The first ultramarathon of the season for me, and in the 2013 SUMS series, was this weekend: the D33 in Aberdeen.
The race goes out from Duthie Park to Banchory and back. The course is relatively flat (not much more than 1,000 ft of elevation) and is about 70% tarmac/hard surface and 30% trail. The trail was in varying degrees of bogginess, understandably so given the recent weather. The decision to wear road shoes was taken and not regretted.
This is a pure out and back course, which in some ways is boring but when you don’t know the course it is reassuring as the field fans out, especially as we make the journey back from the turnaround point at 16.5 mile.
One of the features of the course is that it runs along an old railway line and there are some fantastic little homages to the history of the route. There are station houses converted into residential homes, what looks like a museum to the line (well, an old 3 carriage train and shortened out and back single track line) and just some cracking like towns – like Culter – which were obviously influenced by the former railway’s presence. You could imagine Julia Bradbury wandering down the route and waxing lyrically about the old train line.
Anyway, the race, what about the race?
It was parky at the start line and the BBC, Sky and ITV had taken their usual cover-all-bases blunderbuss approach to the weather forecast by saying it will be, in no particular order, wet, windy, snowy, sunny and potentially scorched earth as the Four Horsemen come to bring Armageddon. Well, the last one was only suggested by Sky. That cad Murdoch, eh?
So, this meant that a decision on what to wear. Aside from stupidly jettisoning my gloves the choices I made seemed right for the first half of the race. I went for trail shorts with cycling shorts underneath on the bottom and an under armour vest with a tee over it on top. For two miles I was battling no feeling in my hands and called myself copious amounts of expletives until the heat returned. After that I was happy.
My aim was to beat 4:30, and as a minimum to get inside my GO33 time of 4:43. With the course being flatter and me being in better shape the latter was a shoe-in barring injury. 8 min miles would get me round in 4:25 (ish).
As is my way, I made an impulsive decision at the start to try to go for a steady 7:30 m/m pace for as
long as I could push it. I knew I’d be good for this till 23 or 24 miles. At 8 miles I was right on it and at 16 miles I was tracking just under it. However, I erred and didn’t factor in losing 90s at the halfway checkpoint where I had to refill my bottle and pockets with provisions for the return leg.
I counted 21 people ahead of me at this point but there was at least half-a-dozen who moseyed in and out of the checkpoint in much quicker time than me. Damn you experienced ultra dudes.
As it was I sprung out of the checkpoint and was heading back strong. There then was a noticeable change in the weather at this point. The rain had started to fall more prodigiously, the temperature dropped noticeably and I repeated the curses from earlier regarding my glove-folly. That mistake will not happen again, even in summer. Oh, and the wind picked up and was kind enough to blow into us on the way back.
Then, the thing all distance runners dread started to nag at me. That wee gingerbread man started humming away in my tummy. This is something I really need to look at and try to avoid a repeat but miles 20-24 were hampered by an ache at the bottom of my stomach. It’s what I imagine a baby kicking feels like. (Disclaimer: I know it isn’t, please don’t send me strongly worded emails telling me I know nothing!).
At mile 24 things started to come to a head, almost literally, and I had to stop just to breathe and then, it was panic as I just had to find somewhere ‘convenient’. I’ll spare you the details but suffice to say, about 3 minutes later after clawing a cat hole out in the trees I was back in the saddle. Just in time for the one material hill in the race. How else would you prepare for an ascent?
I managed to get back on pace, albeit I lost nearly 4 mins at the checkpoint and pit-stop. With 8 miles to go I had tons of time in hand for 4:30 and if I could have kept to 8 minute miles I could get under 4:15, a dream time. But as the sheer distance and wind started to wear on me I slowed firstly to 8 min miles and then eventually to 8:50 miles for the last four. This was in part due to taking a 1 minute walking break for the last four miles just to protect my legs and make sure that I finished as best I could. The massage I was seeking at the end for a bargain price of £5 was starting to inspire me, and it was worthwhile. So glad it was available.
I entered Duthie Park at a decent pace and was happily bounding toward the small but enthusiastic crowd at the finish. I crossed the line in 4:17:04, according to the official results.
I was knackered but delighted. This was 26 minutes quicker than my November 33 mile race effort, and the GO33 actually measured 31.5 miles on the watch, whereas the D33 was 32.9. That’s close enough for me.
George Reid, the jolly and effusive race director greeted me by name – a nice touch – with the brilliant finishers pendant, handmade by Craft Works. This race, the efficiency of the registration, the finish, the marshalls and all the stuff in between is a credit to George and his team and at such a cheap entry price (£12) must represent the best value ultra race in the country. The goodie bag at the end had crisps, sweets, a water bag and importantly, D33 labelled beer. And the bag is a pull string branded “D33”.
Craig Cunningham won the race in an awesome time of 3:46 and first female was Rebecca Johnson in 4:02, congrats to both. Exceptional performances. For full results click here. I came home in 18th out of 350 entrants and 252 finishers. I am really pleased with this and it fits with my aim of finishing in the top 10% of as many races as I can this year.
Overall, it was a great day. It would have been nice if it was warmer but you can’t have everything. This is a perfect race for those looking to step up from the marathon distance. The course is favourable and the welcoming crowd takes so much of the apprehension out of the event. Without doubt a 10/10 experience.
Garmin file for the race: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/285118550