Runners just starting the 10k

Forfar 10K Sunday 18th August 2019

Although the first few races I did all the way back in the mid 2000s as a casual runner were 10ks, this is not my favourite distance. It usually takes me a few kilometres to get properly warmed up, and I’m more confident in my stamina than in my ability to run fast for a sustained distance. I had to DNS from the Forfar 10k 2018 due to injury, and had to withdraw from the St Cyrus 10k this June due to a trip to Gothenburg (the reasons for which will be explained in my next Depth Year diary). So I haven’t been tested at this distance since the BHGE 10k in May 2018, where I had the advantage of being paced by the awesome David Wilson. And, also, not being 10 weeks deep into an 18-week marathon training plan.

Even though I didn’t train specifically for this race, and didn’t taper for it, I was still hopeful of getting a fast enough time to get a respectable 2nd place on the Footers leaderboard for this distance. I’d said at the Club run on Tuesday that I was aiming for sub 46 minutes. (In truth, I wanted sub-45 but wasn’t confident of that. I’ve done a couple of sub-46s in training, but only one sub 45 – and that was the one where I was really dehydrated and ended up peeing blood afterwards – I wasn’t prepared to push myself that hard again.) Chris said I’d better not come back if I didn’t meet my goal, as it would be too embarrassing. He said he was only joking, but I told him I’d emigrate to Sweden if I didn’t manage it. Whether or not he took me seriously is thankfully now a moot point.

Runners just starting the 10k
Runners just starting the 10k. Photo taken by Neil Cooper

I was really disorganised on race morning. I actually managed to get about 7 hours sleep, so was up later than usual. And because, unlike last year, I was the only person heading through from Brechin, I didn’t have a scheduled time to meet people. This resulted in me faffing about doing laundry and things, and not getting to Forfar with much time to spare for registration. I parked a short distance from the football grounds as there was a match on and I didn’t want to waste precious time searching for a parking spot. I messaged Debbie and she kindly came to collect me so I wouldn’t get lost! I made it to registration with under 10 minutes to spare, and with no photo ID, but thankfully Deborah knew who I was and was looking for my number before I said my name.

Debbie and I managed to catch up with several people before the race, including a few Montrose Flyers, Arbroath Footers, Dundee Road Runners and Montrose parkrunners. After bumping into my manager (now my bosses boss following a restructure) at the Dundee Half, I was surprised to encounter another former manager of mine (who is now a high-flying VP), at the Forfar 10k. I knew his main sport was football, but he’s getting back into running and has the advantage of living (and therefore training) somewhere hilly which he hoped would help with this race.

Debbie didn’t want to do any more warm-up drills, so I did some drills with Wendy before heading to the start area where I lined up beside Susan from JogScotland Brechin. About 20 seconds from the start I turned to my other side and realised I was next to Margaret Gamble, so we had the briefest of catch-ups before the race started.

Neil taking a photo of Karen taking a photo of us. Photo courtesy of Neil Cooper
Neil taking a photo of Karen taking a photo of us pre-race. Photo courtesy of Neil Cooper.

I didn’t have a plan for what pace to go at, and it doesn’t help that my new smartwatch, though fantastic and more accurate on heart rate thanks to the chest strap, is less accurate in terms of GPS meaning the pace readings are often wildly inaccurate. It’s a downhill start and I got a bit caught up in the initial rush. It didn’t feel unsustainably fast though, and I could see some DRR folk I know, so I figured I wasn’t pushing it too much. It felt okay, but my heart rate was already in zone 4 and we hadn’t seen the 1km sign yet. After the initial steep downhill you turn left onto Market Street and it’s fairly flat then starts to climb slightly. The gradient is pretty gentle though. The race is on open roads so we only had the left-hand lane, but it wasn’t too congested. I caught up with Geoff Campbell from DRR on the way up the hill. He was running with another DRR runner (who I think was the lady I overtook on the bridge at the Dundee Half, but I’m not completely sure). They were aiming for around 46 minutes, so I said I’d better speed up a bit. We had a quick chat about marathons though: I think he said he’s off to do the Oslo marathon in 6 weeks time, which sounds like one for the bucket list.

There’s a fairly sharp right-hand turn onto Prior Road, and then you get another nice downhill section. I checked my watch at this bit and saw I was at 0.7 miles (I stupidly leave my watch in miles for races that are measured in kilometres). I asked the tall guy in a blue t-shirt who was currently running next to me whether there were kilometre markers on the route, as I hadn’t seen the first one. I was worried that meant my GPS had gone really screwy and I would have no idea of pace or distance. He said we’d passed one just a little way back, so I decided to keep more of an eye out for the remaining ones. On the way down the hill my watched buzzed the first mile at 7:02. Having not even properly raced a parkrun for several weeks, I was pretty happy with that. A bit off my Baker Hughes splits, but the pace felt sustainable. I knew the second half was tougher than the first half, but maybe a sub 45 was a possibility? It felt too early to tell though.

That lovely downhill start. Photo courtesy of Emma Falconer.
Crowd heading out down that nice downhill start. Photo courtesy of Emma Falconer.

It was also very different weather than I had been expecting. The day had started out overcast, drizzly, and windy. Standing on the start line, I commented to Susan that I wished I had brought a running cap as it had become very sunny and warm all of a sudden, and I was worried I might get sunburned. At least the dread of sunburn might help me run quicker. It was still rather breezy though, which was great when it was at your back, but not when running into it.

I saw the 2km sign near the end of Prior Road, checked my watch and did some arithmetic. 45 minutes requires 4:30 per kilometre. So, if I was there before the 9:00 minute mark I was on pace. I think my watch said 8:49. Could I hold this pace for another 8 kilometres? And how accurate was the GPS? As I was measuring it in miles I couldn’t tell how long or short it was going to measure.

We turned sharply left onto Montrose Road and had to stay on the pavement for a while, which affected my rhythm slightly as there was no room to overtake. There were a smattering of spectators though, and it was nice to get a few claps and cheers of encouragement. The road heads out of town into the countryside, and we were back onto the road. I think this section also forms part of the Forfar Multi Terrain Race. It’s a very gentle climb, nothing too strenuous. I caught up with a younger lady with long brown hair running in a DRR top and asked what time she was looking to achieve. She’d gone past me on Prior Road where she’d sped past several runners to get to a better position, but was now running much more comfortably. She said around 45 minutes. I told her I didn’t know how to pace 10ks so was treating this like a 5k and would probably blow up shortly after the halfway point, then edged ahead of her. She did go past me again, but not until the final kilometre.

Me mid-race smiling for the camera.
Me mid-race smiling for the camera. Photo courtesy of Helen Sara Mackie.

I could see Michael Royden up ahead, running with a Perth Road Runner. They seemed to be deep in conversation – not something I was managing to achieve with anyone. I find 10k pace is just too fast for that, and if you can talk conversationally then you’re not running hard enough. To be fair though, I’d checked my heart rate and it said maximum, which was a bit disconcerting given I had about 70% of the race still to go. I was breathing through my mouth again, but even though my watch tells me my lactate threshold is 7:40 pace, I was going over 35 seconds faster than that with no noticeable lactate build up, and actually sped up in that third mile to 6:52 pace. I wasn’t closing the gap on Michael though.

One of the nice things about 10ks is that the markers are in kilometres and they come up with surprising frequency compared to mile markers. I kept doing the mental arithmetic, and was pretty happy with what those calculations were telling me. At the 5km marker my watch was at 21:52 I think – it was definitely just under the 22-minute mark. I haven’t recorded a sub-22 parkrun this year, so I might need to actually treat it as a race soon and see what I can manage. Was there any hope of a sub 44? My legs were beginning to feel a little heavy though, and I knew the second half was tougher.

Some happy Footers after the race.
Some happy Footers after the race. Photo courtesy of Neil Cooper.

Shortly after the halfway point we were directed left onto a quiet road heading West in the direction of Lunanhead. There was a noticeable climb here, and I felt my pace slowing. I spotted another sign on the side of the road and optimistically thought we’d reached the 6km point, though I did think it was rather quick. A second glance revealed it to be an indication that we were approaching a water stop. I had brought an 150ml soft water flask with me, which was safely zipped up in my back pocket. I hadn’t taken the time to use it, but it had relegated my car keys to my front (unzipped) pocket. It always slows me down getting anything from there though, and several guys up ahead were taking the opportunity to stop or walk for 5 – 10 seconds to get some water on board. I nodded my intention to take a cup from the young lad at the front of the station, and he offered me two cups. I slowed to a walk and took a few large sips before heading off. Michael had stopped for a longer drink and I said hi on the way past, expecting he’d overtake me soon to catch up with the Perth runner who hadn’t waited on him.

It took a bit of time to get back into a rhythm after stopping, but Michael didn’t go past me. I felt I’d slowed a bit, and sure enough mile 4 turned out to be a slower 7:18. I started panicking that maybe I was going to blow sub-45, but remembered that the water stop would have taken nearly 10 seconds of that. We were directed left onto the busier Old Brechin Road, but only for a short section before turning right onto Suttieside Road. Whilst it was nice to get onto a quiet road, the climb was unwelcome. With over 6.5km in the legs, what would have been an easy gradient was now less so on heavier legs. I dug in and kept that Perth Road Runner in view as the road turned, then turned, then turned again.

Sam looking fiercly determined on the final sprint up the hill
Sam looking fiercely determined on the final sprint up the hill, chasing after Brenda. It was her first 10k race! Photo courtesy of Neil Cooper.

At the 8km marker my watch time suggested I was still on for a comfortable sub-45. But there was a steeper climb up ahead. The sun had thankfully gone in behind clouds again so I was no longer concerned about sunburn, but the wind had picked up and was against us so the hill was tough going.  The guy from Perth, who I think said he was called Grant, said something like “Come on lass”, and told me I could tuck in behind him. He mentioned he’d read an article of mine where I’d discussed using that strategy. I appreciated the offer, and did try to tuck in a little (he was certainly tall enough) but wasn’t sure it made as much difference as at Baker Hughes or Smokies when there were more people to form an effective barrier. That wind had hit me as soon as we had turned back towards Forfar around the 7km mark and I’d gone from thinking 44 was an optimistic possibility to thinking I had no chance of a 45-minute time as it pushed back against my momentum. Grant said he was a running coach and offered a few tips. In the end I couldn’t keep up with him and he headed off ahead on a welcome downhill section, though not before warning me there was another hill to come. Michael Royden also finally caught back up with me and went past. I said well done and told him I’d been expecting him to overtake.

Sure enough, at the welcome 9km marker (which I reached around 40:02 I believe, and was too tired to work out what that meant for my likely finishing time given the steep uphill finish) we started to climb again. It wasn’t a long climb though, and you turn a shallow corner into the industrial estate. This was where I had gone to take photos last year, and knew it couldn’t be too far from the finish. One of the marshals on the corner said something along the lines of “Keep going, you’re doing well girl.” and I tried to pick it up a bit before the top of the hill. I knew the next section was flat and/ or downhill, and tried to take advantage of that whilst thanking the marshals on the way past. I also overtook Michael on the flat section, and asked if he could get me to the finish line in under 44:50. He said I would get under that time, but didn’t try to stick with me.

Looking relaxed or tired? Hard to say. Photo courtesy of Neil Cooper.
Looking relaxed or tired? Hard to say. Notice the weird way my lower legs fail to tan! Photo courtesy of Neil Cooper.

That final downhill is lovely, and I got back to a half-decent pace on it. But I couldn’t remember where the finish was – not having run it last year or seen the finish due to taking photos on the course, and realised my GPS was slightly out. Thankfully I could see a group of marshals and Police Officers up ahead directing us back up that nice steep hill towards the football ground. Somewhere in this final section, the DRR lady I had passed in the third kilometre sprinted past me. I said well done, but didn’t have it in my legs to chase her down. The finishing area was lined with spectators though and I got a few shouts of encouragement, including from Graeme who was on marshalling duties, and Andy who was waiting on Wendy. And though I couldn’t see the finish line I knew it was just around the corner. My watch tells me I got up to about 5:55 pace – not my best sprint finish but 10mph on a steep hill isn’t easy to do.

I finally noticed the big timer clock when I was over halfway up the hill before turning the corner to the finish. It was at 44:36 when I noticed it, and I knew that the fastest time submitted for the Footers Race Series this year was around 44:50. Was there a chance I could get the fastest ladies 10k of the year so far? I kicked even harder once I noticed this, and crossed the timing mats at 44:49, punching the air with both arms. It was a pretty close call, but it had taken a few seconds for me to get across the start line so I was pretty confident I’d edged it! This was an easier course than St Cyrus, but I was still delighted with the achievement. It’s not a distance PB, but it’s only the second time I’ve gone sub-45 minutes in a 10k race – and the only time I’ve done so without the benefit of a friend pacing me round.

Goody bag contents
Medal, bib number and goody bag contents. The banana is one of my over-ripe ones as I was hungry and ate the much nicer one from the race before I left Forfar! Also, the colours are off because I took the photo in Art Vivid mode without checking it, and ate some of the contents before noticing the mistake.

I headed straight out of the finish area, took my medal (of the Balmashanner monument), congratulated the lady who had overtaken me near the end, and headed to the water table. It turned out it was also a “create your own” goody bag table. This was a great idea, as it meant people didn’t need to take things they didn’t need or like (I left the Haribos – they’re fine but I find they stick to my teeth too much so prefer jelly babies for ease of eating whilst running) and got to choose their preferred flavour of crisps. I ate the banana, but kept the crisps and kit kat for later.

A couple of the guys from Brechin had said they were hoping to get through to Forfar to support the runners coming in, but they weren’t to be found (I later found out there had been overnight call-outs for the Firees) so I headed back to the finish area to cheer on some other runners. Several people I knew had done really well in spite of the wind, including fellow Footers Karen – who got a new 10k PB, and Dave Christison who went sub-49 on the back of winning the Bill Stoddart memorial 10k handicap race on Thursday night. Montrose Flyer Jillian Cooper was delighted to take three minutes off her time from last year. And another Flyer, Laura Southern – who had only started running shortly before the Forfar 10k last year- took an amazing 12 minutes off her 2018 result.

Debbie had told me not to wait on her as she hadn’t been able to get much training in and was expecting to be well behind me. I spent ages talking to various people I knew though – including Margaret Gamble who was First V50 and gave me some useful information about Chicago, and Quintin Chalmers who I know from Running Friends Scotland but hadn’t met in person yet. I also hadn’t realised that there was a results van, so eventually joined the queue for that after popping over to speak to Karen, Justine and Dave and realising I was in a queue for something. The print out said my official time was 44:45, and that I was 4th in my age and gender category. It didn’t state my overall position though – but I found out later online that I was 15th female and 53rd overall: the Forfar 10k attracts a lot of decent runners.

Debbie and I after the race
Debbie and I after the race. Photo courtesy of Graeme Watson.

As I had left my bag in my car, I didn’t have a camera or even a phone with me, but Neil Cooper was kind enough to take a photo of the remaining Footers (a few had already headed off), and Graeme Watson took a photo of Debbie and I at the finish. She said she’d enjoyed the race, and I’m hoping she’s going to write her own report for the site – after she finishes translating 6000 pages of washing machine instructions (I may have misheard that – hopefully it’s only 6000 words!).

I was feeling pretty happy until I realised, whilst walking back to the car with Debbie, that my car key was no longer in my pocket. I double checked the back pocket in case I’d had enough sense to move it there beside the soft water bottle. But it definitely was nowhere on my person. So, I had no way to get into my car, and was about 15 miles from home. Debbie kindly walked back with me to the finish area, and we asked a marshal who directed us to the finishers table. The lady volunteering there said that nobody had handed anything in, but then the young boy with her asked if I had a Volkswagen (I do). It seemed unlikely he would guess that with no prior information, and sure enough he had heard that someone had handed my key in, and I should go inside to Registration again. I have no idea who found and handed in my key, but if you are reading this, I’m very, very, grateful that you found it and took the time to pick it up and hand it in! Thank you! And I’ve learned a lesson not to put important items in shallow, unzippered pockets!

The medal is the Balmashanner monument!
The medal is a picture of the Balmashanner monument!

The Forfar 10k is a great local race. It’s well organised and very friendly. Although it’s not on closed roads, there is only a small section in the town where that might have a very small impact, and the rest is on quiet roads in the surrounding countryside. The scenery is pretty nice for the majority of the route, and in town you’ll find a few supporters dotted around the roads to cheer you on. The route is fairly fast too, and the undulations are pretty gentle with only two short sections that I found noticeably steep. Part of the appeal of this race to me is that I know so many of the runners, and it’s well supported by several local clubs. You won’t get quite the same volume of crowd support as you would at a big city event, but there is some here and there, and all the marshals are very encouraging. I enjoyed the route and the race more than the other 10ks I’ve taken part in over the past couple of years, and if you live in the North East of Scotland it should definitely be in your calendar for next year.

Photo Acknowledgements

Some photos were taken by Neil Cooper and by a few nice marshals/ spectators en route including Emma Falconer, Helen Sara Mackie and Graeme Watson. Thanks to them for allowing use of the images in this blog post. All photo captions indicate the photographer. If no photographer is acknowledged, this is because the photo was taken by me. In Art Vivid mode. Because I forgot to change the camera setting and couldn’t be bothered to re-take them.

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