RACE REPORT: 2015 Clydestride Ultramarathon
Time: 4:39:40 (new course record)
This is where it all started for me in ultra running. In 2012 I toed the line in this race. I DNF’d after a slight knee tweak at 23 miles and a big dose of ‘thisisharderthanithoughtitis’. I simply underestimated the toughness of the terrain. In 2013 I came back and death-marched my way to a 6:23 finish.
Little did I know two years later I’d be winning it and breaking the course record in the process.
How did that happen? Well two things really: 1) I worked damned hard to get to this position, and 2) I am coached by a guy who just seems to get me and knows what I can do, and really spurs me on to that. Paul Giblin is well known for his amazing running feats, and I expect his coaching is starting to attract some attention too as some of his stable win races and make great strides. I am proud to be part of that team.
But this is a race report, so the race I will focus in on.
Pre-race I felt really good. My running has come on leaps and bounds, but this was my first ultra since November and I was itching to see how all of the hard training, with speed an integral part, would play through. I’d recce’d about 60-70% of the route in the three weeks leading up – heading to the troublesome sections – to make sure I had a feel for them and knew where I was going.
Start-CP1 (Cambuslang Bridge)
I’d been warned by everyone I spoke to not to get dragged into anyone else’s race at the start. “Do your own thing…” was the war cry. My plan for the opening 10 miles was to simply stay between 6:45-7:00 /mi pace, running fairly easy and keeping energy for the trail sections. At the first checkpoint I was exactly on 6:45 /mi and I was feeling great. The welcome at the CP was amazing and I’ll admit I got a wee boost here as people shouted my name. I was in 2nd place and was told I was 1-2 mins behind Robert Turner who’d raced off into an early lead.
CP1-CP2 (Strathclyde Park)
This was the section I feared the most. I expected to slow badly here on the overgrown trails, the hills and the mud. As it was, I flew through this section. My pace remained strong and at around 15 miles I could see Robert ahead of me for the first time since Glasgow Green. I didn’t quicken my pace but I closed in on him over a mile. By the time we were crossing the Clyde again I’d caught up with him. He asked if I was in the relay and I replied no. I hung in just behind him as I knew I was miles inside CR pace (which Paul and I had discussed on Thursday night) and I didn’t see the value in making any rash moves at this stage. Indeed, Robert decided to pull away from me again on the road section through Raith Interchange and into CP2. I was happy with my pace and just let him go. I was saving myself for later. Despite the toughness of this section, I covered it in with an average pace of 7:02 /mi.
CP2-CP3 (Maudslie Bridge)
It was brilliant to see so many familiar and encouraging faces at Strathclyde Park. I grabbed my drop bag without slowing and emptied and assembled on the go. I was about 300 metres behind and held my pace steady here. This is part road and part trail, the opening few miles on the road and tarmac from Strathclyde Park. Rob Soutar, breezed past me as part of the winning relay team and gave me a few nice words and encouragement. Rob won the race last year and is good friend and inspiration. I’ll admit I had an eye on his splits and performance from the previous year. I just kept doing my thing here and by 25 miles I’d closed the gap on 1st place and was about to overtake, Robert let me past and I kicked a wee bit to try and open a gap. I went through the marathon in 3:01 and turned at the road crossing to see Robert had clearly slowed. I was sad to hear at the end he’d had to pull out through injury at CP3. I hope it clears quickly and this fine runner gets back on the start line soon. But, as soon as I passed him I had one thing in mind: the course record. I covered this section at 7:03 /mi pace and was well ahead of target.
After some fine service from the crew at CP3 I was on my way. A quick mental calculation and I knew that 8:30 /mi pace would be good for a CR and around 8:15 /mi would break 4:40. The previous CR was 4:44 something and Rob had missed it by just 6 seconds the year previous. The last 10 miles are torrid. The path is overgrown and there is more stairs than La Sagrada Familia, and the problem is that you pretty much have to walk up the stairs and cannot get the benefit of coming back down them fast as they are slippy and steep. I reckon there are 5 or 6 sets to negotiate, and that doesn’t include the 4 or 5 rather steep climbs in this section. The terrain is challenging at this stage and is a real sting in the tail. I described it 2013 as being like Dagobah Swamp, this time round I conquered my fear. No cutting off of Darth Vader’s hand for me as I drag out this ridiculously long and geeky analogy to an ending so painful it could be in any the three Star Wars prequels!
You will have gathered the race was pretty smooth sailing for me up to this point. It really was. I had some minor threats of calves cramping at 32-33 miles, and slight queasiness at the same time, but this was due to me trying to cut through the long grass too quickly and I eased off and all was good.
I got through Lanark in good order and after a quick check of the watch I was well inside CR pace, and 4:40 was on. I knew I had just 15-20 mins of hard effort to go. But I also knew I faced two hills which whilst not massive, would feel like the north face of Eiger at this stage and after the effort gone. I walked most of the first one and then picked up the pace on the downhill. Then, the second, coming back off of the Clyde and onto the road which goes into New Lanark, was walked also, mainly due the stairs and steepness. After that I picked up the pace on the down and started to really enjoy myself, knowing that I had the race won and the CR in the bag. Having never won a race I found the whole thing amazing. It was a great feeling. My life didn’t flash in front of my eyes, instead it was the tempo runs in the snow at 5am, or the hard 50k runs to work at 4:30am that popped into my head. I’ve been transformed as a runner, and I felt I belonged in this position. Not in an arrogant way, cause that’s not me, but more that I had worked hard and earned my place at the front of race like this.
I’ll admit now, I wanted to break the CR in order to cement that feeling as much for myself as anyone else.
I covered the last section in an average of 8:15 /mi pace. Right where I wanted to be after I took the lead. I am a bit of a stats fiend when it comes to my running and this was as pleasing [GIGANTIC EXAGGERATION ALERT] as winning.
A massive hug from Lee MacLean, the brilliant Race Director, at the end awaited me and she admitted some surprise that the CR had fallen, and rightly so. I didn’t come into the race with a massive ultra pedigree over this distance. She puts on a grand wee race and I would recommend it to seasoned and new ultra runners alike. Thank you Lee, thank you Lee’s team of volunteer’s, marshalls and cheerleaders. A virtual hug to you all.
I could mention loads and loads and loads of people here. I have thanked many personally at the time and since. A couple of honourable mentions instead; I will congratulate my buddies Rob Soutar, Gerry Craig and their team for winning the relay (Alison, Michael and Duncan, well done to you!).
Then there is Des Tinney and James Murray Junior who completed their first ultras with aplomb. Well done guys.
Well done to Kelvin Dickinson for also breaking 5 hours, a feat achieved only 6 times in the race’s 6 year history. A great run and mega-congrats to Caroline Hall for being first lady in 5:45:19.
Thanks to my coach & friend Paul Giblin too. If you thought I was enthusiastic before, you better watch out now! And DG & JC, cheers lads.
I was honoured to be presented with the winner’s prize by another good friend in Gerry Craig. Entering the ultra running scene back in 2012 with a DNF in this race was the start of a journey which has blessed me with many great experiences and a plethora of new friends whom without my life would be poorer. It seems fitting that my first win should come in this great race. I hope it is not my last.