The Balmoral 10km race recap

I’ve known about the Stenna Drilling Tartan 10 km, or as it’s popularly know the Balmoral 10km, for a few years now. I’ve always been intrigued with running a race around an estate, especially an estate which houses one of two residences of the royal family when in Scotland. Balmoral Castle was built in 1856 for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in Aberdeenshire, and is in the region of Royal Deeside, aptly named for being on the side of the River Dee (hence ‘Deeside’), and royal because of the royal family. If you’re interested, the other Scottish residence of the Royal Family is Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh.

The house that Vicky and Al built

 There had always been two things preventing me from entering the race in the past: I was scared of the large monster of hill along the race route (for which the race has a reputation), and when I finally did suck it up and go to enter the race, it was always full! This year, I resolved I would run up that hill and finish the race, so I entered back in November of last year. Wendy from my running group followed suit, and so we began to run with the idea of Balmoral in the back of our minds. Fast forward to a month ago to when the race became full, and we were on the lookout for extra entries so Amy and Nanette, also from our running group, could join us. We were successful and so began our preparation.

We didn’t follow an actual, formal training plan, but decided every weekend we would run up Garvock Hill, a very large hill with an almost 600 foot elevation, to help us get ready to face the infamous hill in the race. We also ran up many hills around Laurencekirk as well, as if we couldn’t get enough. Leading up to the race, I had the common pre-race jitters. I hadn’t run a race since the Montrose 10km last June, where I PR’d on the flat course, and had been dealing with injury stuff for the rest of the year, so pushing distance and speed weren’t priorities at all. I had stuck within my comfort zone distance of 4-5 mile runs, and did a 6 mile run a week before Balmoral. In terms of stamina, I wasn’t well-trained and wasn’t sure how I would fare. Following the Run Balmoral’s website advice that this 10km course wouldn’t allow for PR’s, I set some realistic goals for the race:

1. Run the entire way up that hill! Especially after Rachel bet me an alcoholic beverage that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Stubborn me wanted to prove her wrong!
2. Run a faster second half, achieving one form of a negative split, (where your pace increases as the race progresses).
3. Run in under an hour.
4. Run the whole race.
Race day arrived, and Wendy, Amy and I set off on the 1.5 hour journey over the river, through the woods and hills of Scotland, past Aboyne and through Ballater, two very nice towns in Royal Deeside, up to Balmoral Estate. We had studied our information booklets in anticipation, so we were prepared for the around 20 minute walk from parking spot to race area we had to do. We were all full of nerves, and nervously chatted and munched our snacks on the drive up and during our walk to the event field. 
Myself with Amy and Wendy
Thankfully, the race didn’t start until 2pm, which allowed us to sleep in that morning, get enough food in our bellies, and gave us enough travel time. We met up with Nannette, who had gone early to watch her kids race in the 2.5km fun run, and us four Laurencekirk running ‘lassies’ set out to check our bags and wait for the race to begin.

Laurencekirk Running Lassies in front of THE castle
 Prior to leaving, I checked the weather report, and discovered that while it was relatively warm and sunny at my house on the east coast of Scotland, Balmoral was supposed to experience different weather: a high of -2’C! I was going to wear my new-ish, bright blue Nike ¾ length leggings with pale grey Nike long-sleeved, zip-up top, but after discovering how cold it was supposed to be, opted instead for my Brooks winter tights and same Nike top, with Helly Hansen thermal underneath.
 The race had corrals, and we were advised to line up in the finishing time corral of five minutes faster to avoid having to weave through the crowd. We lined up under the 50 minute sign (optimistic for me really!),  just in time for 1:45pm to come and a moment of silence for the horrible events at last week’s Boston Marathon. During my minute of silence, I thought of Amy’s experience of finishing the race before the explosions went off but still being within the vicinity of the blasts and how it has affected her. If she could run the Boston Marathon and experience all of that, I most certainly could run the Balmoral 10km! We readied our Garmin’s and waited in the sea of runners for the gun to go off and people to start running. I wasn’t sure how my Garmin would fare, I had a major reality check with it a week before the race when I found out that a) it was out 0.5 mile which means that most likely all that fast running I thought I’d been doing was due to an un-calibrated Garmin instead; and that b) it’s not a GPS watch, but instead measures distance using the foot pod, hence requiring calibration. I will go into this in more detail in another post.
We lost Nannette immediately when the crowd began to run, and I told Amy and Wendy that I was going to hang back. I’m the slowest of the bunch and wasn’t going to push it immediately because I wanted to conserve energy for the hill. I followed my dad’s sage race advice, and found someone to pace during the first two miles of the race. This consisted of two older ladies, most likely in their later 50’s, who I will refer to as my Elder Pacer Ladies. I stuck with them for the first 3 km, as the race made it’s way along the River Dee on tarmac, slightly undulating then turning into a packed sand-gravel Landrover track. We even ran up a small hill, to which I thought ‘Is this the hill already?’ sadly though, it wasn’t because that small hill was a piece of cake. That was also the last time I thought the race was easy.
I lost my Elder Pacer Ladies just as the crowd veered dramatically to the left and began the ascent of the monster hill. And what a monster it was! It was immediately steep and alternated between less steep and flatter sections to allow for non-existant recovery before beginning another steep climb. This repeated about six times, but felt endless because it was a new, unfamiliar route, and I wasn’t sure what was around each bend. I looked ahead desperately hoping that I could see the bagpipers I’d been told about at the top, signalling the end of the climb, but instead, all I saw was the moving sea of people, still running upwards. I didn’t want to stop, I wanted to stick to my goals, and almost stopped a few times but kept going. I did manage to gain ground on people who had previously passed me, walking up the hill, but at ¾’s of the way up, when my breathing turned to wheezing and I felt my lungs were going to explode, I converted to a fast-walk up the rest. Utterly disappointing! I heard the bagpipers ahead, snapped a quick photo, and since I’d recovered a bit, began running again. I grabbed a cup of water to rinse my mouth and two jelly beans, and began the equally steep and long descent down. What goes up must come down! 
A sight for burning lungs (instead of sore eyes)
One of my downfalls as a runner is that I tend to fall back running up hills, but I can make up ground running back down them. This I did to many people that had passed me earlier, but found it quite difficult in some sections as it was literally that steep that you had to brace yourself going down, and you couldn’t go all out in case you bailed. My legs got a pounding but I survived. The course flattened out, becoming a more undulating Landrover track, but I was warned by one runner that ‘you think the hill is finished, but there’s still one to come!’ Great. 
After negotiating the small, single track foot bridge, and joining back onto the tarmac, I could see the finish area in site! I was so close! But some how still so far considering I’d only just passed the 7km sign. W.T.F??!? I so wanted to give up and walk, especially considering I’d not met my run-up-the-hill and run-the-entire-race goals, but still thought I might have a chance at a sub-1 hour finish. Just after glancing down at my Garmin (because even though I’d calibrated it, the only reliable thing on it was the time), I realised I would have to run two back-to-back 9 minute miles to achieve this. Although I thought I’d done this in regular runs (again, Garmin fail!), I in fact hadn’t. Another goal out of reach. If I couldn’t come in under 1 hour, I at least hoped that I would stay within my Personal Worst 10km time of 1:04:xx (from the Edinburgh Marathon Festival 10km, up an even worse Arthur’s Seat, and on a sprained ankle). It was also deceiving to see the finish down a hill to your left, but see everyone ahead continuing to run AWAY from the finish. I’ve decided I hate teaser finishes like this. The Perth Kilt Run was exactly the same.
At this point, another Elder Pacer joined me, this time an older man, and he placed himself next to me, running alongside for about 1km, reassuring me we only had about 9 minutes-ish to go, (we had already passed the 8km sign by that point). My Elder Pacer Man suddenly stopped to tie his shoe, so I continued on without him, pushing ahead. He then caught up with about 800m to go, and as we rounded the bend to catch sight of the finish ahead, thanked me for running with him. It was so kind and so sweet. I somehow got a second wind, and began a faster run down the chute to finish in 1:01:45. I collected my t-shirt, medal and bottle of water, and met up with my running club ladies who all finished under 54 minutes. Well done ladies!
All winners!
The only goal I achieved was a faster second half than first, which I’m happy with. In speaking to others who’ve run Balmoral, the general consensus of the race is that it’s tough! 

We made our way back to my car for some well-earned lunch and began the drive home, stopping in Ballater for some juicy sirloing steaks and lamb shoulder from the reputable butcher in town as per Wendy’s husband.

I will enter the Balmoral 10km again next year, and in the meantime, begin an actual training programme of intervals, tempo runs and long runs to increase my stamina and hopefully get faster. The programme is also supposed to be a bit of a bum, belly blast(!) too. I’ve also since caught the racing bug, and I’m going to enter some local 10km and 5km races in the upcoming months. The running group ladies are also on board, so hopefully this blog will fill up with race recaps. Especially when you get treats like this!

Rachel ran the 15 mile trail race at Balmoral Castle the following day. Check out her race recap.
It’s time for my bed! Have a great week everyone!

15 thoughts on “The Balmoral 10km race recap

  1. Aw, I was actually hoping I'd have to buy you a drink after this race – but there's always next year! And since you're looking for 'local' 5 and 10k races, might I suggest the Dunecht Dash 5k in just under a fortnight? 😉

  2. I wish my races came with bagpipers! Congratulations on running a pretty solid race despite the course difficulty! I anticipate a year-long dedication to conquering that hill next time and a drink on Rachel!

  3. Congratulations! I'd say that's a race you really should feel good about. A negative split on a 10K race is always a good thing 🙂

    Also, is it common for races to start in the afternoon like that?

    PS – I think I love your Elder Pacer Man

  4. Entered! I'm looking forward to it. I'll have to write another post on all the races I've entered and will enter for the year.

    And yes, next year I'm determined to set a CR for this race and for you to owe me a drink 😉

  5. Amy, you're exactly right. My mantra when runs get tough could be 'Do it for Balmoral!'

    You and Aaron will just have to swing by Scotland on the way home from Poland for a local race 😉

  6. Thank you Hyedi, I clearly am very hard on myself.

    It isn't common for races to start later, but I like how this one did. There were also a 5km, 2.5km and 1km runs earlier, and given that Balmoral Estate has such a rural setting, I'm thinking maybe race organisers took that into account when planning the race times?

    Isn't he sweet?!! He said that he likes to run with others but doesn't get the chance. Very touching 🙂

  7. Thanks! Part of me thinks this was down to the hill being in the first half of the race, but I'll take it regardless! It was cold, but still quite bearable, and looking back, I overdressed for the occasion.

    Thanks for your comment 🙂

  8. Thanks Erin! It was a beautiful course; I had to remind myself to enjoy to take in the beautiful scenery, this was the Queen's holiday home after all!

    In speaking to others who've run the Balmoral 10km, everyone seems to know about those bagpipers, regardless if they've run the race. They are a welcome sound of relief.

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