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  • Writer's picturefinnfitzgerald2

Glentress Trail Marathon

Back in December a long time friend of mine sent me a message that went something like, 'Fancy a trail marathon in Feb?'. 'Go on then!', I replied without much hesitation. It fit quite nicely with my other race plans and running with Peter is always a good laugh so it wasn't a tough decision to make. The only slight catch.. the race was in Scotland, we'd have to fly there, and we'd have to squeeze all 12 hours of travel and the marathon itself into just 2 days. Luckily, Peter managed to rope in another friend of his, Chris, so we had a strong crew to keep morale up while travelling and on the trails.

After a long journey up on Saturday morning we arrived in Glentress and checked into our hotel. We spent the afternoon taking a look at the registration area, eating and generally trying to relax as much as possible.

Worth the long trip, Glentress Forest was a stunning location

The race start wasn't until 10am so race morning was a lot more relaxed than usual. This gave us plenty of time to secure a proper breakfast, discuss pacing and worry about the weather and the mud we might or might not have to deal with. Something new for me with trail running is the 'mandatory' kit that race organisers require you to carry or risk disqualification. Full waterproofs, a survival bag and a whistle are some of the key items I needed to carry and it took a little while to find away to attach all of this to my body. Once we were all happy, we took the short walk over to the start line.

After a quick race briefing we were off and almost immediately heading uphill. We'd gone over the race route the night before and broken it down into 3 major climbs per lap (of which there were 2).

Route profile

The first climb was 3.51km at 4.8% although this included 250m of downhill meaning it was more like 8/9% on the uphill parts. We had jokingly discussed taking this climb extremely easy to save ourselves for later in the race but once we were in the pack it was really difficult not to get carried away. I averaged a pace of 6:07min/km at a heart rate of 165bpm. Not too bad, but a little closer to threshold than I'd have liked this early in the race.

All smiles early on!

We descended sharply and began a 5km stretch of rolling terrain which took in a couple of short, sharp ascents and some brilliant technical downhill sections. One of the most memorable of these came at about 7km. Every other day of the year it was used for cross country mountain biking so it had tonnes of switchbacks and large rocky features. Every step required some serious concentration but it was a really rewarding section and my first taste of the 'flow state' trail runners love to rave.

At 11km we started the second major hill of the day - 'The Kipps', 2.2km at 6.7%. For the majority of the climb we ran back and forth up a twisty mountain bike trail, before we neared the summit, the trees fell away and we were greeted with a final ramp that must have been 30%+. Not only was it steep but it was super boggy, a feature that we'd get well acquainted with over the next few kilometers.

We ran for a little along the top of the hill before starting our descent. Things had been going really smoothly up until now but they threatened to unravel as the condition of the trail deteriorated extremely quickly. Steep downhills are tricky at the best of times but here we also had to deal with ankle deep mud and shrubbery which trapped you on the trail. Chris fell a couple of times, I also nearly lost it while Pete seemed to get the hang of it a little better and put a little gap into the both of us.

There were some great views while running along the top of The Kipps

Despite only being 1km long and downhill, this section took us nearly 10 minutes to complete and would only get worse when we revisited it on the second lap. We were incredibly glad once it was over, and luckily it was the only really muddy section on the whole course.

At 15.5km we hit the final climb of the first lap. This one was much shorter but a marker emblazoned with 'The Evil Climb' told us everything we needed to know - 800m with pitches that must have neared what is possible to walk up without needing to on-hand scramble. Being so steep there was no point trying to run which actually came as a bit of a welcome break from the intensity of the previous climb and descent. Once we'd crested this one we were only 5km or so from the start-finish line, all of which would be downhill.

During the descent we were able to sustain a pace of 5:00min/km which helped claw back some of the time we'd lost doing so much climbing and before long the finish line reared into view which meant we weren't far from starting our second lap.

We had a quick chat about how each of us was feeling and agreed it was every man for himself from here on out. We crossed the line to complete our first lap in 38th position in a time of 2:15:09 and my legs still felt pretty good. I was relishing the chance of working my through some of the field so I upped the tempo a little and headed out onto the second lap alone.

I went up the first climb marginally quicker than on the previous lap (21:14 v 21:27) while holding a very similar heart rate. I felt strong and was becoming more and more confident that a big negative split was possible. I descended quicker still, free from the large group dynamic we had to contend with on lap one and headed onto the 6km undulating section between 24km and 31km. This 30 minutes or so was probably the most fun I had all day and I ran a couple of my fastest splits of the entire day here. I was catching people both on the downhills and the uphills and got a small boost each time.

Working my way through the field

I hit the bottom of the The Kipps for the second time and aimed to keep the walking to a minimum. I was passing people fairly consistently by this point and caught a couple of larger groups which gave me the sense I was getting closer to the front of the race. I crested the climb in 16:01, nearly a full minute and a half quicker than I had on lap one.

The trudge along the hilltop was tough and I was dreading the affect the muddy descent might have on my progress. I managed to take it a little quicker than we had on lap one but I could feel myself taking loads of risks as I got caught up with trying to race the people around me. I stumbled a couple of times, caking my hands in mud, but luckily I never fully hit the ground. My legs were starting to really sting for the first time all day, and all the energy products swimming around in my stomach were also starting to take their toll. Something else playing on my mind was the last person I had passed, who unlike everyone up to this point I wasn't able to pull away from. It made me worry that maybe I was beginning to slow down.

'The Evil Climb' was next and there was no way I was going to be able to run it. Just like on lap 1, having to walk for a couple of minutes actually came as some relief and I enjoyed it more than I had enjoyed the downhill before it. It was also encouraging to know that once I was over the top it was just one long downhill all the way to the finish.

My stomach was in a real state now, and I was noticeably slowing down. Running downhill is surprisingly difficult once the legs are gone and every step seemed to send shockwaves through my quads. I loved this section on lap 1 but I wasn't enjoying it anywhere near as much this time round!

Eventually I spotted the finish arch in the valley below and I knew it was only a matter of minutes before it was over. I bounded into the finish trying to soak in the moment and crossed the line 13th in a time of 4:19:37. Just as I had hoped, I ran the second lap in 2:04:32 for a big negative split and had overtaken 25 people in the process. I was absolutely chuffed with this and I settled down with an Irn Bru to wait for Peter and Chris.

Splits and final placing.

Peter came over the line in 4:54:46 with a big smile on his face and Chris not long after in 5:02:06. It had been a brutal day out for all us but we all agreed it was a brilliant event on a great course, well organised and friendly. I entered the Glentress Trail Marathon for a bit of fun but would 100% do a trail marathon again and could even be tempted by something a little longer. I think I'll leave the 100 milers to the ultra runners though...

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