Loch Ness Marathon
September 24th 2017
When I signed up to the Loch Ness marathon I was swayed by other runners saying how marvellous it was. Having a Geography degree didn’t help as I had no idea that it was just so far away. I thought it would be a few hours drive, try 8 plus from Manchester. I decided to make a weekend of it and break up the journey by seeing a bit of Scotland.
I booked an Airbnb place not too far from Pitlochry for the Friday night. Myself and Adam drove up Friday and had a lovely time just off the River Tay Tay Tay Tay! I couldn’t help but singing Mel and Kim’s chorus from Respectable every time we came close to river. Pitlochry is a lovely little town with lots of coffee shops and pubs. It has a nice loch you can walk to which has a centre with a café with a fabulous view over the River and Loch. We had a lovely Scottish afternoon spotting red squirrels and in the evening, I tried Haggis and Cranachan. Delicious.
On the Saturday we drove from Pitlochry over the Cairngorms and this is possibly the best drive you could ever do in the UK. We were constantly pulling over to enjoy the scenery and take photos. We drove to the cairngorms mountain railway, so we could enjoy some of the beautiful Scottish views. It was a very windy and cloudy day. The railway is a 2km track which ascends the northern slops of Cairn Gorm which is the UKs sixth highest mountain. It is the Uk’s highest railway. The views to the top were spectacular on the way up. Unfortunately, when we got to the top we could only see cloud. However, we got off and went for a coffee in the café. You aren’t allowed on to the mountain from the station but there is a viewing area. Our best views were ascending and descending.
We stopped at Loch Morlich on the way back onto the A9. Another beautiful stop off destination. We carried on driving up the A9 until we reached Inverness where we were staying for the marathon. We also had to pick up our bibs from their expo. Luckily, we were staying a few minutes’ walk from the park and finish line. There were a few companies at the expo selling running clothes, belts etc and a few food vendors. The pasta party was in full swing when we arrived, but we hadn’t bought tickets for this. Instead we just collected our bibs and took a few photo opportunities. We headed into Inverness for a walk around the shops and had tea in a national Italian eatery. Let’s just say it was packed and this reflected in the food. If you decide to run Loch Ness make sure you book somewhere good for pre marathon tea.
At 9pm we retired to bed after a sip of sherry courtesy of the bnb. I think this must have helped me get me off to sleep as I slept really well until the 5.45am wake up call. An incredibly early start is not my favourite way to start the day. I got dressed and packed up all my items I would need for the day and headed off to the ice rink, just around the corner from the park. This is where tens of coaches were parked ready to drive all the marathon participants to the start line. I was one of the first on the coach and waited until 7.15am until we departed. We drove on the other side of the lake where we would running. I was still so tired that I kept nodding off. The journey was over an hour to the start and thankfully our bus driver got us there. The cambelt had been squealing up the hills and I had visions of us having to walk to start line.
When we got to the start we were told to get off and queue for the loos. The queue was already huge at 8.30am and it was blowing a gale and raining. There was absolutely no cover so when my time in the portaloo came I enjoyed being out of the wind and wished I could just stay there until the start of the race. However languishing around the loos did not help and I sought shelter, along with hundreds of other runners, behind one of the two baggage coaches that had stayed on course. I chatted to some other runners who were also huddled in coats and dreading running in the typically Scottish weather. When runners started to walk to the start I decided I would have to be brave and take off my coat as there was no way I could run in it. However, I wasn’t brave enough to let go of my jumper, yet. I popped my bag into the luggage truck and trundled to the start. My head already wasn’t in this race. Despite the glorious views near the start, I couldn’t shake that tired and cold feeling.
I was close to the end of the runners, so it seemed quite a while before I crossed the start line. Surprisingly, as we were in the middle of nowhere, there were quite a lot of people cheering on the side-lines, including a group playing bagpipes. Nice touch.
Loch Ness marathon is downhill for the first 6 miles, yep that’s right downhill. Those are an amazing 6 miles. They felt easy and as we passed into the villages there was more and more cover from the wind and the rain even slowed to a light drizzle. I was so warm by mile 1 that I threw my jumper into a massive pile of clothes on the side of the road. It seemed I wasn’t the only one cold at the start line.
I don’t stop at aid stations as I carry my own food and water so do not know how good/bad these were. The only thing I do know is the downhill made me go fast and the first 13 miles flew by in a flash, too fast. Although there is talk of this race being downhill/flat this is not how I experienced/remember it. There was bump after bump in the road. Up and down like a see saw. I also barely saw any of Loch Ness. I was constantly looking to my left to catch a glimpse, but the trees were still in full leaf. It was only on a couple of occasions that I saw the Loch for no more than 20-30 seconds. It was like running through a pathed forest. Trees, trees and more trees.
Due to the queues at the beginning of the race I only went to the loo once and it was on my mind that I hadn’t been. When I bumped into Martin from Wallasey ACr it really was all I could think about. I was constantly looking around for trees or walls I could dodge behind. It was all far too open though. He offered to be my pee buddy and would look out for other runners. Bless. I was too scared to be seen so I didn’t take him up on his offer. He ran on after a couple of miles. I looked out for the toilets signposted at mile 17 but could not see a thing. I think the sign must have been past the toilets, arghhhh. By mile 20 I was desperate and found an opening in some trees with enough coverage not to be spied. Relief. Just as I was running back out onto the course another runner ran into the place. Phew lucky no one caught me with my pants down. It meant I could run in relative comfort for the last 6 miles.
By mile 24 I was willing my legs to just keep moving. Just past here Adam was shouting me on to the finish. We ran along the river and over the bridge and looped back onto the other side of the river. I checked my watch and it was still another mile to go. My legs were burning by this point but I had enough in the tank to get the end. I finished in 4:33 and was very pleased given my previous mind set. A great medal and a nice free soup and roll at the end helped me warm up a little. The toilets at the event finish were a great place to get changed from my wet clothes before thinking about being stuck in a car for the 8 hours home! Eeeeeeek.
It was a really well organised marathon but not one I would do again. I think the course being so tree lined meant it drove me a bit mad with monotony. Although they say there are toilets distributed along the course I could not see most of them and the ones I could see were just one portaloo with a huge queue. Oddly it was one of the unfriendliest races I have been to. Every person we met in Scotland over the weekend had been amazing and went out of their way to help you but during the race quite the opposite. During a race I often find someone to chat with or just smile and nod and wave to other runners but like London people ran looking really unhappy. I prefer to run in smaller races as the other runners seem to be much more supportive. It really does make a difference.