We’d had our eye on the John Lucas Memorial Ultra for a while – at 46 miles it’s a good ‘mid-length’ ultra and would make a good event for someone looking to step up from 50k. We’d thought about running the full distance together, but in the end we opted to run as a pair. Given that the race was just a week after we walked the 100 mile Kintyre Way the shorter distance was appealing, plus the fact that only one of us would be running at a time meant we didn’t need any additional child-care!
We had just had an impromptu short break in Dumfries and Galloway so the JLMU was roughly half way home. Packing the car the night before, we set off early stopping only for a McDonald’s breakfast at Dumfries and after a quiet drive up the M74 arrived at the start/finish location – the Strathaven Ales brewery – just after 7am with plenty of time to sign in and pick up our race numbers before the start. The event is relatively small, with around 30 runners in the solo Ultra, four pairs, and around a dozen teams and has a distinctly local feel with the majority coming from the host club Strathaven Striders or some of the other nearby clubs such as Cambuslang Harriers and Motherwell AC. We were made very welcome though, and after the solo race had started at 8am the event organiser came over for a chat.
Julie was to run the first half of the course, so at 8.30am she lined up at the start with another three runners leaving Iain and the kids to cheer them off!
Leg 1: Strathaven Brewery – Ardochrig – Whitelee (21 miles)
I had been having second thoughts about running 21 miles a week after walking 100 miles with a knee that was still slightly sore but I had had one test run (6 miles) early in the week and the knee had been OK so I supported it with some KT tape and hoped for the best! Iain and I had already decided on a target 7 hrs so I was aiming at running at a 10 min/mile pace.
Starting with only three other runners was a very strange experience – I didn’t really like it. I was worried they would all charge off and leave me plodding along which would have been very demoralising! As it was the two guys set off at a faster pace and I headed off slightly faster than I should have, determined I wasn’t going to be last from the start. I was quite concerned running up the drive and along the road as my legs felt like lead and it was hard work! The first couple of miles are on trails and were a challenging start. It was then pavement running through Strathaven before getting on to lovely country roads until mile 10. I just about managed to keep ahead of the other lady runner until the park in Strathaven but I was working hard! It was lovely to see Iain and the kids here, they always give a good cheer!
I got chatting with the other lady and we ran a few miles together, which was really nice as she knew the route well and was pointing different things out as we ran. But I was having to work harder than I wanted to keep up and wasn’t sure I could manage it all the way. So she ran on and I kept going at my own pace. CP1 was 10 miles in and at the start of Whitelee wind farm. By then a couple of the team runners who started 30 mins behind me had already sped past making it look easy, but they were only running 10 miles, after all!
I didn’t stop at the CP as I still had plenty of water and gels to get me to CP2 where I could hand over to Iain. The next 10 miles were hard work on landrover tracks through the wind farm. The novelty of the wind turbines soon wore off and the route is surprisingly undulatingly – a bit of walking up the hills was creeping in! Relay runners periodically raced passed, all very friendly but still demoralising. The last 3miles seemed to go on forever, you can see the CP from about a mile away and it seemed to take a long time to get closer. Luckily for me Angus has walked down the path and was there to encourage me up the final climb to the car park and CP where the others were all cheering me on and I was able to pass Iain the tracker and send him on his way.
I had managed a pace of 10:01 min/mile with new 20k, 30k and half marathon PBs – that might be why it felt hard work 🤣
The route was well marked and there were marshals where needed (especially through Strathaven). The views for the first 10 miles were beautiful but I must admit I wasn’t as keen on the next 11 miles through the windfarm!
Leg 2: Whitelee – Auldhouse – Stonehouse – Strathaven Brewery (25 miles)
Julie was looking like she’d been working pretty hard for the first leg, but we didn’t have time to chat – a quick swap over of the tracker and I was off. Out of the four pairs teams, we were in last place with the leaders about 35 mins ahead, but the next pair was only 10 minutes ahead so I set off aiming to see if I could catch any of them before the finish That, plus the fact that many of the solo runners had passed through the halfway point gave me plenty of motivating targets to chase!
The first few miles from the windfarm are a long downhill into Eaglesham before the route turns onto a long series of undulating back roads that wind their way through farmland South of East Kilbride and North of Strathaven. I should have done more research on the route as I had assumed there would be more on tracks / off-road, but all of that was in the first half of the route and I would have been better off in road shoes… Nevertheless I was able to keep up a decent pace of 7:30-8:10 mins per mile.
The Auldhouse checkpoint came sooner than expected, but I just ran straight in to the timing post and back out again – I was carrying enough water for the whole section and enough SIS gels to keep me going. Although I was unaware of this at the time, the leading pair had dropped out after at this checkpoint and I had managed to take 5 minutes out of the next pair’s time already. Throughout the next section I continued to catch and pass a number of runners, keeping a close eye on their race numbers to try to spot the next relay team 👀 Eventually I caught up with him just after Glassford, and put in an unsustainbly speedy burst to make sure I dropped him!
After 18 miles the route crosses the Avon and climbs steeply up to the final checkpoint in Stonehouse before continuing up a couple further miles of climbing. At this point my legs rebelled and even after topping out for the final few miles downhill towards the finish I was struggling to keep below 9min/mile! Just for extra laughs, there is a final loop back down to the Avon, past the Spectacle E’e waterfall and up some rooty riverside paths and steps! To be honest it was a relief to finally be met by some of the kids with the brewery turning in sight and turn on the gas for a final downhill sprint finish.
In the end we finished with a combined time of 6:56:38 – just under the 7 hours goal that we’d set 😎 and in second place. Despite suffering over the last 6 miles, Iain’s was actually the fastest of all the three remaining two-person relay teams over this section of the course – so maybe it was just a hard section after all!
The post-finish goodie bag included a JLMU tech top, nice medal/memento, and bottle of water. There was of course Strathaven Ales available at the finish, but sadly we had to drive home so gave it a pass. Thanks to the organisers, marshals and everyone else involved in putting on the event – we totally approve of the chilled out, no frills, well-organised vibe and encourage anyone who fancies a go to consider entering next year!