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Glen Lyon Ultramarathon – RACE REPORT

Glen Lyon Ultramarathon

Glen Lyon Ultra

7th May 2016
6 hours 26 minutes 14 seconds

60th of 77 (81 starters)
19 of 30 Females

The Glen Lyon Ultramarathon is the newest race in the BaM Racing portfolio. Billed as a 30 mile run in one of the remotest parts of Central Scotland, it was being ran for the first time in 2016 with a limited field size. Anyone who has done a BaM event before knows that they are in for a treat, so I signed up without hesitation when the race opened in February.

Glen Lyon is as remote as it is beautiful, so we booked into a hotel in Aberfeldy for the night before the race. In direct contrast to everything which went wrong with our trip to London for the marathon, this overnight stay could not have gone better. We stayed at the Aberfeldy Townhouse, an immaculate and comfortable boutique hotel with the most amazing customer service I’ve ever experienced outside of the USA. Pre-dinner beverages were taken at the Fountain Bar in the town square, with its outside seating area providing a comfortable place to soak up the warmth of the golden hour. Dinner was at the Three Lemons, a bar and brasserie that would not have been out of place in a fashionable neighbourhood in any city, and we enjoyed some huge and delicious stone-baked pizzas before retiring back to our hotel for an early night.

Glen Lyon Ultra 1

The next morning we were awake just after 6 and headed down to the restaurant for a pre-arranged early breakfast at 7am. Since they do not serve breakfast until 8am on the weekends, the hotel manager had very kindly offered to prepare us a breakfast roll and some coffee to prepare us for the day ahead. In actual fact, the staff had come in early, the whole breakfast buffet had been set up, including warm pastries fresh from the oven, and we were given two overflowing rolls each, served with fresh coffee and several rounds of toast. As ever my eyes were bigger than my stomach and I was well and truly stuffed with we left the hotel at 7.30am.

Glen Lyon Ultra 3

The 23 mile drive from Aberfeldy to Glen Lyon took over an hour, much of which is on treacherous and windy crumbling single track road. With no phone signal or means of communications other than the Race Director’s emergency satellite phone, this race was well and truly off the grid.

Glen Lyon Ultra

We arrived at the Dam at 8:45 which was just enough time to get registered, choose which layers to wear, and say hello to an assortment of friends. The weather was more or less perfect but there was a chilly wind which kept things cool as the sun was hidden behind haze.  I went for my new long sleeve Tracksmith top over the top of a tshirt, with various peripherals packed in my race vest.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Picture – Fiona Rennie

Glen Lyon Ultra

At 9:15am there was the briefest of briefings before the whistle went at 9:30am to set us on our way. There was half a mile of road to run on before a swift turn uphill for a long march up towards the Dam.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Picture – Susan Addison

The race is, to borrow the words of Dougie, a race of two Glens. The first half takes in the entire circumference of the dammed Loch Lyon before bringing the runners back to race HQ for a check point. The road was an undulating rocky landrover track which you could never quite relax on – the uneven terrain made it easy to lose your footing and stumble. With stunning views the whole way around it was easy to get distracted.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon Ultra

The heat slowly rose in the Glen and I quickly found myself losing my outer layers. This meant that the several river crossings were welcome relief, especially the handfuls of fresh spring water I splashed on my face to cool down with. Unsurprisingly, I hadn’t been hungry at all after my big breakfast, but was drinking a lot of water.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon Ultra SA 2

There was a water point at 9.5 miles right at the far end of the Loch before we headed back towards HQ. I said hello to Iona and Donna before refilling my bottles and getting on the move quickly. I was aware I was pretty far back in the field but I didn’t care as long as I was feeling ok and running smoothly. I knew that today was not going to be a day for fast times or impressive running from my legs!

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon UltraPhoto – Donna Leslie

Returning towards the Dam the headwind was very strong and I had to work that bit harder to keep a steady pace. I reached the Dam and the (theoretical half way point) in roughly 3 hours which was bang on target . Not knowing the course, I had guessed I might take between 6 and 6.5 hours to cover the 30 miles, but I knew that the second Glen, and in particular getting in and out of it, would be harder running.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon Ultra

Picture – Fiona Rennie

After leaving Race HQ we were back onto tarmac road for a long 2 mile slog up a steep hill,Looking towards the other side of the Loch, you can see where the path we had ran on  previously is hewn from the sides of the Glen high above the water.

Glen Lyon Ultra

After the long climb up there was a flat half mile as the road followed the contour lines before descending down into Glen Lochart. There was a water stop at around 20 miles before we turned off the road and onto a rocky trail high above the Glen. Looking down I could see little running figures on the bottom of the other side of the Glen on their way back; I did some quick sums in my head and calculated that the loop around the Glen must be about 7 miles in length, before the long and arduous haul back over the hill to the finish. Looking ahead down the Glen was daunting and my mental resolved wobbled a little; I was tiring and beginning to feel a bit sick, and it was obvious that  my lack of training was beginning to show.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon Ultra

The small field of 80 had long since spread out and I ran much of the race completely by myself. There were very few race markers required, so if it hadn’t been for the odd glimpse of a person far in the distance, I may as well have been out there completely alone. Miles 20 – 27 were really quite tough as I pushed myself on when I was fatiguing hard. My legs and hips were feeling ok; not stiff or hurting, and my feet were fine too, but I was just lacking the solid cardio fitness which usually makes these events a lot easier. Feeling nauseated really wasn’t helping either, but I just trucked on steadily, breaking up the miles in a 0.1 walk/0.4 run sequence. I was amused to pass through marathon distance at 5hr 12m 38s, which is only a few seconds off the time in which I completed my very first marathon.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Finally, the big pipeline which we had crossed 7 miles ago came back into site and I knew I had nearly completed my lap of the Glen. I began to steel myself for the 3 mile climb from the bottom of the Glen right to the top of the hill. I had caught up with Sue, a Wee County Harrier, who I’d spoken to one or two times before, and chatting with her made the first of the three miles pass a lot more comfortably. We reached the 20 and 27 mile water point where I had hoped to tickle Diesel the Dog for some puppy power, but he was fast asleep having had a big day cheering all of the runners.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Picture – Lois Simpson

After quenching my thirst I locked in for the last few miles and started an ultra stomp up the hill, huffing and swearing as I went. It was obvious the race was going to be well over 30 miles in distance, but at least I knew the last two were downhill.

30 miles came and went, and so did 31, but the finish line didn’t arrive until 31.6 miles – a slightly generous 50k. Running up towards the finishing arch was a lovely feeling, as was having Kynon’s arms to fall into once again. Thanks to Fiona Rennie for these excellent pictures.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon Ultra

I had a sit down and some more water, before putting on some dry warm clothes immediately.  I wanted to eat but the appetite just wasn’t there, so I had a cup of sugary tea to keep my blood sugar up. It would have been nice to hang around but we had to more or less zoom off straight away in order to drive back home to get to a birthday party that evening. I was nervous about the twisty road making me car-sick but in the end we were stuck behind the slowest van in the world so it wasn’t really a concern!

I would thoroughly recommend this race to anyone looking to step up to ultra distance running, but is maybe a little unsure of the flat and fast nature of the D33. This race gives all the scenery and trail running of some of the longer SUMS events but without the extra mileage. The event is sure to grow to be another huge success for BaM, so keep your eyes peeled for the 2017 opening date!

Glen Lyon Ultra – Race Preview

Did you know I’m off to Glen Lyon tomorrow to run a 30 mile race? I did, kind of… I don’t know about you but April this year has evaporated at such a speed I feel like this race has crept up on me a lot quicker that I ever expected it to!

glen lyon ultra

So what’s the Glen Lyon Ultra?

The Glen Lyon Ultra is a brand new race from BaM Racing, stalwarts of the Scottish Ultra scene and organisers of Glen Ogle 33, Great Glen Ultra, and Glenmore 24. They like a race in a Glen, you see.  The race route was first used a few years ago when a company ran an event called the Tigh Nam Bodach 50k in December. For some reason the race never took off and it just faded away after the first year, but it is back with the BaM treatment and looking like a great Spring adventure taking place at a far more hospitable time of year.

glen lyon ultra david downey

Picture – David Downey

Where is Glen Lyon?

Glen Lyon is…in the middle of nowhere. This is a really remote race, high up in the hills in Central Scotland, properly off grid whilst technically still in Perthshire. It’s a three hour drive from Stonehaven, the last hour of which covers only 23 miles on single track roads towards a hamlet called Pubil. To this end, we are staying in Aberfeldy tonight to maximise the amount of sleep tonight in order to arrive in time for the 9.30am start.

glen lyon ultra route

What is the weather situation?

Well, it doesn’t actually look too bad – perfect weather for running if the forecast is correct. That part of Scotland can get extremely cold at any time of year though so I’ll be taking an array of kit. I’m a little sad that we’ll be missing the relative heatwave on Sunday, but perhaps it’s for the best given my usual failure to perform in heat. Unfortunately Stonehaven is on the wrong side of the weather front on Sunday, so I won’t be able to recover in any warm sunshine like you might find in Perthshire!

glen lyon ultra weather

So what’s the plan?

Any regular readers will know that 2016 has really been any but regular for me in terms of training. I AM training – an assortment of gym work, club running sessions, half marathon length runs, but LONG long runs have been largely non existent, and as for long off road stuff…the less said about that the better. The reason for this massive change in training has been because of having no big events to train for – no D33, no Fling, no Cateran, no WHW/Great Glen – all of the events which have shaped my training over the last few years have been absent from my schedule, and there’s little to no point in dragging your body through high mileage training for no reason. I’ve had a tough few years and perhaps this little break has been good physically. Mentally it doesn’t feel very ok though. Why no races? Well, to put it bluntly; when they all opened last year/early this year, I really didn’t think we’d be living in Scotland. But we still are. So make of that what you will.

Anyway; I’m not too worried about tomorrow. I know it will be harder than it ought to be, but endurance doesn’t go away and I expect it will just take a little while for me to settle into my groove. I’m really looking forward to a long run out in the hills; I’m going to take it easy and soak up the surroundings, enjoy the company of my fellow ultra runners who I simply haven’t seen enough of this year, and use the race as an opportunity to mentally reset and try and get to a place where I can at least regconise myself as an athlete again.

glen lyon ultra route profile

Are you running a race this weekend?

Have you ever been to Glen Lyon?

Am I going to survive that dirty vertical after 26 miles?!

Berlin Marathon 2015 – RACE REPORT

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!

The Fare Challenge Half Marathon – RACE REPORT

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.

IMG_4839

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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