It’s been a while since the Loch Ness Marathon and before I forget about all the pain and suffering I thought it best to throw down a few words from my experiences there. Earlier in the year, I had run the LA Marathon which, with a 15 minute PR, I think I can say was a pretty solid day. The problem with running a good marathon though, is that it’s the same problem with running a bad one. You want more.
And so, 6 months later, we found ourselves at the starting line of the Loch Ness Marathon. The choice had been made relatively easily, as I had discussed doing this course with my friend Billy the previous year. He had already dipped his toe into the marathon bandwagon by running his first marathon there the previous year. I had persuaded the usual suspects to come across with me and join a bunch of other friends and family from the UK to make a bit of a re-union out of it. Between the marathon running, the marathon drinking and the marathon eating this was going to be a great weekend!
We rented out some fantastic log cabins near Inverness in which to base ourselves for the weekend which proved to be an excellent choice with its stunning setting and handy location along the marathon route.
We were bused out to the starting line for this point-to-point course with a rather scenic trip around the western banks of Loch Ness. In perhaps one of the most scenic starting lines I’ve ever been on, the buses turfed us out seemingly in the middle of nowhere, high up on the banks of the Loch. With nothing but rugged mountains around us it was a pleasure to hang out there in thankfully mild conditions. Bathroom stops were perhaps the most enjoyable and easily found of any race I’ve done before with a forest lined road at the start line! Shortly before the start, a line of pipers marched down the center of the crowds, firing us up and making it a real highland race.
Ben, Dima, Shin and I, positioned ourselves near the start line which was easy to accomplish given the absence of any separate corrals. Pace signs marked the long start area and, for the most part, seemed pretty well adhered to. Warming up at the start I noticed a familiar race singlet from my old University running club, The Hare and Hounds, which brought back some great memories!
Anyway, without much fanfare, we were off, the start of another 26 ish miles of running pleasure/pain.
The start was fast. Real fast. We dropped about 500ft in the first 5 miles. I was under no delusion that this race was going to be run with consistent splits. It’s simply not possible, practical or sensible to attempt to slow yourself down that much in the first 10 miles given the profile. Anyway I’m no believer in the mythical status of negative splits which for most people is neither practical nor possible. Instead I’d figure I’d just go by feel. I had not done much in the way of marathon specific training this time around due to some stubborn injuries over the summer and probably too many other races getting in the way. So, despite my historic failures at winging the marathon, I figured I’d just try go out and have some fun and see what my body would let me get away with. I was hoping to get close to my LA time if for no other reason than to make sure it wasn’t a fluke!
I tucked myself in behind the top 3 men shortly after the start. Their pace was a little too swift for my liking so I quickly put them out of my mind and settled into a comfortable pace. Very soon I was by myself which is where I would remain for the rest of the race. If you are looking for cheering crowds to help motivate you then this is not the race. This is a runners race. Solitary but beautiful. I settled into a ryhthm and tried to enjoy the scenery.
After 7 miles or so I passed by the beginnings of the village of Foyers where my Uncle was strategically placed, camera at the ready. I had told him that he better have a fast lens on him as I’d be passing by quickly! Unfortunately for me, he was stationed at the top of a small hill so I did my best to push up it quick to hold steady on my promise! Shortly afterwards I passed by my Mum who was also watching the race and would be the first time she had seen me run a marathon. Good job I was still feeling spritely at this point!
After about 10 miles we emerged onto the banks of the Loch. This signified the end of the downhill section and the start of the long undulating country road that paralleled the shores of the Loch for the next 7 miles. I passed by Billy and Eilidh who were clearly excited that I was in 4th place! I remember distinctly at this point feeling something I’ve not felt in a marathon before: I was actually having fun! Usually I’m dealing with some amount of discomfort at this point. I’ve even had races where I knew it was all over at this point! This time however, the overarching feeling was enjoyment. I was really enjoying this!
The scenery along the Loch did not disappoint although what looked flat on the elevation profile hid a seemingly endless amount of tiny undulations that really had a sting in the tail. I started to feel a little sluggish along this section and by mile 17 I was really hurting and starting to wonder if the time I banked on the first section would be enough. I was just focusing on getting to the village of Dores, which is where our cabins were located and also the start of the marathon crux: a long and steep series of climbs over about 3 miles. I knew if I could get to the top of this in one piece I might just be able to salvage this run!
The hills were hard but manageable. What took me by surprise was my total lack of ability to run down the other side! Shortly after cresting the top around mile 21 I was overtaken. My head filled with thoughts of a whole gang of speedy highlanders cruising by me but I decided to just focus on keeping the pace consistent as best I could. Finally the downhills were over and I was on to the last 3 miles of flat-ish grade into the finish. I started to feel a bit better especially because no one else had passed me yet. I made sure not to take any chances so pushed on into the home stretch, over the bridge and into the finish line in 2:37:37 and thankfully just in the money with 5th place.
Overall, this was a tough race for me and I didn’t feel my best but I was pleased to hold on in there and fight til the end. I usually have unrealistic goals going into these things but I think I pretty much ran up to my potential, give a minute or so, from the training I had put into this thing. Anyway, this was a really fun race which I got to do with a whole gang of friends and family and for that, what more can you ask. I had a blast!
Pretty much everyone had a great day it seemed with PR’s falling left, right and center. All that was left to do, was celebrate, and if there is one thing we Scots know how to do well, it’s celebrate. Cheers!