John Muir Way Ultra Marathon 2016

“I tell our runners to divide the race into thirds. Run the first part with your head, the middle part with your personality, and the last part with your heart.” – Mike Fanelli

Saturday 23rd April saw the inaugural John Muir Way 50k Ultra Marathon, organised by Foxlake of Foxtrail Winter Running Series fame. A relatively flat but very mixed terrain point to point trail race from the esplanade at Port Seton to Foxlake on the outskirts of Dunbar, mostly following the official John Muir Way with some deviations to avoid main roads. Being an East Lothian lass I couldn’t resist the opportunity to run through some very familiar and much cherished landscape, and seeing as I turned 40 this April it also seemed like a good ‘mid-life-crisis’ distance to aim for. Neither myself or the awesome Sadie Kemp (who flagged the event up to me) have ever done an ultra before, so we both headed off early that morning for a leap into the unknown. Also joining us was ultra veteran and Port Seton local Lori McCrae, returning to the distance after a break of a few years.

The first third – head chatter

The weather was cold but sunny, perfect running conditions. After a buzzing bus ride from registration at Foxlake and a hug from the lovely Kevin Anderson who came to see us off, it was time for a quick group photo then off along the waterfront at Port Seton. The throng spread out pretty quickly, and I found myself bounding happily along at far too fast a speed for what was ahead of me. After 3 or 4 miles I was still running a sub-8 min mile and kept remembering all the advice I’d read about not setting off too fast and saving my energy (blah blah blah), but I was feeling good so went with it. After a quick glance behind me I saw no other female runners close by, and something began to occur to me. If I kept this up, and didn’t wear myself out too much, I might have an outside chance of bagging one of those coveted medals that were only going to be handed out to the first 3 male/female finishers! Even when the amazing Avril Pearson breezed past me at about mile 5 carrying no water, backpack or visible food (a proper athlete, I realised after looking her up after the race) my head was still buzzing with calculations on pace, splits and possible eventualities that might bag me a medal. The scenery at this stage was lovely, but nothing compared to what I knew was to come so was happy to let my mind and body focus on racing and not the view at this point. Gullane and Aberlady came and went, and as North Berwick Law got closer and closer the intimidating distance seemed a little more achievable. A hug from the radiant Sarah Burthe at the half marathon point at Yellowcraigs Beach was a fantastic boost and I bounded off towards NB feeling pretty good.

The middle – mostly swearing

The approach to the beach at North Berwick passed golf courses and the Marine Hotel, and the run towards the slipway at the Life Boat station was incredible, if a little laborious on the soft sand. A massive cheer from my work running buddy Ines (Edinburgh Running Network) who was doing the relay helped me up the stony slipway and towards the aid station. It was laden with goodies but I was drawn to the cola, and remembering that cola is supposed to be good for delicate running tummies (and mine been complaining loudly since mile 12) I gulped down a cup and chased it with two cups of water. I had been forcing myself to eat some tried and tested snacks since the one hour mark, and every half hour since. So I avoided the Haribo, etc and started off again down onto the beach and towards the Glen – where the lovely Vicky Lyon was stationed to offer support. The Glen and the approach to North Berwick Law were the first hills I’d encountered, but I was still able to run them at this point. It was only once I’d started running downhill past the Law that things started to go wrong. Once I’d reached the farm at Balgone Barns my stomach had hardened into an excruciating stitch and I had to stop running for a bit. A couple of relay runners passed me, both very concerned and asking if I was OK. Being British I smiled and said “Just a troublesome stitch!” then waited until they were out of earshot before turning the air blue and cursing the bloody cola at the aid station. I started running again, slowly, but ruddy thing persisted from mile 19 through 25, so my memories of the beautiful Balgone Loch are mostly of agony and running with my fingers jabbed under my ribs to try and ease the cramp. I wasn’t going to let a stupid stitch cost me my race so being a stubborn beggar (the personality bit) I carried on and hoped that it would ease off. The far side of the loch was stunning though, and running through carpets of daffodils cheered me up a bit. By the time I’d reached Drylaw Hill the stitch was easing and I walked up it, only being passed by two runners.

The last part – heart

As I came out of the woods after Drylaw Hill I spotted my gorgeous family waiting for my by the side of the road. I hugged my mum, kids and Mark and would have stayed longer but still had my heart set on a medal (and I was pretty sure no other ultra females had passed me) so bounded off again. I stopped briefly at the last aid station for water but daren’t touch any food for fear of cramping again. Passing Preston Mill and running into the fields at Phantassie where I’d played as a kid was just incredible. I’d reached 27 miles, further than I’d ever run in my life. My quads were about to twang and my shins were cramping badly, but I was so happy. I was running like a sack of tatties but a reassuring glance behind told me I could relax and enjoy the last stretch of the race. I was grinning like an idiot when I saw the signage into Foxlake, and crossed the line with juice left in my tank and feeling far better than I had expected to feel after 30+ miles. And I’d bagged a medal after all, 2nd lady! Never in a million years did I ever think I’d place at a race, let alone an ultra marathon. Standing on that podium was the highlight of my running life so far, and one that will be very hard to beat.

Sadie also had a fantastic race, placing 5th female, and looked as fresh as ever as she crossed the line. And Lori made a very respectable return to ultra running placing 14th. What a day for the Penicuik Harrier ladies!


Jan Dawson – 4:33:31
Sadie Kemp – 5:03:01
Lori McCrae – 5:38:42

Overall winners were Ben Hukins (3:36:44) and Avril Pearson (4:06:05).

Photos by Dave Lochead

Photos by Bob Marshall

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7 comments on John Muir Way Ultra Marathon 2016

  1. gilly says:

    Great report Jan, well done to you and Sadie, sounds a great first ultra to try. Great looking medals and t-shirts too!

  2. Helen Osman says:

    Really enjoyed reading your report Jan, you are inspiring and I hope you enjoy many more ultras they’re obviously your forte.

  3. sarah B says:

    Well, I think you can all call yourself “proper athletes”. What a lovely race report and a fantastic achievement. You should be rightly chuffed, all of you. Fantastic!! x

  4. Sadie Kemp says:

    Great report Jan. You definitely have plenty of heart. Im glad we chose this as our first Ultra and I would recommend it to anyone thinking of going past the marathon distance. It was a really fab day out. 🙂

  5. Rob Wilson says:

    Congrats Jan – almost tempted myself…..almost!!!
    first of many – at the very least there are lots of nice long hill races coming up

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