It’s been a long year. Well, actually, it hasn’t. I mean, only 10 months have gone by and that whole concept of time is one that is a headfeck of the highest order. What it has been is a year of big effort for me.
Two years ago, in November 2012, I completed my first ever ultra. It was at this race called Glen Ogle 33. I didn’t know anyone at the start, had Puccini and Verdi on the iPod and in the pub afterwards I grabbed a beer and soup before vanishing off to a lift home from my brother. Importantly, I finished. I had broken my ultra duck. I was 28th in some 4 hours and 43 minutes.
So, in the summer when the entries for GO33 opened I jumped in right away, think I was 2nd to enter. I had Glenmore 24 to negotiate in the September first but felt if I could get out of that without any major injuries I would be ok to have a stab at GO33. In many ways, dropping early with a knee injury but no lasting damage helped in the long run (no pun intended!).
Things have moved on a lot since my last visit to this race. Firstly, I met up with a lot of good people who have become friends. There is no time to get nervous when you are busy chatting, and Gerry Craig was kind enough to give me a lift there and back. More on Gerry later.
Another major change was the fact that the race had to start from Killin and not Strathrye. A flood at the campsite used for parking and the pre-race set up meant Bill and Mike (hitherto known as BaM) had to make some last minute changes. The main one for the runners being the reversal of the traditional route, with a few wee add-ons too.
Logistically this must have been a nightmare for the daring duo, but they nailed it. Like they always do. A braw event with a braw team.
On to the start.
I muscled my way down to the front to start close to fast runners. I was hoping to get a top ten and was keen to see how the faster runners would go out, also, if I could keep up with Craig MacKay in the first mile I’d be doing OK. As you can see from above, Craig had some new make-up on.
The first half mile was flat but then gave way to a tough few miles of climbing out of Killin and down cycle route 7. There were three major climbs on the route, and the image below from Strava shows these pretty clearly. I imagine that first hill thinned the field out somewhat.
Throughout the climb I was in the top few, and as we started the descent Alan Tait, John Duffy, Peter Buchanan and Gerry Craig flew past me. There was no way I was going to attempt to keep pace with them and John in particular was flying. It meant I was in 7th place as we hit the road and trail down over the viaduct towards Balquhidder.
To be honest, there wasn’t a lot to report here for me. I was on my own for a long time after this. There was no-one in sight behind me and the peloton who’d left me on the downhill were out of sight. It was simply a case of me, my music and my own thoughts. I’d chosen four bands and a completely different genre to that in 2012 to get me through: System of a Down, Therapy?, Rage Against the Machine & Slipknot. It was an audio paradox to visual beauty of the route. But I was enjoying being able to safely scream along every now with them without worrying about being heard. Well, except for the wee woman walking her dog on the road between Balquhidder and Strathrye. I might have given her a wee fright when I started singing Chop Suey.
It was weird running over the shoogly bridge and into the old finish line.
The thought of then having another 15 or so miles from here was depressing. That was compounded by two miles of sheer uphill after I crossed the road and headed to the forestry track. I got a wee fillip at this point though as I could see Gerry and Alan a few minutes ahead.
I was running solid in what I thought was 7th place but must have passed Peter at a CP somewhere and was, unbeknown to me, in 6th. Up to this point my legs had felt sluggish all day. I was running an OK pace and way ahead of where I wanted to be, but somehow I didn’t feel any zip. That, I put down to the long year thing I mentioned earlier.
The run down the hill back towards the CP2/3 point at Balquhidder saw Gerry and Alan get out of sight again and me think about how much I need to improve on the downs. Into the CP I went, I had a bottle of coke waiting for me but after what seemed like an eternity we couldn’t find it. In reality it was about 10 seconds. But, a wee angel with a lovely smile gave me a cup of coke and some water, and I had a gel to hand, so made my way out of the CP happy. I had planned to only have half the bottle anyway so no harm done.
Gerry had left the CP just as I came in and I fancied I might keep him in sight on the climb up route 7. As it was it was Alan Tait I first caught up with, just as the cycle path gets steep and switches back at Lochearnhead. He was struggling but battling on gainfully.
At the top of the hill I was surprised to see two things, 1) John Duffy only a couple of mins ahead, and 2) Gerry boosting away. On the drive up Gerry had suggested he would get to 20 miles and take it from there, pushing if he felt good. Looked like his plan was in fine flow.
John was slowing up and commented that he’d paid for his attempt to go for it earlier, but would try and get me on the downhill into Killin. A statement which would have me shitting myself for 4 miles.
He also told me I was now up into 4th which was a mega surprise. For my part I was really struggling with a stitch but didn’t want to show it, and managed to nurse it for a mile or two before it cleared.
I got to the last CP to cheers and whoops from the amazing girls there (you know who you are) and Bill telling me to get a fucking move on as I could still catch Gerry and 2nd place was struggling too.
I tried to open up in the next couple of miles but to be blunt, I was out of acceleration and after a couple of miles of effort I couldn’t see any of those ahead of me so kept a steady pace to finish; checking every ten seconds for John coming behind me. As I got into Killin I was ecstatic. Well inside my top ten target and also in good shape.
I was equally pleased for Gerry. His podium place meant a lot to him and he worked damn hard to get it. We’ve shared a few good runs, and races this year, and I hope we do the same in the future.
I crossed the line in 4:00:30, in 4th place. 43 minutes quicker than in 2012 and on a course around 1km longer. My training and hard work over the last two years has paid off, and I guess it is a case how much more can I push myself. I’ll train hard over the winter to find out!
Big congrats to Ray Ward, winner of the race in 3:46:22 and to Rachael Miller who was first lady home in 4:14:23.
Three things to finish with, Strava does some neat analysis on races and I particularly like this one. It shows the split of pacing and aligns it to the elevation movements as well. I am content with the overall steadiness of my pace, even on the hillier sections.
Then there is the BaM team, their crew and their volunteers. You are all amazing people, not just because of what you do and what you did, but also because of who you are. Don’t go changing people. Respect.
And, my favourite story of the day. Ah, Angela Barron. Ya wee daftie. As I rounded on the park to finish Angela was on number shouting duty and so decided to race me on a sprint finish. She was motoring, in fact flying, almost literally, as she went faceplant first into the ground and slid a few feet over the finish line. Look at again at the picture above of me finishing. You’ll see two things: 1) Ross and I laughing & 2) Angela’s feet on the bottom left of the picture. A nice way to finish.
(picture credits to James, the GO team, Richard & Ross – thanks!)