By Joel Mckenzie

“Joel McKenzie, first American at Scottish Grand Prix Final”

That sounds like a great headline. I’m not sure if it is true or not. I think I might have been the only American in the race.

Last spring my wife and I started planning a trip to Scotland when we knew that both of our kids would be off in college this fall. So, instead of being sad empty nesters, we took a big two week vacation in September. We traveled a large part of the country seeing the sites and where the McKenzies came from.

In August I decided to see if I could find a race in Scotland that fit our schedule. I did find the City of Stirling 10K which fit perfectly. It was only 30 miles from Perth, where we would be the night before and it was basically on the way to our next stop on the west coast. This race was also the final event of the 2009 Scottish Road Racing Grand Prix and was hosted by the Central Athletic Club.

After registering online (cost was 13 pounds), I got an e-mail around the end of August saying they would be mailing out the chips and bib numbers soon. I contacted them to see if they really wanted to mail my chip to the US, and if so they better hurry because I was leaving to come over there. They decided to send it to my hotel in Perth. Well, it didn’t arrive there either. The Royal Mail union was on strike and apparently over 50 people didn’t get their chips. It might have been more, because the race filled up its 1000 person quota and only 839 started the race. Anyway, they were very organized and gave me a new chip and bib number on race morning.

The weather was ideal for the race and it was fun at the start listening to all the Scottish accents chattering away. I wore my SVR singlet with “McKenzie” on the back, but nobody asked me where I was from. The course was very flat and scenic. Stirling has mountains close by, but is mostly flat. We could see the William Wallace (Braveheart) monument on one hill and Stirling Castle on another. We crossed over the River Forth twice on a foot bridge, going into the old village of Cambuskenneth built around an ancient monastery. One kilometer of the course was out and back on a single track (one lane) road. You could only get about two wide in either direction, so it slowed you down some there.

One thing they did differently than here was to post kilometer marks instead of mile marks. Even though there were 10 instead of 6, I liked it better. The kilometers came faster and made me feel like I was progressing faster. Another oddity happened at the finish line. They handed everyone a banana and a plastic half-pint bottle of milk. I asked another guy if that was a Scottish thing. He said no, he thought it had something to do with one of the race sponsors. The race was very competitive, being the final of the Grand Prix series. The top four guys were Eritrean and finished under 30 minutes.

I finished the race in 45:10, nearly a four minute improvement over my Apple Blossom time this year. So I was pretty pleased with that. Having traveled five time zones away, carried heavy luggage up lots of steps and slept in strange beds, I was just glad my back let me race.

My biggest complaint would be the T-shirt. It was black letters on a white shirt.. It basically says City of Stirling 10K, which could be Stirling, Virginia because it doesn’t mention Scotland anywhere. Other than that it was a great experience to run a well managed event in a foreign country.