Even when I was adamant that 2018 was going to be all about Manchester marathon and I was only going to be running “one” marathon this year, I still planned to do Strathearn, as I just love it so much. The logistics are simple- you can drive down and back on one day, the course is tough but scenic, but the thing that really sells it are all the volunteers involved in this race. Every single person you pass, from the guy directing you into the carpark, to the people on registration, to the marshals out on course and at the finish line, are the most friendly, enthusiastic people you could ever hope to find.
I was also keen to continue my streak and run this for the fifth time in a row. It’s only been run on seven occasions, though I’m not sure how many people have run them all. What I did decide to end though was my streak of early morning starts. Due to my liking for being in good time for everything (some might say ludicrously early), it’s always a painful early start. Last year as I drove past multiple hotels and B&Bs en route to the start, I promised myself that this year I would book a hotel.
I duly found a reasonably priced wee hotel in Comrie, just five minutes from the start. Stu was working on the Saturday so we didn’t leave Aberdeen until nearly 5, but we made good time and arrived around 7pm just in time for our dinner reservation. The hotel was busy, and I was worried our room would be noisy, but it was in a nice secluded little cottage out the back so it was fine. There had clearly been a crazy downpour shortly before, but it was still sticky and warm.
The woman who checked us in was lovely and super chatty, it was a small and friendly place. Even through our dinner she was chatting away, though I wasn’t so delighted to hear that it had been the hottest week she had ever experienced in the area and temperatures had reached 30 degrees! The forecast for the Sunday was warm but not that warm, with the possibility of some showers earlier on. I wasn’t going to be aiming for any kind of time (though it would have been nice to get under 5 hours, or under the 4:58 to stop my run of getting slower every time I run this race!), so I was just hoping that the weather was going to be pleasant enough that I could try to enjoy the day out.
After dinner we had a little walk to help dinner go down, then headed to our room to watch a movie before getting an early night. I didn’t sleep particularly well, but I got a few good hours, and I was very relieved as 5am came and went and it wasn’t yet time to get up! It was nice to have a later start, take my time with breakfast, and head over to the start for just after 8am for a 9am start, so in good time to get registered and have multiple loo visits, but not too long to hang about.
Many of the usual suspects were there, and it was great to catch up with everybody. I had originally asked Kate for company during the race, but that was before I also did Edinburgh and I knew I was going to be far too slow for her, so I told her to go and do her own thing (she also had to finish in time to get her lift back!), and I’m glad I did as she went on to run an absolutely cracking time. Lyndsey, who I had the pleasure of running much of the race with a few years ago, was also there and I thought that we may end up running together.
Personalised bottle dropped off, chip and number attached, and portaloo visited around 500 times, it was time to head to the start line. I’m sure there was a briefing of some kind, but I didn’t hear it, and in the midst of chatting suddenly we were off! I was next to Callum and keen to have a chat with him I ended up running the first mile way too fast, but at least it was flat! As we turned out of the camp and on to the main road, Alan and Lyndsey caught up to me and we chatted a little, then Alan pulled on ahead. Lyndsey was chatting to a couple of people who were nervous about the cut off and I started to pull away a little as we headed up the first hill. I meant to hold back and run with her but somehow I didn’t and though I kept hoping she would catch me up, she never quite did- I should have just stuck with her at the beginning!
The first few miles were as tough as ever, and it was already warm, so I was pouring with sweat. I just ran where I could and walked where I needed to- hoping that maybe if I really took in steady in the first half I could aim for a faster second half. As ever every marshal we passed was super enthusiastic and friendly, and the pipers on the hills were a lovely touch.
As we reached the top of the hill around five miles, it was bizarre to see the piles of hailstones at the side of the road. It was nearing twenty degrees, but the leftovers from the crazy storm the night before were still evident! I tried to remark on this to the woman running next to me, as we had been leapfrogging for the last couple of miles, but she had headphones in and obviously had them up loud (this was also evident as I then saw her getting in the way of cars that she didn’t seem to register were there). I was irrationally annoyed by this and it became my mission to try to stay ahead of her!
The downhill section seemed to take forever to arrive and even when it did, I couldn’t pick up much speed. I was fairly isolated with nobody anywhere near me (apart from my new nemesis still fairly close on my tail!). I started to wonder why I love this race so much- it was feeling like a real slog.
After a couple of miles downhill, the route levels out before the next mean uphill. As I do every year I made the hilarious joke that I would rather turn right than left, but they still made me turn left up the hill as they do every year. One of the marshals said something about the hill not being that bad, but I knew what was coming!
As I plodded on up I heard a panting behind me and there was Stu on his bike, having left just before the runners and already completed one circuit of the race route. It was nice to see him and he cycled alongside me for a good few minutes before going on ahead and telling me he would see me again.
Once that killer hill is out of the way, it’s not long until halfway. It’s also a bit more shaded along that part of the route, and the wee breeze was very pleasant. I just really didn’t have anything in my legs- or, if I’m honest, my mind! I was walking more than I should have, but now I just wanted to keep making forward progress. I went through halfway in around 2:30, so knew that 5 hours would be a stretch, although the second half is definitely easier.
Stuart appeared again, and it was really nice to have his support. He popped up fairly regularly through the second half, and it really did make a difference. As we turned on to the main road around 18 miles, the marshal at the bottom called out, “well done, all downhill from here!” I replied that he was a liar, as I know full well there’s another mean up around 19 miles. I was still in decent spirits though, as Stu captured.
Run, walk, run, walk, one mile at a time… god it’s warm now! Glad I put suncream on, and glad I had my vest with water and Lucozade. At 21 miles I passed a guy who was fully walking and obviously in some discomfort- he said his hips had gone. I was able to promise him that there were no more big hills, but he did say that he would be getting in the first aid car if it passed. I don’t know if he finished- having managed 21 miles, I hope he did!
My headphone nemesis had been right behind me until now, but now I did put a bit of distance between us. It was good to have a reason to keep pushing though, as any kind of decent time was long gone. Around 22 miles somebody came into view up ahead, and I seemed to be gaining on her, so that was also a motivation. Finally it was just a parkrun to go, and I knew we would soon be back into the town and into that last mile and a half. I caught up to the lady ahead, and we told each other well done.
As I turned into the last mile and the long straight (slightly uphill!) road to the finish, I could see a couple more people ahead. I was also looking like I could dip under 5:15, but it was going to be tight, so I had a reason to keep pushing. Just as we reached mile 26, I passed the guy ahead of me- he was wearing a full kilt, which I did not envy! “Alzheimer’s all the way!” which was a lovely boost- I was proud to be wearing my vest, and I’m proud of the money I’ve raised for such a great cause.
Finally, the last corner was appearing and then I was turning towards the finish. They announced my name and I crossed the line with a big grin, tired but satisfied. I grabbed some water and my medal and fell gratefully into a chair. Another one in the bag!
Once I had recovered a little, I went and found the Strathearn squirrel, as I had taken my four previous medals and wanted the photo op. Sadly the medals aren’t that clear in the photo but it’s a good one nonetheless.
I rave about this race every year, even though I question why after those first few miles uphill. It’s just so well organised, so friendly, and good value. I intend to return again and continue my streak- although hopefully next year will be the year I finally stop getting slower!