1 months, 2 days, 22 hours, 3 mins, 21 seconds until the London Marathon.
First off before you get bored – if you are reading this wondering whether to run Alloa – don’t wonder. Run it. It is simply a fantastic race.
The Alloa half marathon was my final race before the London Marathon, and I only have one more run over 12 mile distance in training, a 20 miler, before race day. The target for London is of course 3h30m, but I have a second one in training- to dip my half marathon PB, 1:37:34 gained at the Great North Run, to under 1h30m. This means an average pace of 6:52 a mile- a pace I had run close to over 12 miles just a week before the race itself.
I was off to Alloa the night before with Roger Bryant from StA XC, also a London 2012 runner, staying at a B&B in Clackmannan, a short three mile walk from Alloa itself. If you are ever doing Alloa, consider staying here, it is the perfect race day base. Fantastic value, £24 each sharing a two bed room with a sofa and TV in it, including breakfast. The night before I impressed Roger with the amount of pasta that I gorged myself on, we ordered breakfast for the morning, and chilled out watching the rugby and then ‘Let’s Dance For Sport Relief’. One of the weirdest things I have ever seen.
I was fairly confident I could achieve this target. Roger hadn’t decided on race strategy until the morning. He’s a faster runner than myself, but was considering pacing me for the first few miles of the race. My plan was simply to run at 6:50 minute miles from start to finish, using my new Garmin (the first time it has done a race distance over 5 miles) to make sure I was hitting the right pace per mile.
The B&B brekkie was fantastic, porridge, OJ, grapefruit segments, potato scones, sausages and baked beans. Maybe a bit too much on race day, but it was all included in my £24, and I couldn’t resist! We walked and got to the start based at a leisure centre with an hour to go and had plenty of time to change and prepare for the race. The route was going to look like this:
The weather was amazing. A little chilly, but cloudless and sunny, maybe a touch too hot but I’d take it over torrential rain. I was a little concerned that my Garmin wouldn’t find satellites in time, but it just managed it.
We started near the front and got off well, a little too fast for the first 100m or so but I quickly settled into a good pace. Roger went off faster than myself (as I thought he would) and I settled into my own race. I’d planned on going at a little under the 6:50 barrier, closer to 6:40, and in the first three miles hit 6:36, 6:37 and 6:52.
At three miles I realised I was gaining on Roger. He began suffering with very tight calves, and after I passed him at three he had to stop and stretch for around five minutes, then ran a ten minute mile. After that he beasted the rest of the course, running close to 6:00 miles and finishing in around 1:35:00. We both decided it was good it didn’t go well, as he now has things to learn for London.
At around three/four miles it struck me how stunning the course is- I actually turned round and said this to a runner next to me without having spoken to him at all before that point. You start to see runners for miles ahead of you, and the clear skies and the beautiful Ochill hills in the background made it hard to focus on running/made running take care of itself. After 6 miles the long straight between Tillcoultry and Menstrie is even more impressive as a stream of runners, with the Wallace Monument visible in the distance.
My plan on running gels was one before the start, and then one at four and one at eight (which turned into nine waiting for a water station). The advice never use gels you haven’t used in training? Good advice. Maxifuel ‘Viper Boost’ citrus burst is truly one of the foulest things I have ever tasted. I just about stomached them down with quick gulps of water. Water stations were very good, army cadets manning them and the relatively small number of runners, under 1,500, meant there were no problems for those running at my pace. Will change back to something else from now.
I continued running well, from mile four to mile nine running 6:44, 6:39, 6:48, 6:46, 6:48, 6:43. The long straight was a great chance to mentally stretch your legs, and feel like you are running faster. I knew there were some hills coming around ten miles, so I took this opportunity. Here I noticed, and asked another runner noting their Garmin distance, that the mile markers were .2 of a mile too far. This evened out before the end of the race – the actual race distance wasn’t too long!
The hills were fantastic. I loved them. They went in two stages, one starting at 10.4 miles and the other at 11.3 miles. I ran quite quickly up them – if anything my pace picked up, doing 6:39, 6:43, 6:26 through the 10-12 mile hill section, passing many runners going up.
Bang on mile 12 I picked up a really painful stitch on my right- it was an underlying but not very bad problem over the long straight, but slowed me down at 12. I rubbed my side and stretched my arm over, and visibly saw myself slowing as people pulled away from me. I was really worried, and I’m convinced I could have finished a lot stronger without it. That said I still did a 6:37 final mile, though that was slower than the 6:26 previously, and that uphill. Maybe pushing on the hills wasn’t wise- but seeing as London has no hills, not a mistake I’m likely to repeat soon!
As you can see from the map, start and finish are exactly the same, and the loop around means you repeat a section so you know how far it is till the end. I finished okay, gaining two or three places and finishing, by my Garmin, in 1:27:51, a PB of almost ten minutes. I rewarded myself with a small Andy Murray style fist pump.
Then I went to get my timing chip cut off by the Army Cadet helpers – and it was gone. To be fair it was the first year they were using the new tie system. The race team were very helpful, straight-away a marshal took down my number and had a look at my Garmin readout. I have since e-mailed the readout to race organisers who are sorting things out for me. I’ve heard they may move back to a better chip attachment.
After this I got a Mars bar, a banana, some water, a medal and a cracking bright yellow t-shirt. I went to look and cheer home Roger, unsure if he’d pulled out. When he came round the final bend he was running ridiculously well compared to the pack around him- as said, banging out some 6:00 miles.
The advantage of the start and finish being together meant no silly luggage buses, and we grabbed a finish snap where we left our bags.
There were a few minor niggles with the race beyond the timing chip problems. Road closures were only in place on one side of the road, and some drivers ignored this causing hairy moments for some, though Roger described it as ‘fun’ Roundabouts near the end of the race were an interesting experience with cars being let through periodically, though these were well marshalled too.
However it was a fantastic race. An easy journey, great accommodation, brilliant weather, a scenic course, very fast, and good post-race goodies including a cracking medal.
Alloa was a fantastic race weekend, I’d forgotten how great the race-day buzz was. Don’t regret it, enter next year. Having taken my PB under 1h30m I now feel like a real athlete. It is amazing the difference in the pack around you running 1h30m pace rather than 1h40, and it was brilliant to be a part of that.
Now on to London, full of confidence. Bring on another PB, hopefully by over 25 minutes this time!
I’d like to add a brief note. This week in my family we have had the sad news of two deaths, albeit both at respectable ages, and of course the news that Fabrice Muamba has fallen ill and remains critical. Such tragedies render PB’s meaningless, and although dedicating my personal triumph to these people is fruitless, I would gladly exchange my PB for peace and understanding at this difficult time for those in my family affected and for the complete recovery of Fabrice Muamba, whether speedy or otherwise.
A great race weekend, but one that puts many things in perspective.
So – as always, don’t forget to sponsor me here.
Cheers for reading,
I just found this- a runner’s eye view video of the 2012 Alloa Half sped up 4x. You can spot me twice- the runner, John Kynaston ran a very similar time to me. This video sums up a lot of what I’ve written, especially regarding the weather and the views!