I got the train from Glasgow to Inverness on Friday evening so that I could run Inverness parkrun on Saturday (report to follow). My friends Jason and Gregg drove up on Saturday. We met up and picked up our numbers from the event village then hunted for somewhere to eat dinner. NB: If you ever enter the Loch Ness Marathon book accommodation, Saturday night and Sunday night meals well in advance!
The long range weather forecast for race day had been good, but by Saturday the forecast was was for an 80% chance of rain. Sunday morning dawned overcast and misty, but the high winds of the previous couple of days had dropped and by the time the race got underway the cloud was lifting, streaks of blue had appeared and the perfect day for running a marathon had arrived.
The Loch Ness Marathon begins on a hill in the middle of the Scottish Highlands, miles from civilisation. To get there the 2800 runners are loaded onto buses in Inverness at 7:30 am and driven around Loch Ness to the start line, off loaded, lined up, then set off to run the 26.2 miles back to Inverness.
I was staying in a B&B just around the corner from the meeting point (also the finish line and event village) in Bught Park and my host kindly got up early to put on breakfast at 6:45. I had my porridge, tea and toast and headed out the door, just as Greg and Jason drove past, saving my legs the 1/4 mile walk. There was plenty of parking in Bught Park and getting on and off the buses was seamless.
The start area was on the single track B852 with people milling about and queues everywhere. We joined one queue with a view of the toilets. Twenty minutes later we learned it was the coffee queue not the toilet queue. I wish I had been a bit braver and headed into the scrub as many of the men and a good few women did (I got braver at mile 12!) but I eventually got on a toilet queue and made it into and out of the toilet while marshals hurried us up to make it to the start line in time.
The atmosphere was electric. Here were 2800 runners plus marshals, standing on a country road, with no houses or buildings in site, just hills rolling into the distance. We positioned ourselves in the middle of the field and I gave Greg and Jason a goodbye and goodluck hug. I knew it would be the last I saw of them until the finish line.
My plan was to run the first six or seven miles at 10:30 min/mile, followed by 11:00 min/mile to the half way mark at which point it was a complete guess as to what I would be able to manage. The first mile was steeply downhill and it was hard to keep the breaks on, but I managed to hold it at 10:00 minutes. After that I settled into my plan. There were a couple of early, steep inclines that I initially tried running up but after realising that the people I ran past were then catching me back up I decided that power walking the steep bits was a more efficient way to go.
I’m afraid that I lack the words to describe how beautiful the scenery was those first miles and since I did not take any photographs you will just have trust me on it or enter and see for yourself.
At mile 6 it occurred to me how lucky I was to be fit and healthy enough to be running a marathon in such a stunning location and any thoughts of “was I/wasn’t I going to make sub 5 hours” were battered away with a flick of my hand. I watched and listened to the runners around me: There was either one guy in a yellow tartan kilt, with yellow cap and yellow t-shirt or there was a whole team of them because I was overtaken by him half a dozen times, though I don’t remember passing him once. There was the young couple in leopard print leggings and t-shirts, fluffy tails and leopard head bands (the guy clutching a plastic supermarket bag filled with sweets and chocolates). There were the three young guys in bright board shorts, one of whom was running with a limp, his mate collecting unopened gels and Clif-shot blok packets from the ground.
At mile 13.1 there were two army cadets in fatigues standing in the middle of the road shouting encouragement “Keep going, you’re going to get a great time”. I looked at my watch: 2:22, and I knew that a sub 5 hour marathon was within my grasp.
When I was thinking about this marathon I imagined that I would reach the point where I wanted to walk more than I wanted to run and I would have to talk myself into running just another stretch, and another stretch. This is what happened in my first two half marathons and my longest training run, 3 weeks ago. To my amazement it never really happened: My quads, hips and lower back tightened up and started to ache from around mile 16 but I kept on running. The much forewarned Dores Hill arrived at mile 18 and I power walked up the steepest parts, but each time it leveled out I found myself running again. At mile 23 (only a parkrun to go!) I was sure I was going to get in under 5 hours so gave myself permission to take a walk break, but just a few steps later I was back running, pulled towards the finish line by an invisible cord.
The last mile takes the runners along the eastern side of the River Ness into Inverness, crossing the bridge and heading back along the western bank to Bught Park and the finish line. I tried not to look at the route ahead, focusing instead on the road, the friendly crowds, and the runners around me.
I crossed the finish line completely shattered but so happy. I was greeted by a volunteer with my medal and a very warm smile of congratulations. Then there was a goody bag and my t-shirt and then Greg (3:59) and Jason (3:49 for a massive PB) to greet me with hugs.
Almost immediately the familiar feeling of nausea started to take hold. I will spare you the details, but even with some food, a shower and nap, it was 8pm before I started to feel human again. Albeit, a human who was unable to sit or stand or walk down stairs without taking a significant amount of weight through my hands! Getting on and off the ground was highly amusing and required full assistance!
A day later and I’m recovering, my quads and calves are still sore and it is easier just to lie on the sofa, but they are improving. So here are my reflections on my first marathon:
- I’m so glad I chose a scenic marathon. It made me so happy to be in the countryside with views of hills, Loch, beech forests and countryside.
- I found the race much easier psychologically than I imagined: I never once thought “I can’t do this” or “I don’t want to do this” and I didn’t find the miles stretching longer and longer as they reached the 20s, they just kept ticking by and I kept running. Perhaps that was “trust in the training” (thank you Anne-Marie) and being able to remain in the moment.
- I loved the experience (except for the few hours immediately afterwards perhaps).
Will I do another one? If you had asked me anytime in the last month, including up until this morning I would have said an emphatic No (with the rider that I reserved the right to change my mind). But now? Well, you never know, there is a lot of beautiful countryside to be explored…
First though, there is a rest from running and a holiday to New York city and the autumnal forests of Vermont. But before I go, I want to say thank you to all of you who have left comments of encouragement over the past few months, and especially the last week, and also all the words of congratulations on my post yesterday. It has meant a lot 🙂