The D33, an out-and-back course from Duthie Park in Aberdeen to Banchory, along the Deeside Way, and back, was an obvious first ultra choice for me, what with it going more or less past my front door. And while 33 miles is still a terrifying distance, it isn't *as* terrifying as some of the longer ones... Knowing the terrain really well also felt like an advantage, though it might not be for everybody, but I guess I just like the reassurance of knowing what's ahead... It's a pretty flat route, a few undulations but nothing drastic at all, mostly on trail or quiet country roads.
I really wasn't worried about time, my aim was just to complete the distance, 7 miles further than I have ever run before. Preferably without dying at the end. I was hoping to enjoy it, but secretly I wondered how realistic that would be... I fully expected to be suffering a fair bit towards the end. I did have a notional target of 6:30:00, which I thought should be achievable, but I wasn't going to worry too much if I missed it. My plan was to mentally break the distance down into 8-and-a-bit mile sections (i.e. between checkpoints) and not think about the total distance any more than I could help!
As D(33)-Day approached the nerves were building, and by Saturday morning I was just about ready to explode. I was excited, looking forward to giving it a go and to seeing everyone who would be there, but also wondering what on earth I had taken on and whether I would be capable of seeing it through. The morning dawned blue and cloudless, which was not entirely good news as I was worried it would get too hot and I don't do well in the heat! Still, there was no point worrying about that. I ate some porridge, refrained from my usual cup of tea (just in case it might be implicated in the stomach/bladder problems I've had on previous long runs), filled my Camelbak, gathered together all the necessaries and headed off to the Duthie Park for the back of 8 (9am race start). There were loads of people there already and the atmosphere was brilliant. Said hello to all the people I knew (runners and volunteers and supporters), jumped around excitedly for a bit, went to the loo, and before I knew it we were lining up for the start... a race briefing from the RD, George (most of which I couldn't hear as I had made my way to my rightful place at the back), and we were off....
I had my strategy in place - run 25 minutes walk 5 minutes, eat every 45 minutes whether I felt like it or not (I knew this would be important, as in retrospect I have been woefully underfuelled in the past and suffered accordingly), and most of all DON'T RUN TOO FAST AT THE START. Of course it's hard not to as adrenaline takes over and you can be running faster than intended without realising it, but I was determined to keep my pace down and I did, quickly settling into a position near the back as the runners poured out of the park and onto the old railway line where most of the race would take place. I chatted to a few people, including a lady in a yellow top who was just doing half due to foot problems. She went on ahead when I slowed for the first of my planned walk breaks, and a bit further along I noticed a grey pouch lying in the middle of the path, which I was sure I had last seen attached to the lady in the yellow top. So I picked it up and carried it along with me for the next couple of miles until I finally gradually caught her up! Although it was getting a bit warm, I was feeling very comfortable (as one should be in the first few miles of an ultra!), sticking to my plan and keeping my running pace down to around 10:30. I look to be running fast in this picture at about 6 miles in, but I really wasn't!
It was lovely running along the familiar path in such beautiful weather. As it was such a nice day there were quite a few passers-by around, at least in the more populated areas, and quite a few smiled and clapped and said well done, while others looked understandably alarmed at all these dangerous lunatics who had invaded their quiet Saturday morning stroll!
The first 10 miles or so were very comfortable, and the Fetchpoint and quarter-way checkpoint were a huge encouragement, but by 13 I was feeling my legs slightly and it suddenly seemed like a long way to the halfway point! (I tried not to think about the fact that I had 20 miles in total left to run.) Not helped by running out of water! (the downside of the Camelbak - I had no idea how much I had left until suddenly there was no more.) However I got a huge boost when first a trickle and then a flood of runners started coming the other way, on their return leg. I loved seeing all the faster people coming past, and most had a smile and a friendly word. I really enjoyed this aspect of the race, although I was still very happy to see the beautiful halfway point (16.5 miles) and its lovely volunteers appearing mirage-like in front of me!
The halfway point gave me the welcome opportunity to replenish water supplies, eat a jam buttie, babble on deliriously and drop my Nuun tablets all over the ground (I may not have been entirely compos mentis at this point). Then it was back on the road for the homeward leg, always an important moment for me psychologically, knowing I have less distance to run than I have run already and every step is bringing me nearer to the finish. Nevertheless I think this was the toughest section of the race for me, retracing my steps along the route I had just traversed, and it seemed like a very long way to the next aid station at 25 miles. I was running very much on my own for most of this, with nobody in sight in front or behind me. However I had my Talk Ultra podcasts to keep me company and I really don't mind running on my own - I just go off into my own little world! I managed to keep going reasonably well, stuck more or less to my 25/5 run/walk strategy, and even passed a couple of people. I knew the longish "hill" (not much of one, more of a slight uphill gradient, but it felt like one) not long before the three-quarter point would be tough, and it was, but not as bad as I thought. I was also cheered up by the elderly couple walking the other way who encouraged me that "there's a fine wee tuck-shop when you get to the top!". "I know, I'm looking forward to it!" And I was indeed very glad to reach the fine wee tuck-shop a.k.a. the three-quarter point with its lovely helpful volunteers (you know who you are ;-)) who were taking time off from chatting up men and photographing everything in sight to help me refill my Camelbak and feed me biscuits and generally be helpful and supportive. After that it wasn't too far to the road crossing and Fetchpoint - also a very welcome sight, not least because it meant I was really onto my home stretch, the 6 miles I have run so many times before, and I could start thinking I was probably, definitely going to finish...
I was so relieved not to suffer the stomach problems which have plagued me on other long runs from about 20 miles onwards, as this was the main thing I was dreading happening. I think proper fuelling and hydration, as opposed to my usual hit-or-miss approach, definitely helped. I had a strategy planned of taking Shot Bloks/gels every 45 minutes whether I wanted them or not (and I never do) and I was determined to stick to it, and did. I also kept well hydrated thanks to the Camelbak, even if I did run out three miles before the halfway point! I think these factors really helped me to feel much happier and more comfortable than I would have done otherwise, as although I was certainly feeling tired towards the end, I didn't feel any tireder than I would normally feel on a much shorter long run, and managed to keep running most of the time.
With about 2 miles to go, two people on bikes appeared on the horizon and lo and behold, it was Maz and Erin, who I was very happy to see :-) Maz then gave me a bike escort to the finish, which was brilliant and really helped me to keep running for the last 2 miles, as if left to my own devices I probably would have walked a lot of it. I felt like I was running reasonably fast but whenever I looked at my Garmin it was around 11:45 pace! The perceived effort was definitely higher... Not least due to the effort of not colliding with all the people who were out on the path enjoying the sunshine...
As we got near the park we saw a group of 3 brightly dressed runners up ahead and Maz suggested I could possibly pass them :-) I said no way, then thought ah, what the hell, let's go for it, and managed to increase my speed enough to get by. Then we were in the park and I was weaving through the Saturday-afternoon families and children and suddenly I was sprinting (felt like it anyway - probably wasn't!) to the finish line and people were cheering, and my family and friends were there, and George in another epic t-shirt was giving me a hug and a medal and a goody bag, and there were hugs all round and it makes me smile and cry a little bit just thinking about it :-)
All in all I just totally LOVED this race. Yes I had to dig deep a few times, but overall it was not as hard as I thought it would be (as shanksi later, and correctly, pointed out, this clearly meant I wasn't working hard enough :P). But I enjoyed it loads. And hell, I've got to give myself an achievable target for next time - right?!
All the very important statistics:
Total time: 6:24:25
Fastest mile: 10:07
Slowest mile: 16:12 (included five minutes faffing about at aid station)
Total time spent faffing about at aid stations: 15 minutes (approx)
Shot Bloks - 15 (in batches of 3)
Horrible tasting gels - 2
Jelly beans - several
Custard creams - 1
Jam sandwiches - 1
Hula Hoops - half a packet
Nuun-enhanced water - lots
Flat Coke - a bit
Al fresco toilet stops: 2 (not bad)
Small flying beasties launching themselves into my eyes/nose/mouth: lots
Small flying beasties actually swallowed: several
Excellent medals and goody bags: 1
Feelgood factor: Priceless!