I wasn’t sure until the day before whether I was going to run this race or not, but I’m so glad I did. I’d signed up for it the day it opened on Entry Central as it sells out really quickly, and I figured it was better to have a place and defer it rather than not have it. The initial reason for being unsure about racing it was that it was just 3 weeks after the Chicago Marathon, and after Loch Ness I had been broken for months afterwards. The more recent reason is that I’m emigrating to Sweden later this month (we don’t even know the exact date yet, but it’s not far enough into the future to get everything done that needs done before we leave) and so I am busy with those preparations. Additionally, the weather just wasn’t looking great after getting soaked to the skin the day before whilst volunteering at parkrun.
But this was my only chance to do the race as it’s not at a time of year we’re likely to make a trip to Scotland, and I didn’t want to leave Barry going solo. This was originally intended to be a BRR day out after David sung it’s praises so highly last year, but for various reasons life got in the way for everyone except Barry and I. And when Gayle posted a photo of the 10k tops – which had long sleeves! – with thumb holes! – I knew it was worth taking the time to go even if the views mightn’t be as stunning in the rain and mist.
Barry kindly offered to drive, and picked me up at 8:15am. He also warned me it had been really muddy yesterday and to take a change of trousers. I also took a change of shoes, but I should have taken a towel as well… Barry had come 9th in the 10k on the Saturday and was looking to go sub 1:30 in the Half. He’s not been getting out running as much since his son was born, but he’s still a total machine.
We made good time on the road, and got to Gleneagles about 9:20am. We almost immediately bumped into Graeme and Helen, who were also doing the Double, and they had a chat with Barry about the 10k whilst I got in a bit of a panic about my race number. Registration required you to know your race number, and I didn’t know mine. I searched my emails, but couldn’t find one – only a google calendar notification. I tried to log onto Entry Central twice, but both times it told me my credentials were wrong. So I went to the General Enquiries desk where the two adult ladies were busy assisting someone else, but the young boy on the stall understood my rambling and went and got a lady who had a list of everyone. My number was 370. I thanked them both and joined the queue for the appropriate table. The ladies on the desk were really friendly and cheerful, and didn’t mind when it took me ages to find my Drivers License (they need proof of ID to prevent people running under someone else’s name).
I popped to the ladies to see if it would be possible to put my race number on there, but unlike when I’d first arrived it was now too crowded. So, back into the hall to try and get my top off and fleece back on quickly so as few people as possible had to view my back fat. Number attached and kit sorted, Graeme took a photo of Barry and I on the podium, though really Barry should have been on the top one rather than me. We went to get some Active Root (of which there were free samples) to settle our stomachs, then I bumped into fellow Footer Dave Christison whose wife and daughter had come along to support him (and for some decent hospitality afterwards). I forgot to get a photo though.
Barry seemed to be slightly restless by this point. He wanted to go for a run to warm up, but it was freezing and raining quite heavily, so we headed back inside. There is a pre-race warm-up, but we decided to run around the tennis court on the other side of the hall instead, alongside a few other guys, and do a few drills and stretches. Then I decided, with 5 minutes to the start time, to make yet another trip to the ladies. (What can I say – I get a nervous bladder before races.) This time there was no queue at all, but by the time I emerged everyone was heading out to the start area and I couldn’t find Barry to wish him luck for the 6th time.
I almost hit a lady on the head with my elbow on the way out (accidentally obviously) as she was so petite. I asked if she was doing the double but it turned out she had done Glen Ogle 33 yesterday! That’s a lot of running for a weekend, but she wasn’t the only one doing this as I discovered later.
I made my way to the front of the 1:40 – 2:00 area, and found myself next to Helen and Graeme – who gave me a high ten. They had spotted the 1:59 pacer, but he’d told them his strategy was to do 8:30s on the downhills then slow to 9:30s on the uphills in the second half. They wanted to take better advantage of the downhills so were going to start in front of him and look for him appearing somewhere on the climb near the end. They both had injuries though so weren’t sure if 1:59 was going to happen on this route on this day. I made small talk with a few other runners as we stood around shivering, then the pipers played us out whilst I panicked about my Garmin not picking up the GPS signal. Then we were off. I turned around and saw Dave on my shoulder. I wished him luck, and within about 20 seconds we had crossed the start mats.
The route is largely downhill for the first five miles, but there is a very short uphill at the start. You head left out of the Start area, up the hill, across the roundabout, then are onto the nice downhill section. I didn’t have any specific time goal in mind for this Half marathon, and had decided to play it by feel: something I don’t do very often. I knew it wouldn’t be a PB route (I ran a 1:37 in Stirling back in April) and although I’m recovering from Chicago much better than from Loch Ness, I had decided there was no point in completely rinsing myself. I wanted to enjoy it and finish strong. And the route is the opposite of my ideal route in terms of elevation. I love Smokies because it gets the tough climbs out of the way in the first half, then has a lovely downhill second half (asides from a short climb at mile 8). The U – shaped elevation curve with the final 5 miles being mostly uphill was not something I’ve encountered before, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t struggle at the end.
Even with this in mind though, putting myself at the front of the 1:40 – 2:00 group had left me at a pace that seemed too slow. I therefore spent the first mile or two slowly working my way past a hundred or more runners. These included Graeme, Helen and Craig from Forfar Road Runners, who all wished me a good race, and a Kirkcaldy Wizard who said about 8 of them were there, but not any of the ones I mentioned to her. Although the race is on open roads, and there were signs telling runners to stay on the pavement, it wasn’t really feasible for the first short section due to the volume of runners, and we were taking up the entire left-hand lane of the road. Luckily it wasn’t a busy road and the few drivers we encountered were very patient, including a bus which stopped on the other side of the road waiting for a minute or two to let the initial rush of runners past.
My first mile had buzzed in at 7:41. Not too bad, but not bombing it on the downhills. My watch was also buzzing slightly before the mile markers already. I passed the actual marker at 8:10, which is quite a big difference. The guys next to me said the markers were out, not my watch, but who can tell. We headed round a sharp left-hand corner off Orchil Road onto Tullibardine Road, and started heading for the edge of town. We continued downhill past the “National speed limit applies” sign, and out into the beautiful Perth countryside. At least, I assume it was beautiful, but it was still raining, rather misty, and my vision was obscured somewhat due to all the raindrops on my glasses, so I wasn’t getting the full benefits of the scenery. I was also paying a lot of attention to my feet, trying to avoid puddles, and to the runners who I was still passing.
I spotted Daniel Kershaw (a weel-kent face on Running Friends Scotland and in the local Ultra scene). We ran together for about half a mile, chatting away, and of course he had done GO33 yesterday so was just going to see what he could do today. He surged off ahead after the first water station, and I found myself finally on proper country roads with the runners in front strung out mostly into single file asides from one or two who were running in pairs. The road was now tree-lined, and asides from a bit of camber it was pretty nice. And we were still descending.
The second and third miles had buzzed in (slightly before the markers) at 7:33, and a somewhat faster 7:10 on the steepest downhill section. I started slowly moving past a few runners up ahead, one of whom had Team Gleneagles on the back of his top. He quickly pulled back up alongside me as we encountered the first tiny uphill of the route, and got to chatting. I stupidly asked him where he had travelled through from for the race, to which the answer was “I work at the hotel.” I enquired if the hotel had had to give half of their employees the day off for the race, but he said the team was about 7 strong. It turned out his name was John, and this was his first Half Marathon. Not only that, it was his first race. As he was running pretty well, I asked what time he was going for. He said around 1:40, and was I going for that too. I checked my watch, did some mental arithmetic, and told him that at present (4.5 miles in) we were just below 1:40 pace, but that we would lose a few minutes in the final five miles due to the hills, so maybe 1:45 was a more realistic goal. I asked him what training he had done, and what his weekly mileage was. He was definitely better prepared than I was for my first Half Marathon (which I completed in a time of 2:08 after failing to do any training other than a couple of treadmill sessions and one 9 mile run outside), and age was probably on his side. We leapfrogged Daniel a couple of times, who was still striding out to overtake people then slowing back down intermittently, but eventually lost him on a climb.
At mile 6 the descent ends, and the route is undulating for miles 6 – 8, before starting to climb more seriously for the final five miles. John eased a little ahead of me on an uphill section, and I decided to keep it comfortable and not go all out to catch up, clocking in a 7:53 mile 6. As Barry had warned me, there was a trail section around mile 7 or 8, or so I thought. It started off as dirt roads, past some country cottages and trees, and didn’t seem too bad other than having worse puddles than the roads. One of the ladies turned around and said that there was another section of actual trail up ahead, and hopefully it wouldn’t be too muddy. Given that I’d been checking out the mud on the calves of the tall guy in front of me, and considering asking the guy overtaking me what state my legs were in, this wasn’t news I was best pleased about. I’d worn what I thought were my newest Mizunos and didn’t want to ruin a pair of trainers with under 100 miles on them. (On uploading to Strava and logging the shoes I was relieved to see they were my marathon training shoes, not my race shoes, and they’d already done about 550km.) I’d passed a welcome “Half Way” sign at around 49:30 – the two guys I was overtaking cheered at the sign, but unlike the other signs it seemed too soon rather than too late, and sure enough my watch still buzzed 7 miles before the next mile marker.
This section hadn’t had much climbing, but was still a 7:53 due to the less favourable underfoot conditions. I’d had a tall Metro Aberdeen runner in my sights for a couple of miles, but just couldn’t catch up to him. I finally did on this section though, and asked if he knew Quintin. Not well, but he did know him, and would say hi to him from me. Having finally caught the guy he wasn’t making any attempt to stick with me, so I went past, slowly closing back in on a few folk who had overtaken me on this not-the-proper-trail-bit section.
I’d caught back up with John, who was still feeling fine, and there was a lot of noise as we exited this section on our way to the proper trail bit. This turned out to be a children’s dance group- KG Dance, who had a Cheer Zone set up. Most of them were lined up to give us high fives, so I got a line of hand slaps which did indeed induce cheer. Into the next section, this did turn out to be proper trail, and a bit of a mud-bath in places. You’re mostly running around a big field in a loop. The very friendly marshal (all the marshals were totally amazing and so enthusiastic) warned us to stay to the left, and that there were some very waterlogged sections. This proved to be completely true. I was regretting my trainer choice, and my feet were completely soaked through. A couple of the guys were more gung-ho and I got covered in lovely muddy splashes. It was also still raining, and my glasses were at the point where my vision was obscured by so many raindrops on the surface that I couldn’t work out how deep the puddles were or how muddy the grass was. I took my glasses off to try and wipe them off, but it didn’t have much positive impact as my racing vest was also soaked through. And of course I ran into the biggest puddle so far as soon as I had taken them off. Excellent.
I think a few people overtook me on this section, but I wasn’t bothered about that. The route had also started to climb fairly steeply. I spotted Jack from Forfar Road Runners slightly ahead, and caught up with him. A guy next to me had asked if this was the worst climb, but I had no idea, maybe Jack would. Sure enough, he was able to tell us where the worst of the climbs were (this one, and another steep section on the road) but he thought the road section was more manageable. He said the main problem with the road section is you get back to the main road hoping you’re nearly finished but it’s actually a couple of miles from home. Jack is clearly a veteran runner, and was also the first Forfar Road Runner. I’d have put him in the Vet 60 category, but on checking the results I saw he had topped the V70 results with a great time of 1:46:58. I hope I can still run like that at that age!
I got slightly confused (this happens to me a lot) when we exited this section as there seemed to be another dance group on the left of us, but we were being sent right. It turned out (on checking the Strava map later) that this loop had taken us back to where we came in pretty much, and it was the same kids, cheering on the folk who were around 20 metres but also about a mile further back.
We were now 8 ½ miles in, and it was road for the rest of the way. I mentioned to a lady I was passing that the road was welcome, but the climb less so. It was steeper than I’d have liked, but because I wasn’t pushing it for a time, I was able to ease off a little and not torture myself. Even at that, I was still slowly picking a few folk off heading up the hill: the benefits of training in the Angus Glens. I put in fairly leisurely 8:26 and 8:19s for miles 9 and 10. I had managed to catch back up with John and asked how he was doing. He said his legs were starting to hurt. I didn’t bother to ask which parts.
As I usually get tired about mile 11 in a Half Marathon, and had messed up my nutrition spectacularly at Chicago, I had the genius (if I say so myself) idea of opening the Ziploc bag I had decanted 5 Clif shot bloks into, and offered one to John with the not-in-the-least-dubious question “Do you want to risk trying something you’ve never taken before?” He seemed happy enough to try them, and we had two each. I then realised he had no water with which to wash them down. We also passed a couple of nice spectators offering jelly babies and some other form of sugary sweets, but had to turn them down as Clif bloks take a while to chew. Luckily the water station was less than a mile ahead, and John stopped off to get some water. I left him with the last Clif blok, and kept running up that hill. I did wonder if he’d catch me up as he didn’t seem close to detonating, but I was finding I could push the pace more as the hills had levelled off to a fairly shallow incline, and wanted to push on. (I never saw him again, but I found him on Strava after doing a Kudos Everyone and it turned out he had held it together fairly well and finished in 1:45 something. An an amazing time for a first Half. Hopefully he’ll have the running bug now and keep running.)
The road was starting to look familiar, and there were signs of a bigger settlement up ahead. Sure enough, I saw a sign facing the other way which said 2. We couldn’t only have 2 miles to go though. I asked another runner and he said there was a loop added on in town as they make us loop around past the front of the hotel. There had been spectators at various points on the route, and some of the most uniformly enthusiastic marshals I had encountered in a race). But now the frequency of spectators seemed to be increasing as we were heading back towards civilisation.
The marshals near the 40mph sign told me I was doing fantastic and they were impressed that I still had a big smile on my face. This was actually a combination of trying the Kipchoge technique of smiling to convince your brain you feel better than you do, and partly because I was breathing through my mouth and that looks less dreadful if you smile whilst doing it. It was also because I was failing to spot where the photographers were though. The first one had a sign 30 metres or so in front of them to prepare you, but there were several out on the route and I only spotted a couple of them in time. I spotted one on the way back into town and spent several seconds running with my arms in the air in the hopes of getting an okay photo out of it. There’s no point in me attempting the jump thing as my vertical jump is about 2 inches – or at least it was when I started doing CrossFit.
I’d checked my watch at mile 11 and thought 1:45 was within easy reach as long as my GPS wasn’t too far out and there wasn’t an unexpectedly steep section still to go. Yet more lovely marshals were directing us. One of them had referred to me by name, telling me I was doing fantastic. I wasn’t sure how she knew my name, but maybe it was from registration: my name isn’t on my racing vest but it is on my Footers jacket. Another female marshal didn’t know my name but singled me out by my race number (370). It’s all a bit of a boost.
I was still slowly picking people off. I’d gone past several folk on the hills on the way into town, then had found myself with a gap of close to 40 metres between me and the guy in front. He was in a parkrun 50 top, and he was getting closer very, very slowly. My mind drifted off for a minute or so, and then I noticed there were two runners much closer than that. Parkrun guy had overtaken them, and they were coming back to me much more quickly. I also spotted a Push for Power sign tied to a lamppost just before the mile 12 sign. I went past the lady just before the sign saying “I need some of that”. The guy asked if it worked and I said “Absolutely” so he pressed it too. I’m not sure if the woman did as I never looked back to check: I had a mile and a bit to go, and I wanted to catch up with the guy in the parkrun top.
We were back at the roundabout and were being directed over it. I think this was also one of the points where someone had a cowbell. On heading over the roundabout I spotted Dave’s wife and daughter. I said Hi and they congratulated me. We turned left rather than heading back to the back of the hotel, and I went past another runner who congratulated me. I was feeling pretty strong for this point in a race, and was still chasing after the guy in the red parkrun top.
The marshals directed us to the right, and there was a wee bit of a climb up the road. Then we got to a roundabout where there were more marshals directing us. There was also a welcome sign that said “400m to go”. I told the marshal that sign made me happy, and she laughed. Over the roundabout and along past the front of the hotel. A few guests were congratulating us now, and I went past the guy who’d been on my radar for the best part of a mile. There was another turn to the right, and the marshals said it was 200 metres to go, and all downhill. I punched the air at that. There was no sign of the finish though. I sped up down the hill, but it seemed 200m was slightly optimistic. One final turn left, and another sign said “Sprint Finish and Smile”.
Brilliant. Only I still couldn’t see the finish. I heard the announcer though: he was announcing some other runner in front, then he said “Here comes Pauline Belford, the first Arbroath Footer.” I punched the air again. On rounding the corner, there was the Finish, and I sprinted as fast as I could (Strava says 3:20 per kilometre pace) but didn’t have long enough to get a real sprint on. I felt really strong finishing, and didn’t slow down until many metres over the timing mat. A marshal ran over to give me my medal (referring to me by name and congratulating me on completely smashing it) and someone else chased me down to give me a lovely bottle of Colonsay IPA. I headed to the table with the water and bananas, which was staffed by the same young lad who had sorted me with a race number. I thanked him for the items, and also for getting my number earlier, and someone else told me the goody bags were inside the hall: probably sensible given the weather.
On heading inside, I caught up with a guy who was pushing a racing buggy. “You didn’t run with that did you?” I asked, assuming the answer would be no and he was spectating whilst on fathering duties. “Yes.” was the unexpected response. “Wow, I’ve seen people do that at parkruns, but not on that trail!” He said it was interesting but was fine. He’d got in quicker than me, and the kid looked really peaceful. Kudos. Someone mentioned him on Running Friends Scotland as it was pretty remarkable. I got my goody bag (the bag itself is a reusable canvas drawstring one and is great). The top, as expected, was excellent, and there were also useful sugary snacks, a pen, and an Active Root sample.
I couldn’t find Barry, but after cleaning my glasses off and doing a circuit of the hall I realised he was waving at me from one of the massage tables. One of the benefits of finishing really far up the field is you don’t have long to wait for things like that. I went to retrieve my bag and take my shoes off, and Barry appeared. He’d found the massage painful, but it’ll have done him good. He’d said before the race that he wanted 1:30, but he’d managed a 1:28 something. I thought that might have got him in the top 10 for both days, but he was 15th today. Still an absolutely fantastic showing on that route, in those conditions, and with not being able to get out training as regularly recently. Great work Barry! He said it had been tough, but as always he was smiling in the race photos. Graeme and Helen reappeared and they took a few photos of Barry and I on the podium again. As we had such a long drive back and loads to do, we didn’t stick around for the prizegiving but got changed and headed off back to Brechin.
I finished in a time of 1:43:39, in 84th position, 15th female, and 7th in the F40 category. Given that I hadn’t been going for a time, and none of it had felt uncomfortably hard, I was really happy. I could have kept sprinting for another 60 metres at least at the end, and I had another few miles of racing in me The hills hadn’t seemed as hard as I thought they might, and I never slowed below 5 minutes per kilometre (about 8 – minute miling) in terms of a Gradient Adjusted Pace according to Strava, even with the trail mud bath and a couple of steep sections.
This race was really well organised, the marshals are all really encouraging and enthusiastic. The scenery is stunning, and the U-shaped elevation was nowhere near as bad as I’d been expecting: it actually made me feel good because by always running a little within myself – and remembering to take on a couple of Shot Bloks – I’d left myself in a strong position to keep overtaking on those hills and feel strong until the finish. The underfoot conditions on the trail section weren’t great, but it was definitely safe and the organisers can’t control the weather. Both races in the Auchterarder Festival of Running sell out within 24 hours and it’s easy to see why. This was both an excellent experience and excellent value for money. If you’ve never run it before you should definitely add a calendar reminder for when it goes live on Entry Central so you can experience this fabulous event next year.
The photos of Barry and I on the podium, and of the medal and goody bag contents were taken on my camera by myself or Graeme.
The race photos were taken by marshals and photographers. The ones from Mile 11 were taken by Martin Hawkins. Auchterarder Running Festival kindly gave permission to use the photos on their page. If anyone recognises a photo they took and would like to be named as the photographer, just let me know.