This race was first mentioned to me by Charlotte back in January. At the time she said I should enter it as I had a good chance of placing (e.g. finishing in the top 3). At that point I hadn’t been running that long and it seemed a ludicrous idea, but I was sold on the home baking after the race. I also knew the event was already full, but Charlotte informed me that 20 additional places had just been released. Unfortunately, by the time I went to register those additional places had also been snapped up, so I put myself on the waiting list and forgot about it.
With less than a week to go, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get a place. I had also come down with a bad chest infection shortly after Tay Ten which ruined most of my Easter Break fortnight (and which my Mum puts down to me running half marathon distance in freezing torrential rain a few days after the Tay Ten), and thought it was probably a good job I wasn’t running. Then I checked my email at 06:00am on the Thursday before the race to discover that, lo and behold, spaces had become available. Even though I was still coughing and had only attempted one short run in a fortnight, I couldn’t turn the place down. Surely I would be fine for Sunday. What could possibly go wrong? I didn’t know the route, but I did a recce round the Loch on the Thursday evening to try out my new trail shoes (which are fab). I did a lot of coughing and couldn’t push the pace, but decided I was fit to get round at least. And I felt a fair bit better on Saturday so decided it would be fine.
As nobody else from Brechin was running, I decided I had better head there early(ish) to be sure of a parking space. I got there around 9:50am and registration was quick and effortless. I expressed surprise when I was handed number 6 (because I was a late entrant). On seeing my surprise, the volunteer reassured me that they just did the numbers alphabetically and not based on expected finish position. As there was no changing area at the Start, and the weather was very changeable, I decided to go back to my car to change into my shorts on the advice of another marshal. Heading towards the car park I was delighted to see Wendy and Andy, so I knew I would have people to talk to before the race began. I also gave Andy my camera and asked him to take photos during the race, which he did a great job of. Thanks Andy! Sorry for giving you a job which probably made spectating a bit less relaxing.
About 10 minutes before the run I discovered that Charlotte (who had given up her place as she was meant to be away this weekend) was actually running. However, she had decided to run round with Marie so wasn’t racing. She and Lyn pushed me to the front so I was in the front row of runners when the race started.
With it being a women only race, and not knowing most of the runners, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of pacing. It starts on a tarmac gentle downhill slope and I was at the front of the front pack but tried to keep the pace over 7:15 so as not to go out too fast. There was a bit of a loop to the car park and over some grassy areas before heading across a small bridge and doubling back. I’d asked the lady next to me (Rache) if she knew where we were going and she didn’t know either, but there were Marshals at every possible point where you could get lost, and so being out in front wasn’t a worry from a getting lost perspective. They were all really encouraging, and there were also a few photographers at or near marshal points. As this is a small, club run event I was not expecting photographers and was impressed.
Rather than heading back up the road, the route takes you onto the grassy area along the side of the Loch. This meant we were doing a clockwise circuit of the Loch including the Yellow Trail. This side of the Loch is grassy, and the softness of it saps some leg strength. It’s quite narrow but you could run three or even four abreast so I knew I wasn’t holding anyone up. On leaving the open, grassy side of the Loch about 1 mile in, you are onto narrow trails and under cover of trees for most of it. This was great as it had started to rain. The path has a number of twists and turns, but is largely very flat (there are a few short gentle uphill’s) and smooth as far as trails go. I was glad I had bought trail shoes a couple of weeks beforehand though.
The path follows the Loch, and then loops away from it for a short while, then the second half of the race takes you back to the Lochside, though still on forest paths. It’s all very scenic. One section about 3km in was very muddy, but only for about 4 metres. I had a quick look back and saw that I had enough time to circumvent the mud without giving up the lead, so I kept the trail shoes relatively free from dirt, though I did find some dirt inside my socks after I got home.
I was out in front, alone, from before the 2km point. This was very unusual for me as I have never done a women’s only race since the Glasgow Women’s 10k in 2004, and I finished about 1400th there. My highest overall finishing position at Parkrun is 9th, and there are usually a few guys to pace myself by if there are no similarly or faster paced women (though usually I get beaten by one of the junior girls or a female vet). This gave me an inkling as to how Michael Loudon @RaceRecce must feel some weeks at Parkrun when he finishes 15 – 30 seconds or more in front. I mentioned this to Michael and he said it was swings and roundabouts: sometimes the fear of getting caught pushes you on, but sometimes having someone to chase gets more out of you. I personally found it rather disconcerting. I didn’t want to look over my shoulder too often, but kept thinking there must be a few ladies who started further back in the pack and were running a tactical, negative splits kind of race who were going to catch up with under a mile to go and leave me trailing in the dust. It was pretty lonely out there, and the kilometre markers didn’t make me feel any better as my quads were starting to feel heavy by around 3km. I tried to keep pushing, but had a bit of a pace slump in the 4th kilometre.
By the time I got back to the road that runs along the short 4th side of the Loch entering the final kilometre, I was pretty sure I could win it, and tried to pick up the pace. The marshal on the bridge said it was about half a mile to go and I was looking strong. I told her I’d gone out too fast and this was horrible, but I think I also remembered to thank her? If I didn’t – sorry and thanks for the encouragement on the final stretch. Once you cross the small bridge over the stream, you loop back onto the road we ran down at the start of the race. It slopes gently uphill, but you notice the gradient more at this point. As I could see the welcome Finish area, I tried to put on a bit of a sprint, but this was premature as it’s a longer stretch of road than it looks. By the time I saw the clock it was at 22:58 and I knew I had no chance of squeaking under 23 minutes so my sprint had a slump in the middle then a few seconds of sprinting when I saw Andy with the camera ready. (Thanks again, Andy.)
As soon as I crossed the line a nice young boy tried to hand me my goody bag. However I jogged past him and took several seconds to recover before heading back to him, at which point I thanked him and immediately hunted down the water bottle. The goody bag contained a small but decent selection of items including, unusually, a small pot of Mackays jam. The Tunnocks wafer is no more, but I’m looking forward to trying the jam later. The medal is very colourful and even though it’s not quite as large as the Tay Ten one I like it just as much. It’s a really nice design and feels weighty.
Although I train with two (sometimes three) different running groups, the only affiliated one, and my first claim club, is Arbroath Footers. There was a massive 19 of us (perhaps more, but that was my head count) out of 87 entrants. Around 20 seconds after I had finished, I saw Vicky heading for the finish line in second place. Then Christie appeared to make it a Footers hat-trick – 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Go Footers!
As more finishers appeared, we did a lot of posing for photos and had a nice chat. All the runners were really friendly and there was a fair bit of mingling.
After the final runner (and tail runner Linzi) appeared we headed for tea and home baking. I’d thought it would just be cakes, but there were some savoury items too so I got a small slice of pizza, a pastry and a sausage roll in addition to two cakes – in an attempt to feel slightly more healthy. I really wanted to take more cakes as they all looked delicious, but didn’t want to have too much of a sugar rush.
We got plenty of time to enjoy our food and refreshments, and most people stuck around for the prizes. This was nice, and is probably not the norm for a lot of races but this one was so friendly – and of course the cakes could persuade most people to stick around for the prize-giving. Another incentive to stick around is, as we had been told at the start, there are spot prizes awarded by marshals. These are not for fastest times, but things like looking the most happy, or being the most supportive running friend.
I really liked this aspect of the prize ceremony, and their prizes were pretty decent. I received a £20 Run4It voucher (which I have already mentally spent on another pair of Ronhill shorts), a £20 voucher for Titanic Pizza, and a bag of Munchies. The two food-related prizes were the only things my other half had any interest in when I got home and told him about the race.
I finished with a time of 00:23:06 in 1st position. Unlike Tay Ten though, I didn’t get particularly emotional at the finish line. I think that being out in front for over 80% of the race had given me time to get used to the idea, and I was also less overwhelmed by my time, which was around a minute slower than my Parkrun PB so it hadn’t been an unexpected performance, even if the win was a pleasant surprise.
This was a fantastic introduction to trail races for me. It was a nice flat course with a lovely country park, loch and forest setting. It was also a good introduction to women only races, and the different vibe that comes from that. I didn’t enjoy being essentially a solo runner for the majority of the race though: I think running it a few minutes slower with people to chat to may have been more enjoyable. However, that was my choice to do so, and the prizes made up for the loneliness of the latter part of the race. If you’re female and looking for a nice introduction to shorter distance trail races in a lovely setting which is superbly organised and provides a lovely spread afterwards, I’d highly recommend it. You may even get a prize, no matter how fast or slow you plan to run it. I’ll certainly be trying to get a place as soon as it goes live next year!
All photos were either taken on my camera (thanks to Andy and Charlotte, and the Marshal whose name I didn’t get who took the Footers one at the end), or were by race photographers who granted permission to use and share their photos.