Running had been ticking over comfortably for the second half of the summer but as we entered October my mojo for long runs at the weekend deserted me. This was compounded by Real Life catching me out and requiring me to alter my priorities and completely fail to manage my time effectively. I resigned myself to enjoying a lengthy taper (rather than calling it sheer laziness) and told myself I had plenty of miles in the legs already this year and that, combined with some common sense and experience should see me through the 38 flat-ish miles.
My sister lives in Gala and she seemed more than happy to put me up for the night and taxi me too and from the start. She works out at the Bowhill estate where they were hosting ghost walks in the estate for Halloween. This was a great way to spend the evening and not have to rethink drop bags.
Speaking of drop bags, this year I’ve been thinking about carrying less and being more conservative with nutrition. I opted for only two bags with the minimum gels or chews I would need and combined this with a single 500ml bottle. This would be sufficient to get me between checkpoints where I could drink water and coke available while still refilling my bottle. I maintain this plan is correct but my execution was poor on this occasion.
A crisp bright morning dawned with the unrivalled enthusiasm of Noanie and Angela, the race directors, and their hordes of volunteers. Seriously, during the race I was thinking I’ve not seen this many volunteers, helpers and marshals at a race before! Furthermore, I like the organisers lack of sugar coating, these ladies don’t mince their words!
I was midpack somewhere or towards the back and missed out on the compulsory warm up to the dulcet tones of the Village People. Next thing I knew there was a horn and we were off at a casual trot. I’d bumped into Tom and Mary, whom I knew vaguely from other runners. Tom and I had similar times at the DotH the past two years. He was far more experienced having run Jedburgh a few times before so I was happy to tuck in with him and chat away getting to know each other.
I had hoped to recce part of the route but that never happened. The best I could do was to memorise the split distances between checkpoints and work with my GPS. This was interesting in that the distances quoted between checkpoints were spot on but the terrain and lack of local knowledge meant that I had no idea I was approaching one until I was upon it.
The trails covering the first 25km were excellent; intriguing single track between fields, dense mature woodland, winding paths on the banks of the Tweed. To top it all, October is a prime time of year as with Autumn in full colour the route is covered in a crisp layer of red, yellow and brown leaves. We were blessed with fine weather and often over the course of the day had sunlight streaming through the trees.
Runners catch glimpses of the Eildon Hills, that give the race it’s “Three peaks” moniker, a few times as they approach them. Yet they never seemed imposing. That is until you begin their ascent. In true Scottish fashion a direct route is favoured. For me this was a bit of an enigma, how do you pace a race like this? You can’t run up the Eildons, you adopt a tried and tested hill running technique of placing the hands on the knees and pushing firmly with all your limbs while staring intently at the ground a foot in front of you. Nor can you preserve your effort and walk the hill to reduce your rapidly climbing heart rate. I hoped that the effort on the hills wouldn’t adversely affect me later but at the same time there was little I could do (or wanted to do about it). I could have taken the descents more cautiously as I feel my quads paid the price later on for some enthusiastic descending. As I said, this was a grand day for the race and we were lucky to enjoy such excellent views from not just one summit but three of them. It’s always a bonus to get a summit in!
Tom and I had been to-ing and fro-ing since perhaps the 20km mark. Towards the bottom of the Eildons he drifted away clearly hitting some form and riding a wave of easy running. Me, on the other hand, accepted that I wasn’t about to chase at this stage in the run.
Arriving in Bowden for the 3rd checkpoint we first had to negotiate the children’s play park. I kid you not, the course was taped, we could not stray from the route. Up and over the suspended bridge before tackling the climbing wall or ladder, over the rope bridge before finally being unceremoniously spat out the bottom of the slide. What a great way to remind us all not to take anything too seriously!
I made the mistake of not refilling my bottle here I had 10km to cover to the penultimate checkpoint at Maxton. I became cautious with the water I did have, I wasn’t going to die or anything but some fluids does help to digest food and the whole thing probably started to play on my mind a bit.
A couple of other runners came and I was feeling rather lonely on the return to Jedburgh. Recognising low points in ultras is key to getting through them. I talked rationally to myself, I was thirsty but I had some water with me, I hadn’t been eating as regularly as I should have but I had been eating and I had food with me. The low feelings would pass and I should instead focus on what a treat it was to be running these trails in this weather and to be healthy enough to do it. Wise words if you can manage to apply them.
I caught up with Tom before Maxton but there was no chat, I was still on a low and just focused on getting to the checkpoint and taking on some fluid. There was coke and water at all the checkpoints. A trick I realised was to mix the two drinks as it made the fizzy coke easier to get down. I collected my second drop bag at Maxton and took a moment to polish off a few cups. Some words of support from Gavin were very much appreciated, it’s nice to know folk out there are rooting for you and it’s not necessarily just you inside your own head.
I’d opted to try and run in my Trailroc 245’s. I fancied running in something a bit lighter, lower profile and nimble. I hoped that the softer nature of the trail surface would offset the relative lack of cushioning i would usually employ in long runs. They were as effective, i beleive, in the softer sections as any other shoes I saw. Comfortwise underfoot they were probably at their limit over this distance but other than than that a sensible experiment I thought.
Feeling slightly renewed I set off for the final 16km, I knew that if I kept my head down, kept working hard and played it smart I would finish respectably. My heart rate was rising slowly compared to my perceived effort. I put this down to general fatigue and dehydration and had to slow to a walk occasionally to bring it back down to something more sensible. The loneliness of the long distance runner still hadn’t departed which was a shame as it marred my experience of the return leg. Type II fun I told myself, the kind that isn’t at all fun at the time but that in retrospect is. I kept thinking I was hearing footsteps behind me but there was never a chasing runner in sight.
Having not run the race before I’d tentatively set myself a goal of 7 hours to beat and while I known for a while that was in the bag it was going to be interesting to see if 6h 30m could fall also. Arriving back at the outskirts of Jedburgh I saw that one last effort might give me a chance but the finish was on the other side of the town. I kept my head up and focused on my cadence and keeping the legs ticking over eventually reaching the grassy knoll. A wonderful welcome awaited at the finish line from my sister, supporters and the ever present race crew.
6 hours 24min s8sec… 30th
Thoughts for next time…
Have a nutrition plan and stick to it. I had plenty of food but was not eating as regularly as I could have been. Water and hydration in general should be included here, I missed an opportunity when I should’ve/could’ve filled my bottle. Perhaps it didn’t effect me physiologically too much but it made me worry about dehydration and I didn’t eat when I should have during that section.
Consider other options for dealing with lows. They will happen, accepting this makes them easier to deal with because you can also accept that you will come out the other side and enjoy some euphoria. Triage yourself, I was running comfortably, considering the distance, I wasn’t too dehydrated or under-fuelled, the sun was shining. Things could be worse. Disappointingly, on this occasion I never quite came out the other side but these things happen I suppose.
Smile. Folk love taking your photograph, some of them will make it onto social media, it’s a bonus if your smiling. I tried to smile for all the photies.
So there you go, Jedburgh 2016. A great route, fun trails, fantastic organisers and helpers and a great way to round things off for the year. Bravo!