Wednesday 31 October 2012

Jedburgh Ultra Mudathon & Loch Ness Marathon

I signed up to Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultra in a bid to get the body moving long distance again after the few months of injury and recovery post-West Highland Way, and approached the race in the most relaxed way I think I've ever approached an ultra. I was more apprehensive about the Loch Ness marathon which I decided to run as a last-minute challenge in September to join Julie in her first foray into the marathon. Despite wanting to see Loch Ness as a 'training run', that distance for me seems to come with a certain pressure for speed and temptation to compete with my own  PB (3.26 in San Francisco, when I actually used to go to interval sessions!) Needless to say getting anywhere near this PB was an unrealistic aim after a summer of injury and lack of speedwork.

The opposite ended up happening for both races - Jedburgh was extremely hard work, a struggle throughout the entire race, and Loch Ness was a chilled steady run against a backdrop of beautiful weather and a sparkling loch. So I thought I'd compare and contrast the two little adventures:

The camping barn in Fort Augustus

Loch Ness -  A two week holiday ending with a night camping in a chilly Fort Augustus barn with rain battering the roof may not have been the best precurser to a happy race but I knew my recent hilly, weather-battered runs on Mull would be good prep. Plus having having run Loch Ness as my first marathon in 2009, I had a good feel for what to expect, and the forecast was looking good for Sunday. My main plan was just to take it easy, run steady and finish under 4 hours feeling comfortable and with no achilles pain.

Jedburgh - Similarly, I hoped running Loch Ness at the end of September followed by a few weekends of tough, hilly Pentland runs afterwards would serve as a good base endurance for Jedburgh. Having not trained on the route at all it was hard to know what to expect but I had a good look at the route online and through John Kynaston's recce vid - leaving no excuse for what happened during the race! To suss out a time goal, I compared it with the Speyside Way ultra which also had a fair few ups and downs and was just a few miles shorter at 35 miles, and give myself a 7 hour aim.

Loch Ness - a shaky start, as the crowds of runners streaming out of the 37 buses made for a frustrating queue to the start line, and with 10 minutes to the start, the portaloos were a complete no go. Julie and I lost each other and I worried she wouldn't have made it to the start on time and would be beginning the run under stress. I started in the 3.30 group which quickly turned into a bottleneck and it took a few minutes to get going, past the pair of pipers who set us off. I'll spare you the mile by mile monotony but after a quick loo stop at mile 3 I got into the stride and was feeling good, with plenty of energy and enthusiasm for the run - the sunshine streaming down on the loch helped. I have no excuse having run the race before but was surprised again by the number of undulations from early on that didnt seem to show up in the route profile. After the long hill at mile18, I was feeling pressure down my right hamstring and the old glute pain had returned. It didn't worsen though, so I ticked the miles off slowly until the memorable run into Inverness and over the bridge to the seemingly endless strip on the other side to finish in Bught Park.

Karl Zeiner & I: pearly white before mudfest
Jedburgh - It was good to see some friendly faces at registration and we set off in slight drizzle at 8am, running on the main road out of Jedburgh and onto paths leading out to the little village of Maxton, then St Boswells. From around miles 4 or 5 the path began to get muddy and I came round to the idea that my feet wouldn't stay dry for long. Having unpleasant visions of the macerated state they ended up in during the WHW, this was the first introduction to what would become some of the most frustrating terrain I've run on. For many miles the path took us through ankle deep mud and I slipped and slid all over the place, crashing into stiles and brambles. From mile 13ish Sharon Law caught up and we started chatting. In fact we must have been so deep in conversation we missed the right turn just before St Boswells as we both ended up in completely the wrong place. Fortunately one of the race organisers - thankfully they were everywhere - found us and stuck us back on the right track. Mentally, that threw me for a while and I was out of my pace as we arrived into the checkpoint at Rhymers Stone, mile 18. The three peaks came next and I can honestly say hiking them was a welcome break from running through mud on flat ground - plus the views were stunning. We had more time for a chat with some other folk and had an excellent cheer from the marshalls on the top of the third peak. It was fantastic to run and talk to Sharon for a while before she took off on an incredible downhill display of speed. Thinking about our navigational adventures, they were really just a good example of part of what ultras are about - running into challenges and getting through them without giving up.
I ran alone again for a few miles afterwards, and took a good body slam into the mud on the track through the forest after the third peak. I was covered in mud with a few bloody scrapes which made for an interesting marble effect on the legs. I think I even shouted 'Right, that's it, I'm done!' at the trees before breaking into a run again to channel the mud anger into something useful.

From the Eildons
Later on I met John Kynaston, who got me back on the right track after yet another veer off the path, and we ran for a few miles together. We talked for a while and I began feeling positive and fairly energetic again. I then ran alone up until the bridge at mile 35 ish, where who else but my Dad jumped out shouting 'Hi sweetie!'. He'd driven up from Cheshire to see me finish and come stay in Edinburgh for a few days and had floated the idea of running out to meet me but I didnt really think it would logistically work, so it was fabulous to see him! I felt as good as new then, and we chatted and caught up all the way back into Jedburgh, where Lisa and Jodie, who'd run the half marathon, were waiting for us.

My trusty OMM waist pack toughed it out with me throughout Jedburgh, and survived well despite being slammed into the mud. Its super light but spacious - one of my favourite pieces of kit at the moment. I cant say the same for the Under Armour top - yes, in white - which was also thrown into mud and attacked by brambles and is still lying sadly in the washing basket. And never again will I be wearing road shoes in conditions like that....especially not when I have 4 decent pairs of trails at home! What was I thinking? Fuel-wise the race was uneventful - I ate regularly without problems - homemade chia/cranberry flapjacks, banana, coke, gels - and drank mainly electrolytes - flavoured by mud post-fall.

Loch Ness was also uneventful fuel/kit-wise, but it was a dream to run light with a pocket full of gels and a handheld bottle. The race being sponsored by Clif, I just picked up additional gels along the route, although I wasnt impressed when I managed to grab the strongest caffeine variety going pretty early on - not a good plan.

Julie and I pre-Loch Ness

Loch Ness - I finished feeling good despite the glute pain and seizing up which was to come during the car journey home. At 3.42 I was a minute under my previous Loch Ness time and largely happy with the way it unfolded. Guy Van Herp sorted me out after in physio by cracking my sacroiliac joint in my hip back into place, which he said had been jammed and would have been affecting my hamstring. Julie ran a real beauty of a race for her first marathon coming in at just minutes over 4 hours and raising over £600 for the Scoliosis Society in the process. Well done to that girl.

Jedburgh - after all the issues I was elated to cross the line at all, and even more so to come in at 7.16 as third lady, behind Sharon in second (7.04) and Izzy Knox in first (6.46). The organisers made us laugh as they whipped us immediately on to the podium wanting to get the prizegiving done, despite me being absolutely caked in mud. The race directors and marshalls really were amazing throughout and kept us going with so much encouragement. Well done to them all, and everyone else who ran and supported.

On Saturday I'm running Glen Ogle 33, which will be the first time I've run two ultras on consecutive weeks - not intentional but Glen Ogle gave me a place from the waiting list after I'd signed up to Jedburgh. Hopefully a good way to end the season until January when JOGLE training in earnest will begin - bring it on!

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