Alloa Half Marathon Race Report

This was to be one of the high points of the training regimen for the marathon – a half marathon race, with all the excitement and razzmatazz that it entailed.  Perhaps a chance to use the “double it and add twenty” formula to predict a marathon time?  Who knows…

This Journey’s End

Alloa is a town just north of the River Forth, in Central Scotland.  It used to house a major Scottish brewery, but that has sadly closed down, to be replaced by a large Asda store.  Yet there do seem to be signs of rejuvenation and confidence around the town, perhaps symbolised by the town’s decision to commission a series of wonderful metal plate statues by sculptor Andy Scott.  One, called “This Journey’s End”, undoubtedly make a first-class welcome to the town as you approach it from the East.

The town’s popular half-marathon was today celebrating its thirtieth anniversary, though it was my first attempt at the race.  Many people had told me that the race could be a very fast race if it wasn’t windy.  But five miles of this race are run along the foot of the Ochil hills.  If there is a wind coming from the south west (the prevailing wind direction) then it would swirl around the base of the hills, creating a long and very tiring run, with poor times.  I have been watching the weather forecast anxiously for a few days…

Pipe Band At The Start

We shall avoid too much discussion of the fact that the organisers had asked people to turn up in fancy dress to celebrate the race’s thirtieth anniversary.  We shall not note that in my search to end up with a costume that would not impede my race time, I ended up looking like a cross between Mr Motivator and Borat.  And we shall certainly not observe the fact that I was possibly the only runner in the entire damned race in fancy dress!

Queueing up for the loo, I noted the Garmin on the wrist of a person beside me.  “I’ve got one of those,” I thought.  “I wonder where it is…. oh damn!”.  I had left the Garmin at home, and while I knew that my phone could faithfully log the route I was going to be left with minimal pace updates through the race, just one every mile.  Not much I could do about it now, except curse my mistakes.

Giant Hand sculture

As the race started, I deliberately moved into the centre of a large group of runners, to avoid being too visible to the “normals” in my fancy dress.  I was chatting with one of the other runners when the large crowd started to move forward.  Looking over some of the other runners, I could see that the heads of those in front were bobbing up and down, just as if they were running.  It seems the race had started (the organisers later apologised that the Public Address system had failed, so the start wasn’t as obvious as it would normally have been).

We started off by running around the houses in Alloa.  The one-mile mark came up, and my running belt announced to me that the pace was 7:31 minutes per mile.  I knew that I had to slow down; I couldn’t last that pace for thirteen miles.  But I kept going, anyway.

Tillicoultry Mill Lade

That first mile took us more or less back to where we started, then we lighted off for the hills – climbing from Alloa to Fishcross then down through Benview to Tillicoultry.  The route from Alloa to Fishcross took us across a roundabout where another Andy Scott sculpture could be seen – a giant hand that represented the support that the emergency serices provide.

By the time we reached Tillicoultry,  we were five miles into the race, I only had had one mile over 8min/mile pace and I was feeling good.  But now we would turn left to go through the Hillfoots, and we would know whether the wind would be a killer.

Perhaps I should explain.  There is a collection of villages at the bottom of the Ochill Hills, that were formed as mill towns.  The run-off from the hills was enough to power the mills, and the area became wealthy making fabrics. That particular source of income is no more, and now the area is a haven for day trippers – walkers, cyclists, motor cyclists and so on.  To the south, the land is remarkably flat.  To the north, the Ochills rise sharply and with no warning, climbing to over 2,000 feet.

The Hillfoots Road

The weather today was simply gorgeous – cool enough, barely any wind and beautifully sunny.  The hills looked wonderful as we ran through Tillicoultry, Alva and then Menstrie.  When we got to Menstrie, we were at ten miles – we turned left and headed up the dreaded Menstrie Brae.

I’m sorry to say this again.  The very last thing I want to sound is arrogant, but seriously, you must put hills into your training.  Menstrie Brae is spoken of in tones of fear and reverence, but it is not a big hill.  It’s a fairly gentle incline, and while it’s true it goes on for around a mile it is barely fifty metres from bottom to top. To listen to the folk-lore, you could be running up Ben Nevis!

We reached the top of the hill around mile twelve, and I knew it was downhill or flat from here on.  I also heard my belt announcing the time, and I realised that I could just – possibly – have a chance of making 1:45.  Given that my target was “something under two hours” I was delighted, and started running considerably harder than I had been doing.

Near the finish, I saw one chap lying on the pavement, being attended to by medical staff… hope he was all right.

Finishers’ Medal

As we ran through Alloa to get back to the starting point I wondered whether the road would ever end.  A turn to the left, and there was the finish line.  I ran even harder, determined to have my moment of glory… and then I was through, and the RAF cadets were very kindly offering to cut my shoes off… I mean, cut the timing chip off my shoes.

After that the organisers provided a T-shirt, water, a banana and a medal.  And that long wait to find out my time…

1:44:00 – I felt absolutely wonderful about that!  The more so since I don’t actually feel excessively tired or sore!

So, thank you very much to the Round Table and all others involved in organising this thoroughly enjoyable half marathon – and well done on a splendid race!