The Forfar Multi-Terrain Half Marathon
3rd February 2013
Official Time: 2:10:09
When I heard about this half marathon back in December, I signed up as soon as I could. I distinctly remember chatterings amongst friends on facebook about it whilst I was stuck at work and unable to log on to EntryCentral, so a quick text was sent to Kynon who managed to secure a spot for me, alongside 199 other mud-loving, waterproof all-weather runners.
The course advertises itself as tough and not recommended for novice runners. The terrain is described as a mix of tarmac, pavement, country park paths, farm tracks, field and bogs, all presented alongside a water section which is frequently knee deep and full of ice. As a short tune-up race within my training for the Highland Fling it was perfect!
At 9:15am on Sunday morning, fellow Stonehaven Running Club member Kate and I were collected from outside Stonehaven Town hall by Ronnie and Rachel, and we barrelled down the A90 in Ronnie’s Astra to arrive promptly at Strathmore Rugby Club at 10am.
Race preparation for us all had been questionable at best; Rachel was suffering from major DOMS, Ronnie was feeling a little under-trained and Kate’s legs were feeling niggly from her first few weeks of training for the D33. However spirits were high and we had a great banter and joking around before the start once we were registered to defuse any nerves.
It was very cold but sunny, with a bit of a breeze. By all accounts the weather was fine compared to how it has been recently, but at the pre-race briefing they announced that the course was being slightly altered due to the water section being deemed too deep for safety! They assured us however, that we would definitely still get wet.
I dithered on what to wear, but decided on two long sleeve tops and a tight tshirt underneath, with my club vest getting it’s first outing over the top. I opted for shorts on the bottom half, deciding that skin dries quicker than cloth and finishing the race with soggy running tights would not be nice.
After the race briefing we were led to the start which was a simple flag on a rugby pitch. With an unceremonious “3, 2, 1 GO” we were off and running straight into the coarse, icey wind coming straight off Forfar Loch.
The first 3 miles slipped by quickly on a pleasantly flat route circling around the loch on a tarmac path in the sun. A short, sharp hill took us up to a main road and to the first check point where we got our number stamped, before heading off out of town towards some fields.
I decided that I really could do with going to the loo, so took my chances with no-one behind me and stepped aside behind a tree in a field when I could. I feel like I’m an expert at speed-peeing now and got going again quickly to catch up with my friends in no time. However perhaps I ought to have taken more care; a hundred meters or so further on I felt a very strange sensation on my lower back. I did some awkward excavating and found a handful of straw down the back of my shorts – how that got there I do not know, but these things are sent to try us.
At four miles we turned off the road and on to farm tracks for the first time. It was a mud road with deep tractor wheel escarpments filled with water. The middle of the track was too muddy to run on and the sides were too lumpy, so after trying to avoid the water for the first few meters I just sucked it up and ran through the shin height water. Thankfully the faster people had already broken the ice before us but it was still bitterly cold.
The farm tracks continued on for about a mile and by 5 miles in we were on a drier road. Unfortunately we realised we’d lost Ronnie at this point and we could see him about half a mile behind us. We tried to slow up a little but he was well behind and seemed to be suffering a bit. We all felt a bit guilt as we had agreed to run as a team, but then three sets of tired legs agreed that if we stopped to walk to wait for him then we may never get started again.
There was water and a checkpoint at 7 miles where Ronnie caught us after sprinting to catch up, but he declared himself suffering and unfit so we carried on at our own pace. By this point the route had wound up a steep muddy hill and across some grassy trails. We were running next to a very smelly landfill site when we turned a corner and were faced with a huge stretch of water, strewn with lumps of broken ice. Without thinking about it I waded straight in and the water came up to mid-thigh! Chunks of ice scraped my bare flesh but I relished to opportunity to wash off some of the mud. After about a minute of submersion my legs went completely numb – it felt like they were made of glass and would shatter any minute if I ran too hard.
After scrambling free of the deep water we ascended some more lumpy trails before being dumped right on the side of a main road for a couple of hundred meters. There was another checkpoint at 9 miles before a sharp turn off up a very steep hill on a trail into a forest.
We slowed to a power-walk for the first time as we climbed the steep hill for about half a mile, both Kate and I quoting our ultra-training bibles stating that hills were to be walked not ran! When we eventually reached the top, the view North/North West towards the snow capped hills and glens was stunning but the wind tore right through you. The descent was exhilarating and fast until about 11 miles where it leveled out and we found ourselves back on farm tracks and running across a field back into Forfar. We declared ourselves ready to be done – we were tired, wet and cold and REALLY hungry.
Due to the ascending mile markers not matching our garmin miles, we had realised that the course was going to be a bit short due to the re-route and estimated the finish would be at about 12.6 miles. On re-entering Forfar it was a sharp contrast to the beautiful trails we had spent the last two hours on, and the last mile wound through an industrial estate until we got back down to the rugby club. The last couple of hundred meters saw us skating over slippery frozen mud until the finish line came into sight and we fell into pace with one another in a final sprint and crossed the line all smiles and laughter, especially when we couldn’t stop and fell over the pair of guys who had stopped so abruptly in front of us.
My garmin said 12.7 miles ran in 2hrs and 10 minutes. I was very happy with that time on that course, especially given that I ran 16 miles the day before!
Whilst we caught our breath we waited for Ronnie at the finish. We weren’t expecting him to turn up quite so soon as he did, but he appeared from behind us looking puzzled saying “Where’s the finish?!” Unfortunately he’d taken a wrong turn and found a different route through the industrial estate back to the rugby club. He looked exhausted and not happy with his race at all, so we led him back to the car for a drink and a sit.
We were all pleased by the prospect of a relaxing hot shower and grabbed our kit bags and headed to the club house. Of course, it being a rugby club the showers were just a room full of showerheads, so that stopped us in our tracks somewhat. I love my new running chums, but not being a rugby player I have no desire to get soapy and naked with them after a race! A slightly more modest and swift cleanse was undertaken in underwear instead and I tried not to think about the nasties that might be lurking on a rugby club shower floor.
Warm and dry we made our way to the club bar for the promised ‘legendary’ post-race feast, which unfortunately fell short of its acclaimed status. There were a few limp egg sandwiches left, some cheese and pickle sandwiches which had long fallen to pieces, and a couple of empty boxes which had presumably once contained some kind of homebakes. Once more the curse of being a ‘slow’ runner at local club races catches up with me – if you want food you need to run faster. I was disappointed, but that didn’t last long when I realised they had a cash bar and I could refuel with a pint of lager.
All in all however, this was a superb race and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The course was well thought out and challenging without being ridiculous, and the constantly varying terrain kept us on our toes. The low entry fee (£9/£7 affiliated) represented excellent value, and for those at the sharp end of the field the prizes appeared to be top notch. One suggestion to bear in mind for future events might be to explore the possibilities of a drink of water at the end of the race; despite it being a low-cost no-frills club race with no goodie bags or medals it would have been nice to have something to refresh with once we’d finished up, but given the proximity of the finish to the clubhouse/car park it really was a non-issue.