My running over the past month or so has been pretty lumpy – going from weekend race to weekend race, with very little in the way of decent training in between. After the marathon came the Two Breweries, followed by the Man(or) Mouse double, and next up was the Jedburgh Three Peaks ultra. I’d only been out twice in the fortnight since the Skyline. It feels a little like trying to cross a fast-moving river in spate, jumping from stepping stone to stepping stone, with the gaps between them growing ever wider (as my fitness declines) and the risk of a freezing dook increasing.
But I was pretty excited about Jedburgh. The route sounded good, but I hadn’t run much at all of it before, the drive wasn’t too long to get there, and the start was relatively civilised for an ultra race (8am). And as an added bonus, the BBC’s Adventure Show was going to be there filming – a chance to meet Dougie Vipond!
Preparing drop bags again brought memories of the Fling flooding back – I wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing that I felt so much more relaxed for this, when I’d been so nervous for that. Hopefully a lack of nerves didn’t mean I was being too blasé about it. I tried to learn from my gastric horror show in the immediate aftermath of the Fling, and left out all caffeine, included some salty options, and limited the number of gloopy sugary gels. Shoe selection was trickier though. The course was meant to be a real mixed bag – a lengthy outward leg on a mixture of tarmac, trails, fields and mud, with a mile or two of steep hills around the middle, and then more or less the same back. Standard road shoes were discounted immediately, as were my Mudclaws – too little midsole and far too deep studs for the road sections. Which left a straight choice between the Hokas and the Fellraisers. The deep cushioning of the Hokas was very appealing, but the outsoles on them now look like a bald tyre. I opted for the Fellraisers, as the cleats have worn down enough, and they have at least some midsole.
Having registered, deposited my drop bags and got changed, I went off in search of a war memorial so that (all being well) I could bag my Tynecastle Bronze for October. Conveniently, there was one only 100 yards from the car park. Hmm, an hour to kill then until the start.
I had a bit of a blether with Matthew C from Carnethy, Ivor N from HBT, and David Gow. And watched with some amusement as a chap wandered around in a full furry squirrel outfit – hopefully not competing, for his own sake.
We were called into the packed and steamy hall for our race briefing (favourite line – “don’t be a dick”, which could be a pithy replacement for the Ten Commandments).
And were then walked over to the start line where we were promised a compulsory warm up. I was expecting some zumba type nonsense, but instead the squirrel led the dancing to YMCA. Slightly surreal at first light. Ivor and I agreed that the first 5 miles or so would be ample warm up and declined to join in. Risking an instant disqualification!
The first few miles on the roads were pretty rapid for an ultra – 6:36, 7:02 and 7:01 as I settled in near Matthew and fellow Carnethy Mark H.
Approaching the shoogly wooden bridge over the Teviot at around the 4 mile mark, I counted back from the front and found that Matthew and I were in 6th and 7th. The bridge itself was very odd – an unsettling vertical bounce rather than lateral movement. Not scary, but difficult to judge when you were going to make contact with the floor – like miscalculating how many steps there are in a flight of stairs and reaching the bottom earlier or later than expected.
|(Photo: Steven G Somerville)|
There was then quite a nice section of winding woodland trails. Despite being well enough marked, some of the paths were a little indistinct with the abundance of newly fallen leaves, so I was grateful that Matthew had done the race before and knew where he was going. We then left the trees and began a gradual slog up the roman road to the brow of the hill at about 7 and a half miles. A supporter just before the top promised that we’d get our first glimpse of the Eildons in 100 yards. A bit of distance still to go to reach them however!
Matthew and I had by now been joined by another runner who introduced himself as Alan. He was back after making this his first ultra last year, an injury coming off the hills forcing him to limp home in a very creditable 6:30, all things considered. A chest infection had then ruined his plans for the Devil o’ the Highlands, but he had managed the Fling fine. He asked if we had any supporters out (we didn’t – my family would almost certainly still be in bed!), and then revealed that his wife was buzzing around the course despite being 6 months pregnant. I said that she should have been running.
The short –ish tarmac section before Maxton at around 9 miles coincided with a torrential downpour of rain – really bouncing off the ground. Which was a shame, as the course would have looked really lovely in good light. The grey morning meant that my camera largely stayed in my bumbag, although the rain did ease off quite quickly again, and the wind wasn’t much of an issue on the lower sections of the course.
The first checkpoint at Maxton was nice to tick off, and my spirits were (as you’d probably expect so early in the race) still pretty high. We were rolling along nicely – more than a quarter distance done in around an hour and fifteen minutes represented good progress. There were a large number of marshals and supporters who were all very cheery and helpful when it came to collecting items from drop bags and so on. One said “keep going”, which seemed a little strange – we’d started so it would have taken a bit of a disaster to be thinking about throwing in the towel at this point!
Round the church, through a wee glen with slippery duck boards, and it opened out into a field beside the Tweed where there were a bunch of cows lurking. One had planted itself close to the path, so I was glad when it turned out not to be a bull, and gave no indication that it was about to stampede.
After a section along the margins of a golf course (flat enough and ok paths) there was quite a steep hill up towards St Boswells. I broke out the walk part of my walk/run strategy, and was passed by Matthew and another lad for my troubles.
There followed an undulating section beside the river, with a number of flights of stairs up and down – not unlike the nadgery bits beside the Tyne in the Traprain Law Race, or at the Peebles XC. Before long I came to a right turn off the path across a little wooden bridge, and because there was no signage, decided to carry on. The race info pack was quite clear that you should “stick to the path you’re on until told otherwise”. But Matthew, who was now about 30 metres behind me, shouted me back. He was sure that we were meant to cross the bridge, despite the lack of an arrow. He was right, and more than a few people went wrong – presumably the result of kids who thought it would be fun to try to spoil someone else’s day out.
A short section of old railway line with only the rough rocky bed remaining reminded what I was missing in the shape of the Hokas. I’d have barely noticed the rocks with them on, whereas with the Fellraisers I felt every lump and bump, and already had quite an urgent pain from a blister on my right pinkie toe. And they actually made little difference in the slippery mud – it was still a battle to stay on my feet at times.
Shortly after crossing the A68, with the Eildons looming large, two or three fast boys came blasting past. Matthew identified one of them as Lee Kemp, who would go on to win, and appeared to be a victim of the missing signage. I was relieved that we hadn’t genuinely lost places – their passing us was just a reversion to the natural order of things.
The second checkpoint came at 17 miles at the Rhymer’s Stone, and that signalled the start of the hills. The first was by far the longest and steepest, with me walking most of it. Matthew lived up to his Carnethy DNA, and managed to run much of it - having been gapped, I didn’t regain touch with him for the rest of the race. The second hill was also quite steep, but much less of a total climb, and when I reached the summit I was pleased to look back and see that the following runner (on his own) had only just reached the top of the first. A decent enough lead.
|View from the top of the first Eildon|
|Matthew in the distance|
|Two and Three to come|
The last of the three was pretty benign and ordinarily eminently runnable. I had a wee walk though, crouching a little to hide myself from the BBC camera at the top, and then broke into a run (and sustained it) until I’d rounded the cairn and had descended safely back out of sight. Maybe cameras all along the course would encourage better performances?
The trail back down through the forest should have been very enjoyable after the slog, but there were worrying rumblings afoot in my stomach. Something deeply unpleasant was stirring.
On the approach to Bowden there was an arrow attached to a signpost. With the arrow slumped towards a gate and path off at 90 degrees left of the straight path that I was on. It took me a good minute or so to reason that there was a little hole at the top of the sign, which suggested that it must have had a drawing pin in it above the one that remained at the bottom. Therefore the sign was surely for straight on, rather than left?! I could really do without mental gymnastics like these!
I ploughed on and was delighted when a chap standing at a gate about 400 metres further on opened it for me and said well done. I tried to tell him about the sign, but he said “I’m not a marshal”, and pointed me towards a yellow-bibbed woman a little further on. Happy to be on the right track after all, I had a swig of flat coke at the timing station and shuffled on.
|(photo: Peter Dalgleish)|
By this point the sun was starting to come out, which put a bit more of a smile on my face (I think!). Although the recollection does become a little hazier from then on. The jog/walk strategy was becoming more and more skewed towards the walk, and I was having to focus a fair amount on “emissions management” to maximise my intestinal comfort.
I’d also begun the internal bargaining and mental arithmetic based upon the distance left to run and the pace necessary to deliver the desired sub-6. Not a good sign.
Another bad sign was the frequency with which I was looking over my shoulder. I reckoned I might be somewhere near 10th, but had visions of being swallowed up and then spat out the back of whatever the name for an ultra-peloton might be. Between St Boswells and Maxton I suddenly heard the thundering of feet behind and thought that the moment had come. Fortunately it was a single runner and, even better, he didn’t count because he was the first of the relay teams.
The 3rd checkpoint at Maxton was the next big target. I arrived in a little bit of a daze and elected to fill my empty bottle of generic supermarket sports drink with plain water to give my poor guts a rest. Johnny Fling was on hand to help pour.
After leaving Maxton, a look back on the tarmac revealed a chaser in pink – the first lady perhaps? No, as she passed me I saw that she was the final leg runner for the second relay team - phew!!!
The remainder of the race took on an erosive quality. I was telling myself that every step was a step closer to the finish, and the more that I could run rather than walk was time saved. But my lack of long distance training was really starting to tell. Ticking off the quarter miles was a grim business. I had to gee myself up by setting targets that I could see and try to run all the way to them without walking. Particularly on the slog back up over the hill on the roman road, with the seemingly endless succession of stiles and gates.
I did a bit of a double-take when I was passed again by the Pink Lady near the woods just prior to the shoogly bridge. I’m not sure how or where she’d gone wrong, but it had cost her a fair bit of time. I reassured her that she hadn’t lost any places though, which seemed to cheer her up a bit. She went on ahead again. But I found her again a few minutes later unsure about which path to take – she was concerned that she seemed to be going the wrong way along the river bank. Once more I reassured her that we needed to go that way to the bridge (before doubling back on the other bank), and pointed out that the path was extremely churned up from all of the traffic on the outward leg. It’s funny how the stress of a race situation (particularly when you are carrying the hopes of team-mates) can get to you like that.
There’s not much more to report. I managed to wallop my knee off the Armco barrier crossing the A698 near Bonjedward (too tired to lift my feet). But it was a real relief to get back onto tarmac. Although, just like in the half marathon, it always seems like a bloomin’ long way from the start of Jedburgh to the finish at the far end.
The finish was bathed in bright sunshine and Dougie V was on hand to help co-organiser Angela announce me as “Norman Williamson”. I think he is an Irish jockey – a horse would have been a boon on the second half. They swiftly corrected it, but I wasn’t caring anyway – I was just pleased to have finished in 5:46, a good bit under my target, on what was a difficult day at the office.
I was initially disappointed to be told that I was 12th (in my head I’d thought about 10th, but could well have lost track at checkpoints, or in the confusion of who was or was not a leader that had gone wrong), but then quickly realised that places don’t really matter much anyway unless you’re in the top 3! Matthew had had a great run – 8th and sub 5:30, continuing his recent good form demonstrated by his 5th at the Isle of Man mountain ultra. Poor Alan (from miles 7 to 10) had to withdraw injured after around 20 miles. Best of luck with the wee one when it arrives.
And I’m pleased to report that Dougie V is as nice as he seems – a top man! Although I was nowhere near the front of the race, I am hopeful of getting a little bit of time “oan the telly” when it eventually airs. I tried very hard to keep the gurning, bogey blasting, burping and farting to a minimum when the cameras were in the vicinity, so with any luck will not find myself consigned completely to the cutting room floor.
|Crappy picture of the Eildons on the way home|
A nice wee friendly race this, with great scenery – I might even come back and try it again.
Now to rest up for the Glen Ogle 33 in a fortnight…