We might not have mentioned it, but a few of us did an ultra. On the 29th October, myself, Audrey and alumni member Jackie set about the 38 mile Jedburgh 3 Peaks Ultramarathon and to sum it all up… we smashed it! Here’s our stories of how the day unfolded.
I signed up for Jedburgh on a whim after the Edinburgh half marathon, and then put off training until three months before the day of the run, so I arrived on the start line with very low expectations.
The 10 miles to the first checkpoint flew by, as we ran along a trail through woods, over a bridge that was as wobbly as promised, and through fields, all still while the sun was coming up. Reading the race briefing, I thought it was crazy that coca cola was provided at check points, but as I arrived at the first check point just before 10am, it turned out coke was exactly what I fancied! I also discovered that you can eat a cheese and marmite sandwich while running. The next 7 miles were along the banks of the River Tweed, which I have to say looked stunning with all the autumn trees along the banks. I almost didn’t notice the pain of running up and down stairs!
Around checkpoint 2, I found Jackie and was ready to start my climb up the three peaks when disaster struck! My second cheese sandwich fell out of my packet of hula hoops, where I’d be keeping it to eat as I jogged (walked) up the hills. Happily, another runner saw it fall and brought it back to me, proving yet again what lovely people ultra runners are! Reunited with my sandwich, I ate it as I climbed, then did a bit of jogging at the top of the first peak to pose for a photographer (my nan’s Christmas present sorted). After so much climbing, it was nice to be able to run back down, and it was great to chat to some other runners on the way down. The next checkpoint at Bowden featured a quick trip round a playground and down a slide, just to get a wee extra work out in.
I made it to the final checkpoint at mile 28 in just under 6 hours, having completed my first ever marathon along the way! From here, I just had to repeat the first 10 miles back to Jedburgh. This plan worked great for the next few miles, but at mile 34 I decided I’d very much had enough. I tried to walk for about 20 metres, realised this was actually more painful than my hobble/run, and went back to running. The stairs, stiles and climbs over road barriers proved substantially more of a challenge on the return. I was very appreciative of the series of runners who heckled/cheered/encouraged me on to run those last few miles. I jogged back into Jedburgh with two ultra veterans, who challenged me to a sprint finish. My competitive side got the better of me, and I “sprinted” over the finish line to finish in 8:07:44.
I was really grateful to Gage, Foggo and Sarah who cycled round the course to cheer us on, it made a huge difference! Also to everyone who lent me kit (Duncan, Sarah and Jenna) and to Mark and his family for hosting us and feeding us (not an easy task!) for the weekend! I’m not sure anyone believes me, but I really enjoyed every mile of it! I’d definitely recommend it, and I know if I can get a place in the ballot, I’ll be back to run it next year!
Although this was my 3rd time at Jedburgh and 4th ultra it doesn’t make the lead up to the race any easier. The week before is spent panicking about every niggle, sniffle, meal, drink, sleep … I felt somewhat un-prepared this year having only managed a long run of 15 miles in training. However, I was confident I could manage the distance and since I was hosting two ultra-newbies, Jackie and Audrey, for the weekend I tried (unsuccessfully) to hide my stress.
In my first two running’s at Jed I started of slow and steadily got faster, working my way through the field and finishing strong but last year was left wondering, “what if?”. So, this year I went for the well thought out plan of “flat out and hang on”.
A confused band of locals had stretched themselves across the path to send us off but they quickly startled and scattered as the starting hooter sounded and 300 runners charged their way. Within the first mile I formed a leading group of 4 ultra-runners and a relay runner. The 10 miles to the first checkpoint and Maxton were truly special in the rising sun and stunning autumnal leaves. Two runners stretched ahead and I settled into a good rhythm weaving along the 1st class single-track trailporn chatting to fellow Westie Stan. Before I knew it, I was in Maxton, 10 minutes ahead of last year, either smashing it or ******* it.
I pushed on towards the next CP up and down the steep slopes and steps along the banks of the glorious River Tweed and managed to stretch out a gap ahead of Stan (thanks to a small navigational error on his part). After turning away from the Tweed the course drags steadily uphill towards the base of the Eildon’s and it was a great lift to get cheered on by Sarah, Gage and Foggo as we crossed the main road. Checkpoint 2 was in chaos and I made the foolish decision to abandon my drop-bag, something I regretted deeply later in the race. I was a silly 24 minutes ahead of last year but was still feeling strong so pressed on in pursuit of the leading pair.
I love the Eildon’s; steep, muddy, rocky, heathery and with views to rival anywhere in Scotland! There’s nothing like these 3 hills to wake up the legs and refresh the mind and have some fun bouncing around the heather. I saw the leading pair for the first time since mile 3 from the top of the 1st hill and could see the gap was closing. By the time we came of the last hill and hit the mandatory playpark I was hot on the heels of second place. I resisted the temptation of the climbing wall and went for the easier ladder option, stumbled across the rope bridge and my chaffed arse discovered my short shorts were in fact too short for the slide. I grabbed some water and Jelly Babies at the checkpoint and put the hammer down, moving into second place. I took the lead as we returned to the weaving path next to the Tweed. 3 miles from the last CP I started to notice I was in trouble, my food and water was almost finished and the warning shots of dehydration and hypo were firing. I decided to finish my fuel and go flat out to get to Maxton ASAP, smashing it or ******* it?
Trying to look fresh I bounded into Maxton and set about raiding my drop bag, took on some water and sprinted away up the hill. Sarah and my Mum got there just in time for me to confess to feeling ruined, however their shocked expression and words of encouragement did wonders to keeping me going over the last 10 miles. A mile out from the CP I was hitting real trouble and by 2 miles I was Jonny Brownleeing all over the trail. Without a brother to keep me upright I sought the comfort of some cold moist grass and took a lie down. After a few minutes the forest stopped spinning and my legs returned from puppet land, so I got to my feet and started a brisk walk. I have never felt like this before; the tank was empty, the legs were gone, every part of my body was screaming at me to stop, call my mum and go home for a nice hot bath… a bath bubbling with shame and disappointment.
I had a stern talking to myself and might have cried if I wasn’t so dehydrated; I wasn’t going to throw it away now! I started shuffling, that shuffle slowly turned into jog which almost reached a run. Every step hurt, but every step brought me closer to the finish. Eventually I hit the town, a brutal 1.5 miles of tarmac lay between me and the finish. I counted trees as I passed them, then lampposts, then paving slabs and hummed the Hercules soundtrack to myself to drown out the pain. Suddenly a runner pulled level with me…. balls…. Wait he’s doing the relay! Relax, breath, just keep on keeping on, the finish line comes into sight. Got to look good crossing the line; I force myself to run like a normal human, although there’s nothing forced about the smile. Smashed it… just.
I’ve never won anything before and wasn’t sure how to react, luckily this became irrelevant as I quickly lost the ability to remain upright and took again to the comfort of the moist grass. I was annoyed at myself for almost throwing it away through sheer stupidity; I have gained some valuable experience and got mighty lucky, it’s not until looking back on it I realise how much trouble I was in. I loved every step and can honestly say that I enjoyed the suffering in some strange way!
“Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment. And sometimes that bad judgement can be pretty horrific!”, Val Geissler.
It’s clichéd, but, every ultra is a rollercoaster of highs and lows and teaches you a lot about yourself and your abilities. It’s inspiring to see runners of all shapes, sizes and ability conquering the distance all with a broad smile. The atmosphere and camaraderie amongst competitors is unique and special. Big thanks to Sarah, Gage, Foggo, my parents and my fellow Limpers for their support on the day. Huge congrats to Audrey and Jackie for their ridiculous performances on their first ultra.
The weather fully did its bit in making this the picture-perfect autumn trail-porn race that I had psyched myself up for doing despite being undertrained and injured. Running through rustling leaves, nestled in a pack of clearly experienced ultra-runners, chatting and enjoying the rising sun and sun’s-out-guns-out weather made the first 17 miles the absolute best-case scenario for a first ultra. Feeling tired but good Audrey and I started the ascent of the first peak. And that’s when it got tough for me and doing the stair master seems like it would have been more appropriate training than running at this point. Having to go even slower on the downhill than up due to injury was slightly frustrating, but it was all okay when I got to the top and saw the stunning views; getting a last glimpse at the top of the third peak, bang on 19 miles (the half way point…) felt super special to me at this delirious stage. Then my Garmin battery died. The really painful walk-jog-limp journey home was only really possible due to the distraction of the brilliant playground interlude and the umpteen cheers, hugs, and encouragements from Foggo and Gage, who cycled to meet us throughout the course (heroes!). I was worried about the drawn-out finishing stretch along the road into Jedburgh, but getting dozens of honks, waves, and smiles of encouragement, even looks of respect from runners on their way home who had clearly finished hours and hours before me was amazing.