Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra 2022

After having three big races – the Cow Shed BYU, Ultra Scotland and St. Cuthbert’s Way – all completed by July, the rest of the year was looking pretty quiet. I was keeping the calendar free to allow for an attempt at Ramsay’s Round in August (more on that another time!), but after volunteering for two full days at Race Across Scotland, I had a free entry for a GB Ultras event to use and it didn’t take long to decide I’d give the Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra a shot! I’m a big fan of point-to-point races so what’s not to like about running the 56-ish miles from between Scotland’s two largest cities. It’s pretty close to home, so no difficulties getting there and back – the main challenge would be that since I know I can do the distance and the course is basically dead flat I’d have to put the effort in and go for a time!

Cut to mid September, three weeks out from the race and I’m just finishing off a solid block of training – two 50 mile weeks in the bag and one last long run to make a 60 mile week and then it’s time to taper… or so I planned. From out of nowhere, I fell over on an innocuous bit of woodland trail and slashed my right knee open on a rock. A quick trip to the local A&E to be stitched back up and instead of a nice taper it’s a week with my knee swollen, sore and bandaged up. I was told 10 days until I could get the stitches out, but in the end I took them out myself after 5 days, was walking after a week, and then did a 40 mile week of easy running culminating in a 15 mile long run to convince myself I was OK to race. In reality I had rushed the recovery a bit, but the wound had healed up well and wasn’t causing me much issue while running – it would just be sore afterwards. Now committed to running G2E, I worked out a rough pace plan: the last time I had run that sort of flat distance was on the LLCR130, which had taken me nearly 11 hours (but I was holding back as I had another 80 miles to go). I figured I could hold a pace of 8:45 min/mile for the first half of the race and aim to negative split slightly. If that went well my A goal would be to finish close in close to 8 hours, the B goal was 9 hours, and if everything went wrong and my knee caused to much trouble the C goal was just to finish!

On the morning of the race, I’d arranged to travel down with Andy Ogilvie – another runner from Bridge of Earn, who had roped in a friend to give us both a lift. The roads were quiet so it only took an hour to get to Glasgow and registration at the Riverside Museum. We got our trackers and numbers and had the luxury of indoor seating at the museum for the hour or so before the start. Time for a second breakfast, and plentiful toilet facilities (no mile-long queue for portaloos here)! With 10 minutes to go we headed out to the start line and I bagged a spot in the front row. There were over 300 entrants so it was easily the largest mass start I’ve ever been part of for an ultra. Same as Race Across Scotland and Ultra Scotland, we had a piper playing to get us revved up. All race organisers should have one! Although it was still dark (6am) it wasn’t cold or particularly windy so I was wearing just a lightweight long-sleeved base layer and no gloves. Head torches would be needed for the first hour or so. After a (very) short briefing we were set off on time, headed for Edinburgh!

A few runners dashed off at impressive (and unsustainable, at least for me) pace and I settled into a good steady rhythm as we wound our way out of the museum, through an underpass and along some deserted streets to join the River Kelvin walkway in Kelvingrove Park. The first four miles of the route follow footpaths through the park and briefly crosses the river and back again and although there was plenty of reflective tape this was the only really navigationally tricky part as there are lots of paths branching off left and right and with lots of other runners around with head torches, care was needed… A group ahead of me definitely went wrong where we had to leave the Kelvin and climb a short, steep path to join the canal as they went right under the canal and had to loop round and cross over at one of the Maryhill Locks to rejoin the towpath! One last bit to watch out for – down some steps and under the canal to rejoin the East-bound branch rather than return to Glasgow. There was a marshall there to keep everyone right though. With those bits out of the way it was a case of go straight for 21 miles with the canal on your right!

The first CP (mile 5) was only a little further on at Lambhill and I just whizzed right through. Not too far to the next one at Kirkintilloch (mile 11) either. By now it was light enough to take of and stow head torch, and a short section of flooded towpath was easily crossed without getting my feet actually wet, thanks to Gore-Tex shoes! We were now properly out of Glasgow, and the canal gained a more rural feel. CP2 had quite a crowd of supporters as it was the first checkpoint where crews were allowed. I had everything I needed though and was dialled in to a nice steady 8:40 mins per mile so I just grabbed a handful of sweets and kept going. After CP2, although the sun was getting up I was starting to get a bit cold, maybe it was being out of the city – in any case I put my gloves on which was a bit of a challenge while running and with numb fingers. After a couple of miles they defrosted again but I kept them on for most of the morning! I was still keeping up a good pace but despite my usual pre-race loo stops I was really needing a 💩. The last few miles to CP3 were not the most comfortable, but fortunately there was a portaloo waiting. Apologies to everyone else who used it after me… lets just say I must have come out a couple of kilos lighter! Feeling much better now, and with the first chance to grab some watermelon (my all time favourite race food), I got straight back onto pace for the 9 mile run to the Falkirk Wheel, enjoying the occasional views as far as the Stirling in the distance.

Turning right over the bridge to the Falkirk Wheel would be hard to miss, and again there was a marshal there. It was also good to see RD Wayne out with his GoPro – I joked that it was nice to have a hill for a change (even if it was only 100 or so feet high). CP4 was half way up the path between the Forth & Clyde Canal basin and the Union Canal and again there was a good crowd, including some of the medical team who I recognised from Race Across Scotland. No watermelon this time, but they had salted potatoes, which I munched as I headed up the last little rise to the Union Canal. I had recce’d this section (walking) a few weeks ago and I enjoyed the run through the lit up tunnel and up a few locks before topping out at the high point of the course. More simple navigation ahead – stay on the left for 20 miles, then turn left. The sun had come out a bit and now that I was past the mental half-way point (although it was still a few miles short of actually being half way) it was time to turn up the pace!

At least that was the plan! I put in a couple of miles at around 8:30 mins, but my legs started to tighten up straight away and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to maintain it. After passing through CP5 I started to really slow up and I started getting a bit ‘faffy’. A bit of a shower blew in and I stopped to put on my waterproof, then stopped again a couple of miles later to take it off again. Gradually my pace dropped to around 10 minute per mile as I arrived at CP6 at Linlithgow. I downed a cup of coke, hoping for a bit of a caffiene/sugar rush and picked up some more watermelon but it didn’t really pick me up and I settled down to grind out the longest section of the race (around 13 miles) to the final CP at Ratho.

It only took about 2 hours and 20 mins but it felt much longer. The towpath actually goes through some nice woodland areas (although the less said about the housing estates in Broxburn the better), and the Five Sisters and Greendykes bings were quite interesting to look at. The one highlight was a couple of likely lads who set up an impromptu aid station from the boot of their car just after Winchburgh, offering cheese & biscuits, bottles of port, gin and even an ice bucket full of cider and lager! I was tempted but declined. If it had been at the finish line that would have been another story! Another real kick in the teeth was the fact that instead of heading East to Edinburgh the canal turns first South, and then back West on itself for a bit! There was also a bit of wildlife to avoid on this section – a bunch of swans by a grassy area which fortunately allowed giving them a wide berth and a lone cow which had got out of a field and was roaming the towpath. I was very glad to reach Ratho, where I had a (short) sit down while I topped up my water supply for the first time. I’d reckoned I wouldn’t be able to make it to the end on a single 2L load, but had plenty left at Linlithgow so I think I got it about right. I’d packed a small tub of KMC Isomix so I was able to toss this in to make up some for the final 7 mile stretch to the finish. I was pleased to find more watermelon at this CP, so set of with a few bits and some salted pretzels.

For the first mile or so out of Ratho I was back at my same old 10 min/mile pace but as we were now getting closer to Edinburgh I started to ‘smell the barn’ and was able to push the pace just a little for the last 5 miles. There were a couple of other runners around me, and although I had no idea where I was placed I was determined not to be passed before the finish. There’s lots to see on this section, with Lin’s Mill aqueduct, crossing the city bypass, and the strange metal-clad tower blocks in Wester Hailes so the miles just ticked by. I was in my own little world when I heard a bike behind me and moved to one side of the path to let it past – when I was surprised to see none other than my old buddy Dave McCraw, who had seen that I was running, and used the GPS tracker to find me! He raced ahead to chain up his bike and ran alongside for the final few miles. It was good to have someone to talk to although I’m not sure my monologuing made much sense. He did joke that it only took 50 miles for me to slow down enough that our paces were compatible! I knew to keep an eye out for the turn immediately after the Slateford viaduct, and I also saw assistant RD Laura there, keeping everyone right – although a few people did miss it and got spectacularly lost, less than two miles from the finish. Down the steep steps to the Water of Leith and then just a mile of muddy path before I saw Rhona waiting outside the Saughton athletics centre, where the finish awaited us. We were made to do a three-quarter lap (in the wrong direction!) before I was able to muster something of a sprint finish, crossing the line in 17th place with a time of 9:01:41 🎉

Julie and the rest of the family were waiting at the finish so it was great to be able to see everyone as soon as I’d received my finisher’s medal. GB Ultras do the biggest, heaviest and best medals out there, by the way! Andy was still going well but a few hours back so I was happy to change out of my running stuff and be driven home as I (as usual) seized up completely after crossing the finish line.

Looking back on the race, of course I’m a little disappointed to narrowly miss out on my B goal of 9 hours but overall I’m happy that my knee held out and I was able to finish in good style – my first ultra with no walking involved! I also bagged a new 50 mile PB of 7h55m along the way. After the race my knee has given me quite a lot of trouble – it’s taken a couple of weeks for the swelling to go down and was still painful the day after running, even slowly so I’ve taken a proper break to let it sort itself out 🤞

Similarly to Ultra Scotland 100, I can’t recommend GB Ultras events highly enough – they are a well-oiled machine and put on great events. I’m sure I’ll be along to more of theirs in future, and recommend you do to!

Photos thanks to: GB Ultras team + event photographers, Lewis Bethune, Dave McCraw and Louise Ogilvie 🙏

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