Seven Seconds Away… (cue Neneh Cherry)
I signed up for this race the day after BHGE 10k. I’d been mulling it over for a while, but figured it would be a good re-introduction to half marathons. My one and only half prior to this point was the Great Scottish Run in 2005, back when I “trained” for runs by doing group cardio classes and rarely venturing outside. I’d done one 9 mile run outside beforehand, it was a sweltering hot day, and the final five miles were torture. I did manage to get round in a relatively respectable 2:08:42, but promptly decided I never wanted to run a half marathon ever again. It took nearly 13 years to change my mind. But several friends had signed up, and my favourite distance of the previous races I’ve done has been the 10 milers, so I decided to give it a go on the grounds it was just “A 10 miler plus a Parkrun.” After this experience, I’ve realised that was a slighly blazé way of looking at it, and I need to respect the distance. It’s over 30% longer than a 10 mile race, and I didn’t fully realise how that would impact on my splits and general feelings of fatigue as the race went on, and on.
I didn’t specifically train for this race distance. I also finally pushed the button on Loch Ness, so had been following a marathon training plan for a fortnight. Then I booked a fortnight’s holiday to Romania – arriving back in the early hours of Saturday 14th. I did get some runs in on holiday but they were mostly of the run – walk- stop for traffic – get lost and stop to check gps every 5 minutes variety. Even the couple of speed sessions I did were noticeably slower than usual, which I put down to running in 20 to 27 degrees (that was 8am runs before the day really heated up). I did find a nice Lake to do laps around, but some nice Romanian runner was concerned by my peelie wally legs and, on the second day he bumped into me, gave me a card for a local pharmacy and said “Resolve, please.” I tried to explain I wasn’t ill, just Scottish, but his English was very limited and my Romanian is non-existent so in the end I just thanked him. Hopefully he doesn’t think I stopped running there because I ended up being hospitalised with some serious illness. My other half wants to bring out a range of t-shirts based on this sorry tale. If anyone steals this idea and makes a profit from it, we’d like a cut 🙂
I picked Kate up at 8:03am (it was meant to be 8:00am but I spent ages putting on sunscreen due to the weather forecast) and headed through to Camperdown. I knew this was her first Half Marathon, but didn’t realise it was her first official race (excluding Parkruns). She was looking forward to it but also a little nervous. Hopefully she is also going to write a race report from her perspective. On arrival at Camperdown, we were greeted by Fiona, who was looking to sell us tablet. Unfortunately I’d made a last minute decision to bring my rucksack rather than my handbag – and hadn’t transferred my purse to the rucksack. Kate was also without coinage, so we had to decline. We found various folk we wanted to catch up with before the race, including Barry who finished in a fantastic time of 1:26 despite a hangover from the Harley Davidson festival the day before, and his friend Steve, who also did better than he predicted. We also met the lovely June who is a Footer based in Austria, and her husband Peter. We couldn’t find Debbie though.
At the start we got an entertaining race info speech, then were divided into three groups. I’d thought I would be in the middle group (1:31 – 2:00) but the organisers had changed the first group to include times up to 1:45, so I joined group 1 with Barry and Steve. Barry headed off to the front row though, whereas Steve and I slotted in nearer the back of the group. The first couple of miles are on narrow trails through Camperdown, and fairly steep in places. Our pace was not what you would expect for a sub 1:45 group, but it was a bit tough going. The trail was also deceptive as it flattened out for a bit. I asked Steve if it started climbing again and he was fairly sure the climb was over. I picked up the pace a little, only to be met with a second climb and had to slow right back down again.
Around the two mile marker though, the trail leaves Templeton Woods and emerges onto a nice, wide road. The route then takes you downhill for a couple of miles through St Mary’s and then skirts round the outside of Kirkton. The space and decent downhill gradient (-1 to -5% in places) was a welcome relief and I found I managed two miles that were both just under 7:00 minute miling without finding the pace uncomfortable. I knew it couldn’t be downhill like that for too long so wanted to take full advantage of it since the first couple of miles had been 8:28 and 7:56. Around the 3 mile point I passed a lady and asked what time she was aiming for to which she said sub 1:45. I didn’t see her after the race finished, but then she ended up in the row behind me on the shuttle bus, and asked if I’d met my target. She hadn’t, because she had stopped for 10 – 15 minutes to stay with a guy who had taken ill with dehydration until he was being cared for professionally. Hopefully he is fully recovered now. It was unusually hot and humid conditions for a race (at least in Scotland anyway), and I saw a lot of people walking at points, but thankfully there didn’t seem to be anyone ending up lying on the road, as I had seen during that Glasgow half marathon.
I wasn’t sure what kind of time I could hope for from this distance, but everyone had told me Dundee was a fast potential PB course and internet calculators were predicting around 1:38 based on my 10 mile times. I’d never done a fast half in training though: my long runs (over 10 miles) tend to be at a fairly relaxed pace and my fastest half on a training run was about 1:50. I was really keen to go sub 1:40 though, since I have delusions of grandeur about my ability to get a good for age London qualifying time (sub 3:50 for my age group – and yes, I know the times are more generous for women) despite never having run more than 18 miles before and never at close to that pace. So, as usual, I was doing some dodgy arithmetic in my head and trying to work out what my pace would need to be for the remaining 9.1 miles based on my current time and pace. At that point, I was thinking “If I could just keep 7 minute miling I could do 1:37”. But I knew I couldn’t keep 7 minute miling once the route leveled out. My pace for the fifth mile was 7:29 and that would get me squeaking in under 1:39 if I could maintain it.
There was a smattering of spectators all along the route, and it was really nice to have fairly regular support from them. The marshals and Police on traffic duties were also very encouraging. Special shout out to the lady who had jelly babies at Linlathen. I took two and they really perked me up! I also loved the lady with the Mario “Power Up” button. She first appeared around mile 4, when I was still feeling great after the downhill section, but I pressed it anyway. The second was on the final beach stretch when I was very tired, and even though it’s not a real power up it did make me smile and gave a psychological boost.
The route climbs again a little about 5 ½ miles in, and my pace slowed a little. In Finlathen Park a lady cheered me on then said something to her friends about not believing that lady was going so fast. Either that meant there weren’t a lot of women up ahead, or she hadn’t been there long enough to have seen many runners yet, or (most likely) that she couldn’t believe I was going so fast because I was clearly struggling with the pace and breathing through my mouth. And I still had nearly 8 miles to go.
Around this point I had overtaken a few women but there were two ahead in my sights. One was dressed all in black and looked very comfortable. She kept edging a bit further ahead and I didn’t think I had any chance of catching her. The other was wearing an awesome matching outfit (I think it was orange and purple?) and we leapfrogged each other several times. Whenever I went past her she would stay on my tail and eventually go past me again, looking much fresher than I did. But then she’d stop at a water station to have a cup of water (they’re hard to drink without slowing down so I was glad I had brought a runner’s bottle with me), or to change the music she was listening to, and I’d get to go in front for a bit again. A couple of women cheered us on going through Drumgeith Park, saying “Go ladies” then whooping. Maybe she thought we were running together. Less than 5 seconds later, Emma (I found out her name at the end) went off ahead of me again.
Around the ten mile mark you’re on a fairly boring stretch of the route. The parks are nice and some of the residential areas are scenic enough, but this stretch is on the A92 out of Dundee heading to Arbroath so it’s not the most picturesque part of it. It also starts as a mild climb and gets steeper. There’s a bit where you have to run into Linlathen next to Clearwater Park before crossing the road and heading back out again. The volunteer in the centre of the crossing had a big tub of jelly babies. I took not one but two, and was super excited. They got me up the hill and gave me a nice boost. I’d brought 8 in a wee zip lock bag in my shorts back pocket but didn’t want to slow down to get them. My pace was now closer to 8:00 than 7:30 and I was panicking that I might not even manage sub 1:45. The boost from the jelly babies wasn’t quite enough as Emma went past me again. As the loop doubled back on itself it gave me a chance to see how many folk were a minute or two ahead of me, and how many of them were female. Asides from Emma there was only one other female in sight, so the others must have been several minutes ahead by that point. But there were a lot of guys out ahead.
I had to stop for a few seconds to get across the A92 (this happened at a few points as the roads weren’t closed, but I never had to wait more than 3 or 4 seconds I think). The road starts climbing though out of Dundee towards Carnoustie and I wasn’t really ready for that hill at 10 – 11 miles. Neither were a lot of people though. I passed a fair number of guys, some walking and some running slowly. Emma also let me past and though I expected her to overtake me again, I didn’t see her again until the finish line. We turned a corner off the dual carriageway and I was happy to be heading back into a residential area and downhill. We had to cross a bridge which was quite narrow and a bit steep, but then we got a pretty nice downhill. One of the marshals said it was all downhill to the end of the road and I told her that was music to my ears. However, I had misunderstood. I thought she meant until the end of the race, but at 11.5 miles in there’s another small climb. Not much of one – not one you’d notice as a climb if you weren’t already 1.5 miles further into a race than you’ve ever done in the past decade and your quads are screaming at you. My Strava graph though shows how much of an impact that had on me. I went from thinking 1:40 was a possibility to realising it was going to be 1:41.
Thankfully the final mile was along the coastal path and was very flat, if a little exposed and windy. You also couldn’t see the finish line. I passed the second Power Up lady and pressed the button, which gave me a short boost, then passed three guys with bikes around 12.5 miles and said I could use a backie to the finish line. They shouted some encouragement but didn’t offer me a bike. A while after finishing, I bumped into them. One of the guys had recognised me from Montrose Parkrun (where he had recognised me from Smokies where he volunteered). He mentioned this, and also that I’d helped him get a PB for Montrose. It’s great when you bump into people again and catch up with how they are getting on.
With just half a mile to go I still couldn’t see the finish, but you see it once you go under a bridge and round a corner. Though there had been some spectators all along the route, I was surprised at the number of spectators lining the final 50 metres or so. Approaching the final stretch, I also heard a woman shout “Come on Pauline.” It sounded like a voice I knew, but I couldn’t see where it was coming from. She shouted again, and I realised it was Christie from the Footers, but still couldn’t see her. I’d also seen that the clock was at 1:39 something when I had what I was pretty sure from Parkrun was about a minute still to go, so I hadn’t put on much of a final sprint. The second shout made me realise every second counts, and lots of people were actually there to witness my finish (not mine specifically, but I was in their field of view…) so I better try and make it a decent one. I did kick for the final 20 – 30 metres, but the clock said 1:40:17 I thought. It was actually 1:40:19 by the time my chip went over the line. I knew it only took me a few seconds to get over the start line so I knew I’d missed 1:40. Hey ho. Not every race can be magical. Though it can if you’re Barry. He came to talk to me shortly after I’d got my goody bag (the water was immediately imbibed and the medal thrown on) and congratulate me. He’d been out drinking at the Harley Davidson Festival the day before and had said he was still feeling a bit rough at the start of the race. However, he completely smashed it in 1:26 and came 7th overall. Maybe I should take up drinking?
A couple of minutes later I found Emma, so went over to shake her hand and thank her for getting me round part of the course. I told her I’d been waiting for her to go past me again, but she said I’d been too strong on that final climb. It turned out she’d travelled up from Berwick for the race. Again, we had a nice chat and I introduced her to Barry and Steve, who arrived shortly afterwards. I thought he’d done 1:45 but he actually got a PB around 1:42: he’d just been lying on the ground recuperating for a couple of minutes before coming to find us! I wandered off to find a couple of Footers as I thought Anna would probably be appearing soon, and found Michael who said Carolyn had just gone past. He had got a couple of photos of me and Barry, but only got the back of Carolyn as he hadn’t been quick enough with his camera. She got a sub 2 hour (1:58) PB with next to no training for it. Amazing! Anna then appeared, and I wandered off to speak to June’s husband for a few minutes and we cheered on some of the finishers. I then went and had a quick chat with a couple of other Footers before spotting June and running off to Peter to make sure he had his camera ready for her. Unfortunately I missed Kate finishing, but found her very shortly after she crossed the line. We did think about waiting for Debbie, but the coach drivers were looking for people to fill a coach so they could take another busload back to Camperdown, and we didn’t know how long she would be, so we decided it was best to head off. Kate was pretty happy to have completed her first race, and is hopefully going to write a blog post about it.
This race, though mostly downhill, had its ups and downs for me. The start was a lovely trail but a tough climb. The parks were nice and the support in them and the residential areas was great, but I wasn’t overly keen on the A92 stretch, particularly that climb around 10 miles. The beach was also lovely, but by that point I was feeling disappointed that I wasn’t going to go sub 1:40, and just wanted to be finished. I was even slightly more frustrated when I got the official time as it was 1:40:07! Surely there was somewhere I could have shaved 8 seconds off that time? Who knows, it was not to be. I was happier to see that although 67th I was 6th female, and 4th female vet. The first female finished 10th, just a couple of minutes behind Barry, and I am in awe of that. To be fair though, I did take just over 28 ½ minutes off my official Half Marathon PR, so it’s still cause for celebration.
The Dundee Half DRAM mainly follows the green circular route, and is a very mixed route with some nice scenery, some welcome support from spectators, a decent medal (which stands up!) and a few other bits and pieces in the goody bag. If you live in Dundee or the surrounding areas it’s a good one to try. It’s not on the same scale as BHGE but is bigger than Tay Ten and Smokies, with a cap of 1000 runners. In then end though it was quite a nice number of runners (about 570 for the half and around 100 for the full marathon). The marathon though is a very small field so I wouldn’t recommend that one unless you are happy having few people around you for the final 13 miles. Will I sign up again next year? Probably, as long as I think I can get that elusive sub 1:40!