Tuesday, 4 November 2014

GO33 – Ups and downs around Glen Ogle

I’d run the Glen Ogle 33 back in 2011, the first time the race took place. It had been a great end of season event and I’d managed a decent time, including learning that I could push a little harder than I had thought possible at the end of the race when things got competitive.  That first year of the race had been a little exaggerated in terms of distance, since 30.6 miles needs a fair bit of rounding up to claim 33 miles.



Having entered in 2012, I then found that the race date fell on my daughter’s birthday, and even though I promised to run fast and get back home by 2pm, I had to defer my entry to the following year. But in 2013, a trapped nerve a week or two before the race meant that walking, let alone running was difficult. 2014’s race was entered in the rush of internet clicking on the night that entries opened and when I found that the race clashed with a 16 hour weekend first-aid refresher course, I negotiated carefully to try to squeeze both into a very hectic weekend. It was worth it.


Due to the race start/finish moving to Killin I took up the generous offer of heading up the night before to stay with Ian and Julia Minty in order to avoid a 5am start. Wandering through Killin to register on the Saturday morning reminded me of getting an early morning flight, which I used to do regularly from Edinburgh Airport. The roads would be completely empty for mile after mile and then you’d get to the airport and there were a zillion people all there. Race registration was busy by the time I got there, but there was still plenty of time to get sorted and still wander round the crowds for a chat.
The crowds gather


There was bad news from my Garmin – I know it read “fully charged” when I lifted it off the cradle the previous evening, but it was now giving a “battery low” warning, so I popped it into my jumper and left it behind. Then I decided that I’d better put the jumper into the registration building until later, which is probably the point where I missed some vital route information given in the race briefing.


We wandered to the start of the race and I chatted to Peter Buchanan who has been winning ultras this year, so we moved towards the front since the initial trail was fairly narrow.  A brief pause, a few words and then Donnie Campbell blew the silent air-horn and off we went. A few of the front runners shot off at a truly fast pace (five-minute-miles anyone?) and there was the usual movement of running swapping positions, both forwards and backwards, as the race settled down.


Before long, we were through Killin and onto the forest tracks that I recognised from three years ago.  I didn’t have much of a race plan to be honest, except that I knew that I would need to use the long downhill sections to get some decent pace in order to compensate for the equally long uphill sections.  I soon fell in with Steve Peters (who won the last race I did and has a good pedigree as a hill runner) and the fast-improving Elaine Omand, but halfway up the first climb, they slowed a little and I was left on my own – which pretty much remained the case for the next 30 miles, although there is a bit more to report than just that.
And we're off - chatting all the way. It's a way of controlling the pace, honest.

The uphill start was easy enough – unlike the reverse of the route when it hits between 14 and 16 miles and needs more concentration. I let the legs go on the fast descent to the Glen Ogle car-park with Julie’s snack-van, enjoyed the great support there (and fine music too), before dashing across the road and grabbing my drop-bag.

5miles and Smiles. Great weather for racing.

I’m pretty sure that three years earlier, I just filled up my water bottle at about halfway and that was it in terms of drop-bags (I don’t recall there being any). But with the option of replenishing supplies throughout the morning, I made up four bags the night before – each with one bottle (of High5 energy drink), a couple of gels and a “something-else” – muesli bar/snickers/jelly babies/banana. Which meant that my bum-bag got steadily heavier through the race as I loaded it up at each checkpoint, without eating the contents. I think it’s a fear of running out of food on the course and getting stuck that makes us over-cater like this.


I left checkpoint one after an unknown distance in an unknown time (no watch as well as no Garmin) and enjoyed the long descent down to Lochearnhead. Wait, that’s not true. I should have enjoyed the long, gradual descent, but instead my insides started aching and complaining and eventually I headed down a side-track and then behind a tree to sort things out. Hey, it’s what ultra-runners do.  I maybe lost a minute, but a group of three runners that had been half a minute behind were now half a minute in front.  No worries: that gave me something to focus on.

What goes down, must come up - heading down Glen Ogle

We hit the zig-zags down to Lochearnhead and the group in front split – black t-shirt descending slightly faster than blue, with red dropping off the pace. I had closed on the group slightly and all felt good at this point.  The meandering trail to Balquidder junction was great fun, lots of twists and turns, and plenty to see. Ahead, red had now overtaken blue, and black seemed to be coming back to me; it is strange how everyone has their different paces at different times.


Coming into checkpoint two, we had almost come together as a group again. I grabbed my bag and sorted the contents out on the move. Unlike red t-shirt, who actually stopped to sort out his drink bottle. He soon caught up and moved ahead, with a strong pace, as we rolled along the road to Balquidder village.  The next change was because I needed to pause behind a hedge due to too much drink (breakfast juice and coffee to blame no doubt) and the group ahead was now a steady minute in front, with about the same to a couple of runners behind (probably Steve and Elaine again). So I was on my own all the way to Starthyre.


The straight bit of road before the couple of miles of climbing to Strathyre meant I could see four, maybe five runners within barely a minute of me, so that proved to be an incentive to push on those long uphills. The downhills were fun, the shoogly bridge in Strathyre meant that there were lots of people and support (great), with friendly faces helping with the road crossing. Norrie, John (best hi-viz of the day) and Karen all said good things. Karen told me I was in 13th, and in return I gave her my gloves with a snickers bar and muesli bar stuffed in them, having decided that I had way too much food for the return journey (she left them hidden behind a tree and I got them back when I drove home later – thanks, Karen!)
Overtaking move after the shoogly bridge

Another runner was pausing for water here and I could see black t-shirt just ahead so I picked up the pace and ran as much of the steep uphill into the woods above Strathyre as I could. I’d done well to avoid any thoughts of places until now, but since 12th quickly became 11th, with 10th place (red t-shirt) now walking in front of me, I reckoned it was time to push a bit and see what I could do. On the long uphill climb I could even see blue t-shirt and a white t-shirt which I reckoned was Joanne Thom, who must have been tired after winning the 38 mile Jedburgh ultra the previous weekend.


It took until the pace picked up on the downhill to catch up with red, who then went faster on the flat, so that he was just in front when we hit checkpoint 3 (which had been checkpoint 2 earlier). I grabbed my bag and ran on, now in 10th place, and got some encouraging words from Hugh McInnes, who has set three blistering times on this route.

Approaching checkpoint 3 - rubbish at the ready

22 miles and it's still all ok. Not for much longer.
Again, I had no idea of time and was guessing the distance from memory, not that it mattered – I had a good feel for what was coming up. Just a long uphill to the top of Glen Ogle and then a fast descent down the other side.  Just before the zig-zags, I lost a place to a flying Perth Road Runner (Ian Rowland) who was setting a pace that I just couldn’t match – as shown by him taking 12 minutes out of me over the next few miles.


As I climbed the zig-zags, I could see red behind, so ran as much as I could, except for a couple of the steeper corners and then settled in for the crux of the race – the three continuously uphill miles of Glen Ogle. 

This was really tough.

I did what I could to maintain a steady rhythm, but my pace felt terrible. I am sure that the eight minute miles became nines and tens over those miles – without doubt the hardest part of my race. I knew that once I was over the top of the climb, it would be plain sailing (of a sorts that is).


Ian had disappeared into the distance and I could barely see him even on the longest straight. I could make out a white top moving ahead – it would have been Jo, perhaps a kilometre ahead, and too far to pull back at the pace I was moving at. I also looked behind and there was movement a minute a more back there. That was a reasonable cushion, but only if I could maintain a half-decent pace.

Which I couldn’t.

The final climb is much steeper than this, really.

At the top of the glen, red shirt was now right behind me at the checkpoint. I struggled along the undulating pavement to the crowd (thanks, very positive support) in the car-park and started the descent. This was great and I did enjoy it, despite the previous 29 miles. I pushed hard on bouncing as fast as possible down the trail but did slow a little when the path rose again a couple of times. I felt I was going pretty fast, but red shirt pulled alongside, with a pink top (third lady, Julie Oswald) joining us.


So that was 11th place dropping to 12th and then 13th, right? Because if someone catches up with you from a long way back, they must be going better than you and there’s no way you could somehow get that place back, right?

I do like racing psychology, especially when things get a bit desperate near the end of a race. There can be a downwards mental spiral which is easy to get stuck in when you are actually capable of a more. It was time to put that to the test.


We rounded the corner at the end of the descent with two miles to go. In my head the route turns from north to east here, but a look at the map shows it actually turns from NW to NE – still a right-angle and still a change from downhill to a very flat section.  And I pushed hard.  No point in holding back at all now.


At my running club in Kinross, we often do a two-mile time-trial and I got my head into treating this the same. My breathing became louder and I focused on the pattern of breaths – four paces for in and two out, then three in and two out. My fingers started tingling, which is a sign that I’m really pushing and my body is struggling to match what it’s being asked to do. I tried to sneak a look back and was aware that I had opened a gap, but there was a pink t-shirt not too far back – I’d have to keep working hard all the way to the line.


Back in Killin, I made my one mistake of the day. When I’d been putting my jumper away just before the race start, I must have missed the information about staying on the main road through Killin to get to the finish. Or maybe not – I had kind of assumed that this would be the route and the assurance that it would be marked had stopped me from worrying about it. But there were no markings at the narrow road-bridge and I made a snap decision to follow the outward route back to the start. The (bad) logic at the time was that it was the route we had followed earlier so I wouldn’t get lost.  Actually, I got lost as soon we got back to the tarmac beyond the race start.

A feeling of relief at having found the finish

Not a big mistake, but maybe 10 seconds was lost as I turned left instead of right and couldn’t believe that I’d been so stupid – Julie was right on my heels now (but not in front). I then made the correct left turn to the main road which was, thankfully, clear and through the car-park, shouting, “where’s the finish?” before spotting the arch behind all the cars. As I rounded a wee building on the grass I knew that I had held onto that 11th place, and was relieved that the detour hadn’t lost it for me, since another runner was heading across the grass, having gone the more direct route. Full marks to Mike Adams who immediately headed off to stick some fluorescent arrows at the bridge.


Depending on which Garmin trace you believe, the route was somewhere between 32.2 and 32.6 miles long. Plus my extra 0.15, which would have added just over a minute at 7 min/mile pace which is probably what the finishing pace was. And I’m pretty pleased with that, since the next eleven runners all arrived within five minutes, so I was lucky to have not lost more time heading back up Glen Ogle. The final couple of miles were great – a reminder of how hard the body can be pushed if there is the right motivation.

The numbers I never had during the race

For the record, the red shirt that I ran with from time to time (or chased, or ran away from!) was Stephen Welsh, who ran very strongly despite telling me that he’d not run further than 12 miles since the VLM back in April. Blue shirt was the winning lady, Rachael Miller (now Campbell), who maintained a strong pace on the return to back up Glen Ogle for the win.  My time was 4:26:24, which equates to close to 8 minute-miles: I’m disappointed about not being to push harder on that final uphill, but have no complaints about the race outcome.


As ever, we all need to remember that we only get to go out and play because of the huge amount of hard work done by so many in making the race happen, so thanks to all the BaM team, every marshal who gave up their time and effort to be there and the race sponsors, goody-bag packers, etc., etc., etc.  P.S. Photos stolen from Facebook, etc. I struggle to remember who took which one, so many thanks for sharing (BaM racing, Ross Lawrie, Richard O-Grady, Clark Hamilton)


When do get to sign up for next year?