“I’m expecting to see Blofeld any minute!” I said to Antoni as he parked up. The dam walls looming over us provided an eerie and threatening backdrop to the barren beauty of the munros either side. Yep, the Glen Lyon Ultra wasn’t going to be in the middle of nowhere. It was the middle of the middle. The epicentre of empty.
Antoni had kindly agreed to give me a lift to the start of this race and that allowed me to make a late entry, some 2-3 weeks before race day. He himself was looking forward to his foray around the loch and glens but unfortunately a thigh injury meant an early stop for him at halfway. I have to say, it was a pleasure to chat to him on the way up about all things Scotland (his knowledge is remarkable) and when he flicked the music on and Arcade Fire sparked up, well that cemented a brilliant lift-share choice.
I’d entered Glen Lyon as a way to test a number of nutrition and kit items ahead of the West Highland Way. 2016 is the race’s first year under the stewardship of the indefatigable BaM racing team who now put on 4 great races across Scotland. Glen Lyon is a riff on the Tigh Nam Bodach race which was last run in 2013, but I am sure BaM will develop some further tweaks to the course and race over the years to stamp their own unique brand on it.
A first year can sometimes mean teething issues, but Bill, Mike, Cat and their hearty team of volunteers are so experienced in these matters that you would think that this is a well-established race. The remote location seemed only to add to the challenge, and the attitude of all involved. The lack of phone signal seemed to be the biggest inconvenience. The local population tend to be bleat and baa more than talk, and on my entire time on the course, I think I passed only 3 or 4 folks who were not part of the race.
It was nice to catch up with a few folks before the race. I had been pretty quiet on the usual social media outlets in the lead up. Post-Anglo Celtic Plate it had taken me a few weeks to regain equilibrium both physically and mentally. I was fatigued and only when I started to get my bounce back did I enter. I resolved that I would go into the race low key, and just turn up and run.
So that’s what I did.
Looking around at the start I was eyeing up my threats. Him, her, them! Everyone was a threat. After the race briefing where Mike said we had to be able to swim for his risk assessment (and I can’t) and that he had kindly altered the route to make it “about a mile” longer I headed to the start line. Winning wasn’t important. My homemade foodstuffs, testing the S-Lab pack I have and getting a good workout on trails was my focus. But, of course, I had a look ‘round at the start and decided to go off slightly fast to see who would follow. In my mind, it was ‘do 4-5k at a decent clip’ and then see where we were.
THE RACE: Loch Section (0-14.5 miles)
The start is off out on to a road for a few hundred metres then onto trail, and a decent climb to get you started. By 2k in I was already well clear and eased off to keep the effort even. The first 15 miles of the race basically circumnavigates Loch Lyon. I became a bit unsure at 8k which direction to take and I waited for about 90 seconds to see if anyone was behind me. No one came, so I took a chance, recalling words like ‘open gates’ and ‘river crossing’ from the pre-race brief and it turned out I was I right.
Coming back towards the start on the other side of the loch I could see I had a decent lead at 10 miles. It turned out we had been running with a nice tailwind – I know this because it would be into my face for the next 5 miles. Back at the start line, 24-25k in, I was feeling good but knew the second part of the race would be tougher.
THE RACE: Into the Glen (14.5-31.5 miles)
Right away things change. A sharp uphill on an old Hydro road, which was badly maintained in some parts but that was ok as it made it feel like I was back in North Lanarkshire, got the 2nd half of the route off to a very different start. From here the race goes back down towards the bottom of the Glen. It snakes across it first, through fields full of sheep and lambs. At around 21 miles it is a sharp drop into the Glen and the realisation that the hill promised at 26 miles is gonna be a doozy.
Across the bottom of the Glen I was able to just run happy. Aside from race crew I hadn’t seen a fellow runner for a couple of hours and every now and then I’d get anxious about being on track. It wasn’t quite The Hills Have Eyes but this an unforgiving place to get lost and I don’t like lamb. The course was sparsely marked as it didn’t need to be. The paths were obvious in the main and a GPX file was available.
About that hill at 26 miles… Well, it turned out it was at 27 miles. We’d got that extra mile in early. The hill is tough, it is on an old Hydro road. But, as this was prep for the WHW I decided I had to run it all. And I did. It’s around 1,000 feet of climb in little over 2 miles, so it does hurt, especially so at this stage of the race, but I was safe in the knowledge I’d go downhill to finish.
I did grab some water from the aid station halfway up and it was nice. They told me about 30-40 of the race’s 80 starters had passed which meant I would finally get to see some human life as I would see the remainder on my way home. Lots of hellos, well dones and smiles later – plus a hi-5 from Amanda Hamilton and a ‘hurry up you’ from sweeper Ada helped me home, as did the big mahoosive downhill to finish.In the end the race came in at 31.5 miles. Or if you like, BaM gave us an extra 5% for free 🙂
I won comfortably in the end, by a bigger margin than I expected. I had a great day out, in an awesome place and achieved everything I wanted to in terms of the run.
Time was irrelevant. Position was irrelevant. Having fun, enjoying the route, thinking hard and running well. These mattered more and I got it all in spades. And I have thanks in abundance for that.
Menshies and thanks!
- Jeni Rees-Jenkins winning the women’s race a week after The Fling. Absolutely amazing.
- The race sponsors for the best haul of prizes to date. UD Hydrates, Buff, Thistly Cross Cider, Injinji, Nairn Oatcakes
- Antoni for the lift and letting me eat a potato scone with Nutella on the way up (even though I didn’t ask for permission)
- All of the support team, without whom there are no races
- The BaM racing team of Cat, Mike and Bill. Another truly great event. I hope it goes from strength to strength
- David G and Bob S over at Kintyre Way on the same day and crushing it for #teampyllon
- John C for his unwavering willingness to answer my inane messages on a number of subjects. Thanks man
- Mr Paul G for his guidance, support, friendship and brilliant coaching
- And of course… Louise, Euan and Caelan – for giving me something I hate saying goodbye to, but love coming home to