You wait all year for a half marathon and then two turn up at the same time.

Truth be known, the last thing on my mind after the Great Scottish Run last week was another race. Post GSR I had gone out for a couple of gentle runs and felt, I think the technical term is, knackered. The Wednesday after GSR, the family voted to take a mini holiday weekend, as summer seemed to have happened an age ago, and it was half term. Aviemore is one of our venues of choice and we booked into the Macdonald Aviemore, despite the exorbitant rate – we needed a break. When we booked up, I genuinely had no idea there was a race happening. On the Thursday I was feeling marginally less knackered and, as one does, checked for upcoming races. I nearly fell off my chair when I found out that the Aviemore half was happening this weekend. I googled race reports and they were positive. I checked the logistics and established that a bus pickup *from my hotel* takes runners to the start point and the race ends *back at my hotel*, *and they take evening-before sign ups*. How could I not run it?

On Saturday I checked in to the Macdonald (which, incidentally, is clinging on to its 4* status by wishful thinking and sellotape; even the certificates speak of past glories in 2006-2007) and headed over to race registration. I knew this was going to be extravagant. They tolerate last minute sign-ups but you have to pledge your first born to the Gods of Aviemore. The fee for the half marathon was more than it would cost to feed a family of 4 for a week in the 80s. More than the Paris Marathon or any other race I have entered before. £70. I closed my eyes and told myself “it’s for charity so that’s OK. Actually, that would be a lie, what I really told myself was “you’re worth it”.

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On Sunday morning a fleet of coaches was lined up to take runners from the hotel to a couple of hundred metres away from the start at Badaguish. The half marathon and its sister event, the 10k, were both starting at the same time and there were around 1,750 runners to shift. Coaches were scheduled from 8.15 to 9am for a 10am race start. I caught a coach around 8.40 and arrived in sufficient time to work my way to the front of the toilet queue. Those waiting for the last coach must have had a different toilet strategy.

Runners were asked to line up according to expected finish time. I took up position towards the back of the 1:50 zone and did a little stretching. The weather was a pleasant, by Highlands in October standards, 11 degrees and cloudy. Without much pomp, the posse moved forward a little, then paused and started. I thought we were off and kicked the Garmin into life, but we turned a corner and I saw the *actual* start gate and went through a frantic stop/delete/restart cycle just in time.

The first half of this race undulates along well-made paths through trees. Gradient changes and volume of runners meant that maintaining an even pace was not an option. The dry weather made the path firm with some loose stones. I was wearing my Mizuno road shoes which turned out to be the right choice (especially given that the last half of the race is on road). In wet conditions it would be a toss-up with road-to-trail shoes, but outright trail shoes would be overkill. At three miles we hit a nasty little hill which lasted for about half a mile and caused some re-ordering, with some folks electing to walk. This was followed by a narrow forest path. Overtaking was impossible here, so the pace was the pace, whether you liked it or not.

Miles 1-4: 9:04 8:05 9:05 9:45

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There was handsome payback for the hill though, with a long decline which just begged going for it. I clocked my fastest mile of the year at this point! My pace had been slow during the first four miles and I had put this down to the fact that this was my second racing half in a week, but I started to average things out now. As the race wound round the shores of Loch Morlich it was hard not to just stop and take in the view.

Miles 5-7: 7:24 8:22 8:49

The race was set up with mile markers counting down instead of up. I much prefer this, as it gives me psychological boost each time a marker appears with a lower number. Around half distance we emerged out of the Loch area and on to the ski road leading back to Aviemore. The road was not closed off, which meant some runner-dodging for drivers, but everyone was being polite. I was running without headphones this time but they were not banned. The route involved a gradual downhill all the way to the finish, which was a real joy. This should be compulsory in half a marathons.

Miles 8-10: 8:24 8:14 8:16

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Around mile 10 or 11 the final water station (of 3) appeared. I was running just behind a lady and decided to impress her with my vast experience of consuming water from a cup while running. I hit the station at pace, grabbed my cup and stumbled slightly as I tried to control a gulp. The water went down the wrong way resulting in projectile water recycling. I tucked in behind again chastely, grumbling about the unfairness of water in cups in races. From there it was a case of “just keep going”. I was half waiting for the fatigue that I felt in the last couple of miles of the Great Scottish Run, but it stayed away, and I ran all the way to the line. Perhaps something to do with the slight downhill gradient.

Miles 11-13: 7:51 8:08 8:20 (Garmin measured 13.0 miles)

In summary, a great, scenic country race with excellent organisation and a very good atmosphere. Road shoes are fine. The net descent makes this a PB-able race, but you would have to be very patient in the single file sections (or just be first at that point;).

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Official Result

Time: 1:49:42

Position: 279 / 1105

Category: 50 / 110