The Best Plans
My target was, as always, to beat last year’s time. I ran a 6:02 and I felt I could get between 5:40 and 5:50 if things went well. I worked out an average pace for each leg and found my overall pace had to be quicker than 9:00/mile.
I loaded last years splits into Excel, went through each mile adding a target split based on what I remembered about the course (St Patrick’s Rd always breaks me) and my ambition. I added the splits up and established my goal time: 5hr:44min.
The big day came quickly but I felt pretty relaxed. Running an ultra will never be routine but familiarity with the process means I don’t worry about so many things. I live 2 miles from Partick so I drove down just before 8am to drop my bags and collect my number then headed home to finish getting ready. I got kitted out in my preferred minimal style (no music, no jacket, no food or drink til CP1) then jogged back to the start line in time to hear the brief and line up.
I look around and see at least 20 people who look like much better runners than I am. A reminder that it’ll take some guts and a bit of pain to finish among them.
We set off in a gentle breeze with light drizzle so it made for great running conditions. A massive puddle under the first flyover caused some early excitement as I tried to keep my feet dry until at least CP1
I try not to pay any attention to my placing at this stage, I just try to settle into my planned pace (7:35) at a good HR (~165). I soon was running near Kelvin (who I lost just after CP1 last year) and Angela, (who overtook me at about 22 miles last year) so I knew I was among runners going for well under 6 hours.
The first stretch is as pleasant a course as you’ll run. Leaving the city behind and working up the river to Cumbernauld along flat cycle paths is a great warm up for the rest of the race. I hit CP1 feeling good – a few minutes ahead of schedule so I took my time collecting my UD flask belt, having a wee stretch and a bite to eat.
For section two I was determined not to lose pace on the first trail section. It’s still flat so there’s no need to slow down too much. I overtook a few here and was grateful to the runners who let me pass on the narrow path.
I stayed reasonably quick on the first hills and enjoyed the last few miles to CP2. I’d stuck to my plan on drinking 700ml of Tailwind since CP1 and felt very energized so I pushed on knowing I had a good chance to rest and eat coming up.
Isla was waiting at CP2 with my kit bag and I decided to change to trail shoes (Saucony Peregrine 7) as the rain had been persistent so I expected some mud. Last year I came away from CP2 having shouldered a Camelbak with 2 litres of water and the extra weight screwed my rhythm up and mentally hit me. This time I churned out 3 or 4 quick miles and went past the few people who’d overtaken me during my long stop.
The stretch to CP3 is wonderful. It’s scenic, remote and I’m always running alone, which I enjoy. There’s something magic about passing 26.2 miles and not stopping which sums up ultra running. In my pre-running life the idea of finishing a marathon was as likely as walking on the moon so to find myself running a 3:39 marathon and still having 13 miles to do is quite hilarious.
By CP3 I found myself feeling stronger than I expected, I had a quick stop – helped by one of the many volunteers who filled one of my Tailwind bottles – and trotted off down the nice new path. There are a few mad bits in this stretch – muddy hills, huge stone steps, boardwalks – which makes for some slow miles but I plough on happily and run as much as I can. Some of the scenery here is stunning and it is such an enjoyable stretch (if you ignore the mounting pain).
The last few miles were a joy, I knew I’d finish in a great time so I ran as hard as I could. I passed one guy unexpectedly in the last wooded bit and pushed on up the second last climb. I put a foot on the wooden step and felt a rush of dizziness, it was a momentary reminder I’m at the extreme edge of my endurance, with still over a mile to go. I necked the last of my Tailwind and carried on a little more cautiously. I could hear someone powering up behind me but thankfully it was a relayer and I gladly watched him pass with some words of encouragement.
My last mile was about 8:30 – it’s amazing what you can do when there’s a beer waiting – and I pulled into the finish about 10 minutes faster than my ‘Gold’ target. The first time I’ve completed a race better than I hoped and made me glad of all those hip mobility routines, foam-rolling, sensible eating (and drinking) I did in the months and weeks prior.
I thought I’d finished about 17th or 18th so to find myself in the top 10 was a special moment. I absolutely love this race.