The D33 was set up by George Reid as a longer distance race to help build up to the Highland Fling in April. The same Highland Fling that somehow I am going to attempt to complete in just over a month. Entries for the D33 opened a little early this time around, just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, and as I sat at my parents’ kitchen table in Houston eating pasta and preparing for the Texas marathon, I became the 42nd person to enter this year’s race.
I have done a few training runs with some of the Stonehaven running club runners, and this race was in the schedule as the longest training run before April’s race. I had a few goals for this, the most important being: don’t get injured, have fun, and finish. Joining in the pre-race chatter online, I had been invited to run with Kate, Vicki, and Geraldine as our final training run as a group. The thought of having company throughout the race was appealing, especially the race was on Kate’s birthday, so spirits were bound to be high.
Race morning was overcast and a bit breezy, but nothing that would blow tiles off a roof. I had been keeping my eye on the forecast all week, and it fluctuated between sunshine and 14 degrees, and rain and 7 degrees. But relying on the forecast in this country is futile, so I was pleased that it wasn’t too windy, but worried about the heavy cloud.
At about 7:30, I left my apartment and walked about a mile to Duthie Park to register. Several friends were volunteering and it was nice to see familiar faces ordering me about with instructions on where to put my (pitiful) drop bags for the 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 checkpoints. Eventually more and more runners descended upon my local park, and I ran into more recognizable faces, some also popping their ultra cherry.
Eventually Kate, Vicki, Geraldine and I all found each other. They were decked out in club vests and some rather flashy socks in their club colours which attracted a lot of attention during the day, and 3 of us were all wearing the same purple Camelbak. We also found Tina, from Aberdeen Metro runners, who was cautious because she was running on a dodgy ankle and fancied a steady group to keep her company.
Kate and I missed the race briefing because we were in a queue for the porta loo, but made it back to our group on the start line with a couple of minutes to spare. Then came a countdown, and we were off!
The railway line that I normally ran along was packed with neon flashes as we churned out the first mile. Tina and I fell in behind a group of women that were keeping us at a reasonable pace, and were chatting about a training weekend along part of the Fling route in a couple of weeks. We were soon joined by another woman and Claudia. I noticed that we were a little ahead of Kate, Geraldine, and Vicki, so when Tina overtook the group after a couple of miles, I fell back and the rest went ahead, looking strong. Unfortunately, a mile or so later, the four of us ran past Tina, Claudia, and +1 off to the side, Tina holding a tissue covered in blood, and blood all over her knee. I asked if they were ok, and Tina seemed in good enough spirits and said she was fine, so we kept going, assuming she had just scraped her knee and was otherwise alright. It turns out, she had gone over her ankle (again), and decided to be sensible and pull out. Photos of her swollen ankle that turned up later on Facebook confirmed that she probably made the best decision, but she was, and is, understandably gutted.
It was around this point that I noticed a host of niggles that I panicked would leave me at the side of the course, writhing in agony later on, but thankfully most of these gradually faded away throughout the day. The same couldn’t quite be said for birthday girl Kate, however, as she had been suffering from plantar fasciitis, and had even been told by her physio not to run the race. On her birthday. With friends. So obviously she ignored that, and for the start, at least, everything seemed to be going smoothly.
Vicki was a strict task master, and we were following her run for 30 minutes/walk for 3 rule. The walk breaks gave us an opportunity to take in fuel, an assortment of sweet and salty snacks, as well as let our heartrates come down a bit/stretch out any tight areas. Initially, it felt a bit silly to be walking 30 minutes into a race when we were running at such a conversational pace, but if that’s what it takes to run 33 miles with no ill-effects afterwards, then I’m a believer.
We hit checkpoint one/three (it’s an out and back course), where Naomi and Suzy were waiting to hand us our drop bags (a bag of salted crisps for me), and chatted for a bit before setting off again, hoping that we were still as cheerful on the way back. After about 14 miles, we hit Milton of Crathes, where Kate’s family were all waiting for her, and we stopped again for a toilet/oatmeal raisin cookie break (to the creator of those, they were amazing!). I also took this opportunity to text ahead as someone marshalling at the halfway checkpoint wanted to present Kate with a ‘birthday flapjack’ (flapjack with a candle rammed inside it).
By this point, the faster runners had started to pass us on their way back, and we encouraged them as they all flew by. Eventually, we made the halfway point and stopped for a chat, some snacks, and to refill camelbaks. I think once we set off, we were all a little bit happier because we knew every step we took took us closer to the finish line instead of farther away. The sun came out. I was nearly what I would classify as ‘warm’. I was happy.
There weren’t too many people behind us, which became apparent on our way back. Soon we ran past the ‘Grim Sweeper’, looking cheerful at the back. By this point, Kate’s feet were causing her a lot of pain, and there were murmurings of stopping at the 3/4 checkpoint, but we stuck with the run/walk strategy and pushed on. We were also picking off a few walkers who were clearly hurting, and we were grateful that on the whole, we were feeling comfortable.
The 3/4 checkpoint arrived, and we took a little while to chat/replenish supplies. I packed some dried fruit into my camelback and added a little water, as I’d run out. I also drank half a bottle of lucozade, but chucked the rest, and added the rest of my food to the ‘free-for-all’ pile on the table.
By this point, Kate reasoned that she couldn’t really do too much more damage to her feet in another 8-ish miles, so the four of us continued as a group. I phoned Ian to let him know roughly when we’d be finished, but also requested that he bring something to hand over to me before the finish line.
I remember looking down at my Garmin at about 26 miles and thinking how strong I felt for completeing a marathon distance, when normally I’m ready to crumble in a heap and go for a nap. The next time I looked down, the distance read 27.2 miles, and I was out of known territory! With about 5 miles to go, we all stopped for a photo with a sign somebody had put out for Kate’s birthday:
Now, I wanted to finish my first ultra in style, so obviously I had asked for Ian to bring me a pair of high heels to cross the finish line in. About a mile from the end, we came across Vicki’s husband, Ian, who was struggling. Vicki told me to go on ahead and that they would walk with Ian for a bit. Ian (my Ian) and I went on, and as I turned the corner into Duthie park, he produced my heels from his rucksack, and cycled off to the side. Ronnie had been for his long run already, so was at the finish with his camera in hand:
About 10 feet before the finish line, I stopped and stepped to the side. One of the marshalls told me, “You’re not finished yet, love, you need to go a bit further.” Then I put my heels on the ground and started untying the laces of my trainers. She laughed, as did the crowd at the finish line. I managed to wedge my feet into my heels, and, somehow, stand up unaided, before strutting across the finish line as Kate, Vicki, and Geraldine came in behind me, holding hands.
And with that, I was an ultramarathoner. And I felt OK! I got my medal, goody bag, and swapped my heels for flip flops, and spoke to some of the other finishers, and some of my friends who had come down to watch the finish and cheer in runners. Not long after, Ian and I walked back to my flat, where I showered and threw on compression socks, and had a failed nap attempt before heading to the train station en route to the after party in Stonehaven. Many a beer were enjoyed (although I’m pretty sure I owe a few people a round), and I clumsily made it back to my own bed via the second to last train home.
This morning I am suffering no more than I would had I gone out for a 15 mile run, which gives me a bit more confidence for the Fling. However, despite getting through an ultra marathon with no hassle, I did end up bleeding and in tears after thwacking myself in the face with my mobile phone this morning, which is swelling up a treat, and will no doubt look terrific for work tomorrow.
For now though? A burger I think.