Monday, 26 September 2011

River Ayr Way 41mile Ultramarathon 2011

September has been a busy month, race wise, and I had been on a high since the Speyside Way Ultra and then setting a new 10K PB for the second time in consecutive months. So I had been feeling positive and confident about continuing this into the RAW, the last, sadly of this years Scottish Ultra Marathon Series (SUMS).
I arrived at Ayr College around 7am and wasn't sure if I was in the right place. I saw a group of guys standing in running gear in a nearly empty car park. I pulled in and asked if they were here for the ultra race. 'No mate , we only run 5K', was the answer. Now maybe I was still tired or was suffering from 'gulliblitis', so thinking I was in the wrong place drove off to look for the start. As I crossed the river, it dawned on me 'wait a minute, are these guys taking the pith?' Damn right they were!! Robert Soutar, your card has been marked!! (well done by the way on a great time and your SUMS award). I drove back muttering to myself, the shame of it. Cursing, I got out the car and sheepishly walked over to them. Oh haha, you had me there guys. Once the mickey taking had ceased, I registered and got my race number. I had a chat with my tormentor, the aforemention Mr. Soutar, about todays race and the SUMS events. I met and said hi to Victoria O'Reilly, Victoria Shanks, Dave Morrow and Donald Sanderman amongst others. Whilst I was sorting out my running pack I saw Ray McCurdy and Grant Jeans and spent around 15 minutes talking about last years race here. It was the first time I had met Grant and found him very articulate and he clearly loves his running and successfully defended his SUMS title this year, so a huge well done. Not before too long most of the runners were here and soon we were on the buses to take us to the start at Glenbuck. I spoke to Victoria O' and her friend Julie Taylor. I also think I said hello to Paul Giblin at some point here, if it was you Paul, sorry I didn't chat I wasn't sure if it was you!
The RAW Challenge  has two events. One for us runners, who do the route in one go, and another for walkers, which is spread over two days. Both start at the same time.
Around 9.20am we were off. The RAW follows a very scenic route and is on a variety of surfaces which became 'entertaining' at points along the way. ( I should have written this immediately after the race, as i've already forgotten the names of some people and where and when I ran with them so I apologise if i haven't mentioned you by name! ).
The first few miles were along a gently undulating track and the only problems I had were the odd slip on the slippy wooden boardwalk, but I enjoyed this stretch to the first 'watering' point. At this point a crowd had gathered including Race Director Lee McLean and Karin McKendrick (who was here watching for Bill, who I didn't see until he passed me at CP3, 18 miles into the race). I didn't stop here as I had plenty of fluids to last me for a while. It had been pretty overcast at the carpark at Ayr College so I had put my waterproof jacket in my waistpack, but by the time we started it had cleared up and became very warm throughout the day. This event had 6 official checkpoints along the route, but also had several other smaller water stations positioned at various points. It also offered a drop bag system at the official checkpoints. I used CP3 and CP5 to leave a small bag (A can of Starbucks coffee, flapjack, fruit/custard pot and SIS energy bar). The 6 checkpoints also had energy drinks and chocolate on offer.
Soon after the route leaves the solid track it deteriorates into a boggy, muddy path for long sections, which were in some bits shin deep. So my feet got soaking wet pretty early on, which caused me problems towards the end. I spent the majority of the day either running in front, with or just behind the same 5 or 6 runners, continually swapping places as we ran along. This continued up to somewhere between CP5 and 6. By the time I had reached half marathon distance I had taken around 2 hours 10 minutes, which was within my target time of finishing in 7.5 hours. When I reached Sorn and CP3, about 18 miles, I still felt good and still within my time target. I met Karen Robertson here who was helping out today with supporting and route directing. Later on (around 10 miles to go), when I passed her at a road junction, I took the wrong path, but luckily she saw where I had gone and gave me a whistle to redirect me. Cheers Karen.
So after about 6 - 7 minutes at CP3 I was off again. It was somewhere along this next section that I had the first of a couple of falls today. On one muddy bit I had tried to tip toe around a huge deep puddle and ended up getting tripped up in the bushes. Rather than suffer from a faceplant into the mud as I fell I grabbed onto the wire fence. It was barbed wire. So I ended up with several puncture wounds in my hands and a three inch cut on my right arm. Luckily no one was around to hear my girly yelp. The next muddy bit I came across I decided to take at speed. Using the theory of 'if I run fast enough maybe i'll float across it!'. That didn't happen. All I ended up doing was creating a Titantic sized bow wave as I thundered through it and covered my legs and shorts in mud. Although it smelled like something else. At points along the route the grass and weeds were shoulder height and the nettles seemed to find every piece of exposed skin. Further along when I had slowed to walk a bit to take a drink Victoria Shanks, Dave Morrow and Dave Waterman caught up with me. We had a quick wee chat as we walked up a short hill through a double gate and then ran on to the next water station together. After a quick refill here it was onto a short road section until the next official checkpoint. I ran on ahead of them here and didn't see them again until they passed me at CP5 (where I was begining to come undone). Between CP4 and 5 I had managed a sustained burst of energy and ran for a bit with Julie Taylor and another female runner (who said she runs in Kuwait!!, maybe she was an air stewardess?) . It had said on the route description the course was pretty flat, which turned out to be a load of mince, especially the last ten miles or so, with continual short steep climbs coming at us. So while I was having a can of coffee at CP5, Victoria, Dave and Dave caught up and passed after a much shorter break than I had here. I was content to take my time to try and have something to eat before moving on. Then Ada Stewart arrived here also. We left CP5 at the same time and for a short bit I ran on ahead, but Ada soon caught and then passed me as we were leaving one of the villages on the route further up. (Victoria, Dave, Dave and Ada all finished about 10 - 15 minutes in front of me, well done to all). So, it was after CP5 that things began to go wrong for me. I had been on my target times all day up until here.  A combination of previous race milage catching up with me and subsequent inadequate recovery, the heat today, not eating enough, a couple of stupid falls, going the wrong way a couple of times and now my feet falling apart had contributed to me drastically slowing down (i think that should be enough excuses for now!!). I was annoyed with myself as I still had the enthusiasm and drive to push on but could feel my feet disintergrating in my shoes. A couple of runners I had passed in the early miles then passed me and they looked reasonably fresh which was a bit annoying to say the least. I then passed the junction Karen R was directing at and there were still around 10 miles to go. I can remember grumbling something incoherent as I ran past here, sorry Karen but I was beginning to come apart which may have been why i didnt listen to your directions on which way to go. You said go right at the junction coming up. I turned left!!
If I had been able to put on dry shoes and socks I would have been ok over the last section, but as it was I sloshed on. I managed to pass another runner further up who had cramp and was stretching it off. I then took another wrong turn at the river side because I had been too busy watching my feet and hadn't seen the blue arrow pointing up a brutal climb. But after a minute something told me this wasn't right and i doubled back to find the arrow and the hill. I eventually came to a tarmac section which was murder on my feet and ended up walking more than running. For a while on this road I thought I had gone the wrong way again, but I knew at some point we had to go under the dual carraigeway and I could hear the traffic ahead so guessed I was at least heading the correct way. I turned onto the pavement alongside the carraigeway and met a female runner wearing number 1, who was standing trying to figure out where to go. I suggested to keep running alongside the road and look out for a turning to take us under the road. Soon enough an underpass appeared. Once under it we weren't sure where to go but asked a local jogger if he had passed some runners. He pointed us in the right direction. I ran on, 2 miles to go.
Along the riverbank, over a bridge, on to a shale path and the College was in sight. In front of me I saw a tree with two white arrows which I had thought was the right way. Lost again!! I ended up coming into the running track on the wrong side and had to do a full lap in order to finish. As I ran round the lap two other runners passed me, one challenging me to a sprint. I politely declined. Done. And my feet were too. Dave Waterman greeted me as I crossed the line. Got my goody bag. I can remember shaking my head in disappointment and frustration at the way the last section had gone. 8 hours and 24 minutes (TBC). Nearly an hour over my target time. I'll have to toughen up my feet as all too often this year that's whats let me down in the last stages of some races this year. It was a great day despite this and was a very well organised and run event. Well done to Lee, Anneke and all the teams at the many checkpoints along the way, great job and all the encouragement was much appreciated today. It was good to see so many familar faces and have a laugh with you (at my expense!!) and meet some others for the first time.
I'll do a Blog next week to 'sum up' the SUMS races i've run this year. My next race, probably the last this year will be the Baxter River Ness 10K (didn't get a place in Aviemore Half, which i'm annoyed at as its now only places for their charity runners.) and then it's a wee rest before starting the training to do it all over again next year. Bring it on!!


  1. Well done Colin.. You need to soften up your feet!! Plenty vasaline rubbed in & left on overnight. Then plenty bodyglide on race days. Sometimes I need to plaster my wee toes cos if my feet get wet they are the first to rub raw!!

  2. Colin did you celebrate with a curry mate?

  3. Hey Colin you did great! Truly Magnificent! Roll on next year's SUMS. Maybe see you again at the Glen thingy race in November!!
    PS the girl who was with me was Julie Taylor.

    Victoria O

  4. Colin, well done on your finish.

    I should point out though that I'm nt the RD for this one, I just moderate the FB page ;)

    cheers, Lee

  5. Hi Colin, you finished just ahead of me. I was slow but then I expected to be. Of course knowing the course makes navigation easy for me but another problem that I *didn't* have was any issues with my feet, despite my lack of training miles. No blisters, no tenderness or pains whilst running.
    I put this down to the generous slathering of vaseline before I put my socks on and to wearing comfy road shoes, not trail shoes. Now I'll be honest and say that more grip would have been nice at points but I'm not honestly sure whether trail shoes would have helped in those conditions.
    What I do know is that painful feet can turn an ultra race into a miserable experience and any gains in grip achieved by wearing trail shoes have to be offset by the increased risk of sore feet.
    Some people seem to cope fine in ultras in trail shoes but I don't. Maybe you should try road shoes next time?

  6. You seem to alternate between triumph (Speyside Way; recent 10k) and (almost) disaster (RAW), Colin. Not much middle ground.

    I think it is fair to say that one can't clock up a PB on every outing. Even if you do so for a while , eventually the run (oops, sorry) of PBs is going to come to an end.

    So it is a good idea to savour the PBs and other "good" outings / races; and use the not-so-good / disastrous outing / races as experiences to learn from. You should analyse what went "right" @ Speyside Way, and that 10k; and what went "wrong" at RAW. So in future you can learn both from the good races, and from the bad races. It may not turn you into a 2:03 marathon runner, but it should hopefully enable you to avoid some of the bigger pitfalls 'n nasties.

    I almost get the impression that you race so regularly that you go straight from one race to the next without going through a suitable kind of post-race analysis in between times, from which I think you could benefit. Please don't take this as any criticism, just my observation; and I may be totally wrong.

    Something to think about anyway!

    Murdo t M

  7. Good to meet you Colin. As an experiment I ran this one in road shoes (after numerous black toes in the trail shoes!) and found the extra cushioning to be a bit of a bonus. I used Inov-8 gaiters with them which helped keep the muck out.