Time: 24hrs Distance: 119.8miles Place: 1/10
After finishing the West Highland Way Race in 2017, I decided I wouldn’t do a long ultra in 2018, however when Breaking Strain announced a 24 hour race in Edinburgh two days before my 40th birthday, I couldn’t resist… A timed race would be a new challenge though with a different mental requirement to a point to point.
We talked about a trip back but for several reasons couldn’t book until April. I trained with the race in mind but had some doubts about entering such a long event and wrecking myself for what would then be time travelling around family and friends, though knew I could always drop down to a shorter distance if the training didn’t go well.
The first part of year was spent building my base mileage in a semi structured with lots of marathons / 50ks and a couple of back to back weekends to ramp up the distance. I then followed an 8 week program for the final block leading up to the race, adapted from ‘Ultra Marathon Training’ by Wolfgang Olbrich. The program built from 50/60 miles a week to 128 in the peak mileage week, which would be the furthest I’d ever run in a week.
I was running 5/6 days a week and I used races in place of several of the long weekend training runs, running an overnight 50 mile race in place of two 24 mile days, and back to back 50ks (with extra mileage) for the 31/37 mile weekend. On weekends when I was running shorter mileage, I would run 5-10 miles to a local 5k, race it and run home, providing a speed workout in the middle of a long run.
I was also cross training, aiming to swim for an hour with the DC Tri club two days a week and cycling to work on at least one day. I was also doing two weights sessions in the gym each week (20-30 mins each), carrying on the program I’d started in January that I had felt the benefits of in early season races.
I flew to the UK overnight on Friday 6th as we had things we needed to sort in the UK and I wanted time to get over the flight before the race. I was still following my training plan though and did my Saturday miles running around the airport on roads and trails, having left my bags at left luggage.
The training program had me doing much less of a taper than I would usually do and I decided to trust it to see what the impact would be. I ran 14 miles (at Heathrow) and 18 miles over the weekend before the race, then 9.3m, 6.5m and 7m on the Tuesday to Thursday, all at a relatively steady pace. On the Friday morning on the day before the race, I swam for 30 minutes in a local pool to loosen off.
I hadn’t done as much mental preparation for the race as I had done for the West Highland Way Race but still did some. I also didn’t do as much nutrition preparation relying on WHW race experience. I made some sweet and savory rice bars from a cycling recipe book that a friend had. I also bought an assortment of snacks from the supermarket, partly to give me variation and partly harking back to childhood and UK sweets and snacks that aren’t readily available in the US.
As the race started at 9, my plan was to run for 4 hours, stop for lunch (pasta salad), then run another four hours, have some vegan lentil soup (inspired by the OSS/CIA 50 mile race), then have a supper from the chippie at 9. In between I’d snack on things eg wine gums, jelly babies, rice pudding, pringles, bananas, watermelon and the rice I’d made. I would also drink a mix of coconut water, tailwind, and water mixed with nuun tablets.
The 3.1 mile loop meant I could use the van as my aid station and not worry about carrying anything, though I threw in my Nathan pack just in case.
I planned to change shoes and socks every 6 hours, using different makes and models of shoes to change the stresses on my body. I’d brought over Altra Torin 3.0, Altra Olympus (cushioned trail shoes), Hoka Challenger (cushioned trail shoes) and Hoka Bondi 4s. I also planned a complete change of clothes at the halfway point so I would be going into the night in clean dry clothes. I packed an additional change of clothes in case there was rain / snow etc.
Based on my training plan, I was hoping to run over 100 miles and ideally between 110 and 120 miles.
I followed my usual race morning routine – banana, coffee, PB&J wrap and some yoghurt and granola.
I arrived at the start in plenty of time to register and get organized before the 8:15 race briefing and 9am race start which came round very quickly. At the briefing I’d seen the size of the field for the 24 hour race (there was also a 12 hour race starting at the same time and 4 person relays for both events). It was a relatively small field, perhaps not surprising given that this was the first year of the race, but that didn’t affect my race strategy to focus on a steady pace to achieve my goal distance and hopefully enjoy the second half of the race.
The forecast was for a hot one which didn’t worry me having done most of my training in the heat and humidity of DC.
I lined up at the start, along with everyone else, with nobody wanting to commit to the front of the pack. I decided to start at the front but focus on my own race and not get carried away by others running 12 or 24 hours.
I set off at steady pace, a bit quicker than planned! (first couple of laps were sub-30 mins). There was one person ahead of me who I think was part of the relay. I ended up running the first couple of laps with someone but then stopped for water and fell into routine of running a lap, having some Tailwind and Nuun electrolytes (2 different bottles!) as I passed through the event village, then stopping at the end of the next lap for food and drink from the van and for the first 12 hours stopping every 4 hours for something more substantial.
The course is flat for the first half mile, then climbs steadily around Arthurs Seat, before flattening out, then dropping down via the road and grassy track back to the starting point. For the first 12 laps I ran the whole route but after that I started walking the steepest part of the uphill (probably around 50m per lap).
I felt like I was running well and on a good pace and lapping people. I eased off the pace a bit to something I felt I could maintain and tried to banish the flashbacks to the painful last third of the West Highland Way Race which was a mix of slow jog and walking. The plan was to try and keep the steady pace up all the way through as I wanted to get an idea of how much an impact the foot injury had on my WHWR experience.
Throughout the race I managed lap times of 30-40 minutes which was on my goal pace and was able to look forward to seeing my support team and having cheery chats with the Breaking Strain volunteers each time I came through aid station.
By late morning it was getting warm so I put on a cap with a neck flap to protect me from the sun which drew some cheek from the event organizer but helped keep me cool. My pasta lunch went down well at hour 4, and I sat and had a slightly longer break before heading out again. After 12 laps I changed out of the Torins and it felt good to put on new shoes (Hoka Challengers) and clean dry socks.
The lentil soup went down well at 8 hours, and I was feeling good and still running well. The positive vibes helped by a group of family and friends who had turned out to support. I also had an interesting lap talking to a local runner from massachusetts who had lived in Edinburgh for 20 years, who was out for his evening run (1 lap of Queens drive).
The Haggis supper at 12 hours didn’t go down well (too dry) but the chips (fries) were good, and whilst that food choice was bad (and a deliberate risk) I was still managing to eat and drink, slowly working my way through the mountain of snacks. Occasionally I felt I was drinking to much so cut back a bit on liquid intake. Even with that I always felt good throughout the race.
At about 10 o’clock I got into the van to have a wet wipe wash, put on a complete change of clothes, and switch to a third pair of shoes (Altra Olympus). It felt nice to be clean again and I felt refreshed going into the night. It was great to have some support from Ted, a friend of a friend who was visiting Edinburgh from South Brooklyn Running Club in NYC, who K had met in an Edinburgh coffee shop that morning (never having met before).
Scotland’s latitude meant it stayed light until around 11 and the sun rose again at 5. I used my Foxelli head torch for a few hours which gave a different perspective on the park. Rocks that I had been passing all day came to life and appeared to turn into runners ahead of me! It was lovely running at night, and slightly cooler, and I even saw a hedgehog crossing the path in front of me. The road around Arthur’s Seat remained open to traffic so an occasional car went past and a couple of the Breaking Strain volunteers spent the night by the lake part way round the route to ensure we were all doing ok.
I had been thinking about food for the whole race (each time I left the van I’d start thinking about what I’d eat next time I came around!) but as the sun started to rise, I started craving yoghurt and muesli/granola so asked one of my support team to pick something up on their way back to the race (they had gone home to sleep). It went down very well as a breakfast at about 6am.
During the night I managed to go past the West Highland Way distance (95 miles), to make it the furthest I’d run, and then passed the 100 mile mark for the first time in a little over 18 hours.
The sunrise was beautiful and it was lovely seeing the city coming back to life.
I finished 36 laps and had 1:30 left of the race. I was still running the laps but my legs (particularly calves) were getting very sore on the steep downhill. (I think this was partly due to distance and partly due to shoe choice – I should have changed to Hoka Bondi earlier). I was almost at my upper goal of 120 miles on my watch (even though my official distance was less) so decided to walk a last lap with my support team to avoid the risk of long term injury. It was nice to walk a lap with K and P, with a goal to get in as close to 9:00 as possible… – We failed! We got back to the start at 8:40 to find the population of the event village had decamped to the start finish area of the baby loop. (In the last hour of each race a 1km baby loop was opened up as only complete loops on either course counted for the total distance).
Having said I had done enough running, peer pressure persuaded me to set out on a lap. The first one began as a very slow jog and gradually increased to a slow jog. I felt looser on the second lap (accompanied by P and Bertie the French Bulldog) helped by much cheering from the assembled crowds, then found I had 8 minutes left so pushed hard to finish a third lap with minutes to spare.
The race director put the medal around my neck and handed me a t-shirt and most importantly a Stewarts Brewing beer! Though I decided against drinking it there and then and had a recovery shake instead.
We headed home for yoghurt and granola and sleep but throbbing legs prevented it and after a fitful couple of hours I had to get up to go and meet friends for celebratory drinks. I slept very soundly that night though, and spent several days eating everything in sight!
My pacing felt good, I have definitely got better at finding the sweet spot.
My nutrition choices worked well (apart from the haggis supper, which was more of a nostalgia thing). Variety was good along with some staples (rice pudding, coconut water)
Changing shoes and having a change of clothes felt great.
I really enjoyed the event and the challenge of running for an amount of time rather than a distance. I think I prefer point to point races though as part of why I enjoy running is the changing scenery.