Slightly delayed race report from last weekend; apologies for the delay, real life has been hectic recently!
Dunblane Road Race
27th May 2012
Official time: 1hr 17m 19s
Finish position: 156th/188
Category position: 26th/30
I had noticed this race last year when I was first thinking about trying distances longer than 10k. The Dunblane Road Race is unusual in that it is a 7.5 mile race – a most uncommon distance! Absolutely ideal for those tentatively thinking about a half marathon for the first time.
As it happens, this year the date of the race fell perfectly a week after Baker Hughes and also on the same weekend Kynon and I were planning a weekend away in Perthshire. Never being one to miss out on a chance to race, I suggested that since we were in the area it might be a fun way to finish off our weekend away. Luckily he’s just as nuts about sports as I am so including a race in a holiday was deemed a superb idea. It would also be the first time he’d raced beyond the 10k distance, and 7.5 miles fell neatly into his Half Marathon training plan for the upcoming Stonehaven Half Marathon. Serendipitous? I’d certainly say so…
The race started at 1pm so we planned to arrive and register at 12pm. We’d already had the most amazing weekend of weather, but when the thermometer read 25C upon arrival in Dunblane it became clear that this was going to be the hottest day yet. We parked about a mile away from the start/finish area and couldn’t help noticing the incline on the road as we walked up under the clear blue skies and blazing midday heat. We passed a sign stating Mile 7 and realised that we’d inadvertently treated ourselves to a walking tour of the last part of the race – which was all uphill.
Neither of us had examined either the course map or the course hill profile in great detail, but when we passed the first of many “motivational” signs parked on roundabouts and by the side of the road, we realised that perhaps this was going to be a tougher race than we had anticipated.
Race HQ was at the Hilton Doubletree Dunblane Hydro hotel, who were the main sponsor of the race. Walking into the grounds we wondered where the finish was; the start was at the hotel gates but there was no indication of a finishline there as well…
Looking to the left as we walked up, we saw some more tell-tale yellow signs… No, surely not…?!
But yes, it was true – the finish line was at the top of that hill outside the Hotel’s front door. A sting in the tail of epic proportions after a final mile of incline! These photos truely do not do it justice – this was turning out to be one hell of a challenge. It was time to HTFU and put some sunscreen on.
We thought about our strategy for the race and decided that we’d stay together from the start and run it like a long training run, sticking to around 9 minute miles. We agreed that since we’re both managing long term injuries (me: dodgy left ITB, him: dodgy left hamstring, glute issues) that we wouldn’t be going out for glory and would stick with each other if something went wrong. Anyway – it was only 7.5 miles, a little over an hour of running at that pace; what could possibly go wrong?!
At 1pm the runners were marched down from the hotel, lead by a piper. There was an air of humor amongst us – it was clear we were in for somewhat of a battle; I have no idea what the air temperature was but weather reports suggest 28C. There was absolutely no wind and the cloudless sky allowed the sun to beat down upon us without mercy. I had never run in conditions like this and my nerves were getting somewhat frayed. Kynon also seemed a bit rattled; there is nothing worse than being faced with unfamiliar conditions in a race. We’re Scottish runners – we can cope with the cold but heat is uncharted territory! We agreed to just hang on as long as possible and stick together no matter what happened.
The course itself is circular and follows a route out of town into the country. There were lots of people out in their gardens enjoying the sunshine cheering us on as we passed by on the pavements. Since it wasn’t a closed-road course it was a little crowded at first but within a mile or so everyone had spread out.
mile 1: 9:29
mile 2: 9:33
The heat was instantly an obstacle. With no breeze, the hot dark tarmac simply radiated the blazing sun’s warmth back up at us and the air was hot to breathe in. I decided to ignore my pace on my garmin and concentrated on running by feel – I knew I’d need to conserve my energy so didn’t want my heart rate particularly high or to be out of breath, but by the end of the second mile I was already breathing very heavily and sweat was pouring down my back and legs. I am NOT a lady who exposes her midriff whilst running, but this was the race in which my stomach made its racing debut – I folded up my tank top and tucked it into my sports bra as the sun on the grey fabric was scorching the skin on my back underneath.
The course was undulating – if we weren’t running up something we were running down the other side. The country roads were tree-less and there was no shade at all to protect us; Kynon kept asking if I was ok and I kept on barking YES but inside I was struggling already. This was going to be a very long 7.5 miles…
mile 3: 9:44
mile 4: 10:34
My head became fuzzier and my stomach started churning. Waves of nausea swept over me and my head was thumping. At mile 3 I was desperate for a drink; as I recalled from the course map there was water at mile 3.5 but that came and went and there was no sign of hydration. I felt a trickle on my face and wiped it away thinking it was sweat, but my hand was scarlet – my nose had started bleeding profusely!
We reached the steepest incline yet and I panted to Kynon that I was going to walk the hill. I decided that my best survival plan was to go into ultra-mode: walk the ups and run the downs. Still wiping blood off my face, I power-walked and attempted to slow my breathing and heart-rate and to sort my head out and focus. I felt so helpless and weak; it was quite laughable that one week prior I had been joking about how 10k races felt far too short – but 3 miles in to this 7.5 mile race and it felt like I’d been running forever. The remaining 3.5 may as well have been 35 by how far away the finish line felt at that p0int; the heat was utterly relentless – there was no getting away from it at all.
Kynon appeared to be doing slightly better than I and maintained a slow jog beside me when I powerwalked up the hills. We were both desperate for water and there were several outbursts of untypeable expletives from both of us until we rounded the crest of a hill and the water stop finally appeared at mile 4.5. We’d been running for about 50 minutes and I had no idea how many people were in front or behind us, but thankfully there seemed to be plentiful supplies of 500ml bottles. I gratefully soaked my head and wet my face and arms which cooled me down. My nose had stopped bleeding so I was able to use the water to clean off some of the dried blood on my face which was another relief. I wanted to drink deeply from the bottle but knew I would likely get a terrible stitch if I did so I kept a hold of it to sip on.
The water and a slight breeze seemed to revive me somewhat and I felt a little stronger as we carried on. Kynon, realising I was having a pretty bad day at the office, was being very supportive and uttered encouraging words as we pushed through each hill back towards Dunblane which was coming in to sight in the distance. The other runners in front or behind us seemed to be operating on a walk/run basis as well and every time we passed each other we exchanged words of encouragement or exasperation with the heat – everyone was suffering hard.
mile 5: 12:53
mile 6: 10:20
At the start of mile 7 we were back in Dunblane and passing people sunbathing in their gardens again, who offered cheers and whoops of support which was hugely appreciated. One lady was even operating a makeshift water-stop and handed us cups of ice cold water as we passed; “Thank you SO much; You’re an ANGEL!” I remember gasping at her. The finish finally seemed within reach again as I realised we had, at most, 15 minutes left of this hell. With my head feeling like it was full of cotton wool and my legs as though they were running through tar, we began the long final ascent. In a cruel twist of fate, we even ran past the car…
Machine-like individuals who had already finished were walking back to their cars and hollered encouragement as we continued. I had my head down and my limbs pumping back and forward, desperate for the hill to be over but still knowing the worst was yet to come as we entered the hotel grounds.
There were supporters lining the hotel driveway screaming at us to keep going and we could hear the announcer at the finish calling out people’s names as they finished. So… close…
I roared at the hill and gave it everything I had left in me. I grabbed Kynon’s hand and together we pushed up through the last bit of that horrible driveway, overtook the two runners in front of us and ran across the finish-line hand in hand. I heard the announcer call out our names but I don’t know what else he said – I can’t say I was particularly lucid at that point.
mile 7: 10:36
mile 7.5: 5:07
I zig-zagged up the finish chute and came to a halt on one of the barriers to sip the cup of water pressed into my hands by a volunteer immediately upon crossing the line. I was handed my lovely medal and sat down where another lovely volunteered helped me unlace my timing chip as my fat, sweaty and swollen fingers were useless. At the end of the finish chute there were boxes of bananas, Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers and umpteen jugs of water. Baker Hughes take note – that is how you furnish a finish line! I grabbed some of each and lurched towards the nearest patch of available shade and rendered myself horizontal as quickly as possible.
Completely void of any cognitive thought, I hadn’t even thought to look at my watch for my time. I’d hit pause at some point and it read 1hr 17m 36s – I snorted and laughed and was just happy to have finished. It must have been over 30C out on the course and thankfully there were no casualties; from the start list the organisers said they were expecting a new course record this year, but the heat got to everyone and the first finisher came in over 2 minutes slower than the course record in 41m 07s.
“Suffering is humbling – it pays to get your butt kicked” said the late, great, Caballo Blanco in Born to Run; and too right it absolutely does. There is never any room for complacency in improvement and any race, no matter what the distance, has the capability of knocking you on your ass when you least expect it. As always, you learn more from the tough runs than from the easy ones and from this I took away yet more confidence in knowing that even when I feel like I’m absolutely scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of energy – I can always give more. There’s obviously a knack to running in heat or else no-one further South than Newcastle would ever step outside their front door, but I suppose it’s something that one cannot learn unless you have prolonged exposure to it. The one thing I learned last summer (when every day I raced the sun came out and the temperatures soared – it rained the rest of the time) is that in the heat, when I feel like I’m about to keel over and die on the course, I’m actually not. Having the confidence to believe in yourself when you’re feeling that bad is challenging and it’s easy to let your mental game unravel. Temperatures like that are extremely unusual for Scotland however so I’m unlikely to have to deal with that again any time soon, but I still hope there is some sun left over to make the rest of the running this summer pleasant.
All in all despite the challenges, I actually really enjoyed this race. It was superbly organised, well supported and managed like clockwork. The marshalls and volunteers were so friendly and encouraging and did so well being out in the blazing heat alongside us. I would have liked more water on the course, but no-one knew how hot it was going to be and if it hadn’t been that warm there would be no reason for a second water stop, so I can’t complain. The medal is gorgeous and the finish line area was great – we were able to speak to and thank the race director at the end as well which was a nice friendly touch. The hill at the end was a nightmare obviously, but challenges like that are what make races memorable and finishing right outside the hotel doors was lovely. I’d love another go at the course on a cooler day so I’d be very tempted to come back next year if I can.