Sunday, 30 September 2012


River Ayr Way Ultra - September 2012

That title is a cryptic anagram. Bonus marks for solving it before the end of this blog

How quickly a week sails by. Actually, it's beena fortnight since I ran the River Ayr Way Challenge - 40 and a bit miles of trails and XC, with dollops of mud thrown in for good measure, dozens and dozens of those kissing gates (I stopped counting after four miles) and more ups and downs than you would think are possible for a path that is meant to 'follow' a river.

And so many steps all over the place too. Still, it's a great race, and the course is good too, being a source to sea sort of route, so there's plenty of variety.

The race went really well in many ways. Since running the West Highland Way Race back in June my legs have taken over two months to get back to normal. I was warned about this taking some time and to all those wise people who said it would take time, I say, "yes, you were completely right". Admittedly, I did run a couple of ultras in July and August (40 and 37 miles) but wasn't able to go as well as I might have hoped (Hey idiot! What do you expect after running 95 miles!)
Gavin and me check for a pulse
Back to Ayrshire, the weekend before last. I was lucky enough to have been offered a lift to the race by a clubmate, and since her husband was driving, that meant we could go direct to the start of the race instead of getting up at 5am (as I did last year) and going to the end of the race in Ayr and getting a coach back to the start. Lots of the usual chatting and meeting friends - the Scottish ultra community is great for its friendliness - and then a wander down to the race start.
After all the waiting, it's always good to get moving
With a couple of seriously fast runners (Marco and Gareth) on the start list not starting the race, I reckoned there were three or four others (that I knew of) who would be at the sharp end of the race. I had no real plan, which meant I had convinced myself that it would be fine to run at a 'relaxed and comfortable' pace for the first third (a half-marathon), then try to push on at a steady pace for the middle HM, and then see what was left for the final HM (and a bit).
100m into the race and enjoying the downhill start
The result of this careful planning was that I sprinted off from the rest of the field during the first half mile, with Robert Soutar for company. Nothing wrong with a seven minute mile at the start of a 40 mile trail race is there? Or for the first ten miles?
Robert tries hiding behind a signpost, but it doesn't work

But it all felt very comfortable and I was enjoying myself, so I just went along and enjoyed it. After 4.5 miles Robert pushed the pace and since I reckoned that 6.5 min/miles really was beyond that 'comfortable' zone for me, I didn't try to stick with him.
Ayrshire - land of strimmered grass

Along I trundled and was suddenly caught up after 16 miles by Craig Reid, the only other runner who had stayed close to us at the start. We ran together for over a mile before he sped up to chase down first place. It was all very amiable, we were just running our own strategies. In my head I was now settled in for third place and waiting for Gavin Harvie to overtake me (and he runs a 2:44 marathon, so I was fully expecting that to happen pretty soon).
Running with Craig through SORN, the village where the none of the cars have tax-discs
Having run the race a year ago was a huge advantage. not just in terms of navigation, but just knowing where the climbs and descents were going to be, and what the terrain would be like ahead.

At 25 miles, everything changed.

I rounded a corner in a wooded section and there were the two leaders, heading up a steep climb (there were steps, so that means it was pretty steep in my book). I was feeling good, so bounced up towards them and saw that they were both going much slower than I'd have expected. Of course they were - I'd not have seen them until the end otherwise.

So I headed past them, with a bit of a wee surge if the truth be told, 'cos that's what you do in this sort of situation, and shot past without a backward glance. I never looked behind for the next two miles. And only then because the route headed off up a steep muddy field, filled with cows, ankle deep mud (and other stuff, just ask the cows), to see them maybe 3 minutes below me as I ran the entire way up that hill, before pushing hard down the (steep) downhill side to make sure I stayed ahead.

Really, I didn't take this position seriously. I was quite sure that I had simply 'borrowed' the lead of the race for a wee while before someone would tap me on the shoulder and ask for it back. But I was still feeling good (yes, even beyond 30 miles), and still able to run properly. Actually running 'properly' was a big, big race focus for me. I had been thinking about 'being in the moment' and keeping good running form for much of the race - inspired by Stuart Mills' blogs - and will keep you reading for hours and hours if that's your cup of tea.
Mile 35 and it's all feeling good.
"Mum, why's that man covered in mud...?"
And it worked. Despite running for the rest of the race looking back along all the long straights for the 'thin and fast' chasing runners to come bearing down on me at top speed, that just didn't happen. Maybe me running quite fast played a factor in that, but my brain wouldn't accept that the race win would be mine until crossing over the final bridge in the centre of Ayr, where I could see that no-one was within three minutes of me along the river bank, with only a half mile to go.

Blimey, this really was going to happen! I dodged past the Saturday shoppers, looked for a gap between the traffic before just lifting my hand firmly to an oncoming car at the final road crossing (and it worked too - in that it didn't run me over - there must have been a pretty determined look on my face) and then relaxed to enjoy the final section to the finish, where there was enough space so that no more weekend shoppers had to be dodged around.
The finishing straight, after dodging the shoppers in Ayr
Almost there.
Milking the moment.
Still milking it
Phew. And breathe.
 I waited for a few minutes as what had happened did its best to sink in (and failed) before realising that my kit-bag wasn't at the finish since I'd left it in my clubmate's car. Not wanting to get too cold, I went for a wee run (!) It was partly an aesthetic thing in that I quite wanted to complete the RAW to the very end of the river, which meant down to the beach and to the end of the pier, and also because I wanted a moment to let things soak in. I also texted MikeR, since he had asked me to his wedding that day and after a bit of serious thinking, I had declined for a bunch of (family) reasons. But I had wanted to wish him well and let him know the news.

A couple of miles out to the end of the pier and then back to the finish and I found that the second and third placed runners had come in. Despite my fears of being caught, there were over 17 minutes back to second place. Wow. I wondered what would have been the effect of knowing that if someone had told me during the last five miles. Would I have slowed down a bit? Probably not - I think I would have been in denial and just got on with running.

If you'd like some numbers, the time was just under 5 hours 35 minutes, with HM splits of 1:40 (much easier flatter terrain), 1:50 and 1:55 (plus an extra 10 minutes for the final mile and a bit). The terrain and ups and downs make it tricky to compare those times to flat tarmac races.
With Richard Cronin, whose race blog is like poetry.  You should read it.

So there it was, my first race win - never saw that coming - I'd been hoping for 4th or 5th, but just had a race where it all went well. Actually, that's not quite true. Halfway through I had a stabbing pain on the inside of my lower right leg during a long and steep downhill section, which echoed a tendon issue that I'd had back in August. That alone could have ended my race. I had cramp problems, which included a couple of painful episodes which stopped me for a moment each time, but walking, then running seemed to get rid of. My drop-bag at mile 11 simply wasn't there (I think the crate of drop bags was still in someone's car - maybe what you get for arriving too early) but I luckily had enough spare stuff to keep me going. On four or five occasions, the water at the checkpoints was in six large bottles, tightly bound with plastic - and I repeatedly had to rip these open and then struggle to open a bottle in order to glug the water into my drinks bottle.

As for some other numbers and stats and such like, since I know some people like this sort of things, here's a picture of how this year's race went compared to last year.  Not an entirly fair comparison since this year the route was a mile longer with *that* muddy/boggy/hilly diversion, which counts for well over a mile of extra racing.

Spiky race-graph thing, inspired by Stu Mills and Thomas Loendorf
So nothing is ever perfect, but today was pretty close to it, and worth all the more since it was genuinely unexpected. As an added bonus, this secured me 3rd pace in the Scottish Ultramarathon Series for 2012, and first Male Vet to boot - Link (roll over me to see where I go) - which is a bit bloody good and something that I'm pretty pleased with. Don't take this the wrong way, there are many other runners in Scotland who are way, way better than me at this sort of thing. But they didn't target the race series, or had DNFs, or ran with a Scotland vest at other races. I've been told it's the classic "in it to win it" thing.

Wow, well worth the effort.
SUMS prize (with thanks to John Duncan for making this happen)

It turns out that I ran 7 of the 9 SUMS races this year, which was more than anyone else, along with Jonathan Mackintosh - and only a couple of folks ran even 6 of them. Maybe that's why I kept feeling tired then.

In the evening, the SUMS prizes were presented.  I'd known that I was in with a shout of something this year.  Again, it all depended on who else turned up for the RAW - anything from 3rd to 6th could have been up to grabs.  I'd never really contemplated that I might actually hang to third place.  There was a bit of a dilemma when it turned out that there were lots of shiny prizes, which Tim Downie and John Duncan had magically produced, and since I was offered a choice of a wee glass for third place or a nice, shiny decanter for first Male Vet, I obviously went for the what would look best on the mantelpiece at home.  All presentations starred the lovely Lee MacLean.
SUMS 3rd place - 1st MV
And tonight's raffle winner is...
And as if this wasn't enough, my clubmate Judith had finished off her season with another great run to finish in 3rd place on the day, 3rd place in the SUMS championship, and 1st FSV - for which she got a shiny decanter too.  Not bad for a club called Kinross Road Runners, which has a good hill-running section too these days. 
Kinross Road Runners' Judith Dobson takes 1st FSV (and 3rd overall)
So what next? Where do I take things from here? Now that's BIG and difficult question, with lots and lots of answers. Once I have some sort of idea, I'll let you know.

P.S. I lied about the anagram, but well done if you got "u rainy swarms" which describes the Scottish summer for 2012.