Tuesday, 18 March 2014

D33 Race Report - failing to put theory into practice

This would be my 8th Ultra-marathon and with 20-20 hindsight it’s probably fair to say I've become a little bit complacent about running Ultra’s. I'm also aware that since one of my pet hates is runners who make statements like "just ran a 31 minute 10K, might as well have walked, think I'll jack it in" or statements in a similar vein, that I might be falling into this vein. So apologies in advance, but I was disappointed with my time on Saturday. 

Whilst my overall training mileage this year is pretty much on a par with last year, I’ve not religiously been sticking to long weekend back to backs and I've let my fueling and hydration disciplines slip a bit, but then I’m a bit of an old campaigner at this Ultra game, am I not? 
I’d even mentally planned a blog post about the weird fashions we Ultra runners wear, because I thought the race would be a formality, and avid readers wouldn't want to read me banging on about yet another PB, would they?

Wrong………………………..my complacency and lack of respect for this extreme hobby well and truly bit me on the arse last Saturday.

The D33 as its’ name suggests is a 33 mile out and back run on the route of the old Deeside railway line. It’s pretty simple, run 16.5 miles to Banchory turn round and run back, pretty straight and relatively flat, more of a long marathon rather than a “proper” ultra I heard myself saying more than once.
Now I admit that after last year’s complete focus on the WHW race, this year I’ve given myself a challenging mix of ultra’s and marathons, with not the best of gaps between them. I’ve got the Lochaber marathon in 3 weeks’ time, followed by The Highland Fling, then the Edinburgh Marathon (raising funds for Cancer Research UK); support running at the WHW race for Andy B; the Lakeland 50 and then the Berlin Marathon. So this would suggest I should have adopted a cautious measured approach to the D33? Wrong again.

The 9am start saw just over 300 runners toeing the start line, despite the 4 hour drive to Aberdeen the evening before and a broken night sleep, I was not in any way nervous. However I didn't feel particularly “up for it” and despite a pretty good 20 mile road training run 2 weeks previously (7:50 average on a pretty hilly route) I didn't feel particularly well trained for it either.
After a typical no nonsense briefing from Epic Shit Racings’ George Reid, we were off. Having started too far back in the field at the Devilla Trail race a couple of weeks ago I’d deliberately positioned myself closer to the front to avoid dodging slower runners for the first mile or two. My very loose race plan was to run faster than 8:30 minute miles and see how it went, so I was a little surprised when the first mile passed in 7:22, not to worry I slowed it down to 7:28 for the second mile, really eased off with a 7:47 (can you hear the sarcasm in my typing yet?), but I reckoned I was banking valuable seconds which meant I could really ease off later on, Oh really Keith!
Around 4 miles I found myself running with the lovely Noanie and we chatted and blethered for probably around 5 miles, every mile relentlessly registering 7 minutes something, was I
Still looking good about 5 miles in
worried?, no of course not, I’m a seasoned veteran at this game, I know what I’m doing!

To be fair I genuinely felt strong, felt I wasn't killing myself and was enjoying the company, so I kept up a good clip all the way to the halfway point. I was already entertaining thoughts of a massive PB (last year I was 4:41ish) especially as I reckoned I was on target to hit the turn at around 2:10, so lots of scope to slow down later.
Sadly I’m not one of these people who can run fast, drink and breathe at the same time, so logically I sacrificed the drinking, even blasting past the water stop at 8 miles without a backward glance. I duly hit the turn around, having run every mile quicker than 8 minutes, even managing to fart around for photos as I picked up my drop bag. I topped up my isotonic drink (hardly touched), shoveled in my trademark Ambrosia rice pudding (with strawberry jam), barely noticing my shaky hands, probably stationary for 2 minutes, then I was off, Noanie had hardly stopped here and went on to finish in a blistering 4:20:29 1st female Vet, well deserved.

Now on the return leg I managed to hold my pace to mile 20, then the wheels on my wagon started to wobble, I was a- feeling thirsty a b- really struggling to maintain the pace, but I knew
Farting around at the turn
I’d banked so much time over last year, that a PB was still nailed on, wasn't it, surely?
By the time I reached the water stop with 8 miles to go I wasn't in a happy place, I was starting to crave water, I couldn't stomach my isotonic and I probably wasn't thinking straight. The water stop is laid out with pre-poured cups of water and big 5 litre bottles for refilling from, so logically Ainslie grabs the only bottle on the table with a sports cap, squeezes the contents into my own bottle and pootles off. I remember feeling quite strong and I caught up with Keziah Higgins (who also went on to a great finish (7th lady in 4:35:53) and chatted briefly with her. 

I took a big swig from my refilled water bottle and relief, well actually no, whatever was in the bottle wasn't water, God knows what it was but it tasted truly awful, undrinkable and I eventually poured it out. I’m pretty sure it was really a bottle of pee, well I hope not!
So in summary so far, I've gone off far faster than planned, failed to drink enough, failed to refill with something I could actually drink and I’m starting to feel a bit rubbish. What more could possibly go wrong?

As I got to mile 27 I found out. I only had to maintain 10 minute miles to PB. But “Bugger, I’m starting to cramp up”. The last 6 miles were horrid, I could barely maintain a run, I was being passed by everyone (particularly depressing after last year’s strong finish), and I kept having to stop to stretch out and fend off full on cramp. Quads, calves, hamstrings and even bizarrely my left bicep all joined in the cramp party. My Garmin tells me I was stationary for a full 4 minutes at various points in the last 6 miles.

In true Ultra family fashion everyone that passed asked if I was OK, and if I needed anything, but as I cursed and swore and mired around in my dehydrated and cramp induced self-pity, I declined and just wanted to get it over with. With a mile to go I knew that I was way off beating my PB and I had neither the brass neck nor the power or ability to muster up my usual sprint finish, so I duly shuffled over the line in 4:47, 5 minutes slower than last year to receive my 3rd D33 medal, 76th out of an eventual 305 finishers. 

I necked 4 cups of water and then lay down on the tarmac, feeling crap and sick. I swore I’d never run the D33 again and told anyone who was in earshot that I felt worse today than after the 95 miles of the WHW race. A huge positive split 2:10 for the outward leg 2:37 for the return.
Thank the Lord it's nearly over

Now that the dust has settled and my legs don’t feel quite so sore I've had time to take stock and think about what went wrong, so here goes
  • I've never had a bad Ultra, the previous 7 had all gone exactly to plan or better, so when it all went tits up, it was new territory for me
  • I didn't treat the race or distance with the respect it deserves and it bit back
  • I lacked specific race oriented training, but the mix of marathons and Ultras I’m trying to achieve make this pretty much impossible for me
  • I just plain didn't drink enough, I could maybe have held a better pace in the second half, but not on 500ml of water for 33 miles, if I’m dehydrated my ability to run falls of a cliff
  • Cramp is a show stopper for me, and almost certainly caused by not drinking enough
  • Although my overall mileage is on par with last year, I’m almost certainly not as Ultra fit as I was last year
On the plus side Ann and I actually made it to the after party in Stonehaven, which was great, and 4:47 is still a pretty respectable time, and no-one died, it is after all only a hobby.

Congratulations to Epic Shit Racing’s George Reid and Karen Donaghue for organizing a superb event, thanks to all the marshals and helpers for making everything run smoothly and thanks to my fellow Ultra runners for your company, enthusiasm, concern and achievements.

To the bevvy of Ultra virgins, well done, be proud of what you have all achieved.

Despite swearing I’ll never run the bloody race again, I suspect I’ll probably be back next March to add to my medal collection.


  1. Well done, I've always thought you learn more from the races that don't go according to the plan, so still a good day out. :)

  2. Cracking read Keith, although I'd have much preferred a boring tome about how you blitzed your PB and felt fantastic at the end. Still, as JK said to me about my difficulties re-told during last year's WHW podcasts, everyone loves to listen to or read about other folks' problems. It's much more exciting. But your marathon split must have been about 3:30, which bodes well for Lochaber, with a bit more attention to detail ;-) Good luck for that.

  3. Interesting and honest post. As my old geography teacher used to say "Mistakes are fine as long as you learn from them"