This was my second year running Forfar’s Multi Terrain half marathon, a race which is very popular with a high demand for places. Organised by the town’s own running club Forfar Road Runners, this is a well organised event & typically sells out in minutes not hours so you have to be quick!!
This race was mentioned to me when I first moved to the Angus area & I never realised how popular/hard it could be to get a place. Last year I made sure I was ready by logging into the website at 09:00 to try grab myself a place only to realise that I was 12 hours too early! The past couple of years I think it possibly sold out in 15-20 minutes. The first time I did this race was my first dabble into running off road and again I was one of the lucky ones to get a place this year. I wasn’t sure what to expect first time around as the description on the website makes you believe you will get very muddy, and runners who had done it previously told of times of wadding through knee high puddles.
Being held at the start of February, this race is shaped by how bad the winter has been, which has an impact as to what condition the course will be in come race day. As I had been told, and have experienced, this is not a course recommended for those chasing PB’s at this distance. However, if you’re looking to get your running season going with a very fun, friendly and challenging race then this is a must to get in your calendar. Having ran the race the past 2 years I have seen completely different weather conditions. In 2018 it was a nice sunny day but cold with a few puddles, whereas 2019 was a complete white out with snow making it fairly slippy in places.
In my first year one of my colleagues had placed a bet with me that I wouldn’t manage to get round the course in 2 hours due to the difficulty. I duly accepted and managed to win this bet, and he paid up whilst cheering me on in the final stages of the race. Looking at this year, my focus was merely to try and improve on that time. I really enjoy this race as it gives me something to train for over the gloomy winter months and it gets you running away from the rain soaked tarmac onto the trails and beaches which are more forgiving when pounding away. Also, burning off all those festivities is a must as I can’t say no to a mince pie or the countless boxes off chocolates left in my work!
2018 had been a good year for my running. I had broken loads of PB’s at various distances and pushed myself to train for 2 full marathons. Although on those marathons I couldn’t quite manage to beat the targets I had set, I was in probably the best condition/weight I had been in for years. The last attempt to break the 4 hour mark at Loch Rannoch marathon failed, with my knee giving up on me towards the end after I flew around the majority of the course. I was a bit demoralised by this but at the same time I knew that it would be achievable for the future but it just wasn’t my day. Still unsure of what my goals would be for 2019, I signed up for this year’s Multi Terrain to keep me training for something as I can tend to get a bit lazy. In December 2018 I decided to join Montrose Triathlon Club as I had been wanting to represent a local club & not just turn up at races wearing my own vest. I’m so glad the head coach eventually talked me into joining as with his help I have improved on my running as well as my swimming.
A few weeks before the race I posted on social media that I would be doing a recce run of the course for anyone who was interested in finding out what it was all about. I had spoken about this previously & there was some interest as a few friends had been unsuccessful getting a place or weren’t brave enough to apply (Pauline!). The recce was more of a training run, accommodating for different paces and for some newbies to this race to see how challenging it was. Conditions on the recce run were similar to my first year with a bit of mud, puddles, and a bit of wind to contend with. I hadn’t done any big distances over the festive season but still I was coping well on the few longer runs I managed to squeeze in before race day.
The final week leading up to the race I had maybe squeezed too many miles into a couple of days after also doing a fair bit of squatting/lifting in the gym which resulted in the inside of my knee being quite sore. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be okay for the Sunday, and even thought of pulling out of the race. I gave myself 2 full days rest, with plenty of stretching and foam rolling to try to aid recovery. On the day of the race it felt ok but time would tell when I started to run. I decided just to give it a go, and drove through to Brechin to lift share with Ann-Marie & Nicola who were also running the Multi. Staying in Montrose can be a bit of a bubble as you never see any snow, but when driving to Brechin I could tell this was going to be an interesting race. All 3 of us in the car heading to Forfar were saying to each other what are we doing, and that we would rather be tucking into a cosy roast dinner or anything but running in this blizzard!
Anyway, we managed to get to the Rugby Club car park and got our numbers from registration. We got ready and tried to warm up before listening to the safety brief before venturing out in the cold weather towards the start line. Looking around at everyone there was a wide range of people wearing a mix of items from one extreme to another: some very brave/hardcore runners with short shorts and vests on, to the other end of the spectrum with folk wearing pretty much their whole running wardrobe!! I was bang in the middle but still freezing my giblets off waiting in anticipation to get going so I would eventually warm up.
The start of the race is on the rugby pitch itself, then you head through the gate onto the path going around Forfar Loch whilst trying to avoid the unlucky marshal in the middle trying to stop folk running into a post! The path around the loch can be a bit boggy with plenty of splashing through puddles to get the dirt fest started. The first couple of miles is fairly flat but congested at times. During this first couple of miles I got chatting to Daniel Kershaw who I first met at Strathearn Marathon in 2018. He was speaking about his next crazy challenge of 10 marathons in 10 days. I had got a bit lost in conversation in terms of not checking my pace as I was concerned I didn’t want to go out too quick in case my knee got sore. Anyway I looked at my watch & was surprised that I had managed 8 minute miles so I thought I’d try to continue that pace for the rest of the race.
There’s a short sharp climb after leaving the loch, then a small downhill on a muddy track where new houses are being built. This track takes you down onto a path running alongside the road into Forfar from the A90 back into Forfar going past the High School, and then onto one of the first checkpoints to have your bib marked to make sure you don’t take any short cuts. From here you once again head out of Forfar on a pavement going past the driving range before heading onto some farm tracks. This is where the race can get a bit messy and technical. In 2018 there was lots of mud and big puddles, with lots of runners going in single file to try to keep on the higher bits of mud to avoid getting their feet wet so early in the race. Luckily second time around with all the snow & ice it made this section slightly easier, although it was slippery at times.
We eventually made our way out to a suburb called Lunanhead, and back onto some tarmac to try get some speed back into the race. You run back towards Forfar before heading down another muddy track and out onto the only section with no pavements. A nice flat part down to the only water station on the course before getting back onto pretty much a single file track bypassing the recycling centre. This section is where it gets a bit undulating, and there are a few road crossings and gates to negotiate. After this point you are about 8 miles in and the killer hill hits you. This is Balmashanner hill – locally known as Bummie (don’t ask me why!!) The first year I was defeated by the hill climb in that I had to walk up parts of it, but this year I manage to run up the whole thing, albeit breathing out of my rear!
When getting to the top of this mini beast of a hill you are met with a simply stunning view of the whole of Forfar and the surrounding countryside of Angus. A small flat section at the top of the hill takes you past the monument before descending down the hill getting some time back lost trying to scale Bummie. I almost managed to get my breath back, and decided I might even be in a chance to break my Half Marathon PB, which was sitting just under the 1:50 mark, so I decided I would just open up my strides & power down the hills.
The last 2 miles of the race is mainly downhill taking you back to the lochside. There is one section in particular that can be tricky heading through a farmer’s field. One corner of the field itself is where all the run-off water accumulates, making it extremely boggy. You have 2 options: either going directly through it, topping up those dirt stains you’ve collected; or fairy dance around the outer edges of the puddle. The first year I chose the latter after seeing a fellow runner over take me only to go through the puddle and half way across see his trainer come off before seeing him have to hop back to retrieve it! If you’re going to go through it make sure you’ve tied your laces tight!
Off the hills and back onto the final bit of tarmac through an industrial estate towards the Guide Dog Centre, then a final sprint on a muddy path to the finish line. By the time I had got into the industrial estate I was making a lot of noise with my breathing, getting funny looks from marshals & I even think a fellow runner who had finished laughed at me which wasn’t nice. Just because you can runner faster doesn’t mean you can poke fun at others. Anyway, I was super focused on smashing my PB & powered all the way to the finish line. I was delighted with my final time of 1:47:32 which was nearly 9 minutes quicker than the previous year, but also over 2 minutes off my Half Marathon PB too! I think the previous year of completing 2 marathons had obviously vastly improved my fitness which gave me confidence going into 2019, a year whereby I had already entered two triathlons, 4 half marathons as well as Strathearn Marathon again as I was determined to break the 4 hour mark.
I thoroughly recommend this race to get your running season off to a flyer. You don’t know what to expect weather wise going by the two years I have done it – other than that it will be cold. You’ll soon warm up with the hospitality of Forfar Road Runners, a well organised race with friendly marshals, and a great spread of grub at the end of the race. There is a great atmosphere with everyone competing and it is an enjoyable race. There are plenty of prizes too at the end if you’re fast enough, but remember you’ll have to be ready come the event opening as it sells out super quick.