Glen Lyon Ultra 2022

This was an unexpected addition to my race calendar after the Stirling marathon was cancelled. The route looked interesting and it wasn’t too far to travel. A 50k race fitted in well with my training plan for the KACR which is my A race this year. As it got nearer to the race date I was getting nervous as I knew I could run the distance and would therefore be pushing the pace which just sounded hard work! Training had gone really well over the last few months though and I had the added bonus of a cold and wet recce run of the second half of the race with a friend a few weeks before the race.

The race takes place at the top of the remote and beautiful Glen Lyon. Leave plenty of time to get there as the way in is along narrow and long single track roads! The start/finish and half way checkpoint are in front of the dam at the end of Loch Lyon. The first mile is an uphill run from the dam up onto the landrover track that circles the loch. You basically stick to this landrover track for the next 14 miles and travel anticlockwise around the loch. The track is undulating with numerous river crossings (expect wet feet) and it’s a rough track so you do have to watch your foot placement as it would be easy to trip or go over on an ankle. The views are stunning when the sun shines and it is a bleak landscape if cloud is low and it’s windy and wet! This part of the route is easy running and there lies the danger! Having looked at previous racers’ splits on Strava they suggested it was easy to go too fast on the first half and make for a tough second half!

Once round the loch you get to run across the dam, nip down to drop bags at the midway point before heading up the dreaded hill road for the climb up and over into Glen Lochay. This climb is steep and long but depending on how your race is going is definitely runnable (or at least run/walkable). It levels off before a steep downhill into Glen Lochay. Stunning and remote, the views are amazing. Glen Lochay has numerous kissing gates in the deer fences the first of which you meet on the road before you turn off onto another landrover track that goes along the side of the valley. A water station at the turn off is well located to fill up bottles before the run along the glen. This path gradually climbs as it heads along the side of the valley, but is shorter than the loop on the first half. There aren’t any river crossings but there are places you can wet a buff/hat on a warm day. After just a few miles you reach the steep zigzag path down to the valley bottom for the run back along next to the river. This is the flattest section of the course! At about 27 miles you find yourself back at the bottom of the steep and long road up and over into Glen Lyon, before finishing where you started back in front of the dam!

The forecast in the run up to the race said it was going to be hot and Saturday morning didn’t disappoint! Any cloud cover there was burnt off as we drove up the Glen. Iain was driving (the road was too scary for me) and we had Lewis, Angus and Spud the dog with us along with our friend Steph who was also running the race. It was an early start in order to get up the Glen in time for registration before the race start at 10am. Race registration was well organised and straight forward with good banter from the volunteers! A drop bag could be left for half way, which I did, although if all was going well I planned not to use it.

My target time for the race was 5hr 15 which worked out at an average 10min/mi pace but would require most miles nearer to 9.15 min/mi to save some time for the climbs. I had really wanted to run most of the climbs but with the heat I rapidly revised my plan to a run/walk strategy to try and minimise body temp increases. Plenty of sun cream, sunglasses and trusty buff and I was good to go. Mandatory kit was minimal and I planned to use energy gels for fuelling (I carried 7 gels, one for every 4 miles with caffeinated gels for before each of the big climbs). I carried some salted peanuts and homemade energy bar just in case and had 2 x 750ml soft flasks with energy/electrolyte mix in them.

We congregated by the start line for a short race briefing and then we were off. A small group raced off at speed and then I was in the next group of runners. I made myself walk up the first incline which was hard and then I had to hold myself back from trying to keep pace with the front of this group of runners. After a couple of miles I found myself at the back of this pack, a couple of ladies briefly overtook me before dropping back again. I was able to keep a steady pace around Loch Lyon at roughly 9.15 min/mi but in the heat it was slightly harder work than I would have liked! The river crossings were only ankle deep and were wonderful in the heat. I dunked my buff in every one before putting it back on my head. I didn’t stop at the water station just after the end of the loch but carried on, heading back towards the dam. I spent most of this first section on my own having only brief chats with a couple of other runners. It’s a race that easily breaks down into sections which you can tick off mentally as you go, so although I was a bit concerned I was working harder than I should be time was passing quickly and I was pleased with how I was doing. I thought there were at least 5 or 6 women in front of me so adjusted my expectations of where I would finish (I had hoped for a top 3 female finish).

When I reached the dam it was a quick climb over a fence and then run along the dam which was hot! Over another fence and down a grassy slope to the drop bags. I still had a bit of water in my bottles and knew how far it was until the next water station so decided to just push on and tackle the big climb. As I ran through a couple of female runners dashed off in front of me and headed up the hill. I kept them in sight up the hill alternating running and walking. I had a few peanuts and an energy bar while I was walking. I passed a couple of runners on the hill and when I reached the top the two ladies were still in sight. A run down to the first deer gate and then a short distance further to the water station where they told me I was 3rd female and the 2 ladies I had been following were in fact first and second! I couldn’t quite believe it as I had been sure there were more women in front! My bottle was refilled and I was on my way again. I pushed hard for the next mile but every time I narrowed the gap the ladies sped off again! They were definitely faster than me on the flats and downhills! I was beginning to find it hard to keep up a decent pace and was pleased when I saw the guy in front of me nip off to the side to soak his hat. A quick stop to wet my buff and I was off again.

I caught up with the guy and two ladies at the zigzag downhill at the end of the Glen Lochay loop. We had a bit of a race down the hill but as soon as we hit the bottom they sped off and I stopped chasing and just tried to keep my pace up. I really struggled on this path back along the river, for me it was the hardest bit of the course and I just couldn’t get into a rhythm. I could also feel my leg muscles begin to tighten as if they would cramp. I ate some more peanuts and drank more than I had been (I knew I would be able to fill my bottles before the climb). A couple of cyclists that I had seen at the bottom of the zigzags shouted some encouraging words as they headed past and finally I made it to the bottom of the hill for the final big climb. I wasn’t sure how much I would be able to run, I planned to walk up as far as the water station and then see how it went from there!

As I started marching up the hill I realised I was catching the first and second place women and as I drew level we had a brief chat. They were clearly struggling with the climb so I decided to push hard on the up and see if I could get enough distance between us that they wouldn’t catch me on the down! The race was on! As I neared the water station my bottle was at the ready for a quick refill and the lovely volunteers even wet my buff for me. Then a final push up the hill – I couldn’t run much but walked as fast as I could with the odd little run when the incline eased off. My legs were still misbehaving with my right calf in particular threaten to cramp. I kept looking over my shoulder but couldn’t see anyone. A few cars passed by, a couple of bikes and some DofE hiking groups, otherwise I was on my own convinced I was going to be chased down on my way to the finish! When the incline levelled off I started running and I didn’t stop til the bottom of the hill, I didn’t look over my shoulder I just gave it my all and managed a couple of miles at a decent pace. With the final half mile to go I was exhausted and still convinced I was going to pipped to the post! As I crossed the bridge I could hear Iain and the boys cheering I reached the bottom of the last incline and had to walk – it was that or throw up! Lewis, bless him, tried to encourage me to run but it wasn’t happening – Iain captured it perfectly in a photo! Over the top of the incline and a final run to the finish with Lewis, Angus and Spud and it was done! I finished in 5hr 13min and 52s, just under my target time and the added bonus of finishing First Lady. It was in fact 7 minutes before the second placed lady crossed the finish line. I had done what I needed to do on that final hill! An absolutely fantastic race in very very hot conditions!

I was presented with a lovely framed picture of the elevation profile for the race, a First Lady plaque and my medal and then sat for a while with Iain and the kids to catch my breath and cheer in the next few runners. Iain provided me with a cup of tea and then I took a quick dip in the river to ease the poor leg muscles! We stayed and cheered in our friend Steph who also managed to finish under her target time. Everyone also gets a Glen Lyon t-shirt and goodie bag with sweets and beer (Iain enjoyed mine).

This is a great race in a beautiful setting. The running isn’t technical or single track but it offers its own challenges and the remoteness and scenery are well worth the drive! It’s a well organised event, relaxed and friendly with great volunteers and marshals. The water stations are well spaced and access to a drop bag at the mid way point is useful for many runners. I will definitely be looking at other races run by Run Ya Rocket in the future.

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