The Loch Ness Marathon became my new favourite marathon last year with its stunning scenery, rolling hills along the east side of the loch, THAT hill at 18.5 miles, the downhill stretch into Inverness, the run along the banks of the River Ness towards the finish and the general atmosphere as well so it seemed an ideal race to finish my fundraising challenge for Macmillan at.
It was interesting that in the whole build up to the race, the significance of the event had become of greater importance than my actual performance on the day. I hadn’t done nearly as much training as I would normally do or should have done with one 15 mile run and the Scottish Half Marathon at the beginning of September being the longest runs I had done. I was, however, a bit on the crest of a wave of hitting fast times mostly down to the cycling I’ve been doing that resulted with a PB at the Half and equalling my fastest time this year for 10k the week before at Pitlochry. I wasn’t really that concerned as I knew I could do it (hey, I’ve already done Paris and all those races in Edinburgh!) and this was more about crossing the finish line to get over the 1000 miles and complete my challenge.
I had a mix of emotions going into the race but on the day, I felt quite relaxed and happy about it. I was accompanied on the bus to the start by Pat Duncan, the husband of a blogging friend Danielle, who told me earlier in the year that I had inspired him to run his first marathon and so it was great to be able to relax and help him prepare for what was about to come. I was also delighted to see some running friends Neil, Jimmy, Chris, Julie, Stuart and Greg from Perth Road Runners at the start and chat with them before we got going.
My main focus was going to be to relax into a comfortable pace and maintain the posture I had practiced at both the Half and Pitlochry. I had 3hrs 30mins in my head before the start as a target but was relaxed enough to be comfortable with anything. The early miles seemed to whizz by as I got into my stride. The rolling hills in the first half are very interesting and are one of the reasons I enjoyed this race so much last year. It didn’t seem that long before we were hitting 6, 8 then 10 miles and I seemed to be following the same pace as the Half. When I did pass the halfway mark I was stunned to see I was at 1hr 33mins, which was 2 mins outside my previous PB for the Half and 10 mins faster than what I normally consider to be a good time for this stage in a marathon!
At this stage, I switched on my iPod to listen to some music to get me through to 18 miles or so. I don’t normally listen to music in races but I thought it might be useful to have in case I did need it. The first tune to come on was Eminem – Lose Yourself, my all-time favourite running song containing the line that I say to myself at the start of every race and with 100m to go – “Here I go, here’s my shot, feet fail me not, this could be the only opportunity that I got”. The whole song is about seizing opportunities and I go into every race with the aim of running it as if it were to be my last so as to create positive memories of it. It worked and I felt my pace and posture changing for the better!
In a marathon, I always check my Garmin to see what pace I’m on then start to do calculations on what my finish time might be. This exercise keeps the brain active and when done in the early stages of a race, the calculations can take a matter of seconds but when you get to 16 miles onwards, it can take a few minutes to do the same thing! I was aware though that by miles 16 and 17 that I was heading for close to a 3hr 10min finish, 3hr 15mins even if I slowed to 8min/mile pace. This was exciting as I was coming close to smashing my marathon PB of 3hrs 19mins in my 3rd marathon back in 1999. Pretty soon we approached Dores and the start of ‘the hill’. For those not familiar with the Loch Ness route, there is a hill just after mile 18 that goes on to near the 20 mile mark and this is usually where runners discover if their pacing/training has been effective! I had slowed down by this point with the plan of getting to the top of the hill and try to pick the pace up again in the last 10k as it starts to head back downhill again into Inverness.
Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. I got to the top of the hill no problem but I felt like I didn’t have much left in the last 10k. These last few miles were interesting as mentally I began to struggle to keep going and the music was doing nothing for me. I didn’t ‘hit the wall’ as my legs were fine but I simply had little energy left and found myself walking a few times. I know full well that my lack of training was behind this. I knew I would be met by Allison, Shirlie the fundraising manager for Macmillan who has been amazingly supportive throughout the whole challenge and so that kept me going. I was surprised to see my running friend Greg at the last hydration station at mile 22 as he is normally a sub 2:50 man and had been aiming for 3:05 as he’s been injured for most of the year and hadn’t trained much. It’s strange when these situations arise as the first thought that came into my head was that this might be the only chance I’ll ever have to beat him in a race! When I did go past him, I actually wanted to be able to keep him going and pace him the rest of the way. Greg’s a guy who has inspired me over the years and I wanted to repay him over these last few miles. Every time I stopped to walk, I looked over my shoulder to see if I could see him but didn’t so I just had to keep moving.
Miles 22, 23 and 24 crept by and what inspired me in my very first marathon came back round to inspire me once again. In 1998, I was inspired by the spirit of the marathon when I saw two runners support another runner towards the finish line and on Sunday, every time I stopped to walk, every runner who passed me shouted words of encouragement and I started running again. By now I could hear the announcer (Bryan Burnett) and through the trees, I could see runners heading to the finish except I still had another mile or so to go. The atmosphere in Inverness was amazing with lots of people lining the road cheering everyone on. It felt like running through a wall of noise that I’ve only ever experienced coming out of a tunnel onto the Embankment in the London Marathon. These cheers gave me a boost until I got close to the last Macmillan cheer point where I got a massive shout and high-five from everyone there. I would recommend everyone to do a marathon to experience this, it’s unbelievable!
I was now head down and focus on getting to the finish. Inverness is quite deceptive in that you run along, cross a bridge then almost double back to get to the line but the actual distance is further than it seems! I’ve never been more delighted to see the 26 mile marker and then it was grit the teeth time and dig deep to get to the finish. My focus was broken with the sight and sound (more a bellow of support!) from Allison as I crossed the line. I was amazed to see the clock saying 3hrs 26mins, only 7 mins outside my personal best! I was delighted to see my friends Dawn and Jenni who had run the 10k and were waiting just beyond the finish line to see me. I was delighted to see Greg finish just behind me.
When you cross the finish line of a marathon, you experience every single emotion in the space of 30 seconds when you begin to comprehend what you have just done and so it is recommended just to have a few moments to yourself before rejoining your family and friends. This way they get to see the happy, smiling and proud you and not some sort of emotional wreck! I was delighted to see Allison, Shirlie and also some other friendly faces – Lisa from MND Scotland and Leah from Parkinsons UK who were there doing a fantastic job supporting their runners.
I was fortunate to be given some ViP treatment from Macmillan with some wonderful food before heading for a massage for my aching calves. It was great to chat to Duncan Riddoch from Run 4 It when we sat down for food but then it was fun trying to get back up again and move outside for a photo. I had to step off a platform which was an inch from the grass but felt like 3 feet! The massage was a bit sore but at least it allowed me to be able to walk, or rather shuffle, again. The downside about running a marathon is the journey home and trying to get very stiff legs to move again! Anybody who has run a marathon will know how it feels to walk up/downstairs later that day and the next day!
The thing I love about running marathons is that no matter how fast or slow you ran, you completed it and learnt more about yourself that you perhaps didn’t know before you started the race and you become a stronger person as a result. The stiffness and the blisters may last a few days but the memories and the pride of wearing the medal will live with you forever. The challenge may be over but the journey has only begun. Next stop Paris in April…..
I have been doing all these races and running crazy miles in memory of my dad and in aid of Macmillan.