This year marks the 30th anniversary of Smokies 10, a ladies only race which is organised by the Arbroath Footers. The popularity of the race can be seen from the fact that it sells out within a couple of hours. Ladies travel from across Scotland (and possibly a few from further afield) to take part in this event, perhaps spurred on by the excellent goody bag (which includes wine and a technical t-shirt) and the excellent feed afterwards.
I registered for Smokies before I had really started running seriously. It was mentioned to me just a couple of weeks after I joined the Footers in October 2017, and at that point a 6.8 mile Club run was the longest distance I had managed since around 2005. But Christine, Mary and Tina reassured me that I had plenty of time to increase my distance, and I’d regret it if I didn’t sign up for it. So on 6th November at 9:00pm I sat at my PC anxiously hitting refresh like several hundred other ladies, ready to make sure I didn’t miss an elusive spot in the race. The website struggled to handle the volume of traffic, and it took a while to get my place, but thankfully I did manage to bag one.
The race was originally scheduled for 3rd March, and I’d done a couple of recce’s – one with 5 other ladies from Brechin where we missed a turn-off and ended up having to do an extra few miles whilst worrying we wouldn’t get back in time to collect the kids from athletics club, and a second, solo one near the end of February when I got lost again, though not as badly. Then the Beast from the East struck which got me 3 days of working from home, but also resulted in the route being unsafe and the race having to be postponed. I’d hoped to try a third attempt after Tay Ten, but spent most of April nursing a bad chest infection and had to work my way back up to the distance so it never happened.
The Tuesday before the race I did a pretty good second half on the Footers club run, including my fastest mile so far (6:44) and one of the guys predicted I would be First Footer: no pressure there then! I generally veer on the conservative side when predicting times, and said I’d be happy with anything under 1:20 due to the hills, but was told I could manage sub 7:20 per mile pace. I then went and did my final run on Wednesday lunchtime before resting up, where I struggled to achieve 7:50 mile pace for 3 miles and was totally winded on a tiny hill, so that didn’t fill me with confidence.
Everyone hung about inside the sports centre until a few minutes before the start of the race as it was raining fairly heavily and was rather cold. However, the weather forecast was for the rain to ease off around 11:00am, and within a mile it had pretty much reduced to a very light drizzle, then went off. I got near the start line and set off along Keptie Road. I stuck to about 7:45 pace and really tried to hold back, as I knew I had to make sure not to set off too quickly and expend too much effort before the climbs. As it was a bit breezy, and I’d lost everyone I knew pretty quickly, I tried to find people to tuck in behind until I decided they were going a little too slowly for me, then head off alone until I found someone else to act as a wind break.
After the first 600 metres or so the race heads left along East Muirlands Road, which is a shallow but persistent climb out of Arbroath towards Arbirlot. The leader of the pack headed off on her own at Domino’s (not into Domino’s) and one of the guys in the lead car told me she was so far ahead within a mile or two that they couldn’t see the lady in second position (or any other runners) from that point onwards. Having found it disconcerting enough to be out in front alone for 3.5km at the RST Crombie 5k, I can’t imagine how she found those 9 long solo miles.
At Arbirlot, around 2.5 miles/ 4km into the race, you get a lovely view of the waterfall (which there was not time to stop and take in) and also the first water station. I waved to Keith from the Basin Strollers who had kindly volunteered to help out, took a cup, and really struggled to drink anything – instead pouring most of the water down my chin. I ran up the steep but short hill to the junction and handed my cup to a marshal who made sure I didn’t take the wrong turning like I had on my second recce, and offered some encouragement. The hill out of Arbirlot is tough, and my pace slowed, but not to the same extent as on previous recce’s. I dug in and tried to remember when it would flatten out again. After about 600 metres it flattens out to a manageable 1 – 1.5% gradient and I overtook a few runners, asking if they knew when the next hill was. There’s a nice bit of downhill to lull you into a false hope of it getting easier, then it starts climbing more steeply again (6 – 11% gradients!) but for a mercifully short stretch (100 – 150 metres) before a flattish section then another noticeable climb for around a mile.
Just before the halfway point, I had caught up with a couple of ladies from Metro Aberdeen Running Club, one of whom I had seen walking up the final stretch of hill. I mentioned it was the last hill for a few miles, but she said she had a bug and was feeling rather unwell. She did manage to start running again, and I suggested she think about whether or not to stop after the water station, but she kept going and got a decent time. Hopefully the race didn’t exacerbate her illness. I overtook her friend at the water station, but couldn’t shake her off, so I actually had a couple of pretty fast miles (6:47 and 7:03) partly thanks to the lovely downhill’s and partly trying to shake her off. I lost a wee bit of time running on the grass in 3 places to avoid puddles that stretched across the whole of the road, and could hear her footsteps behind me. She just sounded too comfortable. There’s another bit of a climb around the 7 mile mark though, and though it’s nowhere near as tough, it does hurt a bit on tired legs. Knowing the route really helped me I think, and by 8 miles I realised I’d dropped her. Even though I’d been picking up the pace, the lady in front seemed to stay the same distance in front, but eventually as I was approaching the turn into Arbirlot I managed to catch up with her on another short climb. She said well done as I headed past her. I’d also ran past Michael from Race Recce just beforehand, who had come straight from his 2nd place finish at Monikie 5k to cheer on his girlfriend and family. I didn’t have time to ask how he’d done, but did get him to confirm I was First Footer.
I decided not to bother taking water from the final water station, then almost immediately regretted it as I’d forgotten the final climb out of Arbirlot. The marshal at that point reassured me that it was the last climb and said I was looking strong.
The run back into town down East Muirlands is tough because you can see a mile and a half in front of you: which is a long way when you’ve already run 8 miles at race pace. I thought I could see several runners in front of me, but was hopeful I might get a slightly higher place than the top 20 finish I’d thought was viable after looking at last year’s results. Thanks to the shallow downhill I’d picked the pace back up to 7:03, and caught up with a lady wearing a Bellahouston Harriers top. I asked if she’d come through from Glasgow, and told her I’d done my first 10k race there (back in 2004). She came over at the end to congratulate me and said I seemed too comfortable – holding a conversation near the end of the race. I don’t think I’d taken it too easy though. Lisa (who was marshaling along that road) shouted congratulations and told me to keep the pace up. I asked her if I was about 10 minutes off pace, but she said not to worry about that and just keep going.
I had the next lady (Izzie), in my sights, and caught up with her shortly before the turn back onto Keptie Road. Ruairidh, who was marshaling near there had come across to tell me to chase her down without her overhearing. I said “Maybe”, but I suspected it wouldn’t be easy. The road crossing confused me though as we were being sent onto the grass pitches round the back of the Sports Centre rather than heading down the road. The springy, slightly wet grass really sapped the remaining strength from my legs, and I tried to kick but couldn’t muster much speed. Then a tiny (3 step) hill messed up my stride pattern, and the lady whom I had overtaken just a hundred metres or so beforehand zoomed past me with an impressive sprint finish. My finish didn’t look impressive: it looked like this:
I had finally spotted the clock though, which took a bit of the sting away from being overtaken on the final 40 metres (and, to be fair, I had spent part of Monday evening getting decisively beaten by five primary school aged children doing 150 metre repeats, so this didn’t feel quite as bad). I’d tried not to keep calculating potential finish times as the route is too undulating, but at 8 miles I’d thought it would probably be about 1:15. By the time I noticed the clock it was at 1:13:14, and so I knew I would safely be sub 1:14. I crossed the line in 1:13:26, but my chip (and official) time was 1:13:23. I got my goody bag (which had a wee bottle of sparking rosé wine!), medal, and awesome technical t-shirt, then posed for a cheesy photo for Facebook, and went to congratulate the lady who had bested me on that final sprint.
As I didn’t know anyone who had already finished, I wandered down to where Bryony was cheering folk on, to watch some of the other runners come in including Ann-Marie, Joni, Pamela and Carolyn, who all finished with really great times. Bryony asked if I knew what position I finished in. I mentioned I’d been hoping to be in the top 20, but she said I might even have been 5th as she’d seen very few runners before me. I then found Ann-Marie et al who showed me where the results tent was. I’d never encountered this before but it was pretty ace. You just type your bib number into a terminal and it prints out your official time. Not only that, it also tells you your overall and category positions. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was 6th overall, and 2nd in my age category.
The food afterwards was fantastic. The event is catered by Pie Bob’s and a 2nd batch of sausage rolls had just come out of the oven so I got a delicious hot sausage roll. If you live in Arbroath they are thoroughly recommended. In addition to other goodies I also took not one but two cakes (a French Fancy and a slice of millionaire shortbread) because they all looked so good. I ate my lunch with some Footers then joined the queue for a massage (provided by the Dalitso Project) as my legs felt in need of one. Much like the lady at Tay Ten though, I of course only got a few minutes of massage (a pity, because it was a very nice massage) before the Prize-giving started. I was slightly confused when Brian announced I’d won the 40 – 44 age category, but duly went up to collect the prize. Linda came over a minute later to say they needed to take it back as the list was wrong, but not to worry as I was getting another prize. Alison, who rightfully won that prize, was thankfully still there to receive it and unfazed by the mix up. I got a silver trophy for First Footer, which will of course go back next year (but I can get my name engraved on it – I’ve never won anything involving engravings before!) and a bottle of wine, then got a second prize for being part of the 3rd placed team (Vicky, Tracy and I for Arbroath Footers). I could get used to this – but I already know that’s not going to happen at Baker Hughes next week. There were also several spot prizes, which were awarded essentially via a raffle. Lots of people had stayed for the food and prize-giving, but a few numbers were called out that were not collected so went to the next number out of the bag. Always stick around when there are spot prizes folks!
I may be slightly biased as I run for the club who organise this, but this is a fantastic race. It’s superbly organised, the route is quite tough in parts but it’s great in that you get the worst of it out of the way by about mile 4, then the downhill sections make up for the climbing. I actually got my fastest 1k, 1 mile, 2 mile and 10k efforts during this race, and a few folk got PR’s, so it’s not a slow route. The scenery is lovely (on a nice day) and the food afterwards is excellent. The goody bag contains alcohol, and the medal and t-shirt are great, so all in all it’s excellent value for money. If you’re female and looking for a 10 mile race, then this is definitely one to go for. Just be sure to be sitting at your computer 5 minutes before it opens for entries or you might not get a place!