The Monikie 10K has been a cornerstone on my race calendar every year since I started racing. It’s a local no-nonsense affair, and is one of the few ‘shorter’ races I take part in, giving me the rare chance to let loose and run with full speed and little tactics. It’s also the closest thing I have to a trail race on my calendar, the terrain varying from a small amount of road to grass and forest trail to grit-covered tarmac. Given the fact I do the majority of my training on trail surfaces, it’s also my best chance to terrify the road runners by fearlessly taking the wettest and muddiest paths to nab a position or two.
The Monikie 10K is pretty much as flat as you can get in Scotland without running on an athletics track, and the route is a double figure of 8 around the 2 watery reservoirs in the country park. The difficulty lies in the fact that the whole path is raised and narrow, making overtaking exceptionally difficult without risking a dip in a pond or a tumble down the embankment on the other side towards the roads surrounding the park. Also, because of the circular nature of the course, at some point during the race you’ll undoubtedly have your breath stolen by a nasty headwind and/or be fighting not to be blown into the water.
For a competitive runner looking for a time, I imagine the nature of the route would make it a nightmare. For me though, a plodder who’s usually the over-takee rather than the over-taker, it works quite well. I’ve managed some reasonable times on the course, ranging from 1:12:ish, to my 10K record of 1:06:55 that I somehow managed to achieve in 2016 despite being half-blinded and suffocated by raging hayfever.
On the day, I had pretty low expectations of myself. The Stirling Marathon was still weighing on my legs and my last few training runs had been more of a recovery stagger while my calves cramped up. So I pretty much threw my training plan out the window on the last week leading up to the Monikie 10K, hoping I’d be rested and recovered enough that I wouldn’t embarrass myself. Nonetheless, that morning I did my obligatory check of my previous records in the hope I might shave a few seconds off in a mad dash to the finish once the finish timer was in sight. My 2017 time had been 1:08:23 and that felt like as good a target as any.
We reached the Monikie country park at 10:20, just when the speedy 5K runners were finishing their 10AM start race. The car parking fare wasn’t included in the sign-up price this year, so there was a lot less congestion compared to previous years and my concerns of being late and having to abandon the car somewhere were totally unfounded (could you blame me after the Stirling fiasco though?).
We nipped to the loos before the toilet queues became a thing, and headed down into the park to pick up our race numbers from the tents. Since it was a 10K, my dad had agreed to run this one with me, and we’ve got a bit of an unreasonable family rivalry thing going on so our time spent queuing to collect race numbers was filled with good-natured terrible trash talk.
The rubber ankle bracelet timing chips were back again and I fussed with mines all the way up until the race briefing…when I totally forgot about it again. Because then it was a quick march down the hill to where the timing mats would act as our start point, and I hurriedly had to set up my Strava on the go while trying not to walk into any of the other 250 odd runners who were being herded in the same direction.
Then it was a quick countdown of 3-2-1 and everyone took off at speed… Until being forced to stop abruptly as the narrow timing mats couldn’t handle the congestion. No one wanted to finish without a time so the first minute of gun time was wasted with everyone squeezing into a tight little queue. I guess that’s the whole point of timing chips though!
To sneak out of the start-of-race congestion I scurried along the grass edge as soon as I was through the timing mats, nabbing a few sneaky positions while many of the other runners were forced to follow the pace of those in front. My period of relative rest had helped and my legs felt strong enough to skip up the incline towards the crowds lingering by the café and what would later be the finish line.
It was a little congested on the first small footbridge we came across so I tried to go a smidge faster to squeeze into a gap and avoid delays, then it was on to the long straight bit of grass that would act as the middle line of our figure of 8 route that we’d soon get sick of, having to run down it four whole times before we were finally able to cross the finish line.
In my bid for space, I’d accidentally taken off far too quickly, but for the moment I was somehow managing to sustain the pace and I decided that was fine. This tends to be my default strategy for the 10K distance; Start fast and try to cling on. The very long distance tactics don’t tend to work for me over a 10K, if I go steady there’s no hope in catching up with other runners later, they’re gone and finished and driving home well before I show up.
So I took off like a bat out of hell and kept it steady for the first loop around the north reservoir. The narrow path meant I got stuck behind a couple running side by side, but when I finally managed to squeeze through and overtake I found it was much like getting caught in fast moving traffic on the motorway. I didn’t dare slow down unless I got mowed over, so I was forced to hold on a bit further until the end of the reservoir and the path widened by the trees.
I gulped down air and ran in the mud to let some of the speedsters passed, glad I was no longer being hounded by quicker runners than I. The next part of the loop involved a snaking path through the forested area around the park and I resolved to take it a bit easier at least for this section. I tried peering through the trees at the other runners to try and see if my dad was sneaking up on me for an overtake, but there was no sign of him. Which just made me even more suspicious. Had he somehow managed to cut ahead of me at the start?
I felt a bit better coming out of the forest section and turned left, ready to take on the long centre straight for the second time. I encountered the water station en route and chucked the water over my head despite the fact it was already drizzling with rain. This helped a lot after my kamikaze starting sprint, and I headed into my next loop with renewed enthusiasm.
And it’s at this point I was lapped by who would later be the winner of the race. A Perth roadrunner bounded by like a gazelle and took the loop left while I had yet to go right, meaning he had already started his second figure of 8, he was a whole pond ahead!
This is the funny thing about the Monikie route. Depending on your outlook, it can be very encouraging or very demoralising. Because it’s flat and raised, you can see the entire distance for almost the entirety of the race, no matter where you are. So on one hand, I was 3 km in and could already see the finish, but I could also see all the other runners ahead of me as little colourful dots along the other side of the loch. It’s a mental game that I’ve had a bit too much practice at, so I resolved to ignore everyone else’s race and focus on what was in front of me.
I hit the second pond at about 21 minutes, but I knew the second was a good deal smaller than the first despite appearances so I tried to keep going at a comfortably hard pace. The southern reservoir’s path had been fixed this year, so I was confident I could shave a few seconds off my 2017 time without the risk of breaking an ankle.
This part of the route was kind of a grit-covered tarmac, but it wasn’t sapping the power from my stride like the grass had been so I tried to make the most of it. I felt like I was doing well until one of those little gritty stones found its way into my shoe and it felt like I was stamping down on a nail with every step. Naturally, I checked my Fitbit, and upon discovering I was making good time decided that being repeatedly stabbed in the foot was a small price to pay for a personal victory and kept on running.
I lumbered down the hill at the end of the second pond and probably terrified the ladies chatting ahead of me with my barely controlled descent toward them. I overtook them at the bottom, and hit the timing mat that had been our start point at around 31 minutes. Time-wise things were looking impossibly good, and if I could just hold on for another 5km without any major mishaps then even my 2016 PB looked achievable.
Miraculously, the stone managed to shift somewhere less problematic in my shoe and I was able to keep going without mishap. Through the water station again and down the centre line until I was finally going left along the north reservoir again. It was less drizzly now but the wind had picked up, and sure enough it was a struggle to keep up the pace on the exposed embankment when the wind was trying to push me the other way. It’s at this point that I deliberately lost a few places, when I realised the chatting ladies I’d overtaken earlier were now behind me and I was clearly being used as a windbreak!
I veered as close to the edge as I dared and slowed down to encourage them to overtake, letting them get some ways ahead before picking up the pace again. I doubt there’s any rules on drafting on small scale races such as Monikie and it could have been the narrow nature of the course, but with the field having thinned out it was more than a little distracting having another runner panting in my ear, so I was glad to let them go ahead.
The forested area was a welcome change in atmosphere, but it wasn’t long before I was back out by the water station and on the long centre straight for the final time. Back on the grit track and trying not to enviously watch the other runners approaching the finish line on the other side of the reservoir. Bewildered, I watched another runner with their medal and goody bag running back through the course, presumably to meet up with another runner and finish together. I wistfully imagined what it might be like to have that much energy at the end of a race and kept a-plodding until a marshal directed me up the final grassy stretch to the finish line.
I failed to engage the marshal in conversation despite my best intentions, smiling and making some sort of ‘thank you save me I’m dying but about to sprint’ sound instead of actual words. I glanced at my Fitbit and saw 59 something, and I was ecstatic. The final stretch of the Monikie 10k runs exactly parallel to the final stretch of the Angus HAM that I’d completed in April, and short of falling into the pond, a PB was in the bag!
I sailed across the finish in 1:04:28, but my timing chip (that I’d literally forgotten about and a marshal had to chase me down to physically take it off my ankle) later told me my chip time of 1:04:02. I was delighted! Not only did I have a course personal best, but a 10K personal best!
I picked up my goody bag and was chomping through the included cereal bar when my dad jogged over the line. I have a recording of it, so there can be no arguments about which one of us won the Monikie 10K this year!
In the end, I came in 189 out of the 256 people who ran the 10K that day. It was quite the novelty for me to get the chance to watch others coming over the line, since I’m usually much further back in the field. My personal best was unexpected, but it’s a definite relief to know that my speed hasn’t plateaued just yet. That sub-1 hour 10K is looking mighty tempting and closer than ever!
Most photographs were taken by Debbie’s support crew. The mid-race photographs are courtesy of John Mills.