RACE REPORT: Forfar Multiterrain Half Marathon 2014

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Forfar Multi-Terrain Half Marathon
2nd February 2014
Time – 2 hours 49 seconds
Place – 122/164 finishers
Gender – 20th/43 females
Category – 11th/20 F Senior

After running this race last year and enjoying it so much, it was never in doubt that I would be making the return trip to Forfar for another go. Entries opened back in November and I was lucky to have set a reminder in my calendar of the race opening date and time as the race sold out in 24 hours.

Before moving on to the detail of the race I feel I have to comment on the fact that there were 250 places sold within 24 hours back in November, but only 164 runners showed up on the day. This is another layer of lunacy which is emerging from the recent soaring popularity of running races – people obviously snapped up their place with the best of intentions, but two months later decided for whatever reason not to show up. Given that the race was such great value (£9 unaffiliated) people obviously didn’t feel too put out by sacrificing their entry fee either. I can’t imagine how frustrated the race committee must have been when they expected around 250 runners to show up and then only had 164 on the start line. What’s an RD to do though? Small races can’t handle transfers, deferrals or waiting lists; if you put the prices up people grumble and then expect more for their money; you could have an ‘on the day’ standby option for people willing to risk it,  but that brings in extra complications and potential accusations of the race being greedy with entry fees if they don’t give refunds to those who DNSd.

The rise in enthusiasm for racing is wonderful, but the problems that come alongside it are starting to piss me off. I believe that the convenience of services such as EntryCentral are contributing to high DNS rates as it is so easy to enter a race 6 months in advance on your phone on the hoof without thinking about how it will fit in your training plan or if anything else might crop up in the intervening time. I hate the fact that you now have to be sitting in front of a computer hitting ‘refresh’ until a race opens to guarantee yourself a place in a popular race, only to show up on the morning to find nearly 100 people have not bothered to do the same. The Highland Fling sold about 80% of its places within 24 hours, and already 50 people have pulled out. Thankfully the organisers are taking the time to do a second wave of entries to fill these vacated places for those who missed out in the initial launch, but who needs that extra administration when you’re already knee deep in planning a race?

My renegade solution for small races is to bring back paper entries. If you want to do a race you should have to go to the bother to physically print off a form and send in a cheque or your bank details, and then await your confirmation. This is a pain in the arse for racers, but it means you have to be at least a little bit serious about entering an event and would cut down on frivolous entries submitted on a whim because you get a text from a clubmate saying “OMG the X race is open and half the entries are gone already – sign up b4 u miss out :( ” and then when you look at your calendar 3 months later you realise you actually need to do a 28 mile hill run that day/you get invited to a party the night before/you’re mid-training cycle and exhausted, and because it was only a tenner you nix it for a different option and yet another entry goes to waste.

Naturally there will always be a small percentage of drops outs due to injuries or illness, that’s unpreventable, but I think we need to review how modern race entry works because I don’t think we’re heading down the right path.

Are you an RD or on a race committee? What do you think? How does it feel when a tonne of folk don’t show up? How would you solve these issues? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Anyway; with that hand grenade out of the way I can move on to the tale of the actual race. After a week of horrid weather Sunday dawned bright but breezy and Ronnie picked me up from Stonehaven to head down at around 9.15am. In light of the above rant, ironically our carload was two runners down (Kynon had food poisoning and Rachel had a strained calf), but Ronnie and I enjoyed a good catch up on the way down and tried to ignore the fading sunlight and looming clouds.

We got into Forfar around 10am and were directed to an industrial estate to park. We managed to find our way back to the Rugby Club to register and picked up our numbers quickly and enjoyed the warmth of the room whilst saying hello to others we knew. We went back to the car to get our kit bags and left them in the changing rooms, safe in the knowledge that whatever happened out on the course there would be a hot shower waiting for us.

20140202_104802with Ronnie and Claudia

At 10:55 am we were called up and stood on a rugby pitch in a cold and strong wind. The RD gave a detailed briefing which I attempted to listen to carefully until the noise of runners around me chattering consumed his voice completely. A huge roar of “QUUUIIIIIIEEEETTTTT!!! SHOW HIM SOME RESPECT!” suddenly came from the mouth of a young Hash House Harrier on my right which shut everyone right up and was appreciated by many. It was disgraceful how noisy it had got with people completely ignoring the safety directions – given that there were plenty of opportunities to get lost or fall foul of the course they were really doing themselves a disfavour by being so rude.

The start was a mass stampede across the rugby pitch and onto a gravel trail which followed around the Loch. As soon as we came out of the sheltered tree-lined rugby pitches we were buffeted by some stiff wind and I decided that I would not be hanging around on this course and wanted to get back in the warm s soon as possible. I hadn’t set out with a goal in mind, but wanted to do the course faster than last year’s 2:07 and give my legs a good blast on the nice downhill heading back to Forfar.

Mile 1 – 8:51
Mile 2 – 8:46
Mile 3 – 9:07

I ran behind Claudia for a while as I settled into my pace and the field spread out. The first four miles are on road before you turn on to a mile on farm track with deep puddles all the way. Many runners attempted to run around the puddles or along the raised edges of the tracks but just like last year I charged straight down the path as the crow flies and climbed several places in the field by not caring if my feet got wet. At least the puddles weren’t coated with an inch thick crust of ice like last year.

Mile 4 – 9:02
Mile 5 – 9:26
Mile 6 – 9:37

Mile 5 had a long muddy hill, where I was very grateful to be wearing trail shoes (my Salomon Speedcross 3s) and mile 6 took us back on road to the one water stop and another turn off to another muddy trail which lead us past the fragrant landfill site to the second water obstacle of the day. It presented itself as the ideal opportunity to rinse off your shoes and mud-splattered race, either that or it was an ice bath about an hour too early; but once again we waded through 400m of very cold water which got progressively deeper up to just above the knee on me. Last year it was to the upper thigh and the water was full of sharp, shattered ice; so it wasn’t obvious, but it was a pleasant improvement.

Mile 7 – 9:07
Mile 8 – 10:15
Mile 9 – 10:32

The route continues to skirt around the outside of town until it went through to the back of an unassuming housing estate til we reached the foot of the Balmashanner hill. The path was gravelly and steep, and it got steeper until I slowed to a powerwalk and pushed myself to the top, where there were beautiful views right across to the lower Cairngorms which were covered in snow. Mysteriously it was raining at the top of the hill, so as I crested it and began the fast decent I caught quite a refreshing shower right in the face from the wind.

Mile 10 – 12.26
Mile 11 – 8.39
Mile 12 – 9.11
last 0.68mi – 5.50 (course was short)

It was downhill all the way to the bottom of the hill and on back to the town. I started to push at about 10.5 miles and began overtaking those up ahead who had lost pace. I had one satisfying moment when I overtook a guy and about 20 seconds later he decided he wasn’t going to have any of that, and sped up to re-take his place in front of me. He couldn’t hold the pace though and as I drew level with him I pushed a touch harder and he kept up for a bit until I burned him out and dropped him.

The most unpleasant part of the race was running along the bottom of a freshly ploughed field. The ground was so unstable that it felt very treacherous on the ankles and my legs were all over the place. We finally reached the industrial park next to the rugby club and I knew the finish was near; I wasn’t sure if they would have extended the course to make it a true 13.1 miles though so I didn’t get my hopes up. The nearer I got to the rugby pitches I more I realised it was going to be quite short of 13.1 miles again, but I couldn’t have cared less. I worked hard right to the finish line and cruised in happy with my race, and very happy to have taken 7 minutes off last year’s time.

The finish was the most low key ever, with one or two spectators and some officials. The only people I knew at the race were still out on the course so I didn’t hang around and just went straight to the changing rooms to clean up, excitedly thinking of the spread of food which awaited. If I could have changed one thing about the race it would be to have water available at the finish line. It’s not a huge deal, but being able to have a drink when you’ve just emptied yourself on two hours of running is lovely – I was very glad to have had the presence of mind to pack some Powerade in my bag to chug.

Cleaned and changed I hit the bar and was faced with trestle tables groaning with every type of sandwich and cake imaginable, and nine, yes; NINE different types of soup. I take it back Forfar Road Runners – I don’t care about water, I’ll rehydrate with your Broccoli and Stilton soup and a pint of lager any day of the week.

So yet again another stellar day out in Forfar. It was lovely to speak to some readers over the course of the day, and most people I knew seemed to have great runs. In the end the weather was perfect and a rare dry day in the ocean of torrential rain we’ve had lately. This weekend sees a 24 mile 5-peak hill run out at Banchory with a gang of Stonehaven runners and some Aberdeen friends and the forecast is absolutely abhorrent. Between rain, snow and swollen rivers; forget the trail shoes – I’m packing my flippers.

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One Response to RACE REPORT: Forfar Multiterrain Half Marathon 2014

  1. Mike says:

    I’m not a huge fan of the back-to-paper solution as way to filter in serious entrants. Easy web entries do catch the frivolous few who don’t show, but it also gives the aspirational first timers, who do show up and go on to other races, an easy way to get into racing.

    I favour something similar to the system used by the airlines. Race organisers have a couple of years worth of data on no shows. They could set the entry limit to be:

    (actual limit) + (average no shows) – (buffer)

    If the number of no shows is less than expected and exceeds the buffer, the race organiser can offer volunteer drop-outs something like, say, free entry for the next 3 years, or higher if necessary ( they can afford it as they have sold more entries).

    That way the race will run closer to capacity, providing a better experience for everyone and a better return for the organiser.

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