Raising Lazarus at the River Ayr Way

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

After a Gobi Desert type dry spell in the ultra marathon world; and after a disappointing DNF in the West Highland Way, I thought I'd end this season with a bit of a gimme at the River Ayr Way.

Now let's get this right, RAW is still 40 miles, and anyone equating water only flowing downhill with a coasting from start to finish is in for a bit of a kick in the bollocks, but I've done this race four or five times before (I'm sorry, I can't be precise because I don't keep a log of races I've run. I tried keeping a training diary once but the plethora of blank pages months after its beginning preyed upon my mind like Marley's ghost, so I threw it out), always with minimal training, and always achieved a finish (except the time I couldn't be arsed so went to the pub after 10 miles).

My training for this year's effort included three of four gym sessions a week with a blast on the treadmill and one 13 mile off-roader about a month ago. The gallus, over-confident side of my brain told me the 70 miles of WHW in June was enough to get me the 40 miles from Glenbuck to Ayr; its opposing sensible, cautious side did it's usual and remained as mute as a church mouse. Let's just say I'm gonna give the latter mentioned hemisphere a good slap and tell it to speak up in future.

Anyway, the day of the race arrives and Mrs Mac and I are in the little car park in Glenbuck surrounded by 80 or so others. There's a bit of an air of excitement, this being the 10th anniversary race, and folk are chatting happily. I say hi to a couple of runners I know but the vast majority are strangers- testament to the fact that ultra marathon running in Scotland has widened its appeal...or that's just a really pompous, self important belief simply because nearly 80 people have never encountered an ageing tattooed, Londoner on the start line of a race.

Somewhere in the glove box of the car is my race plan that I scribbled down on a used envelope the night before. I reckon I can comfortably average 10 minute miles for 10 miles, then each 10 mile section add a minute which will get me home for a sub 8 hour PB. Piece of piss.

The race starts and my pacing is perfect. I'm happily tripping along, listening to my music, in my Hokas.

Yes, you read that right....in my Hokas.

Having launched an online campaign a few years ago against the bumper car-like monstrosities, and anyone that wore them, I'd gone and bought a pair in the hope they might be kind to the calf that I tore in April. I wore them briefly in the West Highland Way, coupled with a pair of gaiters, and they gave me blisters on my insteps. I blamed the gaiters.

Seven miles into this race, sans gaiters, the familiar soreness at my insteps indicate the gaiters are not the villain of this piece. It's those ridiculously clumpy, stupid looking breeze-block-cum-trainers. The soreness becomes full on blisters and the blisters burst and weep serum into my socks.

Thankfully Mrs Mac is waiting dutifully for me at the shoogly bridge, just past checkpoint one, so I dump the Frankenstein's monster footwear and don my reliable Inov-8s.

Off again enjoying the extra minute per mile I've allowed myself, I'm cruising along for a few miles when 'PING', my lower back siezes and sends signals of pain to my brain, which wakes up the sensible, cautious side, which then instructs: 'STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING!'

'FUCK OFF!' I reply, and keep going, but my stride is shortened to such an effect that those 11 minute miles are nothing but an unachievable aspiration and that scribbled race plan is catapulted spectacularly out of sight.

Sorn is a lovely little village about 17 miles into the route. The river runs through it, ducks quack and waddle about and there's a beautiful stone bridge where loving couples or families might picnic in the sun. On Saturday, however a dark cloud entered the village, limping along, swearing and cursing and demanding Ibuprofen (yes, I know the dangers of consuming NSAIDs during exercise but they're outweighed by the slagging one might get for another DNF).

Mrs Mac is there with a folding chair set up and feeds me a beef roll and coffee.

'Brufen' is all I can say.

I neck the little, red capsules of relief and set off walking, waiting for them to take effect. I realise that if they fail to improve matters, a DNF might be on the cards, as might a move to Antarctica where I can avoid any claims of blouse ownership and wuss-boy status.

Sometime later the pain subsides and I'm running again. Not exactly Lazarus from the dead, but to me a remarkable turnaround. The rest of the race is really just a hang on for the finish affair, but just to make things a little more difficult, a poorly parked car blocking a gate, a misinterpreted instruction, and an idiotic optimism that the wrong way will metamorphosise into the right way added an extra three miles to my travel.

To make the effort worthwhile, meeting Mrs Mac at Tarholm bridge, where eight years ago a fledgling romance was embarked upon as the River Ayr tumbled beneath our feet, sealed the deal. An encounter with old friends, Tim and Muriel Downie, and Tim's company over those last few miles reminded me of the good people you meet along the way. And my friend and colleague from London, Aldo Diana waiting for me at the finish secured the realisation that, actually it's all worth it.

But some training wouldn't go amiss.

So I got the gimme that so nearly wasn't such a gimme.  I also realised that my days of turning up to races having done minimal, if any,  training are probably over. This, I think, is due to two possibilities, or maybe both playing in tandem. The first is that I've probably drained the well of liberty taking as far as expecting my body to do extreme things without adequate preparation is concerned. The other is that in four months I will be 50 and maybe the  relentless march of time is having a negative effect. Or maybe both are giving me a two handed beat down in these increasingly grey and sparse years. Whatever it is I'll need to be more considerate in the future.

But finally I have to say that Tarholm Bridge, and the vision upon it, were as magical eight years on as they were in 2008.



Helen said...

well done DW, and I never had you down for an old romantic ;-)

Subversive Runner said...

Thanks Helen. I try to keep overt displays of romanticism to a minimum :-)

Unknown said...

Ya big southern softie!

Keith Hughes said...

Nice one mate - good to see you back running and blogging .. All quality cobbler

Lee Maclean said...

Awwwww love you xox

Mark Caldwell said...

The dark side of me wishes you'd DNF'd so I could chortle over the slanderous comments on social media, AGAIN. The other part of me is more than happy you finished the wee understated Ayrshire ultra. Nice one.

Fiona Rennie said...

Age has absolutely nothing to do with it! Just get your arse in shape!

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