The Alloa Half is possibly one of the most beautiful half marathons in Scotland.
The race starts off in Alloa itself, climbing up and over the hills to get the Hillfoots Road, which runs east-west along the bottom of the Ochil Hills. After that it turns left, and climbs what the organisers describe as the “character-building” Menstrie Brae before returning back to where it started.
Last year, the race was postponed until June because of snow and gales on the day of the event, but this year it was back to its normal date, with perfect weather conditions – bright sunshine, 4C and hardly any wind.
This was to be my fourth run of the course, the others being 2012 (1:44:00), 2017 (1:49:29), 2018 (in high summer – 1:47:05).
I think there is a thing about half marathons – when they have receded into the past you think “yeah, that’s a nice distance – I can run that. It’s a wee bit challenging, but nothing too bad”. And then you run them, and realise just how tiring they are! At least that was what happened this time.
I got to the town around 0910, parked the car and walked to the Leisure Bowl, where the race was to start. A fast and efficient check-in, then I got myself changed and I was ready to go. I had slightly worried about what to wear, but I ended up with shorts and a vest – and a little bit of time wandering around in a bin bag before the race started!
This is a really popular race, with over 1,800 finishers this year. We gathered in the funnel, and it was lovely to meet up with an ex-work colleague who was in training for the Edinburgh Marathon. The siren sounded, and we were off!
The first mile or so is a loop round Alloa, and it was pretty busy. I didn’t push myself forward at all, and perhaps I was a little further back than I should have been for my speed. But I wouldn’t want to be too much closer to the front – I don’t want to get in the way of the faster runners. Soon we started heading over the hills and the crowds of runners started to thin out a bit. People complain about the Menstrie Brae later on in the race, but the climb through Sauchie and over into the Devon Valley is pretty brutal too!
Once over the top there is a long stretch of downhill – over a mile and a half – until you get to Tillicoultry. By then you are so used to going down that the slight incline to the A91 seems really hard! But then you get to turn the corner and enjoy the four-mile stretch of road along the Hillfoots, a truly beautiful stretch of road in these conditions.
At the end of that four mile stretch you are ready for a change, and so you take a sharp left turn to climb the dreaded Menstrie Brae. The good thing is that you are so focused on the Brae you don’t really notice that another mile has passed; all of a sudden you have completed eleven miles and that finish line doesn’t seem so far away any more.
At this point, the little voice in my Apple Watch “done me wrong”. I am sure it said I was at mile eleven at one hour twenty-five. That put dreams of a PB into my head and I really started pushing it. I went for it as hard as I could, and was exhausted when I eventually crossed the line. My chip time was 1:45:55, so I clearly mis-heard my watch, but that is my second-best time on this route and I will happily take it!
An impressive medal, a rather nice t-shirt, water and a banana – a good haul at the end of a good race. Thank you to all of the organisers, volunteers, marshals, Police Officers and spectators for a great run!