On Sunday I took part in my first Ythan Challenge.
The event is described as ” multi-terrain adventure race which starts and finishes at the Meadows Sports Centre in Ellon, north of Aberdeen. The course takes runners along a largely flat off-road path beside the river Ythan and onto the beautiful Esslemont Estate. Once on the estate, the going gets tougher underfoot and you can expect a few surprises as the course includes a series of obstacles — including the now famous (or possibly infamous!) straw bales and killer hills and, of course, the river itself. We have considered providing a course map but decided not to for two reasons — first because most of the race is run on a private estate and our priority is to maintain the landowner’s security and privacy, and secondly because it’s part of the race day fun to speculate on what might lie ahead….”
I have seen several pictures of people doing it previous years and I thought it sounded good fun so I signed up. I knew there was always a team of metro runners that did it so knew I would be in good company. (or at least have people to chat to before and after the race – there is no way I would be able to keep up with them!). I arrived at the sports centre in plenty of time and met up with my fellow metroians who were all discussing what lay ahead. For once in my life I wasn’t at all anxious before a race, I just wanted to get going!
The race is split into waves of runners based on 10k times and previous years results. Each wave is started 5 minutes after the previous so that the course doesn’t get too congested. I was in the second wave of runners which suited me perfectly and I got lined up in the start pen ready to go!
Then we were off! The first few k were out by the river and along tracks leading up to the estate. It was tougher than I expected to be perfectly honest – next year I am doing a FAR bigger warm up!! Once we got into the estate things got a bit trickier, we were then running through the woods and jumping over knocked down trees, weaving in and out. This was where I really started to enjoy myself! It was challenging but I loved not knowing what to expect next. The course changes every year so even if you have done it before one route will never be the same as the one you have done before. It also varies in length so you can’t even compare times! I was given some pretty good advice before we started and that was to make sure you had a clean run at the hay bales as it made it easier to get over them .This certainly worked a treat! I managed to have a wee surge of speed then just launched myself at the bale and sure enough, I was right over it!
Then on it becomes a little hazy of the order that things happened in but I remember there being several more hay bales, some KILLER hills to go up and down and up and down, lots of weaving through narrow sections then came the best bit….the mud pit and river crossing!! I had heard a lot about this infamous mud pit…tie your laces tight, don’t hesitate, try not to fall, it stinks etc. So when it came I couldn’t wait to get through it. It was actually far better than expected, I couldn’t smell the horrid smell that everyone else mentioned, I didn’t fall and compared to Tough Mudder…it was just a splash! I loved it!! Straight after the mud pit we went into the river Ythan! We had several hundred meters of river to wade through then come out on the same side further down. The cold fairly takes your breath away but I found the best thing was to just keep moving as quickly as you could and it made it less cold. I over took a few people in the river as there was no way I was hanging about in there!! Once out it took a few minutes for my legs to warm up again and actually function to run properly!
I then proceeded to fall over about 5 times in the next few km – I am literally bambi on ice, with no ice!! This meant that because I was soaking wet I now resembled a swamp person…covered in mud and leaves because I have no sense of balance! Awesome. Thank you to the very kind man behind me who kept checking I was ok!
After the river there are few more trees to climb over and it is a weavey woodland run back to the edge of the estate. I felt I got into a good rhythm here but my legs were struggling to function as well as they had been prior to the river entry! I managed to pick up some speed and gradually began picking off people one by one. I had set a challenge to myself that once we were out of the river I was not going to be overtaken by any other females, there were also two Fraserburgh ladies quite a bit ahead so I made a wee challenge to myself to try and catch them!
The final stretch of running is along the same route that the course began, until you hit the river. Rather than crossing the bridge as we had done on the way out we had to cross it! This was much the same as the first river crossing but a little shallower so I tried again to power through it as best I could. When I reached the other side one of my netball friends lisa was standing watching and she managed to catch a picture of me smiling and running – this is a RARE thing so I am chuffed with the pic!!
After this it was just run run run until we reached the park that we started in. My legs were really tierd by this point but I kept going at a steady pace as I knew there would be one or two obstacles left to challenge once we were in the park! As suspected, as I reached the park there was a climbing frame type obstacle, then a big inflatable with lots of foam and one final hay bale before the finish. Fortunately for me there was a little queue at the hay bale which meant I actually caught up with the broch lady in front of me, this meant I knew I could catch her on the final sprint to the line – and I did! Woo! (it’s the little things in races that I love). I finished 22nd female out of 260 and 180th overall! Not bad for a first go! I reckon had I been in the first wave I could’ve done it much quicker as I would’ve pushed harder in the running sections but for once I actually don’t care! I had a brilliant time and I cannot wait to sign up again next year!!