My training over the past two months since the Ben Nevis race has been poor at best. I haven’t really run more than 10 miles for months, so taking on 38 miles of trails in an ultra in the Scottish Borders was a daunting prospect.
As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, my work life has been pretty busy recently so running has had to take a back seat for a while. Despite this, I was still keen to get to the start line of the Jedburgh 3 Peaks Ultra and enjoy the race. I’d never done this kind of distance before and had only seen 10 miles of the route in a previous race, so I didn’t really have any indication of what time to aim for. Looking at the previous runs of this race, under 7 hours seemed to be a very respectable time and anywhere around 6 hours and below was probably going to see you in the top 10% of the race.
Despite the crap training, I was feeling good about this race, putting aside the obvious nerves during the 24hours leading up to it. So far, without fail, at lunchtime the day before a race, everything that is inside my body decides it wants to exit and to do so as rapidly as possible! I do wonder if that feeling will ever get easier. That sensation aside, I went down to the race with my training buddy, Scott. We drove down the morning of the race which meant a very early start from Fife. We both mused about how bloody stupid we were on the way down as we followed a long snake of cars. At 6am on a Saturday morning we suspected that they could only be heading to the same place we were meaning we weren’t the only lunatics involved in this. Pre-race jitters were put aside for a moment as the lady in the car parked next to us went into a 20 second frenzy thinking she had left her waterproof at home, which was comical to watch as a bystander as she almost immediately spotted it right in front of her, but at the same time summed up how tense everyone is before a race
Pre-race briefing in the rugby club – my only photo of the day!
The race starts in Jedburgh and the local rugby club building was a hub of activity as we arrived to register. The BBC’s Adventure Show was recording the race and the camera crew and presenters were cornering unsuspecting folk to ask them questions pre-race. I really didn’t feel like being on screen given how nervous I was feeling so managed to dodge their advances. Their cameras were also dotted around the route later in the day, sneakily positioned to catch you as you came panting around a corner dripping in sweat looking like some beastie dying of a horrible disease. The show will apparently go out next year, so it will be interesting to see if I make an inglorious TV debut at some point, probably muttering and swearing to myself as I run past a camera.
The race is a fairly straight forward out and back route from Jedburgh to the outskirts of Melrose along river side trails. At the mid-point of the race are the 3 Eildon hills which give the race its name (and a dose of spice after 17 miles or so!). If I were to describe the race it is a bit like two half trail marathons back to back, with a Class AS hill race thrown into the middle to keep you on your toes.
I’d run the route around the hills in a trail race last March so knew this loop section. It is beautiful countryside around there and the views throughout the day really didn’t disappoint. The main challenge of the day was the conditions under foot. I think that given most of the trails are around the rivers of the area, the ground must get regularly saturated with water heading into them and that creates a pretty soggy path. Add to this natural problem 240 runners trampling twice through what are probably otherwise infrequently used paths, as they go out and back, and you can imagine the results.
I remember thinking about 20 miles into the race that I never wanted to see another muddy path again. My shoes after the race looked like a pair of mud slippers and my strongest memories of the race are of slipping about trying to get purchase on a few of the worst sections. The weather forecast for the day was horrible and in particular heavy rain was due to start at the same time of the race and finish, roughly as most of the field were crossing the finish line, so the outlook was bleak. As it turned out, we lucked out as other than a heavy squall that blew through about an hour into the race, we had clear skies and some sunshine.
One of my aims for the race was to try to keep a relatively steady pace. In the Ultraks race in August I’d done better than previously, but still wanted to improve. The distance suggested that I might be able to run almost all the race except the 3 hills, and I wanted to try to achieve that, and I did. I also wanted to get under 7 hours if possible.
From the start I managed to avoid the temptation of racing off at 5min\km and hung back with a more steady bunch of runners. I saw about 30 runners ahead of me race off (my buddy Scott included) and over the first 10 miles to the first CP a few more went ahead. Compared to other races, I didn’t let these runners passing me make a mental impact. In the past I’ve ended up pushing a bit harder as they come by, and inevitably that takes its toll later in the race. I remember thinking that I might see a few of them later if I played this right and I certainly did.
I kept my stops at the CP’s below a couple of minutes, just long enough to refill my water bottle and top it up with Tailwind which once again got me through the race perfectly. I used my Salomon running vest this time with soft flasks as my hand held bottle I used in the Great Glen ultra has been giving me pain in my shoulder from carrying it in the same hand for too long. I might try to go back to using a hand held some time in the future, but I’m getting better at limiting how much I carry when I use the vest, so I will probably stick to using that for the near term for races.
At different parts of the race I was convinced I was either way ahead of where I actually was in the field or way behind where I actually was. I’d lost track of how many people were ahead of me and I wasn’t paying attention at the checkpoints as to how many people managed to leapfrog me despite my quick pit stops. As it turns out, looking at the stats from the race, I was pretty much in the same position all the way through. I also seemed to manage to keep a relatively consistent pace with about a 20% drop off in the 2nd half.
After the first leg I felt good and so my focus then shifted to the second CP which I knew was at the base of the 3 hills. I knew the hills were going to be tough and, from my memory of last years race, that the second hill was worse than the first. The slog up the first felt horrible though on Saturday with 17 miles of running already in my legs, but as I got to the top I saw that people who were behind me had dropped away a bit so I felt like I’d done well. Coming down off the hills felt like a glorious release letting my legs go, only to run into what felt like a brick wall of a climb on the second hill. The third and smallest hill came and went without any problems and I knew then from studying the race profile that I had a few miles of down hill slope to enjoy.
Around parts of the course were boardwalks and wooden stairs to get around natural landscapes. On one of the stairs I caught a toe due to tired legs and tripped. The fall only dented my ego thankfully, but as I tried to get up my right hamstring cramped up. It was the first time I’d ever had cramp in a race and it felt like a bastard. I stopped for a minute to have a stretch as a couple of guys around me checked if I was ok. One of them encouraged me to keep moving and run it off and I glad I did. Thank you, whoever you were, for the encouragement.
We found ourselves back on the outward route not long after the hills and I knew that CP3 was the same place as CP1 was, just in reverse. I remember my mind playing tricks on me telling me that the CP was just around a corner or just up ahead half a dozen times. It wasn’t. This dented my progress a bit as I have worked out that when I know where I am and how far I have to go I can deal with things. When I feel out of touch of where I am that’s when fatigue sets in and this certainly happened on Saturday. I was running with a group of about 3 or 4 guys and we were all keeping pace. But as the miles rolled on and no CP was in sight I started to flag.
At the CP I refulled and headed straight out. As I left, so did most of the folk who were running around me so I felt spurred on to keep going. I knew there was 10 miles to the finish from that point and also that I’d done it in 1h 30m on the way out. My legs were obviously heavier by now so I reckoned it might end p taking me 2hrs to get back to the finish. I’d hit the CP at 4h 58m so if I wanted to be sure to be under 7hrs, I had to keep moving to make it.
A big chunk of the ten miles that make the first\last part of the course follow the route of a Roman Road through some fields. On a map it looks like a straight path along a single contour line but in reality it is a weaving trail which goes up and down over rolling terrain. Added to this were what seemed like a hundred styles to clamber over. Eventually, the path hits some trees and aims to cross the river before heading back into Jedburgh. About 4 miles out I felt fatigued and after yet another style crossing, I let the guys around me pull away quite a bit. Within seconds I was furious for feeling so bloody sorry for myself that I slowed down in the first place, so I took a gel I had in a pocket and kicked myself up the bahooky and set off again.
I started to get a second wind from the gel and managed to up the pace. About 3 miles from the finish I pushed a bit harder and before long I had the guys who’d passed me back in sight. This spurred me on and in the last mile on the road into the finish at Jedburgh I pushed a bit harder still and managed to pass all of the guys who’d been around me as well as a couple of guys who were struggling to push to the finish. I think I was more spurred on at this point by the thought of a beer at the finish than any idea of finishing strongly!
In the end I crossed the line in 6h and 51m. I was very pleased with this and in general with my overall run in the race. I need to work on not letting things like CP’s being further than I hoped getting me down mid race, but I think that is related to my stamina and endurance which was probably pretty low given the low grade of training I’ve had recently. Link to the Strava activity here.
As races go, this one was great. A good honest ultra run by runners with everything you need. A nice medal and T-shirt to take home and food and drink at the finish. The marshals were all fantastic and cheery, I even got a water bottle filled by Johnny Fling himself, which if I hadn’t been a jabbering wreck by that point I might have swooned at. Looking back I really enjoyed the whole day and would do it again some time. The distance felt great and enough of a challenge without leaving you limping for weeks afterwards and the route was beautiful. I also met some new running friends, which seems to be the norm for every race, so all in all it was a grand day out.
That’s it for races now for me this year. I was entered into Glen Ogle 33 in two weeks time but work commitments mean I have to miss it. Now it’s going to be a long winter of training for next year and working on some areas I need to focus on to start competing in these races.