There and Back Again…

Not “… A hobbit’s tale, by Bilbo Baggins”, but rather the Ochil 100 – both directions along the Ochil 50 route back-to-back 🤪 Julie had run (and won) the Ochil 50 last year so I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow route description (re-read her post if you’re looking for route info) and just give you a bit of a sense of how it went!

After Julie’s run this was definitely on my radar for 2023, but early in the year the ‘double’ Ochil 100 route option was offered for the first time and since the race route would now pass not once but twice past our house, it seemed rude not to enter! I believe 16 people expressed interest but in the end unfortunately only 2 of us actually entered. So after BWOG (3 entrants), 2 at the Ochil 100, all I need now is to run a race solo 🤣 Given that I knew the route pretty well, having run all of it barring about 10 miles in the middle the main unknown was the other guy – Ryan Small – so I did my homework on him a.k.a. stalked him on Strava and D.U.V. (sorry)! Looked like he was at least as fast as me on short distances and with similar times on longer races, so although there were only 2 of us, it was a pretty even match-up.

With the Ochil 50 running in the ‘normal’ Perth->Stirling direction, we were setting off from Stirling at 6pm on the Friday, giving us 13 hours ‘head start’ before the Ochil 50 set off from Perth at 7am in the morning. With little fanfare, the two of us set off from Stirling University and chatted all the way up Dumyat. Oddly enough, it turned out that Ryan grew up in Galashiels just 5 miles down the road from my home town of Selkirk so we had plenty in common – small world! As anyone from the Borders knows, there is quite a rivalry between Selkirk and Gala, so I had even more reason not to let him beat me. Since we were quite evenly matched, my Plan A was the same as BWOG – let him get ahead, staying within a mile or so and aim to overtake later in the race to minimise the chance of me going out too fast and blowing up. On the way down Dumyat I stopped for a pee and I let him get ahead.

I was running the first half of the race without a crew – Julie would be meeting me when I passed home (~40 and 60 miles in), and then coming to the checkpoints during the day on the way back to Stirling. Ryan had a couple of guys crewing him through the night and would see them at every checkpoint along the way. Since he had stopped briefly with his crew at Tillicoultry, I caught him up and we went up and over the next major climb together. The rain came on and it was pretty grim for an hour or so, but before too long we ran in together down the road past Frandy Fishery, where his crew were waiting again. Time for Plan B, which was to head straight through and try to build a lead while he was stopped with his crew.

Despite now being in the boggy / grassy middle third of the course, I got my head down and kept moving as fast as I could, trying not to keep looking over my shoulder. By the Glen Sherup dam crossing I looked back down the valley and saw no sign of a head light so seemed to have roughly a mile’s lead, at least. On the climb out from the dam I had my only navigational issue, where the marked route and the provided GPX differed. On the way out I followed the GPX, which took a sketchy little forest path, full of overgrowth and fallen trees, and on the way back again followed the signed path 🤷‍♂️ Looking at our tracks afterwards, it seems Ryan got somewhat lost here so by the time I was headed up out of Glendevon I’d pulled out another mile or so on him. Between Glendevon and the Rossie Ochil road is actually four distinct sections between road crossings, but in the dark it all blurred into a mixture of wet grassy tracks, forest gravel roads and what seemed like endless miles of tussocky bog. It wasn’t hard to keep headed in the right direction but even with good moonlight my micronavigation was far from optimal as I stumbled from trod to trod! There was also the one and only checkpoint on the first half of the route roughly half way along – quick photo stop and I headed off again. My legs were feeling good all night, my feet were soaked but I was in a good mood except for cursing every single bog I came across! No Ochil Ultra would be complete without an encounter with cows, and just after midnight I disturbed a large herd who stampeded first one way across me, then turned and passed back again before leaping over a fence! No sign of them in the morning, but I am convinced they were real 😬

Eventually I was back on the section I knew well, and counted down the final few miles through the wind farm, down the Wallace Road and into Bridge of Earn. Julie was waiting for me outside the house and had everything I needed set up in the porch. I had a quick change of socks – which was welcome as my feet were soaked and the next 20 miles were on dry trail and road – drank a cup of tea and she restocked my pack with everything I needed. I had just run out of drink a few miles beforehand, so judged it almost perfectly. A quick check of the race tracker showed Ryan was still up in the wind farm so I had nearly a 5 mile lead. Only 5 minutes stopped and I was off again to tackle the last climb up and over Moncrieffe Hill to reach Perth.

For the first time, I started to feel quite sleepy on the climb up, although to be fair it was about 4am by this point! I had my first caffeine gel, and by the time I came over the top the run down into Perth woke me up. I made it to the start point of the 50 mile race at South Inch at exactly 5.30am, but it was deserted so I just touched the post at the edge of the car park, turned and went straight back the way I came. Just before reaching the A912 I ran into race director Ben in his truck – he hadn’t quite made it to the start in time to catch me! I knew I would pass Ryan at some point after the turnaround so I was working hard to build as much of a lead as possible and ran most of the way up the hill to the Rhynd road. Turning in to the Moncrieffe Hill car park I ran into his crew who were waiting for him to arrive, then Ryan arrived down the track, walking and in obvious pain. He had taken a nasty fall on the way down the Wallace Road, landing on some rocks and suspected he had broken his ribs. Fortunately, it turned out afterwards only to be bad bruising but he was walking in to the 50 mile point and DNF’ing there. Not the way either of us wanted the race to end, but now all I had to do was finish!

The dawn started to break as I came down the South side of Moncieffe and before too long I was back for my second stop at the home aid station… and Julie had prepared a promised sausage sandwich! I had been looking forward to this, but my stomach does not usually tolerate large amounts of solids during a race – however I had managed a sausage sandwich during BWOG so it had got to be worth a try again. But first, a quick top-up of my pack, visit to the luxury of a real toilet and then I walked off, eating my breakfast 😋 It seemed to settle quite well, and I was back running again before the first official CP at Kilgraston. Ben was there again and confirmed that I was the only remaining runner in the 100.

The rest of the way back to Stirling was pretty uneventful and actually quite enjoyable now I wasn’t needing to keep one eye over my shoulder for the gap to Ryan. The first of the 50 mile front-runners caught up with me as I reached the top of the wind farm, having left Perth at 7am, 90 minutes behind me. After that I had a steady stream of 50 milers passing all day, many of whom realised I was running the hundred so gave plenty of encouragement on their way past. The checkpoints were also a big encouragement – thanks to the volunteers for that 👏👏👏 As I approached Glendevon I started catching the tail end of the 30 mile runners which was also a nice boost. It’s strange how different the same route can be in daylight (even in reverse!), the ‘trackless’ boggy parts now had a wide swathe bashed through them by all the runners in front of me, and it was much easier underfoot as a result.

Julie was waiting for me at the last two checkpoints, Frandy Fishery and Tillicoultry. At Frandy, it looked like I was just about on-track for a 24 hour finish, but I was too slow up the hill and even downhill running in to Tillicoultry was becoming a struggle. Nothing specifically hurting, but just generally all round knackered! Julie tried to work her magic again and had bought a hot sausage roll from the bakers for me at Tillicoulty. It went down well, but wasn’t enough to speed me up significantly. The final big climb up and over Dumyat was just a slow trudge, and the weather also closed in as I came over the top. Eventually I was on the road, just a short run through the University campus and I broke into a ‘sprint’ finish for the last quarter of a mile, down the hill and across the finish line in 24 hours and 36 minutes!

Obviously I’m very happy to have come away with the win, although losing my only competitor to injury is not the way would have wanted to do it. Maybe with the pressure of someone chasing, I could have got in under 24 hours, who knows 🤷‍♂️ I think I ran a good race, paced it pretty well and I was pleased that feet stayed in good shape despite being soaked. My nightly routine of moisturising them seems to have made them somewhat waterproof, and the mid-way change of socks also helped. It was also a nice change to have my stomach settled enough to enjoy not one but two sausage-based snacks along the way 😃 Thanks as always to my brilliant crew chief Julie – she knows exactly what I need even when I don’t and has been an integral part of all my successful runs this year.

Hopefully next year will see a few more people taking on the Ochil 100 now that it has been established as an event but I think I will give it a miss – I don’t think I’ve got much more to prove to myself by doing it again. The 24 hour target is definitely do-able by someone, but don’t be fooled, the course is much harder than the distance or the elevation gain would suggest due to the roughness of the terrain – it’s far from a ‘trail run’ for large sections. If neither of us are running next year, perhaps we’ll open the bonus Bridge of Earn aid station again?

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