After Julie’s 30k, our second event at the Blair Castle Trail Weekender was the 60k “Full Tilt” Ultra. Originally advertised as 58k, some last minute course changes added a couple of km, but the main challenge was going to be the climbing and the weather conditions. The first half of the route was the same as the 30k – up Beinn Dearg (3,310ft) and then back down into Glen Tilt, but instead of heading directly back to the start/finish it turned North up the Glen, threw in a little loop up and down Carn a’ Chlamain (3,159ft) before heading back down the Glen to the finish, for a total of 5600+ ft elevation gain (although Strava claims it to be over 6000)!
The race started at 9am while it was still relatively cool with a bit of cloud cover, but it became quickly apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to sustain the pace I’d hoped for the climb up Beinn Dearg. Whether it was my relative lack of hill training, the warm weather, the previous weekend’s ultra or a combination of all of them my legs just felt a bit leaden so I didn’t push too hard and was about 30 mins behind the leaders and around 30th place on the out-and-back to the summit. The climb took pretty much bang on 2 hours to reach the summit, 10 or so miles in. I had planned to take it pretty easy in the first half of the route to keep something in the tank for the second climb, so overall things were going OK at this point, all things considered!
Heading back downhill I was finally able to get my legs moving, even overtaking a downhill biker on the short steep and rocky section down to the Allt Scheicheachan! After a short sharp climb back up from the burn crossing it was gentle downhill for the next 5 miles back to Glen Tilt. The sun was out, scenery was amazing, and I enjoyed being able to sustain a decent pace of ~8:30min/mile. I had hoped to be catching a few people on this section but didn’t see anyone barring one of the Mountain Rescue team out on his MTB keeping an eye on the runners. There was a tantalising “Water Station Coming Soon” sign at mile 15 – apparently there was an aid station there on yesterday’s 30k but today I had to wait for another 3 miles 😠 Just after passing the rifle range (still shooting) it was great to run into my family support crew! They shouted encouragement, waved me on and didn’t even seem too upset that I’d arrived about an hour later than planned.
I finally got to the real aid station at the point where the course turned north up into Glen Tilt, filled my water bladder back up and headed off up the glen. This section was surprisingly hard going – the gravel road had been packed down to a concrete-like surface by the heavy traffic related to the ongoing Star Wars filming going on at the head of the Glen, it was steadily uphill, and mostly in the full glare of the baking sun. My pace gradually dropped off to 11min/mile but I did keep running and passed several people who had been reduced to walking by this point. There was an aid station set up just before the turn-off for Carn a’ Chlamain – and I (mistakenly) decided I had enough water onboard and ran straight through. Just at the entrance to the film set, the route left the road and headed straight up a 2000 foot climb to the top. Although this was definite hiking territory, I managed to keep up a consistent pace, stopping briefly to tip a load of water over my head as I crossed a burn. After about an hour’s climb I reached the top and stopped for 30s just to take in the view – I wished I’d taken some photos as it was clear all around and you could see for miles and miles!
Fortunately the Mountain Rescue land rover stationed just below the summit had carried a tank of water for runners, so I was able to top up with enough to tide me over for the descent. It was a wider twin-track all the way back down to the glen, and less steep than the way up and reasonably runnable. I passed one other runner who was suffering badly with quad cramping – fortunately my legs were still feeling not too bad! There was an aid station at the bottom, so I filled up with water again – enough to get me to the finish. I was a bit worried that I might be running low on electrolytes – I’d stupidly not packed any extra tablets so after I’d gone through my first 2 litres that I’d made up in the morning I’d just been taking plain water. I suffered really badly with cramps in my first ever 50k race (also in the heat), so I’d been hoping that there was something salty at the aid station. Unfortunately there wasn’t but they did have some watermelon (high in potassium, I believe) so I scoffed a few chunks of that and headed for home.
The last 6 miles were pretty much consistently downhill, on the hard-packed glen road and I was gradually able to pick up my pace, using up whatever reserves of energy were left in my legs. Having walked up the Glen earlier in the year, I knew roughly how much distance was left and so I was able to achieve something approaching a ‘sprint’ finish and banged out an 8:15 last mile through the woods, back on to the Blair Castle estate, around the camp site and cheered under the finish line. After 7 hours and 15 minutes it was great just to lie down in the shade and not need to run any more!
Overall, despite being over an hour slower than I would have liked I ended up in 20th place out of 58 runners (including 7 DNFs) I did actually enjoy the day. Coming the week after the Northumberland Ultra, this wasn’t a ‘goal race’ so I was happy just to run my own race and not worry too much about placing – although of course I still enjoyed passing people 😋 Fuelling went pretty well – I went through 7 SIS Gels, most of a pack of dried fruit and nuts, and a pack of my latest go-to ultra fuel – honey roasted cashews! I think next time I’m running in the heat I’ll definitely pack a few extra SIS Hydro tabs so I can add those to water that I take on along the way – but it seems that I got away without any ill effects in the end. As it’s effectively a local race, who knows – maybe I’ll give it another go next year?