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Dramathon 2018: A Rollercoaster of emotions 

Written by Fiona

October 23 2018

I arrived at the start line of the Dramathon 2018 under-fed, tired, nervous and a touch embarrassed. In the end, I was very surprised to take 2nd place super vet. The emotions in between and afterwards were a rollercoaster.

What is the Dramathon?

In only its second year, The Dramathon 2018 welcomed a total of 1500 people to race in a range of races on Speyside in the Scottish Highlands. The Full Dram is a 26.2 mile marathon. There is also a 13.1-mile Half Dram, a 10k and a Full Dram relay.

Last year, the participant numbers were around half. I did the Half Dram and pledged to do the Full Dram the following year.

The concept is a run between the many whisky distilleries in this part of the Scottish Highlands. The route follows a long stretch of the Speyside Way. After running each of the races, competitors receive a generous goody bag of miniatures.

Like many people, I was attracted to this event because of the trail run, whisky and the fabulous autumnal scenery. I also like the organiser, Durty Events. Their races are slick and very friendly.

Start line of the Full Dramathon at Glenfarclas Distillery. Credit: Bryan Gregg.

Dramathon 2018: Before

What wasn’t so good: A stomach upset the day before; a long and late drive to Dufftown for the race registration; a restless night; losing my check point dibber between registration and the bus; the almost constant urge to pee before etc race start; my inability to eat a good breakfast; my incessant checking of snacks in race pack.

What was good: A drive through beautiful autumnal scenery and a lovely sunset; a solo night in the van; a quiet car park and public toilets; Fern the Van’s amazing heater; feeling better than the day before; finding my dibber (where I accidentally dropped it on the road!) after stopping the bus from leaving registration to go to the race start at Glenfarclas; meeting up with lots of friendly faces; the relief of getting to the front of the toilet queue to go for a pee (yet again) prior to the race start.

Dramathon highs & lows

Start line nerves and smiles with Bryan and Hollie.

The first half

It was only my second ever marathon. I ran one when I turned 40. I said I’d never do another. But there I was, lured by the attractions of Speyside scenery at its best, a trail rather than a road, whisky and the challenge of doing the Full Dram after last year’s Half Dram.

As promised the day before, I started the race running alongside my Facebook friend Bryan. He was looking for the motivation to make it to the start line after a challenging few weeks and I said I would run with him, if he decided to come.

It turned out that Bryan was a blessing. As we ran, we chatted. We talked about life, work, kids and all kinds of bits and pieces. I almost forgot I was part of a race.

Ballindalloch Castle.

We caught up with people we knew – and many we didn’t. And then we chatted some more to each other.

The sun was shining, it was warm, the views were tremendous (is there a more beautiful place Scotland in the autumn?) and while I was feeling strangely sleepy at times I found I was enjoying myself.

I managed to eat a few jelly sweets, kept hydrated with a mix of water and then Active Root (ginger and green tea, if you’re interested), chatted some more (you get the theme!) and took a few photos.

I needed the loo (again) and in the end I had to to stop but Bryan waited for me a little while ahead.

Great weather, trails and views. Credit: Bryan Gregg.

We ran through the grounds of Ballindalloch Castle and the surprisingly beautiful bowels of various distilleries. Then we bumped into “Mr German” and “Mr Denmark” and kept them company for quite a while.

Both runners had been attracted to the Dramathon by the lure of the whisky and “the chance to run a trail marathon with a difference”.

We reached food station 3 where I welcomed a hug from my friend Kay, who was volunteering at the race.

And we all four ran on. In fact, we were all still running together when we finally reached the half way mark.

Half-way to the finish line

Suddenly, Bryan said he needed to walk for a while. He had been racing a lot over the summer and he said he felt really sleepy. As he slowed to a walk, I felt a burst of energy.

Why? Maybe it was knowing I had run past halfway? Maybe it was the gel I’d consumed about 10 minutes before (this was a risk because gels usually mess with my stomach but I had been flagging)? Maybe it was because I’d paced the first half nicely due to the chatting? Maybe it was just good fortune…?

For the next few miles I felt really rather amazing.

I started to believe that all the long-distance training and even the ultra race just three weeks before had turned me into a Marathon Wonder Woman.

I felt confident, souped up, speedy. I started to pass other runners. I decided I would run an amazing negative-split race.

Of course, it wasn’t to last.

The knee that has caused me problems since the ultra began to throb painfully. One of my toes was sore and blistered. My right hip niggled. My head felt hot and my face reddened. I felt dizzy.

I tried to ignore all the pains and the heat. I drank water and then Active Root. I ate more jelly sweets. I pushed on.

But, dear god, the miles went by so slowly.

After a hill at about 13 or 14 miles, the trail became a seemingly endless pathway following an old railway line. It should have been flat, I figured, but it seemed to be ascending. It was definitely a gentle up and it was starting to piss me off.

I wanted my legs to go faster but my brain couldn’t seem to connect.

At last we reached the distillery (where I remembered the the 10k runners were to start). “Just 10k to go,” I told myself.

I grabbed a gel at the food station (I knew this was dangerous. Again.)

“Only 10k to go. The gel will help,” I said over and over. That started to annoy me, too.

The 10k runners started to zoom past, loudly huffing and puffing, and that really began to irritate me.

My knee stopped hurting for about five minutes and then returned with avengance.

And then I saw a mile sign. Five miles to go, surely? Nope. It said: “Six miles.”

“No, that can’t be right,” I said. OUT LOUD. FFS!

Still six miles to go! Credit: Bryan Gregg.

Bloody hell. I will never make it. I want to stop. Let this end. What was I thinking? I am no running Wonder Woman. I am done in. Everything hurts. And now I still have six miles to go.

Finally, “Five miles to go”. Maybe I can do this. But I am shuffling. I am hardly moving. Those bloody 10k runners again, all full of energy and speed.

“Four miles”. This is utter torture. Will it never end? I do not want do another marathon in my life. This is like child birth; a slow form of inevitable agony.

But, oh, look at the views! I caught a glimpse ahead of the tree covered hills, alight with red, yellow and orange foliage. This will be ok, won’t it?

I think I feel ok again. Where is the knee pain? It’s in my hip now but it isn’t as bad as the knee pain. Now, legs. Put up; shut up; move. Come on, you will make it.

And then Mr German caught me up. “Oh, I thought you were miles ahead,” he said, as he zipped by. “I was,” I shouted after him. “And then my legs died.”

And then Ms Red t-shirt came by, too. I thought I had buried her at the last food station. But there she was… passing me like she was out for a four-mile Sunday social run. “It’s not far to go now,” she said with a bright voice after I told her how amazing she was to be running so well.

I tried, I really did, to keep her in my sights. I did for a while and having her there, ahead of me, certainly gave me a new reason to keep running.

But the final few miles saw me slow to a painful shuffle. I fought alternately with my legs and my mind.

Legs: Stop, this is agony.

Brain: Just keep taking steps.

Legs: Walk. I must walk.

Brain: Shut up and keep running.

I remembered from last year that the final distillery, Balvenie, is right next door to the finish line distillery of Glenfiddich. I was sure they’re were the closest neighbours, pretty much on top of each other.

On Saturday, they seemed to have been moved miles apart.

As we were finally guided away from the railway line and through a section of woodland, I could see the buildings of Balvenie ahead. I had a tiny burst of energy. Nearly there!

But, gahhhh, where is Glenfiddich? Along that long path? Up that hill? Through this yard? Around that corner? Up another hill?

No, it wasn’t like this last year, was it?

I could hear cheering. I could see crowds. My legs let go and my brain won. I powered to the finish line like I was racing in the Olympics. I was Wonder Woman again. The elation took me to the line, just, and then I felt horribly dizzy.

Where is my dibber? Bugger. I need the dibber to record my finish time. Found it!

I thought I might be sick.

I lent on  one of the finish line volunteers and took the water she offered. I stood and wobbled for a bit.

Then I felt very good. I had finished. It was over.

That after-feeling.

All these whisky miniatures.

Clutching my whisky filled goody bag to my chest (such treasure hard won) I allowed myself to be swallowed up by the other finishers as we moved towards the large crowd of spectators. I chatted with one of the founders, Ian, for a minute or two. I caught up with Mr German (he was faster than me overall) and Mr Denmark (he was just behind me) and bumped into a few other people I knew.

Bryan finished only about 15 minutes behind me. 

By now, the agony of the race had been forgotten, although the pain in my knee was at a high. I ignored it.

I limped across to the prize giving area, simply to enjoy the winners’ faces and to hear their times. The sun was shining and the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly.

I listened as Paul from Durty Events went through all the winners in various age categories before getting to the old birds, the women super vets.

… “And in third place in the ladies super vets category is: Marianne Simpson.”

I clapped. If I had a quiet, tiny hope to myself of a podium place it would have been third.

…”And in second place is… Fiona Russell.”

I actually let out a squeal of surprise. I could not believe it.

Myself, Shona and Marianne on the podium.

In first place was Shona Young, who it turned out was the overall ladies winner and a full 30 minutes ahead me. It was also her 96th marathon and after we received our prizes we got  chatting. (I will be writing more about her heart-warming story of running…)

My time was 3:56:11. See results.

If you have never raced one of the Dramathon races, I recommend you do.

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