VIEW FROM THE MIDDLE OF THE PACK
Returning to MOK Run 2015 for the May bank holiday we knew we were in for a well-organised event and an epic weekend of running and entertainment. This was our second visit to Campbeltown and we hoped to implement our now ‘experienced’ race strategies on the stunning Kintyre course. Sadly our tour guide, local hero and cousin of everyone in Campbeltown John Barbour succumbed to, yet another, injury resulting in his withdrawal from the 10k and more importantly the rest of the weekend’s entertainment as he opted to stay home in Glasgow. Lisa didn’t manage to toe the start line either having been ill the week before which was disappointing given the effort she had put into her training.
So on Sunday morning we (‘The Boy’ – aka Jack – and I) made our way to the start pens having reluctantly turned down the Full Scottish breakfast on offer at the B&B. I don’t remember there being start pens last year and I wasn’t really paying attention so ended up a bit closer to the front than usual. I felt confident though having finished 18th in the half marathon last year, still my best performance in an organised race. Then I remembered that all the whippets doing the 10k were at the same start so started to edge my way backwards to ensure I didn’t fly out of the traps too quickly. Conditions at the start were best described as fresh and I adopted the penguin strategy of getting to the middle of the crowd for warmth.
Bowser set off quickly giving me my now favoured race tactic of hunting him down. My pacing has improved a lot recently and as usual a many of the runners let their adrenalin get the better of them setting off quicker than perhaps they had planned. As we reached the 1km mark everyone was settling into their groove and the 10k runners peeled off leaving the half marathoners staring ahead at the long and gradual incline on the main road out to the North of Campbeltown. It was at this point that I passed John and it was good to see that he had slowed early enough in the race to allow for a good consistent run.
The initial stretch of the race is about 3.5 miles in total with a gradual incline along the main road. I had remembered the start as being tough last year but the wind this time around made conditions very tricky and most runners were trying to pack together for any small respite and shelter. Despite sitting on the left shoulder, then the right and then directly behind a few runner’s it was becoming clear that the wind was defying normal laws of nature and was in fact coming in strongly from every single direction.
Turning sharp left on to the road past the farm to the beach the wind continued to hinder progress but I decided to string out the pack of runners and pick up the pace a little in the hope of getting a new PB on the course. This worked although one or two runners came with me. By the time I reached the beach I was glad that ‘The Boy’ hadn’t appeared on the way back to Campbeltown placing me roughly the same distance behind him as last year. As I reached the small summit of the first sand dune ‘The Boy’ flew past at exactly the same point as he had done in 2014, bounding up the hill without another runner in sight well on course to defend his title. A few more runners passed on the way down to the beach before the iconic stretch along the sand. Heading to the water mark seems to be the preferred option to ensure a run on the wetter, and therefore, harder sand. The added bonus is that it provides a great backdrop for the race photos afterwards.
After turning on the beach at the 6-mile mark it was amazing to be able to hear, breathe and run upright as someone had decided to turn off the wind machine. The wind never feels as strong on the back but it was good to get a little helping hand on the way home. Climbing the dunes off the beach sucks and drains the energy from your legs in a way that no undulating road race ever will. It certainly takes a good while to get back into your stride and I traded places several times with runners in the next mile as we found our rhythm again. Turning right onto the airport road I again looked to pick up the pace conscious that I was heading for a marginal PB.
For much of the first half of the race I had been running with the first lady, not Michelle Obama, and it was great to see and hear so much support from the runners nearer the back of the field who were yet to approach the half way mark. About 400 metres onto the airport road we were surprisingly brushed unceremoniously aside as the eventual female winner flew past us. I had assumed she would slow in the next minute or so given the rapidity of her burst but to her credit she increased the distance over the next few miles.
This pass spurred me on to a few 7-minute miles where I felt comfortable and again I started to pass a few more runners. Feeling comfortable I kept up this pace as we returned towards the town of Campbeltown again and managed to set my sights on a few more targets, I mean fellow runners. I had roughly counted the runners coming off the beach and reckon I’d been about 30th at that point so I was keen to ensure a top 30 finish. It goes to show what a strong field was entered this year as I had been in the top 20 with a slower place at the 2014 race.
Entering Campbeltown I had managed to sustain my pace and buoyed by the finish line even managed a quicker final mile on the final descent to the promenade crossing the line in 1:34:40. I felt strong for the second half but the legs certainly suffered with the pace. Almost two minutes quicker than last year I was really pleased as MOK Run is certainly among the more challenging courses around.
One of the highlights of the race are the incredible hand crafted medals, sandwiches and Danish pastries dished out at the finish area and it was great to get out the cold into the refreshment tent. ‘The Boy’ managed a 5 minute improvement on his PB and retained his title costing me dinner in the process as our obligatory ‘most-improved’ bet again saw me losing out. It was great to then watch Bowser come in and ‘The Boy’s’ Mum and Dad who had travelled up from London on the back of the good press they had about the event last year. They were proud as punch of ‘The Boy’ but equally had both run strong races leading many to question their true parentage given their youthful appearance.
After watching the prize giving we headed to the pub for a couple before initiating the most crucial part of our race strategy, the afternoon siesta. We’d flagged badly at the ceilidh last year and wanted to make sure we had the stamina required to celebrate in style and enjoyed a great dinner in Whiskey Macs before heading to the Victoria Hall for another great night of live music, dancing and a chance to see the early race photos projected onto the wall. Despite not winning the raffle again we had another great night with ‘The Boy’ and I lasting until the DJ set, a big improvement on last year’s performance for the second PB of the day.
Monday morning provided another highlight with an excellent, and well earned, Full Scottish before we all headed home. Lisa and I stopped at the wedding venue on the road home to drop off the 250 odd beers that had been weighing down the car for the last week to complete a memorable weekend.