Smokies 10 Mile Ladies Race often marks the start of the racing year for many women. Unless you’re into cross country or trail races, it’s one of the first road races on the calendar in this part of the country. It sells out within a couple of hours of registration opening, as several hundred women log in on PCs. tablets or phones in the hope they’re not too late to get a spot.
Last year I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. This year, it marked the start of my second year of racing. And (partly due to these race reports, but also just from racing and this being a Footers event) a lot more people were aware of who I was. I had a cup to attempt to retain, having been First Footer at Smokies 10 last year, but I’m not on peak form, and the competition was going to be stiffer this year, so I wasn’t feeling overly confident.
Kate picked Carolyn and I up at 9:30am and we got to Arbroath Sports Centre for around 10:00am. This was an hour before the race, but there was a queue of cars trying to get into the Sports Centre car park, and a similar queue leaving. The cars leaving looked like they contained runners (the buffs or Club vests are the usual giveaway) so we opted not to waste time trying the car park, and just park on the road outside. Registration was quick and efficient, and we found a corner of the sports hall to get organised. With it being a local race, we knew lots of the competitors, so the time passed quite quickly. We also finally managed to get some group photos of the Footers, which had been like herding cats as there were so many people to get together at once. I managed to bump into a couple of people I’d been hoping to talk to, in the queue for the gents toilets (which had been turned into extra ladies toilets for the event) and in the hall, but I hadn’t found Lyn. She finally spotted me on the start line, a few minutes before we set off. I said I’d talk to her at the end, but we managed a quick chat near the start of the race too.
Being this early in the year, and on a hilly, exposed course, the weather is always a factor in the race. Last year it had to be postponed until May because of the Beast from the East. This year it was bright and sunny. But Storm Freya was also battering the country further south, and in Arbroath that meant it was blowing a hoolie, as my other half would say, with strong gusts of close to 50mph. The chat in the Footers ladies Facebook group at breakfast time had been all about the wind, and Christie had thought it would be in our faces on the way out, but at our backs on the way in. This thankfully proved to be the case. As we’d been chatting on the start line at the front, I think it was Gillian Sangster who suggested we work in a group to get out the first half of the course. I was dubious if that would happen, but thankfully for some of us it did to an extent.
After a brief introduction by Mary, with warnings about the road works just around the corner past Dominos, we were off! I ran alongside Tracy for the first hundred metres or so, then dropped back a bit after checking the pace on my watch. Lyn appeared on my left and we had a quick chat. She too went off just slightly in front of me, and I was running with Hazel. We were round the corner past Dominos by this point, and staying on the pavement to pass the road works. The wind was very strong, and Gillian’s suggestion had proved correct. There were a couple of small groups ahead (3 or 4 in both groups) and a string of solo runners battling alone into the wind. But Hazel. Tracy, Lynn, Gillian and I found ourselves in a group of 15 or so runners, working together against the wind. My watch buzzed the first mile as 7:48, and it felt comfortable – at least when the wind wasn’t gusting or there was a sufficient barrier of ladies in front of me to form a human shield against it. Hazel went to take a turn at the front of the group, alongside Lyn, and a new lady appeared on my left-hand side. As she moved slightly in front of me, I noticed the back of her t-shirt said “Psycho Squirrels” which was too intriguing not to ask about. If you want to identify as one, you’ll probably need to join Falkland Trail Runners.
Although it was really windy, and I didn’t know all of the ladies in the group, I really enjoyed this part of the race. It was still flat (we hadn’t reached Arbirlot yet) and the pace was comfortable. Mile two chimed in at 8:34. No wonder it was comfortable. The small group of leaders hadn’t pulled too much further ahead though, and we were closing in on one or two of the solo ladies. It must have been tough without a pack. I really felt like I was in a marathon on tv, in the second group that they sometimes cut to. Of course, we were going at 8:30ish pace rather than 6:00 per mile pace, and only doing a 10 miler rather than a marathon, but I felt like it might be tactically similar. And I knew from watching tv that whoever tried to break away would probably easily get pulled back by the group.
We broke apart a little at the first water station in Arbirlot, and I went to the front with Lyn. I was going to suggest that (since it was just a training run for her) she might be amenable to pacing me, but she’s not had the pleasure of this route before and I dropped her on the hill. I then tried to pull away from the pack a little about 2.5 miles in, as I’m stronger than average on hills thanks to doing most of my training in Brechin, and also thanks to the weight training. I got some distance, but not enough, and the group reeled me back in on the flatter stretch between miles 3 and 4. I was happy to let Gillian and Jazmin (from Anster Haddies) go past me and provide some buffering from the wind again. I was pretty sure Tracy was still with the group, but she never said anything and I didn’t look behind. One the next steep hill I thanked Jasmin for being a wind break, whilst running past her and asking if her Mum was running (she was). Of course, the same thing happened: I got a few metres ahead and was quickly pulled back in on the shallow ascent to the second water station. It was hard to get your stride exactly right in such a tight group, and I accidentally trod on the heel of the lady in front. Then the same thing happened to me, for which the lady behind apologised and touched my back, either as additional apology or a hint to try and move forward a little as we headed around the corner onto the second half of the race.
The water station at mile 5 (where I saw Alan Forfar and family waiting to cheer on Ashleigh, they gave me a shout and a wave) didn’t seem ready for quite such an influx at once, but they were very quick at grabbing new cups and I managed to get the last cup on offer without waiting. As I slowed to drink it, I saw Tracy getting a cup and said “Hi”. I’d be lying if I said I was completely happy to see she was still with the pack. She was my main competition for the First Footer’s Cup, and she’s been trouncing me over 5k distances over the past few months. If I hadn’t shaken her off on the uphill sections, there was a pretty strong chance she was going to stick with me and sprint past in the final kilometre. I dropped my cup and ran off as fast as I could manage. That downhill section last year was at 6:47 pace for me, and was the fastest mile I had ever run at that point. This year it was a 6:48, and I was chasing after a lady who may have been in a club top, but not one I recognised. I stuck with her for a while, watching the stream of women in front who were now all going solo, but eventually realised she was stronger than me and she pulled away in front somewhat. Then I heard footsteps behind me. Last year I’d been the one going past people, and that is very motivating. Getting overtaken, by contrast, is a little demoralising. The lady who went past wasn’t Tracy, she was a taller lady in a Metro Aberdeen top. She worked her way up to the lady I’d let get a bit ahead of me, and they ran together for a while, before the Metro Aberdeen vest pulled ahead.
We’d left the steepest downhill section behind and were on the road back into Easter Knox. I’d gone past a couple of Forfar Road Runners just before mile 6 who had a banner ready to cheer on their runners (except Tracy Morgan who had already gone past before they got it set up) and got a friendly shout from Graeme. The marshal just past the 6 mile sign took a photo and said I was the first footer. I muttered something about whether he could see Tracy, but it was probably indecipherable and I didn’t get a response.
Mile 7 was another reasonably quick one at 7:00 minute pace, but I had a bit of a slump during mile 8 for some reason and it clocked in at 7:40. I’d been hoping I’d shaken off Tracy with those two quick miles: I know she can do 7 minute pace at Parkrun, but was hoping she couldn’t sustain 5k pace for 5 miles. But at 7:40 pace she would easily catch up. Maybe another lady went past me during this mile? At this point, a mere 8 hours later, it’s already a bit of a blur. I managed to pick up the pace back through Easter Knox and back down into Arbirlot where, unlike last year, I did take a cup of water. I got some shouts of “First Footer”, but was listening to see how long it took for them to shout encouragement to Tracy. It’s a very short section before you’re round the corner and up the hill though, and I couldn’t hear anything.
Up the hill out of Arbirlot and the marshal at mile 8 smiled but said nothing. I could now see the final mile and a half back to Arbroath stretching out in front of me. The two ladies who had overtaken me were now in sight, but a good 30 or 40 seconds ahead. It helped me pick up the pace though, and mile 9 chimed in at 7:05. I calculated my finish time would be between 1:17 and 1:18. My legs weren’t dying, but I wasn’t sure I was ready for a sprint. I was writing the race report in my head, but the story was still unclear. Was the lady who’d made the break at the halfway point going to hold on? Or was the pursuer sitting comfortably close behind, waiting to sprint past near the end? I daren’t look back.
Gary and a couple of others were at the traffic lights and Gary shouted encouragement. I tried to count the seconds until I heard his enthusiastic “Come on Tracy!” There were several seconds, maybe 10, but it didn’t seem long enough for my liking. Just shortly past there I went past Loz from BRR who had kindly agreed to help out. She took a photo and shouted that I was running well and keep it up. I didn’t have much left in the tank for a sprint, and there was nobody near enough in front to chase down, but I did manage to pick up the pace marginally, putting in a 6:58 final mile. Ian directed me across the road, and I couldn’t remember whether to go left of right, so mis-footed myself just a step or two. Not having anyone in front was also disconcerting as I couldn’t remember where the turn in was to the back of the sports centre. I went past one of the Police Officers who was assisting with the event, and asked where it finished: maybe they’d changed the finish point? She said “Not far” but gave no other indication as to where to go. I was so happy when I say the yellow coat of a marshal directing me in to the path that leads to the pitches at the back of the sports centre. Stuart from BRR was there to guide us in and he looked genuinely delighted to see me. More words of encouragement from him, and I headed onto the grass. I may have mentioned that I got overtaken on this section last year, and I didn’t want it to happen again. I still found it tough as the grass was a bit uneven, but I was ready for that slope this time and got up it without stumbling. The funnel to the finish mat was narrower than I remembered, but I sprinted for it, shouted in by Alan and Pamela. I didn’t even check the clock, I was just listening for footsteps and trying to sprint. I did manage that better than last year, clocking a not terrible 10mph pace.
When I crossed the line I was full of relief, and just a little light-headed. I grabbed hold of the top of a pile of boxes, gratefully took my goody bag, and turned around to look for Tracy. And there she was, sprinting for the line. We both got hugs from Alan, and she told me she’d been closing in on me, but I’d dropped her on that down hill section and it had taken too long to work her way back to completely close the gap.
I’d promised to try and get photos of Carolyn and Kate coming in, so jogged back to the Hall to get my camera. On the way the guy at the results van printed out my slip. I’d managed 1:16:50, a whole 3:27 slower than last year. And I was 11 places down at 17th, and 4th in my age category. But it was a very different race, in very different conditions. And I was still First Footer. I passed Andy at the same place as last year, and he asked if I wanted a photo. I told him I was on my way to get my camera, but didn’t see him again until after the feast.
I completely failed to get photos of Carolyn and Kate. Vicky had crossed the line before I returned with the camera, so the three of us (Tracy, Vicky and I) got a group photo, then I found Lyn and had a chat with her. On checking my watch, I realised I might have missed Carolyn so moved down the finishing stretch with camera ready. I got a poorly timed photo of Anna finishing, but couldn’t see Carolyn anywhere. I cheered on some runners, particularly the ones that were sprinting for the line, and then I spied Joni: not running, she had already finished, as had Ashleigh, Pamela, Debbie and Carolyn. They hadn’t enjoyed it much with that wind, but were happy to be finished. We were all a few minutes down on last year, except Debbie who’d been running with a friend last year rather than racing. They decided to head in for food as they needed to head off sooner rather than later. I thought I’d still have time to get a photo of Kate: she’d been aiming for 9:30s on the way out and 9:15s on the way back, but had no idea what the wind would do to that plan. So I’d been thinking she would be close to 1:40. However, she appeared from the finishers tent having run a phenomenal 1:34:06! She said she had hated the race and almost gave up on one of the hills. But she’d managed PRs for 1 mile, 2 miles, 10k, 10 miles and 15k! And a second fastest 5k. A little later on (after we’d been fed) she qualified her statement and agreed the second half had been much more enjoyable. She’d gone past several runners on the way back in, and with the wind at her back she’d pulled off an incredible negative split. I pointed out she should find it easy to get a sub 2-hour half marathon this year after this performance, and I think she’s feeling fairly buoyed by that now.
As always, the food afterwards was fantastic. The event is catered by Pie Bob’s. This year it was sandwiches and sausage rolls, so I had a quarter sandwich each of tuna, chicken tikka and cheese, and not one but two sausage rolls. I also took a chocolate tiffin and a fly cemetery, just in case the cakes went or the queue for the food got too long. I ate part of my lunch chatting to Carolyn and Michael whilst their kids ate a cake apiece, then joined Kate at the back of the food queue: she’d gone to get her results print out and had to wait a bit, by which time the lunch queue had lengthened considerably. The volunteers on catering had the bright idea of bringing paper plates to the folk in the queue to speed things up slightly, and Gail also brought round a tray of sandwiches for people to eat whilst they waited for the main selection.
We ate the rest of our lunch on the floor of the sports hall, then I managed to catch up with a few of the Forfar Road Runners I’ve met at previous events, with the lovely Wendy from Montrose parkrun, with the Brechin ladies again, and with Mandy from Stonehaven. I wondered if Lyn had already left, but then spotted her thanks to the amazing and very easy-to-spot-in-a-crowd Dry robe that she wears after events and had another chat about the upcoming London and Chicago marathons. Stuart and Loz appeared too, having finally been relieved from their duties. And their lovely trainee guide dog Warwick, who refused to pose properly for his photo, despite me holding a doggy treat for him. Never work with children or animals, as they say.
I’d been meaning to nip to the loo, and go back and take a photo of the amazing spread, but never got around to either. Mary made an announcement that the Prizegiving would commence in about 5 minutes time, so Kate and I headed over and I dumped my camera on her, asking if she would get photos of Tracy and I, and whoever else got prizes. No pressure there, sorry Kate! She did a great job with the photos, as did Karen who was taking photos for the Footers. Mary did a fantastic job. There were no mix-ups this year and the prize-giving went smoothly. I hadn’t thought we would get a team prize this year as I’d been told a lot of fast runners had missed last year due to the postponement. So I was delighted that Arbroath Footers got 2nd Team. Vicky, Tracy and I got a bottle of wine each for that, in addition to the wine for First Footer and First Local respectively. I was also pleased that Forfar Road Runners got 3rd Team. Hazel is great, and Tracy Morgan had finished 5th overall, so it seemed only fair that she should get something. Tracy was also lucky enough to win one of the spot prizes: a running top. I think Run4It may donate some of the spot prizes, or at least provide the bags, but the Footers definitely provide some of the clothing prizes in addition to the wine, and it’s really generous. Although maybe 150 people had stayed for the prizegiving – a huge proportion compared to most events, particularly since it requires waiting around for about an hour if you finish in the front 30% of the pack – Mary was still sometimes calling out 3 of 4 numbers before a winner was still in the room. I said it last year and I’ll say it again: Always stick around when there are spot prizes folks!
So, it was now 2:00pm, 3 hours after the start of the race, and it was finally over. But not quite. I finally saw Tina and Christine, who had been the tail runners/ walkers. They both came over to congratulate me and give me a hug. Then it was time to head back to Brechin so Kate could get some time with her family. My other half had told me “Don’t bother coming back if you don’t win it” so I wasn’t entirely sure I’d get back in my own house. I showed him the cup, but he wasn’t impressed with my finishing position. I told him I had to upload photos and write a race report, and he was like “How long can it take to write “I lost””. He’s absolutely hilarious and I love him to pieces.
Anyway, as I said last year, this is a fantastic, superbly organised race, and the food afterwards is amazing. I may be biased as a Footer myself, but this chimes with what a lot of people in the hall said after the race, and the feedback on social media such as Running Friends Scotland. You really do get a lot for your entry fee. If you’re female, don’t have an allergy to hills, and fancy a ten mile race at or near the start of your racing year, this should definitely be top of your list.