That’s it done and dusted. First ultra of the season ticked off, 3 more to go. I stayed in Aberdeen last night and the weekend got off to a rather jolly start when I was upgraded to a deluxe room at the hotel. Meant I got two biscuits and ginger soap.
Breakfast in the morning was simple. Porridge, toast with jam and some cranberry juice. I was keen to avoid the visit to the trees from the previous year, a visit which had cost me a few minutes and a sweatband. But enough of that. Except for the irony that I was wearing number 2, much to amusement of a certain Ms. N. Heffron.
I had already posted on here my aims. Simply put I expected to better last year’s 4:17:04. I have put a lot of miles in since November with the specific aim of being stronger in the latter stages of races like this, the target was under 4:10:00 and I said before the race I would go around 7:20 miles to halfway and re-evaluate from there. Little was I to know just how big an effect the extra miles would have.
As the runners gathered for the pre-race briefing, I got my playlist pumping. I felt apprehensive, worried I might have over-trained, worried I might bomb, worried I might need a number 2. One, literal, bright spot was the weather which was perfect for running.
And off we went. The race starts in Duthie Park and weaves it way across the old Deeside Way railway line route, turning just short of Banchory before heading back. It is a classic out and back route. It is part tarmac, part trail and a tiny bit mud. In short, it is as runnable an ultra as you are likely to find at this distance.
There were a few big hitters in the field. Last year 271 finished. This year 375 toed the start line according RD George at the pre-race briefing. At £12 per entry, plus and optional £12 if you wanted a Do Epic Shit tee, this race represents the kind of value for money that should make big city marathons and Rat Race events blush with embarrassment.
The first mile was 7:09, quicker than I wanted to go and immediately I put aside thoughts of a sub-4 hour effort. After a few miles of regulating my pace I was averaging about the 7:20s I sought. But I felt a bit crap. That’s the medical term I believe.
My quads and calves were not as loose as I would like and I just couldn’t see myself maintaining this pace, which should have been a cake-walk this early in the race.
All hail the Topic. That’s what I put the change down to. At the 8 mile checkpoint I grabbed my drop bag. It had a Topic, a bottle of Irn-Bru and a bottle of water with a hydration tablet in it. All of a sudden things started looking up.
I necked the Bru and the Topic in the next mile as I ran down the only material descent on the route.
Thereafter it was a case of trotting out the miles till half way. I got through the half marathon, in just under 1:37 which meant I was still comfortable on the 7:20 pace. At the turn, after a quick grab of a bottle of coke and a Clif shot I was 2:00:50(ish). Dead on 7:20 pace, but I felt good. The next couple of miles I got carried away, nodding and waving to people and generally not paying attention to pace.
I got a high-five from Noanie, and my hand still hurts. She was flying. Scott Cameron, making his ultra debut, was well inside his target pace but had problems with his watch and I managed to meet Wullie Bishop in a fly-by too (turns out we shared breakfast before Lochaber last year). I got to say hello to a few friends from the Ultra Dafties group. There was Ally Robb, who PB’d by an incredible distance. I saw David Meldrum, then Mr Gannet, David Ross was going well too and Helen Munro – on crew duty – was on hand with smiles, claps and encouragement. I am sure there were more but I am rubbish like that.
Whoah! What was happening, I noticed I was running under the 7:20 aim. That wasn’t in the plan. I slowed things down a bit, conscious of that material descent I mentioned earlier becoming a material ascent. And at 24-25 miles, it comes at a crucial time in the race, and just before a pit stop at the final checkpoint.
I cruised up the hill. At halfway I had been in 21st place I reckoned. By the final checkpoint I was about 15th. No one had overtaken me. I grabbed my final bottle of coke and a Clif bar which is uneaten and will live to fuel another day, and got going.
The next milestone was the marathon. On my watch it said 3:11:15. This was over a 3 minute PB, and you know what? I still felt OK. Decisions, decisions… so, I made one.
With 6.8 miles to go, I calculated that I had a chance of under 4 hours but would need to come back back in just over 7 minute miles. Could I? Should I? I went for it.
I was already going to PB and destroy last year’s time, and I would, short of a massive blow-up come in well under 4:10. I reconciled with myself that I would go for it, and if after a few miles I found I couldn’t handle the pace step-up I’d rein in the speed and just settle back to safely protecting 4:10:00.
I averaged 6:58 miles from 26-30 and this meant I had a good buffer for the last 5k or so, but I was in the midst of a mental miscalculation soon after. I thought I had 5k to go still at one point and I just couldn’t see myself keeping the necessary tempo up. 3 more 7:15 minute miles seemed far off, then my watch beeped and it was lap 31. Despite my attention to the miles going by I had lost one. Fatigue? Over thinking? Who knows, but what a fillip when I realised it was only two more miles to go. I dug in. Mile 32 was ticked off in 7:15 and I knew I had just 7 minutes of running to go. I could do that. In the end it was only 0.9 miles and I came home in a startling, for me anyway, 3:58:51 according to the official times. I cannot say just how elated I am with that time.
I don’t think I will ever execute a race so perfectly again, and when I think back to the early doubts and how I was feeling a few miles in, it just shows how things can change in an ultra. Most of the time things happen to push us offside from our aims, but I had the opposite experience yesterday.
As I ruminate on why that is, I look towards my training since November. Much more miles than before. Averaging more than 250 miles per month. Back to back runs and good tempo efforts thrown in.
This is summed up more in my splits over the 4 segments of the race. The picture below, taken from Strava, shows just how I got stronger as the race went on.
The first quarter (8.25 miles) was done in 1:00:13, the next quarter in 1:00:39, taking me to halfway in under 2:01:00. It was doing quarter 3 in under an hour (59:53) that gave me the confidence to attack the last section but I am still in mild disbelief that I did that in 58:06 to land a massive negative split. It has made my winter training all worthwhile. This is accentuated by a new marathon PB within the race of 3:10:06, which was my closing 26.2 miles.
The D33 is as great wee race. George, Karen and their team put on a wonderful homely event which attracts some of the best runners in the country. The atmosphere at the start and finish is best described as fun and welcoming. The goody bag is brilliant, with the Epic Shit Beer the highlight.
There are no words of thanks I can give to do justice to the volunteers, organisers, and teams who makes these events happen. Without them I would not be waking up in a state of high elation this morning. And for that reason alone, I salute you all! Also, to Stuart and Ryan for the pics of me during the race, gracias.
Finally, congrats to the winners. David Gardiner in a sensational 3:37:05. First female was Joanne Thom in a course record 3:58:13. And a big shout out to Noanie Heffron and Neil MacNicol who took down the female and male vet wins as well.