"A Forfar Bridie is a horseshoe-shaped meat product."
Its been said that racing can often get in the way of training. A race dominates the weekend – on Saturday, and your long Sunday run becomes a chore; on Sunday and you daren't put in the miles on Saturday. I am trying to be a little more careful about the races I sign up for. 2 years ago and it was quantity over quality: 55 races January to December but by February 2012 I was crocked and last year had plenty of time to re-evaluate the important stuff while I recovered from injury. This year I have been looking at what I really want to do and decided to miss some of the regulars and team events etc. rather than feel I have a responsibility to fly the Porty flag.
Right at the top of the priority list are long days out in delightful parts of the world (weather depending) doing journey runs with good people, taking photos, shooting the breeze. I can't think of any better way to spend time off.
I was feeling in this state of mind as Forfar Half came galloping over the horizon. I do like this one but it is a fair old hike to get to and last night I was swithering if it was worth the effort, especially as the forecast was for high winds. It has changed from entry-on-the-day to sign-up-online-before-it-sells-out. This is fast becoming the norm, and although I enjoy the lo-fi informality often associated with hill runs, - turn up on the day and hand over a fiver - I have a lot of time for organisers taking the online route as it makes a large part of race day less troublesome for them. And lets face it: they are doing all the work. We are invited to their home turf and, for a meagre £10, allowed to run a well planned, complex route around their town with a marshal and markings at every turn and road crossing, then treated to a banquet of food that would shame most restaurants, and for those at the front a generous prize; and booze for 1st, 2nd AND 3rd placed teams of either gender. Now that's how to do a race.
I don't know how Forfar Road Runners get away with the course. It travels along a path “liable to flooding” and the pre-race chat is always about the water levels (sometimes ice-topped). Emily allegedly went for full immersion a few years ago. This year we received an email midweek advising us the route would be detoured at the 6~7 mile mark (the watery bit) due to Health and Safety. It was a surprise to hear talk of health and safety as previous years have blithely disregarded any such pansy notions. And the race is all the better for it. Apparently the icy plunge pool was waist deep plus. However, we were reassured that those wanting water would not be disappointed. True.
Angus and I were the sole Porty people, Mary dropping out with her pulled rib muscle self harming thing. My brother Neil is “on” in his on/off running career so was designated driver for today. (Excellent work.) Early rise, but in no time we were standing on the start line in weather that would be described as Baltic if you were in shorts and vest and standing still, but balmy if you were doing 6 minute miles on dirt paths round Forfar Loch. There were traces of snow and beards of ice round puddles but otherwise, balmy.
David Fulton (HBT) who is having a blinder of a season, set the pace. An unattached slotted into second place and I followed in third. Mile 2, 12.07. Local Brian Bonnyman overtook during the testing mile of farmer's track awash with large muddy puddles, some years frozen, today just deep and cold. By the way he cruised past over the difficult ground I knew he would travel up the field, but would he catch David?
As I went past 5 miles I wasn't surprised to see 31.30 a couple of minutes slower than my best here. The sodden conditions were slowing things. I was running with a Garmin and watch. Not the camera today – too many hazards. I thought things might speed up during 6 and 7 as we missed the traditional swimmers section and took a couple of long roads round to the crossing before the gated section. The gates clang and let you know the distance behind of the next competitor. Billy G (Dundee Hawkhill) had gone past around 5 miles, we exchanged pleasantries and he moved in front. Up ahead I could see him disappearing into a stretch of water along the side of a fence. So deep he stopped running and started wading. I jammed my fingers into the tall mesh fence to pull myself along through the deepest bits. Did I ever say I have recurring dreams in which I am using my forelegs I mean arms to power along a run? Now while I'm not saying this is a distant memory I was on all fours in a previous life, today was one of the first times I have replicated the experience in a race.
I went wrong here last year (coming out the third last gate) and took a long cut before the road back into town. I had followed the two ahead without thinking. Today I paid attention and crossed the dirt path opposite to go through the (marked) 2nd last gate there and along and out the final gate. Back into town (how many “Welcome to Forfar” signs did we pass?) then across the road and more undulating single track, wet and slippy. Out onto the road and along to the hill between 9 and 10. You can't see the top from below and what initially seems like a dead end out the back of a cul-de-sac climbs steadily with several false summits before finally you reach the alpine-esque summit with pine trees and snow and some sort of a monument, with a fine view North to the Cairngorm Plateau, white peaks in the sun. I assume its north. I assume its the Cairngorms. I had no intention of getting out my map to check. On reflection, that would have been in my optional bum-bag in the changing room.
These 3 photos thanks to Karen Campbell
I began to lose sight of Billy up ahead except on the longer straights. I worried I may have been drifting off the pace. I enjoyed the event considerably more from the moment I irretrievably dropped third place and could race without obligation to fight for bronze to the death. And the one behind wasn't getting any closer.
A series of descents follows. In the past I have been overhauled here dropping several places, probably the hill having taken too much, but today I felt strong. Or at least unchallenged. I could see the dude ahead and he wasn't as far as the dude behind. And my feeling was I didn't stand a chance of catching him. I remembered the exact spot where Davie Burgess said “we are all feeling the pain” as himself and Crooky went on to race so hard for the line from 2 miles out that Burgess delivered his pre-race orange on the finish line. And last year young Ally went past in the last field. Which, as a blessed relief, wasn't ploughed but reasonable running.
Out and down the street and past a point where once Scott F led 6 or more of us (including first lady) up a no through road as the sign pointing left had blown off. So I knew to turn left but worried as I couldn't see the next right until 100 yards down the road. The adrenalin spike of alarm powered me along the dirt paths and through the finish. Just under 1.26 which I was thinking was quite slow until I found out the front 2 were 1.22. And Brian did catch David.
I was first into the showers. While the others were exchanging stories at the finish, I reckoned I had just time enough to get washed and changed (before an acre of mud was walked into the small changing room) and to get back out in time to see Neil cross the line. Forgot to take pics of Angus, other Angus, or any scenery. Defo no paparazzi prizes for me today. We were all suitably impressed by a such a selection of soups. Angus took some photos of the tremendous spread – really it was outstanding. About 5 or more excellent soups and enough homebakes and sandwiches to feed an army.
Also particularly good tomato-lentil-bacon and a spicy cajun soup
Well done Angus for capturing the important stuff.
And a very generous prize giving not only vouchers to winners and age cats but all those team prizes. I was given first over 40 which, apart from the winner, I was. It was a nice compliment too. Big thanks to all the marshals – and there were LOADS – who stood around in the chill. And all who make this one of the best events in the calendar. Highly recommended.