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Inaugural Stirling Scottish Marathon

Stirling Scottish Marathon Race Report 

By: Ashley Casano 

On Sunday, May 21st, 4,296 runners completed the inaugural Stirling Scottish Marathon. Temperatures were cool that morning with light wind, and rain came down throughout the second half of the course. The men’s race was won by Andrew Lemoncello in a time of 2:25:01, and the women’s race was won by Lesley Pirie in a time of 2:47:48. Personally, this was my fourth marathon, having just completed the Paris marathon six weeks prior. The Dundee Road Runners had 11 finishers for the inaugural race, and I also had two friends with me from the states who also completed the run. 

Pre-Race: As this was an inaugural race, everyone had lots of questions and there were several unknowns leading up to the event, but I felt Great Run did a fabulous job communicating to runners. Loads of information was posted via Facebook, the app and the website before the event, and runner packets were mailed weeks in advance, which included a thorough runner’s guide that answered the majority of questions. (Great Run was even kind enough to mail my friends’ packets to me, as out of country runners had to pick up packets on Friday, Saturday or Sunday morning.) There were concerns going into the race about narrow underpasses, the availability of isotonic drinks (which Great Run switched brands at the last minute), elevation gain on course, etc. so some runners still felt unsure about a few details leading up to the start, but this seems unavoidable at an inaugural event. 

Due to road closures, almost all runners were required to take shuttle buses to the start of the race (my friend Paul camped the night before and was able to laze around in the morning at the campsite with only a leisurely five-minute walk to the start area). We drove in from Dundee that morning, arriving at our car park (there were several to choose from) around 7:15am. We were able to quickly park and walk onto a shuttle bus which promptly left for the start area. However, I heard from several other runners that there were significant waits for the shuttle buses at other locations and they felt time-crunched and rushed by the time they reached the start. 

The Start: Once dropped at the Blair Drummond Safari Park, there was a pretty healthy walk to the start area. I like to shake out my nerves and stretch my legs before I race (and we had plenty of time!), so I didn’t mind this. The atmosphere at the start was great and there was plenty of space, but everyone had the same complaint: not enough porta-loos! They had the Safari Park bathrooms open as well as a bank of porta-loos/urinals, but lines were significant and people simply did not have enough time to wait in them, resulting in the majority of runners choosing the surrounding trees and bushes. Next year they will need to significantly increase the number of porta-loos. They had breakfast available at the start too, but in order to stick with “nothing new on race day,” I didn’t even check it out. They were handing out bottles of water at the start, which we all appreciated. 

Bag check was easily accessible at the start, although it was not staffed so runners had access to ALL bags checked on the same bus as theirs. There were three start waves and each was clearly 

marked, and I felt like everyone had a clear understanding of where they should be and when they should start. Duracell Pacers were available and easy to identify, should anyone want to run with a group. Other than the porta-loo situation, I felt the start area was clean and well-organized with a very enthusiastic and energetic atmosphere. 

The Course: Right from the start, I never felt like the course was too crowded, and having just run the Paris Marathon last month, I was so grateful for this. You began at the Safari Park and then made your way along country roads before coming to Doune and then Dublane. You then ran through Bridge of Allan and looped through the University of Stirling before making your way past the Wallace Monument, past the River Forth and into the city centre. 

The course was much hillier than I had originally expected, as the race was originally advertised as flat and fast. It was certainly NOT flat, but the uphills were gentle, the downhills were generous and the scenery was beautiful. There was a pretty significant climb at the University of Stirling (around the halfway point), but I loved this part because the course looped and I was able to spot and cheer on several other club members! Once you left the University, the course really opened up and leveled out until you reached the City Centre, around mile 17. 

Stirling City Centre/Lapping: Around mile 17, you enter the Stirling City Centre area where you then completed 2.5 laps before coming to the finish. There have been mixed reviews about this portion of the course, and personally I did not like it and really struggled. The final miles of a marathon are the hardest, and these particular miles included a few climbs (as well as a generous downhill), three steep underpasses all in a row, brick cobblestones, a more crowded course with a variety of paces running together and two passes by the finish line before you were able to enter the finish chute! To hear finishers announced while I still had more than an hour to run was quite disheartening. However, the crowd support at this section of the race was one of the most powerful, motivating crowds I have ever seen. So much so that I actually feared I had wandered into the finishers chute early (thankfully I had not). Yet, I do know other runners who actually loved this section because of the lively atmosphere of the crowd. And it’s hard to beat the city centre view of the Stirling Castle, so that was a benefit of the laps too. 

Crowd Support: Small groups were cheering throughout the entire course, and there were designated charity cheering spots, but the crowd support in Doune, Dublane and the Stirling City Centre was unparalleled! It wasn’t simply the fact that people were on course and cheering, but they were enthusiastic, excited and saying the right things! I have never run a race where someone has read my name off my bib and cheered for me personally so many times. It also seemed that there were a lot of runners or other athletes out cheering. Instead of telling you “You look strong!” (I didn’t) or “You’re almost there!” (I wasn’t), I felt properly encouraged by people who understood how hard the marathon truly is. At one point I had decided to walk a water stop to recover a bit before running again, and a spectator on the side of the road coached me through the entire thing and stuck with me/encouraged me until I started running again – and then cheered for me when he saw me running through on my next lap. There were so many kids on course cheering and they looked HAPPY to be there, excited to 

be a part of something big. I think most of the runners would agree the crowd support and enthusiasm simply made this race spectacular! 

Refreshments on Course: Water was located approximately every 5k on course. It was provided in small, sport cap bottles. This was absolutely perfect! If I didn’t feel like I was quite ready for water, I just hung onto the bottle and then opened it when I was ready. If I was passed the rubbish bins, I would pass my trash on to a spectator and asked if they would take it for me, which they always enthusiastically did! There were two stops for isotonic drinks, approximately miles 9 and 16. As mentioned, Great Run switched brands at the last minute, which I know caused concern for some runners who had been “practicing” with the brand that was supposed to be provided. Additionally, I heard some complaints that the isotonic drink provided was a sugar free option. No gels were provided on course, but spectators provided plenty of snacks throughout: banana halves, orange slices, jelly babies, etc. Lots of options! 

Finish Area: After crossing the finish line, you were handed a bag that contained your medal (loved the medal!), water, finisher’s t-shirt (seemed big and baggy to me), space blanket and a few snacks, and then you were fed into the finish area. Our group had planned to meet at reunion area D, but apparently the party responsible for the reunion flags didn’t show up, so we had nowhere to meet! As a result, most of us spent our time aimlessly wandering the finish area trying to find friends and family. I also had expected to be able to quickly grab my checked bag at the finish area so that I could have money for refreshments, my phone and dry clothes; however, the bags were located more than a quarter of a mile away from the finisher area. So by the time I made it to the bus to get my kit (which required scaling a small wall – no easy feat after a marathon), I didn’t have it in me to head back to the finisher’s area and enjoy the atmosphere. Instead, I collapsed on the ground until it was time to catch a shuttle bus back to our car park. What a shame, as hanging out in the finish area is such a fun part of the event! I hope they find a way to get the checked bags closer to the finish line next year. 

Result: In the end, I managed a small 2+ minute PB, coming in at 3:54:54. Several other club members had strong runs with PBs, and we had several members run very impressive first marathons, so in the end it appeared to me a good day and a good race for most runners! If you don’t mind some rolling hills and can mentally prepare yourself for the laps at the end, I would highly recommend The Stirling Scottish Marathon, and I imagine they will work out some of the kinks for next year! However, for me, it is likely a “one and done” run unless they change the loops in the final miles, but I am glad to have been a part of the inaugural race!

 

 

 

 

 

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