This race had gone unexpectedly well for me in 2018. I knew this year wasn’t going to be a repeat of that, as my Footers clubmate Tracy Paterson was signed up, as was Dundee Road Runner Gillian Sangster. I’m well-matched with both of them pace-wise for 10 milers, but both of them are much faster than me over 5k. Joni (who kindly gave me a lift there and back) had forgotten she and her daughter were signed up until she got the reminder email the weekend before, and they’re both also speedy over 5k. So, I knew I had no chance of winning, and only a slim chance of making the top 3. (Even though Michael told me before I left the house that “This is the race you win, if you don’t win it, don’t bother coming back.” I proceeded to point out some of the horrific medical things that might happen to me if I pushed it too hard, but he remained adamant. I’ve definitely mentioned before: he’s hilarious.)
Joni picked me up at 9:45am and it only took about 20 minutes to get to Crombie. The lady on car park duties told us where to go and gave us a free parking slip. As soon as we were parked, Fiona Edwards came over with her box of tablet. She sells tablet at local races to raise money for breast cancer research, so we bought 6 bars between us, then headed to registration where Heidi was hoping to get an on-the-day entry. Presumably enough people had cancelled, as she got a bib number. So we were all set, except for a trek to find toilets further from the starting point to avoid the queue. Bib numbers securely on vests, and bags and water bottles stashed in the bag drop room, and there was time to get a few photos and chat to a few folk before a quick warm-up. Or, at least, I thought there was. Less than a quarter of the way down the road for a warm up I noticed everyone was heading to the start area, and a marshal told me the race briefing was starting, so I had to jog back a little sooner and faster than intended. It did mean I was in the front row though.
The race briefing hadn’t actually started, so I found Tracy and Fiona Gibson (whom I hadn’t met until 10 minutes beforehand when Charlotte introduced us: Fiona’s marathon times are similar to mine and she’s a really good ultra runner. Charlotte had thought we might do well running together, but that was hopelessly optimistic regarding my abilities on that front). We had a quick chat, and noticed that Gillian didn’t seem to be there. Assuming we were right, I was hoping that there would either be two Footers in the top 3, or one Footer and one Brechin runner – I just wasn’t sure which ones it would be (other than Tracy).
After the briefing, we got the 3,2,1, Go, and headed down the gentle tarmac slope for fifty or a hundred metres before taking a shallow right onto the trail that goes past the toilets we had used to avoid the queues at the start. I’d started out running alongside Tracy and Fiona, but by the time we got to the toilet block I had let them get a couple of metres in front. I’d checked my watch and knew the initial pace (sub 7:00 per mile) wasn’t sustainable for me, so I tried to drop back to 7:20 pace. If only I could have kept it at that, things would have gone better for me. This loop is only around 1km so there are quite a lot of turns, but there are Marshals at every possible point where you could get lost. The second one I encountered was Harry, who I first met at Montrose parkrun. He gave me some encouragement and made sure I went the right way. At this point I could still see Tracy and Fiona. It looked like Tracy was opening up a gap there though.
This loop ends with a bridge heading over the stream, and then you’re off along the grassy side of the Loch. Within a third of a mile into the race, three young girls had gone past me: two of whom I had car-shared with. Heidi and Maiya usually beat me at Intervals, but their parkrun times are slower than mine, so I thought I might be able to reel them back in later on. Joni had also gone past me around the half mile point though. She’d sat behind me for several seconds, then came up alongside. I’d thought maybe I could run with her, but after about 10 seconds I realised I didn’t have it in me today, and she went slightly ahead, slowly but surely increasing her lead over me. I noticed her running style looks more efficient than mine, with more of a kick behind her. She’s slowly easing back into shorter races after having an excellent first marathon in London last month, so I was happy to see her having a strong run, but also a little disappointed in myself that I couldn’t stick with her at least for a while.
The grassy section takes you back past the initial Start (and Finish) line so we got some cheers of support there. Andy Scott cheered me on, as did Pauline Rushworth (though that may have been a bit further round, it’s all a bit of a blur). I could still see Tracy and Fiona up ahead, but couldn’t see what had happened to that third young girl. Maybe she was way ahead of Tracy? Or maybe she’d just come along for the start and wasn’t actually running the race? I had no idea. Tracy and Fiona had opened up a fair gap on Heidi and Maiya, but Tracy seemed to have a pretty decent gap over Fiona too. I wondered if she was feeling as paranoid as I did last year, but I never saw her look back to check the gap.
On leaving the open, grassy side of the Loch you are onto narrow trails and under cover of trees for the next 1.6 or so miles. The path has a number of twists and turns, but is largely very flat (though it felt more undulating than I remembered from last year). Last year there had been a couple of muddy sections and one large puddle, but this year there was none of that,with the ground being dry and firm, except for one slippy bit that I failed to notice but which caused one of the Flyers to go flying.
The path follows the edge of the Loch, and then loops away from it for a short while. I could still see Joni and the girls in front, and that gave me something to chase. The first mile had buzzed in at a disappointing 7:35 and I wasn’t enjoying this, but I had people to chase, and couldn’t hear anyone nearby behind me. My pace continued to drop though, as we went past a few friendly dog walkers on the winding path, and I stopped looking at my watch as it wasn’t telling me anything I wanted to know. I was waiting for the buzz at 2 miles, but never heard it and the next time I checked my watch it was at 2.05 miles. The pace reading said something terrible like 8:10 per mile, so I tried to pick it up. Joni had moved further ahead of me by this point, and looked like she might be gaining on Heidi. Maiya had started to slow down, and Joni went past her at some point before we got back to the Loch side.
As we were heading back towards the Loch, I wasn’t really pushing it as, asides from not feeling great, I wasn’t aware of any need to. Clearly it wasn’t my day, and I wasn’t going to catch Joni or Heidi. But I also couldn’t hear anyone reeling me in. Around 1.6 miles or so, though, I suddenly became aware that there was someone gaining ground on me. I didn’t want to look round, but my guess was it would be another Footer – either Vicky or Christie. Then the marshal at the top left corner of the lake, before you head to the Discovery Trail, shouted something along the lines of “Well done Footers”, and I realised both Vicky and Christie were there. Round the corner and over the bridge, and Vicky was on my shoulder shortly after that. I said “Well done” and she eased past. I got another couple of hundred metres along the route before Christie also went past. Vicky had also caught Joni by this point, so I thought it might be a Footers 1 and 3. But I wasn’t sure about Heidi. And Tracy and Fiona were now so far ahead that I’d lost sight of them, so I couldn’t be sure who was going to win that battle.
It’s never great being the person getting overtaken, but at least there didn’t seem to be anyone else about to push me further down the finishing positions. I was, as usual, breathing pretty heavily though Garmin says my average heart rate was only 133 beats per minute, and Strava gave me a Relative Effort score of 13, which is more like a walk! It certainly felt like I was putting in some effort though. I did manage to overtake Maiya, who had probably gone too fast initially trying to stick with Heidi and was paying for it in the final kilometres. She’s a great runner though, especially over track distances, and has a lot of potential over 5k. At one of the corners between 3 and 4 kilometres I saw Vicky pull up and was initially worried that she might have pulled a muscle. She was only stopped for a few seconds though (doubled over – it turned out she was trying to dislodge the mucus from the chest cold she’s not really recovered from) before heading off again. That wee stop left Heidi with a more comfortable gap though.
Although I wasn’t enjoying the race much, I did appreciate all the cheers of encouragement, both from the marshals and a few spectators on route. Pauline Rushworth had moved to a different point and cheered me on again, and a couple of the Marshals seemed to know me by name, including one or two I couldn’t place. Maybe it was because of last year’s report? I also went past a female spectator who cheered me on by name. I knew she looked familiar but couldn’t place her at all. It wasn’t until we were getting some fantastic home baking at the end that I realised she was Charlotte’s friend who’d met us at the end of the Stirling Half marathon.
There were a few spectators/ dog walkers who’d got stuck letting us go past, on the way to the bridge back over the stream, and a young girl who looked like she was acting as gatekeeper at the end of the bridge. It only looked like that because I have poor depth perception though, and she was actually a couple of feet back from the bridge and kindly pointing the way. The Marshal told me I was looking strong (which I’m pretty sure was a kindly lie) and that it wasn’t far to the finish line. I checked my watch and realised it was only about 500 metres to go. I was pretty relieved about this, though it solidified the knowledge that I had no hope of catching Joni and Christie. Christie seemed to have gone ahead of Joni around the 3.5km point, but now Joni looked like she might be reeling her back in.
We were finally back on tarmac, and I was hoping maybe the route was slightly short. My watch said 2.85 miles, so apparently there was another quarter of a mile to go. Surely it couldn’t be that far? It hadn’t seemed it on the walk in or during the warm up. I checked the time on my watch for the first time since mile 1, and saw it was at over 22 minutes. Surely it couldn’t still be another 500 metres? The long gentle uphill (which didn’t feel gentle) did look rather long though, and I couldn’t remember how much further the Finish line was once you rounded the final corner, so I picked up the pace but not by much. I hadn’t really been checking my watch much as it was just too depressing, but mile 3 buzzed in at a very disappointing 8:02 and I decided I wanted to finish at least a bit stronger than that. Andy was watching from the grassy area along the Loch, which was about 8 feet above the road, so I didn’t see him. I did hear him shouting at me to keep going though, and it helped spur me on to a bit of a sprint. Then I heard Tracy and Vicky cheering me on too, and saw Claire standing with her clipboard ready to mark the time. I finally looked at the clock, hoping it was at 23 – something, but it had already gone over to 24 before I spotted it. Oh well, a minute slower than last year wasn’t great, but at least it was over.
I thanked Claire, then thanked Harry who was back from marshalling that second corner and on his next volunteer role. He handed me a goody bag (I’d forgotten there were goody bags – it seemed pretty decent for a race that has such a low entry fee), and I then went to speak to the three Footers who had already finished. I asked Tracy if she had won, and she said she had, so I congratulated her and she gave me a hug. Fiona said she’d come second, but a pretty clear second to Tracy. I shook her hand, and asked Vicky how she had done. She hadn’t managed to overtake Heidi, but was surprised that an under 16 had been allowed to run. I know some races allow it and some don’t but had no idea what the rules were for this one: as someone who doesn’t have kids, it’s not something I’ve ever had to give any thought to. Fiona kindly agreed to be in a photo, and I eventually managed to round up the first three finishers for that.
I got to see a lot of people I knew cross the line, and got a wee chat with Wendy and Laura, amongst others. After the final runner (and tail runner Charlotte) appeared we headed for the awesome home baking. Although I’d not been as quick off the mark this year there was still plenty left when I got there. I selected half an egg salad roll and a sausage roll, then got overwhelmed at the amount of cakes on offer. Someone had mentioned to me that they’d read my report from last year and signed up specifically because I’d praised the array of home baking so highly. I was feeling in need of chocolate, so selected a chocolate tiffin and another small but very rich, sticky chocolate cake/ tray bake that were both delicious. I also took a lovely ginger cookie (I think it was ginger) which was covered in tiny silver balls, because the sparkles were so inviting. I clearly either took too much food, talked too much, or just eat too slowly, as I hadn’t finished the final tray bake before the prize giving started.
I tried to get photos of the prizegiving but I didn’t time them very well. People don’t stick around long enough and pose. The winning three all got Run4It vouchers, there was a trophy for one of the Running Sisters, and several buffs were given out as spot prizes. Vicky is also going to be getting a prize as 3rd senior. A nice end to a well-organised race, and we all started heading back to the car park. I’m pretty sure nobody would have any room left to eat their tablet after such a spread, but I’m sure it’ll keep for a month or so.
Obviously this race didn’t go well for me. I started poorly and it got worse, until the final couple of hundred metres. My average pace for Stirling Half marathon was 4:35 per kilometre, and my average pace here, just three weeks later and over a much shorter distance, was only 4:52 per kilometre. I did think that maybe I should try to explain in this report as to why I had such a slump, but then I decided there are some things I don’t really want to put on the internet. To be fair, several people who know at least part of what’s happening with me (only Michael and my Mum have heard the full account) probably wish I hadn’t told them any of it. (I’d put in an emoticon here, but after putting one in a previous post Michael said it looks terrible, and he’s right.) But I’d very much like to stress that, even though I wasn’t in optimal form, that wouldn’t have had any impact on the finishing positions. I’m slower on trail than roads, and the top three runners all ran times that I would have struggled to beat even on top form. I also really enjoyed the race, or at least the bits surrounding the race, despite my sub-par performance. I knew so many of the women who were running, either from the Footers, BRR, the Flyers or Montrose parkrun, or from local events, and the running community here is fantastic. This is a lovely race, is one of the few women-only races in the local area, is in a beautiful setting, and is very friendly and well-organised. There’s many reasons why it sells out quickly, and if you want to enter next year you better make sure you put the registration date in your calendar: I certainly will.