Helps if you like canals…
The morning of 5 April dawned rather murky in Glasgow city centre. I’d travelled up with Jon the afternoon before on the train from Newcastle via Edinburgh to the relative comfort of the Premier Inn on the north side of the river. We figured it to be about a mile from Ruchill Park, the start of the ultra marathon.
Getting up in the morning, we were told to get the train from Charing Cross to Partick which was near the park.
This turned out to be dead wrong.
Arriving at Partick station, we asked for directions and we greeted with one of those inward whistles that tells you’re clearly asking something daft. Apparently we’d managed to travel away from our destination. Jumping into a cab, we started a dash across town to the park. Luckily we’d started off a good while before registration started, so we weren’t too pushed just yet.
Into the park, and we stumbled upon the transit van serving as check-in. Quick queue, get numbers, leave drop bags and our bags for transport to the finish and then wander around like slightly surprised, and in my case mildly tubby, gazelles. We formed a wee herd.
Eventually the start loomed, and we formed up, toeing the invisible line.
And we were off!
Down the hill, over the bridge, right hand turn and there we are, the Forth & Clyde Canal.
And that’s it – 54 miles more of canal.
What? You want more?
OK, well, it all started relatively well, I was feeling pretty frisky. It was drizzling, which was not much fun, I was definitely a bit damp, but never quite enough to put on a waterproof. Temperature was good, and it wasn’t blisteringly sunny, which worked in my favour. Saying which, I still came out of it with a bit of a tan.
Running with Jon was good company, a bit of chat about random things, as well as with the runners passing us and the occasional one we passed.
Out of the city and the canal became a bit more leafy and there were lots of greenery. For a while we ran with no. 131, Michael Muckian, a marvellous vegan of a man, and spent a while talking about all things veggie and vegan.
Around 18 miles in my left knee started to twinge a bit – not a good sign, we switched to a bit of a run/walk combo, trying for fifteen minutes running to five minutes of walking, which helped a bit, though the 15 minutes started to shrink quite quickly.
At mile 22 we met the Falkirk Wheel, a rather fab bit of engineering that replaced a whole set of locks to join the Forth & Clyde Canal to the Grand Union Canal that leads all the way to the middle of Edinburgh, our eventual goal.
A quick spot of lunch, and I could barely eat my slightly soggy samosa, even though it was from the M&S. Another runner was eating pork pies dipped in custard – which just goes to prove that ultra-runners are a doggedly practical lot who make no allowance for the outdated rules of popular culture.
After lunch, a trot to the top of the hill to join the Grand Union, and the knee was still feeling a bit wonky.
We’d been told pre-race that there was a tunnel to go through with no real lighting and that we should bring a head-torch to navigate through. We found the tunnel at the top and figured it was a bit of an over-reaction, it wasn’t that long and was fairly well lit. Still, better safe than sorry, I suppose.
On the other side of the tunnel and on we went, along and bit and then …hang on… is that another tunnel entrance?
It looks longer and might I say darker.
This then, it the tunnel they were talking about. It was very long, about 0.4 of a mile and the lighting was virtually non-existent. This was the tunnel I’d enticed Jon onto the run with.
It lived up to expectation.
We opted to stumble through without head torches. It seemed the right thing to do. We nearly died.
On the other side, and on the run towards Linlithgow and me knee wasn’t getting any better. I felt it was only right to let Jon know that I wasn’t sure I’d make it the full distance within the cut-off time of 12 hours and he might want to skip on ahead. It turned out his ankle was wonky, and with an upcoming cycling trip abroad he was thinking about pulling out rather than daftly carry on and properly damage it. Fair point, and probably sensible, and after a bit of chatting we moved to a quick walk to Linlithgow, where Jon took the train back to Edinburgh.
After Linlithgow, things went slowly, but steadily – I ran a bit, walked a bit, ran a bit, walked a bit, talked to myself a little bit, walked a little bit more, and so on. I’d stocked up on gels and snacks again at the Falkirk Wheel, so I perused the sugary treats on offer from my chest-mounted sweetshop to distract myself from the remaining miles.
I began to realise that as well as lots of flat water, there’s one thing you find a lot of by the canal.
Seriously, there’s a lot of bridges. I know you need to get over the canal, but how often exactly?
Very often, it turns out.
When I reached Checkpoint 4 at Broxburn, it was looking like I could almost make the cut off. However, as there were only a few runners still out, we were being paired up as the light went. I was paired with a South African runner, who was down to walking at that point, and so the pace slowed a bit. The marshals said that the finish line would be kept open for us, so there was no need to worry about hitting the cutoff.
Off we went, talking and walking. And the light slowly went. The pair of women in front of us, who appeared to be champion power walkers sped off away and we were left alone. We ambled through Checkpoint 5 at Ratho and confirmed we were good to get to the end (another 8 miles).
Soon we hit the edge of Edinburgh and past estates of houses, and the there were suddenly led lights embedded in the sides of the path – it was grand, and as darkness fell it was just enough to light to see by and avoid the water’s edge.
After a while we caught up with another couple of guys, a friend of the South African runner and a Welshman, who had some kingsize blisters going on. We limped on as a group, into the centre of town – much checking of GPS trackers and trying to figure out who’s was on the money and therefore how far there was to go.
Into a more affluent looking area now and there were some bars – we reckoned about half a mile to go, and started looking for the finish. We knew it was at the end of the canal, so there was little chance we were going to miss it.
As with pretty much every race, the end was a little further than advertised, it came in at 55.5 miles. We rounded the final corner and stumbled into the finish, all four together. We crossed the line in a line, joint 123rd finishers and brought the race to a close. We all finished in 13:25:37 a cool hour and twenty-five minutes over the cut-off. T-shirts and medals all round.
And that was it.
You still want more?
OK, I got a cab to the hotel. That was an adventure in itself.
Like a ruined little old man, I creaked into the hotel lobby at snail-like speed. It was a fairly well to do hotel, and the site of a cretin in shorts who’d just run 55 miles and now couldn’t walk caused a bit of a stir amongst the great and the good. I gave my name, got my keycard and took the lift up to the room.
A bit of screaming and whimpering and one shower later and I headed down to the bar. I figured I’d earned one, maybe two beers and a whisky. The restaurant had closed, so some nuts were the only sustenance available other than more beer.
And off to bed.
The next morning I did the ‘can I walk’ test and found I miraculously could. The knee was a bit pants, but I had Jon’s Rocktape from the day before. I watched the video online for a stuffed-up-knee and tried a bit on the ol’ knee and do you know, it worked pretty well.
A few days later and the knee is going pretty well – I assumed I’d be out of action for a couple weeks at least, but I’m now planning to have a wee recovery run in the next day or two.
Rock on. Kintyre comes next at the start of May.
I can only clap loudly in support of the organisers from Resolute Events – they were great. From the start to the checkpoints and keeping the finish open for us, they gave it their all and delivered a sound race. The marshals, those volunteering angels of light that lift the spirits of a knackered runner were as lovely as ever and deserve a medal of their own. Whether because I enjoyed my short stint living north of the border, or through the warm welcome on the Ultra Dafties Training Group on Facebook, though I suspect as much because they’re just a great group of people, I do like a good Scottish ultra – they have a special atmosphere all of their own and I’d recommend you sign up for one and give it a pop. Also I must give an honourable mention to the bicycle-mounted photographer – he stuck around until the end and cycled back down the path to find us, blind us with a photo-op or two and check we were OK so he could report back. Can’t wait to see the near-finish shot, taken in the pitch black and probably one to scare the in-laws with.
Finally, a big thank you to everyone who sponsored Jon and myself. We’ve raised almost twice the £200 we set out to achieve for Age UK North Tyneside. As I say every time, a quid or two at stake really keeps me focused on plodding through to the end.