James Stewart, ultrarunner

Race Report: Anglo Celtic Plate, 2019


The TL:DR version of this race report is that I was pissed off but I am over it. Saved you ten mins there. 

The team, pic by Debbie Martin-Consani

Failure is a subjective term isn’t it? As I write this, some 30,000ft above the Spanish mainland heading for the Canaries, there are (at time of boarding) just 16 runners left on loop 2 of the Barkley Marathon. The vast majority of the field entered knowing that barring a miracle brought about by a rogue logging company, helicopters taxiing them around the course and the biggest strimmer ever that they would simply fail to get close to the 5 laps needed to be declared a Barkley finisher. For some, just one loop would be a major achievement

Doing something where you will definitely “fail” is bold. I think setting out not sure if you are actually going to succeed is even bolder. 

In order to grow as athletes we must first taste defeat and disappointment. And it has taken me a week to reconcile with this after last Sunday’s Anglo Celtic Plate. 

I had the honour of wearing a Scotland vest for just the second time. I wanted to do it justice. I wanted to put a performance in that would stand the test of time for me and my career as a runner. I am 43 in April so opportunities are limited. 

I was nearer than I thought last week in the immediate aftermath, and not that far away that I don’t believe it was an impossible dream. That’s me over it, you see. 

The Scotland team was epic. Rob Turner has become a good friend of mine, recent training runs and the Pyllon Endeavour cementing a mutual respect and bond. I look up to Rob the way Ancient Greeks would have looked up to the statue of Zeus. He’s a giant in my eyes. Kyle Greig is a giant on the scene too, Fling champion and GB vest owner. Add in the indefatigable Dave Ward and Spartathlete Alastair Higgins and you have a decent line-up.

For the ladies there was a mix of experience in Sophie Mullins and Morgan Windram fused with the debutants of Jo Murphy and Lynne Allen. These runners could be mainstays of Scotland’s 100k team for a fair few years. The power of that quartet showed as Sophie led them home in an unprecedented 1-2-3-4 to be the first Scottish female ACP champ in an outstanding time of 8:03 and change. Speechless.  

In the men’s race, Rob (6:51) and Kyle (6:54) were to both smash 7 hours but England’s Charlie Harpur saw off their challenge to win in 6:44. The standard of the field was up there with Nirvana’s Nevermind. Three runners under 7 hours is remarkable in any 100k. I am sure GB & England 100k team manager Walter Hill was rubbing his hands with glee. 

As for me, well… 

Pic: Steve Adam

Here’s the rub, I ran solid for 44 miles. Then it kinda went wrong for around 10 miles and in that period I haemorrhaged time like Casio with a dead battery. I am not normally so candid with the nuts and bolts of my plan and outcome but I think I will find it both cathartic and useful to share it. 

I was through 50k in 3:23. That was about 5 mins inside my plan. I was shooting for a sub 7. My first mistake here was not adjusting to this and slowing down. I felt ok and the race in front of me was hotting up. I was in 4th. In my head if something happened ahead I could get into a medal position. 

Paul Giblin said to me before my first 100k that you can all of sudden be running at the same effort but be 2 mins a mile slower. And that is what happened when I struggled. I lost energy and felt nauseous. In that fallow period I let over 20 mins slip to plan.

This was brought about, I believe, by not taking on the salt tabs earlier. That was my second mistake. Completely my fault, Andy offered them to me, I refused. Total dick move. I need to be smarter in future. Andy will force them down my neck next time I suspect. Once I started getting salt and sugar back into me by around 50 miles the damage had been done mentally. 

My third mistake was not staying in the moment. I was projecting from about 50k to the end instead of lap at a time. This was positive projection mentally but actually harmful in respect to then managing my effort. And when I started to struggled the projections become more negative. Watching a potential great performance on a personal level turn into a battle for survival from inside your head is a brutal and brilliant place to be. 

Should have taken the salt! Pic: Debbie Martin-Consani

I know I am being hyper-critical in some cases, but the key thing is I have learned so much about myself for later in the year during this outing that I am actually more confident than before about upcoming races. It’s like I had to fall short to see the path that takes me to the top of the mountain. 

My final mistake was to stop taking on energy from those around me. It’s always the way I get out of a stupor, especially in lapped events. Smile, chat, pat on the back (or as Gav Bussey gave me, a fine slap on the right buttock) and just be happy. 

In the end I came home in 7:25. That was good enough for a bronze and silver Scottish Athletics medal for the 100k open race and MV40 category. 3 years ago I’d have been cock-a-hoop with this on my debut. But that was then, this is now. 

50k splits of 3:23 and 4:02 tell their own story. However, I know in my heart I could have safely ran <7:15 and the clock would have looked better but I would have felt worse. The 100k is a race where you tread the margins of red-lining, even just a brief meander over that arbitrary threshold can be enough to derail you. In the wash-up, in this long story, that’s what I ultimately did. Next time I’ll see it coming. 

I had to be bold. I had to try to achieve something I didn’t know I could succeed in to be satisfied. I had to run the risk of failure and disappointment to open up the chance of massive success and exhalation. Without those extremes life is boring. Running is boring. 

The 100k is a race where you tread the margins of red-lining

I am truly grateful to Adrian Stott and the team at Scottish Athletics for giving me this chance, again. I hope it isn’t my last. There’s a sub 7 in me waiting to get out. Debbie Martin-Consani was amazing as team manager. When your heroes become your pal and then your boss, you know you are doing something right. Scotland took home 5 out of 6 senior medals, and whilst we fell short in the men’s team event that is quite the haul. Debbie was ably assisted by Sharon “numbers” Law, Val McAuley and Sue Walker. Without these selfless people to volunteer their time I’d have been running on the canal towpath last week. Ditto to all those volunteers, lap counters and cheerers out there. You kept my spirits up even when I suffered. 

Then there is Andy, I let him down by not listening and doing as I was told. He won’t see it that way. I do. And use it as motivation. 

Of course, the final thank you is always to the three-ball who are my life. Louise, Euan and Caelan. I’ll try and bring you a trophy home next time. Thanks for being there. 

Shout to the Hoka Cavu shoe for getting me through without a single issue. No tales of lost toenails or blisters. I will use them at Madrid Marathon in a few weeks.

And it’s back to Barkley for you, me and the rest of us social media rubberneckers.


Headphones a sign of pain cave. No actual music playing. Pic: Steve Adam
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4 replies to “Race Report: Anglo Celtic Plate, 2019

  1. Great review James and utmost respect in your candidness and honesty. But you should also be praised for your commitment and determination to be the best you can be. You have pushed yourself to the limit time and time again and coninued to do so to achieve whati it is that you want to achieve. You have an inner strength that the majority of people can only dream of. Best wishes mate and congratulations in all your forthcoming achievements.

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