At the start of 2023, my running goals were to improve my half marathon time (tick – reduced from 1.47 to 1.42), complete my 10th marathon (tick – Hamburg in April) and various parkrun related aims (mixed results – big improvement in my 5K times, but Storm Babet a few weeks back prevented us getting to Lewis for the full set of Scottish parkruns ☹️).
An ultra marathon wasn’t on the cards. To be honest, I never finished a marathon and thought “the only thing wrong with that was it was a bit short…”. I wasn’t sure if I ever wanted to run an ultra. But at the same time, having got back up to marathon distance it’s become more and more of an itch to scratch (or a bandwagon to jump on?). Did I not want to run one because I knew what I’d enjoy and what I wouldn’t; because I was simply being realistic about what I could train for on top of everything else in my life; or was it because I didn’t know if I could and fear of failure was stopping me from trying?

At Porty running club, we have some inspirational people doing inspirational things. Listening to the January talks planted a seed and got me thinking a little. Then seeing a few Spring ultra results from club colleagues got me thinking a bit more. Club colleagues competing for Scotland, our teams winning national ultra championships… all pretty amazing really. I don’t see myself at that level, and for me it was as much watching the Tiree crew do what they did, and speaking to people on weekly Sunday runs or Tuesday speedwork sessions who shared their experiences and insights that made it seem more accessible.

To cut a long story short, in early summer I decided it was now or never and I’d never have a better opportunity to try an ultra than this year. I was in solid shape, I’d already trained up to marathon distance, I’m not getting any younger, and a change in jobs meant I’d even have two weeks off in which to beef up my training with some longer outings.

I picked Glen Ogle 33 because it’s in one of my favourite parts of the country, was close enough to home that it made logistics seem simpler, wasn’t a crazy step up in distance, took place the right time of year, and it’s billed as a good one for first timers.

Over the next couple of months, I studiously and ludicrously over-thought every aspect. I read relevant books. I asked club colleagues every little question or thought that popped in to my mind. I thought about my food and tried different snacks. I spent time on my feet and tried different types of training run. I put together Spotify playlists, stocked up on more food, gels and clothing layers than I could possibly use… wrote lists for clothing combinations and drop bag options. And in the final few days before I even had incredibly vivid dreams of having run 30-plus miles and somehow forgetting to actually cross the finish line. I can say this now, but this was all massively over the top! But I also think it’s better to be over-prepared than under…

So, race day. Final decisions made and no more time to think. It was immediately obvious looking around that there was a huge range of competitors taking part of all ages, sizes. Clothing choices from t-shirt and shorts through to full on wooly hats, waterproofs and leggings.

Even from our club a range of perspectives on the start line: For me, my first ever ultra. For Tracy P, I think it was her first of the week, although I wouldn’t bet money on it… Kate McIntosh a previous podium finisher at Glen Ogle, having placed 3rd female last year.

It was raining but not heavily and after a very quick briefing (with one of the speakers limiting his key advice to “just don’t be a dick”) we were off. I was surprisingly calm and determined to take it easy and do everything by the book. I was trying to be conservative in my pacing, fuel little and often – before I felt like I really needed it – and generally just to be sensible and enjoy the experience.

It was good to have a few spells in the first half of the run alongside Tracy, and a few other little chats with fellow runners too that helped the early miles pass. It being Perthshire at this time of year, it was stunning surroundings. There were moments of turning a corner, and the scenery and autumn colours genuinely making you catch your breath – real Scotland picture postcard stuff.
You’ll all know there are real ultra obsessives out there who will tell you why it’s so much better than any other types of run. It is a distinctive vibe. The support comes from your fellow runners rather than spectating crowds, it feels generally more relaxed due to the ups and downs, pacing yourself over the distance, and the need to consider kit changes or eating along the way.
Of course I’d be lying if I said it was all easy. The final few miles before the ‘drop-bags’ checkpoint seemed to go on for ages and I was starting to feel fatigue while also knowing it was only half-way through, and wondering exactly how I’d keep it going.
I was never really worried about missing cut-offs though. And after that halfway point, I knew I was homeward bound. It was gradual uphill for much of it but I was firmly focused on just keeping moving forward and maintaining my pace as steadily as possible. As each mile passed, my confidence grew. The last 5 miles is predominantly downhill, and I even found myself going past people – my taking it easy on earlier downhills definitely paying dividends at that later stage.
But no room for complacency – a final mile or two of level-going along back in to Killin was really hard-going to keep running. My body suddenly just really wanted to walk. Someone I’d overtaken a couple of miles before when they’d been walking came back past me. “Keep going” she said. No energy for long conversations at this point.
I didn’t pick out back up immediately, but this was when the bits I’d read in books about the need for mental strength and resilience as much as physical came to mind. I had a moment of very clear internal monologue – “well, this is it then boy, this is the bit where you need to dig in”. An involuntary wry smile and I got myself running again. After that it was into Killin and down past the Falls of Dochart knowing the end really had to be coming soon.
I’d said to Tracy near the start I mainly just wanted to finish in good shape but it would be nice to get in under 6 hours. That last mile I knew that finishing in under 5 hours 30 was possible and all I had to do was just kept my feet ticking over that little bit longer. Then I saw the finish flags, then Zoe, then the rest of my family, some hugs and I can’t remember much apart from that!
We were all delighted to see Tracy finish a few minutes later – a massive 25 minute PB for her. And later that evening I found out from Kate she’d improved on last year’s third place to finish second female. A fantastic achievement.

I don’t *think* I’m a complete ultra convert or obsessive yet. But I did really enjoy the vibe, and I’ve had an abiding feeling of achievement since. Another set of running possibilities has opened up for me and, ultimately, the limits of what I believe I can achieve have expanded a little bit more, and that can only be a good thing, right?!

The final reflection I want to make is about our club. This year it’s been so apparent to me the sheer depths of insight, expertise, goodwill and encouragement we have in our midst. So many people have taken an interest in my plans and generously supported me with kind words, encouragement, company on training sessions, or sharing the benefit of their racing experience.

Whatever your goal is, whether it’s improving your 5 or 10k times, giving cross-country a go, or seeking to run your first half marathon, marathon or ultra – let your coaches and club mates know. Everyone wants you to succeed (well maybe not if you’re in the same age category and it’s a club champs race, but aside from that…! 😉)
In particular, as one of the occasional leaders of Sunday long runs I’d be really happy to look at the next block from the start of next year and ensure it meets your needs to help you build your mileage and confidence for whatever you might be aiming to achieve. Just let me know.
Looking forward to working with all of you on what we can make happen for each other in 2024!