Sunday, 22 July 2012

Clyde Stride Ultra relay 2012

Saturday brought only my second relay race in my few years of running. I had managed to pull off a long awaited parkrun personal best the Saturday before with a time of 21 minutes and 10 seconds, bringing me even closer to that sub 21 minute dream and leaving me feeling positive about the Clyde Stride!

I had been looking forward to the race all week, reflecting back on my memories of my only other relay race, the Three Lochs Way. I had great fun at this event, moving from checkpoint to checkpoint watching all my team mates coming in and completing their legs of the race before getting to run myself. But, as luck would have it, the day before race day and the cold had developed throughout the day while at work. I was expecting to wake up on Saturday morning and feel terrible. Things were not too bad and I managed to wake up before my alarm and get a good pre-race breakfast in. Its a strange feeling being up for a race before 7am and not actually running to around 2pm in the afternoon...the wonders of relay! I headed off to our usual weekend running meeting point, the infamous carpark 4 at Strathclyde park.

My team mates Pat, John, Neil all seemed just as excited as me on the morning of the race. We headed off to the registration area in Partick, Glasgow leaving Neil behind as he set up the Strathclyde parkrun signs. Neil was running the 3rd leg of the relay which starts just outside the park so he was able to give a hand at parkrun and even squeezed in the 5K run as a 'warm-up' (running it in 21.51, although much slower than is usual 18 minutes!). Pat, John and I reached Partick just in time to collect our numbers and head over to the pre-race briefing.

It was a great atmosphere at the start, my first experience of an Ultra Marathon. It was hard to understand that most of the runners were running the full 40 miles, and probably not much slower than it would take the 4 of us! After a few quick safety points and last minute directions we were led up to the start line and ready to say good luck to our first team runner Pat!
The horn was sounded and everyone was on their way in the heat of the sunny Saturday morning. It was a quick dash back to the car and with John's dodgy navigation skills we made our way to the first checkpoint in Cambuslang.

John was running this next leg, known to be the most difficult to navigate with a few patchy areas that runners could easily end up going the wrong way. John reassured me that he had an 'idea' of where he was going!

We arrived in plenty of time, enough time in fact to have a wonder around the local supermarket and purchase some compulsory Jelly Babies, no race is complete without them! Heading over to the first checkpoint John had a quick warm-up, thinking that he was running down the first 200m of his leg it became apparent that his navigation skills are questionable when he doesn't have Moira by his side. He had missed the first turn and was heading the wrong way...luckily it was just a warm-up! We waited in anticipation as the first few runners started coming through. This first leg was mainly urban and around 10 miles. Pat had gave himself around 1 hour 20 minutes to complete the leg and John and I both thought he was underestimating himself and would be in much quicker. With the heat of the day Pat wasn't far off his estimate and John was soon on his way to Strathclyde park!

Pat and I made our way back to the car and along to the next checkpoint. It wasn't long before Neil made an appearance and was ready to run. It was great to see a few regular parkrunners who had came up to support the team at the transition. John wasn't long in meeting us at Strathclyde park and managed to pass 37 runners along the way (not that he was counting!). This was great news for us as the next leg our secret weapon was running!

Neil was off like a rocket and it finally kicked in that I was next to run! The morning really had went in so quick, starting at 9am we were now around lunch time and the temperature had dropped with a slight breeze coming in. The convoy headed back to the water sports centre to get a quick bite to eat and off we went to Maudslie bridge in the clyde valley.

Neil made light work of his 10 mile trail leg and even managed to get us into 3rd place in the relay race! I didn't have much time to congratulate him as it was time for me to run.

I made my way along the hilly 12 mile route concious that I had the pressure of trying to hold on to 3rd place. Neil had a bit of steam left to let out as he ran behind me for the first 4 miles of my leg. This was going to be a hard run, the flat sections seemed to be short, the gradient increasing and hills becoming more and more frequent. There was the added challenge of the long grass, gates to contend with and my favourite...mud and puddles.

It wasn't long before I had caught up with a couple of the ultra runners who were tackling the whole distance. I did the polite thing and held back for a short distance before they gave me the all clear to pass safely, giving them a quick pat on the back and a well done. This wasn't the case for the whole leg, I was passed by 2 relay runners within the first 4 miles. I had surrendered to 5th place as they gradually disappeared ahead of me. The main aim now was to finish in a respectable time.

I had great support along the route as my team mates Pat, John, Neil and Moira had stopped at key points along the way, updating me on our position and how strong I was looking (I didn't feel it, I was exhausted). It must have been around the 7-8 mile mark of my leg when I was told 'your 3rd relay'. Part of this race is about running, the other part is about navigation. There are quite a few twists and turns along the way and you can easily take a wrong turn, adding miles onto your run. I could think of at least 3 points where I nearly went the wrong way, guessing this is where the two runners had ended up going and giving us the advantage of moving back up to 3rd.

I made my way into New Lanark just at the right time, a wedding making its way into the hotel so I was running to bagpipes. My average pace definitely sped up at this point. A quick loop of the falls of clyde path and I was heading for the finish!

I crossed the finish line and it was confirmed that we had held on the 3rd place in the relay race, I was delighted! It wasn't long before the rest of my team made an appearance, I must have ran faster than expected!

This race has to be up there with my favourites. The route, the set-up, the setting and the pleasure of sharing the experience with our team makes this one of those must do races of the year. There is something about a relay race that makes it just that little bit more enjoyable than your regular solo run. Knowing that your team mates are relaying on you gives you that edge to really push yourself and when its all over you are sharing that runners high with your team.

Taking 3rd place was brilliant but the real prize was in the sharing the experience with friends. I can't wait to next year!