40 for 40 event 7: a spot of turbulence at the Alloa half marathon

I shouldn’t have said a word and kept my trap shut. When I uttered ‘looks like the weather’s going to be kind to us’ all I did was not only make myself sound like a wee old man but also scupper any chances of the weather actually being kind. And me being an experienced runner, too…

The forecast for the Alloa half marathon had, indeed, been horrendous. At one point in the run-up to the race 40mph headwinds and driving rain were on the cards. However, instead, as the participants began to gather for the start of this well-established event, they did so in conditions which almost fitted the description of Spring-like.

I love this event and I wrote about the special place it has in my heart after taking part last year (you can read that post here) so it seemed right for it to feature in the 40 events I want to cover in 2017. With Stirling Marathon training now firmly underway, too, Alloa would give me a good gauge of my fitness at what is still a reasonably early stage in my training schedule.

A chunky warm-up left me feeling good, as did a quick catch-up and pre-race chat with some familiar faces. I bumped into Ross, someone I’d met for the first time on the Alloa start line the year previously when we were both preparing for the Boston Marathon. The last time I’d seen him properly had been at the post-race party in Fenway Park so it was great to dwell on that experience again and see how he was doing.

I also shared a common goal with Andy, someone I often train with, and someone who also has Stirling in his sights. A quick glance around, a few nods of good luck and it was time to go…so off we went.

I wanted to build into the race and was determined not to get caught up in the kamikaze nature of the first mile, which is flat and provides the perfect platform for many to explode into action and obliterate their chances of feeling strong 12 miles later by busting a gut too early.

It was one of the most conservative starts I can remember making to this race but I was happy with the pace and the feeling of having to hold myself back going through mile 2 confirmed all was reasonably well. Andy, running strong, began to pull away but I was knew I was in the zone of pushing but not over-reaching so I stayed where I was.

There was no wind in the next few miles and, in fact, my main concern at that point was a feeling of being too warm (ridiculous I know for a March morning in Scotland). Much of the course was downhill at this point, too, and it was then that the false sense of security kicked in.

The Alloa half covers a stretch of the Hillfoots Road which, on a good day, can be a brilliant place to run fast and log fast miles. Or another, however, it can be the venue for a
quad-rupturing, hamstring-shortening grind into the teeth of whatever conditions are on the menu that day.

As we approached the left turn which would take us on to the road, I could begin to feel the touch of a light breeze. As we rounded the corner, I had to allow myself at least a little, dark, laugh. I could see the weather coming.

As the windspeed increased and the rain began to pelt, so the pace dropped and what had been the right pace for a PB soon evaporated into the dense sky. This, however, was to prove my favourite part of the race. Finding myself in a small group, and without barely uttering a word (not that you could hear much anyway in the din of weather) we took it in turns to bear the brunt of the conditions and stop each other from burning out.


To the person who finishes 82nd the spoils…

We caught another small group in front of us, including Andy, and I found that the ebb and flow of filing to the front made the miles fall away.

Scotland being Scotland, of course, just as we turned off the Hillfoots Road and theoretically out of the wind, the sun came out. But the incline of the road went up. We were on Menstrie Brae – the hill which arrives least when you want it to.

Yet, I felt good. I hadn’t been stupid in trying to battle the wind alone and still could feel something in the tank. So, as we hit the top the rise and travelled past the 11-mile marker, I was happy to feel my stride naturally lengthening, even if I was starting to tighten up a bit more than I’d have liked.

Andy clearly felt good, too, and the consistency in his training was evident as he began to pull away again. I didn’t have the same extra gear he had but I was pleased to see him running so well. When you see someone working hard in training it’s heartening to see the whole process working.

I pushed as hard as I could into the last mile and it was brilliant to hear the dulcet tones of Race MC Murdoch McGregor welcoming me across the line.

All in all, I really couldn’t grumble. It hadn’t been as quick as I thought I might run but I had definitely gained from managing myself properly during the race. When it comes to running Stirling at the end of May, listening to my body and the inner voice of reason will be key.

There was another reason to be cheerful when I saw my sister, Morag, as she finished in Alloa. She has signed up for Stirling as well – which will be her first marathon – and is being very honest about the fact that she might not be enjoying running quite as much as I do! Yet she has still been putting in the miles and looked strong as she finished Alloa – the training is clearly working.

Me and Mo

Me and my big sis

As usual, the Alloa half had been a rewarding experience. Just don’t mention the weather…

  • I have challenged myself to complete 40 events – involving running, swimming and triathlon – in the calendar year of 2017, the year I turn 40. I am raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. You can find my JustGiving page here. Thank you to everyone who has donated so far. It really is very much appreciated.

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