Apologies for the belated report…
Last Sunday I completed the Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultra. For those that aren’t familiar it’s a 38 mile ultra marathon which includes the three peaks of the Eildons – roughly 3700ft of ascent. This was my last big race of the season and rounded off my year from non-runner in January to completing a marathon and two ultras.
The day started early with a 5am rise to get organised and fed and down to Jedburgh (approx 1 hr 15 mins away) for registration. I had left it very late to print out a route map and lo and behold at 5:30am my printer decided it would stop working completely. Magic. Next followed a last minute trip for petrol. First petrol station wouldn’t accept my card (at two different pumps) so I left and headed for the next station. Success. It was about 6:20am now and I was on the road at last.
Arrived in Jedburgh easily enough and headed straight for registration. A bit of faffing around with attaching my race number then dropped off my drop bags for the three checkpoints throughout the route (mile 10, 18 and 28). Once all that was sorted it was just a waiting game til 8am when we kicked off.
There had been heavy rain the night before and the morning had brought blue skies but some light showers. The forecast was pretty mixed for the day ahead. The course would turn out to be pretty muddy although not as much as I’d read about the previous year.
The gun went off and buoyed by my speed sessions in training I set off pretty quickly aiming to really improve my overall time. From a typical 10 minute mile on long distance races I was covering the first few at 8:30 or so and felt great (idiot). There were a few tarmac miles at first then we joined St Cuthbert’s Way where we would spend the bulk of the race. It was definitely muddy and I found it took a bit of extra effort in the mud to keep moving.
The terrain was a nice mix of trail paths and fields and I seemed to cover the ground quite comfortably. By mile 8-10 or so I had settled into a more sustainable pace of about 9:30 – 10 minute miles. A false sense of security at the start maybe as I’d headed out too fast but not to worry (yet!). Sustain this pace and all would be well.
I felt a massive twinge at some point before CP1 in my left ankle. I’d twisted it umpteen times on the hills in training but it stopped me in my tracks. I picked up slowly and kept on. Hit the CP and grabbed my drop bag without stopping. Soon after – by about half marathon distance – I was getting a lot of pain on the front of my right foot. It ran from my ankle down to just about my toes. I’d felt this before and been sent for an X-ray for a possible stress fracture a few weeks back. I hoped it would improve but it didn’t and my average pace was beginning to suffer now. I’d been fine in training.
CP2 and I had already been battling thoughts of withdrawing (the dreaded DNF) but kept pushing them far away. Collected my bag and spent a couple of minutes refilling my water bottles and getting some food onboard before tackling the three peaks. It was a slow ascent for me but the reward of reaching the top of each peak was worth the work. It felt like gale force winds at the top and I was running and hoping I would remain on the ground as I descended. Last descent and I let go a bit but my right foot was really bothering me.
The next miles to CP3 were pretty grim and I managed to walk / run most of it. By the time I reached CP3 I was really hungry – having under-estimated how long I would be out I had not brought enough food. I was delighted to see a table full of left over food that other runners didn’t need. I stopped for a good 5-10 minutes to take on a sandwich, cheese, sweet bits and bobs and some fluids. I was sorely tempted to withdraw here. I had walked the two miles heading up to CP3 and was facing the prospect of walking another 10 because running now was near impossible.
I got a grip and decided it was definitely happening and I should man up. I was limping by now and developed a new style of movement that I like to call power hobbling. This format continued for the next 9 miles. My foot was bloody sore and I was in obvious pain but I knew I would recover sooner from that than withdrawing and feeling bad about it for a long time to come. Besides, I felt there would be more learning in doing what I did than pulling out. In retrospect I stand by that decision and would do the same again.
The weather really closed in by this time and it was cold and wet. Add to that the fact I had really slowed down and was covering a mile in about 15 or 16 minutes I was really cold. Tough. I was tired too by now and had forgotten about navigation. The route was an out and back 18 miles with a loop of the Eildon’s so I had covered the route I was coming back on but couldn’t really remember some of it.
I kept holding out for the road section as I knew by then it wouldn’t be more than a couple of miles or so. It was getting dark now as I approached Jedburgh. I was being passed by two runners and thought I can’t have far now so really dug in to attempt to run. I’m not sure it was any faster but I kept it up and finally crossed the line to be welcomed by a small but cheery group of volunteers who were whistling and clapping. I felt a bit emotional briefly but was mostly glad it was over.
Time of day 5:07pm – just the 9 hours and 7 minutes! I had literally spent a whole day out there.
I’ve since seen the Dr who suspects a stress fracture. X-ray done and waiting on results. I’ve been advised to take a couple of weeks off running and focus on cross training. I took last week as complete rest and am back on my bike this week.
All in all a learning experience and there were a few obvious lessons (and some not so obvious ones) but in the end I still completed it and was on my feet for longer than I’ve ever been. Despite some injuries, four seasons in a day weather wise, some tough hills and the fact it was my longest race yet….I stuck it out and got the job done.