Stirling Marathon Route

Today I drove something that will be approximately the Stirling Marathon route.  I know that the start point won’t be exact, and that the final mile or so inside the city won’t be exact, but it’s not going to be far off.  It will be my last chance to drive the route for a while, as the A820 (from Doune to Dunblane) will be closed for the next three months.

So, here’s what I saw:

The route seems to start at approximately 25ft above sea level.  The first ten and a half miles are a fearsome climb all the way to Dunblane, at about 280ft.  That’s the same kind of height gain as nemesis, the Wallace Stone Brae – but it takes over ten miles to achieve it.

After that we have another two mile uphill stretch from Bridge of Allan to Innovation Park to contend with, where we will gain 100ft.  And the final stretch will involve a bit of a hill too, as we come in to the city.

This is clearly going to have to have some kind of impact on my training.  I need to learn to be able to cope with hills, and I need to re-think my pacing.  

It’s going to be brutal!

Total distance: 41922 m
Max elevation: 86 m
Min elevation: 2 m

You want to be seen

I was thinking about the training plan for the marathon, and realised that it called for me to be out running on Wednesday evenings.  I plan to take in a hill on that run, and the road back home from that hill is not illuminated.

So, I started looking around for reflective running clothing.  I struggled to find what I want, but was inspired by an advert from the SportPursuit flash sale site.   It was offering Craft Sportswear reflective running tights.

Sadly they didn’t have my size, but I was able to find them on Amazon.  In normal use, they don’t look anything special, but when you shine a light on them…

Great Scottish Run

The Great Scottish Run, or the Glasgow Half Marathon.  It’s a race I’ve run twice before, and enjoyed both times. 

The day dawned wet and slightly windy.  I had a good breakfast of cereal followed by porridge, and drove to my local railway station.   Only to see the train leave the station.  Turns out I shouldn’t have got the 0934, it was the 0930.  D’oh!

I drove off to Falkirk High, where I got the next train, about a half hour later.  The train was full of runners, and I chatted fora while to the lady who was sitting next to me.  She was a regular at this event, and was looking forward to a good run.

The Glasgow train at Falkirk High

The train arrived in Queen Street station and I went out to George Square.  A little bit of jogging around, then I went to join the queue for the loo, and then the baggage bus.  Having dropped my kit off, all I had left to keep me warm and dry was a bin bag.  I was the epitome of style as I sheltered from the increasingly heavy rain!

Race Day Chic

This is a big event – over 30,000 runners took part in the various events on offer.  I was in the “green” wave, based on the time I had predicted for my marathon.  I had entered a rather conservative 1:50, and that put me in the second wave of runners, starting ten minutes behind the elites and the “white” wave – those who predicted a 1:45 or better finish.

Waiting to start

After some waiting in the rain and a really good mass warmup, the elites started.

Elites Starting

Soon after, it was the green wave.

The course starts from George Square with a fairly sharp uphill stretch up St Vincent St.    By the top of the hill there were already people walking, but I found that I was running very easily and was enjoying the run.  The route continues downhill for a while before turning south and crossing the iconic Kingston Bridge – a motorway bridge across the River Clyde.  It’s not somewhere that walkers can normally go, and usually I bask in the view.  Today the rain meant that there was no meaningful view, and I was too focused on running to care.

We then went through a maze of streets that I don’t know well, and then hitting Pollokshaws Road – one of the main arterial routes leading out of the city centre.  Here we headed south for about three miles until we reached Pollok Park, a huge park within the city.

It was a bit rainy

I was amazed at how easily the running was coming to me.  I’m not a natural athlete, but I really felt comfortable running.  This lasted well into the park – just around seven miles – until I needed to stop for a pee.  Well, what can you do?  (that’s rhetorical – please don’t answer it).  That stop cost me around thirty seconds, but soon I was on the road again.

Pollok Park had a few noticeable hills in it, and we then headed a mile or so north into Bellahouston Park, where again we were going up a hill.  But as we came out of the park and on to Paisley Road West, that was the end of the uphill.  The mile ten marker came up, and it was now just a case of pushing through to the finish.

I knew I was getting tired, but I was also aware that I was passing a lot more people than were passing me.  I kept pushing as we crossed the Squinty Bridge, where there was a person receiving treatment from the marshals.  

Once across, it was a straight run along the Broomielaw to Saltmarket, and then into Glasgow Green.  As I ran through the McLennan Arch I started to push really hard.  I could see the Glasgow 2014 statue, which is where I assumed was the finish.  But no! there were still 100 yards to go.  Just as the mile leading up to this point was the longest mile in history, this 100 yards was the longest 100 yards ever!  But I got to the finish line and, with a few grunts and groans, stopped and began to get my breath back.

Approach to the McLennan Arch

My time was on Facebook before I had collected my t-shirt and medal – 1:41:02 – a PB for me by over two minutes.  I was delighted with that.

Runners at the Glasgow 2014 installation

Now I have to start learning to run much more slowly for the Stirling marathon.  But I definitely hope to enter this superbly-organised race again in 2018.

Total distance: 21463 m
Max elevation: 46 m
Min elevation: 3 m

Stirling Marathon Route Published

The Great Run company has published the new Stirling Marathon route, and it looks good.  I’ve grabbed a copy of their map, and posted it here:

Stirling 2018 Map

From what I can tell, it looks as if the route starts at or near the King’s Knot, where the race finished in 2017.  It then goes out the A84 through the business park, past Craigforth and out past the Safari Park.

From there, it stays on the A84 to Doune  – this will be a long and flat, but  potentially a rather bleak stretch.  It might be hard to keep a good discipline about pace here.

After that, into Doune and we turn right to head for Dunblane.  That’s another rural stretch, and I could imagine that here too it might be difficult to keep the concentration going.

At Dunblane, there is a short rise onto the main road, and we turn right.  We go past the Dunblane Centre and head south towards the Keir Roundabout.  Again, there is a dip here – and a rise as we get to the roundabout and head towards Bridge of Allan.  That rise continues until we are above the town, then there is a long sustained downhill towards the Uni.

When we turn into the University there is a pretty good-going hill taking us up and past the macrobert, out towards Innovation Park at the back of the Uni (where I took photos of the marathon last year).  That is almost immediately repaid with a downhill, as we go back down to the junction where we entered the Uni.  That’s probably the last big hill of the run (though there is a decent rise to go just at the end of the race).

From the Uni we turn left and run along to the A91.  We turn north towards the sheer cliffs of the Ochils, and follow the road through the village of Blairlogie.  We turn right onto Gogar Loan, running south across the flood plain and beautifully flat land on a tiny little single track road – let’s hope the field has thinned out by this point.

At the end of this road we turn right again and pass Manor Powis, then turn left when we hit the A91.  We cross the Forth then turn right again, past the Forthbank Stadium and The Peak leisure centre.  Along another flat stretch to the new cinema, and then  doing something in the centre of the town to get to Kings Park Road.  There’s a bit of a hill here, but not a huge one – though at twenty-five miles, it might feel pretty huge.

The finish appears to be in Kings Park itself – a beautiful formal Victorian park which I will be delighted to finally reach!

So, that’s my take on the route.  It looks much better than that which was reported last year, and while there are some hills in it they appear to be mostly confined to the earlier part of the race.  

I’m really looking forward to it!

Quiet… but planning

It’s all been rather quiet around recently, hasn’t it?  But I’ve not been idle.  No, I’ve been worrying about what the heck I’ve gotten myself into!

Part of what I have been doing is looking into what I’ll need to organise in order to be ready for the marathon, and for my training.  One thing that I didn’t do last time was deal with nutrition, and it’s something that I plan to try to do better this time around.

From what I’ve been able to read, the dreaded “wall” seems to happen as a result of the running out of fuel – there’s a limit to what it can hold, and running a marathon exceeds that limit.  To prevent myself from hitting the wall, I should ensure that I consume carbohydrates on a schedule that allows the body to consume them in time to deliver them to my muscles while I’m running.

A lot of my information has come from two posts by companies that want to sell me energy gels – so I know I should approach with a certain amount of cynicism.  The articles in question are:

Both suggest similar things – eat a good breakfast two or three hours before starting, take a gel half an hour before the race, then from thirty minutes into the race onwards take another gel every twenty minutes or so.

That makes about ten gels through the race.    Now, how the heck do I carry them around with me?


Training Plan

So, I’ve come up with my first attempt at a training plan.

My thoughts have been significantly coloured by a discussion over at /r/running, as a result of which I became convinced that I need to add some more controlled distance, and to learn to run my long slow runs about a minute per mile slower than I mean to run the real marathon.

So I looked around for a while, and decided to go with a modified Hal Higdon Intermediate 1 plan.  Modified mostly because I have a fixed Pilates class on Thursdays, and I had to juggle the day around a bit.

Anyway, here’s my plan:

If I can work out how to enable comments, I’ll ask for opinions.  

Once we get into the plan, I’ll start highlighting this to show whether I actually manage any of this stuff!


Kilmacolm Half Marathon

I have relatives who live in Kilmacolm, so when I saw that the village had its own half marathon it seemed like a great opportunity – visit the family, run a half marathon – what could be better?

As the day approached, I realised that the answer to that question was “the weather”.  The forecast was for heavy rain and a 15mph wind from the south.  Oh joy!

I arrived at my relatives’ house on the Saturday evening, and went for a short walk round the park that would serve as the start point for the race.  Kilmacolm has a reputation for being a prosperous town, and the park reflected that.  The weather was fine, the park attractive, the food and company in the evening were excellent.  All was well.

Lovely weather the night before!

Next morning I got up early and completed registration formalities.  The weather was still okay, but I took some consolation from my race number – if the weather were to get worse, and I should be blown over it would look the same as when I was standing up!

Race number

I went back to the rellies and had breakfast.  First some Cheerios, and then a plate of porridge.  I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of porridge, but I’ve read so many articles about how good it is for running that I thought I should give it a try.  After that I got changed, did some warm ups and went back to the park. 

All ready to go

By this time, the weather had changed dramatically.  Runners were huddled in groups, sheltering from the wind in the lee of buildings, watching the rain battering those who were unable to find cover. 

More weather

I had a last-minute pit stop and then walked to the start line.

Waiting for the start

This was a smaller race, with around 150 entrants.  We gathered below a “Start” banner that had been strung across the street and listened to the race briefing.  A countdown, and it was time to go.

The out-and-back route took us approximately a mile northwards from the start over country roads.  Then we joined the cycle path, which is built on top of a disused railway line.  From there, it heads south – into the wind – all the way to Bridge Of Weir.  There is a small section of the route where we have to leave the old railway line and go through a modern housing estate, but apart from that it’s cycle path all the way.  And downhill all the way!

So, outbound was downhill and into a headwind.  The return was uphill, but with the wind behind us.

I realised soon into the race that I was going too fast, but my body isn’t very good at changing once it has found its pace.  I also found that I wasn’t comfortable with the Strava app on my Apple Watch.  Whereas a Garmin reports your pace averaged over the last thirty seconds or so, it wasn’t clear to me how much averaging is performed by Strava.  I have now found out what information is displayed, I should really have checked that before setting out.

The other thing I wasn’t sure about was the fact that it was an out-and-back race.  I’ve never done one before, and I expected that it would be a bit boring.  But to my surprise, I really liked the format.  It let me break the race down into four chunks – halfway along the outbound section, the turning point, halfway along the return section, then the drive to the finish line.

The route was attractive, though the rain was unrelenting.  Somewhere about a mile short of the turn I started chatting with a lady who was running at a similar pace, and we ran together for about three or four miles.  I liked that, it helped pass the distance and take the mind off the amount of work we were both doing.

After going through the housing estate I realised that this was the last couple of miles, and I tried to up my pace a bit.  A final mile uphill, then back onto the country roads to get to the finish line.  I was shattered by this point, and I think it shows on my face.  But the time really shocked me – 1:43:17.  My previous best for a half was 1:44:00 at Alloa, and that was when I was in training for the marathon.  So maybe the bad conditions did suit me after all!


No bling, but a nice t-shirt, a very well organised race and a great weekend!  Thank you to the race organisers and especially the marshals for braving such awful weather throughout!  

Total distance: 21173 m
Max elevation: 100 m
Min elevation: 37 m

Monklands Half Marathon 2017 Race Report

This is a lovely race that perhaps doesn’t get the publicity it deserves.

I came across it via the Scottish Running Guide, and jumped at the chance of doing the race.  I come from near this area, indeed my parents live just a couple of miles from the route of the race.  So I paid my money and signed up.

The weather forecast for the day of the race was dull and overcast – perfect for distance running.  And my plan was simple.  I would set my Garmin’s “Virtual Partner” to 8:45 per mile, and just run at that pace all the way around.  That way I would see whether I still had anything left in the tank for any possible longer run I might be considering…

Come the morning I drove to Coatbridge, noting a distinct lack of clouds on the way.  I tried to park in the grounds of the school that served as the start and end point of the race, but when I saw all the other cars in front of me being turned back I did a quick U-turn and drove to the Drumpellier Loch car park.  From there, I had a roughly one mile walk back to the school – I think I should have listened to the parking marshals who apparently were directing people to a closer car park.

Having said that, Drumpellier Loch is rather pretty.

Eventually I got back to the school.  Registration was smooth and painless, and I retired to the changing room to pin my race number on and get togged up for the race. 

A crowd had gathered in front of the school, and then at some unspoken signal we all walked over to the start line.

Aaaaand… we’re off!

After the first hundred metres or so I looked at my Garmin, and was pretty shocked to see it saying I was running behind my pace.  Sure, it was warm, and I was running slightly uphill, but it felt like faster than 8:45.  Strange.  I started running a little faster to try to catch this Virtual partner, and wondered when I had become quite so unfit!

By half a mile I knew that the Virtual Partner was definitely wrong.  The same watch was telling me I was running 7:50 to 8:00, yet I was falling behind the Virtual Partner all the time.  I tried messing around with the watch and still I couldn’t get it to make sense to me.  I had the option of stopping to fix it (if I could) or just running.  Oh, sod the plans.  I ran.

The route (below) takes you along the road to Drumpellier Loch (hello, parked car!).  This was the only uncomfortable part of the race, as the road is quite narrow, is open to traffic and doesn’t have a pavement.

From there, there are two full laps of a route that goes through the park, then along roads that mark the boundaries of the park.  Finally, another half-lap of the same route before turning back through a housing estate to get back to the school where the race started.

For lap one, I felt great. I was running smoothly and (for me) fast.  I knew that the stretch from mile 4.5 to 5.5 was quite harsh, but it still felt okay.  When I saw a friend marshaling at the five-mile marker, I was able to greet him with a big smile and some very fast banter.  But I was also aware of the temperature climbing as the sun rose in the sky.

My mum was spectating at this point, and she managed to grab a quick snap as I passed.

The second lap was a different story.  I was getting really tired by this point.  I made the classic mistake of not taking a drink, because I felt that I needed a wee.  I had no gels or anything similar with me, and my breakfast had clearly not been quite up to the job.  I was bushed.

As we went through the park, I was really tired.  I started walk / jogging, and I think I had about four separate walking sections.  But that was quite good, in as much as I was able to get back to running for the final three-quarters of a mile or so.

A final downhill stretch and there was the finish line

(don’t let the picture fool you – there were loads of people there and great support – the picture was taken before the race started!) and I felt more tired than I did i the Alloa Half a few weeks ago.  Why?

Probably a combination of bad preparation and hot weather.  But after getting changed I walked back to the car and then on to my parents’ house, where a cup of coffee and a Greggs’ Steak Bake revived me in short order.

A good race, though, and one I will hope to do better in next year.

Total distance: 20993 m
Max elevation: 93 m
Min elevation: 73 m

Alloa Half Marathon 2017 Race Report

The last time I ran the Alloa Half Marathon was in 2012, when I was right in the middle of training for the Edinburgh Marathon. I was strong and confident, and I was five years younger. But now I was going to try a half marathon, having not run any event longer than a Parkrun in three years… What could possibly go wrong?

I found a parking space in Alloa and walked the short distance to the Leisure Bowl. I didn’t remember the race as having so many participants last time, it seems to be growing year on year.

Registration outside the Alloa Leisure Bowl

After registration, I went for a pee. Just as many races, getting to the loo before the race proved to be a bit of a pain. However, with nature duly honoured, it was time to go outside and enjoy the pipe band before the race started.

The route was pretty much the same as that which I wrote about five years ago. But this time there was a noticeable headwind whistling along the Hillfoots, making this stretch a bit of a trudge. I was, however, helped by an innovation – a portaloo at Menstrie, around the seven mile mark. That was forty seconds well spent!

The Tillicoultry clock tower at mile 5
The Hillfoots road just seems to go on forever

Menstrie Brae was certainly more of a significant impediment this year than last time. I noticed that there was an Andy Scott statue at the top of the hill that I hadn’t seen before – it turns out that the statue was damaged in a car crash in February 2011 and re-erected in 2012. The statue is of a running man with sharp, painful bits of metal sticking out of his legs… was it a comment on the half marathon?

Man In Motion

I managed to keep going throughout the race, though the last section was pretty hard. But I got there, and gratefully hauled myself across the finish line for a chip time of 1:49:29.

A welcome sign…

Five years on, five minutes slower. I’ll take that.

Me and my bling
Total distance: 21164 m
Max elevation: 48 m
Min elevation: 6 m