2nd attempt at putting this race report together as I appear to have lost or not saved the first draft, so fingers crossed I don’t do the same again.

I have been in a lull in terms of writing my blog and my race reports but a couple of comments from fellow competitors referring to my blog have inspired me to get back into writing. Thanks guys. So expect race reports for the Two Breweries Race, Pentland Skyline, the early season XC races, the late season triathlon exploits and the NDW 100 coming your way shortly 😉

I’d always maintained that running ultras is easier than running a marathon or a half as the intensity is less. That is as it seems only the case if you don’t start chasing times.

2014 would be the 3rd running of the Jedburgh Ultra and my third participation in the event. I went into the event quietly confident of a good performance having felt pretty strong at the Pentland Skyline and the Two Breweries Hill Race 2 and 4 weeks earlier respectively. At the same time I had some injury worries having seen Nicky Smith about an Achilles issue so I had to play it by ear to a degree.

As is always the case, I’d only try and race myself as I can’t influence who turns up and looking down the start list it looked pretty unlikely to improve on position compared to the last 2 years. The race had both a stronger and bigger field which is a huge credit to the organisers and the reputation it is getting. It is one of a small selection of ultras in Scotland that are between 30 and 40 miles long and amongst those that I have done one of my favourite as the course is very varied with lots of single track along river banks and an old roman road and over the Eildon hills and a bit of tamac to mix it up a bit. I believe the time of the year helps too as the autumn colours make for a great atmosphere.

Food prep (I only ate the Jelly Babies and chocolate in the end)

Food prep (I only ate the Jelly Babies and chocolate in the end)

Last year I went for an extremely minimalist feeding approach which kind of worked but could definitely be improved on so this year I had a selection of Jelly Babies, dark chocolate, Austrian dry sausage and cheese and about 400ml of electrolyte drink on me. I had prepared 1 drop bag for CP 3 which contained a 300ml bottle of coke and a snickers.

I got a lift to the start with Tom and Mary Kiely. It was to be Mary’s first ultra and Tom’s 2nd attempt at this race. He had a great day at the Highland Fling earlier this year. Also in the car with us was Michael Nowicki who was hoping to finish the race this year after a mishap with the Tweed last year and my partner Fiona who would be marshalling at various points on the course.

Anyway let’s get to the race. Minimum target was to beat my 2013 time of 6 hours and 9 minutes. I was expecting conditions to be a bit trickier this year as we had a bit of rain. It was a windy, dry and sunny morning and the forecast was for it to stay this may which was perfect. Got off to my usual fast start although with more people ahead of me than usual it felt more sensible. Clocking around 4:30 min for the first km felt less sensible and the usual 50 min for the first 10k didn’t feel all that sensible either. One of the other runners had put up a pace calculator on the Facebook group which I was hoping to stick close to in order to finish around the 6 hour mark. This would mean getting into the first checkpoint at Maxton in around 95 min. I was there a bit quicker than that by about 2 min.

Running through Dere Street (photos courtesy of G. Somerville)

Running through Dere Street (photos courtesy of G. Somerville)

Running with Johnny just before going over the wobbly footbridge. (photos courtesy of G. Somerville)

Running with Johnny just before going over the wobbly footbridge. (photos courtesy of G. Somerville)

From the 2nd mile onwards I was chatting to a really nice chap called Johnny for a while who was from the Western Isles. It was his first ultra but and we were talking about pacing and road races. As we were heading through Dere Street I stopped for a toilet break though and let him go on. I passed him and a number of others at CP1 (Maxton) as I had no drop bag there and just whizzed through. I also had to keep one of the other runners on the right track who had already gone wrong twice (beats me how in that section). Johnny caught up with me again and after a bit more chat I let him go at his speed and fell into step with Mark, another ultra newbie but with quite a speed pedigree. We stuck together until we left the river tweed and I fell back at that point too realising that keeping up with Mark wasn’t doing me any favours. It actually felt as if I had used up all my energies for the entire 38 miles in the first 15 and I hadn’t even reached CP2 yet. I had eaten a few Jelly Babies and a bit of chocolate up until then. Plan was to refill liquids in CP2 if needed. Fiona was marshalling there and I was hoping to look good when going through there. No doubt I looked better than I felt, or something like that. There was no need to refill liquids as I’d hardly used any. Fiona was official time keeper so I waved her a brief hello and pushed on. It had taken me just under 2:30 hours to get to CP2 (Rhymers Stone) which even though I didn’t feel great was within the expected schedule. I was hoping powerwalking up the Eildon hills would give me a boost.

Just as I started my ascent I was caught by Steven Beattie who I had trained with a fair bit this year and also raced this event together last year. Amazingly we had basically met at the same spot during the race last year. We had a catch up going up the first and the 2nd Eildons. I was also putting in place some of the ultra hill running tips I was given by Andy Mouncey the other week. By the time we reached the 3rd Eildon I let Steven move on – he had beaten me last year and I was expecting the same result. Just as we were climbing the 3rd Eildon hill the clock showed 3 hours gone which was my cue to take on a couple of pro plus and a couple of paracetamol. As I’d mentioned above I had gone into this race with a bit of an injury and it was being a bit of a pain (excuse the pun) in the first half. Even without the pro plus and paracetamol I was in better spirits going over the Eildons. I felt I was ahead of my 2013 times and ahead of schedule. The descent was quick, involved keeping one of the other runners on the right track, whizzing through Bowden, pushing hard on the tarmac section, looking surprised when I suddenly saw Mark ahead of me, looking even more surprised when I couldn’t see him anymore on the next long straight and eventually grinding to a halt just as cramp hit me trying to run up a flight of steps not far from Newton St Boswells. Roly McRaw had been catching me at the point and as I was dragging my left leg up this flight of steps he passed me.

Having had cramp in both the 2 Breweries Race and the Pentland Skyline I was getting quite good at managing the situation and returned to running pretty swiftly just easing off a bit every time there was a bit of uphill. Luckily most of the climbing was done. I was gradually closing the gap on Roly again and we were soon heading for Maxton. I caught and repassed Roly around 1km out of Maxton.

Got into the Checkpoint (3) grabbed my bottle of coke and snickers from Norma who kindly handed me my drop bag, walked out of CP3 sipping a bit of coke and eating a couple of bites of the Snickers. I exchanged a few words with Nigel (Shekleton) who has improved his running a lot over the last year or so and it was great to see him so high up the field (even though I had just caught up with him) as he would get a huge PB. Nigel put quite an effort in straight out of CP3 and opened quite a gap. I didn’t expect to see him again. Roly left CP3 after me but he caught me before the end of the uphill tarmac section (roughly the first 2.5km after Maxton) and I thought he’d stay ahead of me from here too as he looked strong. I was pretty pleased with how I’d dealt with the tarmac section that day as it seems to be the make or break point of that course.

After we turned off the road and into the forest I had a couple of stops (sip of coke, toilet) which seemed to be all I needed to get my head in the right place and set for the attack on the final 12k and a possible sub 6 hour finish. I caught a couple of guys, then Roly was in sight again. I reeled him in with about 10k to go to comments of ‘shot of caffeine?’. I had already spotted Steven just ahead of him who was clearly struggling and passed him a few minutes later. I was feeling great although I was fully aware that a cramp could be imminent. Through the last forest which would take us to the bouncy footbridge. I caught Nigel half way through there trying to stretch out a cramping calf and swearing at a lack of signage. Moments later I was limping with some cramp whilst trying to put some time between me and Nigel. This was in vain as Nigel’s cramp was all but gone and he was sitting on my shoulder all the way from the bouncy footbridge to the road crossing over the A698.

Fiona and Carol were marshalling there and we were told off for a lack of professionalism for walking up the steps to the road. I guess we were the best of the rest therefore. 😉

4k to go (photo courtesy of Allan Porterfield)

We had 4km left (roughly – we didn’t really know at the time) and 20 min to make it in under 6 hours. So 5 min per km. Easy? After already having done 56km and trying to keep cramp at bay. Not easy! Nigel and I hadn’t said much but a short exchange of words passed: ‘Do you think we can get under 6?’ ‘not really, but’ ‘OK, let’s try’.

Nigel led out and opened a gap of 5 metres, then 10, then 15; we had another runner to overtake. Nigel passed him just as we entered the final trail section. I passed just as we exited. He mumbled something to me that I didn’t understand. We had entered Jedburgh and so the finish was very near. We still had 10 minutes left. This was doable, it was in the bag. Or was it? Several minutes passed and we finally crossed the Tweed after the petrol station. Only 5 minutes left. Can we get across town, all the way to the Abbey in 5 min. Should be doable. I know from previous years where they’d put the 400m to go mark for the half marathon/10k races. I knew we hadn’t got there yet. The gap to Nigel had stabilised in the meantime. We reached where I thought they normally put that 400m sign and had just under 2 min left. Erm, I should be able to run 400m in 2 min shouldn’t I? Well nearly. As we crossed the Tweed for the final time within sight of the old finish the clock struck 6 hours.

The old finish looked bare, a piece of grass, a few trees, no sound, just the river and traffic and I felt like shouting at someone ‘where is the finish!’ although I knew it was just around the corner where we had started 6 hours earlier. 2 min later I scrambled up the meanest hill ever and fell under the finish gantry less than 10 seconds behind Nigel.

Huge thanks to Nigel first of all for being a very useful carrot on the day and congratulations to him too on an incredible PB. I PBed by 7 min myself and am overall very pleased with the result. What I did leave out about our finish sprint was that most of that was into a fierce headwind too which didn’t help proceedings. Could I or we have gone under 6 hours? Definitely! I could point to the first half as being part of the problem (it may have made the 2nd easier) but there were two elements that didn’t help with the 2nd half – the headwind towards the end and from the moment I had that initial cramp it was in the back of my mind. I finished 12th overall which may be slightly misleading as a few people who had been ahead of me including the 2 lead women went the wrong way due to markers having being removed which is a shame.

Tom had a great race coming in around 20 min after I finished, Roly was about 4 min back and Steven 6. Mary completed her first ultra in a fantastic time of around 8 hours. Michael sadly had to retire but will be back to fight another day. It was great to see Fiona around at various spots and knowing most of the marshals is fun too.

As I said at the start, I love that course, it is well organised and at the same time simple. The only ultra and only one of a very small group of races that I have done 3 times or more. Speaks for the race as I tend to start exploring new stuff before long. Amazingly I had a new PB by 7 min but was significantly further behind the winner than last year thanks to Matt Williamson posting an incredible new course record of 5:01 hrs. Nice work Matt.

I did start with saying that ultras can hurt as much as road marathons when starting to chase a time. Trying to hunt down that 6 hour time was bloody hard work and left my calves in tatters for a number of days after the event. I was also struck down with a cold but it is unclear if that is from the exertion, because of the weakened immune system or a bit of everything. Mostly back to normal again now though. I’d still pick an ultra over a road marathon though.