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GP RACE 5: Gargunnock Hill Race

Race Report by Kathryn Fairfield

In the last few years I’ve made a concerted effort to try and do things that are out-with my comfort zone or that scare me a bit. So with that in mind, and with the new 2023 GP set up, I realised this would be the year of my first hill race. I’m pretty vocal about my dislike of hills and, despite knowing that running up them is apparently good for me, I do generally like to avoid them. Or certainly anything any steeper than parkrun hill in The Glen.

I was unavailable for the first hill race so decided that Gargunnock would be my inaugural one. I saw it was 7.5km and my naivety thought that 300m of elevation didn’t sound that much…

Saturday 3 June arrived and after a mild panic first thing about whether I needed a map or not we set off – lift sharing to support the club’s efforts to become ‘greener’. As we passed Stirling Castle towards Gargunnock I began to feel the nerves kicking in as I saw what I correctly assumed to be ‘the hill’ coming in to view. We arrived at the show ground and registered. We were all comforted by the officials telling us we didn’t need a map as it was well marshalled and marked, and also that there would be water at the top. This was welcome news as it was shaping up to be one of the hottest days of the year so far.

After registration there was plenty to take my mind off the race as Kerry, Sarah and I went to see the cows, stood on hay bales, jumped in an agricultural vehicle and generally had a carry on. By this point all the other Harriers had arrived and we managed to herd (see what I did there?) everyone together for a group photo. 15 Harriers in total which was a tremendous turnout. We gathered together with the other runners as the show announcer told us it was potentially a record turnout of over 90 runners and gave us our race instructions – once around the show ring, follow the lead cyclist out the ground and then take it from there. He then uttered words which brought on a complete panic – “there are stiles and gates to climb over”…This was not on my agenda and my agility is probably on a par with some of the cattle on display! Too late to back out seconds later we were off.

The race leaves the show ground and initially goes through a quiet residential street before heading out of the village towards the hill. This initial section saw runners seeking out what little shade was on offer before we were fully exposed. About 3/4 mile in we had our first stile. It was all very civilised as runners took turns to climb over then get going again – or it certainly was at my end of the race, maybe not as the business end! The climb at this point had been ok and I was pleasantly surprised that my Garmin showed 9:50 for my first mile. That’s when the real elevation started and we left the relative ease of the farm tracks behind. Not knowing the etiquette I was delighted when I realised everyone in front of me started walking and so I started a slow trudge upwards. I think we had 1 or 2 more stiles to contend with as we edged higher and Charlotte Briggs and Kenny began to get further away from me. I ran a few flatter sections here but these seemed short and I used my walking parts to take in the wonderful views and also take some photos.

A marshal appeared and assured us were were nearly at the top and then it was a nice flattish easterly run towards the Scotland flag and a much needed drink of water. I then headed off knowing the hardest part was done. Or so I thought. I started running down the farm track and whilst my legs were thankful for the respite from the climb up I remembered I am a scaredy cat. I knew I was going like the clappers and caught sight of 6:40 pace on my watch. I started to panic I was going to trip and injure myself 3 weeks before my marathon so I eased off, trying to watch my footing and promptly got passed by about 5 or 6 runners who were clearly much more adept at this malarkey! A gate appeared up ahead and I clambered over in an ungainly fashion and realised Jane Anderson was just behind me. I probably uttered some industrial language about how I was feeling as by this point I was boiling hot and desperate for the buzz to tell me 4 miles were passed.

We ran through a farmyard and then through what I now think was the trickiest part of the course. It was undulating with at least 2 gates to contend with and also a section with low hanging trees and fallen fencing acting like a tripwire! As I approached the marshal I heard a clatter behind me and knew someone had fallen. I felt like falling down myself but then realised I could hear the noise from the show ground and knew I was nearly there. Going through the final gate I turned to see Jane but realised it was now Sarah Wellcoat who was behind me. We ran through the final wooded section and then onto the open path neck and neck towards the finish. Steven King, Kevin Spowart and Kenny were cheering us on and I attempted to race Sarah to the line but after my initial burst I realised I had nothing left in the tank so she finished just ahead of me. I staggered over to the gazebo for water and was then delighted to find out Nicole Jackson had finished 3rd lady. I was also delighted to find out the home baking in the gazebo was for the runners and tucked into what was possibly the best chocolate brownie I’ve ever had.

Once the prize giving was done my priority was a cider which disappeared in the blink of an eye. We were then homeward bound and I felt elated to have my first hill race under my belt. As an event this was a lovely low key race which appears to be a good addition to the GP. It’s not far away, was only £5 to enter and there was plenty to see, do and eat at the show for any non runners or families of runners who are there to support and have a day out.

Would I do this race again? Maybe if my quads ever recover. Would I do this race again if I was able to guarantee another one of those chocolate brownies? ABSOLUTELY!