Two Ultramarathons in five weeks when you’ve not even done one before? Bound to be a good idea…
In actual fact, ultra number two coming so hard on the heels of the first – the John Muir Way Ultra – was probably the best thing that could have happened. I knew that I had (very) recently run the same distance I was about to tackle here at Glen Lyon and that I should be able to finish it. Fear of the unknown was what made the John Muir event such an adrenaline fest.
The usual pre-event rotten sleep meant I was up and about very early on the morning of the race…the view from the hotel window in Killin promised none of the overpowering heat commented on from the 2017 event.
And I had plenty of time to make a proper coffee and organise my race pack before the drive over. Now that was interesting 😯
Low cloud, mist, single track road and precipitous drops… like something from The Hound of the Baskervilles. Deep into remote rural Perthshire I ventured, being rewarded when the mist lifted with spectacular views into Glen Lyon…
Parked up in front of the hugely impressive Lubreoch Dam, I wandered over to register and take in the atmosphere. It was already abuzz and loads of folk had camped overnight in tents and various camper vans, making me wish I had a van again.
I left a drop bag – okay, a carrier bag with my race number on it – with the officials. A first for me. I’d put a spare pair of socks in, a spare buff, some more Tailwind sachets and extra supplies of the same food I was taking on the run: a coconut flapjack, some jelly babies and some roasted & salted nuts. I wasn’t sure if I’d need or want any of this stuff but the option was there so I thought it seemed sensible.
Starting bang on 9.30 following a race briefing which spoke ominously of river crossings, the first half of the run took us round Loch Lyon on a (mostly) gently undulating Land Rover track and across several of those river crossings. I’ve only got wee short legs so this was a bit tricky. It was a new experience for me in a run but after the shock of the first one I began to enjoy the experience as they helped cool and soothe slightly sore feet.
I was aiming for about 11minute miles with the intention of doing 10minute miles in the last 10miles or so if possible. That was the plan at any rate. Having said that, I was actually closer to about 10min/mile pace on this loop of the Loch…
So I knew I needed to try and slow it down to conserve energy – after all at this point there was still the best part of a marathon to go! More river crossings and an aid station brought me up towards the half marathon mark and on a short uphill section I came to grief somewhat. My foot caught a stone and I started to fall, uphill, in slow motion. I knew I was going down but I couldn’t do anything about it.
I really smacked my left knee on the stony track and it took me a good few minutes to compose myself and get going again. A few sips of Tailwind, some nuts and jelly babies and I was away. I think I was in shock slightly. I felt a bit sick and light headed and I was in quite a bit of pain from the knee as I tried to test it out. This was a bit of a low point but just over a mile later I caught sight of the start of the dam and knew I was almost at the halfway checkpoint.
For some reason I had it in my head that the checkpoint was at 17miles, leaving just over a half marathon to run but it was exactly halfway at a shade over 15.5 miles. Not to worry. It was a slick operation from the BaM Racing team, dibber dibbed and number shouted out on approach and my drop bag was in my hand.
I wasn’t really sure what I needed or wanted. I had a bit of flapjack from the dropbag and swapped my buff for a fresh, non sweaty one. I also took the opportunity to take off my shoes and shake out the wee stones which had made their way in. I’d forgotten my trail gaiters but it hadn’t been too much of an issue even allowing for the river crossings.
I filled up my water bottles, gave my throbbing knee a rub and headed off again. As I left the checkpoint area I had the only negative encounter I’ve ever had so far with another runner.
Him: you done this before?
Me: no, you?
Him: (sneering) aye, and the second half is harder, much, much harder. (accelerates away)
Aye. Cheers for that pal. Really encouraging and supportive. As a fellow runner I later told this to said, “prick”.
The next three miles were what can only be described as hellish. An uphill slog. Pretty steep but, worse than that, unrelenting. Worse still, all tarmac.
Reader, I walked the whole way. As did loads of other folk. It was good to just slow right down and chat to folk here. I spoke to a couple of people doing their first ultra. The consensus about this particular part of the course seemed to be “for fuck’s sake”.
My legs were really heavy and my thighs were burning with the constant uphill but I said to myself on more than one occasion, “this means it’s three miles downhill at the end” 😊
Eventually, after a gratefully received downhill section – on which the leading two runners passed me at great speed on what for them was a very steep uphill (amazing to watch them, mountain goat speed 27plus miles in) we came to the mile 20 aid station. A water top up and I was off again for some hard miles into Glen Lochay.
I was into run-walk-run territory by this point and it was getting hot now too, in spite of the mist. A quick photo stop as I hit what I thought meant I was into single figures remaining (turns out it was 31.5miles, not 31 but hey ho…) and I pushed on into the Glen on what I guess was Land Rover track, it was certainly a bumpy ride. Lots of ups and downs and kissing gates to negotiate.
I was really grateful for the support of a runner I’d met as we parked up in the morning. Linda had told me she was worried about finishing in time as she had a night out to get to in Perth and was meant to be meeting folk in Aberfeldy at half five! We had a laugh about kit choices and debated long v short sleeves before the start where I took a photo for her and her cousin, who was running the event on her 40th birthday! Great present 😊
Anyway, Linda chatted to me as we walked along for a bit while my knee was really hurting. She then encouraged me to run for a wee bit and I’m really glad she did. Although I said to her to push on ahead when my knee started throbbing again, she had made me believe I’d get there after all. Thank you Linda! I saw that she had finished a couple of minutes in front of me so I hope she made the night out…
Reaching the turn in the Glen on a steep, twisting downhill I got in tow with Davie. It turned out he knew Graham from the Maps For Trailrunners project and we chatted on and off whilst walking and running for the next few miles to the start of the uphill section that would lead us ‘home’.
I hit marathon distance in 5h23, slower than the John Muir Way but it was a much tougher course, with actual proper hills and everything…
Davie and I both took a picture of the very Tolkien sounding Forest of Mamlorn sign, cos why wouldn’t you? The joy of ultras is being able to slow down and take photos. Time becomes elastic.
It’s only actually as I type this I realise that I very casually passed the 26.2 mile mark this time – I didn’t get the mad buzz I had at the same point in East Lothian. Either I wasn’t thinking about it because I was chatting away or because my knee was so sore. The third option doesn’t bear thinking about; when I told my ultrarunner nephew afterwards that I hadn’t felt the same sense of achievement this time round his reply was chilling:
A last burst of running before a half mile uphill set of hairpins got us to the last aid station at around 27miles. More water and onto the final uphill stretch. Davie and I were still together at this point but he soon sent me on ahead as he said he was really struggling. It’s hard to leave someone behind when they are finding it tough but equally it’s important to give people their own space in an ultra – it is mostly done inside the head after all…
It was another slog up the hill but with the knowledge that it would soon be downhill all the way. I managed a slow shuffle here as it flattened out, running with two ladies from Aberdeenshire in their first ultra. One had just completed a sub four London marathon and was going really well at this point. More water and jelly babies on board and I was rolling along nicely on a downhill section.
Looking at my watch I saw 29.4 miles tick by and had a sudden feeling of warmth and happiness. I realised I was going to finish this in the next 20minutes or so and that it was all downhill and that I was running really strongly and feeling good. A glance down confirmed sub 8minute mile pace at the 30mile mark and I couldn’t help but smile as I repeated the well worn Caballo Blanco mantra:
easy, smooth, light and fast
…before the joyful sight of the dam appeared on the horizon.
Nearly there! Results would indicate that’s actually the aforementioned Linda up ahead too. A few walkers passed by going uphill and there were lots of “well done” and “nearly there” shouts, which puts a bit of a spring in the step.
I rounded the final corner and attacked the last hill but there wasn’t enough in the legs to do it justice. A last wee walk to the summit allowed me to power on the last 200yards to the finish line passing lots of cheering folk. A lovely way to finish my 2nd ultra.
The official time was 6h36 in 105th place. I won’t lie – this was tough. Perhaps the first half had lulled me into a false sense of security? I was moving well and running nicely. Pace was good and I was really enjoying it.
In hindsight, the fall at mile 13 really knocked me for six and were it not for my stubbornness I should probably have stopped at halfway. I was in more pain and discomfort than I allowed myself to contemplate fully but I suppose that’s the battle of an ultra isn’t it? I know for a fact I said on several occasions from miles 20-27 “this is my second and last ultra, might as well go for it.” At the time I had convinced myself I’d not be doing anymore of these mad events.
No, you have already signed up for another in September 😉😊