Having run my one and only half marathon in August 2017 – after which my running more or less ground to a halt until mid 2018, followed by my usual winter lay off using bad weather as an excuse, I had gotten back into it earlier in 2019 than any other year. I was running more miles per week than I had done for a long time, so, along with my girlfriend Gillian, we decided to enter the Loch Leven half as it was only 20 minutes down the road from Perth.
As time got closer I had done more training than Gillian but neither of us were confident: to the point that the week beforehand we were deciding whether to enter or not. My reasoning being that I had previously done the Touch of Tartan half in Perth in 2:04, but was of the opinion if I cannot get below 2 hours at Loch Leven then I didn’t want to do it. Although I had recently done the Tay Ten in 1:24 – and on this basis surely I could scrape the last 3 miles well within time to beat 2 hours. Gillian was concerned that she might be closer to 2:15 and, having done 1:51 in the past, this wasn’t a time she particularly wanted to do.
Anyway, without boring everyone with our life history, on the Wednesday before the race we decided that even with poor times we had nothing to lose other than pride.
Come the morning, having read the emails about limited parking and advising car sharing, we got there reasonably sharp to find the car park full so parked on a side street. Having eventually found registration after being let in through a fire escape, we got our numbers and hung around for a while until it was time to head to the start which was just over a mile away. I knew Charlotte from Brechin Road Runners had managed to get a late transfer and it was nice to bump into her outside the Community Campus and have a quick chat. I figured there was no way I would see her again knowing the speed she runs at. I was correct, as she came in as first FV40.
Walking round to the start we met a neighbour who had run this before and the only information I had heard up until now was that there was a hill at mile 8, but he advised that it wasn’t that bad. We clearly have different ideas of what is and isn’t a bad hill.
Getting to the start line – which was within an industrial estate on the edge of town, the sun was out which was handy as there was a chill in the shade. Working our way to the back half of the pack, listening to the usual announcements over the megaphone we didn’t have to wait long until the start, although I didn’t hear the gun and was only aware when everyone funnelled through over the recording mats.
My aim was to run with Gillian for the first few miles to keep my pace down. However, taking the first corner onto the main road due to the sheer number of other runners I lost her almost immediately.
The route heads south to start with, running parallel to the motorway for around 2.5 miles before heading east in line with the edge of the loch. Everyone was told to keep to the left (although the full left lane was used). As the road was not actually closed which I had not known before then, I quickly realised as cars came towards us from the other side which was no great issue. The first mile had a gentle climb and there were the usual people weaving to try and get into their pace or catch up with friends, but slightly concerningly cars started to come from behind us, slotting in amongst the runners to let cars from the other direction come then pulling out again. Around mile 4 there was a very impatient BMW driver who felt the need to accelerate as hard as possible when passing, then ram on his horn when pulling out from the runners. I had a short spell running alongside someone who had marshalled in the past, and mentioned that a runner was clipped by a car some years before!
I had planned on a nice easy 9 minute mile start for a few miles, then to gently increase the pace with 2 hours being my target. However by mile 3 I had settled into a 8:40ish pace and, although I felt comfortable, I was concerned as I had tired by mile 8 at Tay Ten and obviously had an extra 3 today with little extra training.
Round about mile 4/5 there was a longish incline at which point I wondered if this was the climb which was maybe actually 8K rather than 8 miles and that our neighbour had been correct, that it wasn’t too bad. Having been used to hills around Brechin & Perth I kept my 8:40ish pace and slowly passed others on the climb. At this point we are the closest to the Loch, climbing to the top at roughly the 5 mile mark before a decline for the next couple of miles. Between mile 6 & 7 we turned off onto a busier road which had marshalls keeping us single file but this was a short section before turning off to a downhill towards water stop 2.
There were 4 water stops on the route. I did not take anything at the first stop at roughly 2.5 miles, but did at the other 3. I had mentioned to Gillian that when running Tay Ten I struggled to run and take on water and was nearly choking. She asked if I physically stopped to take a drink. I don’t like to stop as I feel I lose momentum and struggle to get going again with tired legs, but I decided to take on board her thoughts and stopped at the final 3 to ensure I got enough in me and don’t actually think I lost much time as a result. St Johns ambulance had been actively advising everyone to take on plenty water as it had turned out to be a much warmer day than expected.
Water stop 2 was roughly 6.5 miles in, at the bottom of a decline, and the next mile was relatively flat. As we were entering a village at roughly 7.5 miles I noticed a sign saying something about a hill. I then realised that the previous climb was not what I had heard about before – the real hill was round the corner.
From mile 7.5 to 8.5 was the steepest of the climb, but the total was nearer 2 miles. It was probably no worse than anything I had run before, but being past half way my pace did drop to 9 minute miles over this stretch. Again I did feel I was passing many so I should be grateful for the hilly training runs. At the top of the first section, there was a couple with a woman shouting “Look at the Puppy” and handing out high fives which certainly gave a lift for the next section.
Around about 9.5/10 milesm as the saying goes, what goes up, etc. etc. there was a drop, however it seemed so short in comparison to the other side that little recovery was gained. (Perhaps tiredness was setting in). I think at around mile 11/12 there was a group of people cheering on beside what I think was a garden centre/ farm shop where a boy was holding a Mariokart “power up” sign. Having a tap of that seems to give a strange psychological lift.
Hitting mile 11 I could feel the tiredness setting in and my pace had settled at 8:55ish. However seeing my time, my fears of not breaking 2 hours were gone as I was well within. Strava says there was a drop in elevation, however my recollection was that it was quite undulating and at this stage, every incline felt like a mountain.
Just before the last mile, we turned off the road onto a loose pathway by which stage the tiredness had hit and I was clinging on. Half way along I managed to get some protein by the way of a fly, however it got lodged in the back of my throat. The coughing and gagging wasn’t the best way to maintain energy.
Coming to the end of the path we entered a housing estate before an incline which must have been nearly 3000ft, ok maybe 15 but it felt like a munro! Following a pavement for a short spell alongside a main road then back onto a path with 100 metres or so run into the finish line. I found a bit of energy to try and chase down a guy roughly 20 metres in front of me but did not quite manage. There were good crowds alongside the path cheering enthusiastically and the announcer called out names as we came in. Crossing the line my watch told me 1 hour 54 and 29 seconds which I was more than happy with.
After crossing the line, I got my medal which was wooden with a logo lasered into the face of it which was nice and different then alongside the path there were tables with tunnocks caramel wafers, bananas and beer which were for spot prizes, but no sign of water. I asked where the water was to be told it was beside the building at a table. Getting my water and one for Gillian for when she crossed the finish line, I waited and unexpectedly saw her cross in around 2 hours 4 and although not as fast as she would have liked, still faster than the feared 2 hours 15.
Our official times were 1:54:25 with a placing of 252 out of 537 for me (so happy to be in the top half) and 2:03:44 for Gillian. My next half is Aberdeen in August then we both have Auchterarder in November, with my target now to better 1 hour 50.
Although there was not a lot of space for spectators around the route they still made a great effort. At every stopping point available & village they were there cheering everyone on which always gives a lift/ motivation. Despite some minor niggles regarding parking and finding water at the end, all in all it was a great event and fantastic run with stunning views and hills making it a bit of a tougher test.
The photos of Craig, Gillian and Charlotte were taken by William Law who took several hundred photos of the race. His Flickr albumn can be found here