Sitting down on the coach next to a random runner en route to the start of the Half Dramathon I start chatting, mostly to calm my nerves.
While I have decided to complete the new half-marathon Dramathon event in my comfort zone (due to a lack of running training all summer), I still have a wee buzz of adrenaline creating butterflies in my stomach.
Grace is from Nairn and confesses it is only her second ever half-marathon race and the last one was 16 years ago. I tell her it is similar for me. My one and only half-marathon was about 15 years ago.
She then entertains me with a story about her entry to this new race. She says: “It was around Christmas time when I was chatting with running friends and they mentioned the Dramathon. I thought: ‘Oh that sounds interesting. I expect everyone will be wear fancy dress like a pantomime.’ I thought they meant a drama-thon.
“I looked it up on line when I got home and discovered it was a Dram-athon. I thought that sounded absolutely perfect. So here I am.”
Again, I concur. I had no intention to ever run a half-marathon race but when I heard it would be combined with a trail route between Speyside whisky distilleries and the promise of a dram or two at the end I couldn’t resist.
What is the Dramathon?
The inaugural Dramathon, which took place on Saturday, included the Full Dramathon (marathon distance), a Half Dramathon (half-marathon), a Dramathon 10k and Full Dramathon relay race. It was the brainchild of two friends, Jon Dunderdale and Ian King, who were already familiar with the famous Marathon de Medoc (a French marathon that combines wine and running). They decided that running and whisky would make perfect partners.
I wrote about the background to the race in a Dram Fine Race.
Ian and Jon approached veteran Scottish race organiser Paul McGreal of Durty Events with their idea for a trail run through Speyside visiting famous whisky distilleries.
Paul said: “It sounded like a perfectly crazy idea. I wondered if the Speyside whisky distilleries would be as excited about the event but I found I was pushing at doors that were easy to open. They really loved the idea and so we were able to make solid plans to stage the new event.”
Unsurprisingly, the lure of a trail run through beautiful Scottish countryside with the addition of whisky brought entries in their many hundreds.
Ian told me: “We did not pay for advertising the event, but simply let social media do the work. It worked very well for us because the event is a complete sell out with more than 700 people competing across the races. We know there was demand for more places, too.
“We have also be delighted by the number of people who have come to the race for across the world. Despite being the first ever Dramathon, word spread and the entry list includes runners from the US, Japan, Dubai, Poland, Germany, Italy, France and Sweden, as well as many from across the UK.”
The Full Dramathon
The Dramathon runners were the first to start their race on a beautiful autumnal morning, leaving Glenfarclas distillery, Ballindalloch, in the valley of Ben Rinnes. (Coaches took runners from Glenfiddich to the start line.)
Before he started, my friend David Venables confesses he had a cheeky few drams of tasty whisky.
The 208 runners encountered a few hills over the first stage of the race before reaching the manicured lawns of Ballindalloch Castle and then Ballindalloch Distillery.
They then joined a fairly flat section of the long-distance walking trail, the Speyside Way, to reach two more distilleries, Tamdhu and Knockando, before passing the award-winning architecture of Dalmunach Distillery.
Aberlour Distillery was the next on the marathon route and then another 10k of gentle – but muscle zapping, by this stage – uphill saw the runners head towards the grounds of Balvenie Distillery and the finish line at neighbouring Glenfiddich Distillery.
The goodie bag include an array of whiskly miniatures from supporting distilleries, Glenfarclas, Tamdhu, Tomatin and Glenfiddich, as well as a single malt blend of Monkey Shoulder and shortbread from local company Walkers.
Winner of the marathon was Hywel Davies, who finished in 2:39:43. The women’s winner was Ann Robin of Bellahouston Road Runners in 2:55:20.
It turned out that the distance was two miles shy of an official marathon due to an enforced last-minute diversion.
Hywel, from south Wales, said: “I ran this event for fun and because I thought it was such a fantastic idea. As a whisky drinker, it was great to see the countryside that is home to so many distilleries and to enjoy the smells as we passed them by.
“It was not an overly challenging route either so I was able to really enjoy it.”
My Dramathon Half Run
The coach from Glenfiddich took the Half Dram runners to the start line close to Tamdhu distillery. I had just enough time to queue for the portaloo before the short race briefing. The route was the same as the second half of the marathon, with a finish line at Glenfiddich, too.
I knew I was not in the least bit fit to run a half-marathon after a summer of suffering with bad asthma and Achilles issues but I thought I might be able to make it to the finish line if I ran in my comfort zone.
At the start line, I chatted with a friend, Andrew, from Glasgow Tri Club. It was his first half-marathon and he seemed excited to be taking part, as well as looking forward to the whisky at the end.
From the off it was clear this would be a muddy route and we were almost immediately squelching through gloopy mud, puddles and soft grass.
When I could, I took my eyes of the narrow path ahead and looked up at the glorious autumn scenery spreading out on either side of the trail. The trees were a fiery mix of bright colours and the hills were a patchwork of rusty hues.
Early on I ran past a Swedish competitor, Christian and his friend Bjorn. I heard their accent and asked why they were taking part in the race. Christian said: “I work in the whisky industry in Sweden, on the distribution side. I heard about the Dramathon through my work with Glenfiddich and I thought it sounded like a great idea.
“I am sure this will become an annual race and very popular.”
I continued along on my own for a bit, relishing in the fact that I was back running again after so many long months of feeling restless and frustrated. Every so often a runner would past me with a cheery “hi” or I would pass a runner and exchange a few happy words.
There were some people running with headphones, which I do find odd because one of the great things about a race like this is the chance to meet new people.
Around a quarter of the way into the race another runner for Sweden caught up with me.
Orjan had read about the event in a Swedish whisky magazine. He said: “I like running and I like whisky so the event sounded perfect. I am very much enjoying it so far.”
Orjan and I chatted about this and that and kept each other company for almost half of the race. At times we talked and at others we just ran along side by side or behind each other. It was good to have someone to keep me company and running along at a decent pace.
(Of course, by now, I was wondering if I might be able to keep up my fairy steady pace and make it to the finish line in a fairly decent position! I am always so competitive!)
At Aberlour Distillery, around the halfway mark, I would have happily downed a couple of drams but, for health and safety reasons, the whisky was to be consumed after the finish line.
Instead, I took a drink of water from a food station and ate a couple of jelly sweets. We ran close to the edge of the River Spey and its fast waters revealed just how much rain there had been recently.
I knew the second half of the Dramathon Half was going to test my leg muscles. I was unable to get out of breath for the entire race because my tight and sore legs muscles would not let me but still I was keen to push on.
At one point we reached a bridge and as three of us ran across it the combined movement and weight caused it to bounce alarmingly up and down. That made me laugh and squeal!
A bit further on we encountered a short but very dark tunnel. I was wearing sunglasses and so I had to slow to almost a walk to carefully find my way through it.
Then we were out on to more muddy trails with views across the wider valley taking in the river, forests and rounded hills. At no point was I too exhausted to relish the splendour of the landscape.
We were lucky with the weather, too, because it was mostly warm and sometimes sunny. A couple of short downpours helped to keep us cool.
The second half of the Dram Half was not easy though. The route gently ascended and never really let up. I think there was a short bit of downhill but not really enough to loosen off the legs before it went when up again.
This was not a steep gradient but rather one of those persistent gradual ascents that really takes its toll on your muscles and morale.
I ate a couple of jelly sweets and hoped they would give me a wee boost of energy.
By now my new friend Orjan had discovered he had more energy than me and he headed off in front of me. He was never really out of sight but I couldn’t manage to chase him down. My sensible head reminded me I could easily end up with severe cramp so, again, I stayed in my comfort zone.
I did manage to run past a few people but mostly people were passing me. At first I thought I must be going very, very slowly until I realised these were the 10k runners, who had started their race from Aberlour.
As I passed another runner I heard him say we had only about 4kms to go. This surprised me and it gave me a small (very small!) injection of speed.
This was the furthest I had run for years and despite my sore and tight muscles I knew now that I would finish.
More 10k runners came speeding past and then I saw signs for Balvenie Distillery ahead.
“Oh, that is brilliant. The finish line is so close now,” I thought to myself. ….Before I realised that it was Glenfiddich and not Balvenie that was the end of the race.
I told myself off and tried hard not to think about how sore my legs felt. The distraction of running through the grounds of a working distillery, with its unusual sights and smells, helped as well.
I spotted another marshal – the race was very well waymarked and marshalled – and I asked: “How much further?”
“Just another 500 metres,” she replied.
I was a bit confused but then I recalled that Balvenie and Glenfiddich are close neighbours. I ran up a short pavement incline, across a loading area for the distillery, around a corner and there was the finish line.
With the supporters enthusaistically cheering, I smiled broadly and ran to the finishing arch.
I had done it and I felt very pleased. After dibbing in to record my time (I took a while to retrieve my dibber from my rucksack because I had found it very annoying when tied to my wrist) I was handed my goodie bag.
I looked inside to find four mianatures of whisky, including Glenfiddich 18-year-old and 12-year-old, Glenfarclas 10-year-old and Tomatin Legacy edition, a packet of Walkers shortbread and a bottle of water. The finisher’s medal was a carved piece of wood apparently made from the barrels that hold the whisky while it matures.
The Dramathon Half was won by Louise Cartmell, of Moray Road Runners, in 1:28:16. Second place Gordon McLeay, of Craigrossie Cycle Club, came home in 1:30:53. Impressively Gordon races in the male super veterans category (age 50 to 60).
Second placed lady was Ali Wyllie, of Edinburgh running tour company, Run the Sights, in 1:32:52. She was fourth overall just behind second placed male Chris Haworth, of Harmeny Athletic Club, in 1:32:13.
Amazingly, I was 8th lady and 29th overall (there were almost 160 Half Dram runners).
Finish line of the Dramathon
As well as the lovely route, the whisky and the innovative idea, what also impressed me about this event was the friendly atmosphere.
Everywhere I went I found people to chat to. There were some people that I knew already, others I know on Facebook but had never met, the marshals and the organisers.
Both Jon and Ian seemed absolutely delighted with how the race had gone.
I enjoyed watching more Dramathon Half runners coming home alongside 10k runners and also the final relay runners. Then the first Full Dramathon runner started to arrive.
The Dramathon 10k winner was Craig Grieve in 45:01, which perhaps reveals the challenge of a mostly ascending route. In ninth place overall was first woman Ashley Toner-Maxwell in 52:17.
The Dramathon relay was completed in teams of four. The winners were “teviotdale harriers” in 2:36:06.
I will be back again next year for sure and I imagine there will be a huge take up of places for the Dramathon 2018. Keep an eye on the website for entries opening.