On Saturday 17th September, scrambling together a team on the 12th hr, I took on a slightly different challenge…. Not just a 10k, not an individual race, not yet insane enough to take on a full Ultra BUT the ‘River Ayr Way Ultra Relay Race’ – covering leg 2 (14 miles / 23km) of a 3 man team.
My 100 x 10k challenge had enjoyed some variety and this was something a little bit different, to take on an event and run as a team getting a little closer to understand what an infamous long distance ‘Ultra’ is all about. So team ‘Purple Monkey Dishwashers’ (last minute thing, what can I say?) – including Stuart Ainslie (108), and Stuart Lampard (109) and myself (107), joined a few pals and familiar faces Alex (99), Marc (6) who were taking on the full gruelling 40Mile run along the meandering River from Glenbuck to Ayr.
To understand the beast of this 40Mile! run, see how much of a chunk it takes out of the country…
Preparing for a Relay
Approximately 110 runners lined up at Glenbuck. Stuart Ainslie was up first for team purple monkey dishwashers. Watching from the side and not the starting line itself was a strange feeling. It helped build the excitement. Part of me just wanted to run!
Thankfully Stuart Lampard was a local so we hopped in his car and headed down route stopping off at a few points along the way to cheer the runners through. Nerves started to build. I wanted to get started, although being in a team added a little pressure. The pack started fast. It was inspiring to see the pace considering the distance that lay ahead – 40 Miles! So was spotting the runners appear from across the horizon, approaching you through the meadows and over the hills, and then continue and disappear off as tiny specs against the stunning landscape. It helped to appreciate the full spectre and the mass amount of country side that the race actually covered.
Finally we drove to the village of Sorn and waited with a marshal and a few spectators. At the end of leg one a couple of individual runners were still ahead of the relay teams. This was fast!
Time to Race…
Our man Stuart A. had done a great job on the first 17 miles chipping away and keeping good pace. We tagged, signalling my entry into the race. The 1st relay team were all track-suited up in their running club gear and were up in 3rd place un-catchable in their speed, but I still had 25ish people ahead to close down on. Unsurprising, after all the anticipation to start, I headed off faster than I would have planned. Over the Sorn bridge and uphill into the forest. My biggest fear was getting lost. This is not a 10k road race littered with marshals, red&white tape and traffic cones. Almost instantly I started doubting my route. I filled my lungs with exhilaration and pegged it down hill and found the river, hopeful that out in this loneliness I might have the fresh legs to catch up on some folk and follow their lead. Only a few hundred meters in and I was already calling out to a dog walker “Did they run this way?” . Thankfully I got the nod and an all pleasing “Aye”.
A scenic winding path along the river allowed me to relax and get into a good pace. I was running sub 4min km’s, there was no way I could keep this up, but chasing the pack gave me energy and I felt alive! It reminded me of a 2012 reputation I built in china for catching the ‘hares’ in some randomly wild hash-harrier races out in the middle of China’s nowhere. I loved this kind of running!
After a short while I caught a couple of runners, who were just preparing to climb a stairway to heaven. It didn’t seem to end. At least I was on the right track. I had the fresh legs to overtake and plough forward, but again found myself on a long stretch of loneliness wondering was I heading in the right direction? It was, however, peaceful, tranquil, and stunningly beautiful with running water by your side, crossing bridges, rounding big oak trees, and undulating along forestry pathways.
A Ultra Relays Guilty Pleasure….
At a point I popped out into the open and felt the warm sun. I started to take a long road towards a possible farmhouse. Something caught the corner of my eye and I saw two runners dashing off back into the forest, heading in a different direction. I had missed my turning, that was lucky could have been worse. I headed back and followed route and soon caught them. I hoped they were part of the race?
Everyone I passed I found myself apologising profusely “Well done, keep going! I’m just a relay runner, your doing great!”. I felt pretty bad, it must be a mind-basher to see runners whizzing past you after all that slog!.
Crossing through the village of Catrine, Stuart L was kindly there to cheer me through, and I past the village square with a few other marshals. Seeing people was a delight. Heading back into the forest I passed another couple of runners and saluted their efforts. I crossed the river again hitting a steep climb that ran high above the river. It seemed to twist, turn and undulate forever and my sub 4min km’s had quickly turned to 4:30min plus. My legs were feeling heavy. But I continued to dig deep and pass runners, and apologise genuinely whilst also getting a guilty buzz from catching ground and moving forward. How many could I catch? I ran so fast down one hill that I couldn’t stop and had to improvise and hurdle the fence at the bottom. I ran so fast up to one cattle gate that I couldn’t stop and came off with a dead arm from shouldering the gate post.
The forest running, meadow ploughing, hill hopping, bridge skipping, route questioning, continued for some time. I wish I had more photos, it was glorious. At one point I popped over the brow of a small hill and BOOOOM there was a glorious all-powerful aqua duct running across my path ahead of me. My time slowed again when we hit farmers fields and narrow aisles that were deep in mud, before I popped out back onto tarmac and found myself a nice little sub 4min km.
A Johnny Brownlee Finish….
With a greater focus on 10k’s I hadn’t run or raced much around this distance, and to be fair I was running a very different race to the others, but for two thirds of the run I felt like I was flying. Having overtaken about 15-20 runners (albeit having all done a further 17 miles than me), I was happy with my performance.
Having mistakenly missed an opportunity to re-fuel at one of food/water stations, I hit a small ‘wall’ on the final km and my energy was depleted. A stich kicked in and a thigh tightened painfully. I dug deep but I was really running on empty. I need to try running with Gels. Inexperienced started to show. Then as the river disappeared away from me I was back to thinking I had taken the wrong route and it was not just my body but my mind that was giving up on me too! I rounded a small corner and was delighted to see Stuart L the tag point, and even better a food point! I tagged Stuart in, wobbling on my feet like Johnny Brownlee and spent the next 5 minutes scoffing everything I could (Protein bars, strawberries, haribo, water melon). I have never eaten so many white chocolate mice in all my life, but they went down a treat!
So, What did I learn?
Much earlier in the year I ran 25km and was almost sick. I swore to stick to 10k’s. However I have managed a half marathon 21km distance once a month as part of the #MMRun, and I am starting to enjoy them. I have two 1/2 marathon races coming up – The Great Scottish Run (Oct 2) and Manchester Half (Oct 16)… lets see how I get on!
As for Ultra’s, having seen what the runners put themselves through and after my own johnny brownlee finish I said I was glad to have done the relay because I know now to avoid the full thing. Typically two days after I was thinking, ‘um maybe I’ll give it a go’….
- RAW Ultra – is a quality run and superb event; well organised, well marked, well stocked for food and drink and a really supportive community atmosphere.
To my two purple monkey dishwashers, and everyone that helped make this story… Thanks deeply for such a superb experience!
Keep on moving, keep on trying something new!
MegaMeter Run (100 x 10ks in 2016) – Raising money for improved income, health and nutrition in rural Gambia: www.justgiving.com/megameterrun