The Fare Challenge
KR Steel Half Marathon
23rd August 2015
Let’s be honest; taking part in The Fare Challenge Half Marathon less than 20 hours after completing the Speyside Way Ultramarathon (37 miles) was always going to be a bit of an ask. I’m never one to shy away from a challenge, but when I couldn’t physically fit my trail shoes onto my swollen, blistered feet the next morning, I knew I was in for a corker…
Thankfully I had been able to score a very decent night of sleep, so whilst I was physically very tired, I felt rested. My legs were fatigued, but not particularly sore. My hunger, on the other hand, was insatiable; I ate a peanut butter bagel, a banana, a flapjack bar…but it felt like they evaporated before they even reached my stomach. Before I could even think about putting any shoes on I had to deal with the blisters which had plagued my feet the day before and were still bulging like ripe cherries. I sterilised a needle and drained them all, before placing Compeed blister plasters over them and then wrapping the balls of each foot and each big toe in Rock Tape. It didn’t feel very nice but it was the best I could do before selecting a pair of suitable shoes. My Salomon Speed Cross 3s would have been ideal, but they were far too narrow for my puffed up trotters and the toe box pinched on my blisters. I selected my widest and most comfortable shoes – my Asics Gel Nimbus 15s.
Ali and Kate picked me up at 9.45am and we headed to Raemoir House Hotel, near Banchory, where all three of the Fare Challenge races started. The race offers a 5k and 10k as well as a Half Marathon, and offers an array of food, fun and activities for families and friends so an entire day out can be enjoyed if the weather is in your favour. Unusually, North East Scotland managed a second consecutive day of beautiful weather, and the sun was shining strongly. Whilst running in heat is really not something I enjoy, the prospect of spending a few hours in the sunshine on beautiful trails made pushing through the fatigue and hunger a lot easier.
Registration took place in a big marquee which was already busy when we arrived at 10.30. There were refreshments on sale and a variety of stalls, but like everyone else who was running, I got my number and then joined the toilet queue. There were about 12 portaloos which were just about doing the job, but there could have done with being more when you consider all of the friends and family who were attending as well.
I was glad to meet up with David and Jeni before we started to get a group photo. We were all feeling a little weary but nothing was going to stop us getting the job done. At 12pm the Half Marathon start was announced and after assembling alongside the 10k runners, we were all set off at the same time. Mentally this made the start a little bit easier – for every person who shot by me I just assumed they were doing the 10k so would naturally be going faster.
The Fare Challenge is a trail race with lots of ups and downs but I wasn’t familiar with the course at all. It starts from the grounds of Raemoir House Hotel and curls straight up the Hill of Fare for 3 miles. I was in no hurry to push myself and took the first mile easily, assessing what was hurting and what felt ok. When we reached the start of the hill I immediately started to power walk; I was already quite near the back but this meant I temporarily slipped back even further. Within a quarter of a mile my well-honed ultra hill stomp was already catching up with those who had tackled the start of the hill with a little too much enthusiasm, and I made steady progress up and up through the hot forest until the path cleared the tree line and we were out on the exposed hillside.
It was actually very windy up on the hill so the heat was barely an issue. I was glad for my sun screen though as the sun itself would be strong. Reaching the top of the summit there was a paramedic and a landrover which was the first of many on the course – the organisers did an excellent job in putting in provisions on the remote course to look after people who might not have the best of days. From the other side of the hill I could see all the way down and up the other side to the next summit, as well as the runners who were already way along the next hillside in miles 4, 5 and 6. I really was pretty far back in the field; I would have loved to have used my tired legs as an excuse, but there was no sign of Jeni and David who had scooted away up the hill. I’m just a bit slow right now…
I plodded on though; my feet were really, really sore but they weren’t getting worse than they had been, and splashing through the hillside streams provided icy cold relief. Despite it being a hot day it had rained torrentially the night before so there was a lot of water coming off the hills. This also made for some perilous ascents and descents for me in my road shoes; whilst the terrain was by no means technical I would have benefited from some extra grip in wet mud. As you can see from the elevation profile the route was very bumpy; up and down like a fiddler’s elbow. There was water at two miles, seven miles, and marshalls at most turning points.
At mile 7 there was a cruel out and back up a hill track which allowed you to say hello and well done to your fellow runners, or ignore them as I found out. The field was quite spread out now with runners perhaps every 200 meters or so. I smiled and said well done to everyone I passed on my way up and down; I got one reply and two acknowledgements which was a real shame. The more runners who ignored me, the bigger my smile became. If you can’t say hello and greet a fellow runner whilst out running in beautiful countryside on a sunny day, then you may as well stick to a treadmill. Even the shittest run gets better with a smile and a chat…every ultra runner knows that, and usually those at the back are the chattiest. Strange times.
However; after mile 7 we were into a narrow forest track and out of the sun. The track got good and muddy and there were lots of puddles to jump in. The sunshine was making the pine trees smell amazing and I had finally shaken out my aches and pains; a combination of this and more down hill than up meant I was able to make up some places. Miles 9 – 11 were on forestry road and gently undulating, but now completely out of the wind and very warm. The water stations provided bottles (and SIS gels at mile 9) but I was glad to have taken a hand-held bottle with me to sip on throughout. Mile 11 had a bit of a savage downhill which gave me a dreadful stitch, but finally we got back down to road level and re-entered the hotel grounds.
The 12 mile marker was right next to the carpark entrance which cruelly took us so close to the finish before back up the hill for another half mile. We the returned the the start/finish line by the same route as the first mile, with a 100 meter uphill grass finish to cross the line. I had estimated around 2hr30 – 2hr40 for a finish time, so 2hr 44m wasn’t too far off for a lifetime worst half marathon time. Jeni did 2:16 and David did 1:59 (!!), with the male and female winners completing the course in 1hr24 and 1hr43 respectively.
The medal is an absolute beast and quite heavy to hang around your neck! Upon finishing I was handed a goody bag and my medal, and tottered out to find my friends. Having started the race hungry I was feeling very empty and rather light-headed; I was desperate for a drink or a snack, so the only disappointing aspect of the day was that there was no post-race food for the runners. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by ultras and small club races, but I would expect at least a banana and a cup of tea or something. There was a little bottle of water in the goody bag which was most welcome, but I had to tap Kate for some change to go and get a can of coke from the hotel marquee. There was food available there but at quite a price, and you could even buy a bottle of champagne if you liked.
At £26, the Fare Challenge is not the cheapest half marathon in the North East but it offers a unique experience and a beautiful course. The organisers have worked extremely hard to produce an event which is inclusive for all and should hopefully act as a gateway to the joys trail running for many. The route is well marshalled and very challenging; I’d love to come back and give it a go on fresh legs and see how much time I’d slice off. I’d also love to come back and see less people dropping their gel packets on the trail and being a bit cheerier on the run, but these are two things which road runners exploring the trails for the first time can sometimes be not quite up to speed on which is a real shame.
It was still a stunning evening when I got home and Kynon and I enjoyed some beers and crisps in the setting sunshine before I ate my weight in Chinese food. I really enjoyed both races and would love to return to either again in the future. The back-to-back experience was a fun challenge made more enjoyable by the weather, but it was very tiring especially off the back of a summer of recovery and inconsistent training. I took a week to get back in my running shoes and even longer to get this report up – as ever, the MSc dissertation is taking priority, but I’m now in the last few weeks of hard work!
‘Til next time,