Tuesday, 8 November 2011
Glen Ogle 33 - The Friendliest Wee Ultra
I'd been toying with another autumn weekend in Glencoe but decided to replace that with a weekend in Strathyre: a place I'd driven through quite a few times over the last year. Mainly at pretty high speed heading for Tyndrum, Kinlochleven, Fort William etc... I remembered it being a pretty little village just north of Callendar with apparently every house on the main road offering B&B. I also had a long standing memory of someone telling me how they'd like to run along the viaduct - but to this day, I can't remember who it was or the circumstances!
So I booked two nights at The Inn at Strathyre (on the basis of supporting race sponsors) and watched the entry list grow and include more and more people I knew. Even the Pirate was heading up from London, having made a wager with Tim Downie as to their respective performance. As this would involve some cheek kissing for the loser, he was even threatening to train for this one...
So, on a dark November Friday night, I'm driving west along the M9 again, having failed miserably to leave work early, but cheered up by watching the firework displays, the most spectacular of which is just off the motorway at Stirling.
I stop at Callendar for chips, not thinking about the "joys" of small towns on a Friday night... Unable to get a space on the street and trying to avoid the gangs of teenagers on the street corners, I stop in a car park and realise I have to walk past a group of men enthusiastically watering the weeds on a wall... fortunately it's reasonably dark. It's also bloody freezing and clearly several degrees colder than Edinburgh.
The last few miles are in thick freezing fog and not helped by my satnav suddenly deciding that I should be going to Manchester and stridently demanding that I "make a u-turn where possible".
The bar of the Inn is packed and, although I don't recognise any faces at a quick glance, I certainly recognise the WHW and Fling t-shirts on a few people! No nonsense about checking in, one of the bar staff walks me up to my room and lets me in.
I think the appropriate words for the room are "quaint" and "retro". It was clearly decorated in the height of fashion with its butterscotch bathroom suite, red flowered bathroom carpet and louvred wardrobe doors that aren't entirely mobile. But it's spacious, scrupulously clean and warm. And the bed is very comfortable.
Tim & Muriel are staying up the road but by the time I've unpacked and sorted, are eating downstairs so I head down to join them. Also in the bar is the irrepressible Ada (my unexpected room-mate from Ayr) and her club mates; they are not staying in the Inn but in the "love bus", a camper van parked in the Inn's car park. We're also joined by Scott who is braver than any of us and camping at the site just outside the village.
A tent. In Scotland. In November. I know I'm a wimp but, even so.....
Mike & Bill are in and out during the evening as they're still putting up race signs around the course. I've never met Bill before, although he's tagged in a few of my photos from the Devil o the Highlands. He's also the runner who had a heart attack in the Fling and left in a helicopter. What I didn't realise until tonight was that he ran for about 15-20 miles whilst having the heart attack, thinking it was acid reflux.
By the time the drinks and talk are complete, it's the wrong side of midnight, which probably isn't the best preparation for race day but it's been too nice to leave the open fire and friendly chat.
The alarm goes off at stupid o'clock, which is still later than Bill & Mike who needed to get out early to try and finish all the signage. Off road ultras are great, but it can be pretty challenging getting race "furniture" to remote locations...
Outside at 6.00am the village is dark and silent, and covered in a thick blanket of cold wet fog. There is no sign of life anywhere, including the car park where (wrongly) I believe registration is due to start in 30 minutes. This is when I wish I was smart enough to own a torch. Ambling up the pavement, I see a man in running gear standing outside the B&B smoking. This has to be Norry; there can't be that many ultra runners with a nicotine habit. Further up, the legendary Ray McCurdy is jogging up and down the road.
I head south out of the village and to my right, see lights flickering away far down the picnic site. It looks like something from ET. It's also close enough to Hallowe'en for me to think of tales of Will-o'-the-wisp as I head through the trees towards the lights.
On drawing near, there are (fortunately) no mischievous spirits, only Mike and Bill and another hive of activity. For novice race directors, they're incredibly well organised and equipped: trestle table, generators, tent, free-standing lights, maps, vouchers, race numbers, even the SA permit pinned to the inside of the tent.
Soon enough the first runners start arriving; some I know, some I don't, some I know through FB or blogs or photos but this is the first time we've met properly. Amongst them is yakhunter, the author of "This Runner's World" (linked over >>>>>) which has some amazing photography that always reminds me how beautiful a part of the country I'm lucky enough to live in.
As more and more runners arrive, registration becomes the art of doing several things at once - one hand searching out race numbers, the other ticking off names, whilst independently holding a conversation or pointing out where to put the drop bags. Amazing how many runners can forget their medical forms... but no point getting cross, just hand over a blank form and a pen, and tease them instead. It actually reminds me of working behind a bar, a feeling reinforced when I greet the lovely Antonia (winner of Glenmore 12 in her first ultra season) with the words "hello gorgeous" and the next runner in the queue (definitely in the more senior male veteran category) calls out "hope you're going to be saying that to me". Of course I am...
Registration done, Mike sounds the air horn and all the runners head across the road to the start point. For the first time I realise it's now daylight - when did that happen?
In the pause while the race starts, the start/finish line crew introduce ourselves. Geraldine thinks she knows me and it only takes a few moments to realise we both helped at the S2S Ultra nearly a year earlier.
There's no rest for the wicked - or marshalls - and the five of us start on packing up goodie bags. This is where I came in, I think.... Somehow it seems to be getting colder not warmer and I'm soon trying to pack bags wearing pink fluffy gloves. But there's nothing I can do to defrost my feet that feel like blocks of ice on the cold mud. But when we finish the bags and step out of the tent into the sunshine, it feels blissfully warm and we're happy to drink coffee and chatter.
Davie Hall arrives with the exuberant Millie who decides that my pink glove would make a perfect chewing toy. Which it might if my hand wasn't still in it.
Suddenly we get the news that the first two runners are through the final checkpoint much earlier than anyone anticipated. As it's the first year, and no-one's run the route before, there are no benchmarks for time and it's a real hybrid of a course, mixing up trail and road, flat and hill. Four hours seemed to be a common expectation for the fast runners but I'd thought closer to three and a half for the winner.
Even so, I'm still half stunned when at barely twenty past eleven the cry goes up of "runner, runner!" and we see the blonde dreadlocks of Paul Raistrick hurtling along the path and down into the finish area.
Three hours and 21 minutes to cover roughly 31 miles ... that's a continual pace of six and a half minute miles ... wow.
The second man arrives six minutes later. Gareth Mayze isn't someone I know but apparently he and Paul had been neck and neck through to the last few miles when Paul just put his foot down and found another gear.
There's a break of 12 minutes or so until the third male arrives, closely followed by numbers four and five, not one of which has the decency to look like they've been working hard.
"First lady" comes the cry a few minutes later. "That'll be Lucy" I say without even looking up, and sure enough it is. Another win and record to add to her collection.
In total, there are fifteen runners finishing under the four hour mark, which includes the second woman and Andy, the "normal" runner who still seems stunned at just how good his season has been.
There are five of us at the finish line and we mean to swap roles around after an hour but five hours later I'm still at the finish line with stopwatch in hand, calling out numbers and times. The layout of the finish is great in that the runners come round a loop to the finish and we can cheer them down to the line.
As each hour approaches, I find myself absolutely screaming at runners to make it to the finish before the watch clicks over. There may have even been some bad language ... sorry but it did help some of them, because they came back to tell me so!
I also find myself screaming at Ian B when he's too busy chatting to notice Sandra coming along the path.
Antonia finishes in 4.38 which is pretty good for someone claiming not to be fit...
Tim comes in at 5.49 ... would the Pirate have beaten him we'll never know. (A combination of missed alarms (the dog switched off the mobile ... yes, really!) and points failure have trapped him in London and he doesn't make the race or the post-race drinks.) There will be a next time and a next wager, I'm sure...
Three Carnegie runners - Robin, Pauline Walker and Sue - cross the line hand in hand with wide grins. But not so wide as the invincible Fiona 2 minutes later...
At nearly half two I find myself screaming at a female runner who stops yards from the line. But she's deliberately stopped to wait for her friend so they can finish together. What I only find out later is that it was her first ultra and her friend had shepherded her round the route despite being injured and expecting to pull out at 20 miles.
A woman asks if I know Karen D and gives me the keys to her car so Karen can get to her stuff if she finishes whilst the driver's away. I love this - where else would you give a complete stranger the keys to your car...?
Karen Robertson finishes and immediately goes into the stiff-legged shuffle that seems to be her trademark after a successful ultra. She tells me she has to work the next day which looks as though it could be ... interesting.
By three o'clock, there are only two runners left to come back - Jim Drummond and Jim McIntyre. The third Jim - Jim Robertson - isn't well and is supporting by car. Earlier in the day, Davie had told me about writing an article on the 3 of them and realising they had a combined age of 200....
Whilst we're waiting, I get some coaching advice from Jim R - how often am I going to get a chance to get advice from someone with that pedigree....?
Just before half three, the last two Jims come home and a flurry of sledging ensues between them. I could listen to them for hours but the sun is setting, it's getting cold and it's time to start packing up the finish.
Amazing how much "stuff" there is to put away, and how much rubbish we've produced in the day. An aside to some of the newcomers on their first rural ultra - this is not a road marathon, do not throw your rubbish on the ground, there are no roadsweepers in the countryside...
The Inn is packed with runners enjoying their complimentary soup and beer. I have to say that bowl of soup was possibly the best I've ever tasted...
Ceilidh - now that could be the subject of a whole essay as a defining factor between the English and the Scots....
But by 3am we've put the world to rights (several times), the locals have gone home and there's only a yawning barman left. It's time to go to sleep and relax after a great day.
Whatever it is that makes a great event, these two seem to have figured it out. Everyone had a great day, everyone seemed to leave with the words "see you next year"...
There are hundreds of photos but this one seems to sum up the day for me, 31 miles, a shoogly bridge and the widest smile:
Oh and if you're a very lucky ultra runner, you may just be getting an invitation to something rather interesting next year...
Photos from The Inn at Strathyre, GO33, Ray Woods,