I did this race in 2013 and it was my first foray into the 50 mile bracket. It hurt but I was ecstatic to come in well under 8 hours. It is, after all, the longest road ultra in the UK. With the race being wholly on road it attracts a curious bunch. A lot of ultra runners are sometimes a bit snobby about being on trails. Actually, snobby is the wrong word. Trails aren’t posh. At least, not round my way. I am sure the Beverly Hills’ trails are sprinkled with gold dust instead of dirt, but in Scotland they are not posh.
No, just some people abhor the idea of running for so long on the hard surface which is tarmac and thus dismiss this event out of hand. It is their loss.
The Race Director, David Meldrum, is a well kent face in the Scottish Ultra scene. Firstly, he is a damnable nice guy. Secondly, he wears a kilt on race day and I think that should be mandatory. Last year he picked up on some failings and proactively sought out feedback and views from the runners about what could be improved. I have to say, all of them were actioned. David is keen to see this event grow. This year, just under 30 people entered the 50 mile ultra, but the addition of a relay along the route saw over 100 people involved on the day. The fact the relay started 2 hours after the main race was to the organiser’s credit in terms of allowing both races to forge their own battles, but also, it meant that there was no confusion or nonsense at checkpoints or the like.
This year check-in was at a primary school in Strathaven, and coffee and biscuits were on hand as well as the cheeriest registration this side of Happyland. Toilets were nice and clean, and with it being a primary school the urinals were at the right height for a short-arse like me. All was good.
Before the race I caught up with a few of the runners. Noanie and I had a good chat, with her reminding me that today was a training run for Glenmore 24 and that I shouldn’t go ‘baws oot’ ahead of the big race in a few weeks. Robert Soutar was there too. I run on occasion with Robert and as well as being a gentleman he is a damn fine runner. I also had a good chat with Jamie Kerr, who has recently taken up Iranian nationality, and I met Wilson Dornan for the first time. It was to see Vinnie tying his family holiday in with JLM50 (again).
The race start was just up from the school, instead of the car park a few hundred yards away, and I got to say hello to The Moonertys (Julie & David) before the start, as well as Janette Edoni, who were all relaying.
The day was bright and breezy with showers expected. For overseas readers, we call this a ‘scorcher’ in Scotland. My plan for the race was to do the 25/5 run-walk I planned for G24 but at a faster pace than last year, but slower than maximum effort. If I ran hard I could do in the 6:45-6:50 range, but I resolved to pace to 7:15 time, that would still be 35 minutes quicker than last year.
The start list had a couple of beasts in it. Grant Jeans was returning to defend his title and Robert Soutar was there too. Paul Hart was also fresh off of a good run at the Great Glen Ultra, although fresh maybe a misnomer given the effort he’d have put in there. In the ladies’ race, Isobel Knox and Rebecca Johnson would no doubt battle it out for the fairer sex’s honours.
With this quality in the field, there was no temptation or value in me going too hard.
Bang. The gun went off, or someone shouted into a megaphone – I can’t quite remember – and off we went.
Grant and Robert quickly shot away at 5k pace. Running like a couple of galloping gazelles. I ended up cruising on 8 m/m pace with a peloton of runners. Banter was shared and laughs were had. But, about 1.5 mile in we neared a disaster (EXAGGERATION ALERT) as the whole group nearly missed a left turn. But, alas, the leading four runners had gone out hard and were already off course by this point. They had gone over the brow of the hill already and despite our shouts they kept going. It had added a fair few miles to their races with Grant Jeans and Robert Soutar going off course again around 30 miles they dropped from the race. This was a shame as both guys were looking set for an epic battle and they were without a doubt the red hot favourites in the race.
For my part, I was using this as a training run for the Glenmore 24 ultra in September so had no intention of going at things hard. I’d had a nice message from Noanie a week or so before “warning” me that I should ensure I save myself for G24. Until that point I had thought really hard about pushing the limits at John Lucas. So, in the first few miles I ran with a group of about 10 people, until my watch beeped for 25 mins and it was walk time.
I used my HRM to dictate effort. Ideally I’d manage it under 150 BPMs on average for the race, with hills pushing the effort a wee bit up when climbing and then the benefit from the downs. It is a simple strategy and I find it effective. I did the same thing in 2013 as well.
Murakami is full of disdain for the run/walk strategy in his book about running, he can kiss my arse for all I care.
After my 2nd walk I was about 16th. But it was just as I finish my first that Chee Kong Chen took the flattering picture above, and has kindly allowed me to steal it for personal use. If you want a signed picture send me a PM and we can negotiate a price.
As it was, the miles were ticking by. Grant and Robert had gotten back on track and passed me about 8 miles in (after their first detour) and I admired their steel. I was running mainly on my own as the strategy lends itself to you running faster than your peer group in the runs and obviously walking for a wee while. However, I decided to forego music. I just wanted to enjoy the day.
I got to around 18 miles when my crew met me for the first time. I say crew, I really mean good friends who insisted on being part of the day. It was the same quartet as 2013. Skoosh, Darsk, Lesley & Jenna. The latter is 7.5 months pregnant but still took a day out to support me. All four are diamonds and even though I didn’t acknowledge with high-5s and cheers everytime they met me, they were the best.
Gerry Craig was in the relay and jump out of a car at this point to run a couple of hundred yards with me, for a general chat and a laugh at his brother who it turns out has the directional sense of a broken compass (I paraphrase slightly).
The course meanders up and down hill, generally gentle climbs and drops, but there are two ‘bastards’ in the race. One as you pass through the marathon and another at around 50k. I went through the marathon one in around 3:37, feeling fresh and despite the winds, having fun.
I’ll admit I did find the climb at 50k into Glassford tough, and I was somewhat surprised to see Robert here, and it was obvious he was pissed off (at himself) and starting to feel the effects of trying to get back in the race. He’d run 5 miles more than me and was at the exact same spot. The ultra running equivalent of a faerie ring.
By now cyclists were on the route and passing by as part of the sportive and my good mate Barry Mowat was in that event. He joined me for a few hundred metres before whizzing off for cake and tea. A word on the cyclists, 99.9% of them are amazing and great encouragement, usually giving the runners kudos as they pass. But, but, but, two years running I have found the faster cyclists a bit, well, intimidating as they ride 3-4 abreast and twice in this race I was nearly clipped. I was running into the traffic on the opposite side of the road from them but clearly these few exceptions felt it was ok to whizz past a runner at 30 to 40 miles per hour whilst on the wrong side of the road. Did annoy me a wee bit to be honest. I think I used the C word.
The kids on the bikes, especially around the windfarm, however, are just marvellous and bring a smile to my face. More than makes up for the occasional sack.
At 33 miles there is a long stretch, a straight road like one of those pictures of the American freeways in the desert. Close your eyes and picture it.
Have you opened them yet? I guess the answer must be yes otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this. Don’t answer then.
This stretch was into the kind of wind I imagine happens in the middle of a tornado. Into your face all the way for a fair few miles. It was torture and I pointedly held back as much as I could here. It was just after passing Vinnie Purdy who was on his way to an awesome PB. But, that wind was brutal at the stage of the race it hits. On the bright side, the botox and facelift I had planned has been rendered unnecessary by it, every cloud and all that…
After this section we turn for home, and at the 40 mile checkpoint David Ross and Angela Barron searched manfully for my drop back. My crew had it. Sorry guys. The hug from Angela and confirmation I was in 5th, miles back on 4th and well ahead of 6th, meant I could relax and just enjoy the last 10 miles. So I did.
From here the route goes through Whitelees Wind Farm and back into Strathaven, retracing the opening 5 or 6 kilometres. It is mainly downhill and as I turned into the final downhill into Strathaven I could see Paul Hart struggling ahead of me, I tried hard to catch him but he was too far ahead and took 4th, 30 seconds in front. Even the high-five from Helen Munro at the last corner wasn’t enough to get me to got fast enough. My time of 7:07:58 was 40+ mins quicker than the previous year.
I got a hug, a man hug, from David Meldrum at the end and got a hug, a woman hug, from Sarah Self too. She was official timer for the day.
This was another great day. I ran really well, delighted with how things went and was fresh enough to put in 10ks every day for the next week, some at tempo. There is a fine line between holding back and going hard, and it is even conceivable that by going hard I could have gone slower, therefore, it would be wrong to say ‘I could have…. etc etc’. I ran as I intended, came out feeling as I wanted and had a blast whilst doing it. Can’t ask fairer than that.
Big congratulations to David McLaughlin for his win, and on his debut too, in 6:50. Taking the win by 11 mins from Roly McCraw. In the ladies, Rebecca Johnson destroyed the field with 7:05 for a new female CR. And I am certain she went off course earlier too.
Ayr Seaforth A took the inaugural relay prize in a stunning 5:11.