"Does my bum look big in this?", I say as I run past a male runner around mile 38 of the RAW. Well no, actually I am lying, I didn't say that but these are the kind of thoughts that crossed my mind as I tried desperately to take my mind off my flagging pace. Probably just as well I didn't, as he might have replied, "Well, yes, I was just thinking that....". Next time I am just going to run up and tap the person in front of me on the shoulder and shout "tig"!
And so on we go to the RAW...
My day started well as I saw 2 beautiful barn owls sitting together on the fence as I drove away from home - these little moments enrich life so much. It almost made up for the congealing feeling I had in my stomach from a bowl of porridge that just hadn't gone down as well as expected. It was a typically autumnal day but I felt very cold at the start of the race and was wishing that I had brought a spare bag of clothes with me (take heed for the future un-iniated ones). After 2 hours driving I was still struggling with my stomach (not unusual as it has always followed it's own agenda which sadly isn't the same as the rest of my body). With the cold as well I seriously considered withdrawing but if I could just get moving then things might improve. I set off running like Forrest Gump, before the calipers fell off, and to be honest it didn't get much better for the whole 41 miles. Funny how some days are just like that.
The route was extremely pretty. I thought that I knew most of Scotland reasonably well and then to find somewhere completely new was wonderful. My regret here is that I didn't go out and buy a proper map and study it the way I normally do. I was a bit complacent and let Tim do all the work so we could just copy them off the website. It works to get you round but I feel that I missed out on the bigger picture about where I was and what was going on around about me and that's what makes the journey come alive for me. If I was an elite runner then it wouldn't bother me because it would all be a blur anyway but that's where we less able runners score points. An elite runner will suddenly think, "I think I just passed something yellow there" whereas we will have looked at it, recorded it's spec, phoned David Bellamy to help with classification and got the area declared a site of special scientific interest.... before we have even left it behind.
The route is undulating with no really tough hills to bite into the quads. I loved running alongside water flowing in the same direction as me- very therapeutic. The terrain seemed to repeat in sections and I would have a nanosecond of panic as I thought that I was repeating but then realise that it just looked similar. Some sections were quite closed in and I had to duck and dive a bit between overhanging branches and nettles/brambles. At one point I had the oddest sensation of skin tightening on left shin but when I looked all I could see were the little tell-tale nettle welts but couldn't feel any pain. It must have been the endorphins. Maybe that's why animals run off at high speed when they have been stung.
Other sections were full of ripe brambles and I caught runners stopping for an impromptu snack a few times. There were also loads of blackthorn bushes laiden with sloe berries. Time to get picking to get the sloe gin ready for Christmas! My hunter gatherer instincts are very strong and I notice these kind of things and find it hard not to respond to my gathering need!
Running across the farm land was very enjoyable and a relief on the tired limbs but the areas where there were tarmac roads were killers. I felt my shock absorbing ability had totally gone.I suspect if I had been a car going into a garage, they would have told the owner to forget it! I began to notice that I couldn't push off through my toes. The power just seemed to have vanished. I wasn't in pain but just lacked power. It was particularly bad going up hills and I ended up having to herring bone up like a ski-ier. I am still trying to recover after my protracted lay-off in May-July but had felt before the race that I was running a bit better. I decided to try and get to 20 miles and see how it went.
Whatever my difficulties were with the technicalities of running, the environment more than compensated. I came across a wee group kids sitting on a fence trying to sell the runners blackberries at 50p each. I told them I worked for the Inland Revenue Service, took £1 off them and carried on. A bit further on, on one of the shorter road sections a beautiful dog fox popped out right ahead of me. It hesitated on the road as if to say "Is that all you've got?" then ran off down the hill. I couldn't believe it when I got to the next field and it popped back out, going in the opposite direction. It hesitated again and I swear it was laughing at me... so I shot it.
One thing that is going to remain a mystery to me is the otter. I first had contact with otters at age 6 in our kitchen and my love for them has never wained. After living in the Shetland Islands for 15 years I became quite an expert at hearing and finding them so when I heard that familiar whistle my heart leapt. I stopped (it wasn't hard) and looked but the bushes at the side of the river were just too thick to see clearly but I am sure that there was one there somewhere. You will just have to take my word for it!
As ever with races we all talked along the way about getting lost but other than a couple of wee places, the signing was excellent as was the support at the checkpoints. I could have stocked up with Mars bars for the next year if I could have carried them! The checkpoints were really regular, about every 5-6 miles, which meant that we really didn't need to carry much, which adds to the freedom to enjoy the process of running.
This was only my fourth ultra but already I am getting to know the faces of those who are likely to be running around me and it was great to catch up and reminisce with those I had met at the Cateran, most of who were doing to RAW for the first time too. At the end of the race I noticed one of them, David Hetherington (I think) standing with his wife as I drove away. I believe he was waiting to see the last runners home which impressed me very much. I felt guilty that I wasn't doing the same but was nervous that I was getting cold again and still had the 2 hour drive home. Respect David and see you on the Fling! The fact that he was standing smoking a fag and swigging out of a can of some brew from the north east of England, obviously brought specially for the occasion, made the picture somewhat comical.
It was a bit disappointing to find the Citadel closed when I went to try and get a shower before driving home. Obviously slower runners aren't meant to sweat or need the loo!I threw on a hoodie, jumped into the car and headed for the first loo on the way out of Ayr. It happened to be at MacDonalds, right beside the racecourse which had just emptied out. I walked in to find everyone standing in 6 inch heels, foundation deeper than an inovate tread and dresses cut to thrill! You can just imagine their faces when one stinky, muddy, short-wearing woman hobbled in! I enjoyed every moment! Then it was back on the road. I was keen to get back home as at about mile 35, I had heard a text arrive on my mobile. I thought it was probably Ellen saying she was getting hypothermia and would have to go. I was wrong, it was my husband Terry and the text read "Murray has just slammed Chloe's finger in the door and we are at the Vale of Level (hospital)". Nothing like a reality check when you're running I say!My day finished off perfectly when I saw another 2 (the same?) barn owls sitting right together on the same stretch of road.
NB i)I didn't really take the money from the kids... or the blackberries!
ii)I didn't shoot the fox. I'm the saddo that lets the bluebottles out the window!
WHAT HAVE I LEARNED FROM THIS RUN?
1. Even though my fitness was down, I have recovered very quickly and with no blisters or muscle trauma so am pleased that my base level fitness is holding well
2.My flat feet were extremely annoying. Since my surgery I am only just returning to hill work and speed work. I know that there are those that don't believe it necessary for endurance running, but I find both hill work and speed work help my plyometric (bouncy) fitness and it is evident to me that I need to work more specifically on this. Maybe try some skipping and jumping drills.
3.I am happy with my hydration. I even managed to get my bottle in and out of the Last Drop sack with minimal problems this time and just added electolyte tablets once.
4.My main problem continues, and probably always will, to be my ability to eat. Although I carried food with me, I only ate 1/2 banana, 1 gel and 1 sachet of complan which I got away with but think my performance would be better if I can get this cracked. I am starting to think the only way forward is to work with liquids - complan and the like, but taking them more regularly.
5.I absolutely love the brain high I get the next day after these runs and wonder if anyone else feels the same. I think the massive oxygen boost to the brain must be the cause, but I always have these moments of intellectual/creative clarity just after ultras. One of my more frivolous closing thoughts in this vein is that no wonder women have such problems with obesity/body image when they are globally depicted as a triangle with a circle on top. Think I will need to try a Banksy-esk campaign to stencil over these signs with an image of Lara Croft!