Round 6 of the Dundee Road Runners Grand Prix 2023 took us to the local Forfar Hill Race. With a revised and slightly longer race route for 2023, Forfar Road Runners are used to catering for a small group of mainly local runners for this yearly event. However, the impressive turnout from Dundee Road Runners (DRR) swelled this number to a record breaking 67, with DRR accounting for over half of the field. It was perhaps therefore unsurprising that DRR dominated the race, taking all but one of the male and female podium spots, both of the team prizes, and the majority of the age category prizes.
Particular congratulations go to David Webster and Hannah Tippetts for winning the men’s and women’s races by comfortable margins, respectively. This was always going to be a tough race for me on the back of the Lairig Ghru last weekend, but I got into my stride after struggling up the first two hills, taking back a few positions I lost early on to finish in a respectable 5th place.
Located within the wide open valley of the Highland Boundary Fault, with the Sidlaws to the south and higher Grampians to the north, Forfar itself isn’t particularly known for its big hills. However, we all learned last night how you can make a race total almost 800 feet of cumulative elevation gain on a hill which isn’t anywhere near that height. It’s simple really - you just run up and down it a few times!
It’s important to be warmed up for this race, as there isn’t much chance to do so before you get into the first climb. However, the heavens opened with half an hour before race start and it was hard to find the motivation to run round in the pouring rain and get soaked before the race had even begun. It felt more like a cool down rather than a warm up. Unlike recent races though, at least high temperatures weren’t going to be an issue during the race.
After a loop round part of Reid Park, we hit the hill to the south and climbed up and up and up for what felt like a long time. The gradient was perfectly runnable but the hill felt relentless at such an early point in the race and overhanging wet vegetation didn’t help either, even for the shorter runners. Suddenly we topped out at the top of the climb and were then directed straight into a descent. The legs took a bit of time to warm up to the fact we weren’t going up anymore and I eventually managed to drag out some pace. However, we were losing a significant portion of the elevation we’d just gained, which meant one thing. It wasn’t long before we would have to go back up.
At the base of the hill, we were directed right at a hairpin bend, where it was impossible to make the corner comfortably if going at speed. Then back up the hill we went, along a trail through the woods almost parallel to the one we’d just run down. For the runners sprinting down the hill, this was a good insight of what was to come. The hill again carried on going up, eventually passing a monument and emerging onto open countryside. What followed was, at least for me, the most enjoyable part of the race. A fun section across the open hill, mainly on small grassy or dirt trails, undulating over the bumpy topography. The rain was starting to ease by this point and this was a chance to unleash some pace with the hills behind us - at least for now. I overtook 3 people ahead of me and nudged into 5th place, which I’d hold for the rest of the race.
After the open hill, we headed back onto some forest trails and eventually climbed again back up to the monument we’d passed earlier. Looking at my watch, I could see we still had some distance to go and assumed we weren’t going to be heading straight back to Forfar from here. The subsequent marshal then confirmed my (and probably everyone else’s) worst fears. “All the way back down for another lap” she said, with a smile on her face. It’s alright for you I thought, standing there at the highest point, but I forced out a smile and mentally prepared myself for the task at hand.
The second lap didn’t prove as tough as I was expecting. It’s amazing how much of a difference knowing what was coming up makes. I pushed on, opening out the gap to 6th place behind and slowly closing the large gap to 4th place ahead. Before I knew it, I was back at the marshal again hearing her say “left for the finish, straight on for a 2nd lap”. I’d done my second lap and didn’t really fancy a 3rd, so turned left and commenced the fast downhill towards the finish. Cobbled drainage channels proved a hazard on all of the descents and careful foot placement was necessary to negotiate them at speed.
Furthermore, the low overhanging wet vegetation that was an irritation on the way up proved a real pain on the descent. I found myself frequently ducking to half my height to avoid having my face wiped out by inappropriately placed branches. Eventually we were back on tarmac for that final partial loop round Reid Park to the finish, although I actually missed the final left turn to the finish and had to cut across the grass.
All in all, an enjoyable and very satisfying race. I feel we all got to know that hill above Forfar very well after running 5 miles up and around it several times! Next up in the DRR Grand Prix, we stay with the hill races and head to Fife for the Balmullo Hill Race and the final of the Fife Midweek Series…
1st - David Webster
2nd - Adam Hart
1st Male Over 40 - Kai Sedgwick
1st Male Over 60 - Malcolm Forbes
1st Male Over 70 - Ian Luke
1st Male Team - DRR (David Webster, Adam Hart, Matthew Beaney)
1st Female - Hannah Tippetts
2nd Female - Alison McNeilly
3rd Female - Gemma Bond
1st Female Over 40 - Louise Menzies
1st Female Team - DRR (Hannah Tippetts, Alison McNeilly, Gemma Bond)