Thankfully Ann agreed to meet me in Hamilton after work on Friday and the Thursday trip was cancelled. I did however balance out this more sedate week with a 12 hour drinking marathon at the Balmoral Hotel on the Wednesday all in the name of business, its a tough job but someone's got to do it.I’d been lucky enough to secure a room in The Inn at Strathyre for both the Friday and Saturday and the weather forecast throughout the week didn’t look too bad, so all in all a good weekend in prospect.
We arrived and checked in about 7:30 registered with Bill and Mike and enjoyed a pleasant evening meal washed down with a very restrained two pints of Guinness, my restraint being mostly driven by not having an en suite room and not relishing the prospect of sneaking across the corridor in the bare buff at 2 in the morning to relieve myself.I was in bed by 10pm with all my kit and drop bag laid out and ready to go. Unsurprisingly a stupid o'clock am toilet trip was required, slightly enlivened by the key jamming noisily in the lock of the bog door, sorry if I woke you up.
With the alarm going off at 6:45 this left me plenty of time to get washed, dressed, panic , fart around have a cup of coffee and squeeze in a 3 further trips to the toilet before heading over to the 7:45 race briefing.
With a forecast of 8C and rain after midday, I’d opted for Shorts a long sleeved compression top, Harriers T-shirt and lightweight gloves, with my OMM Kamelika waterproof in my backpack.
Bill’s race briefing was pretty much of the “don’t get killed; look out for each other and let us know if you drop out” variety, having asked for a show of hands for any Ultra virgins, I reckon there must have been around 40 first timers, some looking fired up, some frankly terrified. We all trooped across the road to the start, making a pretty impressive sight in the early morning haze.No hanging about, shortly after 8am we were off.
The first couple of miles are a pretty steady climb, gaining around 450 feet, since most of my Mabie Forest training runs start with an uphill mile; I was quite relaxed about this. I didn’t really talk to anyone on the climb but focussed on not going too quick and working too hard too early. On reaching the 3 mile mark I found myself running with Kirsty Burnet, Kirsty was probably running faster than I’d planned, but as I hate running alone, I increased my pace and we pretty much chatted right through till mile 10, near the top of Glen Ogle.
I’d recently listened to a podcast featuring Stuart Mills winner of last year’s Lakeland 100, an advocate of running hard and fast at the start of ultra’s and then just trying to hold on. I normally run a very conservative race, I reckon I have a finite energy budget and I generally try to spread my exertions over the whole race, but I was feeling very good and the pace wasn’t uncomfortable so I stuck with it. It was great to hear of Kirsty’s plans for next year’s WHW race, fingers crossed she secures a place.On the switchback climb above Lochearnhead I met Pete Hunter for the first time and we got chatting to former WHW race winner Kate Jenkins too. The truth is that Kate ran up the switchback while the rest of us walked. Kirsty peeled off before the checkpoint for a comfort stop and I barrelled in to shovel in my first rice pudding of the race, I was conscious that quite a few runners didn’t stop here, but I felt I needed both a food and liquid top up before the forest loop.
As I passed the burger van I caught up with the distinctive tartan shorts of the running royalty that is Donald Sandeman, running his 10th, yes 10th Ultra of the year and looking fresh after the Jedburgh 3 peaks Ultra 6 days previously. We chatted pretty much the whole 3 miles downhill to Killin, clocking all 3 below 8 minute miles, definitely a first for me in an Ultra! After the pleasure of 3 downhill miles you face a solid 4 miles uphill back to the checkpoint, last year I walked pretty much all of this conserving energy. Fired up by how good I was still feeling I ran or run/walked most of the forest hill making up a couple of places en route. I’ve adopted a strategy of running 50 paces then walking 50, it’s surprising how much quicker you cover the ground than a straight walk. It’s mentally easier to run 50 paces than run up a whole hill, even if I trick myself by running 50, and then running 50 more and so on.Back into the checkpoint for rice pudding number 2 and to pick up a couple of gels (at £2 each I’m far too tight to leave them around) and it was back down Glen Ogle. I say down because it has to be downhill, firstly because it was a definite uphill on the outward leg and secondly because the god that is my Garmin tells me so. But by heck it doesn’t feel like a downhill, I wonder of any other runners thought this too?
About half way “down” I could feel the first spits of the forecast rain, I decided it was worth sacrificing a few seconds to stop and put on my waterproof. As I got running again Noanie caught me up and although we ran the next couple of miles pretty much side by side we didn’t talk much, as Noanie, frank as ever said she was feeling sh**e and right on the edge of being able to keep running and talking. She did however promise to catch up on any of my dazzling conversation later in the bar. Noanie gradually pulled away from me and I only overtook her when she had to stop briefly when she dropped her asthma inhaler on the switchback to Lochearnhead, she went on to finish 5th lady in 4:44:18The stop to put on my waterproof proved providential as from that point the rain just got heavier and heavier right to the finish. With 22 miles down Noanie said she was close to achieving a marathon PB (she needed to beat 3:50) sadly the combination of cold, rain and undulating cycle path meant we both missed it, only by a minute or so just before Balquhidder.
Passing through marathon distance in 3:51 and having chugged two Clif energy gels I knew that barring disaster I would beat last years’ time, I also knew that the race measures short and I only had 6 miles to go, that was all good news. On the bad news front, the rain was getting heavier, by now washing across the road in torrents, this section through Balquhidder and the head of Loch Voil is devoid of cover and I was soaked to the skin and my calf’s were hurting, just a typical Ultra then.Whilst there is always the temptation to walk when it gets tough, the thought of a PB and getting out of the rain quicker drove me to keep running, I passed another three runners between here and the finish, two of whom looked pretty much done in. I’d given up trying to avoid the puddles by now and I was pleased that I’d managed to maintain sub 9 minute miles for miles 27, 28 & 29.
I knew from last year that the race has a sting in the tale with some short sharp climbs in the last mile and a half; I tried to run them all, dropping to a walk 50 run 50 when it was too steep. With about 1 mile to go I was passed by Craig Mackay, who’d got his second wind and was on a personal mission to beat Donald by 6 minutes (Donald beat him at Jedburgh by 6 minutes). Once Craig had pulled ahead I couldn’t close that gap, we joked in the bar later that he’d sussed my 50-50 strategy and he was running 52-52 to get ahead of me.The 30mph signs at Strathyre were a welcome sight and I picked up the pace slightly as the infamous shoogly bridge hove into view, my sprint across the bridge only marginally impeded by a lady walking her dog, some people have no sense of occasion!
After a succession of finish line photos where I look like I’m dying, I was looking out for the photographer and as usual managed to miss her, round the corner and through the finish arch, 4:41:01 36th place, over 17 minutes better than last year. To say I was pleased would be a massive understatement, I was absolutely flipping, bl**dy over the moon.The finish area was slowly submerging under the constant rain and I felt heartfelt sorry for the volunteers huddled under the gazebos, a huge thank you is in order for all the volunteers who made the race possible.
Ann was waiting for me under a big umbrella, so I gratefully grabbed my goody bag and a cup of scalding but very welcome coffee and immediately headed back to The Inn. The puddles in the car park were ankle deep, but I couldn’t get any wetter and I couldn’t have cared less anyway.Ten minutes after finishing I was peeling off sopping clothes and climbing into the sadly inadequate shower and by 2pm I was downstairs enjoying my complimentary bowl of soup and my by now customary recovery pint of milk, heading through to the bar I bagged the seat right next to the fire and enjoyed my first pint of the day.
I’ve had bad experiences after finishing longer races, so I know now not so piss around, get changed, get warmed up and get fed and watered and then enjoy the sense of achievement. The bar slowly filled with a mixture of happy and unhappy finishers, there were a few borderline hypothermic cases, a couple of DNF’s and overall a huge sense of achievement.I really enjoyed being able to hang around for the after party, it was a privilege to be able to share peoples pleasure and sense of achievement at having completed the race in pretty challenging weather conditions, many having popped their Ultra cherry. There was the usual mixture of “never again”; “I hated it”; “I loved it”; ”I can’t believe I did it” and every emotion and sentiment in between and I enjoyed every second of it. A whole afternoon and evening catching up with old friends and making new ones, why wouldn’t you love running Ultra’s