I had 5 days to recover from the Three Peaks Ultra marathon in Jedburgh before lining up for my next ultra marathon – the Glen Ogle 33 (GO33). It didn’t take long for my legs to feel normal after Jedburgh and this is likely to be partly thanks to the forgiving surface we had there. I was by no means the only person who was planning to race both events. I knew of at least 4 others such as Craig Cunningham, Roly Mcraw, Caroline McKay and Michael Novicki). This was going to be the first time I would race two long distance events so close together. Therefore I would just see how things went. I had little doubt of finishing though.
I got a lift to the race in the morning with Carole Fortune (her 2nd ultra after the D33) and Caroline. It was an 8am start so I had been up at 5 to have breakfast. On the drive across the weather looked not very welcoming with rain and sleet. The forecast had been for snow which I strangely would have preferred.
Once we got to Strathyre we registered quickly, got ourselves sorted and caught up with a few friends from the ultra marathon scene. After the race brief it was about a 5 minute walk to the start line. The rain had stopped by now and it was looking quite pleasant.
As usual I lined up towards the front to get a good start and found myself in 9th place after the first km. Most of the first 2-3 km was uphill by the end of which we were definitely warmed up. About 4k in I had my first (usual) feed/walk break and a pack of 8 overtook me. Bang, I was in 19th place then. After resuming running I picked up a few places again but then just settled in. Norry McNeill and Roly were in the group as well but stayed ahead of me.
After the initial climb and descent it was mostly undulating until we hit the old Glen Ogle railway line which then very gradually wound its way up the valley. There is one exception to this: A small series of switchbacks which are seriously steep. What really confused me was that we had been running along a railway line before the switchbacks and then were running along a railway line after the switchbacks?! A train couldn’t have done that! After getting home Fiona and I had a look and found out that there were in fact 2 lines running in parallel, one above the other. As these are now being used for the national cycle network the switchbacks were put in place for the cyclists. Anyway they are not very pleasant to run on neither up nor down. A couple more people overtook me here and once on the upper railway line I settled into 21st place. My legs felt tired in a ‘we have done a lot of running recently’ kindof way, so I was happy to just plod along and keep my place. There was a bit of snow on the path too which kept me occupied. The field had spread out but with the railway line being quite straight I could still see up to 8 runners ahead of me. So, something to focus on.
I was reasonably happy with the position I was in. Based on last year’s results (which looked fast) this looked realistic and I reckoned I’d pick up the odd place here or there.
I got to the top of the pass, said a quick hello to the marshals but kept going as I didn’t need my drop bag I left there until the return leg. From here we’d do a loop through the forest which stretches down the valley to Killin and then back to the top of the Glen Ogle pass.
I started my descent in good spirits as I was looking forward to a bit of faster running. The early part of the descent was quite unpleasant though as it was steep and on tarmac so I was rather relieved when it levelled out. I did manage to pick up a couple of places from runners who had stopped at the checkpoint. Heading towards Killin I caught up with another runner from Glasgow and we had a bit of a chat up until the point where we started the re-ascent to the pass. When we made the turn we suddenly had 5 runners in front of us. This surprised me as the last long straight seemed empty. I had targets ahead of me again. One target that was just teasing me all the way up the hill was Roly as I seemed to get closer but never close enough before easing off for a bit to eat.
Going over the top (which is slightly higher than the pass) I caught Norrie who’d gone off too fast but was still going strong. Based on my calculations I was now in 18th place. Keeping tabs on where you are placed is a great way to keep you occupied. The gap to Roly though continued to increase. As a one off I decided to ignore my feed/walk break over the top as I had a sense that the checkpoint (and my drop bag) would be just round the corner. It was slightly further and I got to have my next gel 10 min later than scheduled. I spent literally seconds at the checkpoint (thank you Lorna for your help here). I removed the empty bottle and zip lock bag and replaced them with new ones and off I went again, consuming a gel on the way out. Quick glance back: I had gained another place with another runner who was taking his time in the checkpoint. At the time I hadn’t realised that this was Roly. I am into 16th. This is looking quite good now.
One of the reasons I felt that a top 20 would be OK at this race was that last year’s times seemed very fast and it appeared to be more a course for speedgoats. Although I have decent pace I am not all out fast and excel better in tricky, technical conditions as we had at Jedburgh. So to find myself creeping up the leaderboard was very pleasing.
I was now heading back down the railway line and the weather was getting continually better opening up some very nice views along Loch Earn. On the way down a group of scouts were walking up the railway line and this was the biggest crowd support we got all day. Thank you, scouts!
The gradual descent was a pleasure to run on and I caught another runner just before the steep switchbacks (they are even worse on the way back down when you have run over 20 miles) but was aware of being caught by someone or so I thought. It seemed to take ages for Kevin du Plessis to catch me. We were running at a fairly similar pace. Just before he caught up with me I passed Neil Young who was struggling with hip flexor problems but bravely kept going with a mixture of running and walking to finish his first ultra marathon.
When Kevin caught me we ran together until we reached Balquidder Station. I had briefly ran with Kevin at the Highland Fling (Race Report)in April so it was good to catch up again. I was in much better spirits this time than I was then. Together we passed another 3 runners, 2 of whom jested that we were cheating when running uphill. Although Kevin had caught up with me we had both slowed down a bit which had helped me. I did remember my feed during the chat but due to the slower pace decided to ignore the walk break. It appeared to work. Just before Balquidder Station I had gained a bit of strength and Kevin let me go ahead. We had 10k to go. Sadly the last 10k are all on tarmac along the road to Balquidder and then back to Strathyre – this is different from the opening section. I am not a fan of running on tarmac (a great example of this is how I got on at the Speyside Way Ultra last year).
I went into the tarmac section though feeling strong and got on pretty well for the first half. In my next walk break I glanced back to see Kevin and another runner approaching. I returned to running though before they caught up. The gap was closing though and I was hoping that when they caught me we could head to the finish together. In the meantime we were closing in on another runner. We all caught him with around 3km to go. At the time though I thought we had around 5-6k left as per my Garmin but it turned out that the 33 miles were actually 31.5 miles. The other runner running with Kevin was Roly. Roly was going very strong and my attempts of staying with him over the last few kms didn’t last long. To my surprise though Kevin didn’t catch me either.
The last few kms of the Glen Ogle 33 do have a bit of a sting in them. The road section is 7km reasonably flat and then 3k of up-down-up-down-up-down. Ouch, especially on the down. Roly on the other hand was just bouncing along like Tigger in his Hoka running shoes. I am not a fan of the Hokas but the way Roly was going I had to wonder.
Anyway based on my calculations I was currently in 13th and had around 3k to go. After about 1k of those 3k a guy pointed to the left and said I had another 200 yards. I was surprised as I had already resigned myself to finishing outside 4:30 hrs. In the end it was exactly 4:20 and 13th place. Roly finished 1 place ahead of me in twelfth.
Caroline finished 3rd lady again and Michael had a very strong run to finish just over 5 hours. Carole finished in 5:20 hrs in her second ultra and which she calls her first real ultra. Also congratulations to Helen Falconer in finishing her first ultra in the same year that she did her first marathon.
It was a great day of racing with good weather in the end. The course isn’t difficult to follow but signage was everywhere where it was needed and marshals were great. You definitely can’t fault a race that has a beer in your goody bag and a voucher for more beer in the pub. Well done guys!
A few days after the race my legs still feel tired, not achy but tired. They have done a lot recently. Now they just need to recover enough to get me round Beacons Ultra (2011 race report) in a decent time.
Due to my position in ultra marathons I don’t very often get the opportunity to chat to other runners whilst on the course. Due to the field being a bit bigger and maybe more varied there were always other runners around which made for a less lonesome race. I can see how company like that (in my case running with Kevin for a few kms) can give you a rest and a boost.
One more ultra to go then the season is over. Yay!