Outrunning Nessie

I remember the night before my first time – I was excited, scared and nervous. My body had never run that far in one go – I was full of questions: Could I do it? How much would it hurt? How long would it take? On the first Sunday in November in 2006, I was on the edge of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in Staten Island standing next to my sister feeling my heart beat and a tingle in my belly as 40,000 runners sang along to Sinatra’s “New York, New York”. My sister and I ran together every step of the 26.2 miles and soaked in the incredible atmosphere – I’ll never forget how the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge bounced beneath the feet of tens of thousands of runners; the long, cold and quiet stretch across the Queensboro bridge followed by the overwhelming roar and multitude of spectators along 1st Avenue in Manhattan; turning into beautifully autumnal Central Park at mile 24; and then, of course, the emotions as we crossed the finish line and the intense throbbing in my legs. 4:17:25. There’s nothing quite like your first time.

Earlier this year, our friend Billy suggested that a group of us get together to run the Loch Ness Marathon in Scotland. Before we knew it we had signed ourselves up for the race along with friends from New York, Boulder, London and Edinburgh. The summer came and went with miles upon miles of incredible mountain running but hardly any quality time on roads. I felt strong, fit and healthy but I didn’t have an ounce of confidence that I could run a fast road marathon – I hadn’t built up my legs for the repetition and pounding of 26.2 miles on the asphalt and I hadn’t done a single focused speed, tempo or pace workout in preparation for a fast marathon. Somewhere deep down inside I dreamed of knocking an hour off my first marathon time but I knew that shooting for a 3:17:25 was too ambitious for my lack of adequate preparation so anything faster than my previous personal best of 3:31:36 (Auckland 2011) would make me ridiculously happy, especially something sub-3:30.

As we rode the bus along the western banks of Loch Ness to the start on the open moors high above the eastern lakeshore I started getting really excited. Just minutes before the start, in true Scottish form, a group of bag pipers came down through the center of the runners. This is was it! It was an absolutely gorgeous day, I was surrounded by great friends and knew there would be more friends and family cheering along the course. I threw all obsessions, stresses, fears, concerns, numbers, and preoccupations out of the window. For the next 26.2 miles I would just run.

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At the start of Loch Ness Marathon

And so I did. And it was more fun than I could have ever possibly imagined! The miles ticked by so fast I was sure that the Scottish measurement of a mile was skewed! The course meandered along the hillside down to the edge of the lake and then in and out of sheep pastures, densely wooded forests, hamlets, and endlessly beautiful Scottish countryside under a soft blue sky and warm sun.

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I knew I was running well but I had no idea what my time was going to be. As I came within sight of the finishing line I saw the clock. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Not only was I going to go sub 3:30, but I was actually going to sneak in sub 3:20! With a final 100m sprint and 4 seconds to spare I did it! 3:19:56 and I felt great!

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I’m super happy to know that knocking an hour or more off my first marathon time is definitely with in reach (although I should put in some purposeful training to do it). But I also know that numbers are just numbers – they are not the reason I run. Running with a smile on my face the whole way, looking around at the stunning views, enjoying the undulating country lanes, high-fiving little Scottish kids along the way, waving to my mother-in-law who’d never seen us run a race, and celebrating with friends afterwards – those are the reasons I run and that is what made these 26.2 road miles my personal best.

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Thanks to Uncle Rob for taking these great photos! Stay tuned for Ryan’s super-speedy marathon blog post coming up next and another post about our adventures in the Scottish Highlands.

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