Alloa Half Marathon race report

If you live in Scotland and ever want to run a half marathon then Alloa would be a good place to start. It’s well-organised; not too big; well signposted, marshalled and provisioned; not too hilly and quite scenic in places.
I ran it two years ago so knew exactly what I was facing. There is a sameness about the event which adds to its appeal. The runners are started by the same elderly mayoress who is still being entrusted with the starting pistol although it is now clearly firing blanks. I’m not sure if her hearing is all there because the mc counted us down to zero and it was several seconds later before she managed to raise the gun and fire it. By this time the leaders were halfway to the first corner.
Here’s a photo of me trying to cut a corner not long after the start. I’m the one approaching the corner on the pavement in the yellow shirt.
Beforehand I had been aiming at 7 minute 15 second miles but the first one went fairly comfortably in 7:04. I’m also caught on camera not long after the first mile.
My second mile was far too quick (6:45) so I told myself to slow down. However I was still feeling strong and confident. I missed the mile 3 sign but at four miles I was just under 28 minutes – again faster than I had planned. I decided to go with the pace as long as I was comfortable with it. There was a guy in a grey shirt who had been in front of me for ages who seemed to be running a pace so I decided to try and keep him in view. The field was spreading out by now but I was still in a group when caught around the four mile point.
Just after five miles we turned the Alva corner onto the long straight stretch we would run for another 4 and a half miles. The slight breeze we had been running into was now behind us which was a great feeling. I checked my watch at 6 miles : 41 minutes 40 seconds. When this registered I had some serious thinking to do. My 10k personal best is 44 minutes 20 seconds and I had just run close to 10k in under 42 minutes. This was not necessarily a good thing in a 13 mile race! My fear was that I couldn’t possibly continue this pace for another 7 miles and more worryingly that I was likely to break down completely. However the negative feelings were soon replaced by more positive ones. I could afford to slow down a bit as the race went on and still run a good overall time. I was still feeling pretty strong and I was in a steady group that were helping each other along. Not many people were overtaking or dropping back. I decided to go with the pace as long as I could. When we briefly turned off for a short loop to complete the distance I saw a couple of guys who I know are much faster than I am. The fact that I was so near them after 7 miles was good for morale. At 8 miles I was still on 7 minute miles. Approaching 9 miles some of our group had gone on and others had dropped back leaving me a bit isolated. My early pace was beginning to catch up with me.
There was however a girl not far behind who would go past me fairly soon afterwards.
I think you can tell from these photos that I was beginning to struggle by this point. My 9 mile time was slightly under 63 minutes and I started making adjustments in my head. With just over 4 miles including a brute of a hill to go I could afford to run 8 minute miles and still finish close to a dream finish time of 1 hour 35 minutes. Two years ago I had been on course for a 1:38 finish but slowed in the last mile finishing in 1:39:58. I don’t know if you have ever tried doing mental calculations when running and tired but it must have taken me almost half a mile to work out that simple sum. Clearly things were on the slide. I tried to prepare myself for the notorious Menstrie hill. If you wanted to put a dirty big hill in a half marathon at the most psychologically challenging place then where the Alloa one occurs is pretty close to it. It’s far enough in to make sure you’re exhausted by that stage and yet it’s not near enough the finish to mean the race is over when you get to the top of it. I laboured up it saying “Embrace the hill” through gritted teeth. I kept running and to my surprise only one person overtook me. At the top of the hill we passed the 11 mile marker. There was one more incline and this marked the low point of the race for me. I tried to tell myself that from the top of the incline it was downhill to the finish. My legs, however, just wanted to give up. My speed slowed and try as I might my legs just wouldn’t respond. From here to the finish was pretty horrible. The one encouragement was that at 12 miles I clocked my time at 1:25:14. This meant a sub 1:35 finish was inevitable as long as I didn’t break down. There was frustration that just when I should have been accelerating towards the finish – as some sensible paced runners were – I was actually slowing. After what seemed like an eternity the 13 mile sign came into view. I couldn’t wait and glanced at my watch. It was 1:31 something. I couldn’t make the figure out but it was still encouraging as I felt that I was slowing completely. I turned the final corner and still had nothing left. I staggered the final few metres.
My head is wrong; my arms are wrong but somehow I made it accross the line in a new personal best time of 1 hour 33 minutes and 8 seconds.


4 thoughts on “Alloa Half Marathon race report

  1. What an inspiring tale, and wonderful to have all the photos along the way. My heartiest congratulations to you once again on completing this mammoth task and getting a personal best to boot. You should be very pleased with yourself, and I trust you’ll be celebrating with a few choice morsels.

    • Thanks Lorna. It was one of those days where things just went well. If only life was like that all the time. I’m still in training for a sub 20 5k but if that can be achieved then I’ll be indulging in a fair few tasty morsels – including of course some cheese scones!

  2. Amazing, David, and what a success in spite of your tired finish! I love your idea of ’embracing the hill’! You should be very proud of yourself. Love the photos – that is a great record of your run. Congratulations! 🙂

    • Thanks Jo. I borrowed the phrase “Embrace the hill” from another blogger. It is always a case of struggling up the hill! As my sore muscles are reminding me five days later!

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