I hope no one reading this has come here expecting a set, familiar format.  I’m still trying to find what that looks like – speaking to someone at this event has influenced me to try something a bit different to get going:

Route description
All over the place!  Loosely, a big lap and a couple of smaller loops.

Course profile 
It’s undulating.  Two steep descents, one long, long steady incline. (73m total ascent on Strava, only 59 on Garmin)

Underfoot
A mix of tarmac, tree roots and gravel.

Shoes
Road shoes are fine when dry, maybe a light trail shoe if wet when it can get quite muddy in places.

Difficulty
5/6.  Not just down to the climbs, but the technical nature of the course.  You’re dodging tree roots and stones in places.  There’s also a couple of pretty sharp turns, one immediately at the bottom of a steep descent.  Testing stuff!

That up there is hopefully helpful for anyone considering giving it a go.

Everything from here is my own experience of this one beautiful sunny day in a country park just a handful of miles from Stirling.  You’ve been warned.

The trip nearly didn’t happen at all – I was one of three bikes at Haymarket for the train to Dunblane, with space for four.  Only there was two already on it!  Fortunately, the conductor took pity on me and on I got.  Phew.

Departing at Larbert, the 4.5 mile cycle through really quiet roads (mostly) brought me here:

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The country park has sprung up on what was (is?) Plean Estate, containing the now derelict, but still imposing-looking, Plean House. A brief history is here, though in 2018 it provides the backdrop for photo opportunities at the finish as well as home for the first timers/pre-run briefs.

The park’s a bit of a maze but it’s well sign-posted from the car park, so no issues there.

The brief left me none the wiser about the course itself but that’s fine; they’re well marshalled and I’ll just follow the person in front.

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A couple of hundred metres in…in second

Only shortly after this photo, there was no one in front!  I can assure you it wasn’t because I was rapid; sometimes at the smaller events it just goes a certain way.

After a gravelly, straight slight climb, we turned a right into a wooded section with occasional tree roots and stones before a long steep descent.  Then came that sharp right I was talking about earlier that killed all of my momentum!

By this point I already knew I was in for some pain.  The 85-mile cycle in Perthshire (Etape Caledonia) was evidently still in my legs, and they felt really heavy.  The long climb to end the first loop did not help matters, but of course I still smiled and thanked the marshals and dog-walkers who made plenty room for the passing runners.

Then, confusion.  My own fault really.  Twice I turned to go right when I was meant to go left!  The first time, I was saved by the photographer shouting me back, and only a minute or so later the guy behind me shouted me back.

Neither of us had run there before as we found out as we chatted briefly, so it was blind leading the blind.  The wishbone sign pointed left for ‘first time’ and right for ‘second’; he correctly interpreted it where I’d thought “Ah, well this is the second lap so I’ll go that way”.

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The offending spot, sans sign in the middle

In some ways this took the pressure off, I dropped into second with no one near us.  I laughably decided I’d hang on and try a sprint finish if I was close enough (I wasn’t) towards the end.

That second lap ended up being really technical, heavy with tree roots, a tight turn through a fence and ducking under a post designed to keep horses where horses should be meant you had to keep your wits about you!  If I wasn’t feeling so crummy, it would’ve been great fun.

The final loop takes you past familiar territory for the first time.  This friendly guy just beyond the car park enroute to the start/finish area:

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A couple of twists and turns later, I crossed the line in second place.  By that time, a distant second it must be said!

The course was a little short but the official time of 20:11 took me a bit by surprise.

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This was the exciting debut of my black ‘100’ t-shirt, so here’s it up close on the finishing straight!

You get a free t-shirt for certain milestones (50, 100, 250 & 500 events, and for 25 volunteering stints), all you need to pay for is postage.  Although I got to 100 over a year ago, the t-shirts have been in increasing demand.  A change of supplier later, and I’ve one of the first of the new batch.  It’s lovely!

The buff is another piece of handy kit – through it I was able to spot a fellow ‘tourist’, Martyn, and got chatting to him afterwards.  He was up with his wife, running the Edinburgh marathon the following day.  Brilliant stuff!

He suggested I speak to one of the volunteers, Scott.  Turns out he’s completed all of Scotland’s events, making him one of only four ‘regionnaires’.  A mighty achievement in the UK’s biggest region.  It was great to share experiences of events past, and chat about future plans and recommendations.  parkrun’s another level for this kind of thing.

In fact, we were chatting so long that despite being second to finish, I was second last to leave the park!  Had a great time.  For setting, and as a challenging course, it’s up there in the top fives in Scotland.

As for the laps – red = 1, yellow = 2, green = to the finish

Course

Here’s a couple of friends to leave you with:

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