Sunday, 16 March 2014

Alloa Half 2014

Alan Aitchison obscures the third A on the Porty Party Bus

On Wednesday the five day forecast said 20mph headwinds on the notorious backstraight of Alloa Half. Still plenty of time for that to change. It didn't. Sunday morning 20mph winds and what is the point? Struggling to answer the question “why bother?” got up at the crack of dawn and threw some kit into a bag feeling like I was wasting a perfectly good albeit grey windy day by turning up for a race that was pointless in a strong wind.

Photo David 

I have done Alloa in horizontal sleet (the old course from the school) and just about every other weather since. It used to be a favourite as I chopped my half pb from 1.30 to just under 1.21 on a nearly annual basis.

But this year? I reckoned 1.21 would be the most likely outcome. And then only if I could draft behind a team of weightlifters on the long stretch below the Ochils.

I scrounged a lift with Steve to Porty, (thank you Steve!) not wanting to leave my bike outside Tumbles all day. The coach (no not Bert) turned up in plenty time as did all the runners (yes incl Bert), following Jenni's instructions to be there for 7.50am. We managed to get David's bike in the luggage hold which meant we would have a roving photographer on the course cheering us on. Which meant I didn't need to carry the camera. I had a feeling I'd have my hands full with the wind.

whistling along? Photo David

After picking up numbers we changed in the hall and went for a warm up. During this time I was keeping an eye out for a toilet that didn't have a queue of 20. Usually you can find a toilet nobody else has come across somewhere in these large sports halls (or a disabled loo) but loads of runners had had the same idea and I decided that I would have to do without. Poor Steve: his need was greater and by the time he had queued and gone, the race had started. He tried gamely to zig-zag through the crowds but it destroyed his chances of a decent time.

these three photos thanks to Barry Davie

Mary tells me the last time I ran this race was 2010. This year, as I was changing I was approached by Angus Gallie. He and I ran together in 2007: a notoriously wet and windy year. We reached the awful back straight at the same moment and without any verbal agreement took turns at the front for 100 strides each, while the other recovered directly behind. Before swapping and doing the same. We did this all the way along those four tough miles going past a whole bunch of decent runners spread across the road shoulder to shoulder instead of making like the Buchanan-Gallie train. I don't think I have seen Angus since although I have seen his name in a few race results. It was great to meet him today before the race. Unfortunately we weren't in the same vicinity at 5 miles to repeat the trick today.

mile 12
Photo David

I started steadily today remembering that at Dumfries this tactic ended in a pb of 1.19.19. This should have been the target for today but I felt it was dead in the water before starting what with the 20mph headwinds. I had been tempted to DNS today: if the forecast had suggested the weather down the coast was going to be much better I would possibly have thrown in the towel and joined Mary on her 20miler to North Berwick. I'm not a big fan of such crowded events. Although I have such a history with Alloa that I can't entirely ignore it's charms.

Photo David

So we do a lap of the town then head outward and there are a few climbs. Up ahead is Gareth and I am intentionally letting him go. Michael F is alongside and we stay together over the first few miles. On the descent to the windy corner I make the fastest mile of my day and look around for a likely pack to get in amongst for the long road below the hills. As we turn the corner you can feel the headwind flapping numbers and slowing the pace on the climb through Tillycoultry. 5.39 for that mile says I was going for it. As the group leaders and myself rotate I say out loud we should take turns at the front. There are 3 or 4 of us (a couple of Edinburgh vests and a couple of Dundee?) and in a ragged fashion we blast to the front, remain there blowing hard then within 30 seconds the next has sprung forward and you catch your breath. We catch the next group ahead and more people join from behind. There are quite a few now in the pack and some seem to be moving to the front more than others. I regularly move forward as I want to keep the pace as close to the pace we have been doing. Every mile (on the Garmin) I see I am ahead of the 6minute schedule. I also see the mile markers at the side of the road are getting more and more adrift. By mile 10 they are nearly half a mile out and I go past at 57minutes. In reality (Garmin based reality) it takes till 59.40. This is something of a revelation – at Dumfries I hit 10 miles at 60mins dead. However Alloa has 2 hills to climb in the final 3 miles.

Bert look at the camera - no, not that one.
Photo David.

Michael pulled alongside once we got out the wind and I hoped I would be able to stay with him. However at the first hill up to the roundabout, he and about another 11 folk pulled away and left me struggling up the hill. I tried not to let this get to me and enjoyed Phil's cousin coming alongside and giving encouragement. I was still among quality runners. Again the next hill took some stuffing out of me and I was glad when I got to the flat and descent past the school where it used to finish. The 12 mile marker was half a mile out and I toggled between the two ideas “I hope it's short and finishes soon,” and “I hope it's not short and therefore doesn't really count as a full distance event.” An extra long mile to marker 13 and then a super-long point one of a mile to the finish made for a proper distance although from the times we were getting you would think that it must be a short course, given the wind. I was delighted with a 35sec pb for 1.18.44. I thought it might be possible in the last mile but only realised it was on as I turned the final corner and saw the official clock. Michael had got a minute+ ahead in the last 3 miles making a pb of 1.17.31 and Gareth had managed 11th place (out of more than 1500) and a scorching 1.14.38.

love the average pace

As we had a bus to catch we didn't hang around for prizes, though I see I won first mv50, a clear 7 minutes ahead of the next in that age group. I am at a loss to explain how I managed to run that time in those conditions – I hate headwinds. Glad now I went along. And I wasn't alone in getting a pb. Quite a few people on the coach had done really well and the atmosphere was pretty upbeat. I am now thinking I must do a bit more of this road running lark. As long as there aren't too many hills or too much wind. Getting off the coach in Porty, Michael let me go ahead “for a change” says he, the cheeky bugger.

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