I have to admit, after the marathon last week I was feeling just a bit sore. I very much resembled a waddling penguin when attempting stairs for at least a day. Goes to show you don’t need to run a PB for it to hurt.
So it did cross my mind not to run my next race – Glen Lyon Ultra – which was 6 days later. However come midweek I had read a couple of race reports from it, looked through dozens of photos of the area and was now really excited to get out there. After all, there was a dam to run over!
Luckily for me a couple from the running club were also doing it and had offered a lift up. This helped me no end as it meant Joe and Oliver weren’t dragged out their beds at 6am and then left for hours in the inevitable cold, wet and windy countryside to entertain themselves.
Morning of the run and I was up and ready. I hadn’t slept very well the night before because I was, well, excited! This type of running I really enjoy. Middle of nowhere, clean fresh air, seeing things you don’t see on a daily basis (oh my goodness so many newborn lambs!) and a huge dam to run over. What’s not to love? Joe got up at 6am to make me breakfast – bless his cotton socks ha ha – and thoroughly enjoyed going back to bed. I meanwhile jumped in to Kev and Gillian’s car with what felt like enough gear for a weekend away. The race organisers had said to pack for all weather and had stressed several hundred times the importance of getting warm clothes on as soon as you finished. There was one place for a drop bag which was halfway and a couple of checkpoints with water. My drop bag? An actual rucksack. I kid you not. There were river crossings and it had been said you could change your trainers at the halfway point (if you didn’t mind being called a Jessie ha ha) so I thought may as well take them.
It was about a 2 hour drive to get to the start and the chat was good. Gillian is how I found out about Ultras. Shortly after joining the running club we were at a hill session and even though we had finished she was still running back and forth. Someone mentioned she was training for an ultra and proceeded to explain what that was to my blank expression. How far?? Not a chance am I doing that!
How things change.
Now she’s about to take on the West Highland Way along with her partner Kev so as you can imagine there was lots of running chat. Along with chat about the scenery and the animals outside – lambs, hares, no deer though.
Once we arrived I was quite shocked to see they had managed to get portaloos along that road but man was I grateful. It was straight to them. Probably the first and only race I will be at that has no queue for the loo. There were 193 signed up but you always get a percentage who don’t run on the day so it was a small field.
The race is more like a run of two halves. The first section is round the Loch and roughly 17 miles. My aim was to complete this in 3 hours. A number I plucked out the air if I’m honest. It’s undulating with some tricky paths underfoot and those infamous river crossings. I would be happy with 3 hours. On this basis I gave myself 3 hours for the second half. Two horrendous climbs but they came with the downhill so in my head, with Ella logic, 3 hours seemed a good goal.
I genuinely hate to think what my school teachers would think of my maths skills and logic.
Anyway. We were strictly warned to keep away from one section at the start as there was a lamb there that had been born the night before. And when I say strictly I mean they shouted at you over the microphone if you went anywhere near it. (Not me, I’m not that stupid). The race directors were taking no chances with their agreement from the landowners to hold this race and quite right. It was in spectacular surroundings.
At the start line and we were advised the river crossings were only ankle deep and we would have one gate that was locked so we would have to climb over it. Be careful of using stepping stones and don’t stray from the path. I did briefly wonder if I had entered an obstacle race and not an ultra but hey ho.
Once we were off it felt good to begin at a slow steady pace. Up the first hill and we were soon being rewarded with the gorgeous view of the dam from above. Many runners stopped to take a photo so for once I wasn’t the only one!
The track was what I would describe as quite ‘knobbly’ – you had to pay attention so as not to twist over your ankle. In reality, a proper trail track. It was very undulating but nothing too steep either up or down. I had started off in my water proof jacket, sleeved top and T-shirt underneath. After just 2 miles I was removing a layer. Having learnt from Glen Ogle 33 I had chosen to wear a middle layer I could strip easy. Yes I did give myself a small pat on the back for this ha ha.
Very soon after I stopped to remove my water proof jacket also. It was heating up quite nice in the sun. Another excuse for a quick photo.
The first river crossing was as they had said – ankle deep. If that. I managed to skip across the stones, just like I used to do as a child. Probably still looked like a child too. Just a bit more stiff jointed and bent over ha ha.
I had fallen in pace just behind a guy and a woman. They were chatting away but I don’t think they had come to the race together. Suddenly the woman tripped and fell on both knees. She sat up and went straight in to shock. We were only about 8 miles in and she feared her race was over. My job has many benefits, one of which being I’m trained in first aid so thankfully I was able to calm her down and get her back on her feet again. She seemed ok but I stuck with her for a little bit to make sure she really was. She kept apologising for falling and getting shocked and kept telling me to carry on and that she was fine. I think she just needed a moment or two to herself after that to regain her thoughts so I went ahead a little.
Shortly after this was a deeper crossing. I say deeper but in reality you could again use the stones or if you really insisted you could just plod through and possibly splash a little water on your ankles. I most certainly wouldn’t be needing my arm bands. (Yes I did have them in my bag, I was taking no chances with the element that is water that is quite clearly out to get me in races).
There was an aid station not long after that and I mentioned to the Marshall a woman behind me had fallen but had carried on so keep an eye out. Turns out she was hot on my heels and had recovered well. Good stuff.
By now the wind was quite seriously getting to me. I couldn’t hear what the woman beside me was saying, my nose was running faster than Bolt with no stop cock in sight and I had more than once been blown backwards when trying to move forwards. For f@ck sake!!!!! My jacket was back on and working well against it but seriously wind – BACK OFF!!!
Then all of a sudden it would stop. And the sun would blare down. So I had to remove my jacket. And just as I was thinking I probably should have worn my shorts, out would come gale and her wind of force. And on the jacket would go again. I lost count of the number of times this happened. More costume changes than Beyoncé. I did become quite skilful at doing this whilst on the move though.
Ok. Here it comes. The dam. The actual dam that I am going to run across. I’m excited!!
I’m also knee height to a grasshopper which naturally means I’m too small to see over the frigging wall!! Is this the water trying to get at me? It couldn’t drown me at the river crossings so it’s going to hide from me on this dam? Well ‘dam’ you water!
I try and take a video as I run across the bloody thing but no one needs to try and count how many chins are in my phone book so it was quickly deleted. I got one photo. And my face looks like Will Smith in Hitch when he takes an allergic reaction and it swells up. (Or maybe I do just have a really fat face – probably).
Tantrum over with it’s down the little hill to the ‘half way’ check point and I’m pleased to see I’ve reached it in under the 3 hours. However my watch is reading 15.6 miles and we were told it’s about 17 so this then sets me thinking the race is going to be short. No complaints from me about that though!
I go straight in to my rucksack and grab my bread and butter. Yes ladies and gentleman. My fuel of choice for this race was pure water and bread and butter (with a handful of emergency jelly babies). Some may say I was Moses – although I didn’t part any seas. But technically you could argue I walked on water as I used the stepping stones the majority of the time.
This little scenario of tales is what kept me going over the next 15+ miles by the way.
I was very conscious not to stay too long at the checkpoint and I didn’t feel I needed to change my socks or trainers so I filled up my water and carried on. I knew the first of the big climbs was coming and I would inevitably be walking up some of it so I could munch my ‘council sandwich’ then. As predicted, I did.
The thing with this first climb is that it was the replica of climbing a mountain. Every time you think you’re at the top, you go round the corner and you just keep going up and up again. It never seemed to stop. Obviously my legs were hurting by this point but not as much as they were at Stirling so I pushed on. Then came the down hill. Oh my word the down hill. That’s when the pain came and the realisation that there was a high possibility I wouldn’t be walking after this. I kept in my head that it was only going to reach 30 miles though as it was short at the halfway so get to 20 and you’ve only got 10 to do. 10 miles is a good number. You can do 10 miles easy. That’s a basic training run. Over in a jiffy.
Still going down hill and I see something you never want to see in a race. The lead runner coming towards you. But not just coming towards you on this vertical drop of a decent. He was running.
UP this bloody hill?? Are you kidding me?? I can barely run down the dam thing! I’ve even passed people walking down it it’s that steep!
There’s another one behind him. Another one running up this thing.
It’s about this time I wonder to myself if this is the moment I should give Uber a call.
But then I remember you don’t get any phone signal when you are in the middle of the middle of nowhere.
This is worse than being taken out by an Arianna Grande song snipering your play list. Thankfully my music is not on for that to happen.
I then come across a turning to the right. Ok. Happy with that as it means no more front runners coming past me. But then I see it. Something no one wants to see when they are 19 miles in to a race.
‘8 mile loop’
I start dialling every taxi number known to man.
I’m now crying in to my emergency stash of jelly babies wondering at what point in my life I genuinely thought running 31.5 miles in the Scottish Highlands would ever be a good idea. Sure, I’ve made mistakes in the past. Worn a short white dress to a grungy pub when it was snowing outside, dyed half my hair an aluminous green colour looking like I had the worlds biggest bogey on my head, drank milk that was 3 days out of date when hungover (soooo much sickness after that one). But running? This far? Here? Why?
It’s at this point the woman I had helped earlier comes past me. I think she quite clearly spotted I was flagging (read that as having a mental breakdown) and said….
‘We head down just at that shed then it’s pretty much flat along the river.’
Words. Of. An. Angel.
‘Have you ran this before?’ I ask her. Genuinely thinking what an absolutely ridiculous question. Who in their right mind would do this more than once.
‘Yeah. Hoping to get under 6 and a half hours this time.’
She’s nuts. She’s absolutely bloody nuts.
But she has a point.
The shed doesn’t look that far away. And it does look nice down by the river. She has somehow managed to encourage me on without saying those awful words ‘almost there’.
FYI – you are NEVER almost there until you are one step in front of that finish line.
It is as if a miracle is bestowed upon me as I manage to pick up the pace and get moving. It’s probably only by about 5 or 10 seconds a mile but I feel like I’m moving much better and faster than before. I’m still having the on again off again argument with the jacket but I don’t care.
And soon I’m hitting that hill.
Not a hairy chance am I even attempting to run up that monstrosity of a torture task. A brisk walk will be done.
Ok a walk then. Turns out I’m not that grand at walking fast up a hill. The woman who had the fall however is and she’s off up the hill on a mission!
It feels never ending. Mainly because it is. That’s a fact right there. That hill does not end. I’m actually still trying to reach the top.
Obviously it ends. And it flattens out a little , just a little. I’m overtaken by 2 guys and a lady who – in true ultra runner fashion – check politely I’m still doing good and heading for the finish. That’s the best thing about ultras. Everyone speaks! Everyone says hello. Exchanges the silent ‘are you ok’ and encourages you on. That doesn’t happen in the road marathons.
Downhill now and it’s painful but more uncomfortable than ‘ouchie’. I’m telling myself the course is short so I’ve only got to get to 30 miles. I’m fine. I’ve got this.
30 miles passes by and I can’t even see the finish. This course is not going to be short. Dam it!
I plod on. Finish. Finish. Finish. Finish. Joe should be down there by now and he won’t be overly happy about having waited hours for me to eventually finish. Get moving, get moving.
Finally it’s over the small bridge and up to the finish line. There’s a handful of people on the hill. ‘Think happy thoughts’ they say. ‘I’m not going to tell you what I’m thinking’ I laugh back at them.
I spot Oliver just before the line and manage a smile. It’s done.
Kev comes over and I’m not surprised to hear he managed it in under 5 hours. He found the last hill a killer too so that makes me feel better I wasn’t being a wuss. I grab my bag Gillian comes over the line shortly after. Both her and Kev are running the 15mile trail race the next day. Not a chance!
I head to the massage tent to get my legs seen to whilst Joe takes Oliver up to see the dam. She tells me she can’t feel any unusual tightness in my hamstrings. Given the issues I’ve been having with them I’m very happy with this. I almost jump off the table Tom Cruise style but I’ve just ran 31.5 miles. I’m not jumping anywhere.
So. In conclusion. Did I like this race? I bloody loved it ha ha. How could you not? The scenery is spectacular. The people are so friendly. The organisation is spot on. Even the t-shirt fits!
Would I do it again? Em… it’s tough. Really tough. I didn’t actually cry (that may have been a spot of poetic licence). But it was in no way easy. There’s a chance I would do it again. Maybe. If I can ever forget about that hill.
Would I recommend it? Absolutely!! It has reminded me what I enjoy about running. Not the constant eye on the watch run as fast as you can and throw up at the end. But the fresh air, the scenery, the friendliness of other runners enjoying it.
You can’t beat it.