Balloch to Clydebank Half Marathon – 18th March 2018 – by David Wilson

The Balloch to Clydebank Road Race is one of the longer established road races in the Scottish Athletics calendar being first held on 31st March 1928. Originally billed as a “marathon race of 12 miles”, it was organized by Clydesdale Harriers to coincide with the Clydebank Students Charities Day. Dunbartonshire Amateur Athletic Association subsequently took over the organization of the race and thereafter until 1970, when it attracted just 3 entries, only members of Clubs affiliated to the Association were eligible to enter the race. As a result of the poor level of interest, a decision was taken to make the race open from 1971 and it later become one of the most popular races in the West of Scotland. During the “marathon boom” of the 1980s it regularly attracted fields of more than 300 participants – reaching a peak of 484 in 1984.The distance was increased to the half marathon in the year 2000 in a successful effort increase the level of entries and it was discovered at that time that the distance of the original course was only a little short of 13 miles. The race has been held over the present course since 2004.

I had my eye on this race for some time in as a marker for my Stirling Marathon preparations. I saw it as a marker to check out my current fitness levels and also it’s an old favorite half marathon from my pre original running life sabbatical.  After entering the race I soon realized this was the day after the clocks changed for British Summer Time (allegedly)! I had to be at the finish for no later than 8:00am to get bused to the start point. With a two hour drive from Brechin this was going to require an early start unless I could move home to my Mum’s for the night before the race as this was my local half marathon after all.

I traveled down on the Saturday evening and settled into my boyhood single bed early on. I tried to sleep through the dulcet tones of my old local the Laughing Fox on a Saturday night, but it wasn’t easy: the standard of karaoke has not improved any!

After a light cereal breakfast I made my way into Clydebank to get bused back to the start in the rickety old double decker busses. We arrived near the start at Lomond Shores in plenty of time before the 9:30am start so there was time to have a look over Loch Lomond and up towards the towering Ben Lomond in the distance which was looking resplendent with a coating of thick snow.

There was time for a gentle warm up jog and during this I bumped into John Harrison – an old club mate of mine from back in the day when short shorts were a given as part of everyday running kit. We had a nice chat about the old days and wondered were the years had gone. John was second in this race many years ago and was a really top class club runner. He’s now doing really well getting “back into running at the young age of 64”.

The race is mostly made up of club runners with very few fun runners. Within the first 400 meters, the route took a sharp left turn which took us onto the banks of the River Leven which flows from Loch Lomond and into the Clyde. The River Leven is said to be the second fastest flowing river in Scotland behind the River Spey. I quickly found myself a good bit further up the field than I had set out to be. However the tar footpath going along the river bank is fairly narrow at probably 6 to 7 feet in width, which could prove problematic if caught too far back in the field. As we followed the river my first mile felt a little too fast at 6 minutes 20 seconds. I wanted to spend the next couple of miles trying to settle into a rhythm – which I was finding it hard to settle into. Running this route after all these years did seem rather surreal as I would have ran this river bank in training with regularity. While training in the Brechin area we are not short of fine routes to run in, but I couldn’t help but feel that I really missed the option of having this flat route as an alternative to constantly running on hills.

After 2 miles I was running under the Bonhill Bridge and, at a point where I should be relaxed, although I was not breathing hard my legs felt that they were turning over but I was not running as smoothly as I would like to. As we continued on the river path through my home town of Alexandria the river took a few sharp turns as it flows to towards the village of Renton where the route takes you away from the river up a short sharp steep incline of around 200 meters, just enough to break down any stride pattern. After passing through the village of Renton the route then follows the road into Dumbarton with a gentle but steady climb. This stretch of the race takes you along tree lined roads. There is not much to look at, and you can overthink things at this point. I tried to keep my concentration levels high and to grind out one mile at a time. By the time I reached Dumbarton at around 5 miles into the race I felt I was starting to settle into a nice stride pattern, crossing the Artizan bridge in Dumbarton with a stunning view of Dumbarton Castle off to my right where the Leven ends and runs into the River Clyde.

At around 6 miles I reached the first water station. Normally I would not take in water in a half marathon unless it was a particularly warm day. However I thought I should get some practice in the build-up to my marathon, and so took some. After a successful water intake I tried to throw my bottle in the direction of the marshal trying to clear the bottles. Unfortunately, in my enthusiasm to be helpful the marshal received ¾ a bottle of water narrowly missing his head! With apologies yelled over my shoulder I carried on under Dumbarton Central railway station. Through the next stretch I enjoyed seeing a few old familiar faces who were marshaling from my old club Dumbarton AAC. After a few cheery greetings and some double takes I proceeded onto the cycle track which provided a few twists and turns but a great surface to run on. I went along towards the 8 mile point feeling in control but knowing I was not capable of picking up the pace any more I tried to content myself with holding this and maybe digging out a final push in the last couple of miles.

Coming into the later stages of the race I seemed to be in no man’s land and running solo with the group in front too far ahead and I was making no headway. As the steepest incline on the route took us into the village of Bowling I noticed my mile splits were beginning to slow. For the next mile to mile and a half I began to get negative thoughts running around my head and with that the aches and pains which I have been coping with due to the recent increased miles started to plague my mind. Going under the Erskine Bridge I started to cruise and for the remainder I just wanted a race; that I had held so much hope for; I just wanted to get the miles banked and go home. Coming into Clydebank and the final mile and a half I tried to lift myself for a final push for the finish but my legs were having none of it and as I got into the final 800 meters I basically jogged over the line tired disappointed and a wee bit dejected. One of the marshals right on the finish line – Tommy Kelly, another old club mate – was really up for some chat immediately after I crossed the line. I made my apologies and said I was pretty beat up but told him I would catch up after five or ten minutes when I had time to compose myself. I sat at the side of the road where someone from Motherwell AC asked how I had run. I told him my disappointed tale and he immediately picked me up by telling me he had done ten marathons and races in his training cycle he had always found to be feast or famine and not to look into it too much. Being picked up slightly, I had a good catch up with Tommy at the finish line before heading for home.

To reflect on my run – a time of 1:29:11 was not too bad. With reflection I have been listening to people and allowing my ego to be massaged and maybe thought I was in better shape that I actually was. Perhaps I had been looking at an unrealistic marathon time and getting away from my original goal. This time last year I was three stone heavier than I am now and could not even have run a half marathon let alone chase down a respectable time. When I entered the Stirling marathon, my aim was to go under 3:15 to get a good for age place at London 2019, and then have a year to prepare for project breaking 3. That original goal is still very much on target. For someone who has been running for as long as I have I should have known better and kept realistic micro goals.

Lesson learned, I have to be more positive I know I will always want more but will also try to be more realistic. I have another race next week at the Tay Ten which will be an enjoyable day. I’m not going with any pre conceived goals other than to have a good day. I’ve been following a marathon training plan for around 3 months now, and most of the hard work is done. I just have to trust that I’ve done enough and make sure I enjoy the experience.