“Run from Glenfarclas to Glenfiddich, pick up stamps along the way and get single malt samples at the end. Love running and whisky? Time to cross the streams”
The inaugural Dramathon had instant appeal with its Speyside setting and whisky-based incentives. A group of friends were signing up for it and I managed to secure a spot, despite being skint AF at the time, thanks to my fairy racemother Miriam.
As a startup event run by Durty Events, it was a pretty laid back affair from sign up right up until the finish line.
There was zero communication from the organisers until a couple of weeks prior to the event. Too much is annoying but too little can be worrying! Anyway. With two weeks to go, the participants guide was released.
I chuckled at the line: “course distances are approximate and intended as a guideline for you to estimate the nature of the event. Please don’t be surprised if we have limited interest in ‘what your garmin said'”
I’ll come back to that later…
In March, we got a new member of our team at work. Sarah and I immediately became mates and she was really interested in all my marathon chat. Unfortunately Dramathon had no places, but she was able to get on a waiting list and then I got a text one evening saying she had 24 hours to decide if she wanted a place. As she’s a total legend, she jumped at the chance! I had a marathon buddy and it was going to be SO much fun.
Despite training individually for this event, we decided a few weeks beforehand that we’d run it together. I’d keep pace for as long as possible and then we’d see how we got on from there. I’ve never done an event anything other than solo, but I was looking forward to having my friend with me to keep me focused during the dark moments.
A big bonus for this Marathon was that it fell on a Saturday. Having a full day to recover before returning to work is a definite plus for me! Sarah’s mother-in-law very kindly offered us her cottage on the Glenlivet Estate for the weekend. This stunning, cosy house would be our base for the weekend and was no further than 30 minutes in the car from the start and finish. Her lovely man joined us and became our chauffeur. I was extremely grateful! We were joined by my London Sherpa Michelle and hubby Jonny who were also running. Along with half the contents of Tesco in Perth, we had the ingredients for an absolutely amazing weekend!
Sarah and I decided we’d head up on Friday afternoon, via the stunning Glenshee, so that we could register and get settled and have a relaxed evening. The drive was breathtaking as ever, with Scotland giving us her best Autumnal realness.
Registration at Glenfarclas Distillery was quick and easy. We were fitted with our “Dibbers” at reg (which soon became extremely annoying). And we headed back to the cottage for pasta, Bridesmaids, Friends and flatlays.
Daniel arrived at the cottage around 6pm and Michelle and Jonny joined us after a challenging drive around 10pm. Some chilled catching up and last minute prep and we all went to bed for a restless night.
The 6am alarm was grim but I’ve had worse. Forcing porridge down was equally horrid and the rain battering the windows was filling us all with a sense of impending doom. Daniel and Sarah tried to reassure us that the Braes has it’s own microclimate, but I was beginning to dread the event. 26 miles in the pouring rain did not make me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Daniel drove us to the finish line at the Glenfiddich distillery where we’d be getting buses to the start at Glenfarclas. We managed to get Michelle and Jonny registered and catch the rest of the Painless Performance crew. A big cuddle from Jonathan Pain resulted in the first hilarious moment of the day. I’d overfilled one of my soft-flasks in my race vest which promptly began to leak. “WHAT THE FUCK. I’M LACTATING” was my reaction which resulted in some concerned glances from passers by.
One big flaw in Durty Events plan was only having 4 portaloos for over 200 people. It was an entirely harrowing pre race pee experience. Boke. Not to worry, we thought, there will be more loos once we get off the buses at Glenfarclass…
Nope. Another 4. So we queued for 25 minutes, freezing to our cores, and JUST made the start before the piper set us off.
At 10am, we were let loose on the Speyside countryside. The race winds uphill on tarmac for around 1km before switching onto rough twintrack on a gradual downhill until you reach Ballindalloch castle.
I’ll just put this out there now: I am not very experienced in the trail-running department. I am also inherently clumsy as fuck. This meant I wasn’t able to fully appreciate the Scottish mountain views because I was otherwise occupied with trying not to fall arse-over-tit into a muddy puddle.
After dibbing out and in as we crossed the A85, we were soon jogging past Ballindalloch distillery and it’s beautiful new building. We hit the first aid station. I had a pretty well-rehearsed nutrition plan but the lure of chocolate chip cookies was too much. This was Class A catering from Durty Events. We crunched our cookies happily and continued on to the next road crossing and dibbing point.
The first section of the route is pretty undulating. Nothing too scary considering you’re running in Speyside, but my hip had already started to protest.
Trail presents different challenges to road running. Road running has greater impact on my joints, but trail involves more stabilisation and my ankles and knees were struggling to keep me vertical.
Sarah and I ran together and were keeping a pretty steady rhythm by now. The undulating hills had been replaced by slippy, slidy ex-railway line.
Sarah’s stitch subsided about 7 miles in and we were approaching Tamdhu and an aid station.
They had brownies. BROWNIES. *throws nutrition strategy into the River Spey*
I risked shitting myself and horsed a brownie. Winning. At. Endurance.
We continued on our railway adventure and soon passed Michelle and Jonny. Jonny had run into cramp issues and they were having to walk. This would prove to be a race-ending cramp for the lovely Jonny, who made it to 14 miles before retiring.
As we passed a distance I can’t remember, we made it to a relay cross-over point. The guy we’d been running near for a while told us there were no more hills.
If I ever see you again, relay man, I will KILL you.
After Tamdhu distillery, we were directed up a gentle tarmac hill, to a GIANT MUDDY CLIMB. It was brutal. It could have been worse but it was tough considering we thought we were pretty much avoiding hills for the remainder of the race. We wound up past Cardhu distillery and then back down towards the railway line again. The downhill was where I hit my first wall. At about 12 miles I held back tears as shockwaves shot through my shins and hips. The cobbled, steep downhill twintrack was very difficult to navigate at a decent pace. And it HURT. Sarah’s knees were killing her and we were getting tired already. Stupid hills. Stupid marathon. Stupid idea.
We made a deal to start a run/walk strategy once we made the “half way” checkpoint at 25km. We stopped here to gather our thoughts, eat some more cookies and stretch our aching legs. 4mins run, 1 min walk would start from here. We then negotiated the extremely slippy, boggy path for another mile or so before we could really get moving properly again.
By Aberlour, Sarah was deep in a dark place and I was hurting really badly. I was in agony and just wanted to get to the end. We exchanged “words” and got back onto the route to continue the long slog to the finish line. It was at this point that we were passed by Miriam, sister of Jonathan Pain and my fairy race godmother! She looked in fantastic shape. We also bumped into my buddy Chris who was suffering from a long season of MANY events including Craggy Island Tri and Glencoe Marathon. He was utterly broken. Some gentle abuse and encouragement and we were all on our way.
Me and Sarah now moved to marching. I was getting sore from walking (WTF) and my walk/run strategy was making Sarah queasy so I’d jog on a little and then walk until I could see her. I checked my phone and 112 messenger notifications later learned that Pete, Maria and Jonny had all pulled out of the race. I was so gutted for them. I was also hitting a wall BIG time. There were no mile markers and because the aid stations were sporadic, I was finding it really tough to work out where we were.
A quick call home for some words of encouragement and I was back in the zone. I waited for a bit at a gate to see if Sarah was close behind me. She wasn’t and I was worried. I knew she was fighting hard for this and I was struggling without her beside me so I jogged back to find her so we could finish this absolute monster together.
Eventually we hauled ourselves to the 35km checkpoint which was at about 32km and were told there was only 6km left to go.
I thought this was a Marathon?
Mixed feelings ensued. I mean, we couldn’t walk another fucking step. So we were quite delighted that the course was measuring short. But we didn’t want to get our hopes up in case the guy said miles. But we checked, like…. REALLY checked. “are you SURE it’s only 6km?????”
The “last 6km” is a very very gentle climb up another long, long LONG disused railway line. It was wooded and stunning but to be honest we just wanted to be fucking FINISHED.
There wasn’t another runner for miles in either direction so we were pretty convinced we were last and they’d have run out of medals and whisky.
The lack of mile markers was taking it’s toll psychologically and we were really hating every painful step.
We were passed by a woman called Kat who was from Perth and running with her hubby. She thought we were sisters and we chatted for a while before she continued on her way to the finish line…. wherever the fuck that was!
We trudged on at what felt like a good-paced march for at least 180 years until we started passing big corrugated buildings that looked (and smelled) like a whisky bottling facility. Was this Glenfiddich? Literally who the fuck knows.
I had my phone out and was trying to get a location on google maps. We were close-ish. Maybe.
There was now a road parallel to the track and I clocked a sign for Glenfiddich but no distance indicator. We were still passing big buildings so it was clearly a large distillery.
The lack of distance markers was REALLY taking it’s toll now. We were so grumpy and tired and desperate to finish.
The only thing keeping me going was Sarah’s unbreakable determination. She fought through the depths of marathon-pain and was still going. We had to finish together.
We were guided by arrows onto a road with a sign! A SIGN! THANK FUCK FOR THAT THIS MUST BE GLENFIDDI—– The Balvenie? FUCK.
Now, if I’d properly studied the Participant guide, I’d have known that Glenfiddich is beside The Balvenie. Instead we had to wait until we found A Man who promised us the finish was 500m away. Did we believe him? No. But he PROMISED.
He wasn’t wrong. We had to try and run up a hill but we could see flags now. I took Sarah’s hand and she somehow found the legs to drag me over the line at a sprint.
I was SO happy to see that finish line and SO proud of my friend.
Sarah, who tragically lost her Grandpa and then her mum in the space of months last year, fought hard and properly rallied to finish that race. It’s determination like that which inspires me. Having the ability to kick the walls down is what makes an endurance athlete. While I encouraged her, I somehow encouraged myself. It was so so tough and lonely. I couldn’t have finished it without Sarah by my side.
Daniel scooped Sarah up and took her off to buy her a very fucking well earned beer. I spotted the team and hobbled over to say hello and dish out smelly cuddles. Michelle had breezed past us around 30km having chucked her ailing hubby on a bus back to the finish line. I painfully lowered myself to the ground (mistake) and was handed a beer by Daniel.
The Medal was in actual fact a chunk of whisky cask, which was a lovely touch. The beer was tremendous and me and Michelle cuddled up for a photo (I won’t show you the others…)
Our chauffeur drove his smelly passengers back to the house where we all hobbled inside for showers and food.
Bizarrely, I only managed a couple of slices of pizza and some salad before heading through to my sofa bed to hide under a duvet. My buddies all piled through to join me before long, and we spent the evening grazing on snacks, beer and watching Friends. It was a good day.
The miniatures in the goody bag are fantastic and it took all my willpower not to tuck in immediately.
Overall, The Dramathon is a superb event. The marshals were lovely and the course was stunning (when I wasn’t trying not to die).
There needs to be some improvements if they choose to run it in the same format next year, however:
- More toilets at the start and at the race HQ. (like… at least 10)
- more accurate information in the guide regarding the format of the event. We were told we’d collect stamps at each distillery. Then it was tokens. But on the day it was nothing? With no explanation.
- We were told the week before the event that mandatory kit would be confirmed 2 days prior. We received no further update from the organisers. And weather forecasts can’t always be trusted.
- The course measured a whopping 4km short. I appreciate completely that not every race will always measure accurately. That’s a given, especially on trail, but despite their disclaimer in the Participant guide, I feel like 4km is a big deficit for a race calling itself a “Full Marathon”. After I posted this on their page on Facebook, a girl who was marshalling posted a link to the map-my-run route which showed we’d missed a whole section around Ballindalloch golf course! The marshal and arrows at the edge had directed us straight to the distillery. We’d missed the loop without prior explanation and as yet, we’ve received no update as to why this decision was made.
To sum up, I’d recommend this if you fancy a challenge in a stunning part of the world’s most beautiful country. Make sure you sort your accommodation and DEFINITELY make sure it’s within a comfortable distance of the start/finish distilleries!
And finally, a huge, heartfelt thank you to my race buddy Sarah. You were beyond nails. You kept me laughing and our Friends and Rupaul quotes gave me LIFE. Shantay, you stay, my friend! Here’s to the best, most flattering photograph anyone has ever taken ever. #WinningAtChinning x