All very Indiana Jones

A local race. My first ever. Not even half an hour from home and a glorious opportunity to explore some new trails.

This, the third running (I think) of The Big Morvern Run, was billed as a (roughly) 20k run through mainly forestry tracks and so promised to be something reasonably familiar from all my runs round here but with the novelty of different views and new paths.

Conditions were pretty much perfect for a start just after 11am though the heat and humidity rose somewhat as we climbed into the forest nearer to midday.

Starting at the (reasonably) new Lochaline Marina and sporting our glorious hand sewn race numbers, we wound our way – all 20 or so of us between the 10k and 20k – along the lochside road past the entrance to the sand mines…

…all very Indiana Jones.

Passing the ferry terminal we went out of the village and through the timber yard before starting our first climb on a rough track which took us up around 500feet from sea level up into the forestry commission logging roads in around 15minutes.

I was going quicker than I perhaps wanted to be considering I didn’t know the course but I felt good enough and was able to maintain around 8’30/mile pace for the duration of the run.

The heavy cloud cover and rising humidity made it a tough shift at times and there was a wee bit of walking at the water stations but mostly I was able to keep up a good rhythm; there was only the one person close enough to follow – though I kept losing sight of her – and the small field made it feel like a solo run for the most part. This isn’t a complaint, I was really enjoying pastures new and taking in the views.

There was a long, stony, fast and pretty quad-trashing descent just before this grassy track and I was flying along not sure when it would level out…

… dropping back down from the high point of 768ft we hit the turn for home and over into the Ardtornish Estate.

Passing a few fields of cows and sheep I caught sight again of the lady I’d been ‘chasing’ who turned out to be first lady home. I was pretty tired by this point, around the 10mile mark and didn’t think I’d be able to reel her in and still have the strength to finish without dying off completely but it felt good to know I’d not lost touch completely.

Passing the pinkish ‘castle’ of Ardtornish House brought us to the head of Loch Alainn and the first sight of the finish area further down the loch…

The marina turned out to be further away than I thought – one definite disadvantage of not knowing the exact distance of the course – but I followed the winding trail through the trees to find the finish line in 1hr42:25 for 12.3 miles…and a “podium” place for third male😊

A really lovely event on a beautiful course…will be back for sure.


Back to back to back

I said to myself at the start of the year I’d try and blog all my ‘races’ so in that spirit alone here goes the report from my second trip down to the central belt for a double event weekend…

I say ‘in that spirit alone’ as there’s really not much to tell.

I had signed up, for the second year in a row, to run the Killearn10k on the Saturday and the Milngavie Trail Race on the Sunday. I’d been alerted to the Killearn run by Vinnie from Twitter whom I met in person for the first time at the event last year and to Milngavie from other Twitter threads I’d seen about it.

Killearn is pretty much an out and back 10k, wee bit of road at the start and end, rest on farm/Land Rover track and some grass. The last two km deviate from the outward route so it doesn’t feel annoying in the way that out and backs normally are to me. It’s a tough wee course and the initial kilometre downhill from the village centre lulls you into a false sense of both ease and speed.

This year the temperature in the car said 23degrees just after ten am, with an 11 start it was only going to get hotter. I’d thought in the weeks leading up to the run that, despite having loads of mileage in my legs lately, I was in a better position than last year in terms of being able to maintain a pace so I reckoned I could maybe beat 2017’s 48mins. It wasn’t to be. The heat meant I knew that not only was going quicker not really an option in itself, but that if I did then I’d likely knacker myself entirely for the Sunday.

In the event I was delighted to finish in 52minutes with no walking despite the incredible heat – I heard chat of 27degrees out on the course and at least one person collapsed during the race unfortunately.

Having studied the course online the night before I knew that I’d be able to use any energy I had left to put the foot down in the last half mile once we got back to the village. So it proved – I managed to overtake four or five people on the uphill back on the main street then a sprint coming into the finish area saw me make up another few places.

It was great to hook up with Vinnie and the gang from last year at the start and finish and we made plans to do it again in 2019!

Post race coffee and cake in the Three Sisters went down well again and this is clearly now an established tradition of mine😊

I’d been very much looking forward to the 8.5mile Milngavie Trail Race just 23hours later. Having not known what to expect last year, I found myself really enjoying a difficult course on a variety of surfaces with a super fast and fun technical foresty-tree rooty section towards the end.

As with Killearn, I’d hoped to be faster this year. Sunday wasn’t nearly as hot as Saturday and some overnight rain had broken the heatwave slightly but it was still a warm 19degrees and very, very muggy.

Still, I started well enough and felt okay in the massed start as we circuited the park and headed out onto the West Highland Way. Remembering the hills from last year and knowing it was warm and difficult to catch a breath, I chose to fast walk the first two big hills.

This was a mistake.

I thought I was being sensible and conserving energy but really all it did was stop me from getting into any kind of rhythm and by the time things had levelled out in Mugdock Country Park after a couple of miles I could cheerfully have chucked it. I just wasn’t enjoying it and, though I wasn’t going particularly quickly, it was really hard work.

There were the odd good moments – a nice technical, stony, downhill where I could leap over some jumps and generally have a laugh – a flat section around five miles in where I got a wee bit of rhythm going and felt like I might be getting into it – but mostly it was like going through treacle. There seemed to be too many walkers coming the other way. Too many dogs jumping at me. Too many overgrown branches. Whatever it was, it just wasnt right.

A few walking breaks didn’t really help and even knowing the end was almost in sight, I still couldn’t get going. It wasn’t until the last third of a mile, coming back into Milngavie itself, that I was able to get the foot down and go for it. A real dig in and a sprint through the village centre and the uphill finish in the park saw me only a minute outside last year’s time by the end.

It just didn’t happen for me. Legs and brain couldn’t get into it and I can only think that the effort and energy expended in the heat of Saturday took more of a toll than I gave credence to. I guess a bad run has to happen occasionally.

Nonetheless, I’ll be back in 2019 to go back again to back to backs.

Just how incredible

What to say about this, my 8th official event of the year if I count Run Balmoral as three separate ‘races’ (or runs, as I’ve discussed before…)?

It was local, ish. Which is a plus. It was tarmac. Which isn’t. It was very well organised. Also a plus. It was very hot. Not so good. It was beautiful. Which makes everything else okay.

I was running with my other half in an event for only the second time – both of them this year – and it was great to be able to share the miles on such a stunning course and on such a glorious day, albeit a bit on the warm side.

The route – from Arisaig House to Mallaig, via the old coast road – is to die for. How fortunate am I, not only to be able to run it, but to live only an hour away from it? I have in the past been guilty of taking where I live for granted but I’ve realised more and more of late just how incredible this part of the world is, and am thankful that – in spite of the cost of living rurally – I get to live somewhere that other people pay money to visit. West truly is best.

There’s not much else to say other than we had a great time. Rachael insisted she couldn’t go on at around the ten mile mark – heat and hills were really taking their toll – and I’m so glad (and I hope she is too) that I cajoled her into a run-walk-run to get us to the top of the final hill and allow us to ‘roll’ down towards the finish line.

Despite the hills and heat, we finished just a couple of minutes outside her time for the much flatter (and cooler) Inverness Half Marathon. I’m hugely proud to have shared this one with her.

A lovely route. A lovely day. Nice medal and t-shirt. The best views you could possibly want. The Road To The Isles Half Marathon has it all.

Incidentally, no filters on the photos (other than the t-shirt & medal shot); it really is that beautiful.

Time becomes elastic

Two Ultramarathons in five weeks when you’ve not even done one before? Bound to be a good idea…

In actual fact, ultra number two coming so hard on the heels of the first – the John Muir Way Ultra – was probably the best thing that could have happened. I knew that I had (very) recently run the same distance I was about to tackle here at Glen Lyon and that I should be able to finish it. Fear of the unknown was what made the John Muir event such an adrenaline fest.

The usual pre-event rotten sleep meant I was up and about very early on the morning of the race…the view from the hotel window in Killin promised none of the overpowering heat commented on from the 2017 event.

And I had plenty of time to make a proper coffee and organise my race pack before the drive over. Now that was interesting 😯

Low cloud, mist, single track road and precipitous drops… like something from The Hound of the Baskervilles. Deep into remote rural Perthshire I ventured, being rewarded when the mist lifted with spectacular views into Glen Lyon…

Parked up in front of the hugely impressive Lubreoch Dam, I wandered over to register and take in the atmosphere. It was already abuzz and loads of folk had camped overnight in tents and various camper vans, making me wish I had a van again.

I left a drop bag – okay, a carrier bag with my race number on it – with the officials. A first for me. I’d put a spare pair of socks in, a spare buff, some more Tailwind sachets and extra supplies of the same food I was taking on the run: a coconut flapjack, some jelly babies and some roasted & salted nuts. I wasn’t sure if I’d need or want any of this stuff but the option was there so I thought it seemed sensible.

Starting bang on 9.30 following a race briefing which spoke ominously of river crossings, the first half of the run took us round Loch Lyon on a (mostly) gently undulating Land Rover track and across several of those river crossings. I’ve only got wee short legs so this was a bit tricky. It was a new experience for me in a run but after the shock of the first one I began to enjoy the experience as they helped cool and soothe slightly sore feet.

I was aiming for about 11minute miles with the intention of doing 10minute miles in the last 10miles or so if possible. That was the plan at any rate. Having said that, I was actually closer to about 10min/mile pace on this loop of the Loch…

So I knew I needed to try and slow it down to conserve energy – after all at this point there was still the best part of a marathon to go! More river crossings and an aid station brought me up towards the half marathon mark and on a short uphill section I came to grief somewhat. My foot caught a stone and I started to fall, uphill, in slow motion. I knew I was going down but I couldn’t do anything about it.

I really smacked my left knee on the stony track and it took me a good few minutes to compose myself and get going again. A few sips of Tailwind, some nuts and jelly babies and I was away. I think I was in shock slightly. I felt a bit sick and light headed and I was in quite a bit of pain from the knee as I tried to test it out. This was a bit of a low point but just over a mile later I caught sight of the start of the dam and knew I was almost at the halfway checkpoint.

For some reason I had it in my head that the checkpoint was at 17miles, leaving just over a half marathon to run but it was exactly halfway at a shade over 15.5 miles. Not to worry. It was a slick operation from the BaM Racing team, dibber dibbed and number shouted out on approach and my drop bag was in my hand.

I wasn’t really sure what I needed or wanted. I had a bit of flapjack from the dropbag and swapped my buff for a fresh, non sweaty one. I also took the opportunity to take off my shoes and shake out the wee stones which had made their way in. I’d forgotten my trail gaiters but it hadn’t been too much of an issue even allowing for the river crossings.

I filled up my water bottles, gave my throbbing knee a rub and headed off again. As I left the checkpoint area I had the only negative encounter I’ve ever had so far with another runner.

Him: you done this before?

Me: no, you?

Him: (sneering) aye, and the second half is harder, much, much harder. (accelerates away)

Aye. Cheers for that pal. Really encouraging and supportive. As a fellow runner I later told this to said, “prick”.

The next three miles were what can only be described as hellish. An uphill slog. Pretty steep but, worse than that, unrelenting. Worse still, all tarmac.

Reader, I walked the whole way. As did loads of other folk. It was good to just slow right down and chat to folk here. I spoke to a couple of people doing their first ultra. The consensus about this particular part of the course seemed to be “for fuck’s sake”.

My legs were really heavy and my thighs were burning with the constant uphill but I said to myself on more than one occasion, “this means it’s three miles downhill at the end” 😊

Eventually, after a gratefully received downhill section – on which the leading two runners passed me at great speed on what for them was a very steep uphill (amazing to watch them, mountain goat speed 27plus miles in) we came to the mile 20 aid station. A water top up and I was off again for some hard miles into Glen Lochay.

I was into run-walk-run territory by this point and it was getting hot now too, in spite of the mist. A quick photo stop as I hit what I thought meant I was into single figures remaining (turns out it was 31.5miles, not 31 but hey ho…) and I pushed on into the Glen on what I guess was Land Rover track, it was certainly a bumpy ride. Lots of ups and downs and kissing gates to negotiate.

I was really grateful for the support of a runner I’d met as we parked up in the morning. Linda had told me she was worried about finishing in time as she had a night out to get to in Perth and was meant to be meeting folk in Aberfeldy at half five! We had a laugh about kit choices and debated long v short sleeves before the start where I took a photo for her and her cousin, who was running the event on her 40th birthday! Great present 😊

Anyway, Linda chatted to me as we walked along for a bit while my knee was really hurting. She then encouraged me to run for a wee bit and I’m really glad she did. Although I said to her to push on ahead when my knee started throbbing again, she had made me believe I’d get there after all. Thank you Linda! I saw that she had finished a couple of minutes in front of me so I hope she made the night out…

Reaching the turn in the Glen on a steep, twisting downhill I got in tow with Davie. It turned out he knew Graham from the Maps For Trailrunners project and we chatted on and off whilst walking and running for the next few miles to the start of the uphill section that would lead us ‘home’.

I hit marathon distance in 5h23, slower than the John Muir Way but it was a much tougher course, with actual proper hills and everything…

Davie and I both took a picture of the very Tolkien sounding Forest of Mamlorn sign, cos why wouldn’t you? The joy of ultras is being able to slow down and take photos. Time becomes elastic.

It’s only actually as I type this I realise that I very casually passed the 26.2 mile mark this time – I didn’t get the mad buzz I had at the same point in East Lothian. Either I wasn’t thinking about it because I was chatting away or because my knee was so sore. The third option doesn’t bear thinking about; when I told my ultrarunner nephew afterwards that I hadn’t felt the same sense of achievement this time round his reply was chilling:

A last burst of running before a half mile uphill set of hairpins got us to the last aid station at around 27miles. More water and onto the final uphill stretch. Davie and I were still together at this point but he soon sent me on ahead as he said he was really struggling. It’s hard to leave someone behind when they are finding it tough but equally it’s important to give people their own space in an ultra – it is mostly done inside the head after all…

It was another slog up the hill but with the knowledge that it would soon be downhill all the way. I managed a slow shuffle here as it flattened out, running with two ladies from Aberdeenshire in their first ultra. One had just completed a sub four London marathon and was going really well at this point. More water and jelly babies on board and I was rolling along nicely on a downhill section.

Looking at my watch I saw 29.4 miles tick by and had a sudden feeling of warmth and happiness. I realised I was going to finish this in the next 20minutes or so and that it was all downhill and that I was running really strongly and feeling good. A glance down confirmed sub 8minute mile pace at the 30mile mark and I couldn’t help but smile as I repeated the well worn Caballo Blanco mantra:

easy, smooth, light and fast

…before the joyful sight of the dam appeared on the horizon.

Nearly there! Results would indicate that’s actually the aforementioned Linda up ahead too. A few walkers passed by going uphill and there were lots of “well done” and “nearly there” shouts, which puts a bit of a spring in the step.

I rounded the final corner and attacked the last hill but there wasn’t enough in the legs to do it justice. A last wee walk to the summit allowed me to power on the last 200yards to the finish line passing lots of cheering folk. A lovely way to finish my 2nd ultra.

The official time was 6h36 in 105th place. I won’t lie – this was tough. Perhaps the first half had lulled me into a false sense of security? I was moving well and running nicely. Pace was good and I was really enjoying it.

In hindsight, the fall at mile 13 really knocked me for six and were it not for my stubbornness I should probably have stopped at halfway. I was in more pain and discomfort than I allowed myself to contemplate fully but I suppose that’s the battle of an ultra isn’t it? I know for a fact I said on several occasions from miles 20-27 “this is my second and last ultra, might as well go for it.” At the time I had convinced myself I’d not be doing anymore of these mad events.

No, you have already signed up for another in September πŸ˜‰πŸ˜Š

Meat Loaf

I knew that a multi-event weekend was likely to be tough, what I hadn’t anticipated was the precise reason I struggled so badly in my attempt to complete four separate events over the two days.

Having attended the Run Balmoral event last year to take part in the 15 mile trail race – a stunning course on rolling trails around the Royal Estate and skirting the foothills of Lochnagar – I was intrigued by their “Devil of Deeside” challenge. Day one sees entrants tackle a 5k and 10k in and around the main grounds of the castle, with the two events’ start times being separated by only 90minutes. Day two begins with duathlon: 6k run-16k mountain bike – 5k run followed by the 15mile hill and trail race. Start times just three and a half hours apart. AFTER you’ve run 15k the day before.

Whilst I’m no fan of cycling – I only ever enjoy it if I’m in a city and using it to commute or just get about – I thought 16k would be manageable and so back in November I signed up, having acquired a bike on Gumtree.

I hadn’t really given the cycling much thought to be honest, I was planning to wing it really and count on my hill and trail fitness to get me through, particularly as some of it was bound to be downhill. I was getting in a wee bit of a flap about the transition element and associated potential for disaster but that was all part of the experience. As it would turn out, though, the cycling wasn’t an issue.

I’d taken all the shoes with me for the weekend’s events…


…knowing that the 5k was all tarmac, 10k tarmac and trails, duathlon runs a bit of a mixed bag, 15miler needing the same Altras I’d been so comfy in last year and the 5-10’s for the biking. The running shoes in the picture genuinely only get used for running, the 5-10’s mostly see service with my jeans!

I had my Devil of Deeside race vest on and after dropping off a bag I headed to the start of the 5k. Chatting with another ‘Devil’ I soon found I wasn’t the only one unsure how to pace a 5k. I’d observed on Instagram:

Never actually run an organised 5k before…pacing myself over the weekend will be tricky but would be happy with a 25min and a 50min tomorrow as they are only an hour apart then see how I feel on Sunday.

As it turned out, despite having to dodge round some slower runners and avoid what seemed like huge crowds of competitors, I got round in 24.02 in soaring temperatures and with just the one hill. Didn’t exactly fly, nor did I dawdle. It was tricky not to get carried away knowing it was only 5k and I know I could have gone much quicker but I was also very aware of not only the 10k just an hour later but the 30plus combined running and cycling miles to come on the Sunday.

This tickled me greatly. πŸ˜‚

The 10k, just those mere 65 minutes later was similarly warm and I changed into the Nike Pegasus and grabbed my “race vest” pack thing so I could take some water with me. I’ve taken to using it even on shorter runs as I really like not having a water bottle in my hand as I run – I find I become unconsciously tense in the carrying hand and that transfers into my shoulders, playing havoc with the enjoyment factor.

It was another packed field and I started off once again alongside David, my fellow Devil from the 5k. The field stayed together for the first km or so on the tarmac and began to spread out as we hit the trail section. I had been warned in advance about the hill in the 10k and, whilst it wasn’t awful and certainly not any steeper than my local trails, I thought that given the heat, the 5k and the two events on the Sunday, a run-walk strategy on the ascent would be the best option.

The welcome sign at the summit allowed for a nice rolling run down the second half of the course and I was pleased enough with my 54 minutes in the context of the planned exertions for the weekend.

Running done for the day, it was into the therapy tent for my second sports massage of the day, having had a quick rub down from the Weleda Arnica Tour team after the 5k. Anyone who’s read this blog before will know I’m prone to leg issues and worries so I was trying to take no chances with such a busy schedule!

An al fresco massage in a field next to a hard-to-miss bright orange Land Rover was another of the weekend’s firsts.

I felt rested and relaxed as I wandered back to the car and was grateful for the post-run pummelling as it took the best part of an hour to get out of the car park and I think my legs might have seized with the clutch control otherwise!

Back at the hotel for a shower then out to the superb Boat Inn at Aboyne for dinner and a well earned beverage before an early night with the alarm set ready to get me to duathlon registration at silly o’clock on the Sunday morning.

You know when people say they haven’t had a wink of sleep and you think, “well, you must have managed some“? I didn’t. Not a moment. It was odd. I didn’t feel either stressed or hyper, the bed was comfy, I wasn’t too hot or too cold…there was some noise from the hotel bar in the wee small hours but by then I’d already been trying to sleep for several hours. I decided after much mental to-ing and fro-ing that there was no way I’d manage the exertions of the duathlon and the 15 miles on zero sleep and tired legs. And I’d have a four hour or so drive home afterwards too. So it was that I made the difficult decision to pull out of the duathlon and try to get some sleep so that I could at least do the run and manage the drive home.

I have regrets about this but sometimes it’s better to listen to the sensible voice inside and I know that the fatigue I felt in the hill race in the afternoon – in perfect conditions – wasn’t just down to running. Fifteen miles isn’t “nothing” of course but neither is it a monster distance for me and the route, whilst both hilly and remote, isn’t overly taxing. My tight calves and dodgy ankle were behaving themselves and I was running nice and freely, keeping my Born to Run mantra – easy, smooth, light & fast – at the front of my mind. Nonetheless, I had to do a bit more walking than I normally would along with some yawning too!

This didn’t stop me enjoying the run and its attendant glorious Royal Deeside & Cairngorm scenery…

…before a fast, flattish and even downhill in places section of Land Rover track brought us back into the forests around the ‘main’ estate and the notorious ‘sting in the tail’ of this race’s last mile and a half: a good half/three quarters of a mile of mucky, steep, uphill heather covered track. I remembered this from last year but this time around the legs only had the energy for a walk -walk-slightly quicker walk attempt at it. Nonetheless, it meant I had plenty in the tank when I got to the top-of-the-hill marshall and his “last hill folks!” shout.

Summoning the last of the energy I got myself back up onto the balls of my feet and started picking up the stride speed as I tumbled – in a controlled fashion! – down the winding hill track to the last path crossing. Again, memory from last year helped here and I knew that the natural ‘steps’ down onto the tarmac weren’t evenly spaced and finished with a very tight right hand turn at the bottom. Bounding down these – at least that’s what it felt like – I was at the back of a group of five or six runners as the finishing archway came into view.

I knew I could manage a sprint finish so I put the foot down (or perhaps lifted them up higher and faster?) at this point…though perhaps about 50metres too early as I’d given myself a good 250-300metres to cover. Oh well, too late to worry and I dug in as the crowds increased closer to the finishing “alley”. Noise and encouragement does wonders for tricking the brain into thinking the body isn’t that tired after all and I was able to pass everyone in front of me to finish in 2:17:21.

It was slower than last year but given the lack of sleep, the two races from the day before and 100miles in the legs in the last 30 days – including an ultramarathon – I’ll take it.

I’m still disappointed to have missed the duathlon and don’t really feel worthy to wear my Devil buff, having only completed 75% of it, but perhaps I’ll return next year. As Meat Loaf might have said, three out of four ain’t bad.

The sticky weight

I hadn’t got round to starting this post for some reason, work, mainly I think…then this morning I was thinking about what I’d had for breakfast on the day of the race – or ‘run’ really as I certainly wasn’t racing it. Those days are long gone…

I fuelled up – if one can call it that – for the John Muir Way Ultra with a cup of tea, some proper coffee courtesy of my travel cafetiere and an unbuttered and untoasted hot cross bun. Well, it was Easter Saturday after all. I suspect this might not be the correct fuelling strategy. Even taking into account the pizza and garlic bread the night before…

It was an early start from my lovely hotel in Gifford to get to Foxlake near Dunbar for around 7am so I had a bit more of my coffee in the car en route. Cause that surely helps. Arriving at an already muddy Foxlake – an email on the Friday had warned us the lower car park was waterlogged and out of commission – I parked up, grabbed my kit and headed to registration.

I was glad to get there pretty early; although I don’t like hanging around before an event as it allows my anxiety to start to build up and get the better of me. This time, however, it was good to be one of the first to sign in as by the time I got my number and instructions, there was a fairly hefty queue waiting to do the same.

Number attached and toilet visited I boarded the bus for the start. This was a bit of a novelty in itself; the only other time I’ve taken official transport to a race start was at the New York Marathon in 2016. It was good to have some time to get all my gear sorted and have a think (and a rethink!) about what I needed to take with me.

It was also nice to chat to the runner in the seat next to me. He was building up to an attempt at the whole West Highland Way race next year and was working up to a ‘qualifying’ 100miler in Nottingham in the summer. Quite an inspiring guy and he really put me at ease. When he heard I’d recently completed the Glentress Trail Marathon he assured me I’d have no bother, relatively speaking, with this one.

The rain was on as we travelled but had let up on arrival at Port Seton for the start. It was really windy and pretty cold so I made the decision at that point to just put my “waterproof” (ha!) jacket on and hope for the best. Gloves went on too as did the racing cap I’ve been wearing lately. Not as hot as my woolly hat and doesn’t make me madly itchy either. I decided to stick my long sleeve warm top (dunno what it is “technically” speaking but it was cheap from Mountain Warehouse and cosy without being a sweatfest) in my running vest/pack thing and just put the waterproof trousers in the extra bag that would be taken back to the start for me. There was a Foxlake pickup truck on hand to take spare kit and it was very much appreciated.

Weirdly, at this stage, I still wasn’t feeling too stressed or apprehensive and as the start time approached and we had our race briefing I felt reassured by the idea that there would be self selecting start waves and you could decide if you’d be a speed merchant, middle pack runner or a gentle wanderer. I anticipated being a wanderer but somehow found myself distracted and starting with the second wave. It was fine though as it all sorted itself out once the promenade widened out and we hit the seaweed thrown up by the stormy weather!

Conditions weren’t great but equally not as bad as the forecast had suggested. I was slightly regretting the decision to go for shorts after a mile or so though as the headwind was bitterly cold. I was hoping to be doing around 5mph so I could finish in about 6 hours so I was checking my watch pretty regularly at this point; turned out I was on slightly under 10min/miles so I was probably going a wee bit too quickly considering it was my first ultra. I’m pretty hopeless generally knowing how quickly I’m going so I was a bit fearful of setting out too quickly. It was nice getting in tow with a group of four friends who were running together; I stayed with them for a few miles, keeping in contact on and off from about mile 4 til the halfway point at North Berwick.

This stretch took us through Aberlady and Gullane as well as the aid station at the ten mile mark at Archerfield Walled Garden where we had the pleasure of running up the grass airstrip – something of a novelty to say the least.

This was where I ran into a bit of an issue, my left knee started to hurt a bit and it only seemed to be better if I ran a bit flat footed. I’ve been really working hard over the last couple of years on getting a nice forefoot strike and I find it works really well for me, especially on hill climbs, but it was nigh on impossible to do this and be pain free. I actually stopped just as we left the estate at Archerfield to have a bit of a stretch and see if I could do anything to mobilise it a bit better. Four people asked if I was ok which I thought was pretty cool; one of them even remembered about 15miles later and asked how it was then… tremendous community these Ultra running types.

I managed to get going again and caught up with and hung onto two guys until we got to North Berwick. The headwind and occasional rain made for tricky running conditions but the constantly altering terrain and the rapid changes of scenery as we crossed fields, golf courses, trails and roads meant there was always another running goal to focus on.

In spite of the crazy weather I was really glad to see North Berwick law in the not too far distance and then get onto the sand for the run along the beach to the halfway stop at the lifeboat station.

Running up the slipway was interesting at this point in the race but there were plenty of hardy souls braving the weather to cheer us on and I got to the checkpoint at 2h30 for 15 and a bit miles.

At this point I must confess I was knackered and my knee was really hurting again. The weather wasn’t awful but it was bad enough and I gave serious consideration to dropping out. I say serious, I’m not sure I ever really believed I would quit. I can’t say that I gave myself a talking to or anything but after a kit kat finger and some flat coke (tea would have been a joy at this point!) I felt a bit better. I got chatting to the group I’d been in touch with earlier and the two guys I’d been playing cat and mouse with from the walled garden and we joked about conditions and how it was no good stopping now as our cars were back at Foxlake in Dunbar! 😊

I set off with them down onto the second part of the beach. The wind had picked up again and I had a laugh to myself at the thought of anyone braving the old open air pool in these conditions. It was incredibly windy at this point and I was looking forward to turning inland as we hit the second half of the course. I decided to do a bit of a run-walk-run strategy and gave myself a target to run to a certain point then walk for a bit and so on.

This tactic saw me up and out of the town, even managing a good long stretch of running on the hill leading up towards the foot of the law. As I followed other runners across the road – drivers happy to stop when requested by the excellent marshals – I was glad to only be having to look at the hill and not actually go up it.

A bit more run-walk-run took me up and into the fields where I struggled a bit to find the best way to either tackle the ridges and furrows or opt instead to slip in the mud. I did a bit of both and got there eventually, telling myself I’d run for two telegraph poles, then three, then four…this brought me into Balgone Estate.

I wasn’t really prepared for, nor indeed had I even considered, large amounts of mud. But that’s exactly what we got. Hilarious amounts of the stuff. So much so that the best thing for it was to run where you could, walk most of the time and slide about like a loony the rest of the way. A group of us were fighting our way through at this stage and we all had a good laugh at the underfoot conditions. One guy at the time and one lady afterwards remarked they had done Tough Mudders with less muck!

Climbing up the final hill after the aid station I had to stop to try and shed some of the sticky weight!

Out of the estate, across some more mud and up the last hill of the day approaching East Linton. It felt a bit like we were almost, almost there…

It was a long slog of a walk up the hill but everyone was walking it so I didn’t feel too bad about it. A wee jog to the summit though and I was please to be able to stretch the legs a bit going down the other side. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a hardcore, speed demon descent but I was moving at a reasonable clip which I kept up when I spotted a knot of cheering spectators at the foot of the hill. “Brilliant effort” and “You’re doing great” are such nice things to hear 25miles into a run and it spurred me on the next wee section of country lane before some more mud.

I got chatting here as we slowed for the muddy track with a guy who’d done a few ultras and had in fact done this one last year; it really takes the mind off how difficult the running is when you have someone to talk to and before I knew it we were back on tarmac – strangely welcome after all the gloop – and trotting towards the marathon distance at Prestonkirk.

Yet another excellent set of marshals was on hand to top up water and supply flat coke. I couldn’t get my gloves off very easily so I asked one of the marshals if she’d kindly unwrap one of the wee chocolate eggs they had, she obliged saying she’d been doing it for everyone😊 Seeing the name on her official Foxlake jacket I said “Thanks Gill” as I ran off…it wasn’t until finishing the race and seeing all the Foxlake staff in jackets made by Gill I realised my error πŸ˜‚ Must have been the fatigue…

Passing mile 26 was quite surreal. Rolling gently downhill to follow the trail alongside the river I experienced a kind of manic euphoria – perhaps the fabled runner’s high? – as I realised I was now running not only further than I’d ever done before but also I had run further than a marathon! And however you look at it, that’s pretty mad.

This thought sustained me through some more walk-run bursts before we dipped under the main A198 to follow the John Muir Way through yet more mud. The runner in front was desperately trying to walk through the slippy morass but I found it easier to make progress with a (reasonably) light footed choppy quick stepping run type thing. It was more graceful than it sounds I’m sure but after one final gravel track section heading into Belhaven Bay, running was pretty much out of the question because of the mud. Progress was slow but there were others to chat to which was again very welcome.

As the GPS watch ticked towards the 30 mile mark I thought I might manage to sneak in under six hours. This was just at the point where we encountered our final marshal who, whilst telling us we were doing great also said “just about a mile to go” at which juncture I was faced with the realisation that 50k is not 30 miles after all. I think I had just been telling myself it was “only” a thirty miles run as, obviously, going further than that would just be daft…

It mattered not, more chat with a fellow runner, this time one who was doing the second leg of the relay, took me into the Foxlake ‘estate’ and across one last field before turning into woodlands and spotting a most wonderful sight “400m to go” – what’s another quarter mile when you’ve done over thirty?

A last corner brought the Foxlake lake into view and a final muddy semi-sprint later I was being cheered across the line and passing under the archway to a lovely medal and the words “brilliant achievement” – a great end to the adventure.

So that was it, 30.81 miles on my watch. 6h10:41 my official time and I couldn’t be happier. It was a great experience for my first ultra and I’m already excited to return next year. A welcome runners’ buffet and cup of tea at the end gave me a final chance to sit down and contemplate the mud…

…before getting on the move for a well earned bath and libation.

A fabulous event, brilliantly organised and super, super friendly. Roll on 2019😊

Questions of balance

Running can be tricky. There’s the constant desire to get out there and run which has to be balanced with the need to do other things. You know, go to work, look after children, shop for food, do the laundry…adult type things.

That can be hard enough. But there’s also a balance, for me at any rate, to be struck between keeping up a level of fitness and working on things like going up and down hills a bit better and the need not to do too much and risk fatigue or, even worse, injury.

The problem is I’m terribly impatient. Reading running blogs and Twitter and Instagram feeds it looks as if most runners are. That desire to be out there often seems to lead to a reluctance to rest and recover properly or even to run with an injury when you know you probably (almost definitely) shouldn’t.

I’ve been particularly bad for that of late, not really learning – or at any rate ignoring – the lessons of last year’s injury blighted efforts.

I don’t necessarily think I exacerbated my weak ankle at Glentress recently, it was more sore feet than anything else, but I know I rolled it a couple of times recently on this Inov8 run and it’s been bugging me for a couple of weeks now. Hasn’t really stopped me going out if I’m honest but I’ve only done one trail run in the last couple of weeks, sticking to some road runs to keep it nice and smooth…though Highland roads aren’t in the best condition so it hasn’t been entirely easy going.

The counter at work has provided a nice stable place to stand and do heel lifts and balance work…I’ve no idea what the customers must make of it but you’ve got to get your physio in where you can, right?

Hopefully one kind of balance will help with the other and I’ll be able to fulfill all my spring and summer running plans.

Next up The John Muir Way Ultra…eek!