Another week, another ultra. Not quite but starting to feel like it as I have Glen Ogle 33 coming up this weekend only 6 days after completing the Three Peaks Ultra in Jedburgh.
This race is new to the ultra marathon calendar although organising a race on the last weekend in October is not new to the race organisers as they put on the Jedburgh Running Festival every year which incorporates a Half Marathon and a 10k and this year for the first time an ultra marathon.
With the clocks changing at the weekend my biggest worry on race day morning was making sure I got up on time, so I had set 2 alarms just in case. Myself and Michael Novicki were getting a lift with Andy Johns and needed to be at Hermiston Gait car park by 6am. All went smoothly though and we got to Jedburgh by 7:15am, registered and sorted our kit out. Race was due to start at 8am. There was also a short race briefing (although long for ultra marathons) at 7:45. I wore my usual ultra running set up: Shorts, calf guards, trail shoes, t-shirt, gilet and arm warmers, plus cap and gloves. And for my kit I had my Salomon S-Lab pack. It was nippy in the morning – around 7 degrees with a bit of a breeze and some drops of rain. Perfect conditions really. The gloves came off soon enough.
My plan was to set of steady as I had done to great effect at River Ayrand then pick it up later on if I felt good.
Apart from a minor hiccup at the start where Michael, Caroline McKay and I were lining up at the wrong start line – we realised early enough – we were off at 8am. Andy looked like he was running the 10k and opened up a significant gap within the first few 100 metres. That was the last I saw of him until the end. No surprises there as he had won River Ayr a few weeks earlier. I settled in in 10th place. Can’t say I was taking it easy though. Pace was around 4:30 min per km. The early section of the course is fast though and takes in parts of the 10k/half marathon course which is on road. After we turned off that we were on trail and it became the ultra I was expecting. What I didn’t expect was the extent of mud we were to face. The worst part really was from km 5-12. By the time you had waded through some of it you had added significant extra weight to your feet. I was still rather surprised by the pace that I and others were doing as I came through 10k in 54 minutes. I was getting worried that this would come back to haunt me. At 50 min I had my first significant “walk break” to take on food and have a toilet stop. 4 runners passed me at that point and 14th would be the lowest point I would drift to during the race. When I got going again I settled in behind those runners catching up but not quite overtaking them by the time I hit my next walk break. This went on for a bit.
At 12km we hit a road section which was remarkably welcome (I am not really a fan of road section in ultras) after all the mud. At the end of this we came through Maxton where I was being briefly followed by a car as I was running down to Maxton church to turn off onto the trails again. Running past the church I realised that the cars had nothing to do with the event but people going to church on a Sunday morning. Us running past there all splattered in mud must have been a sight.
After a short series of planked walkways and wooden steps we had a lovely section to run along the River Tweed and after crossing the B6404 along the golf course which took us to St Boswells. By this time I had lost contact with the guys ahead of me by when I looked back I was suddenly pursued by a guy in white. While I walk up the ramp from the golf course he seemed to be getting closer but once I had turned off at the top of the ramp I never saw him again. Phantom runner?
A quick run down St Boswells High Street and then returned to the river bank. This section being muddier and with it being close to the river a bit of caution required in places to not fall in. It has to be said that there are not many sections where you have to walk because all of this is basically flat which in good conditions will make this a very fast course.
As is customary for me now I’d have my feed breaks every 25 minutes having something that would amount to approx. 80-100 calories and a quick drink and then return to run. I’d always walk through my feeds.
Most of the Three Peaks Ultra is an out and back route to Newton St Boswells from Jedburgh (approx. 24km each way) with a 12km loop from Newton St Bowells to take in the Eildon Hills (the Three Peaks).
Unusual for me I needed 2 toilet stops on the run and these were not just for a pee. Have to say I am not quite sure what was going on there as I am quite good at making sure my bowels are empty before a race (coffee is your friend here). So one stop each at the start and the end of the loop sorted things out and didn’t lose me too much time (2-3 minutes in total). No positions lost either. Sorry for being a bit graphic.
Off onto the loop I went which continued along the Tweed for a bit more. As we had a long straight bit of river to run along I suddenly saw the three runners that had passed me at my first feed break ahead of me. One of them seemed to be struggling as seemed to be walking more than running. As I got closer he suddenly was walking towards me. I thought he had packed it in. What a shame for him! Then he turned off the path away from the river. I looked up and realised that there was a way marker pointing us away – he had gone too far. The other two had turned back as well. I was very lucky here as I would have missed that turn too, concentrating too much on the footing in the mud.
We started our ascent away from the river and I rather quickly regained three places and based on my calculations was now in 11th. When we got to the A68 crossing the guy running in 10th approached the crossing from a completely different direction. He had gone even further off course. He stayed ahead of me a bit longer yet though. Although we all had our moment there of getting lost and that marker was slightly misplaced the marking in general for the event was fantastic. Some of the best I have seen in ultra running. Remarkably actually some runners got lost much later in the race where you were really only retracing your steps.
Before we started the ascent proper onto the Eildon Hills we had another mud delight to get through, then Rhymer’s Stone checkpoint and the lower part of the ascent was very muddy too. The Eildon’s are steep and as with the ascents on the Pentland Skyline only walkable. On the way up I passed the guy who I believed to be holding 10th place – Fraser Scott. He repassed me on the way down, we exchanged places again on the climb up the 2nd hill. The next time I saw him after that was at the finish line. The third of the Eildon hills is rather small and very runnable. The views from top of the first 2 though were stunning even on a day were the weather wasn’t perfect. We had a bit of wind on top but nothing unpleasant. When approaching the top of the 3rd hill I noticed I was closing in on another runner who had just started the descent off the 3rd hill. As is sometimes remarkable with ultra running, I wouldn’t see him again until 7km later when coming through St Boswells for the 2nd time.
The descent off the Eildons was nice. A mix of trails and land rover tracks followed by a long road sections into Newton St Boswells to then rejoin the route back to Jedburgh through St Boswells and Maxton. Coming through St Boswells the above mentioned runner in 9th place popped out of the local shop with a carton of fresh juice. I passed him briefly before slowing down for a feed break myself. I repassed him again going along the golf course and just before we crossed the B6404 again I caught and passed another runner. Based on my calculations I was now in 8th place. I had about 17km to go and the runner I just passed would be the last runner I would see until crossing the finish line. Ultra marathon runner is definitely a sport where you have to love running by yourself.
I turned off the river at Maxton (church had finished) ran strongly along the road section after Maxton (one of the supporters shouted that I only had 10k left; I thought that was a bit of an ambitious estimate as I knew it was closer to 15). I wasn’t looking forward to the approx. 8k after the road section as that was the most prolonged mud we had on the way out. Strangely though it didn’t seem as bad on the way back. I think I also learned a thing or 2 about running in the mud, as you do when you have run the best part of 60k in it.
I was running strongly through here and was trying to work out how close to 6 hours I would get, my pre race target. My energy levels faded a bit with 5k to go but a few jelly babies kept me going as well as a surprise cheer from three ladies in the final forest section. The mile markers were still out from the half marathon and 10k on the last bit of road back to the finish which although I had my Garmin on anyway gave you a good idea how far you still had left and a little boost too. I did run strongly up the last km and finished in 6:12 hrs to be immediately congratulated by Andy. To my surprise I’d finished in 5th (not 8th but then I couldn’t know what happened to others ahead of me – stopping of going off course) and only 4 minutes behind Andy. I only found out when the results came out that I was first male senior. The winner – Craig Cunningham finished in 5:34 hours. Michael had a tough day and crossed the line in just over 8 hours and Caroline McKay came third in the ladies race. Congratulations to everyone who raced.
The race for me really played out very similar to River Ayr even though it was a faster start but I settled soon enough and a mostly strong finish. I really enjoyed the course too and even though I am not a fan of tarmac the section were short enough to just break up the course from the relentless mud. In drier conditions the course is likely to be considerably faster. Congratulations to the race organisers on putting this event on, great marshalling and good course marking too.
Now for a very quick 6 day turnaround to get ready for Glen Ogle 33 this Saturday. Legs aren’t too bad but it will no doubt be a steady run on Saturday. Maybe!