My Top Ten Races – and a special mention to the one I enjoyed the least (Pt 2)

So here is part 2 of my Top Ten Races (click here for Part 1). Bet you have been beside yourself to find out what I have come up with:

5. Great North Run – 13.1 mile Road

The Great North Run is officially the world’s largest half marathon. It is one of the first mass participation events I have run and it is something else. Starting in Newcastle you run over the Tyne Bridge and down to South Shields. The last mile or so being a flat stretch along the seafront.

Nikki and Me at the Start
At the Start of the GNR
At the start of the Great North Run

To be honest, and there will be people who hate me for this, I find the course fairly uninspiring. Other than the bridge there is not a huge amount to see until a tree lined hill near the end. What makes this race so special is the people. 

Along most the route you will find the most enthusiastic crowds. Kids giving you high fives, jelly babies and ice pops. Adults spraying you with cooling hoses and handing out free beer! Well it is isotonic.

Me at the End of the Great North Run

I know most people who run it love the last mile. It is a long straight after a big climb and sharp descent. I for one hate it. It is long and you are knackered. But the people get you through, they cheer every step, they clap every runner, they see when you are waning and shout the name printed on your number. I owe the people of Newcastle and South Shields my PB. 

The Great North Run is number 5 on my Top Ten Races today but it is one the could easily move up depending on the day you ask me.

4. Run the Blades Half Marathon – 13.1 mile Trail

I maybe did two training runs on trails before I took to the trails around the Whitelee Wind Farm for the Run the Blades Half. I spoke to a couple of people who had run it before and they said not to worry as it was mainly on forestry tracks so it was not as tough as some trails.

When the sun finally came out

The year I did it we had some of the heaviest rain we had experienced in a long time. The burn burst it’s banks and what is usually a small stream to jump over was a torrent you had no choice but wade through. There was a half kilometre section where you were running through ankle deep water. And then ‘that hill’ near the end. I’m not sure anyone makes it to the top without walking a bit.

Run the Blades Medal

This was one of the most fun and exciting races I have done. And I haven’t even mentioned the magnificence views, the overwhelming immenseness of the wind turbines or the awesomeness of the medal. It deserves it’s place in my Top Ten Races.

3. Movember Run – Edinburgh – 10k Road

Mark and Me at the end of the Movember 10k

The Movember Run is twice round Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. A tough run and stupid amount of elevation for a 10k run. It is hard, and fun. I love the run around Arthur’s Seat anyway but I run it so often that it would be hard for any other race round the hill to make it into my Top Ten Races.

Movember is different. It is the one that restarted my running. It made me love it again. This race is not the biggest or the best. But to me it will always be special.

2. Loch Ness Marathon – 26.2 mile Road

Nessie and Me

The Loch Ness Marathon was my first and only marathon to date. Running from the mountains above Loch Ness, down to the banks of the most beautiful body of water in the world and ending by running into the city I will always call home, even if I have not lived there for 25 years or so. This race was outstanding and will always be this high up in my Top Ten Races.

You start VERY early in the morning when you have to meet up outside Inverness Ice Rink. From there they bus out 4000 runners to the start line which is in the hills high above the loch. When I did it there was a wintery gale and sideways rain. No spectators but the atmosphere is electric. Then the pipe band starts and you are off.

Starting in the mountains

Before I ran the race I looked at the elevation chart and thought it looked ok. NOPE. It looks ok because you start so high up that the other hills look like blips, they are bigger than most you’ll find anywhere else. But the scenery is so awe inspiring that it is ok.

Another great looking medal

It is ok until you hit the hill at Dores. Just over 17 miles in the gradient is tough and it is a mile and a bit long. I suffered from halfway up that hill. Then at the top I hit the wall. I have never experienced anything like it, nor have I seen anyone adequately describe what it is like so I am not going to try. I got sugar and fluid in me and got through it.  Then I got runner’s stomach.

A slow walk/run for the next mile and a half and a desperate need for a portaloo. I eventually made it to one. I was in for several minutes but I exited a new man. I was able to run the last few miles past cheering crowds. Tears of joy streaking down my face. I finished in 4 hours 5 minutes and I loved it. And I can forever call myself a marathon runner.

1. Great Stirling Run Half Marathon – 13.1 mile Road

The Great Stirling Half Marathon is the only run that could ever beat Loch Ness, and no matter how many runs I do in the future they will always be my top two in my Top Ten Races . This is the most sentimental run I have ever done. I went to university in Stirling. I met my wife there. And I ran this race with her.

At the start
I was annoying her by now

She is my greatest running inspiration. This race was in the middle of a challenge she set herself to run 10 half marathons in a year. It was the first time I ran with her since I started running again and it was the first race we ever ran together. The run itself was full of memories and included a short section through the university grounds which probably meant more to us than 90% of the runners there.

There were sections in the city and the countryside around it. You finish by running through the city centre and into King’s Park. I had forgotten how scenic the place is, mainly because I most my memories are of the Student Union and various pubs. When I lived there I would have laughed at anyone who said I would run a half marathon there.

I did, and I ran it all the way beside my wife. Me smiling and chatting. Her telling me to shut up. Unfortunately this race is no more but a new organiser has stepped in and hopefully it will be as good because for me it was perfect.

And the one I hated!

The Edinburgh Seven Hills Race – Distance Varies depending on the route you choose we did 16 miles, Road, Trail and Cross Country

Just around the fall out time

This is the only other race I ran all the way with my wife. You run from Calton Hill in Edinburgh and have to run to the top of all seven of the hills of Edinburgh in order. The last being to the top of Arthur’s Seat and finishing back at Calton Hill.

There are no markers, several routes you can take and the terrain ranges from easy road to challenging scrambles up near vertical hillside.

Sheer Climb

Nikki suffered a significant cramp halfway round and probably should have quit but she is a determined sort. We argued as we went round, as apparently my attempts at motivation have the opposite effect. I was grumpy as I am also way more competitive than I thought. And we were not last but we were close to it. However, given Nikki could barely walk after her cramp and hobbled up a couple more hills after it finishing was a massive achievement. I had to remind her that you have to be very fit to make it to the end of the run – and given that someone had to be rescued after collapsing going up Arthur’s Seat that is no exaggeration – I think we can be pretty proud of that.

No Medal But a Cool Beer Coaster

HOWEVER , I have a score to settle with this one. I think I could move from near last to the top 15% and if I did I imagine it would move up to my Top Ten Races . I will do it again. Until I do I will always hate this race. It nearly caused a divorce.

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