Well, I’m an ultra runner.
Yesterday Kat and I headed up to Glen Lyon to run a 50K race. I was up at 4am (on a Saturday), we left Glasgow at 5am and got to the starting location at just before 8am. The race was due to start at 8.30am, and we had just enough time to sort ourselves out, get our numbers, drop off our drop bags, and be briefed.
I hadn’t been certain about my drop bag. I knew I would have dry shoes, but what else? Thinking back to how I have felt during both marathons, I knew I’d need to concentrate on eating throughout. During the Strathearn marathon I didn’t manage much and felt drained and emotional at the end of the race, and during the Loch Ness marathon I didn’t manage much and had an awful time (though that could also be put down to a number of other factors). The problem had been that during training runs I’d have a couple of gels, perhaps a date or nut bar, and then when it came time to race the adrenaline and pressure suppressed my appetite to the point that I’d feel sick just thinking about food. Training runs and races weren’t matching up.
So my tactic for the ultra was completely different. I didn’t train specifically for it, didn’t let myself feel bad for missing runs, and kept a positive attitude. I thought of it as a pleasant day in the hills, rather than a race which I’d dedicated months of my life to and had a time goal for. I planned to take different foods with me and see which I wanted to eat on the day. I took Galaxy chocolate cakes, bananas, yoghurt covered nut bars, Torq gels, and a brown bread hummus and carrot sandwich.
This sounds like a lot of food, but I was aware from other people’s ultra recaps that what I thought I’d like before the race and what I actually wanted during might not be the same. I split all my food between the bag I had on my back and the bag at the halfway point. This meant that if I wanted to replenish my stock of cake bars and get rid of everything else, I could.
It was an excellent plan.
Courtesy of Michael Nowicki.
The race started and we went 300 feet straight up a massive hill. I jogged to start and quickly switched to walking. Near the top of a hill a chap struck up a conversation, and we ran together for the next 25K. On training runs with Iona and her Wee County Harriers I’d really enjoyed the experience of chatting while running and had hoped I’d be able to run with someone during the race, but hadn’t been counting on it. It was so lovely to chat, keep the pace even, and enjoy our surroundings. Derek, you were a great running buddy. Hope to see you at another run in the future.
I’m in the purple, barrelling in. Courtesy of Michael Nowicki.
The trail was fine, the scenery was stunning. The weather had held up for us and it wasn’t even very cold. I didn’t need my buff or gloves. Running alongside a mountain, with views across to other snow capped peaks across the loch- I don’t believe there’s a better way to start a race.
The first 25k was undulating but nothing torturous. We crossed three rivers, wading through icy water up to my thighs. I laughed the whole way across each crossing. I was having a ridiculous amount of fun.
Thanks, Michael Nowicki!
At the halfway point I changed leggings into Iona’s Skins (by the way, Santa…), our wonderful Smartwool socks, and my favourite Mizuno Wave Ultima 4s. I’m throwing my Sauchony Progrids away as I haven’t really worn them since they destroyed my feet at Loch Ness. If you see Mizuno Wave Ultima 4s in a size 6 on your travels, send me a link. I’m going to buy every last pair remaining so I don’t have a bad shoe experience again!
I ate a little of my sandwich and decided to put some music on for a bit. I bid adieu to Derek and popped on Mogwai‘s soundtrack to The Returned. If you’ve not seen The Returned yet, you’re missing out. Running along all by myself through white tipped mountains, listening to this atmospheric music by a Scottish band was fantastic. The speed of the music matched up to the speed I wanted to run at, and I even managed to alternate walking and running up the massive hill in the sixteenth mile.
I’d been concerned about spiralling into negativity again. In the pub on Thursday, a colleague had told me to count to 100 over and over. I pshawed, thinking it would be boring and that I’d be fine. When I felt, running up the hill, that I was tipping a little towards sadness, I started counting. I got to 100 and started again. I went over and over and it got harder and harder. What comes after 79? Not 90, definitely. Did I skip the 50s? Start again. After fifteen miles, even if you’re a superb, star runner, your brain doesn’t work the same as normal. Having this trick literally saved me from the dark place, and after a while I didn’t need to count any more.
You da man, Michael Nowicki.
At the aid station at mile 19 I took a cup of Coke and a couple of pretzels and didn’t stop for too long. I knew the next part of the race as it’s the bit we’d scoped out a few weeks before. Having finished with Mogwai, I listened to Mylo, the only time during the whole race I listened to dance music. I love Mylo. It’s nostalgic and poppy and when Pressure came on I had a wee sing-song to myself.
After a couple of tracks I decided the time was ripe to listen to Stephen Fry tell me about his life. I wanted to zone out and just enjoy the race and the route. Stephen’s silky, comforting voice filled my ear holes for the next ten miles, until my battery died just after mile 30.
I could feel myself slowing right down and put a jacket on. The wind started up here, but thankfully wasn’t a constant for the rest of the race. As the route goes downhill for a bit alongside the river, it was fairly sheltered. Only one runner passed me, and I didn’t see anybody but the marshal and a couple of dogwalkers for nearly two hours. I did start to get a bit annoyed about mile 25, right up until I realised I’d nearly run another marathon, and then I perked right up again. I reminded myself that I was in it for the long haul. If I ran slowly, so what? If I walked, who cared? Finishing was the only goal.
From mile 26 there was a two and a half mile uphill climb. I walked this. I nearly crawled some of the steeper parts. I stopped at the aid station for a couple of moments again where the nice chaps gave me a cup of tea and a bit of tablet. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a cup of tea more. I felt refuelled and kept going, right to the top. I tried to run when I could. Slow, tiny, little old man steps, but running nonetheless. On this stretch there were a couple of cars, all of which stopped to let me keep running rather than forcing me to stop and stand off to the side. This was much appreciated as, I’m sure you’ll know, it’s much easier to keep going than to stop and start again. They all smiled and gave me thumbs up and shouted encouragement, and I loved each and every one of them for it.
Mile 28- 31 was all downhill, but by then I couldn’t lengthen my stride. I just kept up my tiny steps and determined face and battled through the wind. There was one small hill just before the final turn back across the water to the finish line, and when I saw it I thought, There’s no way I’m walking this. Head down, arms pumping, I tiny-stepped my way up.
The finish was a let down as almost everyone else had gone. I wanted crowds, cheering fans, crying babies, a gigantic inflatable arch and a gold plated medal. Instead, I got a couple of very cold people with gigantic smiles. I guess I can’t complain!
I had a brilliant experience, and it was down to my own mindset. I didn’t put pressure on myself, I ate delicious things, I stopped if I wanted to and admired the scenery. I’m glad to say that I learned my lesson after Loch Ness. I’ll be bringing this mindset to the marathons I have planned for next year, where I will combine it with proper training to do my best in a race setting. For now, I’m just so pleased with my performance that I don’t care I was fourth to last in.
I also managed not to cry. A first! Hurrah!
The Tigh Nam Bodach Smartwool Ultra (try saying that three times fast) was a great route, and I’d definitely do it again. The aid stations were well stocked and the marshals were friendly and supportive. It was its first year and I think it was brilliant for what it was, but there’s always room for a bit of improvement. The route and race itself was perfect, and I just hope the organisers sort out the little periphery issues: for next year, I’d like the finish line to be a proper one, for the party not to have been packing up when I got back, and a t-shirt or medal as a keepsake. Or for the price to be much lower.
This is also the end of Run 2013. You beautiful people have donated over £600 to charity:water. Thank you so much.