Tracey and I travelled up to Milngavie after work on Friday and I wasted no time before going down to the pub to register. It was great to catch up with Andy Cole and Mark Barnes, but I didn't want to stand around for too long when there was a nice hotel room with carpets and sheets (as opposed to our new house with floorboards, dust and sleeping bags!) just next door.
Like many runners, I think my biggest worry for the race was getting up in time to make the start so I set my alarm for 4:15am but put it on the far side of the room so I would have to get out of bed to turn it off. The adrenaline kicked in as soon as the alarm went off and I made the start with loads of time to spare, catching up with friends and just being happy to be back on that sacred car park.
The temperature just lifted enough for me to leave my jacket in the bumbag and, in fact, the weather made a welcome return to spring after a dismal few days. I got myself in the front start pen but made sure I was to the back of the group as I didn't want to get dragged along too quickly early on. The field spread out quite quickly and I soon settled into a nice rhythm but I was concious of the speed that I was running at, so allowed a few to pass me and tried to stick to my rough 8 min/mile on the flat plan up to Drymen. I met up with Matt Wilson along this stretch and we enjoyed each others company to Rowardennan, having previously met up for some running around Keswick.
What pleased me most about this early, flat section of the race was that I was able to keep up a reasonable pace without really panning myself and was pleased to reach Drymen (67th place) and then Balmaha in good time. The new path up Conic Hill really helps with your footing and makes for an easier climb. I reached Balmaha in 2:55 hours, spent a minute sorting my drop bag out and headed out of the car park with the attitude that I would allow myself to think I was in a race now - game face on!
I am so much more at home on the terrain up the eastern shore of Loch Lomond, I love the single track, twisty, rough, undulating and gnarly. I could feel I was starting to run well and, more importantly, cover the ground quickly with a minimum of fuss. I concentrated on being smooth, going with the flow and not fighting the terrain and as I worked with Matt, we seemed to be in Rowardennan in no time. We were away from the checkpoint in a couple of minutes, though Matt wanted to walk a while to sort his nutrition out and went on to finish in under 9:30 hours on his debut.
I was enjoying myself now, picking off runners every 5 mins or so, and with this positivity, I set myself the target of running all the hill out of Rowardennan. I almost managed this last year but had a couple of lapses so was determined to take the scalp this time - and did! I caught up and then tagged along with John Butters on the way to Inversnaid and we made good time together into the checkpoint along the single track.
By now, I felt I was in a nice groove and ready to take on the Marmite section after Inversnaid. If you just accept that it is rough and it's the same for everyone, there is no big mystery to this section and I really enjoyed myself, running my fastest split ever for this sector. Looking at the final results splits, I was the 15th fastest up the side of the loch which reinforces how much I was enjoying myself.
As I approached Beinglas Farm (22nd place), I started to play my usual maths game of predicting a time and realised I had a chance of breaking 9 hours for the first time, so that became my new target to keep me fired over the remainder of the race.
I knew I couldn't hang around so pushed on with the good running to be had on the forest road to Derry Darroch and was really encouraged by the support from Paul and Gaynor (thanks, guys), thinking I could catch the next man up the track. I finally caught the next place (Ryan McKenzie) just as we reached the rollercoaster woods, feeling very pleased with myself and then proceeded to fall apart for 30 minutes as Ryan cruised away from me having spent 40 minutes trying to catch him (there is definitely some psychology in that!).
I somehow managed to hold it together through the woods and got myself in a better place once I was back down on the track to Auchertyre. A few more difficult maths calculations and I thought I could still make the 9 hour target, so no time to wallow in self pity after a rough patch. The two drunks near the main road underpass gave me a hearty cheer and offered me a miniature of vodka (did anyone else see them or was it just some sleep monsters?). It is always surprising how your body can kick in with a good finish once your brain takes off the self-preservation shackles and I was soon turning into the campsite and the superb finish area.
Going back to my original dilemma, I think I just about got things right - a nice steady start followed by a great confidence building blast along the loch and a good finish in a new PB without totally wasting myself. Just about ticked all the boxes;-)
Thanks to all the organisers and marshals that surely make this one of the best events on the calendar. Once this is posted it's time to crack open one of those chilled beers they were passing out at the finish (just cannot quaff on straight after the race) and remember the good times skipping over those boulders on the loch shore. Eight weeks to the big one!