During October, I was contacted on Instagram and offered a place in the Tweed Valley Ultra, which takes place about 60 miles away from Glasgow in Scotland. Whilst I would normally turn down such races due to the location being too far away from Inverness, I remembered that I had been planning a trip away to Glasgow that weekend. I got my place confirmed and booked a room in a Premier Inn in Glasgow for the evening before.
On race morning, I got up at 430 am and had a 90 minute drive to the race start. My first feel for the event was that there was a very relaxed atmosphere around the place. Registration went smoothly as all I had to do was give my name and distance (65K) and pick up my free t- shirt. Breakfast was on offer in the cafe, but I was still full from my meal out the evening before.
I got my kit together and made sure I had my gloves and a buff, which I wrapped around my wrist to wipe the sweat from my head. I also carried the compulsory equipment which included a first aid kit and a headtorch. I saw some others arranging drop bags, but I didn’t bother with them on this occasion.
At 730am, we all gathered close to the start line for the race briefing. I spoke with a few strangers and wished everyone luck. From looking around, there appeared to be a good field of runners present. There was a good few lads who were wearing club tops who looked fast, and there were others who I could tell were there to enjoy the day at a leisurely pace. I thought I probably looked like someone who should be placed in the middle of them.
We were counted down from 10 and we set off up the trail road for what I can only describe as 2 miles of hills, hills, hills. I started conservatively so I wasn’t going fast, but within a minute or so, a large group of runners were out of my view and away like they were running a 10K. I stuck to my own pace and I actually set myself a goal of running with a female who looked physically fit. At the end of the 2 miles and 600 ft of elevation, we started to zig zag through the Forrest on single woodland paths.
Mile 4 was a good downhill burst to the main A72 road which ran alongside the River Tweed from Peebles to Innerleithen. About 6 or 8 lads went flying past me on the downhill at a silly speed. Infact it was so fast they actually made me look slow. I decieded to keep things nice and controlled and we got onto the cycle path which led us along the riverside towards the golf course. I wasn’t sure if it was the tarmac, but my left calf started seizing up and became a tad sore. It wasn’t enough to stop, but enough for me to think ‘ouch ya fucker’. I tried running a couple of different ways and that either seemed to do the trick or it took my mind off things.
As we turned off from the golf course, we ran on the main road for a few miles. It was very lumpy and bumpy, as ‘what goes up, must come down’. I still hadn’t caught up with the group in front, but I wasn’t worried about placing. I could see that my average pace was ticking along nicely about 8:45. About mile 7, I turned into a small car park off the main road and clocked past checkpoint 1.
We entered the Forrest and had to zig zag up the side of a hill. I stopped for a few seconds to remove my jacket and I packed it away in my vest. I was beginning to warm up again and I noticed I had caught a young lad and was running right on his arse. I didn’t want to pass him as the speed he was doing was perfect, but I could see he was getting annoyed as I was breathing down his neck. When we came to a clearing, he nipped to the side and it left me with no option but to sail past him. I took on a couple of squares of Clif Bar Shot Bloks and trundled on. I caught up with and passed a female runner, who had decieded to walk for a while (think she overcooked the hill).
We left the Forrest and got back onto the tarmac, which did nothing for my foot comfort as I was wearing trail trainers. We ran along the main road for a few miles, with nothing but the occasional farm vehicle passing us. Even the sheep looked up from their Sunday grazing to show their opinion that we were all mad. A few more twists and turns along the main road and we arrived at checkpoint 2, which was roughly 12 miles. I arrived in 28th position and in a time off 1 hour 45 minutes.
As with CP1, I ran straight through the CP and focused on the hills ahead. A few guys were still running up the steep sections, wasting all their energy, but a fast hike was just as fast and efficient for me. I managed to catch a few of the older boys and zipped past them. I was feeling good. The trail continued up the hill until I saw a photographer sat on the ground. I quickly looked at my watch and saw that it was bang on the half marathon distance. I picked up the pace and smilled.
The course eventually opened up onto open moorland, but the visability got significantly worse. There was open fields, heathery paths and stiles to climb over and I was in my elements. This was what I enjoyed. At one stage, I could see about 5 meters in front of me but I loved it. I pressed hard and I knew that if I kept up my effort, I wouldn’t be caught by anyone behind me and I would be making ground on the person in front. I had stopped for a quick piss and it was very much enjoyable. It was soo cold there was steam coming off my wee man. I took in the scenery for 20 seconds, got my breath back and fired off down the decent.
Sure enough, a shadowy figure appeared in the distance and I had caught the chap in front. I exchanged a brief hello and I left him in the fog. The trail had become a bit wet but I was leaping over muddy puddles like a hyper child, not giving a care in the world if I was getting splashed or covered in mud. The terrain was similar to that of what I had been training on during the lead upto the event so I was able to push harder and faster without compromising too much energy.
Around mile 19, the course came to its highest point. I walked a short hill and realised that someone had almost caught me up. The fog had settled lower down and a volunteer was standing by an open view point. I doubled checked it wasn’t an official checkpoint and gave a polite wave. It was only later I realised she has been taking a photo.
In order to create a bit of space, I blasted down the next 2 miles of what I can only described as a technical single path which led deep into the Forrest. Luckily, it was all flat or downhill for a few miles and I got to unleash the legs. It felt like I was flying, but in reality I was only doing about 8 minute miles. I ate a few more shot bloks and tried to wash them down with some water, but realised I had run out. I found a little stream and I attempted to fill my soft bottles up. It was at this point I had my first wobbit moment of the race. I fell over into the stream whilst trying to fill the bottles and it was an absolute effort getting back upto the track. I composed myself, drank some water and took 20 seconds before continuing into a slow jog.
Around mile 22, I passed checkpoint 3 in a time of 3 hours and 31 minutes. I was in 22nd place and still feeling ok. The route moved back onto the main country road and I managed to keep a steady pace. I could see a few boys in the distance, but I was concentrating on my own run for a change. Yes I wanted to catch them, but it was still early doors and I had it in my head that I would try and press on for the last 10 miles. Just as the route turned off to go back into the Forrest, my watch beeped to signal 26 miles. I had a quick look at the time which showed 4 hours and 10 minutes. I was amazed to notice that I had racked up more than 4000 ft of elevation gain. I knew in my mind the full course was about 5000 ft, so I was happy to figure out that there wasn’t many hills left.
The route exited the Forrest and it weaved alongside the River Tweed on what appeared to be a disused track. I almost snapped my ankle as my left trainer got caught in a rabbit hole. Luckily I did no damage and I continued along, catching 2 lads who were clearly going through a difficult time. After neogitiating what appeared to be a mud and gate obstacle course, I saw the high viz vests of the volunteers who were maning checkpoint 4. Now at 32 miles, I clocked through in 20th place and in a time of 4 hours and 58 minutes.
It got serious. I knew the last 8 miles would be important and I ran my bloody heart out. I wanted to stop so many times, but my head told me to keep on going. I kept the legs turning over along the riverbank, before the route returned to the cycle path which ran alongside the golf course. I saw a runner in the distance, he was wearing green shorts and a white t- shirt. I called him Irish. ‘I must beat Irish’, I repeated to myself. I was getting closer and closer and I finally caught him. He increased his pace and kept up with me for 30 seconds or so, but then he gave up and retreated to a slower pace. I kept on looking behind me, hoping Irish has stopped to walk, but was always there, looming in the background.
We got to the bottom of the hill and I knew there was only 2 or 3 miles to go. I power hiked the steep hill as there was nothing left in the legs to even contemplate running. I turned around and saw Irish closing the gap behind me. He was firing up the hill and catching me. ‘Just stop and walk’, I thought, but he was determind and he was soon level with me. I summoned up enough energy and ran alongside Irish for a minute or two. We got faster and it became a foot race. I wasn’t loosing a place this late in the game.
Suddenly Irish got cramp and he pulled up in pain. I decieded to do the horrible thing and carry on, only after making sure he was ok. I had won the race between us. I blasted down the single track path and I had under 10 minutes to sneak in under the 6 hour 30 mark. I saw the finish area and I overtook another runner on the last corner. I felt pretty bad for him but I was delighted with another placing. I ran up the hill and crossed the line, absolutely knackered, but delighted. As I didn’t know my placing until after the race, I genuinely thought I would have been in the top 10. I knew I had put in a good performance and there couldn’t have been that many people in front of me. I got my ticket printed and I saw that I was 16th finisher, 8th in my category.
- Time – 6 hours 28 minutes
- Placed 16th/101 runners
Really enjoyable event. A fantastic atmosphere and good varied route. Fantastic Marshalls and although I didnt use the checkpoints much, they were full of varied foods. A great medal to finish which is always a bonus.