Despite David reminding us all the night before, and warning us that Glen Clova sells out quickly, I completely forgot about it. On the evening of 20th August when it went live on Entry Central, I went off for a shower at about 9:00pm, just as entries were opening. By the time I next checked social media, around 40 minutes later, there had been several messages in our group chat about it – including one from Barry saying he had been too late and it was already full. I was a bit disappointed and added my name to the waiting list but didn’t expect to get a place as it had apparently sold out in under 15 minutes. Barry did get a waiting list place a week or so later, but I didn’t hear anything so assumed I was too far down the list. Then 3 days after Loch Ness, when I was still struggling to perform basic everyday functions like sitting down or descending flights of stairs, I got an email offering me a place. Even though I had struggled to do 10-minute mile pace for a 4 mile recovery run that evening, of course I was taking the spot!
I’ve not done this race before, as I wasn’t even a member of a running club when entries went live for the 2017 race. A few of the BRR crew have done it before though, and we’d considered doing a recce of it at some point in early summer. Due to various logistical reasons though, that had never happened. However, with the race looming on the horizon we managed to get ourselves invited along to one of Dundee Road Runners two planned recce’s of the route. So, 20 days before the race, Ann-Marie, Barry, David and I headed along for a recce followed by a lovely lunch at the Glen Clova Hotel with around 15 or so members of Dundee Road Runners. We split into two groups, and I realised quite quickly that this was not a promising route for a PB, particularly given that my legs still had the marathon in them. The toughest parts seemed to be in the first 5 or 6 miles though, asides from a climb around 11 miles that could be tough if racing rather than recceing. I didn’t run it anywhere close to hoped for race pace, but still thought that getting a feel for the route was beneficial.
Barry kindly offered to drive, and picked Steve and I up at 10:00am. Although Glen Clova is only around 25 miles away, most of that is on narrow, winding country roads and it takes about 50 minutes to get there. We arrived in plenty of time for registration, which was pretty speedy and efficient, and got our race numbers and wristbands. The wristbands were to ensure hungry racers didn’t queue up for a second cup of delicious soup at the end: the band would be cut off when you collected your soup.
Having done 7 or 8 races this year, and having a few folk recognise me due to this blog or Running Friends Scotland, one of the benefits is that you keep meeting some of the same people, and so there were a few folk to catch up with. I also managed to bump into all the Footers who were taking part, but by that point cameras and phones had been put back in cars, and so I didn’t get a group photo. I did get ones of BRR, and tried to take photos of the beautiful backdrop to the race start – but ended up taking photos with a Christmas-style tree, silver signpost and car park instead…
I hadn’t managed to find Jo though. I was looking forward to a catch up – and was hoping to maybe run with her for a bit depending on what kind of pace she wanted to do, but even though a field of 270ish runners doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s still a lot of people when you’re looking for someone and have no phone signal or internet connection. I missed the race briefing whilst in the queue for the portaloos (it’s a side effect of pre-race nerves and cold weather), but thankfully the queue was much, much shorter than the one at Loch Ness, and I had plenty of time to find Barry and Steve for a warm up jog. Having put my coat in the car I was shivering in my shorts and vest top, and thought maybe I had under-dressed. One of the volunteers told me to get warmed up after she saw me shivering. I knew I’d be glad of my choice of attire once the race started though.
Barry headed to the front of the start area, and Steve and I hung out where we thought halfway would be, but ended up being just a few rows from the back. It was at this point that Jo finally found us. I told her about my being a total muppet and forgetting about the Berlin ballot, and she said she would consider Chicago. I was hoping to stick with her and Steve for the first part of the race, but Jo disappeared off into the distance pretty quickly. Being at the back the initial pace was about 10:25 per mile, and I wasn’t too keen to skip around folk. It felt like a really comfortable pace, but I knew I couldn’t stay at that pace for long if I wanted to get a reasonable time.
The race has a slight uphill start for maybe 100 metres or so, then a sharp turn over a narrow stone bridge. About 50 metres past that was the first of many puddles extending over the entire road. We’d known those would be there as we encountered them on the drive in, but I still wasn’t looking forward to getting wet feet. Barry had foresight enough to bring a change of shoes for after the race, but I hadn’t. Steve took the lead through the puddle and said to go through the middle where it was shallowest. I followed his advice and thought I might manage to keep my feet dry for a bit longer. Unfortunately the guy on my left splashed happily though an ankle deep part and I got the splashes. Oh well, wet feet for 13 miles it would be then. It wasn’t too bad though, and I thought they might dry off quickly enough – until that killer puddle coming up before the first water station.
The route climbs pretty steadily for about 3 miles, with twists and turns. Or, at least, that’s how it feels. Actually, it’s pretty deceiving as it’s only marginally more uphill than downhill but there are steep climbs at 1, 1.5 and 2.5 km (with up to 8% gradient), and an even longer one between 4 – 5km, which cause you to forget the down-hills in-between. It was a beautiful crisp, clear autumn day with only a very light breeze and a bit of sun. Unfortunately thanks to the torrential rain and strong winds of the previous day and evening the road was very wet in places. The scenery was calendar-worthy, but it was still slightly misty and I was too busy paying attention to the runners up ahead, and the puddles, to fully appreciate it.
Having started so far back, the road was quite crowded. On the plus side, there were no problems with overtaking except on bits where you were trying to avoid the road edges due to puddles. And very few people, if any, were overtaking me. I spotted Karen up ahead and had a quick chat with her. I probably said something about not being confident of a fast time due to my seeming inability to recover from Loch Ness, and she offered me some sage advice – telling me to enjoy it and not be so hard on myself. Round the bend and towards the top of the first steep climb I was surprised to see a runner walking back towards us already. I was really sorry to see it was fellow Footer Ruairidh. He’d run a phenomenal 2:48 marathon in Chicago last month and seemed to be recovering well. I’d even asked him if he was going to win this race. But he’d injured his calf early on in the race and took the sensible decision to head back to the Hotel rather than risk doing further damage.
By this point I’d left Steve behind: he said he’d only run about 20 miles since Loch Ness so was just looking to enjoy the course. Up ahead was one of the Anster Haddies Charlotte and I had been leapfrogging for a couple of miles at Loch Ness. I caught up with her and confirmed it wasn’t a case of mistaken identity. She’d done the Glen Ogil 33 ultra the week before so I was telling her about Charlotte’s great achievements there (5th female and second FV40), and got her name for the race report (it’s Debs). Slightly further on, I was going past a very tall, distinctive looking bearded gentleman. As I was passing he said something like “You’re Pauline, aren’t you?” I was pretty sure I’d have remembered him if I’d met him before, so I asked how he knew me. It seems I post often enough on Running Friends Scotland for a few people to recognise me! It turns out I also know his partner from Montrose Parkrun. He told me to have a good race, and I headed off to try and catch up with Jagoda, who is easy to spot due to the footers top and the long blonde curly hair that she doesn’t tie up when racing. Surprisingly she was not running with Chris. He was about 80 metres or so further ahead. I was pretty sure she’d catch up and overtake him later on though (which proved to be the case). They had both run Glen Ogil last Saturday, like a surprising number of the people I spoke to, so weren’t looking for PBs here. I headed off ahead of her, but soon encountered the deepest puddle we’d driven through on the drive in. This was about 2.5 miles into the race, and I was pretty keen to avoid it, not having got completely soaked by that initial puddle and splash. Some ladies were heading onto the grass to try and avoid it so I did the same, but quickly realised it was very platchy (I’m sure that’s a word) and completely waterlogged. I stopped and let a few folk go past me, then took Jagoda’s advice and jumped into the puddle. My feet were completely soaked from that point on, but it was one less thing to worry about, and I could start to notice the scenery more.
I caught up with Chris just before the first water station. He stopped for a drink (I had my own bottle so didn’t need to) and said “First one back buys the pints”. I pointed out that it would be Ian (who was indeed First Footer by several minutes) – but unfortunately I never managed to find him after the race to claim my pint. I hadn’t really been tracking my pace the way I usually do in races (i.e. obsessively). I’d missed the 1-mile alert, and the 2-mile one. At three miles, I realised I was just under 8 minute mile pace on average for those three miles (the first had been 8:17 due to the slower start) and therefore 1:40 was already a distant dream. I decided to take Karen’s advice to enjoy the race, whilst keeping enough of an eye on the watch that I didn’t slide too much towards 1:50 pace. Although we’d done a recce a few weeks ago, I’d been running with a friend who got an injury so we had done the last 4 miles very slowly and I was therefore unsure whether the second half was easier or harder than the first half. All I could really remember was the magnificent views, and one steep hill around mile 11. So I didn’t know whether it was likely to be a positive or negative split. Half marathons are also still quite new to me and I hadn’t got the pacing right at the Dundee Half, pushing too hard early on and being shattered by mile 8, so I decided to run it as a hard tempo run rather than flat out, and see how I felt at mile 10.
After the water station there is a nice long downhill then a flat section. I took advantage of the downhill to get some pace back up, overtake some more of the field, and admire the views. As we had a little more elevation than at the hotel, we were now 20 or 30 metres above the river. The heavy rains had obviously caused the river down on our left hand side to burst its banks however, and it now resembled a lake. A beautiful, still lake rather lacking in wildlife. Someone suggested it would be great for water sports if it stayed like that. I also noticed a few sheep in the fields on the right hand side of the road, but they seemed completely disinterested in the hordes of runners heading past. I’d also spotted Hazel of Forfar Road Runners up ahead from shortly before that horrible puddle. She seemed to be running with an older gentleman. I was catching up, but very slowly. She was looking pretty strong, and had a backpack or hydration vest on that did not move at all and I thought I might ask her about it as I have vague notions about parking a couple of miles from work (before I hit heavy traffic) and running in – though realistically I’m never going to do that. It took a couple of miles before I caught up with her, and we ran together for half a mile or so before she told me to have a good race and eased off slightly to talk to another guy who had caught up with us.
At around 6 miles, you reach the turning point. This is a sharp left hand turn onto a road that takes you across the river, then you get to run back to the hotel along the other side of the South Esk. The marshals were very encouraging and there were even a few spectators at this point, cheering us on. I said something daft like “Thank you, small child” to the little girl who was cheering us on, and one of her parents translated it for the daughter into something that a normal person might say. This had the beneficial effect of eliciting another cheer from her. There were more spectators on the bridge too, and yet another photographer. I was impressed by the number of photographers who took the time to come out and photograph the race. Having done a very mediocre job of taking photographs at the Forfar 10k, I know it’s a tough gig. People get upset at being missed from the photos or the photographer not getting their leap or smile, but really you’re just snapping away as fast as possible, trying to get a fast-moving subject in focus, and it’s not at all easy.
Once you’re across the bridge you get a nice short downhill section followed by a short climb. At this point I finally took my buff off, as the sun was coming out. It’s then pretty flat until mile 10, as you’re closer to river level at this side of the valley. The sun was gorgeous, and the mist had lifted so the mountains were looking glorious. It really is picture postcard scenery, and it was a nice distraction from weariness. As the sun got stronger I started to worry that I may even get sunburnt as happened at Tay Ten. The weather at 09:00am hadn’t led me to even consider putting on sunscreen. You can see from my race photos that I have very peelly wally skin, so even winter sun can have an adverse effect on it, though thankfully I seem to have emerged unscathed by the burning yellow ball in the sky.
Just as I was starting to think “Wow, it’s heating up” I passed a lady who was wearing a yellow windbreaker jacket, and commented that she must be hot in that. She said she wasn’t and only had a thin vest under it. I remained unconvinced. Then I spotted another lady maybe 100 metres up ahead in a sports bra. Although it had gotten noticeably hotter, that seemed to be going from the sublime to the ridiculous. Maybe in the heat of summer, but not Glen Clova in November!? However, it seemed it was only a temporary measure and she had her running top back on within a minute or two.
Once you’re across the bridge you can look over and see the runners on the opposite side, the ones who haven’t made it to mile 7 yet. Of course, I could have looked over and tried to spot Barry, David and Ian when I was on the outward leg, but it never popped into my head, being too distracted with the flooded river and trying to catch up with various people. Looking over, I could see there were definitely people a mile or more behind me, but they seemed a lot less numerous and spread out that the ones on this side of the river. You couldn’t really see who they were either, so I stopped trying to spot anyone and just switched attention between the scenery and the next group to catch up with, whilst occasionally checking my watch. I was struggling to stay below 9-minute mile pace on the inclines, but the miles kept buzzing in as acceptable times: miles 7, 8, and 9 were 7:44, 7:48 and 7:52 respectively. I wouldn’t have been happy with those splits at Dundee Half, but this was the end of the race year and I’ve been in something of a post-race slump since Loch Ness (my Parkrun times are a good 80 seconds or more off my PB) and so with no realistic chance at a PB I was aiming for a reasonable time rather than destroying myself for the fastest possible time. I was also slightly worried I might blow up if I pushed it too hard, and knew I had to save something for that final steep hill.
After the bridge I was feeling a wee bit adrift. I’d had people to talk to on the way out, but things were thinning out a little on the way back to the hotel, and I hadn’t found anyone to run with for more than a few seconds at a time. A few guys went past me. One had started the race wearing a yellow windbreaker, which was now tucked into the side of his shorts. We exchanged pleasantries about the weather and he said that at least I wasn’t wearing black. Though he was clearly not dressed ideally for the conditions, I failed to catch up to him later in the race and he just gradually got further and further in front of me. Another tall person wearing a top from a Mallorca event also went past me. I think he was aware of me staring at him, but I was just trying to work out what his t-shirt said. Again, although my legs were feeling okay I just didn’t feel I had the energy to try and stop him from getting ahead of me.
I was passing far more people than I was being overtaken by, though, and I would slowly pick off one group, then it would take ages to reel in the next group who were about 30 metres or so in front, then I’d be alone again for a bit.
I don’t have a watch that offers predicted finish times, and so I have to do mental arithmetic to work out how I’m getting on. Around 6.5 miles in my watch was saying 50:51 I think, so I knew it would have to be a really aggressive negative split to do a 1:40. However, it wasn’t looking too bad for a sub 1:45. I didn’t remember this section of it so well though, and a couple of the Footers had been of the opinion that the second half was the harder of the two. I did remember a few twists and turns, the Rottal Lodge around 10 miles round, and that last steep climb around 11 ½ miles. At mile 9 I went past a guy who said “Well done, you’re running strong.” I wasn’t sure this was true, so hesitated before responding. Eventually I said “I wish that sign said 12 miles, not 9”, which got a definite agreement. I really did though, and remembered why I love 10 mile races. If this had been a 10 miler I’d have been 90% of the way home. However, my watch said 1:10:48 or thereabouts and in a 10 mile race that should have been me just a couple of minutes from the finish line, not a mile away, so I’d probably be feeling worse. It wasn’t just the distance though. We’d started a gradual ascent, but shortly past the 9 mile mark was another steep half mile or so as the road winds away from the river and into farmland on both sides, with some sections of the road under cover of trees.
I’d somehow managed to lose most of the water from my water bottle. I say lost, rather than drunk, because I only remember taking about half a dozen sips from it. However, it’s one of the wee 300ml doughnut-shaped ones with a sports cap, and water had definitely been escaping from the not-fully-sealed cap thanks to my inefficient running motion. I briefly considered stopping at the last water station, but seeing the climb ahead I decided 40 ml of water would have to do as I can’t run whilst drinking from cups, or pour water from cups into bottles whilst moving, and I was worried if I stopped, even for a few seconds, I wouldn’t get my metronomic pace back for the hill ahead. I did ask if they had any jelly babies, but unfortunately there were none. I did have a wee Ziploc bag of them but didn’t want to take the time to try opening and re-sealing the bag, or risk getting jelly baby powder in my shorts pocket. A lady in front of me at mile 8 had taken a gel, and I also had one of those on me. I didn’t feel like I needed one though, and had nobody to help me if I was unable to open the packet, so decided to forgo that too. From 9.5 to 10.5 miles the road climbs quite steeply with a bit of a break in the middle of the climb. The gradient only reaches 4.6% according to Strava, but although my quads and hamstrings were surprisingly not feeling too heavy or tight, I had become aware of my glutes. My pace dropped to about 9:30 per mile on the steepest section, and though I tried to speed up when it flattened out, my watch seemed reluctant to bring the pace reading back down. I think it was on a flatter part of this climb that we went past a large house where a couple of people were standing watching the runners go past. I said “Good morning”, then remembered it must be afternoon as the race started at mid-day, so added “Or afternoon, or whatever it is.” Seemingly, I’d been running for so long that I had no idea what time of day it was. At least I wasn’t feeling hungry, despite it being well past my usual lunchtime. I had had a two-course breakfast though, then half a peanut butter sandwich at 11:30am, so figured I’d be fine until we got soup at the end.
Towards the top of the penultimate climb there was yet another volunteer taking photographs. At this point, I was very slowly attempting to overtake a Forfar Road Runner. I realised he was in-between me and the photographer and shifted position slightly. Rhona suggested that I overtake the gentleman (who was presumably someone she runs with), and that would make a great race photo. He didn’t seem overly enthused about the idea, but it didn’t make him adjust his pace at all. I quickly weighed up whether it was a good idea to attempt a short sprint on a hill a few miles from the finish, and decided it was worth the risk of a bit of lactic acid. The photos are below, thanks to Rhona. My quads definitely felt it for a few hundred metres afterwards, but it didn’t do too much damage to my overall pace. We had a brief conversation but I wasn’t prepared to slow down, so I headed off alone again.
The final photographer before the end was waiting at the top of that really long, steep hill around 11.5 miles. We were surrounded by trees at this point, and the picture postcard view couldn’t be seen so there were fewer distractions from the discomfort. My pace briefly dipped to 10 minute miling. However, I’d worked out at mile 11 that as long as I could do this mile in under 9:30 I should be pretty safe for a sub 1:45. The photographer walked out into the middle of the road and aimed his camera at me. Feeling pretty shattered from the climb, and breathing through my mouth (which is pretty standard for me in most races, but in this one I’d managed to keep my breathing under reasonable control from about mile 4 after I decided to stick with “comfortably hard” rather than suicide pace), I didn’t relish a photo that might have me looking as tired and broken as the one from the final mile at Loch Ness. So I went for an arms-punching-the-air pose. It’s below the next paragraph and I think it’s the best photo of me from this race.
I’d been hoping it was all downhill from there on, but the route keeps undulating gently until the end, with more uphill than downhill in the final section. When my watch buzzed mile 12 I knew I had 10 minutes to get to the end, so I didn’t push too hard. I was still picking a few people off, and getting encouragement from a few of them as I was heading past. At some point I’d gone past a tall guy I thought might be someone I’d interacted with on Running Friends Scotland, but it’s hard to tell from the back and I didn’t know how close I was cutting it for a sub 1:45 at that point so I just went past without speaking. (He finished a couple of minutes behind me and came over to introduce himself. Turned out it was Paul, and I had done exactly the same thing to him as I’d done at the Half DRAM.) With half a mile to go, I was catching up on a guy who was walking. I’m never sure whether offering encouragement is patronising or not, but it was only half a mile and he didn’t seem to have cramp or be limping, so I said “Only half a mile to go.” Then I realised I’d not be happy if that spurred him on to overtake me. He did start running a few seconds after I went past, but after about a hundred metres I couldn’t hear the footsteps any more so maybe he decided to save it for the final fifty metres.
There was also a guy wearing a grey top who kept looking over his shoulder on the last wee incline as we were heading to the Hotel. The overflow car park (field) was in sight and there wasn’t far to go. But looking over your shoulder multiple times is a sure sign you’re tiring – unless he was looking for a specific person he had lost. So I went past him and waited to see if he would respond, but he never did. I could see the crowd outside the Hotel, and a couple of banners at what I assumed was the finish line. But having missed the race briefing, and with a watch that was buzzing slightly before the mile markers, I wasn’t sure that we didn’t have to go back over the bridge so I didn’t want to sprint too early. Then I heard a voice shouting “Come on Pauline” and realised it was David, in the hotel car park, so I kicked. I also noticed Barry in the overflow car park, with his mobile phone ready to take a photo of me. I managed a bit of a sprint, but it wasn’t very fast. Even though I had clearly gone over the timing mats, I still asked the volunteers whether that was definitely the end!
I was ushered towards the front of the Hotel, where I was handed a cup by Susan (I think, race ends are always a bit of a blur), who said “Well done Pauline” and given a mug and a goody bag. There are no medals, but mugs have more utility than medals, and I’m already wondering what to do with the medals I’ve collected this year, so it made a nice change. I found various people I wanted to congratulate, including Margaret from Dundee Road Runners who had gone round a minute quicker than me, and Geoff (also from DRR) who had managed to get his first sub 1:40 half marathon. I congratulated him but told him I was also rather jealous. I would have loved to have managed a sub 1:40 Half this year, and this was my last chance. But as others have pointed out to me, I have had a pretty amazing year and it’s my first year of racing. Sub 1:40 is still a goal, but it’ll have to wait until next year.
Brechin had a pretty good showing at Glen Clova. Barry continued his habit of taking 2 minutes off his previous Half Marathon PB with each race entered. He finished in a phenomenal time of 1:24:31 in 8th position, digging deep to sprint away from a guy he said he’d been struggling to keep pace with over the last couple of miles. Barry had also had to stop to re-tie his shoelace before the big puddle, so he could definitely have been 5 seconds faster. I’m sure we’re going to see even greater achievements from him next year. David Wilson also bagged a top 20 finish, in a time of 1:28:48. He was slightly aggrieved that he was 2 seconds slower than last year, but the photo of him going through the puddle shows that he wasted time acting up for the cameras, so he only has himself to blame! He’s actually running really well just now and I’m sure we’ll see further good things from him come spring. Dave Hill got round in 1:40 and change, and Steve (who was allegedly taking it easy) got round in 1:53 on the nose. David decided not to wait in the queue for soup (it was delicious but obviously needs to be cooked in batches so there was a bit of a wait) but the rest of us had some and decided it was worth the wait as we admired the views from the warm confines of the hotel.
I finished in a time of 1:43:33 (as I discovered from the Stuweb results printout) in 98th position and 8th in the F40 category. I was the second Footer round, but the second slowest Brechin runner and not even the fastest finisher from my street! (Mairi Gougeon MSP is a fantastic runner and finished 4th female. Since she is also close to a decade younger than me, I have no hope of being the fastest runner in the street unless one of us moves. Actually, one of the kids across the road is also faster than me- at least over 5k, so I’m never going to win that accolade…) I wasn’t ecstatic with my time, but I was content enough. Mostly I was relieved. I’ve been struggling quite a lot since Loch Ness and was worried I wouldn’t even manage to get round in half the time the marathon took. How can it be that one month you feel like you could do 8-minute miling for hours at a time, then a month or two later 8:20 pace feels like a struggle after a few miles? It’s not that I lack the motivation to go for a run. I did follow a recovery plan so took 3 or 4 weeks to build back up to 30 miles a week, but I’ve not skipped runs and I’ve tried to get some speed sessions back in there. They just feel much tougher than they should. It’s been a great year though, and this was definitely a brilliant race to finish with given the beautiful surroundings.
I’d been dreading this race as I felt really unprepared for it and not on form. In the end though, I really enjoyed the final 10 miles after I decisively wrote off PB-chasing. If you appreciate having gorgeous scenery whilst running and aren’t put off by hills but prefer roads to trail races, then this is definitely a great way to end your racing season.
Photos of BRR members were taken by myself or someone using my camera. The photograph of Chris, Jagoda and I at the end was taken by David on Jagoda’s phone. The photos from the first puddle and the 10.5ish mile point were taken by Rhona Guild. The photos from one of the deep puddles were by Gordon Donnachie, as were the photos from 11.5 miles. Pete Bracegirdle took the photos at the deepest puddle slightly before the first water station. Many thanks to all photographers for agreeing their photos could be used in this blog.