Dundee Half Marathon
21st July 2013
Gun Time: 1hr 55m 18s – NEW PB!
351st Place (out of 755 finishers)
Back in 2011, the Dundee Half Marathon was my second half marathon which I ran just two weeks after my first. I remember having quite a tough race and it was probably my least favourite race of that year. Two years later and I was back for a second go, but this time it would be my 13th half marathon.
The week before the event had been extremely warm across the UK; some called it a heatwave, but what I believe we’ve been experiencing could be filed under what some have been known to refer to as ‘summer’. You’ve heard all this before – I hate running in heat and I don’t perform well in sunshine – so naturally I was desperate for a cool day. As we got towards the end of the week the temperatures crept down and on Saturday morning it was around 15C and cloudy when we left Stonehaven at 7:3oam which was quite reasonable, although it was forecast to warm up.
Kynon and I picked up Kate and we were at the start by around 8:30 after a stop at Tesco to use the toilets. Memories of a lack of portaloos from 2011 haunted me so we took preventative action and stopped at the supermarket. The start was in Camperdown Park where there was plenty of parking even though it was very busy. Again, like two years ago we were accosted by a woman selling sweets for charity the absolute minute we got out of the car. I don’t know where she came from but she swooped from nowhere and pounced upon us. I really don’t like this manner of collecting money – it’s incredibly forceful and puts you in a terribly awkward position when you’re trying to get your head on straight and your kit together to start a race. .
We headed up to collect our numbers to find a scene of mild chaos and nobody seemed to know what was going on. There was one big line, but we were being shouted at by a man with a megaphone to divide in to four (or five?!) lines by our race number. In itself this is not an unreasonable request, but given that within the five (yes, five) emails of instruction received in the weeks leading up to the race we were told repeatedly that race numbers would constantly change as the start list was updated in the run-up to the race, as the start list was indexed automatically by Surname…
So; thankfully someone had a phone where we could look up our number to collect our bibs. When we reached the front of our respective queues we discovered that staff were finding bibs by surname because numerically it just wasn’t working as no-one knew their number. Time was running out and I was feeling stressed and frustrated. I wanted to go to the toilet one more time but there was a massive queue for the 8 portaloos – 3 for the ladies and 5 for the gentlemen. Of course the ladies queue was twice the length of the gents and moving twice as slow. I joined the gents without a care and made it out of the cubical as the race briefing was being delivered. I shot across the park bumping into Rachel, who had just gone in a bush rather than queue, and we both expressed exasperation at having 8 portaloos for close to 800 runners.
There were corrals being arranged at the start but no advance signs had been posted so a lot of people had no idea where to go. I had guessed correctly that the back of the first quarter would be right for me looking to run around 1hr 50, but for many new runners who had no experience of corralled race starts there was more chaos as the Race Director yelled at us with a mega phone telling people where to go according to their projected finish times. Why there weren’t signs posting these i don’t know – this a total no-brainer and very simple to arrange. As a result the race was a little late in starting and rather than an excited atmosphere upon commencement, there was an air of confusion and bemusement.
The first two and a bit miles are mainly up hill on narrow woodland trails. It’s a lovely place to run but the start was spoiled by over-crowding and the constant need to bob and weave around slower runners or watch out for faster runners flying by. To a certain extent this was good to keep my pace restrained but it was frustrating to not be able to execute a start consistent with the pace I needed to run at to finish in my goal time. Of course time can always be made up later, but i’d rather not be thinking about that so close to the start.
Photo: John Mill
There was a photographer at about 2 miles. I didn’t spot him at first, but then it seems I was quickly able to put on my ‘photogenic runner guy‘ face when I got closer…
Photo: John Mill
Miles 3 and 4 are very downhill and entirely on road in a residential area. This should have been a comfortable ride down but I developed an agonising stitch in my right side from my rib to my hip which made the whole experience most uncomfortable. This has been happening more and more these days and I’m not sure why – does anyone have any ideas?
Splits mile 1 – 4: 9:05 – 8:48 – 8:07 – 8:12
Kynon, Kate and I had started together but I ended up taking a short early lead before Kynon shot off at about two miles. I was a bit concerned that he might have gone off too fast, but I wasn’t going to kill myself chasing him like the last time we raced a half together. I was running by myself until a man introduced himself to me as Mock Jogger and we chatted for a bit. He said he wanted to thank me for inspiring him to start racing after reading my race report of the 2012 Rock n Roll Edinburgh Half; I was so flattered and chuffed to bits! It took my mind off the pain in my side for a bit but it still persisted and wouldn’t go away.
Not long after, Kate passed me and asked how I was doing; I don’t think I was very positive, and she didn’t sound too good either as her feet were hurting. It was obvious that neither of us had much chat and she edged away. She remained about 200m ahead of me for the rest of the race and our pacing was clearly identical as I just could not catch up!
The sun was well and truly out by 5 miles and it was beginning to get properly hot, but thankfully there was a breeze which kept it from being too oppressive. The course continues on through a mixture of cycle path, parks and road; the constant variation kept the mind busy and the legs awake which made the miles fly by.
Photo: John Mill
I obviously didn’t notice the photographer at 7 miles…
Photo: John Mill
Just beautiful! It’s been a while since I’ve had a real stinker of a race picture but from the looks of the rest of the photographs taken here, everyone else was suffering too.
Splits mile 5 – 8: 8:47 – 8:49 – 8:45 – 8:52
Miles 8, 9 and 10 are tough ones as the race travels alongside the A92 dual carriageway, which is uninspiring territory to say the least. They are also uphill so application of a certain amount of heads-down-get-on-with-it is required. There’s the same funny little 400m out-and-back down one side of a street and up the other which allowed me to spot Kynon as he came up the other side ahead of me. I wobbled my hands in a thumbs up/thumbs down position to try and enquire if he was feeling ok, and his response was a shrug/nod/wobbly thumbs up which I interpreted as ‘Doing ok, considering’ which I was pleased to see.
The route crosses the road on a couple of occasions and the police were manning the crossings which were causing some congestion. Many car drivers were not pleased at being held up though and some were trying to sneak through dangerously much like I saw in 2011. I don’t know why they thought they could get away with this in the sight of a police officer – I’ve never seen it happen in any other race but in Dundee!
Splits mile 9 – 11: 9:20 – 9:00 – 9:19
I knew that at the top of the hill when we reached 11 miles it was literally mainly down hill from here. I was able to relax a bit and let gravity carry me at race pace as we made our way down to the riverside, which I remember seeming like it would go on forever. Just before we made the final turn to the river-front some wonderful person had turned on their garden sprinkler and hoisted it so it fell across the route which felt amazing to run through!
When we made the final turn the wind dropped and the temperature rose immediately, with the dry heat hitting you right in the face. I searched the horizon to try and spot the finish but it remained just slightly out of sight. I heard my watch bleep 12 miles and saw that it read 1hr 46:XX and I excitedly realised that I just needed to knock out a sub-10 mile and a new PB would be mine – perhaps I could even duck under 1:55! With the flat, smooth surface and the enticement of crossing the line I was able to speed up and start overtaking people, but it wasn’t easy since some people were clearly on a death-shuffle to the finish (or running at a slower pace due to doing the full marathon) so I had to be careful not to be an inconsiderate runner when overtaking.
When the finish line was in sight I allowed myself to push as hard as I could for the finish but I still couldn’t catch Kate, and I slipped across the line at 1:55 exactly by my watch and 18 seconds behind Kate.
Splits mile 12 – 13.1: 8:48 – 8:17 – :0.51
I was so happy to stop moving! It’s the best feeling in the world crossing a finish line – nothing to do with pride or glory anymore, just the ability to crash down on to the ground and groan in a mix of delight and agony as the urge to vomit retreats.
Picture by Rachel, gurning by 13.1 miles
Kate and Kynon were straight ahead of the finish in a sweaty pile, so I staggered ahead a few more steps before flumping down next to them on the hot, scorched grass. I necked the bottle of water included in the goody bag in one and sucked down the gel they had included. Kynon had finished in 1:53:39 and was suffering badly in the heat, but was feeling very happy with his 8 minute PB. The rest of our friends trickled in soon after – Rachel, Ronnie, Susan and others and we all compared notes on the race. In general, the route and the running was most enjoyable and the right kind of challenging, but all of us came away with the feeling that everything to do with the organisation of the event was chaotic and held together by a shoestring. Kate’s husband and children were not allowed in to the finish area (which as you can see from the photo above even after the peak finish time, was a huge roomy field) and there was no additional water available at the finish other than the 500ml bottle in the goody bag. Since Kynon was feeling really ropey I went begging to the finish-line volunteers and a lady gave me a spare goody bag which was extremely kind of her, but given the temperatures of the fortnight before there was plenty of time to make extra hydration arrangements at the finish in addition to goody bags. I think the MacMillan Charity stall were selling refreshments, but since nobody had any money on them we couldn’t purchase anything.
We collected our drop bag which had a bottle of lucozade in it and decided to catch one of the transfer buses back to the start. This was one aspect of the day which really did work like clockwork and we were returned to Camperdown Park and our car swiftly.
I really liked the medal – it was very heavy and definitely the shiniest one I’ve earned yet.
We were home within an hour, but sadly left the sun behind us in Dundee which made the post-run natural ice bath a little more challenging than we would have liked.
Now, I am loathe to do this but I have to say that whilst the race itself was enjoyable, very well marshalled and supported, this was one of the worst events in terms of organisation I have ever taken part in. I don’t want to end my report on a negative note, but I feel I have to address a couple of the points mentioned above constructively and offer my thoughts on what I would do differently. There is a facebook group for the company that runs this and other events and it has been blowing up with people reporting many of the same complaints who are getting shot back down for supposedly moaning, being unsupportive and impossible to please; however as paying consumers of the services of this company we have a right to expect certain things which are fairly standard in races of this size.
1) Race Entry –
The website for this race is extremely poor and conveys next to no information about the event other than the bare essentials, once you’ve found the race that is. This event is huge and ought to be the flagship running event of Dundee – but it’s not even mentioned on the organiser’s home page – eventfull.biz
There was no route map available until last week and even then it was a hand-marked copy of a paper map of Dundee city, scanned and uploaded as three .pdfs with the page orientation wrong so you can only view it sideways. Simple solution – use mapometer.com to plot and save the route and link to it on your website.
Entry was listed as being £13.10 for the first 100 entries, then £15 up until six weeks before the event, and £18 thereafter. Kynon entered 7 weeks before the event and was charged the full amount – when he emailed to query this it was dismissed as him misunderstanding the pricing structure and that he should consider a half marathon for £18 excellent value. That it may be, but that was not the point and the pricing structure was completely misadvertised and the organiser admitted that the system was set to charge the higher amount after 750 entries, not after a certain date. When pursuing this further and requesting a refund due to the misadvertisement he was told he was ‘splitting hairs’ and was offered a refund of £1.50 which was both inappropriate and missing the point entirely. Further debate ensued, wasting both of their time, until eventually the full amount was refunded but the organiser still refused to admit fault. None of this was necessary – the race entry system should have been set up for what was advertised.
2) Pre-race communication –
There was no need for 5 emails to be sent out over the course of a month, each saying slightly varying versions of the same thing. One, clear email the week before would suffice. There needs to be an up-to-date, event specific website for this race as well – more information was to be found on Facebook than anywhere else and despite Social Media’s world domination, this is not acceptable and should not be the only way of communicating with your customers, many of whom will not use facebook.
3) Number pick up –
The only time I’ve ever collected a race bib by number was at the Paris Marathon when numbers were issued months in advance. There was no need to complicate things by publicising the continuously changing name/number index in advance and expecting people to keep track of their changing number. Just do it by name on the morning, or charge an extra quid and post them out by snail mail.
4) Toilets –
I’ve never been at a race where there have been too many toilets. 8 portaloos between 800 people seems a daft number to pick – perhaps this is statistically what might be recommended for a normal event with that amount of people, but 800 nervous, hydrated people all wanting to go to the toilet within a very small time frame requires more facilities, as nobody wants to relieve themselves in a public country park, but the bushes all around the manor house in Camperdown are now full of human waste in the middle of summer.
5) Corralling –
This needs to be sign posted. Either signs or marshalls marking each projected time split. With bigger races like this you ought to expect a lot of first time runners who won’t have a clue about start etiquette or what to do, and that’s fine; but you need to accommodate the clueless because they aren’t mind readers.
6) Start congestion –
Accurate corralling is particularly important on a course with such a narrow start as this. There were many complaints about the congestion and I believe Rachel even ended up slowing to a walk at one point in the first mile. Dundee locals have made the suggestion of doing a loop of the park on wider paths first and getting rid of the little 400m out and back at mile 9 which seems a valid suggestion. Either that or operate a wave start system and release the (enforced!) corrals every 30 seconds. This of course, requires the race to be fully chip timed.
7) Chip timing –
The race is advertised as chip timed – it is not. Runners wore a chip which accurately recorded their finishing time as they cross the finish line (thus eliminating human error) but the time issued is a gun time, not a chip time, and should not be claimed as such. What’s worse is that in an email after the event addressing complaints about this, the organiser dismisses these complaints and tells us that there is no difference between gun times and chip times:
“All runners received the same GUN time (as explained in the emails leading up to the event) so it was in fact an accurately chipped timed event, as this would be the same set of results even if you were timed from a start mat – my decision to not have matts at the start was simply a cost exercise (not a reduction in quality of results) – if the combined event goes ahead again next year and we have adequate numbers for the DRAM Marathon then the entire event will be chip timed, but the resulting times would still be the same – you would have just seen how long it takes to run across the start matt – the first person across the line is the winner, no matter where anyone else started.”
This explanation is total nonsense. We paid for a chip timed race and should have received an accurate start line to finish line result – what we got was a gun time and anyone who has ever run a race before will know this, making this dismissive response insulting and inaccurate.
8) Finish –
There was no need to exclude family and friends from the finish area; the race wasn’t big enough for this and it wasn’t as if the runners were being offered anything that the spectators weren’t entitled to such as food and drink. There should have been stacks of water at the finish – they knew it was going to be hot and to run out (or just not provide?) was inexcusable.
There were other issues in the race which didn’t affect me so I don’t have the right to complain about, but there were problems with the course marking and marshalling of the later stages of the marathon; the top finishers male and female got lost and ran 28 miles. Many finishing times, names and number seem to have been jumbled up (despite the chip finish) and the top finishers in the categories seem to have had various issues regarding getting their place recorded correctly.
So, what is going on with this race? Despite being organised by an event company, I wonder whether Eventfull is actually just one man? How many people are behind this? The organiser has sent out all communication under his own name and has assumed personal responsibility for everything to do with the race so I wonder if it is just one person handling everything? If so I’m not surprised that things have got a bit out of control and I do hope that reports of him ending up in hospital with stress for the second year running are untrue. After his email last night I feel a bit like I’m kicking a puppy by writing out all of these criticisms but so many of the errors made were unnecessary and should be easily fixed for future events.
It shouldn’t have to be this hard – Dundee City Council should be giving this event more support and publicity as it has the potential to be fantastic and a real draw for the city. They are now in the running for UK City of Culture 2017 so hopefully these events will be given more support, and if Eventfull Management is just one man, then he’ll get more support in order to execute a flagship event the city can be proud of.