The day finally came for that first post pandemic event: Run the Blades 50k from Breaking Strain Events which is run at Whitelee Wind Farm, Eaglesham and just 6ish miles from home. The wind farm is the UK’s biggest on-shore wind farm (and one of the biggest in Europe) with 215 turbines that can generate up to 539 megawatts of electricity, enough to power over 350,000 homes.
The Run the Blades race route is on the dirt tracks around the outer edges of the farm over moorland and through pockets of woodland with regular undulations providing some variety just short of 2k feet of ascent.
This was my first organised event in two years, although I had completed a couple of Global Odyssey challenges at the start of 2020; and so there was a lot going on in my head and I have dubbed it ‘Over-coming the Fear’.
- The Fear:
- Will I complete the event? Will it matter if I don’t? Do I even want to do events again?
- Will I be able find my ‘race head’ and get into the zone?
- Am I well enough trained? I have missed a couple of long runs and whilst I have a lot of miles on my legs and I short on the long miles.
- Will I be comfortable among a larger group of people? I have been cautious as I have emerged from restrictions and still not comfortable in certain situations and with groups of people.
- Will I enjoy running in a competitive environment or has it been too long?
- The analysis paralysis (which always happens a bit, but which was particularly bad this time):
- Drop bags at checkpoints: do I bother? Or do I just carry everything I want? If I do bother, which checkpoints? All of them or just some?
- What do I put in my drop bags?
- What should I wear? What additional kit should I take?
- What shall I have for breakfast?
- What time should I set out and turn-up? It’s so close to home I could do that last minute thing. Maybe not.
- To taper or not? Let’s face it I have had a two year taper. On the other hand doing 66 miles including two longs runs in the week before the week of the event may not have been one of my better ideas. So, yes, maybe a mini week long taper and rest might be a good idea.
- Face mask or buff or both?
- Setting some expectations:
- Enjoyment. This had to be the priority. It would be pretty grim and not good mentally if I had a bad day. How to do that?
- Take the pressure to finish or perform away. I set the performance bar pretty low. My long training runs (albeit on more challenging terrain) had been slow and so I set are target of anything less than eight hours would be a bonus. If once going it looked like I was going to be over eight I would probably stop.
- Expect to be in the company of the sweeper for most of the day.
- Set the mantra: eat, drink, go steady; eat, drink, go steady.
- Enjoy the company of your ultra-family. It’s an outdoor event, the numbers are small, you can keep your distance, you can cover your face.
- Remember how lucky you are to be able to get back out there and run. Remember that feeling from previous events that you have enjoyed.
- Remember the support and love of your ultra-family and that shared passion.
- Re-kindle the passion.
I left the house just after 7:30 am to arrive just before 8:00 am, my customary hour before the start. The breakfast dilemma had quite easily resolved itself when I stopped thinking about it. When I arrived I naturally slipped into the routine of old; registration, hanging about chatting, jumping into the portaloo every five minutes, loitering at the back of the start.
Then we were off to do our tour of the turbines. The conditions were perfect, next to no breeze, cloudy and cool with a couple of light drizzly showers. Although that did mean missing out on the spectacular views, to the west over the Clyde to Arran and Ailsa Craig, and North to the Arrochar Alps, that you can get on a clear sunny day. As the field stretched out I found myself trotting along at fair clip chatting to Heather who was running her first ultra and who was considerably younger than this old super-veteran. Running ten minute miles was not a good plan. Remember ‘go steady’. I decided to drop back and fell into step with Rachel and David who were running a more sensible pace. We kept company and chatted for a few kilometres before I dropped back again around 10k keeping to the mantra.
The kilometres clicked by and ‘Eat, drink, go steady’ was working. I was feeling strong and happy: so happy! I was having a blast. There had been a slight energy dip and a bit of hip discomfort around 15k, which had triggered some anxiety, but nothing that could not be fixed by some judicious fueling and a couple of paracetamol. Soon I was at the second check-point just short of halfway, ref-filling my bottles and re-stocking from my drop bag. Onward, and a quick time-check as I reached 25k: 3:08. Wow! I really did set that bar low. I then adjusted my expectation to aim for a seven hour or slightly over finish time. By 30k I was starting to pass and pull ahead of people which does not often happen: it does provide a boost mentally and motivation to maintain pace and press on.
When the route dropped down and joined a track that was familiar from training runs I didn’t have to look at my watch to know that I was now less than 10k from the finish. I reached the final check-point at 45k just under 6:00 hours. There were two hills left, one long brute and then a short sharp one in the last half kilometre. It was a wise decision to opt for a drop bag here. A single small can of coke to fuel those climbs and I reckoned I could comfortably make sub 7:00 hours even with the hills.
In what seemed like no time at all the last hill was done, and just round the corner was the finish line: whoop, whoop! A finish of 6:38:57, 6th in age category will do nicely, thank-you. I had loved every minute of the day and it was one of those rare days when you relax and just get everything right. I paced well, I hydrated and fueled well and I took the pressure to perform of myself. When you chill and set out to enjoy the day: that is when the magic happens.
- Ultra-running 101 rookie errors:
- Forgot to remove rings
- Forgot paracetamol (thanks to the lovely lady who helped me out)
Thanks to the organisers and all the marshals for their enthusiasm, excellent support and friendly encouragement which always helps us on our way. Run the Blades 50k was an excellent event and great way to overcome the fear and get back out there.
I have entered two more events, with increases in distance, ascent and technical terrain. Of course I want to run in events again, why did I question that? They shape my training, provide goals and milestones towards my challenges and, importantly, provide motivation.