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RACE REPORT: Miyajima Marathon 15k 2016

Miyajima Marathon 15k

miyajima marathon logo

3rd April 2016

1 hour 34 minutes 3 seconds
Category placing: 16th of 53 Female Under 40
Gender: 23rd of 76 Females

In August 2015, with a little help from a tax rebate, I booked a two week long trip to Japan for myself and Kynon. It took a lot of planning in the intervening months to get the trip exactly right, but one of the first things which helped shape our tour was finding out that the Miyajima Marathon was going to be taking place whilst we were in the country. As usual I had searched on various websites to find running events to take part in, but it was a chance Google search which saw me stumble upon the website for this race, which is only in its second year.  Whilst it bills itself as a marathon, it is actually only 15k – I believe this is because the word Marathon translates roughly as ‘running event’ in Japanese. Anyway, it was small and cheap, and the route looked stunning! We quickly signed up to secure our places, and continued planning the rest of our trip.

I am planning on writing another post on our Japan travels, so for now we’ll fast forward to the weekend of the 2nd and 3rd of April which we spent in Hiroshima, which is only a 30 minute train ride from the Miyajima Island ferry. Accommodation during the time of year which we visited was both expensive and hard to come by, so we found that staying in Hiroshima rather than on the island itself was our best option.

miyajima marathon

We stayed at the enormous Mitsui Garden Hotel, where we enjoyed this amazing view of the city of Hiroshima from our room on the 18th floor. Hiroshima is a port city and from our room we could see out to sea and the mountainous islands which rose up from the water.

miyajima marathon

On the morning of the race we woke up very early and were on the move by 7am. First we had to take a tram to a train station, then a local train to Miyajimaguchi, where we could then catch the ferry across to the island. Having already spent four days in Tokyo and successfully navigated our way South to Hiroshima on the Shinkansen, by now we were pros at using the Japanese transport system, which is just as clean and efficient as you would expect.

miyajima marathon

image source: visit-miyajima-japan.com

We were using JR Rail passes to travel around Japan, and these passes included the Miyajima Ferry crossing which took around 30 minutes. The ferry lands near the famous Itsukushima Shrine ‘floating’ Tori Gate which stands out in the water and passengers get a stunning view as they approach. Miyajima Island is highly regarded as one of the most scenic  and historical sights in Japan, and is an incredibly popular tourist destination. You can stay on the island but most people come for a day trip, and like many other places in Cherry Blossom season it is absolutely mobbed from dawn til dusk.

miyajima marathon

On the day we visited it was cloudy but very warm and humid. Even early in the morning it was clear that it was going to be a hot race when we started at 10:30am, but thankfully the sun stayed behind the clouds for most of the day. I had been hopeful for a fast run; examining the previous years’ results showed that the female field seemed quite soft and the women’s winner had completed the 9.3 miles in  around 1 hour and 12 minutes. Prizes were awarded for the first 5 runners in each category, so I genuinely thought I had a good chance of placing, as I would normally run 9 miles in around 1hr 15m. There was a route map and course profile on the website, which other than a hill at the start, showed a reasonably flat course… It looked like the road followed the contour lines around the hills rather than go over them…

miyajima marathon

However, it’s fair to say that this route map, like many things in Japan; was not what it seemed!

miyajima marathon

Registration was at Miyajima Jr High School and we picked up out race packets and numbers easily. After sorting ourselves out we returned to the ferry terminal to store our belongings in a baggage locker as we had some things which were just a bit too valuable to be left in the baggage drop, such as passports, JR passes, etc.

miyajima marathon

We took a walkabout and warmed up on the first mile of the course. There was definitely a hill at the start but it wasn’t too scary and I was ready to start at the front with the fast girls and go out strong and compete. After returning to the start area we took some pictures, chatted to a couple from Glasgow (!!) and spoke to one or two of the other International runners – there were about 15 in total.

miyajima marathon

There was a mass choreographed warm-up which was hilarious, and then some J-Pop was performed live before the start which was all very enthusiastically received.  At 10:25 we were summoned to the road for the start, and at 10:30 we were on our way.

The heat was immediately an issue for me, even though the sun was behind the clouds. The air was humid and close, and the humidity rating was nearly 90% to complement the 23C temperature. I pushed through the first mile in 7:59 and the second in 8:46 which was pleasing, and felt that I was able to maintain that pace…until the route took a hard left and commenced a steep and nasty climb. The race was all on road, but suddenly we found ourselves navigating a set of relentless switchbacks which I’m not sure I would even enjoy driving up in a car. I chugged away hoping that it would be over quickly, but soon I found myself having to power walk with my hands on my knees. The climb was about half a mile long through thick forest, until we could finally tumble down the other side on another series of steep switchbacks. It took me a moment or two to realise that we would be returning on the same route, so this hill would have to be navigated for a second time…

Into the fourth mile I began to revise my plan. I had clearly underestimated the course and it was extremely tough, made tougher by the heat. I knew it was highly unlikely that I would still be in contention for a top 5 spot, and I was concerned that continuing to push relentlessly would result in heatstroke. I switched to self-preservation mode and took the pressure off so I could soak in my surroundings and really enjoy the experience. There were monkeys shrieking in the trees, eagles flying overhead and birds singing unfamiliar songs. The views from the top of each hill were heavenly; islands floating in the haze above the flat, azure sea. Running has taken me to some pretty amazing places and this was quite special.

miyajima marathon

A sweaty phone camera just doesn’t do it justice; the scenery was stunning.

miyajima marathon

The lead runner passed me at 3.6 miles on his return and went on to win the race in an eye-watering 58:56. With the runners on their way back in I was able to count the number of women ahead of me, but I lost count at around 10. I got a big high 5 from Kynon who was toiling away and  doing excellently, and I said hello to the people who I had spoken to before the start as they approached half way.

miyajima marathon

There was a water point here but unfortunately they had run out. Thankfully I’d been able to get a cup of water at around 3 miles, but I was still very thirsty! The return journey was just as stunning and up until mile 7 I was mostly leap-frogging with the same group of guys. Once I had crested the final monster hill I knew I had two and a bit miles to go on mostly flat road, so I decided to focus on clawing back as many places as possible. A girl had motored past me which spurred me on and I chased her all the way to the finish as we both passed about a dozen men.

In the last 500 meters before the finish there was a gradual decline and I realised I was gaining on the girl. I realised if I timed my sprint finish attack right I could probably pass her, and claw back one female place. At the end of the slope I used the momentum to launch into an aggressive pace for the last moments of the race and passed her assertively to cross the finish line one spot higher, as 16th female and second international female.

I collected a bottle of water and my post-race food – an onigiri (sushi rice wrapped in seaweed) and a ‘Momiji Mangu’ which is a cake shaped like a maple leaf filled with flavoured bean paste and a local Miyajima specialty. Kynon greeted me with a sweaty hug and told me that he finished in 1hr 21m. We were both wiped out and needing a lot of water; not surprising as the the total elevation of the 15k course was 1640 feet!

miyajima marathon

miyajima marathon

 miyajima marathon

We were given a finisher’s certificate and commemorative towel each, which alongside our bib numbers make for some fantastic international running souvenirs. Whilst the race was extremely challenging I enjoyed it so much, and it is one of my most treasured memories of our two weeks in Japan.

We spent the rest of the day wandering around the enchanting island, wishing that we were staying longer. You can climb all the way to the top of Mount Misen and explore the various shrines and temples on the way, but sadly we just didn’t have time to do everything. The cherry blossoms made already stunning views utterly breathtaking, and whenever we return to Japan, I will definitely hope to spend a couple of nights on Miyajima so I can explore all the sights in full.

Here are some of my favourite snaps from Miyajima; I will write up our Japan trip in a different post with more pictures and stories next week. Until then you can see more on my Instagram account if you’re not already following! This weekend sees us head to London for the Marathon (Kynon running, myself supporting) and I will also be attending The Running Awards as a guest of Strava, who have invited their top 100 running bloggers along to a special event.

miyajima marathon

miyajima marathon

miyajima marathon

miyajima marathon

miyajima marathon

miyajima marathon

miyajima marathon

Have you ever been to Japan? Did you visit Miyajima?

Where is the most exotic place you have raced?

Are you running the London Marathon this weekend? Good luck!

RACE REPORT – Fraserburgh Half Marathon 2015

Fraserburgh Half Marathon 2015
15th November
fraserburgh half marathon medal

2 hours 16 minutes 12 seconds
209th of 249 Finishers
90th of 122 Females
29th of 36 Female Seniors

 

The Fraserburgh Half Marathon has been one of my favourite local races for a long time now, and is a great way to round off the running season. In the past it has always been one last test for my legs as it is a mostly flat and fast course with great PB potential, and I reset my Half Marathon PB here last year when I recorded 1hr 53m 58s in truly awful conditions. This year was sadly never going to be about speed; I DNS’d my place at Glen Ogle 33 Ultra last weekend as I knew I wasn’t fit to complete the race happily, but I knew that I’d be able run (but not race) a half marathon distance without too much of a strain and would enjoy returning to the race for the fourth time.

I picked up Naomi at 8.30am from Aberdeen in the pouring rain. Since I had long resigned myself that the race was to be a run (and an uncomfortable one at that) I wasn’t too fussed about the grim weather and just accepted it as another added difficulty for the day. I had done myself no favours by prepping for the race by spending the afternoon in the pub in Edinburgh with some friends, eating a delicious curry, and then getting the last train back to Stonehaven. Naomi, on the other hand, had completed the Illuminator 15 mile run the previous night, so neither of us were in shape for anything other than a Long Slow Run with cake at the end.

IMG_6463

After registering we headed back to the car to keep warm. It was mainly dry in the Broch but the sea breeze was brutal. Since a mild Autumn and two weeks in the States has completely broken my ability to be resilient to the Scottish winter, I took no chances with my attire and wore long tights, gloves, and a thermal top over my t-shirt. Rather than my Stonehaven Running Club top, I decided to wear my 2013 Paris Marathon finishers t-shirt to honour the horrific events of Friday night and observed that several others had done the same.

At about 10:45am we headed back to the Pavillion to meet up with others and complain about the cold. The Broch Half is always very wintery but at least it was nowhere near as wet as last year. At 11am sharp the gun went off and the crowd of runners made their way down the street and out of the town towards the countryside.

fraserburgh half marathon 2015

Image courtesy of Broch Photo House / Facebook

 

fraserburgh half marathon 2015

Image courtesy of Broch Photo House / Facebook

 

We ran steadily through the first two miles to the first water point and took a drink whilst walking. It was pleasant to run through the woods and appreciate the Autumnal surroundings without constantly worrying about pace or drinking water too quickly and getting a stitch. When we had talked about the race before the start we thought about executing a regulated run/walk strategy such as run 0.9/walk 0.1, but in the end we were running at such a steady pace that we didn’t feel the need to walk other than at one or two random points and just chatted our way around the course as the miles slipped by.

As ever the course was very well marshaled and although the roads are obviously open, there was very little traffic. The race had decided to trial an early start wave at 10am this year for those who thought they might take longer than 2:30, to allow them to enjoy the same support at the finish as the majority of racers. Several of the early start wave passed us on their return to town and it was great to cheer them on and give them a high five. I think in principal it worked well and it certainly seems that the runners who took the early start found it to be a benefit, but in future I think it should be an option you tick when you register. Runners had to request to join the early start when they registered and some had to really plead their case as they had completed a 10k quicker than the 1hr 15m benchmark which had been set to allow participation in that wave. There are plenty of reasons why someone might know they will take longer than usual in a run such as injury or accompanying a slower friend. I’m sure the organisers will come up with a slicker strategy for next year as in general it seems to have been well received.

We made our way around the ‘lollypop’ of the course and were buffeted by chilly winds and some rain in all directions, but in general the conditions were brilliant for racing. On the return to the finish, the last 1.5 miles of the route takes a looped circuit through a housing estate which brings you agonisingly close to the finish, but allows for spectators to see when their runner is approaching. Both Naomi and I’s competitive streak ignited when we saw a handful of runners up ahead and we unspeakingly picked up the pace to glide past them and finish strongly.

Fraserburgh half marathon 2015

Picture by Greg Bruce

Fraserburgh half marathon 2015

With the addition of chip timing and a headline sponsor, the finish line was a bit more lively than usual with a finishing arch, a PA system pumping out music and an announcement for each finisher. We finished together but Naomi’s chip must have been across the line before mine as she took the higher position!

After crossing the line we grabbed some water and just went straight to the car to put some warm dry clothes on. It hadn’t been raining but the drizzle had been enough to soak you through. We then headed with haste towards the South Church Hall for food and cakes…

Fraserburgh half marathon 2015

Photo by Monica Rennie

 

In addition to this there was tea, coffee and juice, six different types of soup, and trays of hot, fresh sausage rolls. They know how to do a fine piece in the Broch for sure. Thanks again to Fraserburgh Running Club for hosting another fantastic event; as ever – I will be back!

fraserburgh half marathon 2015

 

Did you race this weekend?
What’s the best post-race spread you’ve ever seen?
Have you any more races this season?

RACE REPORT – Berlin Marathon 2015

Berlin Marathon
27th September 2015

berlin marathon medal 2015
4hrs 19 minutes 25 seconds
706th of 1437 in Age Group
4160th of 8924 Female Finishers

 

Just under a year ago I put my name in the ballot for the Berlin Marathon, mainly on a whim. I had no specific reason why I wanted to run it, but if you like city marathons, why wouldn’t you? Berlin is an amazing city and the race, like the other five World Marathon Majors, is legendary.

2015 has been a tough year of training and racing for me. I’ve recorded five ultramarathon finishes including the 95 mile West Highland Way Race, and the accompanying Highland Fling and Devil O’the Highlands ultramarathons to complete the Triple Crown of West Highland Way ultras. In addition to this I have been completing my MSc in Digital Marketing, and come the end of September I found myself running on fumes. My running mojo was at an all time low and I was physically drained from a racing season which started in March, I knew that Berlin would be just the tonic for this ailment if I took the pressure off and allowed myself to enjoy it. Gone was the sub-3:45 goal, or even a sub-4 target; my goal changed to having fun and treating this marathon as a celebration of what I have achieved this year. A victory lap, if you will.

Kynon and I flew out on Thursday the 24th in order to enjoy a little time in the city before the race. Of course the sensible plan would be to stay longer after the race, but since my submission deadline was the 1st of October, at the time we booked the travel it was impossible to bet on whether I would be able to submit my thesis early before the race as planned, or whether I might need the extra time after. Due to our early arrival we ended up doing a lot of walking in the days prior to the race. It’s just as well neither of us were hunting for our best possible performances as we clock up 8.5, 9.5, and 14 miles walking in the three days before the race…!

berlin marathon expo

berlin14

berln marathon expo

On Friday we visited the Expo; a celebration of running of epic proportions inside the monolithic structure which is the old Berlin Templehof Airport. Images alone cannot capture the scale of this building; it is HUGE.

berlin marathon expo

berlin marathon expo

berlin marathon expo

berlin marathon expo

berlin marathon expo

After we collected our numbers and bought some race apparel (be ready to fight if you want a certain item in your size!) we browsed the stalls before refreshing ourselves with some beers at the Expo Biergarten.

berlin marathon expo

berlin marathon expo

The Expo was an amazing place for people watching; it seemed like every nation on the planet was represented. Many were wearing commemorative race t-shirts and jackets, and there were more than one individual draped head to toe in Ironman finisher gear. Also, rumour has it that once you earn a Boston Marathon jacket, it is in fact possible to remove it…but many choose not to 😉

berlin marathon expo

berlin marathon expo

After some more snaps and exploring of the venue, we headed back into town amongst the army of people carrying race bags. The atmosphere in the city was full of anticipation – the 40,000 runners and their fans were taking over!

Saturday morning was the International Breakfast Run – a celebration of running and runners around the world. The 6k run was open to everyone and included a ‘power breakfast’ at the finish.

berlin marathon breakfast run

berlin marathon breakfast run

berlin marathon breakfast run

This was great fun, but not as scenic  as the Paris one. The run finished in the Olympic Stadium though, which more than made up of the lack of sightseeing! The Stadium was amazing; both in scale and the sheer brutality of the architecture. For a fan of brutalist architechture like myself, Berlin is an absolute haven.

berlin marathon breakfast runberlin marathon breakfast run

berlin marathon breakfast run

berlin marathon breakfast run

The afternoon before the race was spent watching the Inline Skating marathon at the 40km point – a 90 degree corner. I don’t know what I thought I expected to see, but this was something else. I had no idea the sport was such a big deal and even has a Pro Division! I thought it would just be people out skating for fun…how wrong I was! The skaters went so fast and I was amazed at how they stuck together in huge packs of hundreds of skaters at a time. When they whizzed around the corner at such intense speeds and gravity-defying angles, it was almost hard to watch in case someone slid and fell, taking the whole pack down.

berlin25

berlin24

I had some delicious Kartoffeln und Bier for lunch, and a pizza for dinner. I was well and truly carb-loaded and excited for the next day when we turned in for an early night. Our apartment was only a 30 minute walk away from the race village so in the morning we enjoyed a gentle stroll down to reach the start around 8am.

berlin marathon start

Kynon and I were seeded in different corrals and also had been assigned baggage tents which were on opposite sides of the race village, so we decided to say our good lucks and goodbyes early on and went our separate ways after a couple of photos.

berlin marathon start

The weather was perfect – clear skies and a low sun rising into the perfect blue overhead. If it was like the preceding days, then it was going to be a bit too warm in the sun but it would be chilly in the shade. My fears of overheating were gone but I knew I would need to be careful about how much I drank, especially later in the race in the warmest part of the day.

After dropping off my baggage I debated whether to go straight into my corral or sit down and wait a bit. In the area where I was standing there were people peeing EVERYWHERE though, so no matter where I sat I would be getting a close up view of things that no-one wants to see first thing in the morning, or well, ever, so I decided to go to my corral after a visit to the loo myself. The portaloo queues were monstrous so I decided to join the mass public urination and found a dry bush to water before checking into my corral.

berlin marathon start

There was a peaceful walk through the woods of the Tiergarten before you emerge onto Under Den Linden and the breathtaking sight of the sea of 40,000 runners. If you’ve seen aerial television footage of the Berlin Marathon you’ll know the sight I mean, and in real life it was incredible.

berlin marathon start

berlin marathon start

I sat down on a kerb and spoke to two guys from America including one whose wife was from Forres. He was a Marathon Maniac so I recommended the Glen Moray Marathon to him, especially as he didn’t really enjoy his visit to the Edinburgh Marathon this year.

berlin marathon start

The race started at 9am but I didn’t get near the line until 9:23am. When I crossed I was near the 4 hour pacers so thought I would stick with them for as long as possible, however about half a mile in I saw people dashing into the nearby forest to relieve themselves. Standing around with nerves in the cold had expedited my need to do the same and I debated for a moment whether to join the al fresco toiletters or await a portaloo. I was quite uncomfortable at the time so decided just to duck in for a quick fix; 20 seconds later and I was feeling much better – the game was on! Hallo Berlin!

I felt like I ran the first 5k far too quickly but I recorded 29:59 so my feeling couldn’t have been further from the truth! The first water stop was chaos so I decided to skip it and just keep trucking. I lost sight of the 4hr pacer at some point and then didn’t see another pacer again for the whole race. They were wearing black balloons which weren’t very noticable, and it was also just hard to keep track of anyone due to the wide roads full of people.

The route was crowded but not overwhelmingly so. Even in the early miles the support from the crowds was strong and there were bands playing great music. I remember lots of fabulous jazz and blues outfits, brass bands, rock bands, metal bands, and most memorably…an Alp Horn Choir?!

The Danes won the award for the most enthusiastic travelling support, and the Swiss seemed to have flown pretty much the whole country out to support their runners. Mexico and all of the South American countries’ support were a riot to pass by and anyone with a Scottish flag gave me huge shouts of support. The crowds really made the race special for me. The route is flat and kind of uninspiring visually – Berlin is a city of many amazing things, but beautiful scenery is not one of them.

As the heat grew more intense I began to tire but just kept pushing at a steady pace. My rules were no walking allowed, and any pace under 10 minute miles was OK. I ran through sprinklers, high five’d kids, ate bananas and apples, and cheered back all the supporters who tirelessly applauded us. Every time my energy levels dipped and I started to feel less happy, another band or DJ seemed to appear which lifted my spirits. Whenever I felt grumpy there always seemed to be someone calling out my name on my bib and giving me a personal cheer which was just so lovely. I couldn’t help but smile nearly all of the way – these people weren’t out to cheer for hours only to be ignored by someone with a face like a punched quiche!

Other memorable moments include;

– The long, shady, narrow street with the tall tenement buildings on either side and a bar in the middle with a wall of speakers pumping out banging dance tunes that you could hear for a mile away (also the associated punters dancing along going heavy on the beers at 11am!)
– The guy and his family with the HUGE Scotland flag on a stick who popped up on multiple occasions near me screaming “C’Moooaaaannn SCOATLANNNN!!!'” in their best football terrace voices, and their enthusiastic high fives for me every few miles.
– The participants who looked even older than my Grandad, who were still pushing along faster than I was. The results show there were 5 men in the 80+ category, one of whom ran a sub-4 time!
– The Nike cheering points with their infectious enthusiasm and motivational signs, which made even this seasoned cynic well up a bit.
– The care homes which had brought their residents out to the kerbs to cheer and high five the runners.
– The American lady on the bike who gave me kind encouragement in the last two miles, even though she called me Rhonda.
– The last half mile, running towards the wall of sound at the finish, and floating on air as I ran under the Brandenburg Gate for the last 200 meters.

I didn’t take any photographs during the race as I was too sweaty and sticky and it would have been too much of a faff getting my phone out of my dry bag. Much of the race itself is a happy blur though, especially the last two miles where I was far too hot and very dehydrated. It was a huge relief to stop running and I was very happy to see 4:19 on my watch – a credible time, even if it is 21 minutes off my best. Reviewing my 5k splits, I maintained a very steady average pace of between 6 mins and 6 mins 20s a kilometer for the first 40km and managed to wing a sprint finish for the last two kilometers, pushing my average pace down to 5m 49s.

berlin marathon finish

Afterwards I began to feel very not ok and knew I needed electrolytes quickly. I shuffled along with the crowd and picked up various food items and forced myself to eat a banana and some powerade. After collecting my bag I found a shady tree and just wanted to curl up under it in my space blanket and fall asleep… thankfully my sensible sub-concious took over and got me back on my feet to track down Kynon.

So what of the results of the McKinnon Marathon showdown? Well! In the end I retain my title, and lived up to my assertions that I would beat Kynon on the day as well – but only just. Independently, and starting in different corrals, I finished in 4:19:25, and he finished in 4:19:47 – a 36 minute PB for his first road marathon. It seems the competition is on – I had better up my game for the next round!

berlin marathon finish

The next day, we wandered around the East Side wearing our medals and exchanging friendly nods with the scores of others who were doing the same. We sat down for a beer in a bar and it seemed like everyone there had a marathon bracelet, a finisher shirt, or a medal on, which just perpetuated the warm fuzzy feeling I was getting from the event. It felt like my first marathon all over again, like I had been a part of something really special. Random strangers congratulated us on the street and our waiter gave us a free congratulatory shot.

Later on in the airport, the great exodus of runners continued and the airport and our plane were packed with marathon finishers, all struggling with the gangway stairs and getting up and down off their seats. I didn’t want to take my medal off when we had a layover in Amsterdam, and wore it proudly in the airport bar and as we boarded the next plane, the Cabin Crew were full of congratulations. In a year when a marathon has been a easy training run, it felt weird at first to celebrate completing a race of the same distance, but receiving such positive congratulations from random strangers reminded me that ran slow or fast, for most people the marathon is an achievement worthy of huge commendation. It is still a distance worthy of respect, and acknowledging and celebrating that by no means changes it in context of the other distances I’ve ran this year. I guess for some daft reason I had got myself mentally into a place where I felt like I couldn’t celebrate a marathon anymore, in the same way that a multi-marathoner wouldn’t really celebrate completing a 10k.

berlin marathon medal

Anyway, looking over the various pictures and videos which have emerged of the event since Sunday, I feel proud to have been part of such a huge shared experience. It’s inspired me to better my performance at marathon again, and instead of looking at ultras for early 2016, I’m looking for a road marathon. Like many, I’m awaiting the result of my London Marathon ballot application this week, so fingers crossed perhaps the decision will be made for me…

Thank you Berlin, we will DEFINITELY be back!

RACE REPORT – The Fare Challenge Half Marathon

The Fare Challenge
KR Steel Half Marathon
23rd August 2015

The Fare Challenge medal2 hours 44 minutes 2 seconds
159th of 186 Finishers
51st of 73 Females
16 of 24 F Seniors

Let’s be honest; taking part in The Fare Challenge Half Marathon less than 20 hours after completing the Speyside Way Ultramarathon (37 miles) was always going to be a bit of an ask. I’m never one to shy away from a challenge, but when I couldn’t physically fit my trail shoes onto my swollen, blistered feet the next morning, I knew I was in for a corker…

Thankfully I had been able to score a very decent night of sleep, so whilst I was physically very tired, I felt rested. My legs were fatigued, but not particularly sore. My hunger, on the other hand, was insatiable; I ate a peanut butter bagel, a banana, a flapjack bar…but it felt like they evaporated before they even reached my stomach. Before I could even think about putting any shoes on I had to deal with the blisters which had plagued my feet the day before and were still bulging like ripe cherries. I sterilised a needle and drained them all, before placing Compeed blister plasters over them and then wrapping the balls of each foot and each big toe in Rock Tape. It didn’t feel very nice but it was the best I could do before selecting a pair of suitable shoes. My Salomon Speed Cross 3s would have been ideal, but they were far too narrow for my puffed up trotters and the toe box pinched on my blisters. I selected my widest and most comfortable shoes – my Asics Gel Nimbus 15s.

the fare challenge elevation

The Fare Challenge – 1,837ft Elevation Gain

Ali and Kate picked me up at 9.45am and we headed to Raemoir House Hotel, near Banchory, where all three of the Fare Challenge races started. The race offers a 5k and 10k as well as a Half Marathon, and offers an array of food, fun and activities for families and friends so an entire day out can be enjoyed if the weather is in your favour. Unusually, North East Scotland managed a second consecutive day of beautiful weather, and the sun was shining strongly. Whilst running in heat is really not something I enjoy, the prospect of spending a few hours in the sunshine on beautiful trails made pushing through the fatigue and hunger a lot easier.

the fare challenge registration

Registration took place in a big marquee which was already busy when we arrived at 10.30. There were refreshments on sale and a variety of stalls, but like everyone else who was running, I got my number and then joined the toilet queue. There were about 12 portaloos which were just about doing the job, but there could have done with being more when you consider all of the friends and family who were attending as well.

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I was glad to meet up with David and Jeni before we started to get a group photo. We were all feeling a little weary but nothing was going to stop us getting the job done. At 12pm the Half Marathon start was announced and after assembling alongside the 10k runners, we were all set off at the same time. Mentally this made the start a little bit easier – for every person who shot by me I just assumed they were doing the 10k so would naturally be going faster.

Photo from The Fare Challenge

Photo from The Fare Challenge

The Fare Challenge is a trail race with lots of ups and downs but I wasn’t familiar with the course at all. It starts from the grounds of Raemoir House Hotel and curls straight up the Hill of Fare for 3 miles. I was in no hurry to push myself and took the first mile easily, assessing what was hurting and what felt ok. When we reached the start of the hill I immediately started to power walk; I was already quite near the back but this meant I temporarily slipped back even further. Within a quarter of a mile my well-honed ultra hill stomp was already catching up with those who had tackled the start of the hill with a little too much enthusiasm, and I made steady progress up and up through the hot forest until the path cleared the tree line and we were out on the exposed hillside.

It was actually very windy up on the hill so the heat was barely an issue. I was glad for my sun screen though as the sun itself would be strong. Reaching the top of the summit there was a paramedic and a landrover which was the first of many on the course – the organisers did an excellent job in putting in provisions on the remote course to look after people who might not have the best of days. From the other side of the hill I could see all the way down and up the other side to the next summit, as well as the runners who were already way along the next hillside in miles 4, 5 and 6. I really was pretty far back in the field; I would have loved to have used my tired legs as an excuse, but there was no sign of Jeni and David who had scooted away up the hill. I’m just a bit slow right now…

the fare challenge route map

I plodded on though; my feet were really, really sore but they weren’t getting worse than they had been, and splashing through the hillside streams provided icy cold relief. Despite it being a hot day it had rained torrentially the night before so there was a lot of water coming off the hills. This also made for some perilous ascents and descents for me in my road shoes; whilst the terrain was by no means technical I would have benefited from some extra grip in wet mud. As you can see from the elevation profile the route was very bumpy; up and down like a fiddler’s elbow. There was water at two miles, seven miles, and marshalls at most turning points.

At mile 7 there was a cruel out and back up a hill track which allowed you to say hello and well done to your fellow runners, or ignore them as I found out. The field was quite spread out now with runners perhaps every 200 meters or so. I smiled and said well done to everyone I passed on my way up and down; I got one reply and two acknowledgements which was a real shame. The more runners who ignored me, the bigger my smile became. If you can’t say hello and greet a fellow runner whilst out running in beautiful countryside on a sunny day, then you may as well stick to a treadmill. Even the shittest run gets better with a smile and a chat…every ultra runner knows that, and usually those at the back are the chattiest. Strange times.

However; after mile 7 we were into a narrow forest track and out of the sun. The track got good and muddy and there were lots of puddles to jump in. The sunshine was making the pine trees smell amazing and I had finally shaken out my aches and pains; a combination of this and more down hill than up meant I was able to make up some places. Miles 9 – 11 were on forestry road and gently undulating, but now completely out of the wind and very warm. The water stations provided bottles (and SIS gels at mile 9)  but I was glad to have taken a hand-held bottle with me to sip on throughout. Mile 11 had a bit of a savage downhill which gave me a dreadful stitch, but finally we got back down to road level and re-entered the hotel grounds.

The 12 mile marker was right next to the carpark entrance which cruelly took us so close to the finish before back up the hill for another half mile. We the returned the the start/finish line by the same route as the first mile, with a 100 meter uphill grass finish to cross the line. I had estimated around 2hr30 – 2hr40 for a finish time, so 2hr 44m wasn’t too far off for a lifetime worst half marathon time. Jeni did 2:16 and David did 1:59 (!!), with the male and female winners completing the course in 1hr24 and 1hr43 respectively.

fare_challenge_finisher

The medal is an absolute beast and quite heavy to hang around your neck! Upon finishing I was handed a goody bag and my medal, and tottered out to find my friends. Having started the race hungry I was feeling very empty and rather light-headed; I was desperate for a drink or a snack, so the only disappointing aspect of the day was that there was no post-race food for the runners. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by ultras and small club races, but I would expect at least a banana and a cup of tea or something. There was a little bottle of water in the goody bag which was most welcome, but I had to tap Kate for some change to go and get a can of coke from the hotel marquee. There was food available there but at quite a price, and you could even buy a bottle of champagne if you liked.

Fare_Challenge_start

At £26, the Fare Challenge is not the cheapest half marathon in the North East but it offers a unique experience and a beautiful course. The organisers have worked extremely hard to produce an event which is inclusive for all and should hopefully act as a gateway to the joys trail running for many. The route is well marshalled and very challenging; I’d love to come back and give it a go on fresh legs and see how much time I’d slice off. I’d also love to come back and see less people dropping their gel packets on the trail and being a bit cheerier on the run, but these are two things which road runners exploring the trails for the first time can sometimes be not quite up to speed on which is a real shame.

IMG_4840

It was still a stunning evening when I got home and Kynon and I enjoyed some beers and crisps in the setting sunshine before I ate my weight in Chinese food. I really enjoyed both races and would love to return to either again in the future. The back-to-back experience was a fun challenge made more enjoyable by the weather, but it was very tiring especially off the back of a summer of recovery and inconsistent training. I took a week to get back in my running shoes and even longer to get this report up – as ever, the MSc dissertation is taking priority, but I’m now in the last few weeks of hard work!

‘Til next time,

~RWR

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