2014 was all about pushing my limits, bettering my times, and decreasing the space between ‘I can’ and ‘I can’t.’ I entered the 2015 Glacier Energy 15 mile trail race – the BIG race of the Balmoral race weekend – as way of continuing to extend my boundaries and getting familiar with the unknown. I had also entered to Stena Drilling Tartan 10km, the day before this trail race, as another way to push my limits and challenge myself both physically and mentally. My Balmoral Challenge had been set, I had already succeeded in one race that weekend, what would happen in race #2?
All of my mental preparation and focus had gone into the 10km race; so much so that Pat and I referred to the 10km at my race, and the 15 mile trail race as his race. My race plan leading up to last Sunday was to treat this as a long run, but to also experiment somewhat with pacing over a distance longer than 10 miles. I was also hoping to run the entire race, but I wasn’t sure how I would fare considering our three double-digit long runs we did to train for this race consisted of many large, steep hills, all of which I walked up. Going by Rachel’s recap of this race from 2013, I knew to expect three big hills; if I could run all of them, that would be amazing, but I would have to see what the race brought and how I felt.
My plan changed a bit come Sunday morning, after Pat checked times from last year’s race. We both anticipated running the race under the three hour mark, but by how much we weren’t sure. Once we saw that the slowest times were over three hours, we realised we could run this race faster than previously anticipated, faster than our training runs had been. Which we did.
After a slow start to the morning, Pat and I made our way back through Royal Deeside to the Balmoral Estate. There were less crowds than the day before, which made parking a breeze. The forecast that day was typically Scottish:
There was even a possibility of snow!
I prepared for all possible weather conditions and dressed accordingly: 2XU long compression tights; Helly Hansen thermal long-sleeved top underneath a black technical race tshirt; Feetures merino wool socks, running gloves, a buff around my neck and my Patagonia hat. I also wore my new Nathan Zeal 9L Hydration vest, packed with my windproof jacket, Honey Stingers energy chews and bar, and of course, water! Pat and I took off our microdown jackets and sweat pants, went for one last toilet break, then headed to the start line.
It was at this point that the realisation I was about the run my longest distance to date set in. I didn’t panic though because I had trained for this entire weekend and I had a plan. It was just a matter of executing it.
The gun went off and we were off! The first two miles of this race are identical to the 10km: tarmac path meandering alongside the River Dee. Again, underfoot turned into landrover track and again, we passed through the deer fence. This time, however, instead of the sharp left and up the 10km hill, we continued on straight, through the forest. It had started snowing, which made for a beautiful sight! I didn’t stop to take any photos along the race route because I had some goals in mind.
Mile 1: 9:14
Mile 2: 9:34
The first half of the race takes you on an 8 mile loop through undulating landrover tracks with a few single tracks thrown in. This was all within the forest, through the Balmoral estate. We passed a dam to our left, we ran along a heathery path, and did a bit of hill climbing. Whenever the trees cleared, I got a nice view of a snow covered Lochanagar in the distance.
Mile 3: 9:44
Mile 4: 9:39
Mile 5: 9:40 *one pack of Honey Stingers pink lemonade energy chews
Mile 6: 10:21
Mile 7: 9:21
The route then doubles back on itself, but rather than heading in the direction of the castle (and the finish), we took a winding, steep, single track path up to another, rockier section of the race. I found this section the toughest: very jaggy underfoot and a long, uphill climb that lasted for two miles. It was tough to find any sort of easy terrain on which to run, so I just had to keep climbing and plodding on. It was at this point as well that we had passed the tree line and left the forest. I could still see Lochanagar in the distance.
Mile 8: 9:28
Mile 9: 11:51
Mile 10: 11:38 *a Honey Stingers chocolate energy bar
During that long climbing, I was able to pass many people. I had been with the same five or so people during the first half of the race, but left them when the big hills started. I had joined a new group of runners, and again, was making my way through them, picking them off up the hills. The terrain finally levelled out into a large, open expanse of heather. We were surrounded by hills all around us, and I could see the race route (and brightly coloured runners on it) miles ahead.
It was at this point in the race, as I was running along beautiful tracks in the Highlands of Scotland, that I realised I was in a place the not everyone has the luxury of seeing. This is my favourite part about trail and hill running: seeing the hidden treasures of a country, available to all, but seen by few. It was also at this point I ate my energy bar. I also took some sips of water from my hydration pack – what a handy thing!
The route starting climbing again, and again, I passed people on the up. We passed a water station and the course veered left, making our way back to the tree line. From miles 11-13, I ran a steady downhill path, back into the trees, back into the forest.
Mile 11: 10:23
Mile 12: 10:23
Mile 13: 9:17
I passed more people as I entered the forest, and my legs weren’t showing any sign of tiredness. The route took a left turn onto more landrover track, going donwhill. I knew, by Rachel’s race report, to expect a final, more dramatic hill before the end, and wasn’t surprised at all when I saw a race marshal ahead, directing us up a steep, muddy hill. Those around me stopped to walk, but I just kept running. “At least give it a go and see what happens,” I thought.
It was this section of the race where I was most appreciative of my Salomon Speedcross 3 trail shoes. On top of a steep hill, the mud was thick and wet. I was grateful to have the rubber spikes in my shoes to help me power up the hill and continue on through the forest. Yes, I ran up that entire hill; it may have been slow, but I did it.
Mile 14: 11:20
What goes up steeply also goes down steeply, and the final descent back onto tarmac was tough. I increased my pace and just in time too: I could hear the heavy breathing of someone behind me. I was determined not to let them pass. My toes had been bothering me in the latter part of the race, probably due to my feet being pushed up against the front tips of my trail shoes during all the downhill sections. As I scrambled quickly down the final hill, I splayed my toes in my shoes to ease the pain – as a result, my fingers also slayed apart.
I finally met tarmac again for the final sprint, and crossed the finish line. My first 15 mile trail race was over.
Mile 15: 7:25
I had run 14.85 miles in 2:28:47. I had also run my highest elevation gain in a race to date: 1,156 feet.
At the half way point of this race, I’d noticed that the mile markers and my Garmin weren’t at all in sync (N Sync??); I even asked another Garmin-wearing runner if she was experiencing the same, and she was. The mile markers came at every 0.7 miles on my Garmin instead, which explains why my final distance was 14.85 miles. Regardless, I’ll take the time and the distance.
I did a cool down walk around the Balmoral field, feeling the stiffness in my knees. I met Pat and we high-fived and kissed each other on our job’s well done – he finished in 2:09:xx. It then started to sleet.
We stuck around for the awards ceremony and to stretch, then made our way back to our car, and back home. Hot showers and hot food warmed us up again, and we spent the rest of the evening resting and watching the London Marathon highlights.
Our Balmoral Challenge has been a huge success! I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Glacier Energy 15 Mile Trail Race, considering the tough trail runs we did to prepare for it. Upon completing the race, I realised that Pat, who chose and mapped out all our trail training runs, put us through some tough routes! In comparison to his training routes, this race was quite easy. And, as a result of focused training on hills, body weight exercises and my primal diet, I was able to execute both race plans and achieve all my goals. High five to me 😉
Onwards, and upwards.