Yesterday we travelled north to take part in the second Run Mhor half marathon. This was one we’ve been looking forward to since entering several months ago following several recommendations of ‘this will be right up your street’. Reading the pre-race blurb it certainly ticked a lot of the boxes including a scenic run, small field, driving distance from home and post race refreshments within hobbling distance of the finish line.
In April I had been lucky enough to stay at the Mhor Hostel for a couple of nights as a birthday treat giving me the advantage of checking out the route in advance and on the car journey I enjoyed winding The Boy up about the route. With experience though came the knowledge of ‘that hill’ and in hinsight blind naivety might have been a better option than knowing what was coming around the 10 mile marker.
After being well marshalled into our parking slot we registered and caught up with the rest of the Harriers – many of whom were returning to take part in their second Mhor Run (big pressure on them now to remain ever presents). The Boy warmed up as we all huddled together to stay warm before he studied the route map carefully, keen to see how many hills there were and how many opportunities he would have to get lost. This attention to detail is perhaps one of the many reasons why he will in every race, regardless of distance, run 1 minute a mile faster than me.
The event saw a big increase in runners this year with 200 runners registered for the Half Marathon, 100 for the 10k and a well attended kids run. This was testament to the word of mouth effect a well organised race can have amongst the tight knit running community. There are still many gaps in the racing calendar and small towns would be well placed to consider hosting sporting events given the economic benefits a run can bring. Kingshouse certainly lived up to the billing with a warm welcome from the friendly registration team.
On to the race itself. The first mile climbs gradually out of Kingshouse before dropping down again into Balquhidder around the two mile mark passing the resting place of Rob Roy. I was passed in the second mile by two runners as the pack naturally ordered itself after a typically adrenaline fuelled first mile 🙂 This section gives the legs a test of what is to come.
Around this time I started to think that I was probably around 11th place after setting off ambitiously up the hill before regaining my composure and settling into a 6-45 pacing strategy. Sticking to my pre-race plan my aim was to run as close to 7 minute miling as I could over the route meaning that I needed to dip under this marker in the early and flatter miles to ensure some money in the bank before ‘that hill’.
Turning past Loch Voil I took a second to enjoy the scenery. A small roadside percussion band were serenading the runners, the sun was peeking through the clouds and you couldn’t have picked anything better to be doing on a Saturday lunch time.
The next few miles of the course were my favourite during the training run. Passing through a tree lined hamlet the valley then opens up as you snake along the river bank enjoying the flat surface and opening the legs. The gap between me and a crop of runners stubbornly remained over the next two miles but as we started the first of two climbs in the forest above Stathyre I closed down and passed two other runners. I pushed hard over the next section and really raced the uphill miles, pleased in my mind that I was perhaps now within shot of a top 10 place.
The downhill section into Strathyre is a welcome treat after the wannabe ‘small’ hill that would be unfavourably referred to in any other race that couldn’t boast ‘that hill’. At one point just approaching Strathyre I almost took a wrong turn down a lane before realising the sign was just ahead of the concealed turn in the road ahead. This was to prove crucial later on.
The route returns to the start/finish zone along the cycle path for a few miles and this was a chance to try and hunt down another runner within sight but this gap remained consistent despite trying to close it several times. Heading out of Kingshouse for the second time this time around we headed north parallel to the main road (the second lap of the half marathon follows the single lap route covered by the 10k runners). We had done this lap first when on holiday earlier in the year and I was looking forward to the first mile through the woods. By this time though my legs were starting to grumble after the exertion of trying to put a gap between me and the two runners I had passed at Strathyre. I had hoped to ease back a little content in the knowledge I had dropped them by this stage.
The next two miles are gently undulating but feel properly mountainous by this stage and it was unfortunately somewhere in the woods that the heavy breathing and footsteps appeared behind me – definitely not part of the plan. I managed to hold off for around half a mile before being passed by a runner I assumed had been the guy I saw stretching out a cramp around mile 2 – not one of my Stathyre passes but still a place. Doubts about a top 10 finish crept in.
Despite this the section here is a great bit of the route as the 10k runners pass in the opposite direction as they approach the end of their race, offering encouragement whilst unwittingly wearing the joyous look of ‘my beer is closer than your beer’ across their pained but soon to be relieved faces.
As we approached Lochearnhead I became increasingly conscious of another runner nearing me and he drew alongside as we crossed the bridge. Mustering up some words of encouragement for him he told me that him and the runner in front had gone the wrong way just before Strathyre and were trying to claw back positions. This meant I was still in good positioning and perhaps still in with a shout of a top 10 finish perking up my spirits a little at a tough stage in the run. Despite being slower than both (they had clearly covered more ground than me with their misdirection) I actually managed to latch onto the two guys as they hunted down the guy one place ahead of me who had stubbornly maintained the gap between us.
At this stage no amount of position maths, split analysis or post race meal planning was going to detract from the fact that ‘that hill’ was now here. It started much steeper than I remembered it when I told Lisa to walk one set of poles and jog the next. Race mode on there was no way I could walk it though…. was there? It was touch and go but I was glad of the company at this point and actually closed the gap on the two ‘lost boy’ runners on the climb as we hair-pinned our way up the hill. Under two minutes of running I later found out thanks to Strava segments that I had reached the summit only 4 seconds slower than The Boy who was probably now close to the finish line 🙂
As the lost boys stopped to hydrate I carried on in pursuit of finish line safe in the knowledge the net elevation was very much downhill for the last few miles. It didn’t take them long to pass me again and within a mile I was again chasing them down. At this point I expected the downhill to help pull me towards the finish but it never really felt that I was running on anything other than flat as the drop stretches over a much greater distance than the short but brutal climb. During the time there were 3 runners in sight but each was running well and I was struggling after the effects of the previous 10 and a bit miles.
Approaching the home straight I was pleased to meet the Bella girls running in the opposite direction en mass toward ‘That Hill’. With some mutual ‘mon the bella’ shouts of encouragement exchanged they definitely looked to be enjoying the run much more than me but I was pleased to hear that I was possibly in around 10th place by their reckoning whilst ‘The Boy’ had not got lost and was apparently looking good for the win.
Gritting my teeth I tried to pull onto the shoulder of one of the ‘lost boys’ several times in the final cruelly undulating section of the route but he was able to respond strongly each time so I convinced myself I should be gracious and let him keep at least one spot after his additional yardage early on. Chasing other runners definitely pulled me home to a quicker time than I would if I had become detached and running solo meaning I was able to maintain and regain a decent pace on the approach to and descent from ‘that hill’.
By my reckoning before ‘that hill’ I had built up about a 90 second buffer for a sub 1:30 (which would have been my first official time under the 90 minute marker after the Great Scottish Run 2016 episode) so I was a little bit disappointed to pass the 2km to go sign on 1:23 giving me next to no realistic chance of dipping below 90. It was still good to stretch the legs though as the final section of the route passed through the woods just outside Kingshouse again. With a chunky half mile post 13 mile marker this was a tad over the official half distance (in any other business we would call this ‘extra free’) making the 90 minute marker a bridge too far this time around.
Exiting the wood with 200 metres to go and roared on by super-supporter Kirsty Cochrane I managed one last kick and almost gained a place. It wasn’t to be though leaving my top 10 finish in jeopardy after crossing the line in a time of 1:32:20.
At this stage my plan had been to collect my race position token from StuWeb van, change into warm clothes and then get some food but as usual this all went out the window when I noticed the proximity of the post race refreshment tent. My cool down therefore involved a welcome complimentary Mhor 84 beer and having a good chuckle at The Boy doing a professional cool down. I was please to hear The Boy had picked up the win and was pleased with his run. He reminded me about getting my official timing print out. Confirming my time I was slightly disappointed to get a placing of 12th after gunning hard for a top 10 but The Boy told me that some half marathon runners had done the 10k and were appearing in the half results meaning the final results might change.
So does Run Mhor deliver? In one word absolutely.
This was a great, but tough, event. I ran hard and thankfully my marathon training seems to have me in better shape for the half than I have been before. Measuring 13.5 miles officially with over 200m of ascent it wouldn’t be too unrealistic to think that I could run 5 minutes quicker on a flat course. But that wasn’t what yesterday was about. It was about finding another intimate race in a new part of Scotland to add to our list of must-do running experiences and Run Mhor is really an event to watch as it will surely grow in popularity again next year. The scenery above everything else is what makes this one.
Will we back? 100%
Would I recommend it to others? As long as they won’t make it harder for me to get in the top 10 – 100%
Oh and one last thing – when the final results were published there I was sitting pretty in 8th place. Absolutely delighted.
Runbetweeners 1st and 8th. Now to get the organisers to instigate a team prize next year 🙂
As always thanks to the race organisers and marshals for giving up their time so we could enjoy our run.