Well, third last actually, but that lacks a bit of drama.
Also, 9 hours 41 minutes as you’re asking.
Sunday was the Jedburgh Ultra Marathon – 38 miles of fun and frolics in the gentle Scottish Borders.
And some mountains.
Well, more of a volcano, actually.
And some hail.
There was rain too.
Did I mention the wind?
Over the last couple of weeks, the forecast has looked a bit poor or outright dreadful, in varying degrees. On Sunday morning it rained on and off on the drive up from Newcastle, and was drizzling when I arrived in Jedburgh. That was after a 4am start, though luckily the change in the clocks meant it was really a 5am start. Hurrah!
I’m sure most people run these things and have an uneventful if long run. Me, on the other hand, I can’t go past ten miles without coming across a downed UFO or encountering an as yet discovered Geordie tribe. This run contained two nice stories and two weird stories. Because even that is too simple, one story is both nice and weird. Go figure.
The organisation was really good at the start, I headed in to the Jed Thistle Rugby Club, picked up my pack and discovered I was number 38. I had secretly hoped to be number 13, or perhaps a number that looks the same upside down – thereby making me easy to identify if found in a ditch, but no. On reflection, 38 was a great number, as it was exactly the number of miles I would have to run and therefore would come in handy later on when I was a bit ‘confused’ and was trying to figure out how far I had to go.
The usual nervous wandering about and getting ready, a bit of last minute kit kerfuffle and it was ready to go. Off into the High Street and on the ready line. Then off we set, up the A68!
That’s me, shoving me gloves into me pack.
It didn’t take long to get off the main road, and down by the river – the weather was a mix of quite nice and drizzly drizzly but overall not too bad. Across the scariest sloppy rocking bridge in the world (I slipped on the way across and really scared myself) and then into the first climb.
The Scottish Borders are beautiful, it must be said, but knobbly. In a lovely way, but quite. If you go East to West I think you’re alright, but try to go North to South (or South to North) and you’ll be going over some hills, like running up the face of a gigantic hush puppy.
Up the hill, through the woods and past Ancrum, which means nothing if you don’t know the area. I was in a group of four and we managed to take a little detour and back up past the walled garden. Over Lilliardsedge and we’re heading towards Maxton and Checkpoint One.
Looking good so far…
Into Maxton and up to the church, where the fabulous volunteers were waiting for us – I was handed my drop bag as another Marshall took down my number. It started raining while I was putting gels into bag pockets, so waterproof on and off we go. That’s 10 miles down.
Further along the river, and now we come to the first story, and this is a weird one. I often tell a story about how I’m scared of cows. It relates to an incident on St Cuthbert’s Way where a bunch of young bulls chased me into the River Tweed and then stood on the banks, meaning that I had to wade downstream.
Well, the route passed through the same field.
And a report a day or two earlier about ‘Angry Cows’ made me wonder if it was the same field.
Of course it was.
However, this time I was with a few other people and we got through the field OK, though not without the realisation that I would be heading back this way, probably on my own as I was already in the back part of the field.
Further on, through the golf course, up into St Boswells, past the Co-Op and up onto the river again. The river here mingled with the path in some places – one person fell in and had to retire apparently. Up from the river, over the A68 and on to Rhymers Stone and the base of the Eildon Hills and Checkpoint Two. More shifting around of gels from my second drop bag, and I’m about ready to start up the hill. There are maybe eight or so people behind me at this stage, I figure, but the Marshall tells me a couple of people have dropped out. I can see people heading up the hill in front of me, a kind of visual timeline stretching out of who turned up ahead of who.
The hill was tough. The hill was hard. I am not really fit enough for this size of hill. So much so, that I ended up walking a bit, then stopping to admire the view before heading a bit further up. Walk. Stop. Walk. Stop. And so on… forever. As the winds increase the further up I get.
As I got to the top of the first hill, I could hear strange screaming noises from above. I figure there are maybe kids up there?
Pulling up to the top, past the solitary tree that lives on the summit and there are a couple up there. Here comes story number two, and this one is nice AND weird. The girl ran over to me and above the gale force winds shouted “We’ve just got engaged!”. Then her (now) fiancé produces a camera, can I take their photo. Of all the ultra-runners in all the races, they picked me, which is weird as I’ve done a bit of wedding photography in my time. A Canon camera as well, so he’s got good taste, 50mm f/1.4 lens on it, which is a cracking choice, though he did have all points auto-focus, which isn’t a great idea for portraiture. A couple of photos later, and off I go – the downhill is astoundingly lovely – while I had slogged up the hill, I almost danced down Eildon number one. It was just so nice to be able to keep going.
There’s a saddle between the hills, and the Mountain Rescue van was parked up there – the Mountain Rescue lads were a bit of a theme, I ran or ambled past them numerous times and they were always a welcome sight.
Off up my second Eildon, and now longer pauses and shorter climbs – the wind was blowing from the West, and I was on the East slope, so it was a bit of a shock getting out on the top. No newly-engaged folk here, but horizontal hail and a gale.
The Second Eildon
Trying to come off the second one the wind blew my foot away and I nearly went for a tumble – down through the gale and then turn around and back to the third peak – it was still exposed and windy, but not quite as bad, by which I mean I didn’t have to hold my hood on to stop it from blowing off.
A rare blast of sunshine on the Third EIldon
Off the Eildons then, with a little bit of regret to have passed this point in the race, though glad not to have to plod up another mountain.
The next bit was through the fields and woodlands, and into Bowden, where my third story, a nice one, takes place – my good friend Ian, and his wife Rhona were in Bowden – I’d missed them at Checkpoint Two, but they’d come down here. A quick chat, a photo and a promise to come back in November and off I went, properly buoyed up.
In no short order then, back to Newtown St Boswells and closing the loop around the mountains. From here it’s back the way we came. I can’t remember the time, but I thought it seemed a bit later than I’d expected. Into my signature walk-plot-walk-plod technique, and back to St Boswells and the golf course, after passing the Co-Op again. The chip shop, alas, was not open, so my £10 emergency money stayed intact.
Next back past the Killer Cows, who failed to rush at me (lulling me into a false sense of security for the next time, clearly) and back to Maxton Church which was also Checkpoint Three. Once again, marvellously staffed, and the Sweeper was there getting ready to follow in the last runners to the cut-off. A promise of being serenaded if I was caught was enough to put a bit of life in my legs, and off I went.
Just after Maxton – that’s eight miles away from the hills – I ran up these… all of them.
As I got further back, it started to get a bit dim, and it wasn’t my eyes but the light just starting to go – luckily I’d picked up my head torch at Checkpoint 3. Back out over Lilliardsedge and past the Mountain Rescue lads. They reckoned there were two behind me, and I started to toy with the idea of being last. I mean, being third last is alright, but being last would have a certain something about it? I hadn’t seen anyone behind me for a while, so I might be last one in ahead of the cut-off? At this point (32 miles out of 38 at the road past Lilliardsedge), I had about an hour and a half to go – that’s fifteen minutes miles, or walking pace.
Down past Ancrum, over the not-so-deathly-slippery bridge and back around towards the home straight towards Jedburgh. Over the main road and past the Mountain Rescue team again – and onto the last couple of miles into town. It was getting properly dark now, so on with the head torch and through the trees. Out onto the main road and it’s literally half a mile past the houses. Cars going along the road started beeping at me – I’m assuming they were saying “Hello! Well done!” rather than “Give it up! You muppet!” and along to the finish with about twenty minutes until cut-off.
I hadn’t expected a big welcome, it was dark and I figured anyone with any sense would have gone home, but there were a good dozen people there who cheered me in – it was the best finish welcome I’ve ever had.
Off to the rugby club.
Ultra feet. (Through socks and shoes, the mud will prevail).
Shower. Definitely shower.
Sorry, I forgot to mention MEDAL. There was a medal. I like a medal. I would take a photo of the medal, but then I’d need to take the medal off, and that’s not about to happen anytime soon.
In summary, the race was immense, it was brilliant. It was fantastically well organised by Noanie, Angela and the rest – I would recommend this to anyone who wants to do an ultra and doesn’t have a fear of mountains. I would do it again, no doubt. The weather was (charitably described as) changeable, but that’s a British autumn event for you, if you haven’t packed a waterproof you’ve failed the kit list, but you’re also a fool. The mud was thick and gloopy, but not so much as to put you off.
I think I’m getting the hang of in-race fuelling, I used a good dozen gels and some energy chew things, and while they made me feel a bit gloomy at times, they seem to have done the trick. I didn’t become incoherent and babbling, at least no more than my normal state of affairs.
I don’s so much think I took longer than almost everyone else, I more feel like I got my money’s worth from my entry fee in comparison to the people who shot around in five-and-a-bit hours.