Our usual August bank holiday jaunt North of the Wall was enhanced this year by the chance to run the inaugural Great Aberdeen Run.
I’m always in two minds about Great Run events. On the one hand, there’s the fact that they are big events that follow a formula so they’re generally well organised. On the other hand, there’s the fact that they are big events that follow a formula, so they can be a bit generic. I mean from ‘Great Aberdeen Run’ would you even know what distance that was? No, you wouldn’t. And the flaming medal didn’t tell you either. But we’ll come back to that.
There were in fact several distances to choose from; a 10k, a half marathon and a family fun run. Team Duff (made up of me, Mr Duff and Mr Duff Sr) were doing the half. Quite a lot of this post is going to be a bit of a whinge, so I’ll say up front that all of us did enjoy the race, all of us ran well (a PB, a season’s best and a time from Mr Duff Sr that I can only dream of matching even if he wasn’t thrilled with it!) and personally I thought the route was brilliant.
Aberdeen has an unfair reputation for being grey and boring but it’s actually a lovely city with some gorgeous architecture, a beautiful stretch of coastline (when the sun’s out!) and some of the prettiest countryside you could wish for.
On the off chance you know Aberdeen, the route really did showcase the city well; we left Union Street and took a sharp right at the Mercat Cross before skirting the harbour and Footdee fishing village and then going along the beach esplanade. This stretch was repeated on the way back, so that meant that because Great Run insist on big gaps between the waves those of us in the Green wave got to see the front runners powering up to 9 miles in just over 40 minutes – amazing.
From the beach we went over the Bridge of Don, up through Brig o’ Balgownie and Old Aberdeen (hills AND cobbles, marvellous stuff), then we looped back around to the esplanade again before taking in Aberdeen FC’s Pittodrie stadium and heading back into town proper. The long drag from Marischal College up to the statue of Queen Victoria on Albyn Place is for me a familiar and usually pleasant part of town but seemed to go on forever. Left at the Queen, back to Union Street and a good downhill sprint to the line made for a great route overall.
The race route, the other runners and the volunteers were all brilliant. We met several of my father in law’s club mates from Aberdeen Metros (who dominated the results) and they were all very welcoming. There were some stretches with plenty of spectators and they were suitably enthusiastic. There was a piper, which is always good. Aberdeen actually does a lot of big community events, festivals and roadshows so they’re good at this. But something that’s quite a distinct feature of the good people of Aberdeen is that if they’re not already fussed about something, you won’t get them to be fussed even if you are Great Run. That did mean several sections of the route with zero support.
I was initially really surprised that there were so few people supporting at the beach – a big stretch of a couple of miles both way for a race being run by that many people on a sunny August morning, surely this would be the perfect spectating spot! There were about half a dozen people there to watch the race, and far more people having a full Scottish at the Inversnecky Café who didn’t even glance in our direction. This was a hilariously Aberdonian reaction and I love the city all the more for it. As runners we’re pretty boring about our sport and we’re usually guilty of assuming that everyone who doesn’t run is somehow still interested. Not in this toon, sunshine! Maybe all the people interested in running were actually running…
The local press did do a huge spread on the race though, with all the runners times listed. That was a nice touch.
I was initially really happy with my time; my legs and brain seem to have decided between them that we’re faster again now without doing me the courtesy of letting me know, and most of my runs are starting to pick up a bit of speed whether I like it or not. I followed my body into an unplanned 10 minute mile strategy and decided to see how long I could hang on for. I did pretty well; I slowed a bit between 10.5 and 12 miles when some hills I’d forgotten about came into play but picked up again before giving it some real welly on the home straight (there better be some good race photos of that sprint!), and overall ended up with an average pace of 10.04 minute miles. Way faster than I expected and I felt like I’d earned my medal.
If I could bloody find it.
This is becoming something of a stuck record; please Great Run, pretty pretty please, sort out the medal and T shirt situation. Why is it that at all your races, despite you being a massively over-sponsored juggernaut these days, there’s no distinction between men’s and women’s T shirt sizes? The result for this runner being a drawerful of massive ‘small’ T shirts that rarely see the light of day because they’re just too big to be useful. Worse, because the T shirt and medal for Sunday’s race were exactly the same for the 10k and the half, neither distance was referred to on either of them. And worse again – and I really don’t get this at all – as usual the medal was left in its wrapper, buried under the flyers and tracker bars in the goody bag.
I mean, I’ve got loads of medals. But Great Run seem specifically to target people who might not have run an event before to come and have a go. If you had just completed your first 10k or half marathon, would you want to be scrabbling in the bag or wondering where your medal even was when you crossed the line? Or would you want someone handing it to you and saying well done? Does this happen at the Great North Run, or is it just at the non-televised events? Do we not matter as much?
I worked bloody hard on Sunday and ran far faster than I thought I would. I wanted to be proud of my medal. My medal was tiny and didn’t say what I’d actually done, and it took me five minutes of rooting through crap to find it when I was knackered and wobbly having just sprinted further than necessary down a long home straight.
Which brings me to another niggle, and the reason why I said I was ‘initially’ happy with my time.
Great Run have introduced something called the ‘great for you’ score to grade how well you’ve done at a particular one of their events. The idea is that it takes your time, age, gender and details of the particular course to give you a score out of 1,000. It’s effectively a different representation of your usual age grading percentage from what I can tell, and I’m not sure why they can’t just use that. Maybe it’s because they wanted to add a nice little bit of patronising text to it…
In theory, I reckon this is broadly saying 49% age grading, which is fine because that’s generally what I get if I run hard. I can usually tip it into the low 50’s when at my best, so 49% for where I’ve been lately will do nicely, I thought.
Until I saw what Great Run had to say about the different grades:
I was only a point off bronze; I suspect if I had run 2:10 I’d have gained that extra point. As it stands Great Run reckon I probably hadn’t really trained for this event and that I was just pottering along having a lovely morning. Like its super easy to run 10 minute miles for a half and anyone can just pitch up and do that.
That’s actually a bit insulting to all of us in the ‘somewhere around 2:10’ gang. Pretty much all of the folks around me were working hard and were very clearly regular runners. There were a few keen first timers who dashed off and then got reeled in by the rest of us about 5 miles in. We were ‘focused’, thanks.
The course was definitely a bit long – I recorded it as 13.27 and Mr Duff had it at 13.29. Despite the fact that he is a lot faster than me and runs in k’s not miles both of us knew it was long from the first mile marker. I was also chatting to a fellow Ealing-ite after the race who had done the 10k, and she’d got 10.2k on her Garmin so it looks like that was also a little bit long. So my official time was 2:13:25 but actually at 13.1 miles I ran 2:11:59 (I checked my watch for my own information at 13.1 because I knew from so early that the distance would be wrong. You know, because I run regularly).
Regardless of the extra few hundred yards until I saw this scoring explanation I’d been chuffed to have run 7 minutes faster than I’ve run all year for a half, and only 5 minutes or so off my best ever. I went out at an ambitious pace and held it, I enjoyed the route and I felt that I raced really well – I ran an average pace of 10:04 with insanely consistent 5k splits. So this definition of not even falling in the category of running regularly or doing any proper training for the race was pretty dispiriting when I actually put in an accomplished performance, unless speed is your only marker of success.
Recently at work a colleague asked about my 5k time and when I said at my best I would be somewhere between 27:30 and 28 minutes he responded with ‘oh, I thought you were a serious runner’. This Great Run scoring is a version of the same thing, and I’m sorry, but no one else gets to decide this for you. If you’re out there several times a week and you’re working at the top of your own capacity and running with strategy then what else do you need to do to be considered a ‘serious’ runner?
If this had been age graded I would have looked at my 49%, thought yes that seems about right, but I’ll improve that next year when I change focus from distance to pace (I’m on my fourth round of marathon training in two years, but not in any ‘focused’ way, naturally). It would have motivated me to do better next time. I do get that this is exactly what Great Run are trying to do here, but that misjudged little bit of text means I’m left with a really nasty aftertaste from a race which was actually pretty great. I mean nothing on the race mementos to show the distance we’ve run, but minute analysis of how well you think we’ve done based on how fast we ran it?
Speed is not the be all and end all. Don’t be pacist, Great Run.
I don’t know – maybe I’m being unfair to them, but honestly I nearly didn’t even bother hanging my medal up when we got home. It really took the shine off the day for me. This is why I’m never sure about these big events. At a smaller race organised by a running club the distance is usually correct, you tend to get a properly bespoke memento (the excellent T shirt and medal we got for Burnham Beeches recently being a case in point) and no one tries to patronise or judge you if you’re not a sub-2 half runner.
I’m sure I’ll do more Great Run events, to be honest I’m sure we’ll be back next year for this one since the route was so good and it was ultimately a good race, but just at the moment I feel like that’s in spite of it being a big event and not because of it.
It was a good race thanks to the city of Aberdeen and its people, but Great Run get a ‘could do better’ from me this time.
Update: There were a few decent sprinting shots!