Happily Ever After

Life in The Rural Retreat with a beautiful wife, three cats, garden wildlife, a camera, a computer – and increasing amounts about running

Earlier posts can be found on Adventures of a Lone Bass Player, where this blog began life. Recent entries can be found here.


Alloa Half Marathon 2024

by Russell Turner - 09:06 on 18 March 2024

Back in 2020, the Alloa HM was the first of my races to be cancelled thanks to covid. This year, I finally got to see what I missed.

The portents were mixed: the weather forecast improved during the week from wet and windy to dry and calm; the journey down the A9 was unusually smooth; recovery and training had gone well after last week’s Inverness HM. On the other hand, I’d been up until 2am after Friday night’s gig, and although the (well behaved) hen party was due to depart Dunmar House Hotel at 7pm, a 40th birthday party was scheduled to begin around 8pm.

I was led to my room (slightly shabby but comfortable) by a perky receptionist, settled in and relaxed with my Kindle while I awaited the arrival of Squirrel James, now Runner James, who was also to take part. Shortly after that we were catching up over chicken, haggis, mash and veggies followed by sticky toffee pudding (him) and chocolate fudge cake (me). Perfect pre-race food.

Back in my room, I relaxed by watching The Big Bang Theory on TV before attempting to ignore the sounds of music and merriment drifting up from the hotel annex so I could enjoy a much needed early night. I failed. The party ended at midnight but an hour later I was still awake, not helped by random pipework noises. An hour after that I’d given up and resumed reading the Kindle.

Sleep was found eventually, ended by my 6.45 alarm. After a shower, which failed to clear grogginess, I descended to the dining room, which the management had decently opened 30mins early (it’s 8am at weekends) to cater for five resident runners. All I could manage was toast, marmalade and yoghurt; the Full Scottish was probably inadvisable before the run, though I’d have risked it before an ultra.

Shortly after that, James and I strolled the short distance (10mins) to Lornshill Academy, which was race HQ and starting point for the run. It began bang on time at 9am. Unfortunately my Garmin took another 6mins to find a satellite which meant my HM was recorded as 12.57 miles.

The weather was perfect: dry, cool but not cold enough to need long sleeves, and no wind at all. I abandoned run/walk plans and we both set off with the 2:20 pacer, although within half a mile James was forging ahead in search of the 2:10 group. I stuck to my cunning plan which was to stay with the pacer (who was running closer to 2:15) until we crested the rise after five miles, then pick up the pace a little if I felt up to it.

All began well. The route from the start to Alloa itself is a gentle downhill, which allowed me to shake off the lack of sleep. In town, just before a small loop through some residential roads, we were welcomed by cheering spectators and shouted at to get out of the way by grumpy racing snakes who’d already run the loop. Some people take it so seriously.

Alloa is tiny, so in minutes we were through the town centre and heading towards outlying villages, cries of “Come on, leprechaun!” echoing around us because the pacer’s friend was dressed to celebrate St Patrick’s Day or the Irish Six Nations win. Maybe both.

We passed through Sauchie, still with enough spectators to keep us motivated, then made a modest climb to Fishcross where I activated the second part of my plan and pulled away (slowly) from pacer and leprechaun on the shallow downhill through Devonside to Tillicoultry. By now we were running in fine drizzle – mizzle I heard it called – but the lack of wind meant it was no hardship. We had spells of it off and on for the rest of the run.

Tillicoultry is the start of a four-mile straight along the A91 (our half of the road was coned off) at the foot of the Ochil Hills, which should have been scenic splendour but was shrouded in mist. That meant there was no distraction to running. For some people, four slightly undulating miles in a straight line would be no fun; I enjoyed it, keeping a steady(ish) 10min/mile pace and gradually reeling in runners ahead of me, some of whom had passed me a few miles back. It was a shame when we hit the outskirts of Menstrie and took a sharp left on the road to Tullibody, where all was fine until we encountered the much-hyped Hill.

In truth it shouldn’t be that demanding – steep but for only around 400 yards. I could have made it to the top but halfway up I was seduced by the sight of almost everyone else walking and joined them, although I did at least make it a power walk and resumed running as soon as we reached the roundabout at the top with 1.1 miles to go.

Half of that was downhill before the uphill finish back at the academy. Although some people struggled, it was only the other side of the gentle downhill we’d enjoyed at the start and I powered on to finish in 2:14:08. I’d hoped for 2:15 so my cunning plan had worked perfectly. I was greeted by James, who’d finished 6mins earlier, and some of his running club who were waiting in the mizzle for other members to arrive. After a few minutes I left them to it and returned to the hotel before I got too cold.

Check-out was 11am, but because no-one was booked into my room the management had allowed me to use it for a post-race shower and tidy-up. Perfect. A short while later, James also made use of the facilities, after which we enjoyed Sunday lunch in the hotel while we waited for the roads to reopen – a great end to the race.

The trip back up the A9 was also smooth, although I did stop at Perth to stretch a tight left ankle and leg. They’re still a little bit tight but recovering well, as is the rest of me. I’ll limit this weekend’s long run to nine or ten easy miles.

Alloa Half Marathon, it turns out, is a great course, well organised and friendly (apart from the grumpy racing snakes). Whether I’ll return next year depends on other plans but I’d strongly recommend it. Although this wasn’t my fastest half (with targeted training it could easily be) it was one of the most enjoyable and a good confidence-builder ahead of Landmarks where sub-2:10 will now be the aim. We’ll see.

Comment from James at 18:15 on 18 March 2024.
Nice to be promoted from Squirrel to runner!

Thanks for your company in Alloa, was great to catch up! Hopefully get another run soon.

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