There are some runners who have a strange hankering to make their lives, and those of some of their more ‘impressionable’ friends, that little bit more challenging. They like to run up hills; big steep hills! And so it is that, in the spring, they are drawn to scenic Perthshire and the ‘delights’ of the Heaven and Hell Half Marathon, the jewel in the crown of the Perth Road Runners event calendar! ERN is not without runners who suffer from this terrible affliction, *cough* Murdo Macleod *cough*, and so, once more, a new group of Heaven and Hell virgins were lured North with the promise of stunning scenery, cakes and a couple of ‘wee hills’!
David said : I had been looking forward to my first taste of Heaven and Hell with a mixture of excitement and trepidation for several months and finally the big day had arrived.
I took it easy for the first mile or two knowing that it was going to get tougher but then when it did start going uphill I found I didn’t have any energy at all. I took on an energy gel before the first water station but even that didn’t perk me up. I then had to deal with a partial nose bleed for 3 or 4 miles which was slightly concerning me and making me wonder what altitude I was running at! I struggled on to mile 8 and the start of the “big” hill where I found I didn’t have any strength left to run up it. After about 30 minutes of cursing myself and walking/shuffling/jogging I made it to mile 10 at the top of the hill. By this stage I was pretty demoralised and still struggled to pick up much pace on the downhill into a headwind section to the finish.
Despite my personal struggles the race was well organised, there were great views (when I wasn’t staring at the ground wishing it would open and swallow me up!) and the sandwich/cake selection at the end was fantastic.
As I think I said to Murdo at the end “it was pretty hellish. Where was the heaven part?” I’m pleased that I can now say I’ve done Heaven and Hell and I have something to aim for when I try again next year!
Elly said : “At the start of the year I had put the Heaven & Hell date on the running calendar as an option for this year. However I had held off entering as I didn’t know if I could take on the challenge of the two hills! Two weeks before I decided I would go for it, confirming with Murdo I could get a lift as Phil was planning to be away hill walking that weekend. My theory being that as it was a hard course I would not get a pb and therefore I would go along and enjoy it as a run rather than a race. Bearing in mind that I had completed one 10 miler at the beginning of March and would get another one in the week before the race. The rest of my training runs had been short Sunday runs, Monday training sessions and Tuesdays with Jog Scotland.”
“Phil had returned home from his hillwalking early and came to join us for a post beer after the treasure hunt. At this point he found out that you could sign up on the day, so instead of just coming along to support us, he signed up on the day!”
“We arrived nice and early and had time to chill out before the race briefing. We also saw the tables being set up with an array of sandwiches, cakes and other goodies. Great incentive to get back in good time for a feast.”
“We started promptly at 11am. The weather as usual was a bit undecided but glad I wore my tee-shirt rather than just a vest as it was a bit breezy at the top of the second hill. As I started I did wonder if the lack of training and the fact that I had taken part in the treasure hunt the day before would take its toll on me, especially the hills, however I just took them at a slow steady pace. Didn’t enjoy the downside after the first hill, bit steep for my liking but managed to keep a good pace. Plenty of friendly marshals and 3 water stations which was great. The last hill is a climb but a steady pace and you eventually get to the top!, where you are met by a water station. Downhill all the way or so they say……the last mile had a slight incline and the wind and rain in my face, however in the distance I could see people standing around and thought great – the finish line, however when I got closer I realised that I had another two corners before I reached the line. Murdo and Phil standing cheering me on at the second corner which was great. Finished in 2hrs 11mins which for me is not bad for this course.”
“We cheered Heather who also got a good time and then headed back to the aerodrome for the feast! I will say now that if you are not back early enough – choice of sandwiches is limited to egg mayonnaise! However there were plenty of cakes, tea, coffee and juice for all our hard work.”
“We stayed for the prize giving (no team prizes) and headed back down the road. All in all a good day and would thoroughly recommend it, although think I may need to do some work on my buttock muscles and hamstrings as they were definitely complaining by the finish and for the next few days!”
Thanks to Perth Road Runners who organise this and their marshals and also a thank you to the 4 girls from Wee County Harriers who kept me going at a steady pace for the first half of the race.”
Heather said : “My first ever taste of heaven and hell in one day, and what a great experience it was. I was glad to travel up to scenic and lush Perthshire with Phil, Elly and Murdo as it meant I could avoid the stress of getting lost and being late. This has to have been the most laid back and relaxed start in which my body has allowed me to begin a half marathon. Just as well as there were no portaloos in the field next to the official start line – a point up a country road where the 200 or so runners gathered, got set and set off. Before the race the Perth Road Runners (PRR) provided a great welcome, with trays and trays of sandwiches and cakes arriving. Walk up registration was a breeze, even although it was being processed by angels and devils. There were some amazing spot prize cakes featuring angels, devils and exhausted runners as well as Easter bonnets and bunnies cavorting in the daffodils.
We made the transition to the start line and with very little ado we were off. I quickly waved goodbye to the rest of the speedy ERNs and was soon passed by the two other people behind me until the best of the company was the gentle growl of the sweeper jeep. About three miles in after some humpliness, the course turned left and the first major ascent began. To my surprise I started passing people, even although I was already taking the odd walking break. It was good to lose the sweeper vehicle as I had been feeling the ignominy of being last and the pressure of causing so much pollution from the vehicle crawling along at 5km per hour.
True to its name, Heaven and Hell is a hilly course. I couldn’t quite work out if the heavenly ascent was what was meant by the title and the hellish pounding on your quads as you came thundering down off the first big hill, or if it was the other way round. Either way, the whole experience was one of pleasure not pain and joy not despair. The views were spectacular – including those of some rather stunning country piles – one of which is on sale and to view at Two Mile House – and the roads were clear and easy to run. Conditions underfoot were fine and after about 5 miles there was a welcome water station. At every junction the PRR marshals, some adorned with haloes and horns, kindly waved the way, offering words of encouragement. Next it was a gentle roll along the contours, and nothing too taxing here, though just in case I thought it was time for a gel. Suitably fuelled up with some ‘Just Plain Gu’ (really a lovely toffee caramel syrupy concoction) I sped down the next 2 miles at a fair romp. Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to let gravity have its way so did my best impression of a gambolling lamb and launched myself freely from every spring with ever lengthening stride. This rash approach meant I overtook at least 3 other people who had a better instinct towards self preservation. Coming off the top, there were some spectacular views of the wide flowing Tay river and I thought of the returning Atlantic salmon leaping their way up to the place of their birth to breed again as I leapt goat-like downhill. Then a short fairly flat section, some more water and cheering, and lo the sign appeared. Not the sign of the apocalypse. Not the sign of the Easter Bunny. Rather the sign of the final (to be enjoyed) hellish ascent. This hill began at the 8 mile mark and more or less finished shortly after the 10 mile mark. And it went up. And up. And round a corner. And up. Up past some horses in a field. Up past a farmhouse. And up some more. By this point most folks were walking. I decided I’d try a military approach of counting 20 paces running then 20 paces walking. When the incline eased off slightly I managed 40 paces running to 20 walking, and when it turned into a 1 in 3, it was 40 paces walking and no running at all! Finally the top was crested and there were promises of “it’s downhill all the way now”. Well that was mostly true. I kept into a steady stride for the majority of the final 5K, although when the route took a devilish little uphill at about the 11.75 mile point, I was resigned to yet more walking (or as I tried to fool myself, power striding) and cared not that I was passed by someone fresh as a daisy.
It was fab to see the ERN crew waiting for me at the 13 mile marker at the final turn towards the finish, and I managed a vaguely heavenly sprint finish. Afterwards there was cake, creme eggs, red fleecy bunnets and black snoods, and plenty of sustenance to revive us and a huge sense of achievement.
The Heaven and Hell half marathon is a MUST DO. It was relaxed, friendly, extremely well organised, and provided some fantastic views and the best scenery of any country course I’ve ever run. So it beats Loch Leven, Haddington and Wilmslow for lush arable farmland and rolling scenery. And the cakes were of an ERN standard or better (certainly the professionally decorated spot prize cakes were simply stunning). I’ll be back again, I hope, and would encourage everyone in ERN to consider signing up next year. Heather”
Phil said : The day before the race the wise ex-bearded one told me that those who enter the Heaven and Hell half-marathon should expect to add 10 minutes on to their half-marathon PB time it is that tough, but it’s worth it just for the views. So I stared into my pint of beer for inspiration and on hearing that there were entries available on the day thought yes why not! So early the next day I joined a car-full of ERN members up to Perth wondering what I had let myself in for. Murdo was spot on about the wonderful scenery, the steep hills and the large quantity of cakes at the finish, but I was determined to get inside 10 minutes of my PB. My strategy was to set off near the back and work my way steadily up the field. I struggled a bit on the flat, but pulled my way back into contention on the hills finishing inside 10 mins of my half-marathon PB with 25 seconds to spare. It is certainly tough, but a cracking race and a thoroughly recommended way of burning off easter eggs.