I entered the Auchterarder Half Marathon for no other reasons that I saw it online when I was bored and “Hey, a race!”, so I clicked submit. I knew nothing of this race other than it was the first event last year; well I was in and basically forgot all about it.
Training since my Stirling Marathon attempt has been sporadic and very much unstructured. However in the last couple of months I have been slowly increasing my mileage week on week with the view to stepping up for a new adventure in Ultra’s. My aim is to have a decent base of miles built in.
Although my all-round fitness has been lacking due to a lack of long runs and faster paced intervals, the last 5 weeks have seen some structure coming back. Ideally I would like two interval sessions, a tempo and a long run each week. However most weeks I have managed to fit in only one speed session but have also managed to nail a couple of tempo runs. That structure is also okay: I just need to nail the routine.
I headed down to the race as the solo representative from Brechin Road Runners. I do enjoy heading to a race solo from time to time: just a bit of me time and no-one else has to be subjected to my music sound track.
I arrived at the Gleneagles Arena 45 minutes before the 10:30am race start. The pre-race registration is in a huge shed that looks as if it is purpose built for various events- football, indoor tennis etc. Picking up my number was done very quickly from very friendly volunteers. There was ample space to get prepared and even room to get a jog around the arena. Toilets were plentiful for men, though not so much for ladies: I did notice a rather long waiting line.
In the week leading to the race I did no taper other than a gentle jog on the Friday. To add to the lack of a taper, on the Saturday I had a strenuous training exercise for the Fire Service where I am working retained. This was not the ideal preparation, but I was not worried as I was putting no pressure on myself. I wanted to use this race a guide to see where I am in regards to current fitness. I was coming off a fairly high mileage week with 40+ miles Monday to Friday.
Inside the arena there was a group warm up which was led by a very enthusiastic aerobics instructor. This was not for me. I made my way to the start area which was clearly marked with different time zones to ensure there was no congestion at the start. I settled into the 1:40 and under area which was the first wave, and settled myself at the rear end of this pen. Pre-race music was provided by a school brass section and they had an excellent set list and were really very good. There was an excellent pre-race briefing. The Race Director told everyone to look to the right at the time zones and make sure they were in the correct area. We were then instructed to shake hands with the people to our left and right hand sides hand and wish them good luck. We were also informed that there were plenty marshals on the course and we should say hello to them. This is a great reminder that we should never take these hi-viz hero’s for granted: no volunteers = no races. It’s a lot for people to give up their own valuable time for our enjoyment although I do think 99% of people genuinely are grateful.
I knew the race was going to be very hilly in the last five miles as Pauline had gleefully sent a picture of the course elevation, thanks Pauline! The last five miles were pretty brutal, with the route having nearly 700 feet of elevation gain. I was glad to get to know how hilly the course in front of me was going to be, and it solidified my intention not to get caught up in any times. With that in mind I did have 90 minutes in the back of my mind as an outside bet – or at least to get pretty close.
We were sent on our way, and as I settled around the first tight corner my breathing felt relaxed and I had a wee bit of bounce in my legs. We were going through Auchterarder where there were plentiful of very supportive locals who had taken advantage of the fine mild if windy morning to come out and give really excellent support. The first mile took us down a long road. We were instructed to stay on the pavements but it was a bit congested as it was a long straight with few cars and so the road was being used safely enough with runners keeping to the left.
I went through the first mile in 6.32 minutes which was a wee bit faster than planned but I always think it’s the first mile you get that for free. My thought process was to run 6.50 minute miles until the uphill section, but I was moving well and didn’t feel as I was labouring. I made my mind up to run to feel and use the first half to create a time buffer for the hilly second half.
After a couple of miles we went thought the village of Tullibardine. This was quieter than Auchterarder but we still received smaller groups giving equally enthusiastic support. Leaving Tullibardine we went into the Perthshire Countryside we were now going downhill steeply enough to be able to run free without having to hold back so I just let myself go, and took in mile two in 6.39 minutes while passing a few runners before finding myself running alone. Up ahead, however, I could see a group of five running together that I could slowly reel in, and with mile three and four both going past in 6:34 I was now on the group. They let me pass easily and only one came with me. I was hoping to find myself in a group to work up the hill which would surely now not be too far away. One from the group did come with me we had a bit of conversation so I was happy to now have some company as we were starting to gently climb but nothing too dramatic. I could feel myself being drawn back into a training run scenario so picked up the pace and was now running alone as the hills started to kick in around mile six.
We then went into an off road section which I did not expect but it was very runnable, It was softer than road though, and did break any rhythm I had. I could see one runner around 200 yards ahead so I focussed on working towards him. I saw him turn around so I knew he was tiring. I was still feeling good and knew he was there for the taking. I passed him sooner than expected and I could now see what I guessed was the first lady in the not too far off distance. My aim was to focus on the back of her vest and try to work towards her going up the now steep hills and, still off road, I could see her coming back towards me. Now approaching mile eight I could read the back of her vest – Kinross Road Runners – and half a mile later I was close enough to hear her breathing. Unfortunately for me she would probably know I was there and would not risk turning around to see if I was I was a female competitor. She then picked up the pace and kept the same distance until around mile nine when we came back onto open road. I heard people shouting she was the first lady. It would have been nice to get onto her shoulder and take some of the support which would inevitably have come her way but the gap was not for closing.
From then on in the race was pretty uneventful. I was now around the ten mile point and feeling pretty spent after a long steep climb. Around the top of the really steep climb there was a power up button- similar, I suspect, to the ones at the Dundee Half DRAM. However, although the rather “new age” spectators were very nice and supportive the unmistakable aroma of their weed nearly took my breath away – they did not need any button. Onto mile eleven and I was starting to really toil. I knew someone was closing me down and I knew I had a fairly good position: I really did not want to get passed at this stage in the race!
I managed to plough on to the last mile. Coming into the splendid grounds of the magnificent Gleneagles Hotel the roads were quiet enough to run on the road and there were plenty of Golfers milling around but they were not for giving any encouragement. My main aim now was get to mile twelve and the last mile would take care of itself. I manged this okay and, holding onto my position, picked up the pace a little for the last mile to get back home. With around 400 meters to go the marshal told me it was all downhill which was music to my ears. I chanced a look over my shoulder and saw I was clear, so could just cruise into the finish.
There was fantastic support at the finish. I heard the announcer call my name and say I was from Brechin Road Runners. It was great to get our group announced! The t- shirts are laid out for you to pick the correct size, and you receive a first class goodie bag containing a medal, lip balm in a plastic golf ball, Gleneagles shortbread, a mars bar, caramel bar, an energy drink, and a bottle of craft beer.
I finished in 19th position out of nearly 500 runners in a time of 1:33:56, and was the 8th VM40.
I would really recommend this half marathon to anyone looking for a well organised race, challenging but very scenic route, good crowd support and a fantastic goody bag. It’s maybe not one for a novice though due to the brutal climbs in the last 5 or 6 miles. The marshals with no exception were top drawer: really helpful and so encouraging. The locals are lovely, the route is stunning, and all in all the organisation is faultless. I’m looking forward to next year.
Photos of the goody bag and finish time were taken by David Wilson. The photos taken during the race – of mile 3 and of the finish – were taken by Roy Wright, who kindly provided permission for use in this race report.