point I relaxed and let gravity speed me up and ended hitting the check point first.

I did another awkward change over of my empties and supplies, probably taking less than 30 seconds but it still felt longer than it should.  Part of the problem is that I had wrapped up my drop bag with tape too securely so it was hard to get the bottles and snacks out.

Maxton to Rhymer's stone, 16.8 miles, 2:38 elapsed, 37th place, 1:07:52 split, 33rd place, 7 minutes ahead of 6:30 schedule

Rhymer's stone to Maxton, 10.9 miles, split schedule 2:05hr

Immediately after the check point you start heading uphill, intially along a path between hedges, then up onto the open ground on the lower slopes of the first of the Eildon's.  Above half a dozen or more runners stretched out on the ascent, how many might I be able to catch them all before the end of the race?

This year the ascent felt easy, I didn't have anyone chasing me up so I was able to just get into my own groove, keeping my HR down to around 160 without much difficulty.  I felt comfortable climbing but still was quick enough to catch a couple of runners before the first summit.

Great views from just below the first summit, photo courtesy of Mark Davey (Border Telegraph)

The ascent had been sheltered from the wind, but as soon as you got to the summit you had to push into a 30+mph head wind.  There were great views all around, topped off by a rainbow.  I didn't hang around on the top and charged gleefully into the wind and down the other side.  The wind took some of the intensity of the ascent out of your legs so it was fun descent, bounding down and past walkers.

At the base of the next hill I passed another runner jogging until the path steeped up.  A pair of runners were 50m ahead at the start of the climb, and by the summit had closed this to 20m.  I thought I was climbing well but was caught by another runner.  I complimented him on his climbing ability and we got chatting.  He was new to ultra running but found the ascents easy, something he put down to his background in cycling.

We then popped up on the second Elion summit, passed a few walkers and with me in front we charged down the other side into the wind once more.  The second descent is steeper and more technical down a stony and broken path.  Within a few seconds I passed the two other runners that passed summit before us.  The descent was pretty frantic with intense concentration required to spot footing and stay upright, but boy it was exhilarating!

Once at the foot I headed left and along towards the third and final Eildon summit.  I turned out to see where the other runners were, the pair I had overtaken just after the summit were still taking the descent very carefully and looked to only be two thirds the way down.

My companion at the summit was no slouch on the descents and was close behind me, and once we started to the gently climb the third summit caught me up and we started chatting once more.  The third summit is much lower than the first two so pretty quickly we had gone round the top and were heading down to the woodland.

Descending through the woodland we passed a group of walkers and then without evening making a conscious decision found ourselves following the trail around to the right and traversing the hillside rather than descending it.  Even though I've done the race before I didn't spot this mistake.  We only found out that the wrong path when a gaggle of frantic runners came charging down the trail towards us saying that they had gone wrong and ran an extra mile thanks to the mistake.

I began walking and looking around to get my bearings.  The rest of the runners were all confused but not really hanging around to make a ground decision so various runners were heading off in different directions.  I spotted a broken path a little bit along the trail that heading down through the trees, and guessed that heading downhill till we hit a fence and then turning right was probably the safest thing to do.  My hunch was right and once I got down to the fence at the edge of woodland there was a path and not far along it a St. Cuthbert's Way route post.  I was the first to get down and confirm the right route so called out a positive identification, and the good news was relayed out across the runners spread out across the wood.

I didn't hang around as it was race day so just follow the path downhill and started to see familiar elements of the route once more.  Pretty quickly I was passed by Jonathan Pritchard who was clearly wound up about loosing lots of time to the navigation error, he didn't hang around and tore off down the trail and was quickly out of sight.  Half a mile later as we crossed the park above Bowden village and had to call ahead to Jonathan to confirm the route.  Others from he original group that had made navigation mistake caught me at this point, as I they had al been well ahead me I full expected them to pass.

We all headed down and through Bowden village and then down along the road briefly before turning left along a small footpath that takes you north east towards Newtown St. Boswells.  Here I fell into step with John Connolly, a runner from the "Lost Group" and he was happy for me to lead the way.   From his efficient running style and easy breathing it was clear John was a pretty capable runner, so I expected him to head on at any minute.  It was John's first ultra though so he was happy to chat and take things at my pace.

Once we hit the road just before Newton St. Boswell's Jonathan was ahead and looking back for confirmation that he was on track.  Again I shouted to go straight ahead, and again he opened up a gap of couple of hundred meters.  We then dropped down into the town and followed the back streets and then over the main street where a marshal kindly guided us in the right direction.  After passing between a few more houses and garages you then find yourself back in woodland, then under the A68, then right down along path through the woods back to where rejoin the out and back section of the route.

Last year when I hit this point, around 23 miles in, I was struggling with sore hip flexors and finally gave in to taking pain killers, and was beginning to feel tired and was more than happy to walk up the steps.  This time around I had already take pain killers and they were obviously doing their job as I was feeling pretty comfortably despite the discomfort much earlier in the race.  I was also feeling fresher and much more within my comfort zone - running was still pretty effortless, there was no battle of wills required to keep running at a good pace.

John been sticking close behind me for while but suddenly things went quite behind.  I was surprised at his absence as he seemed to be running so comfortably.  I passed another runner then a few minutes later John re-appeared, turns out that he'd stopped to get out supplies, and the runner we had passed was a friend of his that he had been ahead of earlier in the race, but thanks to the navigation error had ended up behind. 

John and I ran together up till the ascent up St. Boswell, but I think John must have stayed walking longer as once I was running through the streets I no longer had company.  I passed another runner on the main street then at route turning met Jonathan and at a guess from splits was probably Victoria Reid.  All three of us weren't 100% sure that the road to our left was correct as the sign-age wasn't entirely clear.  Victoria and I were reasonably confident of heading left and so we headed up and soon were back on familiar road past the church above the golf course.   Jonathan took again and I passed Victoria.

The route of the route between St. Boswell and Maxton the sun came out making the running next to the river quite enchanting with in shimmering in the sunlight.  Briefly I found myself getting a bit warm for the first time, this was quite a brief interlude though as the wind picked up and kept the temperature perfect for running.   Jonathan pulled out a lead of couple hundred meters but on the longer stretches I'd see him.  Both us were steadily overtaking runners, but the distance between us didn't appear to change further.  Sooner than expected I found myself climbing up steps away from the river, through the woods and popping out at the Maxton check-point.

It's funny how time flies when you are running well and enjoying yourself, but can seem to take an eternity to cover the miles when you are struggling.  Looking back to 2013 it was quite a contrast.  Relative to the rest of the field I was running strongly in 2013, but was finding it more of an effort to keep the pace up.  This year I trotted into Maxton feeling surprisingly fresh and check of the watch confirmed that I was now 10 minutes ahead of my time back in 2013.

Rhymer's Stone,  27.7miles, 4:35:52 elapsed, 23rd place, 1:57:52 split, 14 minutes ahead of 6:30 schedule.

Maxton to Jedbrugh, 10 miles, split schedule 1:35

At the check point I dropped my empties and picked up my last drinks and a stick of liquorish and stowed them jogging away from the checkpoint.  The marshal recording times of competitors coming through said I was 23rd, last year I was 11 minutes slower but in 13th place at this point - a real sign of just how competitive the race was this year.

As I jogged away I passed another runner and soon after joined by Jonathan and for the first time in the race he settled in beside by rather than tearing off.  We started chatting, with Jonathan explaining his pre-race goal of sub 6hr time and was keen to see if he could still achieve it despite the costly navigation error.  Looking at splits I think it probably cost the "Lost Group" between 10 and 15 minutes, for me I likely wasted around a minute.

Jonathan was optimistic that if we worked together than getting a 6hr time might still be possible.  We had 1:25 left to cover the final 10 miles, this would require me to be 5 minute faster than my outbound leg, and 20 minutes faster than I achieved back in 2013.  Even though I was still feeling far fresher this year I knew that this was likely too much to achieve, I didn't share this outlook with Jonathan though as there was still a chance that he'd be able to push on.

For a mile an quarter after Maxton you follow a country lane uphill, along this we were averaging around 10 min/mile, but were able to chat side by side.  Once off the lane and back onto the trail we were running single file.  I picked up that this was Jonathan's first ultra and his usual domain is road racing - I rather felt out of my depth with his half marathon times nearly 15 minutes better than mine, but was glad for the company.

Our pace was very evenly matched as we made away along the twist, turns and undulation of the trail.  Once we hit a longer and steeper hill section it became clear that my heart rate was rising a bit too quickly keeping up so let Jonathan go and just concentrated at running at my own pace.  At the summit of this rise we caught a fellow runner who was still moving well enough just not at the pace we were managing.  In a friendly gesture he moved aside and wished us well.

On the descent that followed Jonathan was initially 50m clear but rather than capitalize on the great ascending had stopped to walk.  I caught up quickly and got him back running with some friendly abuse about being a ultra newbie - he he was walking downhill to get gels and drink out. When I caught up Jonathan got back running and on the next rise he began walking again and I followed suit.

A few seconds after stopping to walk I was caught by the runner we had just passed and I commented about him having a second wind.  He pointed out that he had just been making steady progress but now we were walking!  With that we all got back running up the hill as a convey in single file.  We got chatting as group, our new companion Clive was a seasoned ultra runner having manage a 22hr Bob Graham Round a number of years back - but this was so tough on his body it took him a long while to recover, and never was able to get back to where he once was.  He was still moving pretty well today though!

Once over the last hill you then go down a gently sloping grass field, here I attempted to coax the others into upping the pace - I relaxed and just let gravity pick up the pace and I soon moved from the back to lead our little group.  I was first over the style out of the field and into the woodland.  Once into the woodland I was off - it was play time with gravity doing all the hard work!

I was expecting the other two to be able to stick with me as they both seemed to be running well but found voices behind getting quieter and found myself charging downhill on my own.  I caught another running on one of the steeper descents, having to jump to the side of trail to tear past him.  I was absolutely loving being able to run fast and smoothly downhill.  Last year I was struggling with cramp and in maintenance mode at this point so really appreciated being able to enjoy the descent and make good time.

Once the descent levelled off a little I slowed down but still had fun following all the twists and turns in the trail as it navigates the woodland down towards the river.  One one of the level sections I got my first warning sign - a cramp rippled through my right calf.  The cramp released immediately so didn't stop me in my tracks but it was a signal that fatigue couldn't be brushed aside by my enthusiasm.

Having had cramp so many times in later stages of ultra's I knew what I had to do - slow up and keep my heart rate below 160 and run as smoothly as I could. The route finally leaves the woodland heading downhill between fields to woodland alongside the Tweed.  At the bottom of the hill you turn right and head along the woodlands towards the wobbly bridge.  At this junction I looked briefly looked over my shoulder and see what I assumed was Jonathan and Clive perhaps 40m behind.

I wasn't going to wait for them, but as hill descents are one of my strengths, I'd be reeled in at some point in the next half mile and we'd be back together.  Another brief cramp fired through my left calf just the bridge so I made my way over the bridge as smoothly as I could - it's much easier we you don't have other runners on it.  With the open views from the bridge I could see several runners at ahead, two of which were less than a 100m ahead - my next target.  I was focussing too much on scenery that I took the right turn at the far end of the bridge too tight and wacked my ribs against the hand rail.  For a minute I was in agony, thankfully the pain wore off as I followed the trail along the fields edge.

Despite having to back off due to cramp I was still moving well and over took the pair ahead within half a mile of crossing the bridge.  The next runners were much further ahead, and wouldn't be catchable on this section of the trail.  I just focused on running as smoothly as I could, drinking and eating a little bit and doing my best to avoid further bouts of cramp.  I even took an S-cap and bit into and let it dissolve in my mouth in an attempt to convince my body/central governor that it cramp wasn't necessary.  It's a pretty grim thing to do though so I not sure I'd recommend it unless you are desperate.

I was still managing 9 minute miles so the section running at the fields edge alongside the river passed quickly as did the slightly muddy wooded section up to the road.  I walked up the steps to road crossing and got told by the attending marshal to run up the steps!  I was amused but unable to oblige.

Two mile to go!  Photo courtesy of Allan J Porterfield.

Once over the main road you then have a quite country lane to follow, it meanders from left to right and gently up and on the straights I could see a couple of runners ahead.  I looked to be gaining on both and caught the first at the final rise before the route drops down and then to the right to cross a small footbridge across the river.  I had expected Clive and Jonathan to be hot on my heels by this point but didn't appear to have any company so I just focused on reeling in the next runner.

As I got to the main road that takes you the last one and half miles back to the finish.  I could see the next runner a couple of hundred meters ahead and was still optimistic that I could reel him in but another calf cramp put paid to any thoughts of picking up the pace.  I then resigned myself to maintaining my pace as best I could without provoking a full cramp that would stop me in my tracks.  With this more inward focus I was also more aware of being pretty tired now, 36 miles of relentless forward progress had finally revealed itself.

The last mile is gently uphill and while I was closing the gap a little to the runner ahead it was clear I wasn't going to catch him so I just hung on keeping up a 9 to 10 min/mile pace.  I had the finish from last year in my head as all I had left to run but when I got there it was clear that the finish had been moved another quarter mile along the road to where we started beside the leisure centre.

Finishing arch
In a further cruel twist the finishing arch was placed upon the little hillock which had started on, it's only 20 foot high but still rather it's rather a black sense of humour that came up with that idea!  With less than 50m's to go and having not been aware of anyone behind me all along the road section Clive suddenly appeared at my shoulder putting in a final sprint.  Sportingly Clive called out his presence with what I thought was a encouragement to sprint so I dug in a picked up the pace pushing up the hillock just finishing a whisker in front of Clive!

Clive had been steadily gaining on me all the way into Jedburgh and had been so quiet on the final grass section that I had no clue whatsoever that he was in pursuit.  We were so close over the line that we were given the same time.

My official time was 6:06:13, in 15th place.  22 minutes quicker than last year, but 4 places down the field - which just goes to show just how competitive the front end of the field was.   When I crossed the line I stopped my HR monitor and only looked later, I couldn't quite believe the Halloween themed time that it had recorded!

Number of the Beast!!

Jedburgh  37.7miles, 6:06:13 elapsed, 15th place, 1:30:21 split, 14 minutes ahead of 6:30 schedule!  (note outbound leg to Maxton was 1:30:08 so I was only 13 seconds slower on return leg)

Post race

At the finish I collected my goodies bag - beer, meddle, water, snacks and stuff and joined the other runners sitting in the sun.  The beer was the one most appreciated my most of the other runners around me, but while I was tempted, being a bit dehydrated and having a two hour drive home I elected to drink the water.

At the finish I chatted briefly with Karl Zeiner who had also had a great race setting a new PB, but just missing out on his sub 6hr goal with a time of 6:02:49. A couple of minutes after Clive and I finished Jonathan crossed the line having suffered with cramp, his time of 6:08:40 was outside his goal, but would have made it under 6hrs had he not been part of the "Lost Group".

The rest of the "Lost Group" all arrived between 6:17 and 6:24.  Joanne Thom came in first women with a time of 6:17:24, John Connolly that I had run with at 6:22:00, Elaine Omand second lady in 6:23:17.  Looking at the splits I think the runner than crossed the second and third Eildon's and was with when we bumped into the "Lost Group" with must have been Tom Wilely who finished in 6:24:30. 

After setting out for 15 minutes I was getting cold so headed into the Leisure Center for a shower, and some great soup that warmed me up a treat.  Atmosphere at the Leisure Center was great, a real happy buzz, which nicely sums up the whole experience.

Just before leaving I headed up to the finish to check the official finishing times and took a quick photo of the top twenty runners.  Matt Willaimson ran a cracking race, finishing in 5:01:48.  One of the conversations I had on route was about what the likely winning finishing time might be, and had suggested that 5hrs might be possible by one of Scotland's elite ultra runners. Matt got so close you just know that others of similar talents will be itching to be the first time under 5hrs, so I look forward to seeing what happens next year.

Top twenty finishers

As I was about to head off Donald Sandeman was walking back from the finish.  He was pleased to announce that he had finally dropped Craig back at Maxton.  Donald finished in 6:53, while Craig MacKay finished an hour later in 7:53.  Oh dear oh dear Craig, it'll take quite a while to live that down! :-)

And so I headed back to my car for the two hour drive home.  Took this last photo of the Abby from the car park.  One day I'll have to bring my family down and actually visit a bit of Jedburgh.

Jedburgh Abby looking splendid in the Autumn sun


Pacing wise I pretty well nailed it this year.  My pace for the outbound leg to Maxton was 9:01 min/mile and return leg from Maxton was 9:02 min/mile.  Had I not had cramp I'd probably matched or bettered it.  Had a I run harder earlier in the race I almost certainly would have had cramp sooner and struggled for good chunk of the final section, so I doubt I would been any quicker.

Photo's of me during the run, and comments from marshal's supporters and other runners all suggest I looked fresh even into the last couple of miles.  I felt pretty good until the last couple of miles.  This will be partly down to getting eating and drinking right, getting descent training in my legs, but a big chunk of it is pacing right.  What looks to be working for me is pacing by heart rate, and picking the right heart rate zone to stick to is the key - something that requires a little experience, but also confidence in the approach working.

The benefit of putting the effort in to pacing in such a disciplined manner is how much less mental and physical stress there is on your body.  I was just out having fun, running at completely comfortable pace till the last two miles.  Despite the how easy it felt and looked I was still racing to the best of my ability.

While my target heart rate was 160, on the day I found my heart rate below this target for much of the out bound leg - I'd run to an pace I felt right and rather than be held back by overly high HR readings, I found the opposite with my HR lower than expected and prompting me to push the pace on that little bit more. It's only in the last ten miles that I found my HR heading over 160 consistently.  Once cramp hit in the last few miles I had to hold my HR down below 160 but it didn't need to go too far below so I was able to keep my pace up pretty well. 

My average HR ended up being 157 beats per minute, 1 below my average for last year's race, and 3 below my average of 160 at this years RAW.  I believe the cooler conditions was one of the main reasons why my HR was lower.  I might also be just a bit fitter than I thought I was too!

Recovery and Reflection

Last year I used November as a month off from training, only running once or twice a week when the sun shone.  I saw a 10% loss in fitness in one month that took me many months to claw back.  This experiment with a rest month is something I'm not planning to repeat, and instead will keep training at a maintenance level.

So far so good - 11 days after race day and my efficiency is back near it's peak for the year and my legs feel recovered from the race.  If I can maintain this fitness level with regular but easy runs then it should form a better platform for building fitness for the big races next year.

I am still a bit surprised at running so well at the Three Peaks race and I bagging a 22 minute PB on a route that was 0.4 miles longer than we ran last year.  I really never expected a big PB from the day, I felt if things went well I might get 6:20, but would still have been happy with 6:30.  6:06 is just crazy, it of course begs one to come back at go sub 6hrs next year!

So far I've only entered the Highland Fling, and having ducked under Elaine Omand's 6:08 time for last year's Jedburgh Three Peaks race could I like Elaine also get under 9hrs for the Fling?  Elaine ran a phenomenal 8:49 time at this year's Fling.  Matching Elaine's Fling time will require me to run a minute a mile faster than I achieved this year when I ran 9:43.  I managed to run 39 seconds/mile faster this year at the Three peaks than last year so perhaps such a big improvement is a bit too much of ask.  There is nothing lost is dreaming big though :-)


I would like to pass on my gratitude to Angela and Noanie for leading such a great event, the marshal's too were brilliant - efficient, helpful, friendly and supportive.   The weather gods were in our favour again this year, perfect conditions made for a great day. 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultramarathon 2014 Splits, Cutoffs and Race goals

On Saturday 2th October 2014 will be the third Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultramarathon, so in this post I'll publish a way to estimating finishing time, splits for a range of finishing times between 5hrs (course record pace) through to 9hrs, discuss cut offs and finish up with my own race goals.

Pacing sensibly is the key to running fast and enjoying oneself

I ran this race last year using my heart rate monitor as a guide and paced the race pretty evenly, save for the last 8 miles when cramp started to slow me and finally a navigational error added a bit over two minutes to the last leg, finishing in 6:28:38 in 11th place out of 100 finishers.  I was second fastest over the second half as percentage of finishing time, only bettered by Edward Crockett who I ran with for a while before cramp hit, he then powered away to finish 6 minutes ahead of me.  Ed's last leg back from the Maxton checkpoint was only 6% slower than the first leg to Maxton - while the average for the 100 finishers last year was a 32% slow down.  
I believe that starting out at the intensity you can manage for the whole race is crucial for running your best race, judging this purely by feel is hard so I have used my heart rate monitor as a guide for pacing my own ultra's.  Splits are still helpful in judging how well one is progressing towards different time goals, and can serve as a early warning that one is probably going too fast, or to speed up if one behind a schedule that you feel is possible.  

The vast majority of the field start out too fast so normally one needs to take heed of going through the first check point faster than is sustainable and then slow down to make sure you don't burn out and end up slowing dramatically in second half.  Slowing isn't inevitable - it's a direct consequence of going out too fast, so don't go out fast because you expect to slow down as it's the initial quick pace that is cause of the bulk of the later slow down.

While my own pacing last year wasn't quite perfect, with a little tweaking I believe it's should be a pretty good basis for running to the best of your abilities so have used it as basis for the splits below - the slow down I have accounted for is 5% which is close to what Ed achieved last year.  Back in 2012 I wrote a post on Jedburgh Ultra Splits but these were based on guesses for a race that hadn't been run yet, so this year's splits should be much better guide. 

Estimating finishing time

Selecting splits requires us to know roughly what time we might be able to expect.  Last year I ran a 10k in 39:36 and the Jedburgh Ultra in 6:26:28 (factoring out the navigational error) which is a ratio of 9.76.  So as a rough guide would be to take your current 10k time and multiple it by 10.  

Someone who is excels at ultra's relative to shorter distances you could use a lower ratio than 10, while one who struggles more with longer races may want to choose a higher ratio.  I'd guess a range of 9 to 12 times 10k time would probably be good enough for most runners.

Estimating Jedburgh Three Peaks Time from 10k times  
The rules for the Jedburgh Three Peaks have the final finishing time at 10hrs, and the last finisher at last years race squeezed in at 9:53.  The above table includes time estimates over 10hrs, so if you have a slow 10k time then you'll need to be very mindful of running a well paced race to make sure that you can finish under the cut off time.

Splits - 5hrs to 6hrs

Splits - 6hrs to 7hrs

Splits - 7hrs to 8hrs


Splits - 8hrs to 9hrs


Splits - 9hrs to 10hrs


Official Cut off times:

From the Three Peaks web page:
  • Maxton 10 miles – three hours (11.00am)
  • Rhymer’s Stone 18 miles – five hours (1.00pm)
  • Maxton 28 miles – eight hours (4.00pm)
  • Finish Line – ten hours (6.00pm)
If you have a look at my splits for a 10hr finishing time, you'll see it has 10:26am at Maxton (CP1), 12:14pm for Rhymer's Stone (CP2), and 3:26pm for Maxton (CP3) giving you 2:33 to make it to finish in time.  All of these times are well ahead of the official cut offs, and are based on only a 5% slow down so assume you'll be finishing strong. 

The official cut off times for the second half effectively require a negative split, so if you are struggling to beat them then you will almost certainly not make the 10hr cut off.  

Realistically I think one should base your cut offs from my splits if one wants to have a chance of making it back before the 10hr cut off.  If you look at the average pace required it's ranges from 14:37 min/mile pace for the first leg through to 17:39min/mile pace for the slowest leg between Rhymer's Stone and Maxton.  This means for all legs you'll need to do a substantial amount of running on the flatter and downhill sections to balance the uphill walking sections.

If you expect to be close to the 10hr time limit then I'd recommend making sure you pace efficiently and start easy with run/walking strategy right from the first section.  For reference running for 10 minutes, walking 10 minutes at 10min/mile and 20 min/mile respectively, will give you an average of 13:20 min/miles which is under the pace required for all the legs for a 10hr finishing time.

My own race goals and pacing strategy

Looking at my training logs I look to be in a similar shape to what I was for last years Three Peaks race so will expect a time in the 6:15 to 6:45 range is possible so will be printing off the 6 to 7hr splits and use this for reference as I progress through the race. 

I will pace myself minute by minute using my heart rate monitor.  At last year's race I average a heart rate of 158 beats per min (bpm), but slowing down in the last 8 miles due cramp brought the average down.  For this years River Ayr Way (RAW) Challenge I finished in 6:15 with an average heart rate of 160 bpm so expect if I can avoid cramp this year I should be able to achieve a similar heart rate.

When racing one can't precisely run to a specific heart rate so one just tries to stay within a small range around the target heart rate, with the range starting slightly lower in the first miles and moving higher in later stages as heart rate drift takes affect.  Practically this will mean aiming for a 155 to 160 HR in the first few miles, then 158 to 163 for the bulk of the race and 160+ in the final miles.

As I'm racing I'll try and finish as strongly as I can and leave everything out on the trail. This means if I have the energy and legs for it will happily ignore the HR monitor range once I know I'm going to make it safely back.  In the RAW I got my heart rate up to 180 in the finishing sprint and all going well will do something similar this Saturday!

My goals for the day are:
  • Platinum : sub 6:10
  • Gold        : sub 6:20
  • Silver      : sub 6:30
  • Bronze    : sub 6:45
For all those racing, good luck and see you on the start line :-)

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Cluanie Ridge

On Friday night I headed up north to stay up at the Cluanie Inn with friends Colin and Neil - with the aim of walking the 7 Munros of the Cluanie Ridge on the Saturday.  We stayed in the Club House which is located in a separate building that sits alongside the main hotel building.  The rooms were great, and on opening the windows we were treated to the sound of the Stags bellowing errie in the night.  Welcome to the Highlands in Autumn!

On the Saturday morning will stocked up on a full Scottish Breakfast, packed the pack lunch that the Hotel provided in our rucksacks and headed off for our walk at half 9.  Sun was shinning, wind was calm and the Stags were making themselves heard once more.

Neil and Colin, Ready for a long day of walking

The start of the walk follows the private road between the Cluanie Inn to Tomodoun.

Looking north back torwards the Cluanie Inn.
The road slowly climbs the lower reaches of the Southern Ridge, providing great views over Loch Shiel.

 We ignored the first path up to first summit Creag a' Mhaim as Colin had done a recce back in August and found it to be boggy and hard going, instead we continued on the road to a path the south west end of ridge.  The path is well maintained and zig zags it's way up to the top.  The view looking back eastwards towards Loch Loyne was spectacular.

View from half way up Creag a' Mhaim, looking east towards Loch Loyne
We got the summit feeling fresh and revealing in the great weather and stunning views.

Summit of Creag a' Mhaim, 947m

Viewing looking north towards Loch Shiel

The Cluanie Ridge was stretched out before us, all the first summits were clear of cloud, but the end of the Ridge had their heads in the clouds.

View looking West along the Cluanie Ridge
As there was six more Munroe's left to cover we didn't hang around, and jogged the descent down to the ridge and headed onto to next summit Druim Shionnach.

Looking west from ridge towards Druim Shionnach

The southern side of the ridge gently slopes away and is covered with grass, heather and rocks and makes for good running.  The northern side of the ridge drops away steeply into cliffs, one would want to take care when in cloud, thankfully it was clear at this stage.
Looking back east towards Creag a' Mhaim

Druim Shionnach summit cairn, looking west towards the next Munroe, Aonach air Chrith
We arrived at Druim Shionnach, 987m, pretty quickly, paused from some quick photo's, even some cheesy ones!

Neil pointing out where we'd come from - the Cluanie Inn.

Progress to next Munroe was slower thanks to the steady climb up to the highest point on the ridge - Aonach air Chrith at 1021m.

Aonach air Chrith
Once passed the summit the path is initially just grassy and gentle, but then descends via some of the most technical crags on the route.

We caught two fellow walkers on the descent down the crags, they were planning to do all 7 munros, but suspect they will have been too slow to do it before nightfall as we only just managed it.

Looking back to the craggy descent, looks rather more benign than it was.
It was now after nearing 2pm and while making good progress still didn't have lots of time to complete the walk before nightfall so, inspired what we do in ultra-marathoning, we eat our sandwiches on the ascent up Maol Chinn-Dearg.  Some of the ascent was rather craggy and steep so one breathed in half of our sandwiches.

Maol Chinn-Dearg summit, 981m
The further west we went the lower cloud base was so when we arrived at the summit of Maol Chinn-Dearg we were in cloud for the first time.  As the wind had picked up we didn't hang around at the summit and headed west once more and down out of the cloud.

Looking south towards Loch Quoich

The descent from Maol Chinn-Dearg and traverse of the ridge to Sgurr an Doire Leathain offered lots of good ground so were were able to jog most of it.

View west towards Sgurr an Doire Leathain, hidden in cloud
Just before the summit of Sgurr an Doire Leathain the wind picked up and drizzle was falling so for the first time we all donned our jackets.

Just before the summit, looking back east
The summit of Sgurr an Doire Leathain at 1010m was well in cloud so no views to admire, so again headed on after the obligatory photo.

Sgurr an Doire Leathain summit, 1010m
During the descent from Sgurr an Doire Leathain the clouds opened up briefly and we were rewarded by a great cloud scape, with clouds above and below us, with an occassional ray of sunshine breaking through it all.

Cloud scape on the descent from Sgurr an Doire Leathain
The next munroe, number 6, Sgurr an Lochain should have offered great views of the ridge spread out to the east, but alas was in cloud.

Sgurr an Lochain, 1004m
Having followed the path continuously all along the ridge it felt natural to keep following the path at the summit, and being in cloud there was little to hint that it might be in the wrong direction.  I was a bit unsettled though as I recalled Colin showing me the map earlier in the walk and mentioned that one of the summits had a short out and back section.

We got out the first compasses to double check the direction of the path we were on, were expecting west, but it suggested we were heading north.  This just didn't feel right as we never recalled making a right turn at any point during the ascent.  A second compass agreed with the first. But still we weren't convinced, finally smart phone with compass agreed as well.  Three blokes think west, three compasses say north.

Out comes the map on Colin's phone, then the actual OS map.  Yep there is an out and back on this munroe, with a T junction just before the summit that we missed.  We back tracked and eventually found the path to the right heading off to the west.   Relieved to have caught our navigation mistake before it we wasted too much time/risk heading off down a very steep descent, we then made our way down out of the cloud and heading back west towards the final Munroe of the day - Creag nan Damh.

I polished off the last of my food just before the ascent and enjoyed this final climb.  Neil and Colin were reporting being pretty knackered on this climb, but with all my ultra races and training found myself nearer the end of journey still with plenty of energy.  The last hundred foot of the climb I just let rip and ran up to the summit, bounding up like an excited puppy.

The summit was only just in cloud so we get occasional hints of views around. It was no 4:50pm with the first hints that sunlight was diminishing. 
Creag nan Damh
Colin produced a hip flask with Highland Park Single Malt Whisky so we all celebrated with a invigorating swig and then followed the ride down to the south west.  A little way from the summit the route heads down to the foot of crag that you then have to scramble up.  Behind the summit of this crag the sun shone through the cloud and evoked a scene that would have been placed in a druid ceremony.

Last scramble before the final descent.

The scramble up required some good stretches off the arms and legs to get to the required hand holds and foot holds, all made a little tougher by being over 7 hours into the walk and having bagged 7 munros. The view back down the crag was impressive though!

View back down the scramble crag
As we descend the ridge we finally got out of cloud and were rewarded a great view down the glen to sea Loch Duich.

His raised his arms and the clouds parted revealing the way ahead
We could see the forest next to where the car was parked so it felt very much like we we'd back down soon.  The descent down to the bottom of the glen was wet, muddy, slippery, steep and slow going.  My right knee became pretty painful with the constant twisting steps down.  Colin and Neil were both having their own battles too.

It took us another 1:40 to get down to the car, only 2 1/2 miles away but it was a real slog.  It felt like the end of the glen never got any nearer, and the path that we hopped would improve as we got to the bottom of the glen never improved, only got boggier.

One final hurdle was a small river we had to cross, we couldn't spot any bridge so stepped across the stones, Neil with his long legs made it across without incident, me and my short legs ended up slipping and only just avoiding getting wet, while Colin slipped on the first stone and ended up in the drink and waded across the rest of the river.

Once over the rive it was easy walking back to the car, just before it got dark. By the time we had driven the 6 miles back up to the hotel it was dark.  One more surprise was awaiting us - right next to our accommodation three female red deer were standing close by and looking right at us.  They didn't show any fear, were calm and just watched us.

Deer at the Cluanie Inn
Speaking with bar staff later it turns out that visitors often feed the deer so they often come looking for easy picking.  After a good meal, a few beers and lots of banter we finally turned in.

The next morning we work to brilliant, unfortunately Colin needed to be back in Aberfoyle to be with his family so we all headed back home straight after breakfast.

Not before a few final photo's.  The following captures the Cluanie Ridge in all it's glory.  Sadly the staff accommodation and generator and equipment rather spoiled the otherwise epic view.

View of the Cluanie Ridge from the Cluanie Inn.

The drive home was stunning, especially the descent down to Loch Garry, the Loch sparked in the early morning sunshine whilst banks of mist boiled around the loch, forest and hills producing scenes of jaw dropping beauty.  Alas we were in too much of hurry to stop and take photo's, so I only have memories of this. If only I had a means for downloading images from my head... Just wait a few more decades perhaps...

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

(Note quite) Great Scottish Run 2014 : Race Report

Pre-race Journey

My last week of preparation for doing the Great Scottish Run half marathon was a bit of train wreck - picking up four separate injuries, all relatively minor, but enough to stop me running through the week to give them time to heal.  I wrote up this sorry week first my in Triple Taper Trouble post, and then the evening before the race in my Should I stay or should go? post.

The last roll of the dice to fix things was getting a good nights sleep on the Saturday night before the race.  Despite being really tired and ready for sleep at 10pm I just couldn't get to sleep once I went to bed.  Hour after hour of tossing and turning, occasionally getting up to break the cycle, my body just wasn't wanting to switch off.  It's not unusual for me to struggle to sleep before a race, and it usually doesn't affect my performance too much, but on this occasion I needed the sleep to help patch up my calf injury.  Finally at must have been around 5:30am I actually got some sleep.

I woke at 6:40am before the alarms went off, I still felt tired but knew that the day had now begun and I needed to make a decision about whether to race and if possible before the alarm went off waking my wife Julia and the kids so they could have a lie in rather getting woken for no reason.  On getting up I was amazed to find my right calf feeling comfortable so I quickly got dressed it my race kit and headed out the door for a half mile test run to see if I I was good to go.

The wee run went went, I was able to cruise along comfortably at sub 7 min/mile pace.  Chuffed and relieved I got home and began the process of getting Osfield clan up, fed and out the door.  We headed off to Glasgow at 9:00am, arriving just before 10am.  We got parked and even had some time for some pre race shopping, heading into Forever 21 - we have three girls under 15 so sometimes one just has to go clothes shopping!!

My friend, Neil, based in Glasgow was also doing the half marathon so we met up and eventually coaxed the girls out of shopping mode and joined the masses all heading to Gorge Square.  When we arrived the White Wave runners were already well into assembling so I didn't have long to soak up the atmosphere together.

Julia and I, just after arriving at George Square
I stripped down into my race kit and then searched for a way into the White Wave section.  The barrier separating the square from the runners was unbroken all the way to far end of the Square where I got into throng.

Rather taken aback my just how many runners were lined up ahead I guess that surely thousands wouldn't be ahead of me at the finish so the nearer to the start I could get the less over taking I'd need to do. I weaved in and out until the "Warm Up" session began.

I'm really not the one of pre race aerobics, I'll go for a jog, do a couple of strides, perhaps some gentle dynamic stretches.  The whole crowd around me was getting well into, arms waving, trotting on the spot.  I played along doing a subset that I felt would warm me up, but stopped playing once the "Motivational Aerobics Guide" started directing everyone to do static stretches, telling us it's the most important part of warm up and required to prevent injuries.  I couldn't believe that someone so clueless sports science was being paid to guide tens of thousands on runners.  Pretty well everyone around me joined in with the static stretches.  Jikes, does no-one take any interest in studies into sports science?

My girls who were stationed just next to the start  amused themselves that I'd be shaking my head at the insanity of doing static stretches before a race as they know me too well.  They also noted the fact that the elites were not following the warm routine, or doing static stretches, they were jogging and doing strides for warm up...

Ready to race

Thankfully the "Warm Up" finished and left us a few minutes with the announcements of the who was attending in the elite field. Haile Gebrselassie was last to be announced and got a great roar of support from the field.

Race plan:

11 days before the race I had a great 8.3 mile tempo run, where I gradually increased pace from a 6:44 pace down to 5:50 paced last mile, my average pace for the route was 6:32.  My average HR was 171, pretty high for a tempo run but then it was the fastest tempo run I had ever run, the last mile my HR was reached 180 but even with this high heart rate my breathing was under control and my legs felt strong and responsive. The speed came easy.

This tempo run really set expectation high, if I could run that well again on race day a big PB would be mine for sure, perhaps even 1:26 or below.  My Trossachs 10k just after my temp run I nailed as well.  6:22 pace at an average HR of 174.

Then things fell apart in the last week with injuries and enforced rest.  My resting HR had also gone from 44 mid-week to 50 by the end of the week.  Even with my right calf and feet healing up through the week I was still aware that my calves were twitchy at night  Then straining my calf turning over in my bed two days before the race was just crazy.  I had gone from a finely tuned athlete to a twitching, creaky tinder box.

So race plan of a big PB at run well below 6:40 pace turned into a plan to try and bag a PB, this meant a sub 1:28:58 time, or 6:47 pace.  With all the strides I've made in fitness this year I still felt that this should be doable.  For simplicity I set myself a loose guideline 6:40 pace as this is exactly 9 mile in a hour, so hitting 3, 6 and 9 miles at 20, 40 and 60 minutes respectively.  If I could manage this then I'd be on for a 1min 30 sec PB.

The half marathon race I ran back in 2010 when I set my PB my average HR was 169, but that day there was a frost, so expected on normal running day to see a high average HR.  My analysis of HR vs time during races suggested an average HR of 170 to 171 was likely range I might be able to achieve, so planned to race at around this HR for the majority of the race race, and let my HR go higher during the last two miles racing to the finish.

Race start: 

The starters gun went off, the crowd roared by nothing happened for all those around me.  After a few seconds we all begun a shuffle forwards then a walk, then as we progressed to the start line proper we finally got into a jog.  I haven't been in really big race since like this since the Edinburgh Marathon back in 2010 so it was a bit of shock.

Once across the line we were into an easy paced run, no-one around me seemed to be racing, it seemed more sedate that many ultras I've done.  I looked in and was dumb struck by the sight of the sea of runners ascending the hill up St. Vincent's street.  The road was completely packed with runners both across and up the road.  I really have no clue how many were ahead, but it seemed like thousands.

The shear number of runners ahead and the easy pace that all were moving at was not at conducive to me doing a PB, 8 min/mile pace wouldn't do so I picked up the pace and begun weaving between runners, squeezing along the curb between the runners and crowds.

By the top of the hill there was a little more space, and to cheer us along a large Choir was singing with great spirit which was fun to witness.  Down the other side of the hill the field stretched out as far I could see and I did my best to relax and let gravity pick up the pace for me.  My pace dropped to sub 6 min/mile pace quite easily but suddenly my closing speed to other runners became a nightmare so quick footwork and dodging barriers and curbs was required.

I charged to the bottom having picked up dozens of places by my HR had suddenly shot over 170, so I took note to ease off a little.  It still felt I had lots quite a bit of time with the slow start so was expecting to behind my 6:40 target.

The 1st mile marker appeared shortly after we crossed the M8, with only 6:32 on my watch.  I was rather perplexed at this, but also encouraged - if I had done the first hilly mile with all the congestion so fast then perhaps I might be on for a decent PB after all.  After the week I had I knew not to get carried away, and with my HR creeping above 170 I deliberately eased off a little, and concentrated on running smoothly.  Well as smoothly as one can when constantly trying to squeeze between slower runners.

Motorway Racing!

The second mile took us up the slip road off the M8 and onto the Kingston Bridge. It's a bridge I've driven over my times so it was quite bizarre to crossing it on foot.  The views were about as good as they get in Glasgow so I took it all in briefly between the weaving.

Mile two came and I had lots a little time with the climb over the bridge, then on the other side and on our tour of the South side of Glasgow.  Mile three came in 19:47, comfortably under my target of 20:00, so I was still going well and the pace felt comfortably hard, but at this stage seemed like it would be manageable for the rest of the race.

My heart rate however was saying other things, it was now well heading up to the mid 170's, a heart rate that I'd see in 10k race, not with 10 miles to go in a half marathon.  The day was only going to get warmer, my body wasn't going to magically find the pace easier, so either I'd need to get used to the super high heart rate and risk crashing and burning, or back off and accept that my PB was out of reach.

Mile 3 to half way

The second half of the 4th mile the route ascends up St. Andrews Drive, I continued to steadily pass other runners, weaving my way through or going round the outside.   The hill came at a cost hough, my heart rate headed up over 175 for the first time, and I also had dropped behind my target of averaging 6:40 miles.

At the end of St. Andrews Drive the route turns left along Higgs Road, and as I approached this junction I say the lead 5 runners passed on the opposite side of road having just finished their loop through Pollock Park.  It was great to spot them, but I didn't spot Haile Gebrselassie amongst them and so suspected that something must have been amiss for him.  After the race I was saddened to see that he pulled out of the race.

Soon after the route headed into Pollok Park, and when going past Burrell Collection I picked up a bottle of lucozade from the aid station.  I figured taking up some fluid and sugar might be a good thing, but boy it's taste boggin.  I was tempted to discard the bottle soon after picking it up, but for my race thought it better to at least get a couple hundred ml down.  Yuck... the things you do when chasing a PB!

Shortly after passing the Burrell you head up hill into woodland.  The grip on my Nike Widlhorse was pretty crap on the greasy road, it's really a trail shoe, but still was annoying to waste a little energy on every stride.  The hill takes you to the highest point on the route, but surrounded by trees there no vista, but it sure was nice to no be running through city streets for a few minutes.

At the 6 mile maker my time was 40:19, so I'd slipped off my 6:40 average pace target, but with expected the downhills to come I'd be able to claw back some of this time.  After the 6 mile marker there was the 10k timing mat, and I then expected a marker for the half way point, but none came.  Instead we popped out of Pollok Park and back on Higgs Road, heading north.

Half way to mile 9

The rate that I was passing runners was now beginning slow, partly due to the field spreading out a little at last, but also the differential speed was getting less. Was I slowing?  Or was it simply that I had caught the faster runners?

I passed through the 7 mile marker, with the aid of little downhill and pushing hard I had completed the last mile in 6:39.  Achieving this had come at cost - my heart rate was now hitting 178.  Also over the last couple of miles the first signs of muscle fatigued had started to make an appearance - both calves were feeling over used and had a little discomfort in my right knee.

I passed through the 8 mile mark just before entering Bellahouston Park, with a flat mile just covered in 6:49, but with no let up in my own effort level, it was now increasingly clear that maintaining 6:40 pace wasn't going to be possible.  My job now was to hang on for the best I could.

For the first half of the race I had found the effort level "comfortably hard" but now it had just become "hard".  For a little light relief at the 8.5 mile mark there was a commentator giving runners high fives and general proclaiming how great we looked and not long to go... It was a fun distraction to get into the spirit and given him and the others in the small crowd a high five too. 

Mile 9 came with a 6:51 mile, shortly after we headed out from Bellahouston Park.  Just before leaving I got a view of my the House of the Art of Lover, back in 2000 I worked there for a year as a Virtual Reality Researcher so it was nice to see bit of personal history.

Mile 10 to the finish

After exiting Bellahouston Park the route headed to Ibrox.  The route was flat but I still felt it a struggle.  While I was still catching groups of runners ahead, there was no often gaps in between so bridge the gap would take a while of running on my own.  Another 6:50 mile passed, so I had started too loose the buffer I had built up ahead of my 1:28:58 PB.  Any mile slower than 6:47 and I loosing ground.

I just hung on for the best I could, and turn my thoughts to the last mile and half along the Clyde - I was determined to run this strong and put everything I had left out on the course.  Just before mile 11 I runner behind me had start talking *really* loudly, I just wanted to concentrate on my winning own battle - not deal with bolshy runners that felt the need to comment on anything and everything.

Eventually the runner passed with a gaggle of other runners wearing the same vest, then it dawned on - he was pacing a set of club runners and coaxing them all to PB's.  This burst the bubble of annoyance that had built up.  However, to just annoy me back they all cruised passed and despite my best attempts to stay with them they moved away.  Running past the BBC centre we reached the mile 11 marker and I had slowed more, 6:54 now.

Shortly after we went of the squinty bridge and then headed east along the north shore of the Clyde, 1.6 miles of flat tarmac to cover.  The 12 mile mark seemed to take an eternity to reach.  It was the home straight so I was steadily upping the effort level to try finish strong, my heart rate headed over 180.  My calves and now my quads too were fried, every step was an effort and filled with pain. Despite the intense effort my pace was slowing, I passed the the 12 miler marker with my pace having slip to over 7min/mile pace for the first time.

I tried my best to work out how much time I had left to do the last 1.11 miles to secure a PB, I had around 7:40 which meant that I'd had get back down to below 7 min/mile pace.  For all my effort I just couldn't pick up the pace, my HR was heading over 180, I was in more pain than in another race I'd done this year, putting in more effort by the speed was just bleeding away.

I set myself targets of runners to catch ahead but for the most part they just stayed the same distance ahead, but stronger runners passed us.  I normally the one finishing strong in races, here I was with my body failing and no amount of will power could drive my legs faster.

The painful drag along the Clyde eventually finished and after a quick left right we headed into Glasgow Green with the finisher line ahead.  As the I looked down at my watch, I had a minute seconds left to get my PB, it looked possible but it was so hard to know just how far it was to the finish.  The crowds were great and as I approached the finish it looked like I was going to so close.  I gave it everything I had in the 100m sprint to try and secure a PB.

I crossed the line and stopped my watch and walked forwards to clear the finish in a world of pain.  Breathless, exhausted, my legs shattered.  I looked down at my watch 1:29:02.

4 seconds slower than my PB.  All that effort, everything that I had to give, and I was 4 seconds too slow.  My year long PB streak was over.


Stats: Average HR 175, Max HR 185 (during "sprint" finish)
          355th overall, 32nd in 45-50 age category, 1:29:02

Post Race:

I collected my medal and goody bag and then headed out onto the Green to meet Julia and the kids.  They had watched me finish from the Grandstand.  We waited for Neil to finish, which he did in 1:48, rather outside where he'd like to have been, but work and life had got in the way of consistent training so it's a time he expected.  Together we walked the mile back to the car and then had very enjoyable lunch at Neil's house on the Southside - thanks Neil :-)

All afternoon I hobbled round in pain.  My body had taken a bigger hammering than when I've done full marathons, really not far off where I was after running the 95 miles of West Highland Way back in June.  I'll leave trying to work why I struggled so much to a follow "Lessons Learn Post".

On the drive home, Julia thankfully drove as I was in no real shape to, but why I was shattered I didn't get to sleep. My daughters did though, payback is taking a photo and posting a photo of them, aren't they adorable ;-)

Drive home, three tired girls... who won't forgive me for this photo!