‘How do you run 33 miles?’ That's a question I've been asked a lot recently (along with the more obvious, why?) and my answer is always the same... One step at a time, one mile at a time.
As I stood on the start line of the D33 Ultra Marathon on a damp and drizzly morning in Duthie Park in Aberdeen, I
tried to think about the challenge ahead in small manageable segments, one step at a time, one mile at a time, one snack at a time, one checkpoint at a time. My goal, to do my best (inspired by a quote from Cheryl Strayed, one
of my favourite writers).
With a final good luck of encouragement from Liz S, very sadly unable to run due to injury, I was underway and following a trail of runners out of the park and up onto the Deeside Way - a old rail trail running inland from
Aberdeen. There was a temptation to start off too quickly - the terrain was easy underfoot, the rain not too heavy and everyone around me seemed to be speeding up as we left the park - but I resisted and tried to run my own
race at my own pace. The rain got a bit harder, but I was still ticking off the miles, passing signs commemorating the old railway stations, and reached the first checkpoint in about 90 minutes, right on schedule.
I picked up my first bag of goodies, transported to the checkpoint by the excellent volunteers, refuelled, topped up my water bottle and carried on to the second section of the route, where we left the footpath for a little while and covered a few miles on country lanes, before emerging out into the village of Drumoak. There was a bus waiting at the bus stop heading back towards Aberdeen but ‘only losers take the bus’ so I turned left and carried on running! After a short section of pavement by the road, it was then another off road section close to the River Dee, where a muddy footpath had me slipping all over the place and remembering a crazy night with the
Potters Trotters in the rain at Lyme Park (http://potterstrotters.weebly.com/news-views-and-reviews/running-in-the-dark).
The rain seemed to get heavier and I was feeling cold and a little bit sorry for myself. However, it wasn't long before the faster runners were coming past and already on their way back to Duthie Park and the finish. Strangely, this wasn't demoralising at all, but instead had the opposite effect, motivating me to keep going, as almost every runner who passed me gave me a thumbs up or a word of encouragement.
It wasn't long before Checkpoint 2 in sight and I was very nearly at the halfway point, just under 3 hours after the start. I collected my next bag of treats, drank some more water and turned around and headed for home, only 16.5 miles to go! The rain finally stopped and there was even a bit of blue sky. I found myself slowing and took a couple of tactical walk breaks just to catch my breath and take on more fuel... I think I ate a whole bag of jelly beans at one point, which did the trick for a while. I passed quite a few runners between Checkpoints 2 and 3, perhaps benefiting from my slow and steady start. Miles 20 to 24 seemed to go on forever, but after another tactical walk and banana energy bar on the only real hill on the route, I was at the final Checkpoint, collecting my last few goodies and stealing myself for just 8 more miles!
I can't quite remember where it was, but at some point on the final stretch I found myself slowing and running out of breath. On my own, with no other runners in sight, I paused on one of the bridges, looked around at my surroundings, took a few deep breaths and dug deep... giving myself a bit of a pep talk and unleashing my inner warrior - the final few miles are always more of a mental challenge than a physical one. Restored, I knew I could
complete the challenge and carried on, always running more than walking and actually maintaining a similar pace to my first six miles, although it hurt much more. The end was in sight.
With just under 5 miles to go, I received another boost from an unexpected but very welcome source, a lady out for an afternoon run. She was competing a loop from her house along the D33 and ran with me for about a mile,
chatting, offering encouragement and generally being a lovely surrogate for the Potters Trotters - it was like all of the Pink Ladies were there to encourage me and the next mile flew by in her company. Back on my own, I tried to maintain my positive mind set... 4 miles to go, 3 miles to go, just keep going one step at a time. I boosted my flagging energy with a Mars Bar and an energy drink and then it was 2 miles to go, 1 mile to go. I started to see runners who had already completed the race emerging from the park, medals around their necks. ‘Not far now!’ they promised. Then I could hear the announcements from the finish line, I was getting closer. Then Liz S was
there, cheering me on and reassuring me I was just 200 metres from the finish. I turned through the park gate, just about avoiding a small child dressed as a pirate, and put all the energy I had left into my run for the line... it wasn't really a sprint but I worked as hard as I could.
And then I was there, crossing the line in a time of 6 hours and 14 minutes. I collected my medal and commemorative bottle of beer and stumbled to a stop. I had done it and just about the energy left to smile, although couldn't actually bend down to pick up my kit bag. Fortunately, Liz S and other runners were on hand to help and I was soon warming up and enjoying a refreshing cup of tea.
After a walk back to our hotel, a long soak in a bath and a chocolate milk recovery drink, I was feeling almost human again. Steps were a challenge, but that didn't stop me enjoying a celebratory cocktail or two!
I did it, one step at a time.