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Photo credit: Andrew Coull.

Glasgow to Edinburgh Race Review – Who knew flat could be so interesting?

04-May-17

Last updated: 20-Aug-18

By Andrew Coull

I chose the Glasgow to Edinburgh race (G2E) as my first ultra for a number of reasons. Firstly, as an Edinburgh resident, it’s local; secondly, as it’s flat, it is a relatively quantifiable challenge for a first-timer; and finally, at under £50 to enter it’s good value and doesn't create a big sunk cost if injury prevents you making it to the start line (a real possibility for me given the step up in mileage).

The race has been staged by Edinburgh-based Resolute Events for a number of years and has become well established in the Scottish ultra calendar, averaging around 115 starters per race in recent years. The route follows the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals for 55 miles (54 in 2017 due to works in Edinburgh) and finishing times range from around 7:00 for the winners through 9:00-11:00 for most of the field and up to 12:00 for the back markers.

After entering in late 2016, I gradually built up the miles over Christmas and into the new year averaging 50 miles a week but clocking 60-75 every second week. Individual runs included a number of 25 miles +, peaking at 30 miles, so with a busy family schedule, dark early morning running became standard practice.

Fortunately, training went well and a strategy of mixing long road runs with trails and hills meant that the usual marathon-style repetition injuries were avoided. With body and mind ready, attention switched to fuel. Having suffered from sickness during marathons in the past, I chose to avoid energy gels and drinks in training, relying instead on water, flapjacks and dried mango all taken early and often. Ramping up to include peanut butter wraps by the race itself, the only "products" added for the extra distance were Nuun tablets for electrolytes and Clif Shot Bloks for a caffeine boost when needed.

As there were only around 40 other entries when I signed up, it was surprising to see 160 names on the final entry list although it turned out only 116 arrived at the start line. After a straightforward briefing from the race director - keep the canal on your right and run until you get to Edinburgh - we headed out from the unglamorous start line just north of the centre of Glasgow. The early 'driech' conditions were good and no doubt familiar to the mostly British field but would be less so for the small group of runners from Florida who brought some much needed colour to the early stages. Other nations toeing the line included Germany, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Hungary, Latvia and Italy.

After 3-4 miles, the urban landscape faded into more rural surroundings with, refreshingly for the city based runners, only one road crossing in the first 10 miles. The first checkpoint (CP1) at 13 miles was a friendly but brief interruption as we happily worked through the early miles, perhaps growing a little conscious that the temperature was beginning to rise.

CP2 at 22 miles was at the Falkirk Wheel, an interesting piece of canal engineering to lift boats up a step between the two canals. As the location for food drop bags delivered by the organisers, some runners stopped longer with family and friends but we chose to briefly refill camelbaks then eat while walking through the long, dark Falkirk Tunnel (hewn from rough, damp rock and a potential trip/slip hazard for those running through it). Emerging into the sunlight 500 metres later it was clear that the unexpectedly increasing temperature would now need to be managed, particularly along the longer open stretches to come.

In the sunshine, however, the 11-mile stretch from CP2 to CP3 in the small town of Linlithgow was quiet and pleasant with some brief, heavy rainfall providing a welcome opportunity to cool down. With legs showing the first signs of tiredness, it was a relief to be welcomed into CP3 at mile 33 by a small group of supporters and helpful volunteers whose encouragement that we had "done the hard bit" was almost believable.

G2E veterans had warned that the 12 miles to CP4 and CP5 would be tough and that proved to be the case with long straight stretches seemingly going on forever and, towards CP5, exposed sections winding round the industrial spoil tips of Broxburn. Conditions also worsened around CP5 with wind and a heavy downpour but, again, the race volunteers worked hard to replenish supplies and keep us moving without getting cold.

From CP5, the weather improved and conditions were ideal through CP6 at Ratho and on into Edinburgh. Having run alongside people most of the way, I found myself alone through the setting sunshine for miles 48-51 and began to relax in the confidence that I was going to finish. Those miles were covered quickly but, inevitably, the final few to the finish were slower and it was nice to see the “500m to go” sign then, emerging from under the last bridge, the finish line and family. I finished in just over 10 hours, placing 43rd from 103 finishers.

I would thoroughly recommend G2E as an introductory ultra, especially for Scottish runners, or a relatively fast 50-miler for more experienced competitors. Do not be fooled by its flatness however, putting in the miles beforehand is still key to enjoying the day. What did I learn from my first ultra? Apart from drinking and eating early and often, relax and take the opportunity to meet interesting, like-minded people. I ran and spoke with some great people during the day which helped me keep going and definitely added to the experience. Not everyone has the desire or determination to commit to an ultra training schedule so if you’re running alongside someone at 40 miles there is a very high probability that you have something in common.

For more from Andrew, follow him on Twitter @andrewcoull1973

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“I would thoroughly recommend G2E as an introductory ultra, especially for Scottish runners, or a relatively fast 50-miler for more experienced competitors”

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