The build up
The D99 Ultra was to be the only 100 mile ultramarathon in Scotland. It was getting organised by Dod Reid, who had organised the D33 over the past 9 years. As this was his last year organising the D33, he wanted to put on a special event and he created the D99. It was to follow the Deeside Way from Duthie Park (Aberdeen), to Ballater, run a 10 mile loop of the Ballater hills and thereafter return to Aberdeen to finish. I signed up in December but had terrible flu over Christmas and a knee injury in January, so I wasn’t well trained. I managed a few good weeks of training in February and I knew I had enough in me to finish the run. If anything, I knew stubbornness and determination would take over my fitness and unless there was a significant problem, I would be crossing that finish line.
I bullied my friend Martin Gordon into signing up for the event last minute. He is a tremendous runner who has had a few podium finishes for ultra events throughout the last few years. We travelled through on the Thursdsy night and got some dinner at the local Zizzi restaurant. I thought this was to be the start of several disasters thought as straight after the dinner, I had to run back to the hotel for what us men would call an explosion (or code brown). It was a close call. We stayed in the Travelodge for the rest of the eveving and sorted out our kit. Due to my prominent aroma, there wasn’t to be any pre race cuddles on this occasion.
The taxi driver nearly had a heart at attack at 8am when we jumped in his taxi, fully clothed in running gear, asking for him to take us the 1.3 miles down to Duthie Park. We walked into the park and we followed the other runners who had done the same. Registration was organised, although it was absolutely freezing. We collected our race numbers, sorted out our drop bags and waited about for the briefing. I said hello to a few friendly faces who I had met at other ultra events. It was close to 9am and we were ready. We got the “don’t be a fanny” talk by the medic and it was time to start.
We were counted down from 10 and off before we knew it. Like most ultras, it was a slow start with no one wishing to go off too fast. For the first few miles, Martin and I settled in a small group behind the front runners. We were happy with being behind Mike Raffan, who is a previous winner of the Great Glen Ultra. We knew he had done an ultra the weekend before but we hoped he was going to set a reasonable and comfortable pace to sit behind. We knew he was the fittest and likely to do very well. I met and spoke with Jonathan Ward (@runningwithwardy) who I knew through Instagram. He loves an endurance event and we spoke about all things running. We were running on the cycle path and everything seemed relatively easy. After a few miles and a quick glance behind, I realised that Martin and I had moved into the lead pack with only one other runner. We were hitting 8:20 minute miles which we knew was too fast. We commented that it was not a good idea to be ahead of Mike Raffan, whom we had total respect for.
The miles were passing by but the weather was changing. I was overheating in my jacket, but without it there wasn’t any protection against the wind. I kept it on and suffered. I knew I shouldn’t have worn my long sleeved under armour as I was sweating. I took a gel and we kept plodding along. By mile 10, we were back onto a road section which provided some relief from the same cycle path which we had been on since the beginning. The chap we had been running with had taken off into the distance and it was just me and Martin going solo in 2nd and 3rd place. It was quite nice to see parts of the country that we had never seen before. About 16 miles in, 4th place emerged behind us and we ran into CP1 together like total professionals. Here, Martin and I welcomed the quick stop for a refuel and some power walking. The other chap was off and nowhere to be seen again (eventual 2nd place).
After Banchory it was up up up Scolty Hill, which was about a 1000 ft climb over 2/3 miles. The last incline was a hands on knees job and it absolutely burst the quads. There was complete relief when I hit the top and Martin was still there, taking a trig point selfie. Another runner went passed but we wernt really concerned about placing, we were here to enjoy ourselves. We cautiously ran down the path on the other side and took on the big rolling woodland tracks. For the few miles that followed, Martin would make a few meters ground when hiking the up hills, but I would reappear by his side on the downhill. It was like an unofficial game of cat and mouse…I still don’t know who won.
Mile 24/25 is where I started to struggle a little. Martin was gaining 20 meters or so every mile and my pace was slowing down to a plod, rather than the consistent sub 9 minute miles. Jonathon Ward (Wardy) appeared behind me in the distance and he looked to be moving well. I was dreaming of having something to eat at the next checkpoint, but it took forever to arrive. I lost sight of the runners in front and realised I had slowed down significantly. I tried to take on a few snacks, but I had run out of juice so I had nothing to wash away the sweet taste. Another few sections of forest tracks and roads led us over a bridge where a volunteer snapped me in action.
CP2 (29 miles) was in the village hall at Kincardine O’Neil. I met my friend Chris Crowley, who was marshalling. He told me to eat but I think I had 3 crisps and some coke before leaving. I walked the best part of a mile, chewing on some shot bloks and other liquid type gels. Wardy had finally passed me and Martin took off up the hill into the distance. I wasnt sure if it was because I was then on my own, but things got harder. I got a bit confused in a village called Aboyne and had to wait for the next runner to ask where we were going. I had been on the right path but I just wanted to make sure. From here it was a gruelling run along a forest / cycle path for miles. I could see almost a mile or so up the the track and it was definitely playing with my head. I was getting slower and slower and I could see my average pace was dropping to almost 10:00. This was my least favourite section of the course.
At bang on 45 miles, I arrived at Ballater. As I was walking into the village hall, Martin was walking out. He was off to do the 10 mile loop around the hills of Ballater and return to the checkpoint before going all the way back to Aberdeen. He said he was going to wait for me when he had finished his loop but I secretly wanted him to continue and do well. He must have been in 2nd place. I got my halfway bag and grabbed my head torch and a few more snacks. I took a quick cup of coffee and set out shortly after Martin. I went out before a few of the other runners who were taking a longer rest. The first hill was pretty bloody steep, I stopped a few times and swore like an outrageous kid with tourette’s. “Who the fucking hell decided we should go up hills” I repeated over and over. I plugged in my music and tried to run to some sort of rhythm, but it wasn’t to be. The downhills were as sore as the uphills, but I plodded on. Wardy went flying past me on a steep path and I followed his route, trying my best to keep him in the distance once again.
It started getting dark earlier than expected. I started hiking up the last hill above Ballater about 630pm and I remember switching the head torch on for the assent. Once again I wondered which horrible person had decided the route and for us to climb a 1000ft hill halfway into an ultra. I climbed, climbed some more and then climbed some more before getting to the top. I caught up with the runner in front, whom I had run either behind or in front off since mile 30. I blasted down the hill tracks and left nothing behind. I made my way through the forest, along the streets and into the Ballater checkpoint for the 2nd time. Again, as if by magic, Martin was hovering at the front door, waiting for me. He refused to go on and he was insistent on waiting for me for the return to Aberdeen. I quickly grabbed my kit bag, got some soup and coffee (awesome combination) and changed my trainers. I was ready for the last 45 miles, or so I thought.
For the next 10 miles, Martin and I were flying. We flew past a chap who had obviously overtaken us at Ballater without us noticing. Our new lease of life was rubbing off on each other and we were clocking up the miles. It seemed effortless and I started dreaming of getting a really good time because we were obviously going to continue flying at that pace for the remaining miles. After 11 quick miles, I started feeling it and realised I had maybe gone “all out”, too quickly. The energy reserves had vanished and I was starting to fall behind. Martin started walking every so often and it was clear it was for my benefit. I needed to get to the next checkpoint pretty quickly as I was struggling and I had used all my fluids. I distinctly remember Martin complaining of having chafing going on down in his manhood area and he stopped to lube it up with some vaseline, whilst I continued to walk on ahead (for clarity). I too was suffering from some uncomfortable chafing on my bollocks which was getting more painful with each step, but I dismissed stopping and convinced myself that the remaining 32/33 miles would not take that long…
Running back into Kincardine O’Neil was a welcomed sight and I got to meet my 2 pals Victoria and Chris. I even got to meet the worlds 2nd cutest Spaniel (behind my own of course) for some kisses and cuddles. 3rd place (Wardy) was already sitting eating but he left shortly after our arrival. I ate 4 slices of pizza and some cake which was washed down with some more coffee. I debated using the toilet for some privacy in lubing my bollocks up, but Martin wanted to get going so once again I dismissed the idea. This would be a big mistake.
We walked/jogged for a few miles as we both seemed to be suffering. Martin was feeling sick and my toes were getting severely painful. Our pace had dropped to a measly 12/13 minute miles and our walking to running ratio increased significantly. At bang on 78 miles, we started the climb up Scolty hill. Who’s bloody idea was it to climb a 400m hill this far into race I’ll never know. By this point I hated hiking, running and walking and I promised myself a hundred times that I was giving up all forms of exercise and becoming a fat sloth. After passing Wardy halfway up the hill (not sure if he was pissing, shiting or lubing), he went flying past us on the final climb. We checked in with the Marshall and cautiously proceeded with the steep decent. I hated hills so much and I had under estimated the course.
With 17 miles to go, we checked back into the Banchory checkpoint. Whilst we arrived and took a quick break, the Police arrived. They wondered what we were doing and they thought we were mental. I asked the 2 officers to join us for the remaining 17 miles to Aberdeen, but they politely declined my offer and instead they offered me a lift to somewhere I would get a rest for the night. I think they just wanted some of the checkpoint food but fair play to them for stopping and getting some banter. Waterbottles filled and 2 chocolate freddos later, we set off again. We barely managed 30 seconds of jogging before we would stop and walk again. We were targeting sub 20 hours but I just wanted to finish. Time or placings did not matter anymore. 90 miles came and we had succumbed to only walking.
With 10k to go, Martin obviously had more reserves in the tank as he was walking ahead, out of sight. Each step was hard work but all I could think about was the shower and bed waiting for me in the hotel. One minute I was freezing and shivering and another I was boiling and sweating. I’m still not sure to this day what was happening. At 98 miles, the board on the cycle path showed Duthie park as being 2 miles away. Absolutely fantastic news I thought. I walked on for what seemed like another few miles and out of nowhere I heard someone fart. It wasn’t just a normal fart, it was loud and what I would normally class as a ripper. It wasn’t me and Martin was too far ahead for it to be him. I stopped, looked around, but there was no one about. I heard some voices, but again I couldn’t see anyone. I told myself I was being delusional and I walked on. I stumbled to the side and nearly fell into the bushes. After a moment of shaking my head and waking up, I regained my composure and cautiously walked on.
Finally Martin reached the gates to Duthie Park and he waited for me to catch up. We mustered a slow and painful jog around the park and towards the finish line. I overheard a few shouts of congratulations as we got closer and closer. We had already agreed that placings didn’t matter to us so we crossed the line together, arm in arm. My watch showed 101.1 miles in a time of 20 hours and 18 minutes. We had done it. We were 4th and 5th finishers. We had a quick chat with the organisers and swiftly organised a taxi to take us to the hotel. I was dreading seeing the damage to my toes and my manhood.
Reflecting on the race, once again I’ve learned a lot. My nutrition was a lot better this time around, compared to previous ultras, but there is still took for improvement. In future I would maybe take an extra 5 or 10 minutes at checkpoints to eat as much as possible, meaning I would hopefully have more energy for the layer stages of the race where I walked a lot. I had my music and a podcast on for less than 2 hours when I was on my own, but I felt it helped to keep moving. Maybe I should do this more often. If I ever feel chafing on my bollocks again, I will definitely be stopping and sorting it out. Let’s just say the shower was painful for a few days.
An absolute fantastic event along the Deeside Way with some amazing views. The event was tremendously well organised and the checkpoints were stocked with helpful staff and lots of food. The reception and banter at the Ballater checkpoint was the best I have seen and I’ve never seen so many happy volunteers. My only criticism would be the fact that it was an out and back course, meaning we ran the same 45 miles twice. Personally this makes it mentally harder for me as I know the route and how far to the next CP / finish. Maybe a circular route would have been better, but as a one off event it was a pleasure to be part of.
Distance – 110.1 miles
Time – 20 hours 18 minutes
Placing – Joint 4th / 52 finishers