It's difficult to find something not to like about this race - a nice route through great scenery, it always has perfect weather, and it's two and a half miles shorter than billed. Plus, it is my local ultra, only half an hour drive from my front door.
The start was suitably low key. I'd noticed the big puddles on either side of the track 100m from the start so got myself right in the middle of the group and kept my feet dry. The section through the forest between Strathyre and Kingshouse was nice - a couple of wee hills to warm us all up then a long easy descent. I spent most of this section chatting to Graeme Reid about his superb UTMB run this year - he was very modest about what he had achieved. The first four miles flew by.
My race plan was to try and do about 9 minute miles. I work in kilometres (a hangover from my days as an orienteer) so actually I was aiming to do just under 5:40/km for the whole race. I was pretty much spot on that for the first section and it felt nice and comfortable. On the undulating section through the birch woods between Kingshouse and Lochearnhead (probably my favourite bit of the whole route, especially in the morning mist with the dew covered cobwebs in the trees) I slowed a little then got back into a good rhythm once we were on the railway going up Glen Ogle. The wee climb up to the railway was a nice excuse for a walking break and to stop and take in the view down Loch Earn. Glorious.
Photo courtesy of: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Glen-Ogle-33-Ultra-Marathon/171906002890077
I've always thought that Glen Ogle is one of the prettiest wee glens in Scotland - I used to go hillwalking with my Dad most weekends when I was a teenager and the road from Stirling to the mountains more often than not went through Glen Ogle. I remember looking at the viaduct years ago (before the cycle path was made) and thinking that would be nice to walk along. Running up the old railway on a misty autumn morning was a joy. From the top of the glen we dropped down through the woods towards Killin - a nice bit of downhill which I tried to run relaxed on and picked up the pace a little. I got chatting to various other runners on the climb back up through the woods and before long was on the flat to slightly downhill stretch back to the top of Glen Ogle. Coming up through the woods I saw the much talked about upside-down sign - I thought it was just the organisers' humour (like the "are you enjoying it?" sign, the "to pub" sign, and the "slow" written at the steep uphill on the bike path - the latter maybe wasn't the organisers) rather than meaning the sign had been tampered with. Maybe I need to be more sceptical in future.
Somewhere in the woods we had covered 15 miles which I reckoned was about half way and I was feeling good so I started trying a bit harder. My average pace to this point was about 5:45/km so it was looking fine for doing 5:40/km overall with the long downhill coming up. Pretty much from here to the finish I was catching and passing other runners which was good for my enjoyment of the race but maybe means I started too slow. The run back down the glen didn't feel as downhill as I hoped it would, but the undulating bit through the birch woods was equally nice on the way back and with half a litre of fizzy coke inside me my legs were feeling good. We hit the road at 25 miles then had about 10km to the finish - I set myself a challenge to do the last 10km in 50 minutes and settled into a rhythm that felt nice and cruisey at about 4:50/km. It felt good to be running the last few miles strongly and I crossed the line in 4 hours 24 minutes, after 30 and a half miles on a great route through a lovely part of Scotland. My average pace was about 5:22/km - a little bit faster than I had been aiming for which was pleasing. The last 10km had taken me 48 minutes.
I always start off slow on these long runs then try and finish strongly. I'd set off on this one at a pace that was quicker than I usually start at and it was encouraging to then go faster over the second half. The route was quicker underfoot than I usually run on so I probably set off to slow, but I'm not much of a road runner and get tired very quickly if I try and go faster than feels comfortable. I'm sure I enjoyed it more setting off slow and finishing strong than I would have done setting off quicker and trying to hang on, and it was the sort of day for me that was about enjoying being out on the trails rather than setting the best possible time.
I'm incredibly impressed by how quick some folk ran on Saturday - quite amazing. One of the things I like most about ultramarathons is that no-one has an elitist "them and us" attitude - it's all just one big friendly family and everyone's achievement in finishing is as valuable as everyonelses (not sure everyonelses is a word, but you know what I mean). I was chatting to Paul Raistrick after the race - apparently his parents walked the Pennine Way with my parents 40 years ago, or something like that - and he was as enthusiastic about my run as I was about his. Another very modest guy and a worthy winner.
A big thanks to Mike and Bill and their team of helpers - it was a great event. Unfortunately I couldn't hang around for long to enjoy the soup or beer as I had to take the kids swimming - I spent most of the afternoon climbing the stairs to the top of the local waterslides - not sure how that rates as a post-race recovery.
The route was excellent - perfect for this time of the year when you can't be sure what the weather will throw at you. I was keen to show my wife some of the great scenery we had seen so today me and the rest of the family parked at the top of Glen Ogle and cycled back along the route to Strathyre in more wonderful autumn sunshine - the views of Loch Earn and Loch Voil from the route are just stunning. The bike ride to Strathyre was a nice recovery since it is mostly downhill.
The cycle back up to the top of Glen Ogle to collect the car was slightly less pleasant with tired legs from the previous day, especially on the steep climb at Lochearnhead with two stone of two-year old scotch beef on the back of my bike.