Every now and then things click. I once shot 69 on a par 71 golf course with three chip-ins; I can recall games of football where I was imperious (in my head anyway) and I have jammed with my mates and it all seems so easy to learn new songs that I think I am Jimi Hendrix (albeit I am more like Percy Spandex). These are the moments when you hit the fabled zone.
I found my ultra-running equivalent in the John Lucas Memorial Round Strathaven 50.
The JLMRS50 is the UK’s longest all-tarmac ultra – it also has one of the longest names. It is, as the name suggests, 50 miles of hard running on road every step of the way. Starting in Strathaven and looping round the ‘Round Stra’ven’ route via quintessentially Lanarkshire towns like Auldhouse, Glassford and Sandford, this is a race which adds a whole different challenge to many races in the SUMS series.
The route is absolutely stunning, running through quiet countryside with only very small breaks in the rural idyll to traverse the aforementioned towns. The overall elevation is only 2,500 feet and when you consider it is a loop, this is quite manageable.
Starting in George Allan Park, the route takes a sharp right out of the park and it is onto country roads all the way from there. It follows the same track as the 50 mile cycle sportive which starts later in the day and the cyclists are brilliant, encouraging and cajoling you all the way. I personally found them a great help when they passed me. I don’t know how many people took part in the sportive, but it was in the hundreds surely.
As for the road race, there were 22 entrants with 17 toeing the line on the day. Unusually for a SUMS ultra, this takes place on a Sunday and not a Saturday, mainly I expect due to the quiet roads on the Sabbath.
Grant Jeans and Gerry Craig were there, and as expected took the top two whilst Rosie Bell, whose name was familiar to me for her exploits in this race previously, was also back and defended her title with aplomb. Big blog hi-fives to them. Superb stuff.
For me, it was a case of survival. After Clydestride, where I blew up about 26 miles, I was determined to really manage my effort and for the first time ever I took a heart rate monitor into the race and would use that and not the pace I was running at to determine how hard I pushed. I was also doing a run/walk strategy, running for 25 and walking for 5. This was a framework and not a hard and fast rule; the undulating nature of the course meant that I would let the landscape determine when I would take the walks. For example, I was due a walk at 25 miles, which was on a severe downhill and a mile in the distance there was a severe uphill in sight, best to run to the bottom of the uphill in such a situation.
In my first few miles I fell in with David Mooney again, a la Clydestride, and at 25 minutes I had to be really disciplined and let him and a few others go on. I was enjoying the chat but my strategy had been determined and I couldn’t afford to wing it.
By the time I got to the first checkpoint around mile 5 I was in 14th place. Or 4th last if you prefer. Here I picked up a potato scone with nutella. I am sure Helen Munro mentioned this and if it was her she deserves to be made Dame Helen Munro as it was bloody marvellous!
Liquid wise it was water with electrolyte tablets for me. My crew, who I will introduce later, were meeting me about 20 miles but I had some Clif shots and Clif bar to get me there.
My pace was nice and steady, about 9 minute miles when running and then slowing to 9:30 overall after my 5 minute walks. I passed a few people as the miles wore on and I was finding I was really fresh. I’d settled into a rhythm of taking the inclines easy and pushing the pace on the declines. It was working as I used the HRM to determine my pace. There wasn’t a lot to write home about. I passed a couple of chaps who looked like they were struggling with tightness and injury and by the time I met my support at precisely 19.3 miles, I was up to 8th place.
Running well within myself I kept thinking of my race being a bit like how Michael Myers used to chase people in the Halloween films (all 3,001,876 of them). Of course, the leaders weren’t as hapless as the poodle-haired women who starred in the 80s versions of the aforementioned film, mainly as I didn’t expect Grant or Gerry to trip over themselves while screaming in a hysterical manner before hiding in a slat-doored closet.
After a glug of delicious coca-cola at the rear of my support’s car, I grabbed some grapes and a Topic and headed toward 20 miles. I passed Carrie Craig here. Carrie had a great race for 2nd female, big credit to her for that. Also, she called me the Topic guy which makes me think I need to reconsider the persona I reveal on group Facebook pages. I’d much prefer to be associated with Yorkies or some other hard as nails chocolate. But, hell, Topics are brilliant in long-distance endurance events.
It was here that the cyclists first passed me. They were great although the noise of the first few spooked me. Once I got used to it the presence of the cyclists was good for inspiration and keeping up that relentless forward motion that is totally needed in a race of this distance. Indeed, I got a wee boost when a couple of them recognised my Pearl Jam tattoo which proudly dominates my right calf. Everyone should have a Pearl Jam tattoo. Just my opinion.
Mile 25-30 is probably the most undulating section of the course with a couple of sharp climbs. This is the section of the course where a race strategy could fall apart but my crew waiting for me at Glassford, around 30 miles, was a great boon and it was around here I was starting to realise just how helpful having a team supporting me would be. In the end, I think they could have saved me up to 30 mins. Each stop, ranging between 5-10k would see me grab a bite, some coke or Irn-Bru and getting a quick health check before moving on quickly.
The team of Alan (Skoosh), Darren (Darsk), Jenna (Jenna) & Lesley (Lesley) were just absolutely super-fantastic. Cajoling me along and encouraging with rapturous adulation every time I came into view. I can’t thank them enough. Especially when one of them ended up in casualty in the evening after taking a Klinsman-like fall which turned out to be rather nasty on the ribs of young Alan – it is a dangerous gig crewing in ultras!
Now, this is a weird thought and it marks my transcendence into an ultra-runner. At 37 miles, I remember thinking to myself, “Less than two-and-a-half hours to go…” as if 150 minutes of running is ever an easy feat. The point being that my mindset changed, I saw the relativity of time and effort and it motivated me. Call it epiphany or the need for some headphones to give me something else to occupy my mind, or whatever! It doesn’t matter and I got a buzz from it.
From then on it was a case of moseying along to the finish. I was broadly sticking to my strategy and put my two fastest 5k sections in at 35-38 and 47-50 miles. That has to be pleasing!
I had a great time. I chatted a fair few runners in passing along the route. Going through the wind-farm and beyond it was fantastic to see so many families and kids out cycling. The small but friendly team waiting for me at the finish were great, and I got a man-hug from David Mooney. Always a treat.
The JLMRS50 is a brilliant wee race, I am more road than trail in my running preference and this probably helped my performance. There were a few kinks (like a lack of toilet) that were fedback to the eager RD David Meldrum who is very keen to start to grow this race into a larger event. if his enthusiasm showed on Sunday morphs into effort over the next year it will grow. I am sure of it.
The marshalls were superb, all over the route and it was nice to see some familiar faces out there and their cheers and woops were most welcome.
All in all, a pleasing day personally and a lovely wee race that deserves its place in SUMS and a bigger field. I’ll be back next year.
Strava record from the race: http://app.strava.com/activities/75656361
Results copied from the JLMRS50 Faceboook page:
1st Grant Jeans 6-41-54
2nd Gerry Craig 7-11-30
3rd and 1st Lady Rosie Bell 7-27-40
4th Roly McCraw 7-33-41
5th Ian Rae 7-42-24
6th James Stewart 7-49-55
7th Vinnie Purdy 7-57-36
8th and 2nd Lady Carrie Craig 8-23-45
9th Karen Robertson 8-54-23
10th Billy Mathieson 9-26-15
11th Rab Lee 9-36-25
Timed out. Colin Roy MacDougall 10.45
DNF. David Mooney app 40 miles
DNF. Patrick Lynch app 40 miles
DNF. John Pickard app 40 miles
DNF. Chris Marshall app 21 miles
DNF. Graham Henry app 19 miles