The Dundee Half DRAM 2018 was the first half marathon distance race I had done since 2005, and I ran it over 28 minutes faster than my previous one and only half marathon. However, I had been tantalisingly close to, but on the wrong side of, 1 hour 40 minutes so I had unfinished business here. I’ve since ran comfortably sub 1:40 at Stirling Half this year, but my health hasn’t been so good since then and my running performance has suffered. I really didn’t want to do this race if I wasn’t going to get under the 1:40 mark, but I wasn’t totally confident that I would.
Blood test results at the start of this week finally told me why I’ve been tired for months: I’m moderately anaemic and am now on a course of iron tablets. I’ve only been on them for a few days though, so not long enough to have a noticeable impact. I’d done a solo 10 mile run the previous week where I was meant to do 4 miles at Half Marathon pace but came in 10 – 15 seconds per mile slower, and I’d done an 8 mile run with the Footers where I put in some half-decent-paced strides and a couple of miles at a decent pace with Alan and Gerry, but wilted in the final couple of miles on some not-very-steep hills. They say adrenaline gets you the extra speed on race day though, so I decided to give it my best shot. I’d considered pacing Kate to a sub 2-hours but, even though she said she wasn’t feeling it, I knew she would smash it with or without my company.
Kate, Keith and I headed through to Camperdown in plenty of time, and managed to catch up with several people we knew from various clubs in the local area. I also managed to bump into my boss on the way out of the ladies: we’d gone at the right time as the queue was much longer when we exited.
Camperdown Park was getting pretty busy, and I found most of the folk I was hoping to chat to, but I couldn’t see Rolf. Apparently the Tay Road Bridge was closed, so some folk coming from Fife might not get there on time, but of course the race couldn’t be delayed. I also forgot to look for Quintin, and it was really busy by the time I remembered so I guessed I’d ask the tablet lady at the end if she knew where he was since he claimed that was his sole reason for coming through.
We were divided into three groups, but this year they stuck with sub 1:30 for the first group, so I joined what felt like 80% of the runners in the 1:30 – 2:00 hour group. A fairly succinct but thorough race briefing, then we were off. Keith Jackson (my nemesis, apparently) shot off like a hare, overtaking 100+ runners before I’d got to the bend that takes you left around the main building and onto the trail, and I heard a few shouts of “Good luck Pauline” or similar. I recognised one as Gary (from our Cookie Crew), and I think one might have been a couple of ladies from Montrose parkrun, but I couldn’t place the third. It turned out it was Nicky, who was there to support Barry who was doing the full Marathon. I don’t envy those doing the marathon as it’s a pretty lonely second half, and running past the finish line of the half must be so tough psychologically.
The first mile in particular was really tough for me. My watch pace readings were all over the place (probably due to the trees affecting GPS) but they were never quicker than 8:15 per mile, and often much slower. This felt tough – tougher than last year. It must be the anaemia. And possibly also not having Steve (or anyone else I knew) to talk to and distract me from the climb. The first kilometre in particular is really narrow and you can’t run more than two abreast for most of it, so there were several people overtaking me and I felt a bit disheartened. I went past a lady wearing a red top that said “The worst thing about running clubs is that they are full of runners.” and told her I liked her top. Further on, I went past a guy wearing a yellow vest with a Mr Happy on the back. I asked if the smile on his face was as big as the one on his back. I did get a smile for that, but not quite as big as the one on the vest. Anything to distract from the doubts that were already beginning to creep into my head. With the GPS being off in this forested section, I was thinking I might not have a shot at sub 1:40 and was calculating how far off the pace I might be at Chicago in October.
The first mile buzzed in at 8:27 and I was a bit disappointed, but also relieved that it wasn’t the nearly 9:00 minutes I’d been expecting. I could claw that back. I’d thought about checking my splits from the previous year on Strava but then forgotten to/ ran out of time. If I’d done so, I’d have been heartened to see it was exactly the same pace as last year. I had though remembered that Steve had forgotten about the second climb on the trail, even though I’d forgotten the road crossing in the trail section which takes you from Camperdown Park to Templeton Woods (luckily I got straight over, as with every road this year), so I didn’t pick up the pace too much until around two miles.
The second mile buzzed in at 8:07, and I was pretty sure that was worse than last year. Time to take full advantage of the glorious couple of miles of comfortable downhill along Laird Street and Harestane Road. With gradients of -3 to -5% or thereabouts it’s not so steep that you feel the need to put the breaks on. I knew I might pay for it later, but I put the foot down and went past several runners on that section. This is also where you start to get spectators out on the streets and I thanked everyone who clapped for me. It’s such a boost. Gary, Anna and Lucas had managed to get from the start to around the 2.5 mile point in St Marys, and I got a welcome shout from them. Anna took some photos, and I got a nice high five from Lucas on my way past which cheered me up. At this point I was pretty much running solo as I had left the folk I’d been struggling up the trail with, but hadn’t caught up with the next group of runners. Luckily there were plenty of marshals and the group ahead never got out of sight so I never had any “Which way should I turn” moments.
Mile 3 buzzed in at 6:46, which was decent. If I could maintain a similar pace for the next mile or two I could drop to 7:30 pace on the flats and gentler downhills which would still leave a bit of buffer for that climb up the A92. Mile 4 buzzed in at 6:56. I was slowing down slightly as the descent became more gradual, but the weather was much more optimal for running than last year in that it wasn’t humid, and the sun had thankfully gone behind the clouds after a warmer-than-hoped-for start, so I was feeling much more confident than I had on that trail section.
The route then takes you into Trottick Ponds nature reserve where there is a picturesque pond on the left hand side of the trail. I went past an older guy who struggled to hear my inane chat. I asked what time he had in mind and he said finishing would be good as he was in the Vet 60 category. He was only around 600 metres behind me at Clearwater Park where they add the necessary 700 metres or so to the route by making you run in and back (which usefully lets you see who is within 3 or 4 minutes of you both ahead and behind), so as long as the hill didn’t destroy him I’m sure he’ll have done well.
Slightly further on, I spotted a couple of DRR vests up ahead. I wondered if it was Geoff and the club mate he was meant to be pacing, but as I slowly drew closer I realised it wasn’t anyone I knew. I went past them on the road that takes you out at the Morrisons junction, just before the footbridge over the A90, and said “I wish I could talk whilst running.” They let me past but I pointed out they’d go past me on the next hill if not before. Sure enough, the woman overtook me pretty quickly, as we came off the bridge, but I never saw the guy again.
I did however get another welcome boost. This time it was Pauline Rushworth who was spectating on the way into Finlathen Park. She gave me a big whoop and told me I was doing well. My pace spiked for a few hundred metres after that. Of course, it then dipped with a short climb that would be unnoticeable if I had done more hill sprint training. I had however spotted a guy in a Kirkcaldy Wizards top up ahead. One of the great things about club vests is it means you know who you can ask about random people you’ve met on your running travels. I slowly caught up with him on the way through Finlathen Park and said “You don’t know me, but I know Jock” and proceeded to ask if he knew who had made it through from his club. Rolf wasn’t one of them, but he’d pulled out due to injury – which was the sensible choice – and I was happy to hear it wasn’t due to whatever the bridge incident had been.
Miles 5 and 6 both buzzed in at 7:31, and as we were no longer on a continual descent and it included a climb to the overpass, I was fairly happy with that. I wasn’t feeling as tired as I had at this point last year, but I didn’t know what kind of finish time was realistic. I checked my watch at the halfway point and it was under the 50 minutes I’d need for an even split 1:40, but by less than a minute. No option of easing off then before the final climbs. Heading through Drumgeith Park a tall guy wearing a hydration pack let me past, and said I was going at a good pace. I explained he’d go past me on an uphill, but I was taking full advantage of the downhills. He said he was the opposite. Sure enough, he tucked in behind me, then we ended up running together through what is not the most scenic section of the route, involving a retail park and into the Clearwater Park. His name was Peter and he runs for Monifeith Tri Club. He said he was aiming for 1:37, and we could get there together. On mention of triathlons, I told him about my ridiculously below average cycling ability, and complete ineptitude at swimming. His response was that I could definitely run well. I warned him about the hill around 10 ½ miles, but he didn’t remember there being a hill there. Mile 8 was a slightly quicker 7:18, but I could feel it was just a little too fast for me to sustain, and he went off ahead on the short uphill out of Clearwater.
I’d also been looking to see if I could see any sign of either Keith (Jackson or Black), Michael (who I’d seen up ahead as I was speeding up on that lovely 2 mile downhill section but never got close to catching up with) or anyone else I might know, but there didn’t seem to be anyone I knew so I was clearly well behind them all, or very unobservant. The lady with the jelly babies wasn’t on the Clearwater crossing that year and I was devastated: I needed some sustenance and didn’t want the faff of getting mine out of the Ziploc bag in my back pocket.
Thankfully I didn’t have long to wait before being offered some jelly babies. Two girls had a large bag of them at the other side of the A92 crossing around 9 ½ miles in, and I took a couple, thanking them profusely. I ate one immediately, then had the second as we started climbing. At first I was lulled into a false sense of security: this wasn’t much of a climb at all. No wonder Peter hadn’t thought it was worth calling it a hill. But this year I knew the route, and, even though I couldn’t remember it all that clearly, I knew it was going to get steeper. Sure enough, it kicks in around 10.2 or 10.3 miles. It only lasts around 1.2 kilometres, and Strava says the gradient never goes above 4.7% and is mostly 3% or lower, but it felt tougher than that.
I did however get another boost on the A92 stretch. Completely unexpectedly, a guy in a baseball cap leaned out of a red car heading towards Dundee, and shouted something like “Well done Pauline.” It was Stuart McConnachie, an author on this site. I was pretty happy to see him and get another personalised cheer. I was a little worried that he might get stuck for a while at the various crossings though and, sure enough, he’d been stuck in a tailback when Kate saw him around 15 minutes later. I did go past a few guys on the hill, but not as many as last year.
The turn right onto West Grange Road and past the final water station was very welcome, as it meant a good downhill stretch. I’d checked my watch at the 10-mile point before we’d started climbing, and though Mile 9 had been a back-on-pace 7:29, mile 10 was a 7:46 – I was beginning to tire. I think those jelly babies gave me some much needed energy though. With a parkrun left to go, I had just over 24 minutes – maybe a little more as my watch was buzzing slightly before the mile markers, probably because of GPS inaccuracies exacerbated by all the wooded sections. I thought sub 1:40 was almost definite, even with the climb, but it had slowed me to an 8:00 11th mile, so I needed to pick up the pace on the descent.
And suddenly, as if the downhill wasn’t enough encouragement by itself, I had another reason. At this point last year I had spotted and went past a guy who was Keith Jackson’s doppleganger. This year, halfway down Grange Road, I finally had the real Keith Jackson in my sights for the first time since the 50 metre mark. Could I catch him? He’s a good training buddy and we have a friendly rivalry, though he’s got much better pace over shorter distances than I do. I just need to talk him into doing an Ultra with me so I can grind him down. I put my foot on the gas and took advantage of the downhill, knowing there was a short climb after we rounded the corner left into Durham Street.
“Hi Keith” I shouted, as I ran alongside him. There was actually a guy between us who I was overtaking on the pavement. Keith was like “Oh no. How long have you been behind me watching me failing?” I said I’d only spotted him on Grange Road. I edged ahead of him, and he said he was struggling, but if he found anything he’d catch me up. I told him to just go past me, but he wasn’t able to on the climb.
At the top of the street I got another unexpected surprise. Lisa from the Footers was marshalling there, and she cheered me on and got a couple of photos to prove I had overtaken Keith. The photos also unfortunately show I hadn’t put much distance between us. I thought he might catch me on the stupidly curved bridge (it doesn’t need to have such a steep climb and descent, surely) over the railway line onto the cycle path heading towards the Esplanade. I went past a nice marshal who shouted “Well done Montrose.” There was no “Well done Arbroath”, so I shouted back “And Arbroath too.” Keith said something derogatory about Arbroath to wind me up, and I stuck a finger up. It only took about 3 seconds for him to draw alongside me, just past the 12 mile mark.
Mile 12 had been a fairly speedy 7:07 with that decent downhill, but the wind was against us on the beach path, and I knew it was a long mile and a bit to the finish. Keith seemed to have completely recovered from that short climb and was striding out confidently whereas I was tired, struggling, and just wanting it to be over. I said well done and told him to go ahead. He said “No, no, we can motivate each other.” and stuck with me for a few seconds. Then he spoiled that noble sentiment slightly by striding ahead, saying “Come on Pauline”, and tapping the side of his leg twice like he was calling his dog, Flynn! I watched him stride off and didn’t have the power to stick with him. I was hoping he’d sprinted too early and I might catch him on the grass, but I didn’t hold out much hope for that.
I passed a few walkers and one said “Well done, you’re nearly there.” But there was still half a mile or more to go. I was checking my watch and trying to calculate my likely finish time. The pace was stubbornly saying 7:35 and wouldn’t pick up. I knew there was absolutely no hope of a 1:37, but surely I could still squeak under 1:39? Under the underpass, round to the left, along a short section of road then through the bollards and onto the grassy section.
Now the finish was thankfully in sight, and there was Pauline Rushworth cheering me on again. I also got cheers from Andy Scott and a couple of other parkrunners, and there were more cheers from people I couldn’t even spot in the crowd. These turned out to include Lesley and Brenda from Montrose, who kindly took and forwarded a few photos to me. I looked up at the clock and it said 1:38 something. Was there any chance I could get over the line before it turned to 1:38:30. Alas no, the finish line was too far away, and I always struggle on grass. I tried to kick, but my sprint finish was slower than most of miles 3 and 4. I dipped gratefully over the line at 1:38:37, hoping I’d started far enough back for that to still be a chip time below 1:38:30. On checking the results after dinner, I was pleased to see my time was 1:38:25. 61 seconds slower than Stirling, but a course PB by 112 seconds, albeit in more favourable weather conditions. I was 96th out of over 550 runners, 14th female, and 6th in my age and gender category.
On finishing, a guy who knew my name shook my hand and said well done. I then quickly staggered over to collect a bottle of water and finishers bag. I didn’t even bother looking in the bag, but immediately opened the water and downed several large gulps of it. Both Keith’s (Black and Jackson) came over. I shook my nemesis’ hand first, and congratulated him on besting me – this time – then shook Keith Black’s hand and asked how he’d done. He’d been using it as a benchmark for Kirkcaldy Parks at the end of August, where he’s hoping to squeak under 1:30. He managed a sub 1:33 here, in his first Half since 2015, so I think he’s got a good chance of attaining his goal. Peter from Monifeith popped over to ask if I’d managed my time. I told him it was about 1:38:30, which wasn’t quite what I wanted but was a decent course PB so I was happy with it. He’d stayed ahead of Keith Jackson, so had got a 1:37 something by the gun time. It looked like it would be a PB by his chip time though.
I then spotted the Kirkcaldy Wizard I had spoken to (Stuart) sitting on the grass alone, so I popped over to ask how he had got on. He’d run a 1:41 and was happy with that. He had a while to wait on some other club members before he could get the bus back though. A fellow clubmate, Ryan, came over to join us. He’d managed a 1:35 and thought it was a fast course. He’d turned his watch face away from him and run completely by feel. I mentioned I knew Jock and Rolf and he was like “Are you the lady that does the blog posts?” Yep, that’s me, and I told him they’d get a mention in the report if I could remember their names, so I hope I got them correct. I then managed to catch up with Michael Royden, who’s coming back from an injury and managed a splendid 6-minute course PB (and was a couple of minutes ahead of me) and Geoff, who’d gone under 1:34 with a whopping 13 minute course PB. I also saw the DRR lady I’d been leapfrogging. I think I passed her when running with Peter, but thought she’d gone past me again: it was all a bit hazy. I went to congratulate her, and we worked out that I had finished slightly ahead of her.
My watch was now saying 11:27, and I thought we’d better head over to the spectator area to watch for Kate coming in. We found Lesley and Brenda who had got some photos of us finishing and offered to send them to us. I think the first person I saw finishing that I knew was Christie from the Footers, who was running it with a friend. Her son Lucas, who’d given me the high five, ran onto the grass to finish the race with her, and I cheered them both on vociferously. I think Lesley was slightly taken aback at how loudly I can shout, but she got used to it. I was surprised when my watch said 11:32 and Kate hadn’t appeared, but Keith said she had another 5 minutes and he thought she would do it. I’d completely forgotten we started 5 minutes late, and sure enough the finish clock (which I had my back to) was only at 1:55. She appeared fairly soon after, and I was really happy to see she was looking strong and was going to completely smash her 1:59:59 target. The clock time was comfortably sub 1:58 and her chip time was a fantastic 1:56:33. She’d done it over 25 minutes quicker than last year! When she came and found us I gave her a massive hug. She was really happy, and with the Half Series not finished yet I’m sure she’ll make sub -2 the norm from now on.
We saw a few other folk, including Colleen getting her first sub 2 just after Kate, and my boss finishing strongly with her friend, despite an ongoing injury. I shouted loudly for her too. Obviously I never shout about anything at work as that would be unprofessional, so she may not have realised who was yelling on her, but hopefully it was appreciated rather than just confusing or disconcerting.
There were still a couple of Flyers to finish, but we needed to head back as Kate had things to do and Keith was looking forward to Sunday roast, so we headed for the coach to take us back to Camperdown.
At the start, I didn’t enjoy this race much, but miles 3 to 10 were pretty great. It was also good to get a bit of banter with Keith Jackson, even if he did beat me – this time. He said I gave him the kick up the backside that he needed to push on again, and so I’m taking some of the credit for his Half Marathon PB of 1:37:49. Only 25 seconds slower than mine. I’ll be watching my back next time.
As I’ve said previously, the Dundee Half DRAM is worth signing up for if you live in the city or are within easy commuting distance. It mainly follows the green circular route, and is a very mixed route with some nice scenery and some welcome support from spectators. Although it’s rather congested on the trail at the start, the open roads don’t cause a problem as you spread out enough after the first couple of miles for there to be no problem running on pavements, and it was always quick to get across roads when needed. I’ve ran more scenic routes (Glen Clova) but this is pretty pleasant for a city route, and has the benefit of a bit more crowd support (and jelly babies!) when you might need it. It’s also definitely got PB potential with those nice long downhills. I might not be back next year, but that’s only because I suspect it will clash with my trip to Serbia. I also feel as if I no longer have unfinished business, having decisively said goodbye to Neneh Cherry on this course – though I might be back to aim for a Gold Standard.
All photos were taken by friends who agreed to their use, or were taken by myself if there is no acknowledgement beneath the photo.