We arrived at our B&B on the Friday night, and after a lot of chat from the owners we headed off to the hotel so I could register for the race. Much chat with friends, wine for Caroline, orange for me, then back to our B&B to sleep. The owners of the B&B were great, he is an ex RAF Wing Commander and his uniforms still hang in the hall. They were so quirky that I started to get random images of old TV show ‘Tales of the Unexpected’. I imagined going down for breakfast the next morning to find him in uniform at the head of the table eating one of the other guests’ heads whilst she smiled sweetly and served our breakfast! I needn’t have worried, her “I can’t get up that early” comment, resulted in an impressive spread of a continental breakfast… she clearly thought I’d need a hell of a lot of food before tackling the race!
So after breakfast we headed straight to Glenshee, arriving not long before the race briefing. Then the walk over to the start, and ready for the off! For the first time ever in an ultra, I stood there excited. No nerves, no I don’t want to do this today, just a calm sense of being glad to be back racing. I’d told Mrs pacepusher that for this race I would be more Sharon (the Gibbering Midget) than Thomas (the Crazy German), i.e. happy and positive! I’m normally stroppy and negative ( a lot like Thomas) at check points, but not today!
Karen gives a perfectly toned down start, “you ready? 3,2,1 Go!” and we’re off! It was a strong field, but Tim almost giving me a black eye with his elbow as we jostled for position from the start line seemed a little excessive!!!
I was running with John Malcolm and Lucy Colquhoun early on, but in true pacepusher style, I pushed on and was soon alone. I reached the first check point (5.7 miles) uneventfully, apart from falling over, in just over 49 minutes , about what I was expecting!
I now faced a long stretch on the road before a fairly long climb. If I take one thing from this race, it’s to stick to my game plan. I purposefully ran the race alone (only running with others briefly – unsociable I know, but I get caught up in other peoples runs, and I need to run my own race) and running hard when I planned to (even early on). And so, I legged it up the road, hitting 7 to 7:30 m/m pace throughout. Mrs p was concerned, but this was always my plan. I had a long uphill recovery followed by a glorious downhill sweeping woodland path to recover on. I love this section and I was soon at Kirkton of Glenisla (8.9 miles in 1:17.33) joking with Drama Queen that I hadn’t broken anything yet!! I was feeling good and loving the run. A quick refuel and I was off!
Actually, another thing to take from this race, is the importance of knowing the route as well as you can. I had covered the whole route in training, so I knew what was coming and when, I knew when to push, when to hold back and when to accept a long walk. This also allowed me to eat/drink/carry what I would need before and during each section.
At the top of the climb out of Glenisla, I got cramp in my right calf climbing over the stile. I NEVER get cramp… WTF! Only about 15 miles in too! I stretched it and I ran on… with firmly crossed fingers!!
John caught me up in this section, he was running superbly and we ran together and chatted for a while, but (sticking to the game plan) I let him push on and was alone again. Maybe I’d catch him again later, maybe not, but this was my run, with my goal to achieve.
I met Mrs p twice during this section which was great. She was amazing all day, said all the right things, and kept me moving quickly through the check points. I can’t thank her enough for her support and encouragement… I’m pleased I had a ‘Sharon’ day for her and was happy and positive throughout!
Lucy caught me just before the hill into Alyth but as she expected (“here he comes” she said), I passed her again on the downhill. I arrived in Alyth (now in road shoes after a quick change a few miles earlier) in 1:48.55 (11.2 miles).
After a walk to refuel with Mrs p, I was off and running again. A wave of sickness meant I started to walk just before the long climb, but not to worry, on I plodded. I know this section perhaps better than any other, and knew I didn’t like it much! I knew however that I liked it more than the next. I’d struggled to embrace much of the route during training runs, but today I was loving it. It is a great route, so varied, and in such perfect conditions, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else!
I made it to Blairgowrie, where Santababy, the lollipop lady for the day, made sure I crossed the road safely, in 56 mins (5.45 miles). I made Mrs p work here, sending her back for my jacket whilst I kept walking! Sadly Lucy pulled out here, but on the plus side, I probably wouldn’t get beaten by a girl now
As I said, this is a tough section but again I didn’t mind it. I knew that once I got to Bridge of Cally I’d broken the back of the route. I ran as much as I could, and made the most of the decent into BoC. 6.8 miles in 1:17.24 and the route’s back was indeed broken!
The next section to Kirkmichael is one of the most beautiful on the route. However, boggy, sheep shitty fields, are not good for running on! I spat the dummy for the first time that day! I was annoyed, I was in shape to still be running well, but underfoot conditions didn’t allow it, I also fell again! I can safely say however that wearing road shoes was not the problem. Trail shoes would have been of no greater benefit as others confirmed post race. As I reached the end of the shitty bog crap, I saw John behind me. I was confused. I hadn’t passed him (turned out he’d missed a marker and had run about 2 extra miles). Back on the road/dry trail, I had strong words with myself! My energy and enthusiasm had been sapped and I needed to get them back! I got myself running again, and ran fairly well all the way to Kirkmichael… back in the game! (8.05 miles – 1:35.56)
I’d made myself a promise about the next section way before race day. There is about a mile (if that) of fabulous trail in this section. Woodland trail is by far my favourite running terrain, and I’d promised myself to enjoy it. I did just that, smashing out about 7-7:30 m/m pace through the forrest and beaming from ear to ear as I did so. Arriving in Enochdhu after covering 2.32 miles in just over 24 mins, I hoped I’d done enough to maintain my 9th place. Placings were not important to me, but a top 10 would be an added bonus!!
So off I head on the final section with the news that Mike Raffan is not far ahead… “I’ll never catch him” says I!
So, just after the farm, I see Mike. Eighth would be nice! I don’t push on too hard (stick to the plan), but I do have a little extra bounce in my step! I pass him eventually and he looks unimpressed by my “alright bud?” comment as I run past. I keep running as much as I can on the ascent, liking eighth place and the time I was heading for. Seeing John and another runner also catching Mike spurs me on again, I’m starting to tire though, and that cramp is seriously thinking about making a return visit! Not long to go, dig deep!
John catches me, I use him to pull me along for a while and we chat about his wrong turn. He ran so strongly all day though and he left me half way up a climb. Back to ninth (not bothered though, John’s a lovely guy and he deserves it after an extra 2 miles! Well done mate – superb run!), I’ll follow John and use him to get myself to the finish well under my dream time of sub 9.5 hours. I look back, another runner has passed Mike. I need to keep pushing. I do! Next thing I know, there’s a runner on my heels. Runners of Mike’s quality don’t give up that easily, and he passes me as we reach the start of the final climb.
The other runner, Phil Humphries catches me. We chat, we are both annoyed that we let Mike pass us. We are both exhausted! Phil just has a bit more on the lower part of the hill, and I’m down to 11th (back to focusing on my time!).
As I struggle very badly up the hill, my GPS tells me I’ve slowed to a pathetic 25 m/m pace. I’m beaten! I stop, hands on knees, look back. No rush, he can’t catch me. I think about my time and in my tiredness add 25 minutes to the time on my watch. 9:30 has gone. Gutted! I battle on to the summit where I check the GPS again. Time, 9 hours… 15. 15!?!? What? I see the hotel about 1.5 miles away. Game on. I can do this.
I ran so hard down that hill, constantly looking ahead at the distance and comparing it to the time remaining on my watch. 10th place is getting closer, over the stile, leg it, you can do this. You will do this! Through the gate and a sprint to the finish line. Another quarter mile and I might have made 10th but who cares, a finish time of 9 hours 27 mins, and mission accomplished! I am delighted! Sweaty hugs for Karen and Mrs p, a change of clothes and a pint of Stella! Happy as a pig in shit! (final section 5.92 miles – 1:13.12)
We watched a few people finish and got all the news from the sharp end of the race, then headed back to the (well I would say sanity, but…) B&B for showers. They are keen to hear all about it, so I tell them… a far shorter version than this!
Back to the hotel for food, more Stella and more finishers. The last of which we all head outside for. The legend that is Ray McCurdy is welcomed home like a hero!
Prize giving is great (although some Scottish Chelsea fan didn’t agree as the sound was turned down on the football!) and we all receive our race Quaichs. I thank Karen and tell her well done!
Chat, banter, booze and a lift home from a member of the hotel staff and I’m fast asleep in bed… very contentedly!
Next morning, Mrs B&B excels with breakfast, whilst Sir tells us some of the stories he already told us yesterday! It really was a great place to stay (Dalhenzean Lodge) and I jest about the owners. Their genuine concern in asking Caroline if she would be carrying her phone whilst she ran and I supported her for the morning was tester-mount to that! Great characters!
A huge thanks to Karen and all her team of helpers for a fabulous day! Karen, you all did a great job, you are slowly creating a very special race!