While the Elite runners were off up north running the Glen Coe Skyline (53kms, 4250m), Mike and I were happy to settle for the more “mundane” race of the Ochil 2000s (31kms, 1500m) – part of the Scottish Long Series (http://www.shr.uk.com/Championship.aspx?ChampionshipID=C-006).
We ran the Ochil 2000s in 2011 (finishing time of 4hrs 11 mins for me – Mike 3hrs 42 mins). I had found it tough so was quite apprehensive all week as I did not really know if I was fit enough to make it. I therefore decided to just enjoy it and treat the race as a training run for the Breweries and Skyline later this year. There would be NO racing against Mike, Julia etc etc and I would just simply aim to try and get a sub 4 time.
Mike drove us (yes he was late picking me up! 9am Mike – not 9.15am!!!) to Stirling University for registration, and at 10.30 we were all bussed to the other end of the Ochils near Glendevon to be dumped at the start. A nervous half hour wait while everyone stretched and discussed the route – especially the latter end where apparently one of the largest tree plantations in Scotland had appeared across the race route in the last 12 months. The race organisers still wanted us to go through this region so an extra electronic dibber (2 in fact) were located within this area forcing us to go through – more on this later!!
With no fuss, “Go” was shouted at 12pm and we were off. The first 1.5 kms snakes along a forest road up into the NE end of the Ochils. The gradient was relatively gentle (compared to other Ochil races) and the leading pack flew off. Mike very quickly sped away from me. Having quite a full belly of sandwiches, I could not even hope to keep up, so settled into a relatively comfortably pace. Once through the forest and over the deer fence, the route takes you on to open ground and the path heads SW upwards towards the first checkpoint. I could see Mike about 500m ahead with his bright orange backpack, but kept saying, no, keep steady, there is a long way to go.
Unlike most of the long series races, there are few steep ascents (except for Dumyat at the end), so the first half of this race is a real pleasure. The ground is soft and spongy and the miles just fly by. I played a little game with myself to help the navigation by trying to recognise which sections of other races I was on – Dollar, Maddy Moss, Run of the Mills etc etc. It helped keep me focussed. Although conditions were excellent (17 degrees, light southerly wind, cloud above the tops), I still wanted to keep my eye on the route. If the cloud came down, then the nature of this race would change significantly – navigation would be difficult in poor visibility.
At about 1hr 10 mins, after the descent off King’s Seat, I realised that I must have been slowly catching Mike up – he was only about 100m in front. I started shouting abuse that he was slacking :-). For the next few kilometres, I was basically on Mike’s tail, but did not try to overtake as it would only have unnecessarily tired me out. It was quite amusing seeing him nervously keep looking back all the time. We got to the half way and highest point at Ben Cleuch in 1 hr 44 mins. All down here from this point – sweet! Well – life aint so easy my friends. The next few kilometres over Ben Buck and Ben Ever are relatively straightforward, but then the path disappears and the style of the race changes considerably – for the worst. There is about 2kms of deep bog towards Blairdennon Hill. It was this section that killed my legs in 2011. This time, however, either I was a little fitter or I took a better route – it was not so bad. I in fact caught Mike up for a while and we ran/waded/staggered together for some of this section. On the ascent up to Blairdennon Hill, Mike did however pull away. Again, I was happy to keep my steady pace and not try and keep up.
The route takes a sharp left at Blairdennon. Mike took a different route, going SE and contouring around the head of the valley. I had scoured the maps during the previous week and was convinced that going straight south down/up in/out of the valley would be quicker. Indeed it was, not by much, but on gaining elevation again after about a kilometre, Mike and I were together again. I think at this point, Mike deferred to my navigation skills and stayed with me – maybe he was equally tired. We were now entering the region where thousands of saplings had been planted. We had no idea what to expect. We luckily found an old boggy track which took us nicely SW toward Lossburn Reservoir in the distance which was our aim for the ascent up Dumyat. As we started the descent however, we now realised what was ahead of us. It looked like the mountainside had been combed. Half meter deep/wide parallel draining ditches crisscrossed everywhere. Luckily the saplings were still small, but the draining ditches and some random pits were a b****y nightmare. This whole area will become impossible as the saplings grow in the coming years. Although we took a fairly direct route – we even found the dibber in all of this mess – it was slow going and running was a distant memory. A real shame as we had been on for an excellent time. It was also clear that many runners were having problems – Mike and I caught up quite a few lost souls and there were many others all over the area seemingly running off in random directions.
We managed to get to Lossburn Reservoir with semi-functioning legs. Fatigue was definitely creeping into my legs by this point. Only Dumyat to go. A 1 km very slow climb up to the peak. I guess after the plantation nightmare, this was relatively easy, but none of the runners around us were looking fresh. We reached the summit of Dumyat at 3 hrs 30 mins. I said goodbye to Mike at this point as I knew I would have no chance keeping up with him on the descent. By this point my legs were finished and were starting to cramp up. The descent is actually the only rocky, technical section of the whole race – the last thing you need when your legs are losing control. I stumbled on and managed to make it down through the technical steep sections of the woods. Battling constant cramping in my legs, I stumbled along the last 1.5 kms valley track towards the University, happy in the knowledge that I was going to get a PB. I am not sure what happened next – maybe I blanked out – but the next thing I knew I was flying head over heels off the track to the right. I landed heavily on my right hip, flew into some logs and end up in a nice little grove of nettles. I couldn’t get out quickly as both legs went rigid in spasm and I, embarrassingly, screamed rather loudly. A runner behind me looked in panic thinking that I had broken something. Through gritted teeth I said I was OK and somehow managed to get back into a vertical position and like a robot managed to get my legs moving again. I was literally meters away from the hole in the wall before the final few hundred meters to the finish.
So – with huge relief, I crossed the line in 3:52 (PB!!!). Mike in 3:49 [results not up yet but Mike was 31st]. I was covered in nettle stings, especially my left arm, and have quite a graze on my right hip. But what a race! Despite the trials and tribulations of the last 8kms, this is a great race and you bet I’ll do it again. There is definitely potential to recover some time with some scouting of the plantation area and in fact I am pretty sure the organisers are going to be forced to consider a route change as the forest grows up. Time will tell I guess.
4 weeks to the Breweries – bring it on!
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Rob [and Mike]