In 2010 Clyde Stride ultra was my first ultra. I completed it which was great, but it was not one of my better moments and there was plenty to learn from it. I entered for the following year but had to withdraw about a month before the event due to a knee injury. I duly entered for 2012 and was a DNF (did not finish) at 20 miles due to energy problems (which I subsequently found out were caused by a magnesium deficiency. So, was 2013 going to be my year?
Just as I have history with the event; the race route, which follows the river Clyde upstream from Glasgow to New Lanark provides runners with a number of historical snapshots. Starting in Partick the first 10 miles is classic city road running taking the runner past a number of the city’s landmarks and gives and insight into the city’s industrial and mercantile history, from the reclaimed Govan docks, to merchant buildings, to Glasgow Green and The People’s palace to water and gas works.
After Cambuslang the route changes to trail and again there are variety of historical reference points: old miner paths and bridges; the majestic red sandstone ruins of the 13th century Bothwell castle ancient seat of the Moray’s and Black Douglas’s; and the David Livingstone centre at his birthplace.
Then it is off through Barons Haugh and Dalzell estate an old royal hunting estate and former seat of the Dalzell and Hamilton families and now an RSPB wetland reserve. The route finishes in New Lanark the mill town built by David Dale and then managed by Robert Owen a social reformer who provided his mill workers with sanitary housing, amenities and welfare.
It is a beautiful route that transitions well from tarmac to path and trail offering some tricky sections and short sharp climbs the further upstream you get. You run along open fields and bank as well as shady wooded paths. At this time of year it is especially pretty and lush with tall plats and grasses, willow herb in bloom along with dog roses, buttercups, cow parsley, elder blossoms to name but a few. The woodlands and wetland are home to a large variety of bird and wildlife.
Before I describe my race day experience I want to say a huge thank-you to Lee Maclean for organising such a great event that runs like clockwork. Thanks also to the cheerful and supportive marshals who look after us well as we pass through the check points and finish area and who have a long day. I can’t forget my support crew, my husband Alasdair and friend Sue for the truly fantastic job they did to support and encourage me in what turned out to be challenging conditions.
Over the last few weeks we have been experiencing lovely warm, dry weather and lots of sunshine. This has provided plenty of opportunity for some enjoyable training runs and a chance to top up on vitamin D. The temperature in Glasgow in Friday was 26 degrees. We had however hoped for cooler conditions for race day, and the forecast had predicted a cooler day, however, that was not to be.
It was already warm as we gathered at registration. I kept sipping at a mix of apple juice and water, and then drank a can of Starbuck espresso shot drink. Sunglasses were in evidence, head cover was coming out and everyone was applying and re-applying sun block. We gathered for the race briefing then made out way to the start line in the shade of the underpass. This was probably the coolest spot we were going to get today. Standing at the back of the pack, I joked with Stan, our trusty sweeper, who had dragged me to 20 miles the previous year. He said that he did not want to see me again today. The challenge was set.
We set out, and yes, it was going to be warm. After getting my fluids, electrolytes and nutrition wrong during the fling I was determined to get things right today. The plan was: 60g of carbohydrate per hour from gels, solid food or energy drinks and regular intake of water and electrolyte drink. I had opted for run 12 mins walk 3 mins approach, so every 15 minutes I was taking fluids and every 30 mins some form of food or energy. I think that the highlight of this leg was passing the commonwealth village which looks as if it is on its final fit. It is quite literally a village of lovely houses with lots of windows and wood sitting where there was once waste and dereliction. It was a reminder of how close the games are. Anyway, I reached the first check point at Cambuslang in good shape and slightly ahead of schedule. The sunblock was refreshed; extra Body Glide applied to prevent chafing (although I was soon to realise that the damage was already done on my shoulder blades); and ¾ of a tub of creamed rice consumed. I grabbed extra energy and electrolyte drink and gels and set out.
The 2nd leg of the race transitions into countryside and trail and becomes bit more undulating. I adapted my run/walk intervals to the terrain, and tried to maintain my fluid and energy intake. The heat was building and it was even hot in the shady areas through the woods. It was one of those still hot shimmering summers days, far more suited to lolling in the garden with a glass of Pimms. Bothwell Castle stood tall above the path, the red sandstone radiating and emphasising the heat. Roundabout the David Livingstone centre I felt that my energy levels were dropping, becoming a bit erratic but nothing to worry about. Things were still on track, then, just past the David Livingstone Centre, bang, I fell. It was not a particularly tricky bit of path and I have no idea what happened but I went down hard and heavy. It hurt. After I minute I got up just as someone from the group ahead of me came back to check I was OK: many thanks to that runner. No serious damage done, just bruised hands and thumbs and a cut knee. Onward to checkpoint 2: Strathclyde Park. I was still on schedule.
Sue joined Alasdair at check point 2 and it was no messing: back pack off; a couple of sarnies to eat; pack re-stocked along with a warning that I needed to drink more water, a lot more water; cuts and scrapes cleaned; buff soaked with cold water; shoes changed; sun block re-applied. I was getting chafing on my back from backpack so Body Glide applied to try and ease it. I often have problems with chafing, but usually in other spots and caused by clothing, so this was new experience. Then it was a walk out while taking a gel with L-Carnitinein it to help with muscle repair.
Just before leaving the check point I asked what the temperature was: 26 degrees was the answer: phew! I am usually good in the heat and bad in the cold. Part of the Antarctic challenge is about pushing me out of my comfort zone. However, today I was not so comfortable with the heat. The next 8 miles to check point 3 are pretty open and exposed. The sun and heat were bouncing off the tarmac around Strathclyde Park. There was some brief respite then open again through Baron’s Haugh and across the famous cow field. At this point I began to suffer. There was a section along a concrete track after the cow field and the heat was almost unbearable. I subsequently heard that the temperature hit 30 degrees at this time. I slowed to a walk. Even back in
the woodland the heat was stifling, and then it was a slow hard pull up the track towards the road and Garion Bridge. I was drinking as much as I could. I tried to eat some crisps but could only suck the salt off them. It had been a very, very slow and tortuous 6 miles, and I had lost a lot of time. This was going to be all about finishing in whatever time it took.
Alasdair & Sue met me at Garion Bridge. I was not at my best: my concentration had gone and I was struggling to focus, my energy levels were rock bottom and I did not think that I could run any more. The demons in my head were trying their level best to get me to stop:
'just walk the rest of the way, in fact just drop out; understandable in this heat and these conditions. Go on. You know that would be for the best’.
I was now probably about 30 – 45 minutes behind my anticipated schedule. Alasdair and Sue took me in hand. Back pack off and water bladder checked: good I had been drinking more. Buff soaked in water; t-shirt had to be changed whether I wanted to or not; suck or eat cashew nuts; re-stock the back pack. I managed to eat some of the cashews but what I really wanted was fluids. I drank a bottle of coke. There was no question of stopping. Their job was to get me through that stop and that is exactly what they did, with a mix of orders, persuasion and encouragement. Right off again, it does not matter if you are walking; see you at check point 3.
I set out slowly, but soon the coke worked its magic and kicked in: my cadence picked up and I became more alert. The pace picked up and before I knew it I was running through the grass around the curve of the river to Mauldslie Bridge. It is only a couple of miles between the two bridges, but without the interim stop at Garion I would have been close to withdrawing at check point 3. Instead I reached it feeling significantly better and more motivated. There was no question that I was going to finish. I only needed a quick stop, enough time to drink a can of Starbucks double espresso shot and some water. They also tipped lots of cold water all over me.
This last section of the route is the longest as almost 12 miles. It is also really beautiful and challenging with twists and turns and sharp inclines and declines. I just powered on. Somehow and from somewhere I had found some reserves. I was
also aware that the temperature was cooling slightly. Before long I was approaching the beautiful picture post card village of Crossford and Sue ran out to meet me just as I was taking another gel with L-Carnitine. At Crossford Alasdair was waiting with an ice lolly: God, it was amazing! It was so good.
Next meeting point was to be at Kirkfieldbank just where the track joins the road through the village. I had met and passed a couple of other women runners at the power station. I had been getting faster and was actually making up time. We chatted briefly as we walked and ran and then I pulled ahead as we crossed the river and joined the track to Kirkfieldbank. At the end of the track I met Alasdair and Sue. The two runners caught me up, stopped and we chatted while sorting ourselves out. I consumed another can of espresso shot then headed off again with the girls, not far now but a lot of climbing up and down. After an initially slow start I picked up the pace again and pulled ahead of the others. As I climbed up out of the village and turned into the woods I took another hit of caffeine and sugar from a 2nd surge caffeine gel: this would get through the last couple of miles.
At last I popped out onto the road down into New Lanark. There were two runners ahead of me. I picked up the pace and passed one before starting on the cruellest of finishes. We go through the village, then a climb back up a track, above and past the finish area, before looping and dropping back down along the river and onto the green where the finish is located. As I whooped my way across the finish, there was Lee waiting with a huge smile and a hug, and there too was
Alasdair and Sue waiting and smiling. I had a bit of a wobble after finishing, but Sue kept me on my feet and guided me round a couple of laps of the finish area before I lay down, with my feet propped up against a tree trunk and with they poured water over me. I just needed to cool down. I felt like all my internal organs had melted and turned into soup. Some much needed salt from a packet of mini Ritz crackers: genius, Sue, thanks.
This was my year. I got a PB of almost 23 minutes which given the conditions was good going and testament to my growing fitness and strength. I got the nutrition and fluids during the event just about right. Sugar and caffeine powered me through the last 12 miles which maybe was not the best approach, but it was so hot I was managing to eat solid foods. Alasdair and Sue were a good team knowing exactly what was needed when and working slickly to get me through the stops quickly and with everything I needed. Kit played a part too: a decent pair of well fitting sunglasses with ventilation; a buff with UV protection to cover my head and which could be soaked with cold water to keep my head cool; and finally loose, lightweight shorts and seam free loose t-shirts. I never thought I would say this but a certain ‘swooshed’ brand did me proud. The vest and t-shirt were very fine fabric and a loose cut and so I felt none of the irritation or frustration that you can often feel from your clothing in hot conditions.
Another milestone towards my goal completed. Another challenging event that has shown that my training and hard work are paying off and achieving the level of strength and fitness that I need. Yes, there was 40 – 50 degree difference in temperature, but it provided a valuable test of endurance and mental discipline and strength both of which I will need by the bucket load in November.