Or Sqkr's definitely Great this time Scottish Run.
Fuelling was at the forefront of my mind today, as I crashed so unexpectedly at the GNR a few weeks ago—I think partly a psychological response to a miserable time, but also as a result of pure inexperience. That day I learnt that running 13.1 miles in a race is not the same as pottering about at a leisurely pace in the countryside and requires a different fuelling approach, and I was determined to use this new knowledge wisely. So, once comfortably on the bus to Glasgow, I tucked into my special homemade flapjacks* and also drank a whole dose of green tea Tailwind. The trip onwards was a little fraught, as it turned out the motorway had been closed in both directions due to a 'police incident', and the traffic ended up at a worrying standstill for some time...
...buuut I finally got to the city centre, and after a quick coffee stop at Greggs I made my way to the baggage buses, which I was delighted to find were genuinely buses—colour coded double-deckers, with tracksuit-stuffed bags sitting upright looking eagerly out of the windows like it was their first day at school. I duly prepared myself for my run: I'd no pockets so strapped my phone to my hand, filled up a little doughnut bottle with more Tailwind and stashed an emergency gel under my towelling wrist band. Minimal, but hopefully enough.
And then to the starting line! My pink number was a point of contention as I'd already asked the race organisers if it was possible to move up from this last wave, but they curtly put me in my place and told me no, I belonged in the pink wave and that was where I must stay. Not to be put off, I parked myself confidently (probably too confidently, but fake it till you make it, right?) at the front of the pinks and cheerfully waited for our gun to fire.
The announcer went on and on (and on) about the horrors of the St Vincent Street hill ahead, and indeed it looked pretty steep from where we were. But bang! once we were off it felt completely fine, almost as if there was no elevation at all. I was astonished to see walkers already however—people really just don't like hills! I chuckled as I came down the other side, I've seen so many of these streets in very different conditions—usually fuelled by gin in place of flapjacks.
At 1 mile, the first sighting of a roadside piper. I knew there would be a few—this is Scotland after all, and no event is complete without some ceremonial bagpipes—but I was intrigued to find out how many they would field today. The Great Winter Run piped in every single km marker, but 21 individual bagpipers seemed unlikely!
Down towards Finnieston, the giant cantilever crane stoic and silent as ever, before taking a right turn over the Kingston Bridge. One half of the M8 was still operating as normal, with all the cars peeping and passengers cheering out of the windows as we briefly powered along the motorway. The view from up on the bridge was glorious, the geometric skyline of outer Glasgow and the Clyde stretching away ahead of us, steel grey skies momentarily making it look like a lithograph from an industrial history book. And then the sun breaking through once more, sparkling crystalline on the rooftops and water, bringing us all back into the present.
The race was just the right sort of busy—there were about 30000 runners over the course of the weekend, so maybe 15000 half marathon finishers—but plenty of room to comfortably manoeuvre. Other runners' presence was made known by the flecks of peripheral colour, their footfall a distant rhythm in the back of my mind, rather than the pulse-racing asphalt feet clatter and impatient jostling of the GNR.
Peeling away from the motorway we headed along Scotland St, past the beautiful but dilapidated redbrick James Howden & Co buildings, reassuringly plastered with hoardings proclaiming a new lease of life to come. The aesthetics of a former industrial town slowly making a new identity for itself. Things progressively got more residential, and by 4 miles we were making our way down some lovely leafy streets, lined with small pockets of cheering residents, wrapped up warm as there was an autumnal chill in the air, handing out sweets. At one point I encountered 'High Five Corner', bedecked with a huge banner and delighted children proffering tiny, excitable hands. I did a lot more high-fiving on this run that I usually do! And then another piper, a little further along, playing melodies to quicken our battle pace.
Continuing down St Andrew's Drive the greenery started to envelop us. Eventually we turned into Pollock Country Park, shipbuilding a distant memory as we made our way through the tranquil woodland estate. I was genuinely over the moon to spot Kingsley in the crowd at the 5 mile mark—the David Shrigley designed Partick Thistle mascot of dreams and nightmares—and gave him a high five too, for good measure. I had to clumsily text Mr Sqkr about this moment as I ran, it was a real highlight for me 😄 The estate remained lovely and refreshing to run through, with gnarled trees dividing up tiny patchwork paddocks, cows peacefully observing. Some considered the event from afar, others were really fascinated, poking their big wet, hirsute noses over the fences and occasionally lowing at the brightly coloured stream of runners.
One of the men I'd been running alongside—I'd noted him particularly for his McEnroe sweatband, and having 'small things for Scott' pinned to his back—stopped to talk to a waiting BBC crew, and the penny dropped that it was Grant Hutchison, brother of Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit. My motivation for taking up running a year ago came about after the suicide of a good friend, and Grant lost Scott very recently under similar, heart wrenching circumstances. I try to raise awareness where I can with my own running, but Grant's fanbase is rather bigger than mine! I watched his interview later, honest, emotional and more than a little bit sweaty. I suddenly felt reflective surrounded by the beautiful, wild park, particularly as I'd heard the reason for the motorway closure earlier on was the result of police trying to talk someone down from a bridge. I do think that we are becoming more socially accepting of mental health concerns, and more often recognise the spectrum of mental health is broad for each and every one of us. Indeed, those lights and shades we all experience to a lesser or greater degree are what make us human and brilliant. But there is still so much more that needs to be done to empower people to take the positive steps they need, and although I have no answers I do believe just being more aware of ourselves, of others, is the foundation to any change in attitude.
The haunting sounds of distant bagpipes accompanied the final section of Pollock Park, and we emerged to find three young musicians drawing us from the sanctuary of the woods back into the city. Via the questionable medium of taking a running selfie for my scrapbook I discovered that I'd moved ahead of most of my pink starting wave, and was now running amongst the green wave. Triumph! I know it's not the point of the day at all, but as a matter of principle I was delighted to have surpassed the expectations of the stubborn wave allocators.
At 7 miles I spotted a couple of well-wrapped supporters I had seen several times on the route earlier, with sturdy tweed coats and scarves and a placard saying GAUN YERSELF HAYLEIGH. I hope Hayleigh got a bit of extra spring in her step knowing they were doing such a great job of following her round and cheering! I certainly did. Another couple of pipers here too, but this time silent, and having a well-earned tea break on foldaway chairs.
Coming into Bellahouston Park the skies began to darken suddenly, we'd been really lucky with the weather up until this point but I'm very familiar with the fickle, drizzly skies of the West Coast and as the heavens opened and the wind picked up speed I sighed a little to myself. I spend a lot of time vocally comparing the (lovely) weather in Edinburgh with the (dreich) weather in Glasgow, much to all my colleagues' annoyance. As we got absolutely battered by the elements in the exposed parkland I felt vindicated by my East v West banter, yet still very cheerful. I'm glad it wasn't so horrible at the start of the race though, or I might have felt less chipper.
I decided now might be a good time to fire up my SIS gel, tropical punch flavour, which sounded like a good counter to the very untropical rain. Bleurgh, gels really are weird. As I tried to take delicate sips (? not really the word) it seemed to simply gloop itself onto my lips and then not want to come off. I carried on trying to actually ingest the stuff for most of the way round the park, which at least distracted me from the weather. And then, lo and behind, a SIS gel stop! I grabbed a couple of replacements, hoping above all else that they weren't chocolate flavour. I tried to stash them in my waistband and forget about them, but with every step they worked their way further away from the elastic and I eventually found myself having to rescue them inelegantly from, well, down my trousers. Advice: don't put SIS gels in your waistband for safe keeping, it simply doesn't work. They end up in your pants.
The weather cleared up immediately on leaving the park, leaving me wondering if there was some sort of fairytale magic chasing away the blustering wind and rain from the remainder of the course, perhaps courtesy of the bagpipers stationed at the park exit. I'm not sure what sorcery they undertook to control the elements, but I was glad to be able to dry off a bit in the sunshine. And then, wait, Grant Hutchison again! He must have worked really hard to catch up after stopping to chat for the live coverage.
Another piper stationed at 8 miles, this time playing a relatively jaunty reel. In addition to the veritable army of bagpipers, the entertainment on route was spontaneous and charming; along with the supporters cheering on the streets and leaning out of tenement windows there were beatboxers, a vaudeville troupe, a brass band, tiny cheerleaders with silver pompoms, a ragtime outfit sheltering from the rain in a bus stop but not missing a note, a brilliantly absurd clown band, so many choirs and singing groups—it just felt so lovely and community spirited. The whole city turned out to bolster our spirits and seemed to know exactly what we needed and when.
At 11 miles I successfully avoided the shower tunnel, and waved at my workplace. I've run round here for mini lunchtime training runs a lot lately, but today the atmosphere was considerably more conducive to enjoyment! In fact, I think I smiled for about 90% of the run, even during the ten minutes of relentless, horizontal rain. Evidence supplied, with my smiling 13 mile photo!
Onwards over the squinty bridge, we came across a photographer remonstrating with a runner who had flung a bottle of water aside without thinking, and drenched the snapper right through. No iconic bridge photo for me...never mind, I'd taken a bazillion selfies! It occurred to me at this point I'd not seen a single person drop out of the race or pull up poorly. Everyone seemed to be running the best, strong, most joyful race they could without pushing so hard they inadvertently capsize themselves. It was certainly a very different atmosphere to my last half marathon.
I know the final Broomielaw strait very well indeed, I walk or cycle this way to work and back daily. It felt much shorter today, and I was rather taken by surprise by the 13 mile marker. Nearly at the end, and still feeling strong! I don't know if it was the Tailwind, the gel or the lingering effects of the flapjack but I held a pretty even pace throughout and certainly didn't feel like slowing. There was a cacophony of music and voices all the way through this final mile, pipers and cheering and heavy breathing mingling together into a peculiar but mesmerising experimental run track. My phone lights up with messages, friends had been secretly tracing me on the app and fire through encouraging words and gifs of rockets and Mo Farah. The running surface changes to soft sand and the finish line looms large, I cross it with a time of 1.58. That's more like it! The run I knew I could do. Thoughts of the GNR dissolve entirely, I love running again. I feel great, I'm smiling, Glasgow really did itself proud. It starts to rain again and I don't care.
*Recipe to follow sometime, I have a tweak to make however as they're currently a bit more crumbly than is practical for a mid-run snack.