In 2006 a group of my friends from Singapore and beyond ran the length of the West Highland Way with me on what was my 40th birthday year so I had hoped to try and to do something equally memorable for my 50th.
Having looked at a number of possibilities including cycling across the USA, running across the breadth of England , cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats or even London to Istanbul it became fairly obvious that a lethal combination of logistics, holidays , travel and most crucially age was hampering each of these in turn.
However through good luck rather than planning my favourite ultra – Clyde Stride – got scheduled for 16th July 2016, the eve of my 50th birthday, and a cunning plan was hatched.
Selling the concept of running Clyde Stride to my friends wasn’t particularly hard. It’s a super friendly race, supremely organised and directed by Lee Maclean, jam-packed with friendly volunteers, isn’t overly long at 40 miles and covers a course that is very scenic but equally runable.
Plus when they visited in 2006 the weather was positively Mediterranean so why not just visit for some sunshine?
However the single most important consideration is that the race starts slap bang in the middle of the area where I was born and brought up. This was a sign from above that this was the event I was looking for.
General invites were issued early in 2016 and to my amazement the responses were swift and positive. Some folks wanted to do the relay race , some who had done ultras already were up for a new event and a few foolhardy folks who had ran marathons believed my observation that running 40 miles was a fairly easy progression and decided to ultra debut at Clydestride.
Others just wanted to come along and support us while basking in the warmth of a Scottish summer.
I then spent the next few months sorting entries and logistics and encouraging folks on their training and so it came to pass that by the start of July we had a muster of a team from our club – MR25 Singapore – and five willing souls doing the full race all ably supported by partners and families.
In the run up to the event of the five running the full distance only two, myself and Mika were injury free and Mark,Francois and Graham were all injured to varying degrees. I met Mark the Saturday before we left Singapore and his hobbling about had me really worried but he assured me he was willing to give the race his best shot.
We did though hit a major snag in that our leg one runner – JJ – got seriously injured in England while on holiday days before the race.Luckily my brother Chris, an honorary member of MR25, agreed to step in. Only snag was that he would be in Ibiza and only back in Scotland five hours before race start. Plan B was put in place.
I had asked everyone to try and fly in no later than the Thursday before the race and, as I was having a few concerns over navigation, a short route recce of Leg 2 was planned. However with people coming from France, USA, Singapore, Japan,Hong Kong and England it all got a bit messy and by the recce night only Mika (Japan) was free.
Through the Clyde Stride chat page we set up the run and myself, Mika, my brother Gerry, Davie Mooney and Alan Cox all met at Cambuslang and had a very pleasant evening running through to Strathclyde Park while marking off the course.
Mika I hoped had grasped not only the nuances of the course but the nuances of the Weegie dialect and as a reward for her run and linguistic skills we treated her to some Glasgow recovery drinks post run.
Through Thursday evening and Friday morning everyone finally got into town and I shuttled backwards and forwards to Glasgow Airport. Friday was set aside mainly for being tourists but with a bit of time for race preparation. This involved force feeding everyone on a full Scottish Breakfast.
We convened at night for a further bit of food and chat with race tips being handed out while also catching up with those more sensible folks having nothing to do with the running at all.
And so to race morning. My dad had kindly been volunteered to be mini-bus driver and chief navigator for the team (and to bring everyone back post race). Chris had managed to get back from Ibiza in time too and we picked the squad up at the flats I’d rented in Glasgow West End.
Thankfully the morning was dry if a little cool for our tastes. With the exception of Chris in this photo most of us tend to train in temperatures of around +35C and 100% humidity so conditions were certainly a bit different.
Then it was mini-bus and cars in convoy to Partick Train Station. The registration area behind Morrisons was already bustling and we all set about getting numbers and making ourselves ready. I caught up with folks I knew from the UK and searched out industrial strength caffeine and a toilet.
Our guys were also super chuffed to see a familiar face in Neil Anderson another former MR25 runner who had moved back to Linlithgow and had entered. All in all there didn’t seem too many nerves and everyone was super positive.
My main worry was losing someone but I just had to hope it all worked out.Plus we had sorted Mika out on Thursday so there was nothing to worry about on that front. My own plan was simple and two fold.
First stage is to finish. That’s a given. Sometimes this plan doesn’t work out in ultras.
I did though have a second plan to run a sub 5.30 race as I felt I was in decent shape and had no fears of getting lost like I did last year.
Soon enough we were all lined up at the start line and after a few inspirational words from local hero and all round top ultra boy James Stewart we were set on our merry way. Oh and Lee did mention something about not going off too fast.
Right from the off the speed merchants took off contrary to the words of wisdom. Davie Mooney too decided that he was going for it big time.
I had my sensible hat on and trotted along with Mark Ashby (a friend from Southport and Glasgow who knows his shit and my occasional training partner) and Graham Merfield (my Singapore friend now living in Atlanta USA who knows his shit and my occasional training partner).
We got into our groove and just chatted as we ran along the side of the Clyde towards Glasgow Green before we finally caught rocket man Davie around mile four where he conceded he “might have gone off a bit fast”.
We were going faster than we planned too but things felt comfortable so we just meandered on laying bets as to when the sprinters would come apart and more pertinently when we’d disintegrate too.
Checkpoint 1 finally came up after about 16 km and I did my usual routine of not bothering to stop (which in hindsight was probably my first mistake) while the other two guys took some refreshments as you can see clearly in this photo. My dad told me I was five minutes behind my brother at this stage which given the rate of knots he’d shot off at the start wasn’t a major surprise.”Only five?” I think was my question.
Then it was onto Leg 2 where I got lost last year. No such fears this year having done the recce run the Thursday beforehand and having watched Davie faithfully mark the route I was confident that I’d not get lost. And I didn’t. Those markings were exceptionally good.
Before I knew it I had navigated the fields of jaggy nettles,grass as high as a triffid , followed the Clyde along to the Bothwell Castle climb and the through the jakey railway bridge before heading from Blantyre downhill to Strathclyde Park via Raith Interchange.
All fine and dandy and at this point I was simply cruising along. This ultra thing would be a lark if it was only about 30km long.
I hit the checkpoint at the park itself in a little over two and a half hours and at this point felt that my target time was well within grasp. So what did I do? I had a chocolate milk to fortify myself (mistake number two) before starting the second half of the race. Gerry it seemed now had a ten minute lead on me so he was continuing to motor along assuming I was going pretty steady. Which in hindsight I was. As he was too.
I do usually enjoy leg 3 of Clydestride. After the pretty boring first couple of miles through Strathclyde Park you hit the Baron’s Haugh Nature Reserve which is rather pretty. Just before I got to the start of the reserve I heard a shout and it was Rob Soutar who had dropped out just after the end of Strathclyde Park.
I guessed he had back problems as he’d been suffering a bit in the weeks beforehand.
Then it’s fairly flat riverside trails through the reserve as you head south towards the legendary Coo Field.
The Coo Field proved to be a coo free zone which was a bonus this year as they do scare me a bit. A big bit. I don’t mind admitting that and I think the coos sense it too. But anyway they weren’t there and I could meander along dodging the cowpats and enjoying the countryside.
After clearing the coo field and reaching the metal gate there is a steep climb at Highmainshead Wood before it levels off and you cross the main Garrion Bridge to Overtown road before the wooded stretch leading into Maudslie Bridge and CP3.
I passed another broken rocket man here walking towards the checkpoint and carried onwards. I was though starting to feel decidedly shonky myself for some reason and the urge to throw up was coming on in waves.
Approaching checkpoint three I was feeling pretty nauseous and deteriorating at a rapid rate of knots.By the time I stopped all I wanted to do was throw up. But these things take their own sweet time. Someone told me Gerry wasn’t too far ahead but I now knew my main objectives were two fold. Be sick then finish. Hopefully in reverse of that order.
I grabbed water and a couple of snacks along with Lucozade and walked a while trying to get the food and drink down. After a couple of minutes all my hard work getting nutrition in came to an end and I puked everywhere. It looked pretty much mainly like the chocolate milk too.
From then on it was a combination of running and throwing up for mile after mile. As you can see from my splits the last 8 km took me well over an hour and my target time just slipped away. There was nothing I could do as waves of sickness got me every couple of miles.
At Crossford when I reached the road crossing Sarah Self told me that I was “only” six minutes behind Gerry but I knew by then that survival was the name of the game and that holding on to finish would be a result for me. I think when I told her I didn’t care she didn’t believe me but honestly all I cared about was getting to the end.
By Kirkfieldbank I was in deep trouble after the miles of systematic barfing and staggered into the 7-11 at the far end of the village and used my emergency fiver for water and Coke.
Finally I managed to keep something down and although I wasn’t jumping for joy I knew I had a chance to finish if I held some liquids in my body for a while.
As I exited the shop my brother Chris came running along at full gallop as he was leg four of the MR25 relay team. He suggested we run together but I couldn’t keep going at his pace and as we hit the steep hill leading towards Lanark he disappeared.
In hindsight he should have stuck with me as he totally disappeared the wrong way and ended up somewhere in Lanark itself. And he says I’m a numpty for getting lost. Numpty.
Then Mark Ashby who I’d not seen since CP1 caught me. Again a kind offer to go in to the finish together but I simply couldn’t. My focus was simply getting to the finish line.
After the long steep climb we hit the path at “Jookers Johnnie” and Mark trotted off but for me things went really shit shaped.
If you’ve ran leg 4 you’ll know that at this point you go down what seems like a few hundred steps to The River Clyde. Then you have to go back up again in a rather cruel twist.
The downwards steps though induced cramps in me like I have never known. I think my testicles and eyeballs actually cramped at one point.
After an eternity of squealing, cramps and every massage technique in the book was exhausted I got to the bottom and started the climb back up. This was marginally easier than down and somehow I kept cramp at bay. At long last I emerged onto the road that drops into New Lanark and knew that apart from the last sadistic dog-leg and final few steps I was nearly there. Only a mile. How hard can a mile be?
I hobbled downhill and passed through New Lanark and back up the trail. It was murder to say the least. Just before the final downhill to the river Gavin Harvie caught me and I got another offer of a jog in together. Jog? Aye right , crack on Charlie Brown.
Somehow I kept going and then just when I was despairing of ever finishing I could hear the cheers of the finish line and then suddenly I was on an uphill stretch and finally came through the stone arch and hobbled gingerly down the last set of steps to the finish.
No glory here just relief and a cracking big hug from Lee.
Strava feed of my run is shown below. See if you can spot where I was sick.
With my race over I could swap tales with the folks already in while enjoying multiple cups of tea and tablet to try and pull myself together. Gerry opted for a few beers as per normal and I caught up with the rest of my family and our various guests.
There was then a big surprise for us at prize giving when Lee announced that the team relay trophy was going to be named “The Craig Cup” as a thank you for the help we’ve given over the years to the race. We were really touched by this. Doubly so as it’s not a “Memorial” cup. Yet.
Our MR25 runners started to finish in different states of disrepair but I can proudly say that all completed and the three guys pushed their boundaries beyond limits I guess they never knew they had given the injuries they were carrying.
Mika in her usual super positive way ran with a big cheesy smile and despite all our best efforts to prevent it from happening got lost on Leg 2. But that really didn’t matter. If you can read her race review. It is truly brilliant.
Unfortunately though before everyone finished I had to head back to Glasgow in advance to organise my birthday party that night. Which is a different story.
Final results though for our squad:
TEAM MR25 SINGAPORE – 05:47:07 – 5th.
So without getting too introspective I have to be honest and say that I was a bit disappointed with my time but have only myself to blame. I still need to figure a race nutrition strategy that doesn’t wreck my system. If I do I know I can lop many minutes off my times.
I was so chuffed though for everyone that came over to finish and have such a great day out. That I think is mainly due to the winning combination of a cracking route, a truly special race director, marvelous volunteers and my dad the bus driver who made it all happen and all the competitors who embrace the spirit of the day.
Thanks all and see you again next year.