The Year of the Ultra Runner

2014 was a funny old year. In my head it wasn’t a very good running year, probably because I didn’t get any faster. No PBs for me, and that worries me that old age is catching up, the nagging fear of getting worse before I have managed to get better.

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Boylston Street – the holy grail of finishing lines

I had started the year coming back from a long lay off with a niggly achilles and with a desperate desire to make it back to Boston I trained very cautiously, managing mileage and intensity very carefully.  Because I wasn’t doing speed work I never lost any of my winter padding and never quite hit a decent racing weight all year.

Yet despite the perception of the year being little more than ok, there was still a lot of stuff done. It wasn’t a bad year, some of it was even done quite well, just not brilliantly.

So despite the ever shrinking goalposts narrowing with my body not quite living up to my aspirations, my racing year panned out like this

  • D33 – DNF my first ever
  • Boston marathon – a big deal for me to go back for my second Boston the year after the bombs
  • Big Sur marathon – surprisingly a couple of minutes faster than Boston 6 days before
    P1000368
    Boston 2 Big Sur. 2 marathons 6 days and 3000 miles apart
  • Cateran Trail 55 ultra –  my first ever running prize. First old git.
  • Great Glen Ultra – not a bad time for my first attempt at a long unsupported race
  • CCC – chewed me up and spat me back out, but I survived and finished feeling well.
  • Amsterdam marathon – 3:31 my fastest of the year but still a bit off where I want to be

All of those races were steady and unspectacular performances and I guess that was the big lesson of the year. For me to do well in ultra races I need to learn patience, humility and then some more patience! Slow down over the first half, and run with your head not your heart. Blood, guts and snotters might serve you well in a 10K or a half marathon, but in an Ultra it just makes the second half of your race a misery.

The other big lesson which was repeated throughout the year is that I will feel like crap at about 16 miles, then again at 26 and probably again at about 40. After that it seems to get easier. Just got to trust that if you keep moving forward your legs will come back and true to form I have finished every race strongly this year.

Great Glen Ultra fuelled by Scotch Pie and Macallan
Great Glen Ultra fuelled by Scotch Pie and Macallan

Despite having run a few ultras previously, I never ever considered myself to be an Ultra runner. I was your average plodding old man up for a challenge and getting by on pig headedness. I was envious of those lucky souls who could head out and seemingly effortlessly run for hours on end whereas I was always the one blowing out his backside. Yet somewhere between Great Glen and picking up the coveted Gilet in Chamonix, I reached the conclusion that maybe I was an ultra runner too.

Aside from racing, other lessons were to be learned over the course of the year. I was lucky enough to be a support runner for Amanda Hamilton in this year’s West Highland Way Race. Amanda had a brilliant performance and showed real mental toughness on that last section over the Lairig Mor in the dark. Being responsible for getting her there and having to think about every step in the process will undoubtedly help me the next time I have a bash at WHW for myself.

CCC finishers
CCC finishers – Ultra Runners All!

I even did something completely new –  I was the sweeper at both the Clyde Stride and Jedburgh ultras this year. Apart from being chuffed to be asked, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience on both occasions and being forced into not having any performance pressures was undoubtedly good for me and while I didnt quite learn to smell the roses, I did find that spending hours either in the company of, or searching for, the legend that is Ray McCurdy an interesting and enlightening experience. Rumour has it, I was even nice to the runners I was sweeping though of course I will deny that vehemently as slanderous. Throw in marshalling sessions at Glenmore 24, WHW, and Glen Ogle and I was involved in one way or other in most of the Scotish ultras this year.

So actually, when you write it all down, maybe it wasn’t such a bad year after all. I got to do some big bucket list races, managed to give something back to the community and spent way too much time in the brilliant company of the usual suspects.

I might even have become an ultra runner somewhere along the way!

4 thoughts on “The Year of the Ultra Runner

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