RACE REPORT: The John Lucas 50, Relay

IMG_0928Relay? Really? You’ve never heard of #teamvambo? Let me tell you all about it.

Out on the beer one night I was messaging my TeamPyllon buddy Davie Gow about the WHW relay and it turns out I can’t make that but we say, ‘what about the John Lucas relay?’ I mean, we are ultra-runners, who run on trail and this is a 50-mile tarmac job totally cut out for road-runners.

Aye, let’s do it.

John Connolly, fellow teamPyllon runner is in. But injury forces him out at the 11th hour. His brother Graham steps in. Making up the quintet needed for the relay team is Barrie Johnstone and James Murray Junior. We decide to invite these two guys in as they are good runners, and will enhance our victory chances, but primarily ‘cos they are good guys and would appreciate the chance.

But why the name teamvambo? Well, as it happens, only James is a club runner and thus we can’t go for that tried and tested method of just using the club name. As I was entering us into the race I was listening to The Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s brilliant LP (ask yer Da, kids) Next. Those familiar with the work will probably be thinking, ‘I get it, and Vambo Marble Eye was on..!’

Naw, it wisnae. It was actually Giddy Up-A-Ding-Dong but can you imagine a name like? teamgiddyupadingdong? We’d be bullied at ultras for years to come. So, no, I went with teamvambo as a homage (read that word again but without the ‘h’ and in a French accent) to the greatest frontman in Scottish music history.

The team was formed.

Fast forward a few months and John’s last minute injury meant a re-shuffle of the team order. I couldn’t make it down early as it was Caelan’s birthday and it didn’t feel right to be dragging him out at 7am for a run. So, I agree with the team I would do the glory leg so I could have the morning with the boy. Ahem…

Our order became:

  1. James Murray Junior
  2. Barrie Johnstone
  3. Graham Connolly
  4. Davie Gow
  5. James Stewart (that’s me, but you probably already know that…)

IMG_0926Leg 1: 10.4 miles
James was to lead us away. He’d been sharpening up in the week or two leading up, trying to do a quick 10k in line with the leg he had. Then it changed to ten minutes. Let me tell you this, this was the leg of the day. All the teams are set-up to get off to a quick start, we decided to put Davie and myself at the latter end to try and take the two toughest legs with our ultra guys. Hills and speed. My hope was James would get us to within a couple of minutes of the lead.

He didn’t manage that.

He annihilated the field and gave us a two minute lead. Crushed his ten-point-four miles with a pace of 6:15 /mi, and this is a hilly route. The Tomahawk Kid indeed.

Legendary start.

Leg 2: 8.6 miles 
James handed over to Barrie. He’s a roadrunner at heart, we keep trying to get him into ultras and trails. Also, we knew Barrie would have a job on just to stay in front, but he battle hard to take maintain the lead. He’d been coming off of a DNF at Clyde Stride a recovery period after picking up an injury 30 miles in. But, with words of Alex Harvey ringing in his ears – if you don’t put me on trial, why don’t you turn me loose – Barrie brought teamvambo home in leg 2 with a lead of around 1 minute. He covered his section in 6:20 /mi pace.

Leg 3: 6.3 miles
Then it was over to the sub. Graham was sitting with his brother John the night before the race. John wasn’t feeling up to it pace or strength wise. Graham is a very good runner and an able replacement, he’d finished well up the field at the recent Devil O’ the Highlands ultra and can shift.

Want to know how much he can shift? He PB’d over 10k despite the hills and brought us in with a 3 minute lead going into leg 4. James M-J described in a message to me as being ‘taps aff and running like a warrior…’ and so he was!

So far so good. teamvambo were not needing to call The Faith Healer just yet.

Leg 4: 14.3 miles
Then it was over Davie G. He’s so young looking he’s like The Last of the Teenage Idols. It was heating up by now and the race half done. However, this is where it gets hard. This section from Stonehouse to Auldhouse is the longest and toughest, so we put our toughest runner here. We also knew that our nearest rivals (Kilmarnock – not sure what band that is) had their strongest runner in this leg. Davie recently finished top 5 at the Devil and won the Strathearn marathon earlier in the year. Whilst he may lament tarmac he can move over it at a decent clip and he proved it by storming through the leg in fine fashion, handing over to me at Auldhouse for the final leg with a lead of between 30-60s to protect.

Davie was ‘taps aff’ too as he came thundering down the final stretch towards the final checkpoint where by now the whole team were standing, plus Louise, Euan, Caelan and big Andy Crichton were here too. Andy and John supported us with driving duties on the day and were a great support.

Leg 5: 10 miles
No pressure eh? The guys worked their backsides off for over 4 hours to put me in a position where I could take them home and get the win for teamvambo, could I do it? In the week leading up to the race I’d done 109 miles and had recently ran the WHW over two legs as I got ready for Glenmore. But, speedwork and tempo sessions were a weekly staple. I was confident if I ran well, we would be ok.

I set out hard, hoping to put the wind into  the guys from the chasing teams watching, IMG_0927but I knew that the killer hill would be where the race would be won and lost. Long story short, I belted up it as hard as I could and hoped that would give me a enough of a buffer to hold onto. Long story short (again), it did. I ran the 10 miles in 1:01:01 and we won in 5 hours 13 minutes, just a couple of minutes outside of the course record and with a winning margin of around 3 minutes.

What a great day out and happy birthday to Caelan. A special shout to David Meldrum, race director, who will be stepping down this year and handing over to Rosie Bell who will take the race on with aplomb I am sure.

Also, to Gerry Craig and Rob Soutar who shared the spoils in the ultra with a brilliant time of 6:38.

And a big thanks to all the volunteers involved in making such a great race happen. The relay was really fun. Will we do it again next year? You never know what is Next.



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