I had been saying to myself for a while that I really needed to push myself further after about 3 years of staying at half marathon distance and just generally plodding about in training to try and keep the weight off from my shocking diet habits! Since the beginning of 2018 I had started to really enjoy my running. I ran a challenging multi-terrain half marathon in less than 2 hours, which used to always be an acceptable time for my half marathons, and started wondering how much quicker I could get. I decided that if I could get under 1:50 at the Angus HAM that I really needed to try something harder. I successfully managed this (just) and decided to bite the bullet and sign up for Strathearn Marathon with just 8 weeks until race day!! Me being me and not wanting to spend loads of hard earned money just to run, I decided this was the marathon for me at a very reasonable price. This was my second ever full marathon: the only other one being back in 2011 at the old Lochaber Marathon which sadly no longer exists and has since been replaced by the Fort William marathon. I wasn’t as rigorous in my training then, so I was confident I could do a much better time at Strathearn, even with limited time to train.
Once registered, I set up a training plan and then tried to find others who had done the race before – in the hopes they could give some insight of what to expect and how much hill training I would need to do. Unfortunately I received little response other than that it was a beautiful race, and some good luck messages. I got the route profile from Strathearn Harriers own website, which led me to believe this would be a very challenging course to try and take on. Let’s just say it was very, very challenging indeed!
Training went well as I tried to stick to my plan as best as I could, racking up 40 miles in the first week followed by 55 the second week. I was enjoying my strict plan and making sure I got the runs in. Weight was falling off me and the strength in my legs was improving. The Sunday long runs were tough but I knew I had to get them in. A few weeks in I introduced a hydration pack into my long runs. Until that point I didn’t even like running holding a water bottle for any length of time! I don’t think I would run long distance without a hydration pack now as it’s so useful, especially for storing my jelly babies which have become a wee favourite of mine after years of trying gels and having mixed responses from them.
Although I was getting a lot of miles in training, I was always conscious of the fact that Strathearn was going to be hilly. Training at sea level in Montrose isn’t the best for that as you have to run out of town to get to any decent hills. I managed to get through to Brechin (hill capital of Angus!) and complete a long run with Brechin Road Runners which was very enjoyable: firstly to get some company and secondly to enjoy some more of the beautiful scenery that we are lucky to have on our doorstep. The final few weeks of training flew in, and I achieved PB’s at 5k and 10k. I was feeling confident.
Race weekend approached and the car was all packed up to head across to the accommodation I had booked for our family. I even tried to drive part of the marathon route when heading to the cottage to try to get a look at the terrain. I hoped this would give me some insight as to what I had gotten myself into. Unfortunately I ended up taking a wrong turn and drove into the most horrendous hail storm I have ever been in! The hail was easily the size of golf balls, and what I didn’t realise until after I completed the marathon was how badly it had damaged the bodywork. Let’s just say it cost a lot more than participating in the marathon.
When we finally found the cottage and got unpacked we set out again to get some grub. The rest of the family had a Chinese meal whilst I had my boring filled pasta! I managed to get a decent enough sleep and was feeling good so set off on the short journey to the start in good spirits. After a mile I realised I had a flat tyre! To make matters worse, I had no spare with me. My only option was to keep going to the start and hope I could find someone with a pump. I managed to get one but the tyre wouldn’t inflate: my car luck was continuing as I had a blowout. So it was fair to say my head was all over the place prior to running: I was worrying about how I would get the tyre replaced, how I would get back to the cottage, then how I would get home the following day!
The start/finish of this race also played a big part in my decision to pick this particular marathon as it brings back memories of my days as an army cadet and spending time away at this camp. Cultybraggan Camp was built as a POW camp in WW2 before then being used by the army. It now belongs to Comrie Development Trust.
After a quick race briefing, we were treated to pipers playing their bag pipes. They piped us across the start line and got us underway as we ran past the start and into a loop of the camp ground itself, going around the tin huts and past the underground bunker before then heading out of the camp onto minor country roads. The first mile was fairly flat. However, after doing my homework I knew that the second mile was going to be tough with a 310ft climb to tackle. The climbing did not stop until after 5 miles, peaking at almost 800ft. Just after the 3 mile point we turned onto a B road heading for Braco. Everyone was told to stay on the left hand side as per the race instructions. 4.5 miles into the race took me past the driveway to the cottage we were staying in. I knew my family were waiting for me, and hearing them cheer me on and high fiving my kids gave me an extra boost to power on through the race. The race then started to level out for 3 miles, allowing me to soak up the stunning Perthshire views, before descending for the next 3 miles. I would say that this is probably the best section to try and make up time prior to hitting some very undulating sections with a number of challenging hills to contend with.
At the 10 mile marker we were greeted by marshals that had the task of handing out the drinks/gels and other items left at the start by runners who had put their race numbers on the items. This is a fantastic service that you don’t get with expensive city marathons. It’s really useful in that it lets you plan your race fuelling without having to carry supplies. But it also has the additional benefit that the marshals know your name from your items, and having them cheering encouragement for me by name was really appreciated. After 10.5 miles we turned left and started to make our way towards Crieff. For the next mile and a half we climbed another horrible hill that felt like it had 3 separate summits: that led to a bit of cursing by myself and a few fellow competitors. Finally reaching the summit, we were thankful to see a nice downhill that went on for 2 miles. The downhills never felt like they lasted long enough though, and before you knew it you were climbing yet another HILL! Just 103ft this time though, and from there it was fairly downhill bringing you into Crieff at the 18.5 mile mark. At this stage we were greeted by the second fuelling station provided by the marshals. Just past the fuelling station the route took another left to head towards Comrie with another 1 mile uphill slog. I’d had enough of these hills and ultimately this last one drained me of what little energy I had left. It was encouraging to check my watch and see that I was on track for the goal I had set myself of 4 hours. I had managed 20 miles in 3 hours something that was consistent with my long training runs. I was hoping I would be able to do the last 10km in that hour with the rest of the course not being too challenging. However the earlier hills had clearly taken their toll as no matter what I did to try and up my pace I just had nothing in the tank. With my target of 4 hours going out the window I started to get quite demoralised and walked a few times. Around 23 or 24 miles into the race we arrived at Comrie, passing some welcoming spectators who reassured me that I was doing well and got me plodding away again. Coming out of Comrie, the famous tin huts of Cultybraggan were a welcoming sight as I knew the finish line was fast approaching. I managed to muster up some energy for an attempted sprint finish. This took a lot of effort, and you can clearly see the pain in my face coming up the finishing straight. Passing my family again and having an announcer calling out my name and where I’m from made all that hard work worth it.
I finished in 78th position with a time of 4:07:54. Once I had crossed the line I was given my medal and goody bag and a much needed seat. I cannot speak more highly of the marshals at this race as they were fantastic throughout the whole event right until the end when they even untied my shoe laces to get the timing chip back (a simple task I would’ve struggled to do!). I dived straight into the goody bag and scoffed my Mars bar, then hobbled my way to the tin hut with the free grub. Let’s just say my paper plate was stacked high!
The Strathearn marathon in my opinion was a great race just for the scenery alone, with heaps of hills that are extremely challenging over the entire distance. This course isn’t going to give you the best marathon time but it will make you feel like you have really pushed yourself. If you are a fan of hills then definitely get signed up but if not and you want to get a PB then I would suggest finding a flatter course. This race will stand out for me because of the great support provided by the marshals and the great post-race grub, plus the massages that were available. I’m still undecided as to whether to enter this race for 2019, but I have unfinished business to smash the 4 hour barrier and now knowing this route I reckon I could do it here.