My ultra marathon virginity has been lost: a coy start followed by seemingly endless humps and bumps and a sprint for the finish.
The inaugural Glen Ogle 33 was not a race I intended to enter, as I’ve got a dodgy knee and am focusing on an event down south in early December.
But recently I’ve been curious about whether I could make the jump from marathons to ultras, and discovering that one was due to start and finish a few yards from my home in Strathyre proved irresistible.
Perhaps I could do OK – I had home advantage.
The mountain tracks above Kingshouse, the old train track from Lochearnhead towards Lix Toll, the Acharn Forest near Killin and the back roads round Balquhidder are my stamping ground.
Organisers Bill Heirs (who came up with the idea while camping here) and Mike Adams designed the course as a joyous romp through fabulous scenery and with a total ascent of around 730 metres – ideal for ultra novices and veterans alike.
So, as the first of the morning sunlight caught the peak of Beinn an t-Sidhein (Ben Sheann), I lined up with some of the best in the business. My intimacy with every twist and turn of the course would be pitched against their athletic prowess.
I knew all about the agonising hairpin-bended hill overlooking Loch Earn and the land-on-your-arse potential of the slippery slats on the wobbly wooden bridge over the River Balvaig. They knew how to crunch miles and eat mountains.
The run itself was a stunner. Living in the area can make you blasé about its beauties.
Competitors passed on the outward and generally upward struggle, and on the pleasant rush back down, reminded me of how privileged I am to have such a backyard. A highpoint was steaming over the 12-arch railway viaduct, now a cycle path, towards the top of Glen Ogle itself.
The views down into the valley, with the last remnants of an 18th-century military road, and up to the sun-goldened heights and the white rush of autumn waterfalls, can temporarily wash the aches from even the most tired muscles.
And certainly Saturday showed the area at its seasonal peak, with the middle and homeward sections transitioning from the enclosed hush of mist-wreathed woodlands to blue, green and grey panoramas taking in Ben Vorlich and Stuc a’Chroin.
My plan was to conserve some energy for the final road section – a largely flat loop from Kingshouse, through Balquhidder, passing Loch Voil and back to Strathyre, with a few short snaps of hills in the final two miles.
It worked, and the last punch was spurred by the thought of free soup being ladled out for every runner by Steve and Jill Nixon at the Inn at Strathyre.
There were, though, a couple of alarming moments. One came when I had to evade some of my favourite villagers – a pair of Great Danes (the biggest of which answers to the name Dave) and a third canine which is part Great Dane and the rest Standard Poodle – a Daneadoodle? They normally mob me with big-pawed slavering playfulness.
The second was a pink-coated two-year-old waddling straight into my path, pointing and giggling at the funny, sweaty man – me. Should I swerve (no telling which way she would go), or jump over her (unfortunate if misjudged)? Oh the gratitude when daddy hoisted his princess from in front of me and I could simply swing down to the finishing line.
How had I done? The time of four hours 37 minutes was a touch slower than I had hoped, but not bad. So the big question was how fast the frontrunners had been.
At no point had I been truly breathless, until then. A marshal cheerfully told me that Paul Raistrick finished in 3:21, with Gareth Mayze not too far behind. They could have watched a movie before I turned up.
Lucy Colquhoun was first woman, in 3:46, ahead of Rebecca Johnson with 3:59. How the hell do they do that? I could almost weep with admiration.
Never mind. I checked with Mike Adams afterwards and he kindly informed me I was the first and fastest Strathyre resident. My pride in that achievement was tempered when he checked the entrants’ addresses and confirmed that I was also the only Strathyre resident.
But then again, 48th out of 129 means I have a realistic chance of improvement in next year’s event, and thankfully this is one sport where age need not be a handicap. Indeed, at 46, I’m a spring chicken compared to some.
In fact one thing impressed me even more than the winning times: the finishers included a bloke who still merrily hurls himself vast distances up and down Scottish mountains at the age of 75.