The Dundee Half DRAM and I have something of a history. It was my very first half marathon back when I was getting started in the longer distances in 2014. At the time it seemed arduous and never ending, the looming three-hour time limit the only thing propelling me forward.
I bring up my first Half DRAM because the 2018 event felt very similar. Despite having ran it every year since 2014, this time I felt almost as unprepared. A loss in the family had left me reeling from mid-June onward, and my already whimsical training plan was one of the first things to be thrown to the wayside as a result. I had many excuses; the scorching weather, work, the midges, but truth be told I’d lost my mojo and was struggling to shove myself out the door.
The sensible thing would probably have been not to go. Almost a month consisting of barely 20km in total and my last long run having literally been the Stirling Marathon at the end of April. I was majorly undertrained and my fitness was certainly not where it needed to be for a half marathon, never mind for the other events I have scheduled later in the year. So naturally, when race day rolled around, I laced up my trainers and hopped in the car with my support crew to the starting line at Camperdown Park.
I feel like this whole blog post needs a disclaimer because this is very much a wonderful example of what not to do. Please actually train for your events!
The race numbers had been posted in advance this year, so the whole starting process seemed much smoother and more organised without the need to pick up race numbers and watching runners awkwardly try and pin bibs on themselves while shuffling in the toilet queues. We arrived at the park at 9:10 with a generous twenty minutes to spare before the start. I waved goodbye to my spectators, hopped in the loo queue and somehow barely got out before the race briefing. I had been hoping to meet up with some friends at the start, but there wasn’t much time to look before we were all prompted to line up according to our expected finish times and I dutifully took up my place toward the back.
My ambitious inner runner wanted to join the middle group, those hoping for a sub-2:30 finish. Last year I’d gotten a pretty close 2:31:42, and had things gone a bit more to plan I’d have been aiming to beat that this year. I managed to reel it in though, realising I had no idea where I could expect to finish since I had no idea how much my fitness had suffered. My only possible advantage was that my legs were fresher and more rested than they’d ever been before a race.
We were briefly delayed as there had been a wait for the last runners to get out of the toilet queues, and then with a quick 3-2-1 we were off. I took off at a comfortable pace and knowing the course, I was able to nab a few places at the start before the slope steepened and we had to hike out of Camperdown park, many sensibly choosing to walk and save their energy for later. My first mile was somewhere in the region of thirteen minutes, but I consoled myself with the knowledge that the worst of the hills was over and I could make back time later on.
Outside Camperdown, traffic was stopped for us as we joined our next trail up through the Templeton Woods. This was also uphill, but much easier to manage now that the crowds had thinned out. It wasn’t until we emerged into the dazzling sun that I realised just how much cover the woods had been giving us.
Having literally burnt the skin off my nose the Sunday before (see photo above), I was glad to have learned my lesson and applied sunscreen before the Half DRAM, although I’m sure it was coming off me in sweaty little white rivers. The clouds weren’t providing much cover at this point and the extreme summer heat (extreme for Scotland anyway) was taking its toll. The first water station was a welcome relief and I stopped to refill my water bottle which was somehow half empty after barely over two miles. Given that the same water bottle usually lasts me over ten miles on the average training run, I was very confused.
The next couple of miles was mostly downhill through St Mary’s, and despite the heat I found myself having a lot of fun. The slope downhill made running seem almost effortless after struggling up the previous hills, and I felt pretty good. I hadn’t had a particularly strong start but that sub-2:30 flitted across my mind more than once, my well-rested legs eating up the pavement. If the rest of the run was like this, a PB was in the bag!
Of course the rest of the run wasn’t like that. Around the three and a half mile mark the slope inevitably had to end, I had a stitch on both sides, and I was quite convinced my water bottle was leaking given how soaked my hand clutching the water bottle was. It took me another mile to realise I was actually guzzling water so quickly to combat the heat that I would soon be running short, and that the moisture on my hand was the pooling of my own sweat. Ewww.
This new revelation had me a little concerned. Not just for me but also for the runners relying exclusively on the water stations. The clouds had come in but the heat just seemed to get more oppressive. The route took us alongside some nice scenic ponds and waterways that thankfully gave us some shelter here and there, but then mile 5 was back by the roadside and eventually along the overpass. It was just before the overpass that some other runners had spotted someone watering their front garden and had quickly run over and requested to be sprayed. This seemed like a genius idea and I was quick to cross the road as well, much to the confusion of the bemused gentleman trying to water his garden. I’m not sure how many runners he ended up watering instead, but thanks to him I was cool enough to able to ration my water through the park until the water station at mile 6.
I checked that there was plenty of water available for the runners behind me before taking two cups, most of which went towards my water bottle for later. It was at this point I realised it was mile 6 and I had yet to refuel.
This is the next disclaimer. Don’t try training with new foods on race day. It is a terrible idea and your stomach may not react kindly.
But alas, I haven’t been able to look at a Starburst without feeling nauseous since the Stirling marathon, and having been running shorter distances/no distance at all, I hadn’t had the chance to test anything else as a potential stomach-friendly running food. Since frosted flakes had served me reasonably well for breakfast before, I’d crammed a handful in a pouch and munched on them, wondering if they’d always tasted as salty or if I was just desperate for electrolytes. With something solid on my stomach, I was then able to take a gel which, by the way, are even more sticky and unpleasant when warm.
The field was starting to thin out a lot at this point and many people were walking. I wasn’t surprised because I was walking too. It was simply too hot and I was feeling sweaty and sluggish. I played a game of ‘run when there’s shade’ and managed to overtake a few people along the way, but my hopes for a PB had been sweated out of me. As far as I’m concerned, some runs are for racing and some runs are for surviving. This definitely fell into the latter category. I readjusted my expectations, knowing very few would be getting PBs in these conditions.
Eventually I somehow came out of a rural footpath and ended up at Sainsbury’s (don’t ask me how, I lack a sense of direction and the variety of changing surroundings just made it worse) and I was elated to see an old running buddy. Louise had run the Half DRAM with some of her running club buddies from Aberdeen a couple of years ago, and they’d kindly accepted me into their fold and we’d bantered with each other for a good eight miles before I dropped the pace. We’d found each other on Facebook and had been keeping up to date with each other’s runs, so it was great to have her cheering me on and yelling encouragement. Louise also acted as my personal race photographer and sent me the action shots later! Thanks, Louise!
The third water station came not long after, and I was glad to see it. The woman at the water station had seen me opening my painfully barren water bottle as I approached and she filled it to the brim straight from the jug. She was one of my many heroes throughout the day. Happily rehydrated, mile 9 and the little detour around Clearwater Parks residential area seemed slow but I was perfectly content with that. The police stopped the traffic for me and I felt mightily important as I jogged across the Kingsway and onto the part of the route I like the least. It’s a long path that follows alongside the Kingsway road. It slopes downward and upward three times and somehow encompasses a mile and a half. It seems to go on forever, and just when you’re over one of the slopes the next one is there to greet you. The mile ten marker is along this stretch and a glance at my watch showed 2:04. Usually I hit ten miles at about 1:56, and I knew I was waaaay off pace. Unless I could somehow manage the next 5k in 26 minutes (I have yet to get sub-31 minutes over a 5k on my best of days), the PB wasn’t happening. I contented myself with the idea of finishing and getting into the air-conditioned car.
Some of the marshals had procured their own water bottles from somewhere and were offering them to runners, and I was especially glad for that at the later stages of the race as I saw more and more runners take them up on their offers for small bottles or refills. Everyone was suffering, most walking for long stretches. It was just before the fourth water station that I met one of the marathon runners. She gave me a grin and wisely declared she was finishing at the half marathon point.
Normally I’d argue, maybe give a bit of a pep talk, but with the sun peeking out behind the clouds again and marshals armed with water pistols to cool the runners off, it was certainly not the day for heroics. There’s always another race.
The downhill after mile 11 was a welcome relief, and the marshals keeping us on course were super cheerful. A quick left and right through the streets of Broughty Ferry brought us towards the beach, and the house before the bridge had left their hose sprinkling just like in previous years. I knew we were so close to the end that it felt like the finish line, but once over the bridge I saw the twelve-mile marker and remembered I still had one thirteenth of the race to go. It was at this point my stomach gave an unhappy groan, whether of genuine discomfort because of my food choices or simply out of habit, as it’s just after that sign that I usually end up throwing up. It’s almost a tradition now.
But with a group of runners having caught up behind me, I didn’t want to veer into the long grass unless I had to, so I took a deep breath to combat the nausea and kept on going.
I’m always surprised at how long that last mile takes. When the finish area comes into view, it feels like you’ll be there at any moment, when in reality it took me about four run-walk intervals before I was even within sprinting distance of the finish.
Louise had somehow magicked her way to the end of the course, and she egged me into a run. On my final sprint I saw my support crew, sunbathing on a picnic blanket and looking far too comfy considering the hell I had just been through, and they jokingly yelled at me to hurry up, so I sprinted through the finish line at a suicide pace and guzzled half a bottle of water before I could even attempt to meet them.
To everyone who managed to somehow get a PB despite that heat, I salute you! The same goes to anyone who completed the full DRAM. The volunteers at the water stations were a godsend and so were the lovely people armed with hoses and water pistols! I honestly don’t think I would have made it around without them.
My chip time came in at 2:50:24. I was absolutely nowhere near my personal best, and unfortunately it can’t all be blamed on the running conditions because I was also woefully unprepared. But I survived, and it’s the first half marathon I’ve ever ran without losing the contents of my stomach! And the best thing is that my poor performance has given me the scare I needed to get me training again. I’m writing this having just returned from the gym, and I’ve made the last-minute decision to take part in the Crombie 10K tomorrow, so it’s safe to say I think I’ve got my running mojo back.