Position: 41st of 1,649 finishers (top 2.5%)
Regular readers of this blog (hi, mum!) will breathe a sigh of relief to see that this is not a review of a Sherlock Holmes book. Nah, it’s much worse than that. It is my rambles about a 13.1 mile run in the beautiful surroundings of Clackmannanshire.
Like all good yarns, there is a back story, and that is that I am training for the London Marathon in April. I got in through the GFA – not Grand Theft Auto ya bam, rather the good for age process. This means that I am lucky enough to be able to qualify for the race rather than ballot in. That is not is cool as it sounds by the way, I ran <3:05 in Edinburgh specifically to make sure I qualified. It’s been something I have really wanted to do for sometime, and I aim to go inside 3 hours down in the Big Smoke.
The Alloa Half found its way onto my schedule as a great tester run 6 weeks out from London. It gave me a chance to see how the training had fared and to see if I was indeed in sub-3 shape.
Prior to the race, on Thursday evening, I had a chat with Paul Giblin, about strategy. We agreed on going for <1:20 at Alloa and he was absolutely convinced I could do that. Maybe more so than me. The plan was simple, run hard till 10 miles and try and have about 30 seconds in hand for the last few miles, recognising that I might lose around 30 seconds on the big hill that goes between 10-11 miles but also that it is broadly downhill for the last 3k. 6:05 pace would be bob on for <1:20, which therefore meant I was going to try and be around 6:02-ish by 10 miles.
Race day arrived to the usual fanfare of multiple toilet trips, fake niggles and a succession of failed attempts at putting on my number. Despite this, and the pinpricks on my fingers, I was quite relaxed. I had nothing to be nervous about as this was not an important race in terms of personal accomplishment; it was to be a good indicator, nothing more.
I travelled to the race with Barry, whose usual pre-run cold had made an appearance, a visitation that did nothing to stop him storming to a near 4 minute PB in 1:34:23, which was an astonishing run. Delighted for him.
We met Des, John, Brian and Skoosh there. Des was carrying a 2 litre bottle of Mountain Dew which probably accounted for him destroying his PB and crushing it with a 1:43 half marathon. That stuff truly is rocket fuel. Des is also sporting the kind of ultra beard that will one day guarantee him a win in a 100 mile race.
The race started with a literal bang as the starter fired a gun that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Wyatt Earp’s hip. I positioned myself near the front, about 4 rows back and I think I was the only person in there not sporting a club vest and wearing a hat. I now know what it feels like to be in the visible minority. All around me were racing snakes showing off their biceps, triceps and upper end of their quads. Meanwhile, I was dressed as if I was playing football; under Armour, cycling shorts and a giant tennis sweatband.
Off we went, the route starts near the sportscentre in the town centre, does a one mile loop and then starts to follow the road out to the foot of the Ochils. At Tillicoultry the route hits a left towards Menstrie, the Ochils casting an imposing shadow from the runners’ right, where then 5k remains through Tullibody and back into Alloa from whence we came.
As always, the first mile or two is about not doing anything idiotic. I ran on feel for the first mile, trying to stay relaxed, and quickly a 5:50 mile later I knew I was a bit fast. The course isn’t hilly but does have small undulations, I planned on taking the ups easy and opening up a wee bit on the downs so I could make time up.
I have to admit, it gets kinda uneventful from here. I could talk about how I battled demons and fought hard to remain focused, but I didn’t. I had a bloody good race and as such, felt in control most of the way. Around 8 miles I had a mini-wobble when I thought of the road ahead, but then I remembered I was 64 seconds inside the pace I wanted to be on for 1:20 and got a wee filip. I concentrated from that point on beating 60 mins for 10 miles (a symbolic number I am sure you will agree) and did with 59:52 being what my watch said. I had also gone under 37 mins for 10k for the first time too.
I felt strong and wasn’t absolutely pushing to my limit. The plan with Paul was to go under 1:20, not 1:19 and not to push too hard. I have 6 weeks of heavy training to come and it wouldn’t do to hurt too much in this race.
That is not say it was easy. Far from it!
The hill at 10 miles did indeed take 30 seconds out of me, and once atop of this I knew I had 1:20 in the bag and could relax and enjoy the run in. I took advantage to enjoy the last two miles and let the positive vibes from a really great run from a personal and bigger picture point of view seep into my mind. My last half marathon was in 2012 and I did 1:26:10 at Kirkintilloch, so this was a massive PB and I expected that. The work I have been doing with Paul since December has made me a different runner physically and mentally. The Alloa Half was testament to that journey.
To do 1:19:17 was brilliant and I am super delighted. The bold Scott Cameron – who has a habit of guessing my times pretty close – had 1:19:22 as a guess. Some boy!
That said, I was even more delighted for Des and Barry mentioned above, and also my good mate Skoosh who blitzed the course with a 1:33 effort in his first half for 7 years, a truly unreal run. Shout out to John for pacing Des and also Brian who did 1:41 despite thinking he’d be lucky to do under 1:45. The big man had a sprint finish in him as usual.
It was good to see Davie Mooney after the race, fresh from his Oz engagement. I had a good chat with James Murray Jnr too, as well as Gordon Humphreys. It was also a pleasure to meet Billy McNeill no, not that one, but the legendary Fife runner, who at a year or two older than me still ran sub 7 m/m pace. An inspiration.
Lastly, a word to Sarah Self. You absolutely rocked in that race. Sorry I couldn’t hang around to see you, but make no bones about it, that was a run and a half (if you will excuse the pun). Seeing your result made me smile maybe even as much as it did you.
Now it is all about London for the next 6 weeks.