Sunday, 7 March 2010

Glasgow to Edinburgh for many of the Serpie ultra runners

Pre-race Serpies

The Falkirk Wheel...well, part of it

What a nice tunnel for half a mile

This weekend was the second year of a new race from Glasgow to Edinburgh along canals and it went well for almost all concerned. 56 miles and navigation that basically involved one rule - keep the water on the right. Plus it's as flat as a squished badger, so the perfect ultra for a mass horde of Serpentine runners to attempt, many for their first (proper, i.e. 50 miles+) ultra. It also coincided with a 30th birthday for James Adams, so there were also many turning up in Edinburgh just for the food and drink without going to the bother of burning off the calories first.

12 Serpies had entered but with DNSs and DNFs, only six made it the whole way through. Looks like there's now a significant contingent of ultra runners at our London club, which is only fitting with a Club President, Hilary Walker, who still holds several ultra world records many years after breaking them.

After my couple of months out through injury and the DNF at Rocky Raccoon 100, this was meant to be a chance to have a hard run, without using too much effort. I've got a heavy race schedule over the next few weeks with the Eco Trail de Paris 80k, Jurassic Coast triple marathon and Two Oceans 56k all in quick succession, so I couldn't afford to wipe myself out. And the knee needed to hold up too or a lot of race entry fees would go to waste.

I stayed the night before with Casey in Glasgow, who had been part of the second-placed mixed team at Transalpine. I'd convinced him into running the double marathon but an achilles injury has knocked him out just as he was getting very quick and looked on for a sharp marathon in London. Instead we had a catch up and chatted about the race back in the Alps and about this year's event, which I sadly can't make.

On the morning of the race the forecast and starting conditions were very good, with the Scottish winter easing up so that the only snow was on the nearby mountains. It wasn't even raining and the whole day stayed dry except for a brief light shower mid-afternoon. This isn't the Scotland I'm used to, but it wasn't sunny either so at least one stereotype stood up.

I'd expected a newish race with only 100 entrants and no prize money to have an average field but there were three members of he Scottish 100k team, two male and one female. So my aim of cruising through for a comfy win seemed off the cards, especially when they shot off and really wanted to race it.

Canals aren't the most interesting routes normally, but the background of snowy hills was an improvement on the races I've done on the Grand Union Canal from Birmingham to London. There's also a sight along the way at just over 22 miles in - the Falkirk Wheel. This seems to be partly practical and partly for tourist boats and it lifts barges/boats up from the lower canal to a level 50 feet higher in a carousel-style motion. It was also the only remotely hilly part of the course and surprised me as I had no idea it was there or that a nasty hill would interrupt the easy, but muddy, terrain. Mind you, I think I'd have preferred more hills just to add variety to the course and give the leg muscles a chance to work in different ways instead of just keeping going on the flat. There was a half-mile very dark tunnel just after the Wheel which was a cool addition to the route and I really liked. The slipperiness wasn't great but it made for a memorable, if poorly lit, section. Wish I'd had my camera at that point.

I ran on my own after checkpoint two and was a little bored in third place. I had no inclination to go out hard after the first pair and my legs are only just getting the miles back in them anyway. After keeping up a very even pace to checkpoint four at 42 miles, I lost an incentive to push to the end and decided to jog it in and save my legs so that I could train well during the week. I wanted to know how far behind fourth place was, but reasoned that if he took long enough to catch me I might give him a race to the end as long as my knee and legs felt fine. A slight detour after that checkpoint avoided some scaffolding under a bridge but it was marked and about the only chance to get lost, but you'd have to try hard.

So I had a stretch for a few minutes then jogged a couple of 9-minute miles before working out how long it'd take to finish and decided it was worth going a little quicker just so I'd be on my feet less time. I'd run out of water by this point and the checkpoints only had water and very dilute SIS sports drink (no food). So I ate plenty from my backpack and decided to refill my 2L North Face bladder at the last checkpoint at 47.25 miles. I felt very relaxed and knew that it wasn't long til the end, but then a middle-aged guy zoomed by while I was at the checkpoint.

Suddenly a little spark ignited my competitive streak and I decided to see how fast he was and use his pace to get me to the end a bit earlier. He was clocking 7-minute miles and that was a little above the average pace to this point so I could tell he was just trying to look stronger and drop me so that he could slow down again. But I was feeling very comfy and just sat on his shoulder for a mile to see how he was doing and assess whether I could push past him easily. He did speed up slightly but it was coming up to the last six miles and I wanted to avoid a sprint finish (that's what I now reckon started off my injury in the first place at Fukuoka). So I accelerated and started to really get into the race mood for the first time that day. It's funny that it took his challenge to make me really enjoy the day as I'd have happily cruised into the end at a gentler pace if he hadn't come past me.

I kept the pace at 6:40/mile and stayed at that for a couple of miles to make sure I'd be out of sight and in the clear. I think he slowed down as soon as I overtook as he saw that his burst of pace hadn't dropped me, but I wanted to be sure now that I'd get third as I'd been running for hours and didn't want to have wasted the effort.

Then at just over a mile to go I saw Serpie, Andy Taylor, running the other way and he kept going. I assumed he was getting in a nice run and seeing how many other club members he could see en route after cycling the whole route on a mountain bike first. He told me it was a mile to go, so it looked like my Garmin would show it up as around a mile short, after every checkpoint being exactly the distances advertised. However, after I'd gone a mile and still couldn't see the finish I started to doubt him. He wasn't far out with his estimate and just after that he came up behind me on his way back. Luckily I wasn't struggling and it wasn't a longer race as even minor differences in distances to what's expected can be utterly demoralising in ultras. I finished in third in 6h51m09s and had left myself a comfortable four-minute cushion to fourth.

Overall there were smiles all round and the race went well for most people, apart from the few DNFers, obviously. It's almost exactly the same distance as Comrades at 56 miles (or estimates of 55.2-55.8 from the Garmins I've seen), compared to 55.5 for the down run or around 54.0 for the up run. So that ranks as my second fastest double marathon pace ever. Definitely a good day on my recent mileage. Hopefully the three remaining months to Comrades will mean I can get some pace back and build up to a perfect race. And, most importantly, the knee caused no issues during or after.

The evening's celebrations were chilled after the remaining Serpies came through, mainly before darkness. Serpie results and the winners are below:

Men's winner: Marcus Scotney - 6h22m56s (CR)
Women's winner: Lucy Colquhoun - 7h31m02s

3 - Ian Sharman - 6h51m09s
10 - Claire Imrie - 7h42m05s (2nd woman and her 1st longer ultra!)
11 - Oli Sinclair - 7h43m25s
26 - James Adams - 8h52m07s (birthday boy)
28 - Jen Bradley - 9h00m47s
37 - Diane Haywood - 9h37m55m

72 finishers

DNFs - Nick Copas, Mark Braley


  1. "As flat as a squished badger"...?!?! Never heard that one before! Hahaha. You silly English people. Congrats on the race!

  2. Well, well, reading your report I take it I have spiced up your day somewhat. :-)

    In deed when you passed me that looked so fresh and relaxed and easy that I knew I could not follow that. But certainly you have made my race much more interesting than it was before.

    Congrats for your 3rd place. No hard feelings whatsoever!

    Thomas (middle-aged)

  3. Well done Ian! I actually saw you a lot during the race along the route while I was waiting for my middle-aged husband to appear! Unfortunately he never appeared in front of you! :-) Congratulations and success in your future events. Silke

  4. Great report. Well done on your 3rd place.

    I know a guy who once said that 3 ultras in a year was too much. You blow this out of the water.

    Mrs Mac

  5. Great run Ian and all the best for your races this year. I'll be following your blog.

    Thanks too for your description of Thomas .... we'll get lots of mileage out of that!!!

    John Kynaston