Loch Katrine Running Festival

Director’s Race Report.

Another feeling of déjà vu with this post: a touch of ‘Groundhog Day’.  Last year I organised the Loch Katrine Running festival as a once off event to add to my fundraising effort for Alzheimer Scotland.  I seemed to hit on a winning formula: a beautiful location, a challenging course, three races catering for all abilities, and no frills. It was a success, a hit even, and there were quite a few requests to stage the event again this year.

I mulled it over. It’s a lot of effort. Eventually, the decision was made for me as I needed and wanted to boost my fundraising total. My announcement via Facebook got a healthy and favourable response. I set the date just before leaving for Antarctica and would sort the rest out when I got back. Entries opened between Christmas and New Year and within 2 weeks the half marathon was sold out. The marathon also filled up quickly closely followed by the 10k. I had set the entry numbers to 300 and increased it to 350 due to the demand for places, and there were still people on the waiting list.

I got a good response to my call for marshals both initially and to subsequent calls including a last minute plea when several had to drop out at short notice. An event like this could not happen without the marshals who all volunteer their time and have to stand about for hours in all weathers. Having four marshals not turn up on the day, an entire water station crew, is challenging, but we got round it thanks to team work and inspiration.

I decided to add a few frills this year. Having earned my credentials last year I got Tunnocks to agree to provide biscuits again, and I managed to get two additional sponsors on board; Natural Hero and Hamlyns Oats. In addition to that I was able to organise a photographer, Colin Smith Photography; a race logo provided by Gary Birnie ; printed kit bags as goody bags; and Kelso sports massage offered their services in return for donations. I got a Facebook group set up too and there was soon plenty of good natured banter and chat going, not to mention attempts to wind up the race director. It takes a long time to fill 350 goody bags! Alasdair and I spent a very long evening doing it. Next year I am going to draft in some help hoping that the offer of wine, beer and snacks will tempt some volunteers.

Race day seemed to arrive very quickly this year. The Wednesday before race day, I drove up to the Loch to do some route marking. My plan had been to hire a bike and cover the full route, but the bike hire was not open! (It only opens at weekends at this time of year). Quick change of plan and I decided to run the half marathon and mark it, the 10k, and the first 6 and last 6 miles of the marathon. Having just run the D33 the previous Saturday, I had not really planned for a 13 mile recovery run, but I plodded along with my spray paint in hand and admired the views, and was reminded just how challenging this course is. Whilst re-fuelling in the Brenachoile Café I had a chat staff, then hat with the pier staff and it looked like we were all set.

It was back up on Saturday with Alasdair to drop the water and goody bags, and to meet up with Alan (marshal) and Chris (runner) to finish measuring the route and get the mile markers out. The day was wet and dreich but the route still breath-taking. It was great to have company and the job took a lot less time than it did last year: bonus! There was a bit banter and chat going, coffee and cake at the top end of the loch; a good day and finished by early afternoon. We were all set. I was excited and nervous, but we were as prepared as we could be.

Up at 5.30am and away by 6.15am. It was cold but dry and sunny. The forecast was good. The day would be dry with sunny spells and a brisk breeze from the North meaning a head wind on the way out, but a tail wind on the return and it would keep everyone cool. The drive over the Dukes Pass from Aberfoyle certainly got the adrenalin pumping. There was a lot of black ice and we skidded twice, so we had to slow down to a crawl eventually arriving a little later than hoped and finding a number of my marshals ready and waiting. We started to get set up and organised and runners began to arrive, with the state of the roads creating a degree of excitement.

My hitch was what to do about the missing 8 mile water station crew and tables. I was a bit concerned that they may have gone off the road, but I managed to work out that they were not either of the two cars reported off the road. It was going to have to be a case of divide and conquer. Noanie came up with the plan that they take the supplied for both stations out to 4 miles. If no one appeared to collect the supplies, then two of them would head out to 8 miles, and that is what they did. They even managed to find a table in an old shed. I was also able to send out a friend and runner, Elspeth, who could not run due to injury and who obligingly supplied homemade tablet. What a bonus for the marathoners, although I think the marshals ate their fair share too.

Next thing it was 8.50am and time to muster the marathon starters and give them their race brief, which included a stern warning about litter, which was mainly heeded, I am glad to say. There had been issues with littering the previous weekend at the D33 and the Alloa Half Marathon and I was not going to tolerate it here. I blew the horn and they were off with Andrew Murray setting off at a tarmac blistering speed, which he maintained throughout, giving the cycle marshals quite a challenge to keep up.

It was lovely to see train of brightly clad runners disappearing along the loch side in the early morning sun with the snow covered hills glistening in the distance. They looked a bit like gems set against the crystal sparkle of the water and hills. A bit of a breather before the process started again for the Half Marathon and the 10k.

There is always a brief period of quiet and calm after the final runners have crossed the start line, a chance to draw breath before setting up the finishing area in anticipation of the first finishers appearing. Thirty six minutes and fifty eight seconds later the 10k winner, Alan Hume, crossed the line.

 From that point on I was on medal and hug duty, trying to, and largely managing to give every finisher their medal and a hug. Unfortunately, a disgruntled local interrupted this process, meaning that I was not able to personally congratulate a number of the 10k finishers, as he chose this precise point to drive down the road, stop in the middle of the finish area and complain about not having been fully informed about the event. Talk about picking your moment.

A steady stream of tired but happy runners continued across the line. Happy, tired runners equal a happy and satisfied race director. The first finisher in the half marathon, Craig Harvey, came in 1:19:26; and Andrew Murray won the marathon in a convincing 2:49:35, knocking a whopping 8 minutes off the record. Our last person over the line came in just on 3pm. Course records were set in all three races and we had 309 finishers.

After that it was time for a final clear up, some food and a reflection on the day. From a race directors point of view it went well. We had 309 fairly tidy people who did not leave much rubbish behind. Any hitches we had were easily resolved and my main aim of having happy finishers seemed to have been achieved, and was confirmed by the Facebook feedback. The café staff were tired but happy with a busy day. They had opened at 7.30am for us which was greatly appreciated by myself, the marshals and the runners.

 Will I change anything for next year? Not especially. As they say, ‘If it 'aint broke, don’t fix it’. I will keep the race in March but work a bit more closely with the Waverley trust on the date to try and minimise any impact on the boat sailings and to agree a small parking charge. I may look at the possibility of arranging some alternative parking at a local hotel and running a shuttle bus (dependant on cost). I will apply for a Scottish Athletics permit. A few more marshals might be in order to cover last minute changes or no shows. Alzheimer Scotland will set up a stand to provide additional information on the charity, its projects and services

 Things that I will definitely not change: well I will still be there at the finish handing out the medals; the focus will still be on no frills and charity fundraising; I will still use my quaint but highly serviceable home produced mile markers; it will still be friendly and supportive event that welcomes runners of all abilities.

The event made  a total of £4,239 for Alzheimer Scotland, bringing my total fundraising for the charity to just under £12k.

Finally, as I am a glutton for punishment, and thanks to the Great Trossachs Forest project’s new pathway, there may be a wee ultra in the offing. Watch this space.