For those that don’t know, the Tour of Clydeside is a race over five consecutive nights in five separate locations. It covers a mixture of distances and surfaces and while it’s peppered with some (very) good club (and non-club) runners there is definitely a mix of abilities. Overall the distance should be 40k, but it’s a self-styled low-key event so distances are not necessarily as important as the event itself. It is run by a few hard working individuals one of which, Stuart Irvine, is stepping down as lead coordinator after 14 years. Supporting the organisers on some of the days are a number of volunteers and local clubs. Two stalwarts, Garscube and Bellahouston Harriers, host two of the nights with new boys Dumbarton AAC taking the Thursday slot this year. This was my second tilt at Le Tour, having previously taken part in 2016, and I felt much better prepared and aware of what was to come.
Generally the race is the first full week in August but with the European Championships gobbling up all the first aid support it was moved back two weeks this year, and that played right into my hands.
My summer plan had been the Arran Half Marathon, my first attempt on this ‘undulating ‘course. This was at the beginning of July but, given I was then on holiday for two weeks my training was a bit delayed. So, with Run The Blades looming on the Friday I came back my holidays, I began four weeks of training that was a bit more intensive than it should have been. Had the ToC been at its normal date I wouldn’t have made it. I had to increase the frequency of runs to 4/5 a week although, to be fair, the majority were under the 10k mark; the idea being to get used to the repetition. I don’t know if this is the correct approach or not, but it works for me.
Le Tour is, for me, quite unique. Individually the races are, relatively, short. Only 1 is 10k, and the others less. The issue is the frequency. Unlike a Half (the furthest I have to compare it to) you’ll be tired when you’re finished, but you know you’ve got to go again the following night. You’re also running at a faster pace. 40k is just short of a marathon distance, but you’re trying to run each night at 10k (or faster) pace. It’s a different mindset to a ‘normal’ race.
The Sunday before Le Tour starts is your usual pre-race mess of ensuring all the kit is ready. I also wanted one small run as I found it tough taking two consecutive days off, and I’d had Saturday off as I was through at the Fringe with the family. I had a few problems though, the main one being kit. I only have two pairs of shorts with pockets (for my car keys) which meant a bit of planning as to what was being worn when. I was also trying to plan as much for the week ahead, looking at the weather and terrain, as I still had work (and the usual cycle commute) to contend with.
Monday evening arrived and it was off down to Lochwinnoch; the venue was Castle Semple visitors centre overlooking the Loch. Sun was out (ish) and it was warm with little, if any, breeze. Warm-up, a proper one, done and the whistle went for us to move to the start line. The first race, the Lochwinnoch Loosener, is an 8k out and back along the cycle path. It’s about as flat as a route can be with Strava recording a massive 13 metres of elevation over the whole course. The plan for this one was a gentle start to the week, around the 5 minute per km mark, specifically conserving some energy for Tuesday – we’ll get to that in a minute. The plan was swiftly out of the window.
There was a large field for a low-key race. Ultimately 86 Tourers (folk running the whole week) and 31 Tourists (those doing individual races) were at the start line. I’d positioned myself behind the majority of the club runners (from previous experience) and off went the gun, and I mean a proper starting pistol. A few gasps and jumps and we were running. The adrenalin was going and I was caught in a pack so the first 3k were run at a 4:40 average. There didn’t seem much point in backing off now so, literally, I ran with it. It was about that time, 2 miles to be exact, that I was passed by the first runner coming the other way. The ultimate winner, Kieran Cooper, went flying past in the opposite direction at Jack Arnold pace.
The downside to this route is that there’s not really a lot to look at so once you’re settled there’s little to do. I do, on occasion, play little games in my head to keep me amused in these circumstances so I started to count my position. It helps remove the focus from the mundane actions of putting one foot in front of the other. Not long after I’d reached the marshal, was round his back, and on the way home. The pace slipped only slightly towards the end and I finished 71st – the same as my bib number. A decent time, and quicker than my 2016 attempt.
Contrary to my Runbetweener of the Month entry, I followed Jack’s sage advice and did a proper warm down and stretch before a bit of pasta and home for the night, satisfied with the first day.
The second race is hosted by Garscube Harriers and is run within Dawsholm Park, the Garscube Gallop. There are some tarmac sections but it is predominantly a trail race. And it’s hard. Feeling comfortable with my starting point from the previous night I lined up again behind the club runner, mainly Garscube as it was their ‘home’ race. I had no plan for this one save getting round.
As it had been in 2016 it had been raining all day and the ground was wet, and muddy. There’s a short tarmac and grass section before you’re into the trees and the main downhill section. However, due to the conditions you don’t really get the benefit. You’re then into a series of bends, single track paths, a short incline with some stones for help and you can throw in the odd log or two to hurdle. Then the fun begins. A short downhill into a sharp left turn and up the first set of wooden plank stairs – although these ones are at a nice height for bouncing up. Another incline, with anther (wet) log to two-step over and then into the steeper incline and the second set of stairs. This set are a step and a half long, and a step and a half high, i.e. really awkward. You end up doing shorter steps in the middle, off to the side, but it really works the leg muscles and there’s another 50m hill at the top to content with. It’s hard first time round, but knowing you’ve got to do it another three time is a mental exercise in itself. There is a rest after that, on a tarmac section before you’re back to the main downhill section.
A very tough course, leaving very heavy legs. I can’t really do it justice in words, you’d need to run it, but suffice to say I was quite happy it measured much shorter than the proposed 7k. By way of an indication, the pace was 50 seconds per km slower than the day before. However, it is very well marshalled. Indeed all credit to the marshal at the first set of stairs giving very vocal encouragement, and tips, to help runners climb the stairs.
Wednesday took us out to Clydebank for the Canal Canter. I don’t know a lot of people in the running community – it’s expanded significantly since joining the Runbetweeners, and it’s at this point in the week where you start to get nods of acknowledgement and to have conversations about tough nights, sore legs and the like. I’ve mentioned the number of good club runners that take part, but there’s no elitism here. There’s a camaraderie; a band of brothers-esque feel to the TOC, and is part of what makes it enjoyable.
The Canter is another 8k out and back, this time along the side of the Forth & Clyde canal. Starting at the bridge next to McMonagles chippy (the boat shaped one next to the shopping centre) you head back towards Glasgow. It’s slightly uphill on the way out, mainly at the lock gates, but nothing that provides any cause for concern. In my, now usual, starting position my plan was to ease out the first wee bit, let the legs get going, and then find a good pace to settle into. I was conscious of the effort I had put into my legs the night before, and that there were still two days to go.
It had been raining and the start was a mix of tarmac/gravelly paths so there were a few puddles and muddy bits, but again nothing to cause concern. The rain had stopped earlier in the day though, and it was again warm. It’s a fairly uneventful race but there’s more to look at than the Lochwinnoch race. The path is also slightly busier with non-race people, so a wee bit more care is needed. This was the first race where there had been distance markers – some spray paint on the ground. Not that I’d missed them, GPS watches and all, but it got interesting at the turn. I started to see the people coming back in the opposite direction (and been counting them again) and I’d also made it to nearly 2 and a quarter miles this time before being passed by Kieran coming the other way.
I knew I was approaching the turn and I felt good. A big purple line across the path marked ‘turn here’ was the point. However, the marshal was positioned some 100m further up the path. She had made a mistake, but to her credit she apologised to everyone on the way past. No real hardship, and it provided a bit of a chuckle.
Turning in 51st position I had an obvious goal for the back 4k. Despite passing a couple of people, I was also passed by three others, so no joy. Surprisingly I wasn’t as ‘busted’ as I thought I would be – although I could feel the cumulative effect of the week building. In 2016 I had again pegged this as a ‘rest’ race – but I had struggled quite badly on the flat course and finishing a shade under 40 minutes. This year, however, I was more than happy with the outcome, the time and the pace which was slightly better than Monday night’s. Still being a good boy with my warm down, I headed home happy.
The penultimate night was a new race, with the course a bit of a mystery. Previous incarnations of Le Tour had spent Thursday nights at Mugdock Park, but an issue with the council, specifically their charges, had prompted a change. Had rained heavily in the afternoon, but the sun was out and it was a lovely evening for a run. The Dumbarton Dream, hosted by Dumbarton AAC, took place in Levengrove Park, in the shadow of Dumbarton Rock. The course was three and three-quarters laps of the inside/outside of the park. While I know some of you don’t like the repetition of multiple laps, I was quite happy with this and I was able to gauge after the first three-quarter lap where my ‘rest’ points would be.
A good tarmac/gravel pavement & road surface to run on meant a good, consistent pace could be maintained. Despite this being the fourth race in a row (and five consecutive days of running for me) I felt good and strong. I believe the hours put into the training in the weeks leading up to this had helped me significantly. Nice and flat for the first 500m before the first, of four, climbs of the hill. According to Strava it was 10m of elevation in 200m (between 5% and 10% gradient), but it felt steeper than that. Short and sharp enough to power up, with a longer downhill at the top before re-entering the park.
I enjoyed this run, but must admit that I was clearly feeling the effects of the week at the end. The wind down the Clyde meant you cooled very quickly, but there was the pleasant surprise of a t-shirt. Not a TOC momento, but a Dumbarton to Clydebank Half Marathon t-shirt, in XL. One of the Dumbarton boys had found a couple of boxes in the back of his garage and while it was more of a dress, it kept out the chill. All the talk at the end was good race, the hill and the finale the following night. It was the most lethargic warm down of the week, and I slept soundly that night dreaming peacefully of the cold beer that was waiting for me at 8:30 the following night.
And we’d reached Friday, the final race. Hosted by the Bellahouston Harriers, within Pollok Park, the Bella Belter is a 10k race with the pack being swelling by a number of tourists. As well as it being a Friday night 10k in Glasgow, it also forms part of the Harriers club championships so there were a number of additional Bella vests to be seen. As with the Brian Goodwin the start was at Cartha and headed out towards Pollok House, past the Highland cows before taking a left before the cricket club up towards the Parkrun start. Following the longer Parkrun hill, instead of turning left at the bottom and onto the ‘trail’ section, you went back up the hill (used in the Great Scottish Run Half) and round the back to come out at Pollok House again. Once more round that loop then you’re back towards Cartha and the finish.
I went off like a rocket, not necessarily planned, but not discounted either. I knew if I started slow, I’d only get slower so I thought I’d aim to blast through as much as possible before easing off when I simply couldn’t push any further. As a tactic, I’m not sure how effective, or wise, it is, but it was Friday and my brain slightly foggy. In my previous Tour I had three of four runners who were within 10 seconds of me in the overall standings, so it made an interesting mini-race on the Friday, but that wasn’t the case this year. I was about 45 seconds behind the guy in front (who’d been just in front of me all week) and about the same to the guy behind, so I aimed really just to do my own thing. Overcast and with a heavy does of misty rain was actually welcome for it was, again, quite warm.
The opening pace I’d mentioned, just over 4:30 a km, last for 3 and a bit kilometres. The next one had edged out to 4:50, and had coincided with the first climb of the Parkrun hill. That was, as they say, the beginning of the end. There was never any doubt about finishing or, barring injury, my pace completely collapsing. I was sore, but comfortable, but my body was telling me that I’d had my fun and it was time to downshift. There was plenty of Runbetweeners in support on the road and to gee me along with Gillian, Jacqueline, Paul and Susan all marshalling. They kept me going, and smiling. As did a somewhat bemused Anne who was on a training run and heading in the opposite direction.
I’d finished the laps and was heading home with about 2k to go. I’d dropped a bit more pace, going over the 5 min km for the first time that week (Tuesday aside), but by that point I’d stopped checking/caring. I felt though, that I had to push for home. My legs, by this time, were vehemently protesting, but they responded – they knew it was flat from here in. Passing the horses for the final time I mustered all I had for that final straight and the turn into the rugby club. I crossed the line in 46:52, delighted with this and my overall performance throughout the week. I couldn’t express my feelings – I wasn’t really able to talk to anyone – but I had that buzz inside. A seat, and a change of clothes later, and that bottle of beer was sitting right in front of me. It didn’t last long.
It’s a tough week, and the most common question is “why do it?”. There’s no bling, no goody bag and no t-shirt (although sometimes you can buy them if there’s enough interest to make it worthwhile). All you get is a time and a bottle of water. For me, it’s different to any other race and it provides a buzz and a rush that I’ve found difficult to match. I’m under no illusions that I was out to challenge for the win (I was 43rd out of the 71 finishers) so ultimately it’s about finishing and doing my best. I know I’m not even racing for my category (I came 17th out of 19). However, unlike a normal race – where you only really race yourself – Le Tour can provide some chances to race against those of a similar level with that ‘competition’ being over a number of nights. Also, as I said earlier, there’s a people element to it as well which is both enjoyable and helpful throughout the week.
It’s a commitment, both in terms of training and for the actual week, but I’d highly recommend it. Vive Le Tour!