Red Wine Runner

A Scottish Running Blog

Category: Race Reports (page 1 of 20)

Glenmore 24 | 12 Hour Trail Race – Race Report 2017

Glenmore 24 – 12 Hour Race
2nd September 2017

glenmore 24

Miles Ran: 45.984

8th of 16 Females
17th of 34 Runners

The Glenmore 24 event is one of the Scottish running scene’s hidden gems. Once a year, usually on the first weekend in September, a hayfield near the shores of Loch Morlich near Aviemore is transformed into a festival of ultra-running madness. Since it was launched in 2011 with 27 runners, BAM Racing have grown this event into a three-day spectacle with a Friday night themed party, 24 hours of beautiful trail running, and then a prize giving where every runners achievements are acknowledged.

You can choose to participate in the 12 hour event, which takes place from Noon until Midnight on the Saturday, the 24 hour run which starts at Noon on the Saturday, or you can find three friends and enter a team of four into the 24 hour relay.  Camping in the Hayfield is free, and organised with military precision by Cat, Mike, Bill and their team of marshalls, and you’re allowed a friend to come and support/bully you at basecamp in the Hayfield throughout the event.

Glenmore 24 Campsite

I ran the 12 hour event in 2014 and found the looped format a big challenge mentally. I distinctly remember getting very bored as soon as it got dark, and I really struggled with motivation to keep going towards a finish-line which didn’t exist. In the awful wet conditions of 2014 I managed 51.8 miles, and was quite happy to make that my one and only appearance on a looped ultra starting line. Time is the greatest healer, however, and for some reason last December when the events opened for entry, I decided that in 2017 I would give it another shot. For all the challenges of the run, the event itself is so enjoyable that I didn’t want to miss out on all the fun.

Glenmore 24 2017

Glenmore 24 2017

As it happened, I didn’t have the greatest day. I’m simply not trained for this length of running at the moment, and there’s only so far you can rely on base fitness and muscle memory. Predictably, I happily trotted the 4 mile loop hitting marathon distance in about 5 hours, was able to keep on pushing until 50k where things started to unravel, and then accepted that the wheels had truly come off my wagon and I was looking at walking for the rest of the event.

Glenmore 24 2017

That was ok – I truly didn’t mind. I enjoyed a social lap with my Stonehaven friend Vikki who I hadn’t seen in months, I walked a lap with the Race Medics, one of whom was brand new to ultramarathon medicine and learned a lot from this weekend of madness, and I walked a final lap by myself in the darkness which gave me some time to reflect on what was going on.

“If you don’t want to do it, then don’t do it”

It wasn’t a case of my body failing me, but to a certain extent it’s me failing my body. On the other hand, life in 2017 has been a tremendous challenge; dealing with bereavement, living apart from my husband, the associated constant weekend travel to see each other, moving house, selling a house,  a new job, and an increase in work travel too. Those are just the big things. There are a plethora of other micro-stresses which have been wearing me down and as a result I just haven’t been looking after myself in the same way that I used to. Recently my self-care strategy has been: “If you don’t want to do it, then don’t do it. If you are not going to enjoy this thing, go and do something you will enjoy instead”, which has been beneficial to my mental health, but not so much to my physical health. I really enjoy beer and burritos with friends. I don’t enjoy isolating myself from my new friends to go and train in the rain. Do you see where this is going?

A combination of putting on a noticeable bit of weight and not training for long distance carrying that extra weight (i.e 6hrs plus of running) meant that my core simply collapsed on me, making running absolute agony after a point. My legs felt reasonable, but my stomach muscles felt like they were splitting apart and my under-trained core muscles simply gave up. Let this be a lesson to all of us about remembering that building a strong ultra-runner starts with building a strong core – it’s the central system that literally ties us together and should never be neglected.

So with one more race this year on my calendar, the Chicago Marathon, I know what I need to do to enjoy this race as much as I can.  A little bit of core work every day and perhaps a little less beer, and then when I get back from America, I can (once again) start thinking about how I get back to being the strong ultra-runner I was a couple of years ago.

For now, please enjoy some pictures I took on my sunset lap of the course. The sun shone all day and the weather was truly gorgeous – what a difference from 2014!

Edinburgh Spartan Race | Spartan Beast Race Report

Edinburgh Spartan Race 2017
Spartan Beast – 15 miles

Edinburgh Spartan Race Medal

5 hours 40 minutes 25 seconds
‘Open’ Category
346th of 869
51st of 196 Females
14th of in 38 in Age Category

This time a couple of weeks ago, I was seriously considering my life choices. By 11am, I had been up since 6am and had been running up, down, and around the Pentland Hills in lashing rain and wind for nearly two and a half hours. Two months prior, I had been challenged by the race to take on the event of my choice from the Edinburgh Spartan Beast, UltraBeast, and Sprint weekend. This event was two days of obstacle course races which promised to challenge mental strength, endurance, grit, and perseverance as we tackled challenging obstacles in addition to running over punishing Pentland hills and terrain. I’m usually up for a challenge, so I decided to give it a go…

Spartan Race Edinburgh Route Map

From the events on offer, I selected the Beast distance which was stated to be between 12-14 miles. I was tempted by the UltraBeast until I saw it was a double loop of the Beast course, and thought that doing the course once would probably be enough. Spartan kindly offered me a place for a friend as well, so, being the generous wife I am, I signed Kynon up so that we could share the experience together.

spartan race logo

If you are a regular reader of RedWineRunner, you will know that I have never ran an obstacle course race before, but that I am a regular competitor in Scotland’s toughest and longest off-road ultramarathons. Distance, climbing, and endurance are my bread and butter, but I rarely step foot in a gym. Functional training looks like fun, but I never have time to go to the outdoor boot camp classes I see happening around Edinburgh. As a result, I can run for (actual) days but I don’t have a great deal of upper body strength beyond being able to bust out some push ups on command, and flex a mediocre gun show on occasion. My right arm is stronger than my left, as that’s the one I lift my pints with.

Earlier this year I shared my thoughts on tackling my first obstacle course race, and why I had decided to take part in a type of event which I have been known to be quite disparaging about. You can read the post HERE, but to re-cap; I always strive to provide evidence-based argument, and I was keen to see what all the fuss was about regarding obstacle course racing. It’s one of the fastest growing and most lucrative sports markets in the world, and a lot of people seem to be quite intimidated by it. To be a ‘Spartan’ is to allegedly have bragging rights, to have proven yourself against something (the thing is not actually defined – but it is said “You’ll know at the finish line”) and to have a selection of Spartan-branded ‘bad-ass’ pictures to share on your social media accounts (defined as a finisher benefit in race communications).

None of these factors hold any real draw for me at all, but I certainly was not intimidated by the concept of throwing myself around an obstacle course, even if some of it is was fire.  So, I accepted the challenge and went undercover to try and understand the mentality of the Spartans and their sub-culture. What makes people spend all their money to come back to these races around the country? What would being part of the Spartan Family feel like? And what on earth was I going to find out at the finish line?!

Edinburgh Spartan Beast

The awful weather was never going to be in doubt. The forecast all week had been for rain and wind all Saturday, but given how wet I knew I would get anyway, I didn’t really care. We arrived at the Spittal Farm site about 7.30am and got parked up before heading to the Race Festival. Spartan Race offers camping; useful since it’s in the middle of nowhere, so many people had elected to stay over the night before. This meant there were food trucks, coffee trucks, plenty of toilets, and a fairly genial festival atmosphere despite the rain. It’s worth noting that I obviously didn’t take my phone with me on the course, but I also didn’t take any pictures at the start because of the weather, so all photos from now on are used with kind permission of Spartan Race.

Edinburgh Spartan Race

The race crew provided fantastic service and we were able to check in and get rid of our bags quickly and easily. We then sat down on some hay bales, ate some bananas, and took in the atmosphere. Edinburgh Spartan Race is a huge event, with waves of competitors starting from 6am to well into the afternoon. This meant there were 100s of people wandering around, upon whom I made the following observations:

  • Nearly everyone wears branded kit to participate – you enter the race through the Merchandise tent, and you can buy everything from Spartan shoes, to leggings, to iron-on patches.
  • OCR teams and clubs are a thing – lots of people were wearing custom team kit, which looks a lot slicker than your average running club vest.
  • It was a really international event! There were dozens of different languages being spoken, in addition to large numbers of Americans and Canadians, and over 30 countries were represented.
  • OCR racing has a very diverse participant profile and puts the Scottish Ultra scene to shame.
  • There were a number of people walking around on crutches or in orthopedic moon boots. This seemed to be a badge of honour.
  • Even though they were about to trek around an obstacle course, some people still wear costumes. There was a man in an actual Spartan outfit.
  • OCR racers don’t know how to use bins. The amount of litter being thrown around was atrocious.

We didn’t have too long to wait until our start at 8:40am, but in the meantime we chatted to Abby and her husband Jamie. It was nice to meet Abby in real life and they shared some last tips for survival with us. We had both elected to wear finger-less mountain bike glove-mitt things to protect our hands – apparently this is quite controversial in the scene, and you are either in Team Glove or definitely not. Maybe this is like the minimal/maximal footwear debate in ultras? Who knows.

At the start, there was a lot of shouting. A lady had a microphone and people were responding with vigour to her shouts, and jumping and cheering a lot. It was all a bit enthusiastic for first thing in the morning for me, and I also couldn’t hear what she was saying. However, off we went, and our big adventure had begun! I felt quite excited until I had to stop running after 50 meters to queue to traverse a small stream, and I hoped that this would not be a theme for the day.

Edinburgh Spartan Race

Over the whole course there were over 30 obstacles. I’m not going to describe each one as I don’t have all day and neither do you. The first ones were mainly climbing over things and going through mud pits which was all fun and games, until we got the the first significant water obstacle. This was constructed using the natural environment and utilised a huge pond full of reeds, upon which was floating a large, wooden ladder-shaped construction, where the ‘steps’ of the ladder shape were actually about 3 feet wide. The challenge was to get into the water and then swim under the three wide wooden planks. This didn’t seem too bad from a distance, but when you were actually submerged in the freezing water, with your muscles paralysed with cold, getting underneath a flat, floating structure and out the other side safely, provoked a genuine ‘fight or flight’ fear reaction in me. For a second I wasn’t sure if I could do it, and nearly ducked out to do the 30 burpee penalty for skipping the obstacle, but my brain kicked in and took control – I’m in charge of what scares me, nothing else – and I took a deep breath and swum under.

HORRIFIC BRAIN FREEZE. I can’t describe the shock of the cold – I’ve never felt anything like it before other than being hit directly on the head with a blunt object. I emerged on the other side gasping and hyperventilating, before taking a few seconds to calm down and then swimming under the second, and the third. Getting out of the water, I jumped up and down and jogged around to try and regain full control over my body, and waited for Kynon to complete his burpee penalty after he decided he couldn’t do the obstacle. We went on together, and that was the last time I was dry until I finished five and a half hours later…

Edinburgh Spartan Race

The next few hours were a Tour de Force of physical challenges – not just climbing over and under things, but dragging breeze blocks on chains, balancing on posts, memory tests, carrying sandbags, tyres, buckets of stones, swimming across a loch, and huge leg sapping climbs to the summits of the hills. I can’t deny that this event was TOUGH, and challenged me in ways which I’ve never experienced. To that end, I also found I could do things that I didn’t know I could – apparently I’m actually a pretty solid contender in carrying a 20kg sandbag on my shoulders up and down a hill on  uneven, wet and treacherous terrain. I passed dozens of people collapsed around the carrying course, some just lying on the ground crying next to their sandbags. Guys, cheer up – you are PAYING to do this.

Edinburgh Spartan Race

Mentally, the course was designed to mess with your head. You could see what was coming ahead in some places, and the carrying challenges were especially cruel as you could see how far your had to carry your bucket of rocks up ahead and how far you had to climb, only to come right back down the the start. There were some running sections between obstacles which were simply a hill rep – down half a mile over wet tussocky reeds and grass, around a cone, and back up again, just to be particularly cruel.

Edinburgh Spartan Race

Don’t forget  the weather of course – the rain continued to lash down and the wind made the conditions on the tops of the hills very, very harsh. There was thick clag (fog) on the tops which at times extended all the way down to the Race Festival. Visibility was very poor and sometimes down to only a few feet in front of you. I’ve said this before, but, welcome to Scotland in July…

Edinburgh Spartan Race

Teamwork is a major part of many people’s Spartan Race. Operating as a pair we weren’t very efficient at climbing over the huge things, but just having someone there to encourage you was good. Sometimes other Spartans would help out too, but I didn’t see too much of the collegiate atmosphere which so many websites write about. On one occasion I helped a girl over a barrier and then she just ran off instead of helping me too – cheers mate, much appreciated. So I was glad that I had Kynon to keep my spirits up; that is, until he was done at about 10 miles/3h 30m in. The less said about this the better, probably, but the weather, lack of food and water, and water submersions took their toll and he was definitely done for the day when he was visibly blue, talking nonsense, and with numb hands and pins and needles in both arms. It’s not very nice to use your recently acquired Outdoor Emergency First Aid training on your own husband, nor to have him carted away with a body temperature of 35C and for you to keep going on the course, but I wasn’t going to let the Beast get both of us.

Edinburgh Spartan Race

You might understand that I had a bit of a sense of humour failure at this point. I was royally fed up of being wet and cold, I had no idea how far I had to go to the finish or how long it would take, and this daft event with its stupid testosterone-fuelled, all-or-nothing culture had hurt my husband. Amusingly, it was just after this that the event photographers popped up.

Edinburgh Spartan Race

Edinburgh Spartan Race

So I charged on, sprinting past dozens of people who were just walking between the obstacles at this point, and just tried to get done as quickly as possible. I noticed that I was passing people from the elite and competitive waves which started before us, and there were no other women around (and actually, few other competitors in general). I wondered for a bit if I was going to inadvertently show up and accidentally place in my age category, which I found hilarious especially since I’d spent ages hanging around with Kynon when he was sick, and had done several time-consuming burpee penalties for failing obstacles.

Edinburgh Spartan Race

The route took you cruelly close the the finish before fucking off up another hill for another mile to carry some logs, and then you came back down to the finish area. “Well done lady! You are putting all the men to shame!” said a marshal. Cool, but I just want to get this event done so I can make sure my husband isn’t dead.

Edinburgh Spartan Race

The last obstacles were right next to the finish festival. I gave them my best shot but I just couldn’t do the ‘Twister’ hanging traverse thing, and found myself doing more burpees in front of a handful of fed-up looking bedraggled spectators.  The final obstacle was two 8 foot walls which, by myself, I tried to get over and failed. No cheering, no encouragement, more burpees whilst people just stared at me throwing myself repeatedly into the muddy ground. This is what I found out at the finish line.

Edinburgh Spartan Race

Five hours and forty minutes later I took the ‘Fire Jump’ in my stride, declining the opportunity for the bad-ass social media photograph, and finally finished the race.  Having consumed 200 calories of gels in since my previously consumed banana at 8am, I was delirious with hunger and consumed the finish-line offerings like a rabid dog – I’ve never been so excited to drink a bottled bro-tein shake in my life.

I can imagine that if it had been a lovely hot July day it would have been great to dry out in the sunshine and enjoy a burger and a beer, but I was just so cold and done that I wanted to get home as quickly as possible. I got my kit bag and headed for the showers, only to find that they were just water bowsers with hoses. I couldn’t handle any more cold water, so I peeled off my wet clothes and struggled into some dry ones, and it was finally time to go home.

Some Closing Thoughts

  • Spartan Race is an extremely well-organised event, and it’s easy to see why it costs as much as it does to participate. The course was very well designed, and decorated with some very high quality obstacles. I would have liked to see some fuel on the course though – there was one water stop with bananas, but other than that the only thing which was on offer was water.
  • The litter situation was completely unacceptable. Participants were throwing litter away all over the course – in Scottish Hill and Ultra races, this is an offence which will result in disqualification. Hopefully Spartan Race collected it all, but they need to do more to change participants’ attitude.
  • The medal is amazing; very heavy duty and good quality, strung on thick, satin ribbon. Attached to it is a segment which you can use to complete a memento of completing a ‘trifecta’ of Spartan events. The Finisher TShirt is also great quality and very soft technical fabric.
  • Unfortunately, the ‘Fast Pass’ is a complete rip-off. I purchased two £12.50 ‘Fast Passes’ which give the user the benefit of ‘free’ parking and bag-check (usually £5 and £2), the ability to skip queues, and 10% off merchandise. Firstly, there were no queues and even if there were any later on, there was no dedicated FastPass lane. Secondly, in order to get any value from the 10% discount, you would need to spend over £55 in merchandise before you would see any benefit. So, I paid £24 to park one car and check two bags – things which could be purchased on the day for a total of £9.
  • I requested a breakdown of results from Spartan Race for the Beast, since it was clear that the race had taken its toll on a lot of entrants. Allegedly across all waves in the Beast, there were 1135 starters, and 1134 finishers, so only one DNF. Given that there was a guy who was literally unconscious in the ambulance with Kynon when he was being taken off the course, I’m reasonably convinced there were at least two… and that’s without going into detail about the dozens of other people in the medical tent. Kynon also received a ‘Congratulations on Finishing’ email the next day despite not being included in the race results, so I am not convinced about the accuracy of the race result processing. I’ve requested further updated results or comment from Spartan, but they are satisfied that these statistics are accurate.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to have experienced this type of event for the first time. OCR racing is a different world from normal running, and is clearly developing a thriving community with their own standards and traditions. There’s no denying that the weather impacted my enjoyment of the event, but in general, I’m in no hurry to return to the Spartan or wider OCR scene. Kynon was fine once he got warmed up and fed, but I don’t think he’ll be back either…

Once again I’ve found that smaller, low-key events are what I enjoy the most. Thankfully there’s a wide selection of events out there to suit all tastes, so I’ll leave the Spartans to do their thing and I’ll go back to ultramarathons.

Did you take part in the Edinburgh Spartan Race?
Have you ever taken part in an event like this?

 

 

Strathearn Marathon 2017 | Race Report

Strathearn Marathon 2017
11th June

strathearn marathon medal 2017

4h 22m 7s
95th of 134 finishers
24th of 27 Females
9th of 14 Female Seniors

The Strathearn Marathon is a small club race hosted by the Strathearn Harriers in beautiful rural Perthshire. I ran this race for the first time last year on Naomi’s recommendation, and despite getting thoroughly soaked I enjoyed the race and the scenic route tremendously. I signed up again earlier this year and looked forward to a second go at the undulating route with the possibility of improving upon last year’s time. After a strong run at Stirling Marathon three weeks prior, I believed I would be able to bring my time much closer to four hours and mark a season’s best for marathon distance in 2017.

When race morning arrived it was after a busy and stressful week at which had even included a day trip to Birmingham for a big meeting on Thursday. I had also traveled from Edinburgh to Stonehaven late on the Friday evening for the luxury of spending a rare day with my husband on the Saturday, before an early night to try and rest before shipping out again at 6am on the Sunday.

I could also detail the tremendous amount of crap I had eaten and drank in the days prior to the race, but it’s of no real relevance other than that I highly recommend access to a Business Class lounge if you have to hang around in an airport for three hours, because the free alcohol quickly turns a very long day into a very good day. As usual, my pre-race fueling strategy was impeccable.

Race Morning

When Naomi picked me up at 6am for the 2 hour drive I wasn’t feeling on my best form, but it was great to share the car ride with her and catch up on life. I had eaten my dinner quite late the night before and was not feeling hungry at all which was disconcerting, as was the uncomfortable feelings in my stomach and guts.

As we traveled further South the weather got worse and worse, with rain lashing down and the wind buffeting the car. My enthusiasm for running twenty six miles began to wane and I questioned why I was casually doing a third marathon in six weeks, and if there was any way at all in which I could weasel out of it. Never the less, we parked up and swam over to registration, getting utterly soaked in even a short two minute walk. After picking up our numbers we returned to the car and stayed there in relative safely until it was time to get ready to run.

Much to our delight, the weather made a drastic improvement in the final half hour before the gun and whilst it was still cold and quite blustery, the rain had moved on. I said hello to a lot of friends who had finally emerged from their cars and the assembly at the starting line was a jovial group of chums ready to go. After the customary starting lap of the Cultybraggan Camp, we left the starting area and traveled out into the hills for our 26 mile jaunt.

It’s not unusual for me to forget how hilly some routes are, and Strathearn Marathon is no exception. The first four miles are a long drag uphill, where at times it can be more efficient to walk. At the top of the hill the route follows an old military road route which is very exposed and on this occasion there was a wicked headwind to battle. I was steadily plodding along in the company of a small group of older gentlemen, but the effort I was having to maintain to keep below 10 minute miles was quite significant.

Thanks to FishyGordon’s RunPix

At ten miles there was the first of the two personalised water stations, where you could have your own bottle presented to you. This is one of the advantages of tiny club-run races, and I was really looking forward to my Lucozade. I still hadn’t been feeling particularly hungry but I had forced myself to have a gel at 6 miles and the Lucozade would provide some more liquid calories on the go.

Somewhere around the 14 mile mark, the skies cleared and the sun came blazing out. This combined with the wet pavements and foliage meant that the atmosphere became steamy and humid. As it had been under 10C plus windchill when the race started I was wearing a  vest, t-shirt, and long sleeve top – all black, of course. I quickly became far too hot and removed some of my layers in an attempt to keep cool.

strathearn marathon 2017 tony wayte

Thanks to Tony Wayte

At Crieff (18 miles) I decided I needed to ditch the layers which I was carrying in my hand, and threw them under a bush on the outskirts of the town for collection later on. This meant I had my hands free to take a water bottle as well as my next personal bottle at the next water station on the other side of Crieff, and keep moving without having to concentrate on juggling items.

Whilst it was very warm I was feeling good and running fairly steadily well under 10 minute miles. My splits are all over the place, but this reflects the hilly nature of the course. My stomach had been giving me some discomfort and I hadn’t really committed early in the race to getting around the course any quicker than necessary, so I knew that this would be yet another marathon finish in the 4:16 – 4:22 bracket that seems to be my signature of late.

The last few miles were as tough as they always are, but I felt like I still had some significant energy left so I pushed as hard as I could to move quickly. I targeted each runner ahead of me and drew them in to overtake, and I managed to catch quite a significant amount of runners in the last 5 miles. We had another drastic change of weather at 24 miles when the skies opened and another deluge left me drenched, but in reality this was really refreshing and cooled down my over-heating skin.

strathearn marathon 2017 fishygordon 3

Thanks to FishyGordon’s RunPix

I finished strongly and flew down the finishing straight with a smile, captured nicely here by FishyGordon who kindly provided event photographs for free. You can check out his Facebook page here.

My time? 4hrs 22m 7s – another steady marathon run clocked up, and just seven seconds slower than when I ran the London Marathon whilst recovering from the flu. I am beginning to think I need to put a bit more effort into these events, as my last five road marathons have all been within five minutes of each other and I know I’m capable of a lot more.

strathearn marathon 2017 fishygordon 2

Thanks to FishyGordon’s RunPix

So what’s next?

Well, I’m taking a break from marathoning over the summer and will be once again trying to bring some kind of consistency into my training, have another go at losing that stone of fat that has persistently clung to my body since 2015, and prepare for the Glenmore 12 hour race in September, and of course, the Chicago Marathon in October. I’m not a fan of putting massive pressure on myself to PB at Chicago as I expect it will be pretty hot and jetlag will probably feature, but I would like to arrive at the start line knowing that I’ve put in some actual work and am capable of a strong and enjoyable run.

In the meantime though I have an exciting partnership to announce next week, which will see me turn my hand to something completely new in July! Stay tuned to find out more!

Stirling Marathon Race Report | Stirling Marathon 2017

Stirling Marathon

21st May 2017

stirling marathon medal
4h 16m 49s
2065th place overall
510th Female
149th Female Senior

In May 2016, it was announced that the Great Run group was extending their Great Run British Marathon Series, and that Scotland was to get a new marathon. Billed as the Stirling Scottish Marathon, the event was received with enthusiasm by many as a ‘big city’ alternative to the Edinburgh Marathon Festival, with a route which would combine scenic running through the Heart of Scotland with an impressive finish in the shadow of Stirling Castle.

I was excited to hear about the new race and was delighted to receive a media place from Great Run in order to cover the event for Red Wine Runner. My original Spring 2017 plans were to PB at the London Marathon and then have a jog around Stirling for fun, taking the opportunity to soak in as much of the race atmosphere as possible. However, after my London plans were derailed by a nasty bout of flu, I found myself on recovery mode for a little longer than planned. I headed to Stirling with legs which were very well rested, but still with no intentions to try and set a new personal best. I wasn’t really sure what I would get on the day, but I just I wanted to enjoy myself and clock up my 28th marathon finish at this exciting, inaugural event.

I arrived at my friend Jemma’s house in Stirling on Saturday afternoon, and we spent the evening with her husband and his sister, Iona, eating food, drinking wine and discussing our plans for the race. We had to think about which shuttle bus to get to the start, and our cheering squad had to figure out their logistics too. It really could not be over-estimated how much Stirling had embraced this new event – with the entire city centre and surrounding roads being completely shut down to accommodate the runners, the race had pretty much taken over Central Scotland.

Race Morning

After a good night’s sleep we got up at 6am for coffee and breakfast. With all our gear ready, we left the house an hour later, intending to catch the 0720am shuttle bus from Stirling Bus Station. Due to so many roads being closed, the race had provided shuttle transport to the start at Blair Drummond Safari Park which all runners were strongly encouraged to take. There were various park and ride collection points around the Stirling area, with all runners allegedly being accounted for for transport. I was a bit nervous about this – 6,500 runners is a lot of people, and I didn’t recall being asked where I was intending to travel from on race morning. How would they know how many buses to send, and where?

Unfortunately when we arrived at the bus station, we were joining a queue several hundred people long which extended all the way around the concourse. Jemma spotted a friend near the start who had been waiting since 0630, and had seen only two buses turn up, both only able to take a tiny handful of runners due to them being full from earlier collection points out of town. This wasn’t the greatest start to the day, and with no event staff on the ground, communications on how the issue was to be solved was poor. I busied myself on my phone to try and get an answer via Twitter, if only to avoid thinking about how much I needed the toilet…

stirling marathon shuttle bus

Two empty double-decker buses showed up about 0745 though, so in the grand scheme of things we were not inconvenienced too greatly. Some Security personnel directed the long snake of the queue across the concourse to the bus stands and started herding us on to the second bus from the back of the queue first, which understandably *really* irritated some of the runners who had been waiting for much longer. This was regrettable, but we really didn’t have a choice other than to get on as directed. The buses pulled away to a selection of colourful language and two-fingered salutes from the crowd that was left with just over an hour until the start of the race.

stirling marathon start

As previously mentioned, the race starts in the impressive surroundings of Blair Drummond Safari Park. The buses dropped us off at the gates and then we had about a mile’s walk to the start area. When we arrived, Jemma and I went straight to the toilet queues as we were both absolutely bursting. Regrettably there seemed to be somewhat less Portaloos than the demand required, and we spent the next 30 mins inching forward bit by bit. The Portaloos were in addition to other park toilets, but I had hoped that the queues for the Portaloos would move more quickly…

At 9am when the runners were called to their pens for the warm up I was still in the queue with my kit bag, as I still was when the Orange Wave, which I was placed in, started their race. Upon exiting my Portaloo, I raced to where Jemma and Chris were sorting their kit and quickly did some last minute checks before sprinting to my allocated baggage bus to deposit my bag. Together we jogged towards the back of the next wave who had been brought up to the starting line, and with a sigh of relief realised that we could finally get on with the easy bit – running the marathon.

stirling marathon start

The Great Run Group do sporting ceremony very well, and we all felt roused by the music and announcements in the minutes before we crossed the line. Dozens of park rangers were lining the first part of the route alongside cute jungle animal characters; despite the stressful start to the day, as soon as I got a high-five from a Lion and an Elephant I knew everything was going to be just fine.

stirling marathon start

stirling marathon start

Speaking of elephants… this guy came out to cheer too:

stirling marathon safari park

 And this majestic beast was overseeing proceedings from the sidelines. Also spotted – a common-or-garden Red Wine Runner not looking where she is going.

Image from the Metro

Image from the Metro

So we were finally on our way; through the Safari Park before on to the closed A84 road heading towards Doune. There was a little out-and-back where I was able to shout to some friends including Naomi, who was just up ahead. It was truly amazing how many people I knew taking part, especially people from the Scottish ultrarunning community who hadn’t run a road marathon in years, if ever. It seemed like everyone had wanted to be a part of the first running of the Stirling Marathon even if they had sworn off tarmac running for good.

After about a mile I caught up with Naomi, and she and I spent the next 6 miles trotting along together steadily and catching up. It turned out that she had had quite a stressful morning getting to the start via the Park and Ride service; given the amount of feedback which has been deluged on the Stirling Marathon Facebook page, I do hope they can use this first year as a steep learning curve and improve the transport for next year.

stirling marathon route

At four miles we ran through the tiny town of Doune, where there were pipe bands, drummers, and 100s of enthusiastic supporters. Even at this early stage we had seen that the people who lived along the route were willing to turn out their full support for the race and make us feel welcomed as we ran through their towns and villages. Between six and seven miles Naomi and I went our separate ways; we’ve ran together for years now and I was aware that I was pulling her on a bit – she’s not daft enough to burn out too early in a marathon so I drifted ahead as we approached Dunblane.

The route swept through the town from the West to the South, and from the first hand-made ‘Welcome To Dunblane!’ banner, the road was packed with crowds for the entire two miles. The outpouring of support was phenomenal; young and old, they cheered us through their town and offered jelly beans, orange slices, and high fives. My face actually started to ache from all the smiling – I know the support in London is legendary, but this somehow felt so much more authentic and closer to home.

Next up at ten miles was Bridge of Allan. Again, even though the rain was now steadily pouring, the crowds stayed out to cheer. The route then presented a tough hill as we took a brief lollipop shaped tour around the University of Stirling, and by the time we were running past the foot of the Wallace Monument, we had hit half way and it was time to look out for Iona, Duncan, and other assorted friends waiting to see us and deliver high-fives.

I did a quick body-check at half way to assess how I felt. I had passed half way in 2hrs 06m which was promising, as I was feeling really good and my legs definitely had some pep in them. I had been checking my watch occasionally the last few miles and was comfortably running around 9:30/9:40 pace without trying, so I decided to try and stick to that and see what happened. I knew we’d hit Stirling city centre and the laps at about 18 miles, and I had been mentally visualising the race as a sprint finish with an 18 mile warm up.

stirling marathon finish

A lot of people had been apprehensive of how the lap system would work. The route map showed that we would go around the city two and a half times before finishing at the foot of the castle, where there was a lane system in place – keep right to carry on, keep left to finish. There were also timing maps to verify that every finisher had completed the correct distance. I think this system worked ok, but completing the lapped section was very tough mentally and I had to work hard to keep my head together.

stirling marathon laps

Upon entering the city loop, we immediately merged with fast runners who were completing their final loop and were sprinting through the city. I was conscious to not get in people’s way, but it was hard when they were ducking and weaving around the slower runners. The support from the crowd was brilliant but I quickly realised I had to ignore it as I still had 7 miles to run, despite the well meaning shouts of ‘you’re nearly there!’ and the big signs announcing ‘800m To Go’, and ‘400m To Go’. Running past the finish line area not just once, but twice, was quite soul destroying, and required a degree of tenacity to keep going.

The loop consisted of a climb into the city centre then a section going right through the middle of the town. It had been raining for a couple of hours which made the paving underfoot very slippery, and the sections of road which were cobbled were treacherous! After passing through the centre, the loop went past the finish and then negotiated a couple of steep underpasses on a roundabout which were narrow and slippery. We then went through a housing estate with lots of friendly supporters, and then returned to the start of the loop after climbing up a nasty lung-bursting hill.

Eventually it was my turn to complete a final lap of the city and finally let the rousing cheers of the crowd spur me on. There were quite a few friends scattered around and seeing them on my way gave me a last boost for a strong finish, as I finally got to ‘Keep Left’ and cross the line.

stirling marathon medal

I was really pleased with my race. I felt very strong throughout most of the miles and maintained a really even pace without a single walking break.  I haven’t had many good runs after London and I was worried that I’d lost a lot of fitness, but this is clearly not the case and I am more recovered from my illness than I thought! I’m excited to get back to training again, and will be tackling the Strathearn Marathon in two weeks’ time with renewed confidence.

stirling marathon

All in all, I think the Stirling Marathon has the potential to be a really great race. There are one or two issues which stand out which need change or improvement, such as the situations with the buses and the toilets, but hopefully the organisers will listen to the feedback from runners and improve for next year. I’m still not convinced about the loops of the city however, and would be in favour of accommodating a few miles elsewhere earlier in the route in order to reduce the amount of laps.

Thanks again to Great Run for the opportunity to run at this new event!

Did you run the Stirling Marathon?
What do you think of races with laps?

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