This has taken a while to write and I thought I better finish it before next year’s race comes around! It’s still only just over a week since the race so it’s not too late really.
I’d only run it twice before this year but I have come to love the Loch Ness Marathon and it’s become one of my favourite marathons for the route, the scenery, the atmosphere as well as the organisation. London and Paris are both excellent races but if you want to get out of the city for a race, this is the one to do. Think of images you’ve seen of the Scottish landscape then that’s the view you get on the bus to the start and also at the start line.
It was an early rise on Sunday morning to get breakfast then out to get the bus to the start which was a bit of a bind in itself as we had been upgraded to a demo-suite at our hotel and the massive bed and the thought of an amazing Scottish breakfast with wonderful leisure facilities to take advantage of, was a greater challenge to resist than running the marathon! We stayed at the Kingsmills Hotel in Inverness and I would highly recommend it as they were the best prepared for the marathon that I’ve ever seen from any hotel I’ve stayed in over the years. They were able to tell us the special arrangements for breakfast without having to ask and even promoted a couple of pasta dishes they had on special that night for runners. Very good service!
The bus journey to the start can often be daunting, being beside lots of nervous runners who have already been to the loo before and are hoping their bladders will hold up until they get to the drop-off after taking on too much fluid. I had a lovely chat with a Swiss woman called Anne, who lives and works in London. I think she was tempted to move to Scotland by the end of the journey after everything she saw!
It was very windy when we arrived at the start area, it is in a pretty remote location anyway so not really surprising. This meant that the majority of runners waited until the very last minute before putting their bags on the baggage truck. It was around this point that I bumped into Ella, who used to come to my running group. I’ve enjoyed watching Ella go from strength to strength with her running and so it was nice to be standing on the start line with her and I was looking forward to see how she would get on.
We got under way and the first half of the race reminds me of the humps of the Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, with lots of sharp inclines and declines following on from the downhill bit at the start. I think it’s important to be able to learn how to run downhill efficiently (as well as uphill) as these bits can make or break you early on in the race. The undulating nature of this section makes things more interesting and it can be a good distraction as the miles tend to fly by. My strategy for the race was to feel comfortable in my pace, knowing that I could speed up at any point. This worked very well for me as I wasn’t running to a particular pace and my original target of hitting sub 3:15 to get the Good For Age place in London had been deserted long ago.
I felt really good and felt like I was cruising most of the way, letting others who were randomly speeding up then slowing down again do their own thing without it affecting my performance. The challenge in this race comes when you get to mile 18 at Dores. From just after the mile marker, you begin to climb on a stretch that will lead you to close to mile 20 by the time you eventually get to the top. A very good reason for getting the pace right in the early downhill stages! This is the stretch that sorts everyone out with many people resorting to walk that bit. Once you get to the top, it’s more or less flat or downhill the rest of the way.
I still felt pretty good passing 22, 23 then 24 miles – something that never usually happens to me! I was aware for the most part that I could dip under 3:30 but I wasn’t prepared to do anything silly and just see what happens. As we passed every mile, I tried to imagine starting out on a run of that particular distance until we got to 23 then it was like, just a Parkrun to go!
Passing through 24.5 miles is a bit of a mental challenge as you can hear the announcer at the finish just the other side of the river but you’ve still got a bit to go. It was around that point that I started to cramp up. Not in my calves or quads but in my left forearm! Who gets cramp in their forearm in a marathon? I wasn’t even carrying anything! Was I doing it right? I proceeded to run with my left arm at a funny angle to release the cramp and probably a good job there wasn’t a photographer close by!
The bridge over the river in Inverness always seems a long way away when you get onto the riverside but it didn’t seem too bad this year but the last bit when you come off the bridge on the other side then onto the finish seems to take forever! Still feeling pretty good (my body would claim otherwise), I did manage to speed up and sprint to the finish, what felt like a sprint anyway! Finishing a marathon is always a very emotional experience and the memories of finishing the race 2 years ago, when I finished my challenge in memory of my dad, came flooding back so I probably looked a right state by the time I met Allison.
I went to get my bag, sat down to tuck into the free food from Baxters, the main sponsor, then went back to the finish to wait for Ella. It was great to see her again and finishing in a pretty good time. After that we had a slow shuffle into town to get a drink and kill time before our train home. I was delighted with my official time of 3:34:03, given the amount of training I had missed and only 20mins off my original target.
I learned a lot that day, mostly in that my strategy of feeling comfortable all the way round had worked a treat and also that it pays to be consistent with your training.
What’s the best thing you’ve learned from running?