The mornings have turned frosty, there are frozen puddles to dodge whilst out training and I don’t leave the house without a beanie on – it must be time for the Pentlands 7 Reservoirs Half Marathon! Last year’s race took place the day after Storm Desmond had whipped through Scotland, turning the trails to streams and leaving the mud ankle deep, although the day itself brought sunshine and rainbows. Then, I pushed to get in under the two hour mark, the last stretch of track alongside Harlaw reservoir seeming endless. This year the preceding weather was much calmer, and race day dawned beautifully clear although the car thermometer read -6 degrees as we set off from home. It wasn’t much warmer at the start as the sun was barely visible above the line of hills. It was one of those days where you leave taking off your jacket to the ever so last possible moment before making a dash for the start line.
As soon as we got moving though I started to warm up, although my hands and feet stayed chilly for a while. The route took us first along the edge of Threipmuir reservoir where we soaked in a little welcome sunshine, then back into the shade for the steep first climb up to Bavelaw castle. This climb spread the field out and I was happy to get a bit of space as I always find running with someone right behind or in front a bit off-putting. Then followed my favourite section of the race as we headed on well-surfaced footpath through the gap in the hills on our way to Loganlea reservoir. The path here undulates between hillocks before dropping steadily down the river valley to the floodplain at the bottom, eventually dropping out at a house at the end of the road. The sun was getting higher in the sky and the day was revealing itself to be one of those glorious ones where pounding your feet through the hills seems like the only thing in the world that you should be doing.
We joined the Flotterstone road for a further section of flat / descent down to Glencorse reservoir, and I focused on keeping up a fast pace on the easy surface – although with an eye out for frozen puddles of which there were a few. Reaching the Maiden’s Cleugh turnoff, I was almost halfway and was told by one of the friendly marshals that I was sixth overall female, which was encouraging as a top ten finish in field of athletics clubs members sounded good to me. Next came the hardest section of the race: the long climb up Phantom’s Cleugh. The path starts steeply – first up the rocky track and then a grassy slope at the Bonaly turnoff. I remember walking some of this last year – this year I wanted to push my speed and kept running, spurred on by the guy behind me who had scary heavy breathing! The trail here was in much easier condition that last year when it was a quagmire, being hardpacked slightly frozen mud. Topping out above Bonaly reservoir I dropped through the gate and down the steep stony descent to the drinks station.
Then it was time to push on for the last 5 miles of the race, first past Torduff and Clubbiedean reservoirs and then along the track to join the Harlaw Road. This section I found tough last year and I did again this year, probably because you are down out of the hills but the end is not yet quite in sight, and the route takes in a few more short sharp sections of ascent after the drinks station. Turning left onto Rocky Road at the top of Kirkgate I knew I had around 4 km left to go and should bring it home within the 2 hours again which was a relief. It was a bit of a drag up the track to the turnoff back towards the reservoirs – this section never feels like a hill when you are on a bike or walking, but running up it with 10 miles in your legs is a different story. I felt myself slowing down and focused on keeping my speed as high as I could – I didn’t want to be overtaken now.
Finally Harlaw reservoir heaved back into sight and I enjoyed the descent down towards the Ranger Station knowing I didn’t have far to go. The final stretch alongside the reservoir seemed to pass a bit quicker this year and then I was up onto the reservoir embankment and stretching out towards the finish line. I was really pleased to finish 1st in my category and 6th female overall with a time of 1:51, 6 minutes quicker than last year. With time out from training due to my shoulder op this summer and more recently a month away from running due to our trip to Tibet, I had been worried my training hadn’t been consistent enough, but it seems that high altitude cycling in Tibet had made up for it! A big thank you to the race organisers and friendly marshalls for putting on such a great race, and to FINDRA for my lovely cosy race kit for a chilly day!