Thursday, 29 September 2011

To SUM(S) up

Well the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series (SUMS) for 2011 is over. And we have 5 and a half months to wait until we do it all over again. I'm sad it's done for now and that I probably won't see most of those i've met and got to know this year until mid March next yearfor the D33. I've written reports throughtout the year for each of the SUMS races i've participated in, but I thought a wee summary report was called for to tie up any loose ends and for me to reflect on what were some fantastic events. I've taken away different 'experiences' from each race and unfortunately not all have been good ones. But I suppose thats part and parcel of the learning curve and hopefully will help me improve and better prepare for doing it all again in 2012.
Of the 9 races in the SUMS I participated in 8 of them and finished 7, which wasn't really my original plan. I'm proud of myself for having achieved more than I set out to do this year, as truth be told I had my doubts about finishing a few of them, whilst I was running in them. When I opened my big mouth in January, stating my intentions for this year, I thought maybe I had bitten off more than i could chew. I've never taken part in these events for the 'glory' or for prizes as i know it's something I'm not capable of doing and I suppose that realism is what makes me run just to get to the end and cross the line and say 'I did it'. I've been critisised for doing so many races, but thats been from those who run for glory and finishing positions and maybe they didn't understand my reasons for doing so many. Each to their own.
I've said it all too often, so once more won't do any harm, for me 'Satisfaction is in the Acomplishment of Completion' and i'll continue to believe in this to get me to the end of each event. Since I started running Ultra Marathon events i've now run in 11 and managed to finish 10 of these (at the time of writing this I 'm also planning on my 12th, the GO33 this year) and will be continuing this next year , hoping to push myself further by trying to get a starting place in the much coveted 'West Highland Way Race', which for many runners is seen as the ultimate distance and endurance event to take part in and i would love to be part of it.
I think to pick an outright favourite event from the SUMS would probably be a bit unfair as they have all had aspects that i've enjoyed and others I haven't. Some of these aspects have been down to my own attitude, approach and preparation to each event.  Some experiences were down to the event management and organisation on the day. And others came down to factors including the route, terrain and weather. Each Race Director (RD) brought their own 'personality' and flair to bear at each event, which reflected on the experience I had at each race. I knew some of the the RD's at some events so maybe I was a bit bias at how I felt some went compared to others I wasn't familar with. I tried not to have preconcieved expectations about each event, having heard stories from runners who had run some of these events I hadn't in previous years. In fact each event was very well organised and run. I think the most important thing that made these events a success was that the RD's at each one were all runners themselves so they knew what runners would want. Some felt like family gatherings, having restricted entry numbers and everyone knowing one another, having a kind of an informal feeling. Others had a more 'clinical' by the numbers kind of feel, where a massive number of people would be running, but well run nonetheless. I had my share of disappointments in some events this year, but I would like to think they were well outshadowed by the positives and achievements I gained. In some races I really struggled, physically and mentally. And in others I surprised myself, running better than I thought. I call it the 'Packet of Revels Theory', some left a bitter taste and others tasted very morish!!!
In January 2011 I had laid out my plans to run and hopefully finish 7 of the 9 SUMS races. The two exceptions were going to be the Devil O' The Highlands and the West Highland Way Race. However as the year progressed I did tweek this as those who read my Blog will know. For each event I gave myself a target completion time, which I thought would be realistic based on previous Ultras I have run.

The D33 (Deeside Way 33 mile Ultra) came first. This was the second time I had run this one. Last year I had injured myself on the return section and lightening struck again this year and I did the same in nearly the same place! But as with 2010, I still managed to finish and even managed to knock 27 minutes off the previous years time. I hadn't finished as well as I planned but it was a great day nonetheless.
The consolation was that I did win a prize, the 'guess the number of starters' competition set by the RD, cheers George, which I was presented to me at the start of the Fling. This year during the bus ride to the start of the RAW I had been talking to Ray McCurdy about his plans to reach his 100th Ultra early next year (currently on 97) and he was hoping to run the D33 for the third time in 2012 as an 'ever present' as he put it and would be great for this to be his century Ultra.

The GEDM (Glasgow to Edinburgh Double Marathon 56 mile Ultra) was race 2, three weeks later. I had a horrible day here. A number of factors including poor recovery and preparation from the previous race, very warm weather and my poor nutrition during the day led to me finishing just 10 minutes over the 'official' cut off time of 12 hours. But I did finish and still qualified for SUMS points. I felt a bit guilty for making RD James hang about into the darkness until I finished!! It must have been a long day for him and his great team as a couple of runners finished after me too. Well done James, although I suffered, it was, I think, worth it just to say I got there in the end! The GEDM was the longest race I have taken part in to date. I was dehydrated and exhausted and over the last mile or so I seriously questioned my sanity.
But the strange thing was that as soon as I finished and was presented with my medal all that doubt was washed away and I was already thinking about the next Ultra in just three weeks!! It was at the GEDM that I first met the aforementioned Ray McCurdy. We ran together on and off and chatted during the last dozen miles, when we were both beginning to struggle a bit with the heat (i eventually finished about 10 minutes in front of him). In an indirect way he had helped me get to the end of this one. We got the train back to Glasgow together and he filled the time with his stories of all the runs he has done all over Britain and Europe over the years. Since then i've met him at various events and travelled back from a couple of races with him and I hope i'm present when he finally reaches his 100th Ultra next year.

The Highland Fling (53 mile Ultra) was just three weeks after the GEDM this year and seemed like barely enough time to catch my breath, let alone rest, recover and prepare for the Fling. Which in hindsight, I hadn't. This was my third time running the Fling and as with  2009 and 2010 was the main 'focus' of my running calendar, the one I had been targeting with my training. I knew the route very well as a lot of my longer training runs over the last few years had been along various parts of the course. I had been looking forward to banishing my hellish run on the GEDM at the Fling and had planned on knocking at least 30 minutes off my 2010 time (and an hour better than 2009). For the first 40 miles I was ahead of all my pre race predicted time splits, but I was getting tired towards Ben Glas. The weather on the day had been brutally hot, with 58 runners having to withdraw at various points along the route.  Unfortunately, for the first time in a race of any distance, I was one of them. After the shadeless climb up through Glen Falloch and on the road to Glen Bogle I was done in. The 'rollercoaster' climb up from Glen Bogle down to the A82 to Strathfillan finished me off, literally!! It took me nearly an hour to cover that short 2 mile section. I could hardly put another foot forward today. I knew that if I forced myself to go on I would cause serious damage to myself. So, I called it a day here.
Again, it was my salt and nutitional intake on such a hot day that let me down and was something I would have to work on for sebsequent events. 4 bloody miles to go! I was gutted. I'll leave it at that about the Fling as to dwell on it still leaves a bitter taste. But to be positive, well done and thanks again to Murdo, RD, for such as fantastic event. Your enthusiasm never fails to rub off on all the runners and your team of marshalls and volunteers. Next year I WILL see you at the finish!!

The Cateran (55 mile Ultra) was one I had really fancied doing back in January when I had initially laid out my plans for the year. However, on the back of two runs which had been so physically, mentally and emotionally draining I was at a low point in running terms and my enthusiasm for running had taken a kicking. Since the fling I had only managed a couple of short local runs, not through fatigue, but more through lack of motivation and willingness to pick myself up off the floor. So I wasn't really in the mood for another kick in the nuts in Glenshee. But I decided I'll go and just run with no expectations (plus I had paid for it and two nights accomodation). On the morning of the race, however, something clicked in my brain.
There was a positive vibe in the air as the runners gathered for breakfast and with words of encouragement from other runners who knew about my last two runs from my Blog I was feeling a bit better about the day ahead. There were lots of familiar faces at this one which made it a more relaxed event to take part in. Most of the day was spent laughing and talking with other runners during the race which made it more about the running and less about the distance. So I decided to forget about the previous runs and enjoy the day and see what happens. And it turned out to be a great day, despite the weather towards the end. I was having fun and kept within my split time targets I had set months before. On the huge decent to the finish the weather was horrible, I was cold, soaked and absolutely manky from being covered in mud. But I had a hoot careering down that last hill. That day gave me back my Mojo. Thanks for a great day Karen.

I now had a large gap until my next SUMS race, as I wasn't running the WHW this year (I had been tempted, but this year has always been about building up my distances and experience before taking it on in 2012). So I contented myself with running a couple of 10K and half Marathon races until the next Ultra. I decided to drive up to Fort William on the WHW race weekend to soak up some of the atmosphere surrounding this monumental race and give some support to those running it. I spent the day driving from checkpoint to checkpoint taking some photos and offering what encouragement I could. I walked the last section in reverse, from the Finish to Lunvadra and back and met a few runners I knew and some for the first time. Their enthusiasm for this event made want to do this race even more next year. So I hatched a plan.

So now my next SUMS race was the Clyde Stride (40 miles).  I enjoyed this race and despite going the wrong way once, which added a bit extra onto the distance, came away from it still feeling positive. I set out from the start to run it without really pushing myself too hard as this was how I had run during the Cateran, which turned out to be one of my more enjoyable runs for years. So with this approach in mind for the Stride I took all the pressure off myself. I did have a time target in the back of my mind but wasn't worrying if I achieved it here.
Lots of the WHW race runners were here running, although a few had to withdraw mid race from not having fully recovered. Maybe that had been their intention anyway and only wanted to use the Stride as a 'recovery run'.
In the end I wasn't that far off my target time and I enjoyed the day. Lee had been the RD for this one and, despite saying that things hadn't always gone to plan behind the scenes, ran a brilliant day, greeting every runner as they finished and from a runners point of view everything was laid on for us. I even managed to wangle a free shower in the New Lanark Hotel (normally it would cost a tenner for non members!!) and getting a beer at the end capped off the day. Thanks Lee.

The second of the two races I hadn't intended entering was the Devil O' The Highlands (DOTH) (43 miles).  I had intended to head up on race day and cheer on the runners and take photos. Then when I was checking the Website to get a note of where the checkpoints were I noticed the 'reserve' list was shrinking, over subsequent days all the runners on it were getting places due to withdrawals. So I chanced my luck and sent an email off to the RD, Gary, expressing my interest in a place. 2 days later I was in!! My initial thought was 'fantastic', quickly followed by 'Oh crap, what have I let myself in for?'
It may not be one of the longest races in the series, but the terrain is by far one of the toughest. I only had a week to get my preparation organised and get into the mindset of tackling this one. I need not have worried though as I had an amazing experience on this one. Lots of familiar faces were taking part again today and i'm always struck with the generosity of these guys in offering advice and encouragement. I had a target time, but it wasn't based on anything as I had no idea how I would fare on this one. As it turned out I kept to each of my splits within a few minutes, which surprised me. I took longer than planned breaks at the checkpoints, just to make sure I had a proper refuel on this one. All day my thoughts were dominated by what I was planning for next year and concentrated hard on taking in as much of the route as I could, making mental notes of which bits to watch out for during the WHW race. The terrain was tough in bits and I had to dig deep over the two steep hills but I had a great run and was delighted to finish just 20 minutes over my target time. Why haven't I done this one before?!! Between now and the WHW race I'm going to incorporate the two big climbs on the DOTH into my training as I want to get as familiar as I can with these sections before June 2012. There was no shortage of help if you needed it during this race, with the RD Gary having several unofficial checkpoints, in addition to the official ones, dotted along the route, especially the last 13 mile section, with the Wilderness Rescue Team doing a fantastic job of keeping us safe and encouraging us towards the end. Brilliant event Gary and one I hope I get a place in next year.

The Speyside Way (36.5 miles) may be a 'short' one in the grand scheme of the series but is no less tough in it's own way. It's main climb, Ben Aigan, didn't look too bad on the OS map, but on the day had a few nasty wee climbs and decents and climbs to overcome. Beautiful scenery and a cool 'breeze' on the last coastal section made it a stunning backdrop for the run.
Probably the most satisfying moment of the SUMS so far for me came in this race was when I finished in Buckie and had actually beaten my target time. It may only have been by 2 minutes but I didn't care. I had felt good all day despite it being a bit warm and the hill in the middle taking a bit of extra time to traverse. I had managed to maintain a consistent pace throughout the day and got my nutritional intake right to stay fueled and focused during the run. Very positive. Sarah and her team did a great job over the day, especially the two very cheery ladies at the water station at Speybay. Having a great team of marshalls and volunteers at these events is vital for us runners and these two girls at the windy bay were absolute stars.

The River Ayr Way (RAW, 41 miles) was the last, sadly, of this years SUMS races. The race didn't go exactly to plan but in hindsight it wasn't a disaster either. I had a couple of falls, went the wrong way a few times, it was too warm for my liking and my feet suffered from being wet all day. I had worn my trail shoes which I thought would have been advantageous having heard the route was very muddy. At the start I would guess it was 50/50 with those wearing Trail or Road shoes. Maybe my choice in shoes contributed to my sore feet. It was a bit frustrating having sore soles of my feet as I still felt energised and mentally positive, which was good as it was really only my feet that let me down in the latter stages.
It hasn't lessened my enthusiasm for running these events, if anything it has reinforced the passion for it and made me more determined to do better and learn from mistakes i've made this year. Anneke, RD, did a great job with this one, having water stations and checkpoints with food every 5 or so miles. I may have finished nearly an hour over my planned target time for this one but on reflection I probably set myself an unrealistic target for it. Thats my excuse anyway.

There are many well done and thank you's to be handed out (sorry if I left you out, but you know who you are and how hard you worked!!), and they are in no particular order.
Well done to all the Race Directors (George, James, Murdo, Karen, Ian, Lee, Gary, Sarah and Anneke), you guys had the toughest jobs. I take my hat off to you all, keeping these events running smoothly and all the behind scenes work you do that sometimes us runners take for granted and don't see you doing. And to your teams of volunteers and marshalls who gave up their free time to stand in the sun, rain, wind or cold (sometimes all in one day) in the middle of nowhere, I salute you. You kept us safe, watered, fed and entertained when things weren't going our way. Your words of encouragement were always appreciated. Thanks to the many race Sponsors, especially Montane, for taking the financial risks to back the series and the individual races. Thanks to Tim Downie for managing the SUMS website and making it easy to keep up to date with all the individual events and any news we should know about. And a huge well done to all the runners that took part in all the events. I've met some characters this year that I hope to keep in touch with and see again soon. There are too many of you to name in case I miss someone out, so I won't!! Thanks for the advice when I've asked for it, the encouragement when it looked like I could do with it and the kick up the arse when I needed it. Lets do it again next year.

So 8 of the 9 SUMS races run. 7 finished. 353.5 miles in 76 hours and 57 minutes (inc' the 49 miles of the Fling). I've had a blast running the SUMS this year, even the tough bits and despite the low moments I had. Hopefully i'll have learned from my mistakes and failings and carry forward what I did right. I tried different things at each event, from using different types of running shoes to experimenting with my nutrition and hope I've learned what works for me. My plans for next years SUMS aren't set in stone yet. I do know that I want to do the D33, Fling, Cateran, WHW and DOTH. I'm pretty sure the rest will follow! The GEDM is doubtful as its only 2 weeks after the D33 and I want a decent break until the Fling next year. Next years emphasis will be the WHW race, if I get a coveted place. It's the only SUMS race I haven't participated in and it's the one I really want to complete and get my hands on a finishers Goblet.
Before I finish, one last thing. One of the constants this year has been my parents support and encouragement for each event and for four of them they were my race 'back up' team. Without their help on these races it would have been a lot harder to have finished them. So a huge amount of appreciation to them for giving up their time and travelling around to feed and water me and give me buckets of encouragement at these races. I hope I wasn't too grumpy during them and didn't take them for granted. I've learned how important the support of a back up team is this year and if Carlsberg did support teams........well mine WAS the best!
SUMS Race Results 2011:
D33 - 5hrs 56min
GEDM - 12hrs 10min
Fling - abandoned at 49 miles
Cateran - 12hrs 26min
Clyde Stride - 8hrs 27min
DOTH - 9hrs 47min
Speyside Way - 6hrs 58min
RAW - 8hrs 24min


  1. What a year Colin! So many races - well done. Don't be put off by people saying you're doing too many, we all have different reasons for doing them and targets to aim for.

    Hopefully see you befo 2012!


  2. Great write up Colin. Reading back through all the races you've done this year makes me think we are a pretty lucky bunch having so many excellent and varied races to do in Scotland. Running one ultra marathon in a lifetime is more than most people can comprehend - 8 in a year is awesome. Hopefully see you in Fort William next June!