Having missed the first Guide Dogs 5k on 8th July this year – which was won by BRR founding member Stuart McConnachie, I was very pleased to hear that Charlotte was organising a new event just a few months after the inaugural one in aid of Guide Dogs Week. Charlotte is a core part of BRR and so of course several of us signed up for the race and advertised it to family and friends. In the end I believe there were over twice as many runners as there were for the first race, and conditions were much more suited to racing.
Despite there being several BRR members attending, I ended up heading through alone and not offering anyone a lift. This was partly because some were bringing their families (David, Ann-Marie, Stuart) and also because I had agreed to do a couple of laps round the Loch after the race with Charlotte, and nobody else was too keen to stick around for that.
The only problem with getting there under my own steam is that, not having a time I needed to meet someone, I ended up not leaving my house until about 8:25am, despite getting up about 7:20am. Forfar is only 15 miles away, but registration was 8:00 – 9:00 and I knew I’d be cutting it fine. I realised there would be no parking spaces left at the Guide Dogs Centre by the time I arrived at 8:48am so I parked on the street nearby and ran in to join the registration queue. It seems a lot of people had been a little last-minute like myself, so we did have to queue for several minutes. Luckily Michael from Race Recce was in the queue just in front of me, along with Emily and Colleen, and Ann-Marie quickly appeared just behind me. Stuart and Charlotte also came over for a chat with us. I also managed to find Debbie prior to the race start. She came and joined us on the front row, but headed towards the back when the race briefing started.
The Cani-cross event started 5 minutes before the trail race, and then we lined up outside the Centre. I’d spotted Hazel Robbie of Forfar Road Runners, who I recognised from Smokies 10, so I lined up next to her, introduced myself, and started quizzing her on her 5k times. She said she had done the first one in 23 minutes, but it was a hot day and her PB was around 22:30, so I thought I’d try and stick with her. Having only done one speed session in the past 8 weeks due to marathon training and recovery, I knew I didn’t have a lot of speed in my legs. But Charlotte had said a couple of weeks ago that she thought there would be two BRR ladies on the podium: she races enough to know the local talent, and I’m getting to know who outclasses me and who is strong but not unbeatable. Tracy from Arbroath Footers wasn’t on the list though, and neither was Hazel at that point. Tracy had just decided to do the race yesterday, after it had been too wet for Parkrun. I spoke to her beforehand and she said it was just a training run, but I knew she was a real threat over 5k. Ann-Marie is also really good over 5k, despite rarely doing Parkrun, and her times for our monthly race at Farnell are dropping sharply.
So, I knew my competition, but was reasonably hopeful of being somewhere in the top 3…
After a short but comprehensive race briefing, and a short delay whilst Charlotte went to politely request that a guy move his car as it was parked over our entrance to the Loch, we were off. The race starts in the wide open space of the Guide Dogs Centre car park, but within about 50 metres you’re onto a narrow grass path that follows a fence round a sharp corner, then onto the Forfar Loch path.
The main part of the route was an anti-clockwise lap of the beautiful Forfar Loch. Some sections are tarmac but lots of it are trail. There is also a metal bridge at one point of the route. Charlotte did warn us that it might be a little slippy, but it’s not a long bridge so “don’t worry Pauline”. I’m well known for being over-cautious in poor underfoot conditions, so that got a chuckle. The first section though was on trail, and there were some puddles due to the persistent rain we’ve had since Thursday. Despite avoiding puddles, my watch said we were doing around 6:35 pace and I realised I needed to slow down as I was already breathing through my mouth. A gentleman went past me bounding happily through the puddles that I was avoiding due to not wanting to get my custom insoles wet (and also because I hate running with wet feet) and I thanked him for splashing me. There was only a bit of water and mud though, and my foot didn’t feel squelchy, so no harm was done.
We made a left hand turn onto a wider section where the trail heads towards the south edge of the Loch and I checked my watch. Tracy had disappeared off behind about the 6th guy at the start, and Hazel had also gone off fast though she was still not too far in front of me at that early point in the race. I checked my watch, and it said I was doing 7:20 pace, and as I kept looking it dropped to 7:30 then 7:35. But I was still breathing through my mouth, and the effort felt like race pace. And we were only 500 metres in. I quickly realised this was not going to be a fairy-tale race for me. Not all races can go perfectly, and sometimes it’s just not your day. I didn’t cave though. I still wanted to run a respectable time, and was also aware that the quicker I ran, the sooner it would be over and I’d get some food. I decided to try and stick at 7:20 pace and see how I felt half a mile later. I really wanted to at least hang on to that third place spot, and thought that might be enough to hold off Ann-Marie.
The remainder of the first mile was along the south part of the Loch going past some playing fields and then the old leisure centre, and after a couple of guys went past I seemed to be largely running alone, though able to see folk a few seconds in front of me. My Garmin buzzed the first mile just about the point when we were passing the caravan park, and it said 7:20. Not spectacular, but not a disaster.
I soon became aware though that there was someone maybe 5 or 10 metres behind me. I resisted turning around, but they got closer, and in my peripheral vision I could see it was someone slightly shorter than me, in a black top and buff, and almost certainly Ann-Marie. I decided not to acknowledge her as we made another left hand turn along the short eastern edge of the Loch. This wasn’t because I didn’t want to talk to her: she’s a lovely lady and we’ve put in a lot of training miles together. But I couldn’t hear her breathing and I was pretty sure she was feeling more comfortable than me. I’d tried acknowledging the dog walkers we’d been running past, and even those couple of words had come out as breathless pants, so I was worried that hearing my inability to speak properly would give her the confidence to push past me and leave me for dust. Of course, the fact my breathing was so loud that anyone in a 50 metre radius could hear it was probably already having that effect. She seemed happy to sit on my shoulder for that short trail section which involved one of the few slight climbs on the route. I’m not great at cornering though, and as we turned left yet again out of the park section and onto the tarmac road along the northern edge of the Loch, she appeared alongside me. “Come on Pauline, those ladies are just a bit up ahead of us” she said, in her regular voice. I stuck with her for all of around 5 seconds, before saying “You go on”, and she did. I thought I’d try and stick to her, and hopefully catch up with her in the last kilometre, but my hips were feeling tight and I tried unsuccessfully to increase my stride length. Strava tells me it was about 10cm shorter than I usually manage at Parkrun. That might not sound like much, but when you’re doing 190 to 215 steps per minute that quickly adds adds up.
After Ann-Marie edged ahead around the 1.5 mile mark, and I was trying to get my stride length working to avoid the speed bumps on the road whilst also admiring the boats on the Loch, I saw something that confused me. I’d been pretty sure that I’d been the 3rd lady out, so should now be 4th female. But there was another lady up ahead whom Ann-Marie had just passed. A short lady with a blonde ponytail, wearing a blue top and holding her running gloves. How could I have failed to notice her at the start? Maybe she’d just come to the front line at the last minute, then been hidden in front of some off the taller guys? She wasn’t going overly fast given where she was, so I thought maybe she’d gone out too fast and was slowing down. I stuck behind her for a while until I was sure I could take her, and then went past her a couple of hundred metres after the second mile buzzed 7:23.
Shortly after this we turned yet another left hand corner (always keep the Loch on your left and you won’t get lost was what Charlotte had said at the race briefing, and it was good advice, though there are a few points where you still have options between different paths). This was where I got rather confused. A Marshal was clearly directing us, but the lady now just behind me stopped to talk to the marshal. I wasn’t sure what this was about, and as we were turning on to the shortest section and one that is forested, I wasn’t able to follow anyone up ahead. The path splits in two at this point and I thought we were being directed onto the wider and slightly longer of the two routes round the western edge of the Loch, but now I wasn’t sure, so I turned round to check. It turned out the lady was just on holiday and out for a Sunday morning run: she’d had no idea there was a race on, and was a bit surprised at the number of runners going past her. The marshal confirmed to me that I was going the right way, and I headed off with the lady wishing me luck, but it took a wee bit of effort to get back up to my previous pace and turning the corner back round to the south side of the Loch I could see I had lost a precious few seconds on Ann-Marie, with Hazel also still in sight but well out of reach. I shouted back to the lady that she could come and pace me if she liked, but she sensibly chose not to. She did overtake me when I nearly ran into an elderly gentleman though.
The bridge was fine and not at all slippy thankfully, but it’s another point where you have a couple of options regarding which path to take. An older gentleman was talking to the marshal, and though I could see which way to go, he was in the middle of the trail and I couldn’t decide which way to go around him. He clearly realised this too, and we both made adjustments. Unfortunately we both opted to go the same direction to get out of each other’s way, and I nearly ran into him. I think I said something like “Oops, cheesy peeps” rather than cursing, but I couldn’t swear by it. We were now back onto the south side of the Loch though, and there was only another kilometre or so to go, so I tried to get back up to speed.
I saw Laura up ahead: she’d gone out 5 minutes before us with the Cani-cross race. I caught up with her and said hi, but she had headphones in and wasn’t initially aware of me. At this point we were supposed to make a sharp right hand turn away from the Loch and back towards the Guide Dogs Centre. But my brain clearly wasn’t functioning correctly. For some reason I momentarily thought that the Marshal was just directing the Canicross participants that way, and carried on following the lady who was just out for a morning run – just for a couple of paces before the Marshal made it clear I should follow Laura. I checked my watch (which I’d been avoiding as it wasn’t telling me anything I wanted to see) and realised we were at 2.9 miles. I could see the next Marshal shortly ahead at another bridge, where we finally got to make a right hand turn back into the business park. This brought us back out round the opposite side of the Centre than we’d gone out though, and there is no way in from that end. So I could tell the route was going to be slightly long as we clearly had another couple of hundred metres to go and my watch had already buzzed a few seconds ago to tell me the third mile was a very off pace 7:49. I hadn’t given up though, even though the time looks a little like that. I felt like I was digging deep, but with nobody nearby (who was actually racing, rather than out for a Sunday run or in a different event) to race against it was hard to keep trying to go flat out.
There was nobody in sight along the road, and nobody except Laura and her dog behind me. But I was really happy to be back on tarmac with the end in sight, and wanted to put in as strong a finish as I could manage as there were a lot of people in the Guide Dogs car park. Some of them saw me through the fences, and I heard a woman (probably Charlotte, but it may have been Ann-Marie) shout “Come on Pauline” after I’d picked up the pace. I’m terrible at cornering so slowed for that, but did manage to get my pace up again for the final burst into the car park. It wasn’t completely clear where the finish line was, so I may have stopped my Garmin a second or two early for a change. Charlotte put a medal over my head and another volunteer handed me a goody bag. I then wandered over to talk to Tracy. As I’d expected, she had managed to stay in first place for the duration of the race. She’d run her fastest 5k of the year she thought, and seemed quietly pleased with the result. Hazel also seemed pretty happy with how things had gone. I found Ann-Marie who was also pretty chuffed. I asked if it was a PB for her but she wasn’t sure due to the course being slightly long. Michael from Race Recce had done well too (I’ll let him tell his own story) and his partner Emily had got a 5k PB. Stuart hadn’t managed to retain his trophy, but both he and David had done pretty well given the competition, the varying terrain, and their recent 5k times, taking the 5th and 6th place spots.
Smaller local races are great for many things – one of which is knowing a lot of the participants. Another is that they’re more likely to be catered events. Charlotte came out of the Centre, after we’d been hanging around outside chatting for 10 or 15 minutes whilst occasionally remembering to applaud people coming in to finish the race, and said there was hot soup and rolls available inside. Even though I’d had breakfast, I love soup and never have time to make it. The soup turned out to be homemade, and a very large cupful with a roll was available for £1.50, so it was a no-brainer to get some. I also took a piece of home baking for 50p but put that in my bag for later. David made the mistake of getting a coffee at the same time, so ran out of hands with which to eat his soup. The soup was much nicer than what we got after Loch Ness (which was fine, but was basically a small cup of tinned Baxters soup which, while nice, doesn’t compare favourably to fresh homemade soup), and I’m hoping to get the recipe.
Another great thing that is probably specific to Guide Dogs events is that you get to meet lots of beautiful young dogs and puppies afterwards. Loz and Stuart from BRR were on a stall advertising the joys of puppy walking, and I got to hang out with their young pup for a bit. Then after I’d finished my soup Charlotte came over and told us they’d just opened up one of the kennels if we wanted to go and see some guide dogs. The dogs were all excited to see so many people, and were all lovely, but there was one black lab in particular that was calmer but still friendly whichI wanted to take home. I didn’t manage to get any photos of the dogs though: they all move so quickly that I can never get animals in focus in photographs.
I’d found Debbie, and she’d been reasonably happy with how the race had gone. I even managed to get the guy who had volunteered to take the photos to take one of us together, just for a change. She’s going to write her own report about the event.
We stayed for the prize-giving, and then people started heading off, though Ann-Marie couldn’t get away too quickly as her daughter kept wanting another go at the Tombola. They’d certainly got quite a haul from it. There was also a bouncy castle, but I was disappointed to learn that only children were allowed on it. As there was a lot of home baking left, Stuart and I decided it couldn’t go to waste, and went and bought another couple of pounds worth each. My other half is diabetic, so I shouldn’t have got 4 tray bakes and a muffin, but I was heading out to do another 7 miles with Charlotte, so I figured it would be okay. Volunteers were coming round giving away bags of crisps for free too, and in the end I got three bags! The goody bag also contained some pretty decent stuff: not one but two raw choc brownies, a triangular cloth that could be used as a headscarf or neck buff, a very useful windscreen scraper, a sample size after-sun and a bottle of water, and some leaflets. I’d also paid the extra £12 to get a t-shirt, and it was pretty decent. I like the way they gave the option too, which kept it very low cost for those not bothered about a t-shirt.
People had mostly all vacated by this point, and Debbie was heading off too having made a successful purchase. Charlotte checked that the volunteers and staff were okay to clear up without her, then we headed off for a more comfortably paced couple of laps of the Loch (she did three or four) with racing dog Missy in tow. We bumped into Hazel partway round the Loch so stopped for a chat and heard about her Berlin marathon experience. We invited her to join us, but she was too weighed down with multiple bags of Epsom salts (on sale at a bargain price after the race).
I finished in a time of 23:56. I don’t know what my overall position was, but I was 4th female. Even though the course was about 160 metres long according to Garmin, and a trail race, that’s still a full 140 seconds slower than my Parkrun PB. Sometimes it’s just not your day though. I could make excuses (and I probably have a little in this report, though it’s all factually correct as far as my recall goes), but in the end I just wasn’t well prepared for the race and I’m not that great over shorter distances. If I let myself recover more from Loch Ness then get some speed sessions back into my training I can work on bringing that back down over the winter months. I’m really happy for Tracy who’s had a tough year with injuries but thankfully looks to be coming back strong. And I was really happy for Ann-Marie too. She also did Loch Ness but still managed to be much stronger than me this morning. She was ahead of me by a clear 45 seconds: much, much more than the few seconds I lost due to a couple of incidents during the third mile. And she’s only going to keep getting stronger.
If you’re in the Angus area I would thoroughly recommend this race. It’s inexpensive to enter (only £8 if you’re a Scottish Athletics member, £10 if not), the route is flat, fast, and very scenic, and you get a lot for your money whilst also getting to help a great cause, enjoy some lovely food, and meet some adorable trainee guide dogs. I’ll definitely be along for the next one.