So there you have it. I am an an ultra marathoner now. After my botched attempt at the Clydestride 40 in July I completed the Glen Ogle 33 this weekend (3rd November). How would I describe my feelings? Hard to say really. I was delighted at the end, relieved as well as I was starting to really struggle.
The thing with an ultra marathon is the distance is only one facet of the challenge. Generally the terrain and the elevation make for a different set of obstacles for the runner to overcome. And the Glen Ogle 33 had a bit of it all.
The race started in Strathyre, some 20 minutes north of Callander. Registration on the morning was slick and the temperature gauge in Cookie’s car calling out 1.5 degrees was about right. It was colder than a witch’s heart and didn’t the runners know it. After a quick change in to more appropriate clothing I readied myself for the race. There were two key decisions I had to make: footwear and tactics.
For footwear I went with my Asics running shoes and it was 100% the right decision. The route is mainly bike track and part roads with some trail thrown in. However, the condition of the forest trail is superb. Given the weather in week leading up to the race it was surprisingly good. In fact, in the race’s 33 miles, there was only one puddle I couldn’t easily avoid.
For tactics I ditched any rigid run/walk routine and decided to run fast when I felt good and walk hills when I felt that was the right thing to do. I wasn’t winging it but I was thinking about mile 28 at mile 3. The idea being not to go out too quick but when good downhills allowed it to set myself free. Crucially, I tried always to feel as if I was running within myself. I had no time target per se, sub 5 hours would be amazing but the reality was I wanted to finish more than anything. Indeed, before the race I suggested to Cookie that I could be 6 hours given the temperature and the hills in sight. The Garmin measured the hills as below:
The use of the toilet block at the campsite was welcome but whomever invents something that can take away the smell of 200 hundred runners making a final drop will be a millionaire.
The start was a bit of a shock. Straight uphill, with the first three miles averaging over 180 feet of elevation gain each. Paradoxically, I think this helped me consolidate my pre-race view which was go easy, go steady. Normally in a race if it is flat it is all too simple to get caught at a good pace at the outset only to pay for it 20+ miles later. Of course, the hills do different damage.
After that the course wound back down the hill and by the Rob Roy pub and then on to cycle path 7. Interestingly, it was only 15+ miles later when coming down the cycle path that I realised how much of a hill it is. I was steady on the route and in retrospect should have considered a couple of walking stops, but I felt good. The condition was great and the scenery absolutely spectacular. The viaduct is a particular highlight as are the views of Loch Earn going both ways.
It is vistas like this which make you want to come back.
After the 2nd checkpoint at mile 11 the runners start hitting the woods and forest trail and the route undulates more. It was here I took my first walking break. At mile 14 there were loads of people starting to walk and I took the lesson from Clydestride here and it worked.
All the while, I was loving my less important but nonetheless worthy decision of ditching the usual mix of heavy metal for the more soothing tunes of Aida, Madame Butterfly & La Traviata. I am absolutely convinced tuning into these kept me in check. That said, as I started the return from Killin to Strathyre two songs looped in my head. They were Coming Round The Mountain and The Bear Went Over The Mountain. I think you can guess why.
The higher we went the more stunning the views and the light dusting of snow made the whole thing feel very natural. However, whilst the views were amazing the highlight for me was passing a group of about fifty kids near the viaduct on the return who cheered and hi-fived me like I was Mo Farah. Makes me smile every time I think about it.
The return is more downhill but not without its challenges. I found a couple of the descents agony and it hammered home the point a lot of ultra runners make about the need for a good downhill technique. Quadalicious!
As I clocked up the miles I went through the marathon somewhere near 3:47 and I realised my five hour target was on. If I was to hit five hours I reckoned I needed 60-65 mins in hand for the final 10k but by then I was starting to seize and had a dose of cotton mouth. I couldn’t face anymore food and I had hit the least inspiring bit of the course from the final checkpoint home. This is all road from the Rob Roy pub via Balquhidder. Apart from brushing past Rob Roy’s grave these miles stretched out in a painful, quad and calf taunting, final hour or so. Speaking to a couple of people after the race they felt it would be better if this was the start of the route. In theory yes but practically I would think it would be too much. 200 runners on that narrow road plus the challenge around finding a suitable finish area the other way round likely render it a nice but unwise choice.
Nonetheless, as I lurched from short run to walk a couple wizened old fellows approached from the opposite direction and told me that I was in 24th place and the Garmin measured the remainder at only 2.3 miles. I had calculated almost 4. This is the kind of boost supplement companies would die for. He tempered his good news by describing the next mile as a ‘bastard’. Can’t have it all, eh?
However, I dug in and was running at 8:30 mile pace in the last mile as I crossed the line somewhere near 4:43. I heard the official timer say 4:42 something I think and will update when I have the final time. (It was 4:43.45).
Also, my watch measured the course under 32 miles. In long races like this it is easy to shave of distance as you take the racing line (hell, I’ve never run a race that is bob-on). Either way, it is a long bloody run.
In the end, when I downloaded the race to my computer the elevation gain came out near 2,400 feet. During the race it touched 3,000 according to the live watch. Nonetheless, I had never run >1,000 feet gain before.
Coming in at the time I did was fantastic. On a high, a quick 20p shower at the campsite – with thanks to the chap who funded my 3 mins of excruciatingly hot, but blissful washing – was followed by a race provided bowl of red bean broth and a pint of Head East at the Inn At Strathyre. Delightful.
So, that’s me no longer an ultra virgin* as the race directors described the handful of us at the start. I am now an ultra runner and don’t you forget it. I won’t.
Big thanks to directors Bill & Mike for the day and to all those volunteers who supported. A labour of love in many ways and wholly appreciated. I think I smiled and thanked most of them on the way round.
Garmin record for the race: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/239945345
*An ultra virgin is not a 70 year old nun. Just in case you are wondering. It describes someone who has never run an ultra marathon before. Apologies to anyone who googles ‘ultra virgin nun’ this is not the page you are looking for.