Massive well done to Cat Riona who finished 1st Female at the Perth Touch of Tartan half marathon last month – thank you for the race report, Cat!

Perth Touch of Tartan 2018: race report (and valuable lessons learned!).

Picture the scene: you’re on holiday in Scotland. You’re training for a half marathon you’re doing in a months’ time. You read about a light-hearted half marathon called “A Touch of Tartan” being held near where you’re staying. There’s only one caveat: all entrants must wear something tartan for the duration of the race. Sounds like a good opportunity, right?

3 hours of scouring all of Edinburgh’s tacky tourist shops, and you’ve gained a tartan bow, 4 tartan hair slides, knee-length tartan socks and a small fury haggis mascot. You’re ready to run.

Lining up at the start line in all your finery, you look around. Apparently, you were the only person to actually read and follow the admin instruction in the pre-race email. Typical soldier – you followed the kit-list to the letter, while everyone else chinned it off… damn civvies. Wondering if you’re the only non-Scot in the race, you’ve never felt now like a horribly stereotypical tourist in your life.

But then – aha! – You spy another tartan ribbon in the crowd. Yay! A friend!

“At least someone else got the memo!” you say to her, smiling.

“Yes… it looks line we’re the only ones!” she replies, in a broad American accent. Tourists united.

Ah well, I thought. It’s not a fashion parade anyway, right? And I’ve got my stylish #teamblue Goat running vest to balance it out… might as well run as quickly as I can, if only to take these damn socks off as soon as possible!

However, after feeling initially very ridiculous, I actually learned to love the tartan socks. The marshals on course loved them. I took the lead on the other females right from the start, and received several comments that the tartan-powers were what had me powering up to each water station as first “lass”. I didn’t, however, love the race.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great course. The start is a bit weird – it’s not a circular route, but you get a shuttle bus out to the top of a hill where it all kicks off (warning: three portaloos between many runners at the start. Pee before the bus!). This does mean that there’s lots of downhill sections… but what goes up must come down. For all the nice gentle downhill sections, there was 133 metres of climbing, some on fairly root-lined, rocky trails. These short and sharp sections took their toll on the race’s overall pace – and on my legs.

Really, though, my post-race nutrition was the main reason I didn’t enjoy large sections of this race – my own fault. Two slices of toast and a super-strong espresso just didn’t cut it for breakfast. I should have pre-hydrated a lot, lot more.

Nevertheless, I started well, and had a great first 3 miles. Then the dreaded stitch struck, left hand side. As I’ve been advised, I put my opposite hand in the air to ease it. Then it struck my right side too. I put my right hand in the air, looked ridiculous running along with two hands held above my head (not to mention the assortment of tartan decorations I was carrying – I really must have looked like the village idiot of Perth). And so I decided to stop.

Stopping, in a race, is not something I do. Even if it is something you have to do, it’s really hard to recover from. And I had stopped, just three miles in, with absurd camps and stomach pain, burping coffee every three paces. Pathetic.

So I decided to change race tactics: this was no longer to be ran as a half. It was to be ran as an ultra.

What I mean by this is I would allow myself to rest and recover at each water station, take on as much fluid and jelly babies as I felt adequate. And by stop, I meant actually halt and take water on board rather than doing the awkward water-dance often seen when a runner takes a plastic cup of water then has to attempt to get it in their mouth on the move. I would also allow myself to walk the more challenging sections if I felt the need to. This change of approach honestly saved my race.

Two cups of water at that first station, a glance back down the hill the I had just ran up (no other females in sight… for now) and I was off again, stitches subsided. Luckily, there was water at 3, 6, 9, and 12 miles, so breaking the race up for me. I looked forward to each water station with glee.

I didn’t actually end up walking again, but knowing that I was “allowed” to, in my own head, gave me great peace of mind. I did stop at each water station, had a quick chat to the marshals where I could, and then went on my way feeling better hydrated and knowing the sugar would kick in in a few kms. The huge downside of this was that, by end of the race, I really was looking for a discrete bush to pee behind (or seriously considering doing a Paula Radcliffe…).

Another downfall to this approach, as a competitive runner, was that I knew the 2nd female was catching up. She ran a much stronger technical race than I did, with even pacing and a seasoned half-marathoner approach. But this goat has grit – as well as tartan socks. I ended up crossing the finish line about a minute and a half ahead of her, and have never been more grateful for a portaloo, post-race nutri-grain bar, and my boyfriend’s steady arms to collapse in to at the end of a race!

Valuable lessons learned: pay attention to nutrition and hydration. Don’t over-caffeinate. And don’t be afraid to change your tactics in the middle of a race: being flexible can pay off. And even us Lonely Goats need support: have someone there for you, cause it’s a damn demoralising last 3 miles on dead legs if you’ve no one to run home to!

So, overall, I would recommend the Perth Touch of Tartan half marathon if you like multi-terrain, challenging, well-marshalled and friendly running. It’s not a typical PB course – my usual distance is 10k, and I don’t run many halves – but it is a good varied training run. You take in trail, road, riverside, golf course, field and park along the 13.1 miles. It’s not super-serious, and you get good freebies, but definitely make sure someone is there at the finish line to scrape you off the ground!

Just don’t go all-out with the tartan