There’s something magical about the Loch Ness Marathon that makes me want to come back every year. The scenery? Without a doubt! The organisation and support? Definitely. The likelihood that I’m some sort of masochist to enjoy those hills? Probably! When you’re surrounded by hills as I am in Perthshire and hard to find a route that doesn’t have any hills in it then it’s almost easier to train for than a flat course.
When Allison said she was keen to do this race, having entered twice before but never made it to the start line, I didn’t have to think about it and signed up straight away. The race holds a lot of memories for me, mainly from it being the race I completed my Fundraising Challenge in 2014 at, where I ran my third fastest marathon ever.
I was lucky enough to book a hotel close to the race HQ/finish so it was nice and easy to go to registration and Expo on the Saturday after we arrived, walk to the buses to the start on Sunday morning and shuffle back again to collect our bags after the race. The breakfast at the hotel was amazing with a full cooked option available, which is rare as marathon breakfasts usually tend to be porridge and continental style due to the early start. You can always spot a marathon runner at breakfast on race day as they’re the ones forcing down toast and pastries, eating because they know they should rather than by choice. Breakfast done, we made our way to the buses then off to the start. The journey takes around an hour along twisting roads by the side of Loch Ness but the view when you get off the bus is stunning. We paid a toilet visit, popped our bags on the lorry and got ready to start.
The first couple of miles are predominantly downhill and so I like to take advantage of that and get a good pace going. I wasn’t aiming for a particular pace or time but thought I could maybe get around 3:45. By the time we got to mile 7, I had to stop at the toilet as my breakfast felt like it was coming back on me. It wasn’t what I ate but the amount I ate was more than usual but lost a few minutes when I had to stop as I had to wait on the person in front of me coming out as well as the time I was in. The time out probably did me a favour as I had been going quite quick and so when I started running again, I went out at a much steadier pace. It was great to see a few friendly faces on the course between Ella, who I ended up passing twice, and getting a shout from Jimmy, a friend on Facebook.
I was happy to have gone through the halfway mark in around 1hr 44mins although I know that’s not really a great marker as the elevation in the second half is much greater and halfway is really around mile 18 before you get to ‘the hill’. I started working out an anticipated finish time and thought I was well on for sub 3:45 even as we started climbing the hill on the other side of Dores. This section can normally make or break a runner with a hill stretching from around 18.5 miles to 20 and I was delighted that I was able to run the whole way. The training runs spent running on the hills in Perthshire certainly paid dividends as it meant that I was able to go past quite a few people who weren’t so great at this point. Once at the top, it’s fairly flat with another hill to go then it’s into Inverness and on the flat and downhill sections in the latter stages.
Coming into Inverness, I got a shout from a few people from Perth who had come up to cheer on someone else and this gave me a good boost. My pace had gone from hovering on 9 min/miles to around 8.40. One of the aspects of my racing strategy is to feel in control of my pace and always feel like I’ve got something left in the tank for the finish and this worked well for me as miles 24, 25 and 26 were progressively quicker and mile 26 was my 2nd fastest mile in the 2nd half of the race, which doesn’t normally happen. You can hear the announcer at the finish when you get between miles 24 and 25 and this can often be off-putting as you know you’re just across the river from the finish but you’ve still got a bit to go.
Coming alongside the river, my form seemed to improve as I felt I was lifting my knees forward and using my arms more and I was aware that since mile 21, I wasn’t aware of anyone passing me. As I came off the bridge and onto the riverside, passing our hotel and heading to the finish, I caught a glimpse of my watch and had just passed 3hrs 30mins. This give me a bigger boost to dig in more as I knew I could now go sub 3:40, possibly even sub 3:35. This stretch of the route always feels the longest to me and when I caught sight of the finish line, I lifted my knees even more, pumped my arms and gave it everything to get to the finish. I crossed the line in 3:35:12.
I was absolutely delighted with that time as it was far quicker than I thought I might do given my training over the last 6 weeks leading into the race. I knew I had given everything there as I had to stop for a couple of minutes to let my breathing settle before I went on to collect my medal and goody bag. I went to collect my bag, get my hoodie on before coming back to wait for Allison. I was pleased to also see Lorna, the Physiotherapist whose clinic is next door to my PT Studio, Ella and my friend Alasdair, who had been running his first marathon. It was great to see that they had done well and then Allison crossed the line in her 2nd fastest time, so all good!
We went for some lovely food courtesy of Baxter’s, the main sponsor, then headed back to the hotel to get a quick wash, change into warm clothes, coffee, some more food and then the train home. The journey up was like the Marathon Express where everyone in our carriage were doing the race and it was a similar story going home only it resembled more Night Of The Living Dead judging by our collective mobility!
All in all, I’m very happy with how things turned out. The main elements of my training worked very well, my tried and tested fuelling strategy of taking an SiS gel every 5 miles with the lovely Double Espresso flavour at mile 23 worked a treat. The only thing I feel I need to work on going forward is to break down my training plan more to focus on more specific goals so I don’t lose the consistency again.
If you’re looking at a marathon in Scotland either as your first one or to add to your bucket list, I would highly recommend this one. It is a challenging course but the organisation and support from marshals and spectators make it one of the best marathons in the UK.
Have you tried this race? What’s your favourite race and why?