A few years ago, I was involved in the trial for an event that a friend was setting up, called “The Railway Relay”. This was to be a team relay event running from Peterhead to Ellon along the old railway line. The total distance of around 27 miles was split into 9 legs ranging from just under 2 miles to just over 4 miles. The idea was that the event would be self navigated, with minimal infrastructure needed as the teams could be self-supported. We completed the trial successfully, and I had an enjoyable day out, although I did find it tough running the second and especially the third leg after sitting in the car in between handovers. In 2015 the event ran for the first time, followed by another successful running in 2016, although I did not take part due to various clashes with other events.
In 2017 I had again decided against taking part, as the maximum distance each runner covers is around 13 miles, and that didn’t fit with my training requirements. However as the weekend drew closer, I was starting to realise that I needed to get a really long run in that weekend. It’s a real thought at the moment getting out for 20+ miles on my own, so I had a look around to see if there were any races that might help me get the distance covered with some company. I started to ponder the possibility of running the relay on my own. When I looked at 2016’s results (after a couple of glasses of prosecco I might add) to see how much slower I was likely to be than the slowest finishing time, I noticed that in the results there was a special solo entrant, who had completed the distance in 5:20, around the sort of time I expected to do.
I duly sent a message to Steven the Race Director, and the next day he came back to me saying that I would be welcome to take part as a solo entrant, as long as I confirmed to him in writing that I would have somebody supporting me to provide water and in case I got into any difficulty. After chatting up my wonderful husband he agreed to provide me with support, and before I knew it, I was in.
After Dundee my training has been going reasonably well. The weekend before the relay I successfully completed a 20/15 back to back, with the 15 miles at a decent pace, especially considering my tired legs. On the day before the relay I had a strong parkrun, managing a good negative split despite the headwind in the second half to achieve my quickest parkrun time since February (at 25:40 still a good two minutes slower than my best, but progress is progress!).
I was treating the race as a training run, and therefore did no taper. The previous week I had run 60 miles, and in the six days before the race I had run 40 miles, meaning that if I successfully completed the whole distance, I would have covered 127 miles in two weeks. I’ve finally managed to lose a few pounds and although I’m still a long way from my best, I’m feeling fitter and stronger than I have of late. I was looking forward to the event.
The relay started in waves half an hour apart, and I was in the first wave, meaning that although I was going to be slower than everyone else, I would hopefully still have some company for most of the time; though there were only 20 teams entered (and 19 started on the day though I didn’t know this until later), so the field was always very spread out. I registered and posed with my baton (Steven very kindly said I didn’t have to carry it the whole way!) and soon it was time for the low key start. There were 5 of us in the first wave, and within a minute the other four had pulled away pretty quickly, so I settled into my own plodding pace, calculating when I thought I could expect to be passed by the first runners from the second wave.
The weather was perfect, warm but not too hot, with just a little breeze. I passed the first handover point and was cheered through, with people calling out support to me for doing the whole thing. It was nice to recognise the handover point from the trial, and I hoped that my previous knowledge of the route would help through the race. I was a little nervous about the self-navigated aspect, but I had my directions printed out and knew that it was only likely to be the last leg that got a bit confusing, as otherwise I was just following the railway line. After a couple of miles I passed a friend from work who was out on a long walk and told me so- I said “I’m running to Ellon, wish me luck!” The first six miles passed by quickly- I was running a bit too quick (and already starting to ponder the possibility of a marathon season best, swiftly telling myself to pipe down and get back in my box as there was still a very long way to go!).
Stu had planned to park at Maud, which we had calculated was around 15 miles along the route, and run back to meet me. At about 8 miles I saw him appearing ahead of me and I was grateful for the company; I had been on my own for pretty much the whole time and unlike others in the race, I had obeyed the no headphones rule. Unfortunately the next mile was suddenly the slowest of the race and after feeling good and strong, I was concerned to feel suddenly quite tired and heavy legged. On looking at the elevation profile afterwards I realised why; although not steep, it was a long steady uphill drag from mile six to around 14, and this had obviously started to take a toll.
Stu told me that Maud was 5 miles away, so it was only at 13 miles. I was a little disappointed to hear this, as I had hoped that I would have Stu’s company for a few miles past halfway and I wasn’t sure how far past Maud he would come with me as he would already have covered 10 miles by then. Still I plodded on, a little worried for how the rest of the day would pan out. We passed through another handover point and I got more cheers. Just before Aden park we passed a section of flooding which I struggled to negotiate, and ended up trashing my trainers; for the next half mile or so my feet seemed to weigh a ton as I tried to lose all the sticky mud I had picked up!
Not long after that the first of the later wave runners passed me, congratulating me as she did. She wasn’t moving that much quicker than me but it was still quite hard watching her head off into the distance! Another couple of runners passed soon after that, and then we were coming into Maud. It was nice as there was quite a crowd there so I stopped for a chat as Stu ran to the car to get water and Lucozade to fill up my bottles, and some hula hoops to replace my salts. My friend Alan offered me an ice lolly and though I declined, I then spend the next few miles wondering if he had really had one and wishing I had said yes!
I was now approaching half way, with just over 2:30 on the clock. I was still on for a sub-5 marathon if I could keep the pace, and on track to beat my predicted time of 5:30, but I felt like I was slowing. As Stu kept me company out of Maud I told him that I would probably have to start run/walking soon. He stayed with me for another couple of miles, then had to head back. He said he would see me at the end, and would maybe come back along the line to finish with me.
And I was alone again. And suddenly, things got a bit easier (as, I know now, I started to head downhill!). There were a few bits that were quite exposed and the headwind was a bit annoying, but at least it meant it never got too hot. I was managing to keep my pace under 12 minute miles, which meant around a 5:15 finish. I was delighted to reach 17 miles and know it was less than 10 miles left, and also to reach the handover point there where the crowd of people waiting gave me a big cheer. I popped up onto the road and for a moment was lost, but then saw the signs across the road for the railway line and headed on my way.
I was still feeling reasonably strong, and the miles were ticking by. Two thirds was a big boost- only half of what I’d already covered to go (I do a lot of mental maths during long races…). I was trying to count the people who passed me so I could have an idea if there was still anybody behind me. It was now around 10 or 11 people although I had slightly lost count. Although some people passing didn’t take me on, some were amazing, telling me how well I was doing and how impressed they were (and a few also told me how crazy I was), and those little moments really helped me keep going.
The penultimate handover point was about 6 miles out and I was passed by another couple of runners around here. I was taking a few walking steps here and there but still maintaining pace, and still on for a marathon season’s best. This handover point was ace as the runners stood in a tunnel and cheered me as I ran through.
Then things got a bit tough again. I was still 5 miles or so out, although I didn’t know exactly. Nobody had passed me for a while and although I thought there might be one or two people still behind me, I also thought I could now be totally last (turns out I was). There was also a bit of a tough uphill drag from miles 23 to 24 which I struggled with. I quickly took out my phone to text Stu and said “ETA 45 minutes, would kill for company for the last mile or two”- then it was head down and get on with it.
I passed what I thought was the final handover point, but there was nobody there. Shortly after that I did start to wonder if I had gone wrong, and I was very relieved to see an arrow and some tape pointing down off the line. I was relieved for about 30 seconds until I started going down the big steps. After 25 miles they were not pleasant and I hobbled and swore my way down, then started to run along the river. Shortly after that I reached a bridge which I seemed to remember approaching from the other side of the river in the trial, and worried again that I had somehow gone wrong. I took out my instructions but my tired brain was struggling to focus. I asked a passing dog walker the way to the sports centre and she pointed me to the left, and then with great relief I saw some more tape.
I followed the river round, and then a little while later my wonderful husband appeared ahead of me- what a sight for sore eyes! It meant I no longer had to worry about the route and could just follow him to the end. He told me there were only a couple of kilometres left, and that we were on the parkrun route (which I hadn’t really recognised until that point!). That meant the route was going to measure slightly shorter than the worst case I had prepared myself for, which was a big relief at that point. I did panic slightly that I was going to have to go up the hill at the end of the parkrun but Stu reassured me I didn’t have to go that way!
I passed through marathon distance around 4:55, which I was delighted with, and then it was nearly the end. Up a short painful slope, trying to avoid getting run over by Craig Miller, then up another wee grassy slope. Along a narrow path, trying not to fall down the hill, and people moved out my way and cheered me through, and then I was finished! 26.6 miles in 4:58, dead last, but to the hugest cheer and with a big grin on my face (thanks to Kristi for capturing the moment)!
I collapsed on the grass for a moment, then caught up with Steven and grabbed my free can of Strongbow (there was only alcohol left, what a shame…) before heading into the scout hut for the prize giving. It was crowded when I entered and then everybody looked round and the room burst into cheering and applause for me; I was a bit embarrassed but also super chuffed, and did a little comedy bow. The support from everybody was awesome and really did make my day.
The prize giving passed quickly and then I did the draw for the raffle, then it was time to hobble to the car and head back down the road. We caught up with the athletics from the morning before I had a (mostly) glorious shower- the moment when I involuntarily screamed as the water hit chaffing I hadn’t noticed until that point notwithstanding! An evening of prosecco and athletics followed- perfection!
This is a no frills but excellent event that I would thoroughly recommend- the camaraderie and team aspect is brilliant and it’s a lovely route. It was so much more fun than trying to grind through a long run on my own, and I’m very grateful to Steven for allowing me my solo entry. My last word goes to my amazing husband; weekend days off are precious and he sacrificed his Sunday to support me through yet another of my crazy ideas. I’ve never been so happy to see somebody as I was to see him at the end, and I would not have been able to do it without him. He also proceeded to top up my wine glass and give me leg rubs through the evening; what a star he is. I am a very lucky lady.