Mass participation running events: some love ’em, some hate ’em, but either way they are on the increase. Those that hate them tend to cite the sheer number of other runners and the related difficulties in finding space to run or achieve a good time as their reasons for steering clear of these events, but for me the thrill of pounding the spectator-lined streets of a big city with thousands of others is the big draw. I remember sitting at home in early September last year with Facebook and Twitter feeds full of updates from those taking part in the Great Scottish Run and feeling really jealous. I immediately pre-registered for this year’s event and entered as soon as I was able. With the knowledge that my 2012 marathon would be a small club race, I needed my fix of a large-scale event and the GSR seemed ideal.
Originally, this race was to be a huge event in my running calendar this year: I was going to focus not just on a PB, but on running my first ever sub-2 hour half marathon. It was also going to be a head-to-head showdown with my dad who managed to squeeze under the 2 hour mark in a half marathon in January. My running at the beginning of the year had me well on track for this so the stage was set for an epic battle and I wanted victory to be mine!
Sadly, my dreams did not factor in a year of injury and frustration, followed by a battle to get half marathon ready in time for the GSR. After starting the year so well, goals had to be reset when injury struck and I found myself sidelined for months. It has now been two months since I got the all-clear to run again and I have trained hard, but my initial goal of running my first sub-2 hour half marathon in Glasgow was shelved in favour of simply being fit enough to complete the course in a respectable time and in one piece. I’ve been feeling so thrilled to be running again, that all I was really interested in was turning up, taking part and getting my medal at the end! The liberating effect of removing all pressure to perform was perhaps one of the reasons that I LOVED this event and came home absolutely buzzing with excitement.
In the run up to race day, I’ll confess that I did give some consideration to times. I set my half marathon PB at the Loch Leven half marathon in 2010, running 2:01:31 off the back of my first marathon just 5 weeks before and I’ve never come anywhere remotely close to that time since! Although I’ve run sub-2 during the course of longer marathon training runs, I’ve never yet had the opportunity to achieve this in a race: in the 4 half marathons I’ve run since May 2010, I’ve never run any faster than 2:04. With this in mind, and with my recent training stats to hand, I predicted that I could complete the GSR in around 2:05. A fairly average time for me, but after just 6 weeks of training from near enough a standing start, this sounded more than reasonable. Dad was going to be the victor in our showdown, but I was quite content to simply do my best and enjoy the experience.
Despite rather disturbing predictions of torrential rain in the early part of the week, race day dawned dry and bright. I had that excited-nervous feeling of a big race and had to force down my breakfast of toast and peanut butter, orange juice and coffee. After that it was time to organise my kit before setting off for Glasgow.
We parked at the Buchanan Galleries, where non-runners seemed to be in the minority and, as ever, our first port of call was the toilets after spending the journey from Perth to Glasgow sipping water to make sure we were well hydrated. We then sorted out all the things we would need into one bag to leave at the finish (there was no bag drop at the start but the start and finish were only a short walk apart) then set off for Glasgow Green to leave the bag and see what the finish area looked like. Our walk took us past George Square and the start area, giving us our first glimpse of the scale of the event and the fanfare that was accompanying it.
When we returned to George Square, there was only one thing left to do. Can you guess? Yes, get in the seemingly endless queue for the toilets! This actually made me feel a bit on edge as the start time was approaching and we were not in our starting pens. It was ok for me as I was in the 2nd wave, but Steve and Chris (a running club friend who had travelled through with us) were in the 1st wave. Of course, with chip timing this wasn’t too serious but we all wanted to be in our respective starting pens on time. I needn’t have worried though as the queues moved fairly steadily and we were all in place at the right time.
The atmosphere as I waited to start was incredible. All these people crammed together round George Square: some looking nervous, some looking excited, all about to share a 13.1 mile journey to the finish line and to the completion of their goal. As the 1st wave got away, we were shuffled forwards into position then the gun went off, propelling us over the line to the “Garmin Chorus” as everyone started their watches before cheering and waving happily at the photographers on a cherry picker above us.
I knew I would be jostling for position at the start before everyone settled into their race pace, but this didn’t bother me as I also knew that the first part of the route took us straight up (yes, up) St Vincent Street before turning left and heading for the Kingston Bridge. I was pleased the hill was at the start rather than the end, so while others shot out at a pace they would later come to regret, I got my head down and plodded up at a steady pace so as not to use up all the energy I would need later on. I really enjoy the start of big events like this with all the anticipation of the race to come and lots of supporters encouraging everyone to their best performance. There’s a great camaraderie between runners and the atmosphere always feels so friendly.
One of the highlights for me was reaching the Kingston Bridge around the 2 mile mark. Ok, so this was quite early in the race for a highlight, but it really is incredible seeing all the runners streaming over the bridge ahead of you whilst hearing drivers of cars travelling the opposite way sounding their horns and shouting encouragement. There is also that small matter of the bridge technically being motorway, and therefore ordinarily out-of-bounds to pedestrians!
All too soon, though, we were off the bridge and heading down onto the streets of Glasgow. The route makes its way to Bellahouston Park via Paisley Road which felt to me to be on a very slight incline. It was quite warm but the streets were shaded and there was still plenty of support along the way. Every so often I would hear someone shout then realise they were actually leaning out the window of their flat above us and watching the race go by!
Coming out of the park there was a brief downhill section before the course levelled out once more as it headed towards Pollock Park where I had been told to expect more hills. Before leaving I had taken a look at the pace splits for a 1:59 half marathon and a time check at the 6 mile mark alerted me to the fact that I was only a couple of minutes outside this. Surprised, but still running comfortably, I kept going and entered Pollock Park at the 7 mile point.
Running the 2 mile section through Pollock Park was probably my favourite section of the race. The park was shaded and quiet (except for my fellow runners) and yes, there were hills to run up and down, but I’m used to training on hills and these were much shorter than the ones on some of my regular running routes. I found myself passing people on the hills and felt strong as I emerged at 9 miles.
Mentally, I had divided the race into two 5 mile sections (with a gel to be taken at miles 5 & 10) then 5K to finish. I had been enjoying myself so much that the miles had flown by and I was at 10 miles before I knew it. This was it: just 5K stood between me and my finishers’ medal!
But of course, that last 5K seemed to take forever. I was still running steadily, but my legs were starting to feel more weary so this was the part of the race where I had to dig in. I took advantage of a downhill section round about the 11 mile mark to push on and make up some time, but as the course levelled out at mile 12 I got that “jelly legged” feeling and for the first time the doubts crept briefly in. This was when I gave myself a good talking to. Although I had set out with no particular thought for time, I had been keeping an eye on my splits in the second half of the race and knew that although a sub-2 was out of the question, I was running very close to my own PB. Did I really want to let all of that go in the last mile? I certainly did not. This was less than 10 minutes of running and I was just going to have to go to that stubborn place and keep going!
Heading into Glasgow Green for the last half mile or so gave me just the boost I needed. There was incredible support and I decided that this was it: time to dig in and run at threshold pace (that’s puke threshold rather than lactic threshold, sorry!) for the remainder of the race. I flew along the path (at least it felt like flying) and rounded the final corner towards the finish, kicking up one last gear and waving my hands in the air as the line got closer and closer before finishing with a huge smile on my face. I had done it. Was it sub-2? No. Was it a PB? No. It was six weeks of blood, sweat and tears, but I had done it and I felt amazing! I stopped my Garmin and began the post-race shuffle through the finish chute to collect my medal, goody bag, water and banana then headed off to find Steve and Chris.
When I reached the guys, still beaming, my first words were, “we are sooo doing that again next year!” and I continued to feel on top of the world for the rest of the day, not least when my official time came in and I found I was only 7 seconds outside my PB at 2:01:38 – my second fastest time ever but on probably the least training! In my excitement I went straight home to sign up for the Big Fun Run 5K and the Kilomathon Scotland. My running mojo is definitely back and I intend to capitalise on it with a couple more races before the season is over.
And what about my dad? Well, he picked up the worst cold he’s had in years just a few days before the race and wasn’t able to run. Does that mean I was victorious after all?