Back in April at the London Marathon Expo Nessie approached us and asked if we would be interested in the Loch Ness marathon, now I constantly had quoted when I did London marathon in 2011 the it was “my one and only marathon in my lifetime !” So politely took a leaflet from the 7 foot Nessie and moved on.
Now I really can’t remember how or why I entered but I must have sometime in early May, then before I knew it flights were booked, three of us were signed up and running and a B&B located near the finish and pickup point for the buses to the start.
Registration on Saturday was a breeze and the Baxters pre race pasta party was yummy and filling. A 4 meter high inflatable Nessie was hanging over the finish straight and I couldn’t wait to see it the next day as we crossed the finish line. Vicky and I headed off to find the meeting point for the morning where 25 double decker buses would take us to the start. We then headed to the B&B to wait for Karen.
The B&B was hilarious and had us in stitches, think a drunken Basil Faulty for landlord. We got a little concerned as when after 5 minutes of ringing the bell he answered with more than a whiff of whisky on his breath, we had obviously just woken him, then he said he didn’t have any rooms for 3 ! We did get checked into our room for 3 but only had 2 cups and 2 towels but 3 beds. He insisted we paid on arrival and repeated 5 times we were not to leave with the key. We just hoped he would be up and ready for 6:45 with the promised porridge for us. Settling into the room I then had to tune the TV as it was new and not set up.
Anyway he was there for breakfast and whilst he wasn’t a multi tasker we got porridge, juice, tea & toast all bit by bit after multiple trips to the kitchen. He seemed to be on his own so he didn’t do too badly in the end, at least he was sober.
Walking to the ice rink in early morning mist we just followed the crowd in trainers & hoodies and climbed aboard a double decker, top deck of course, it was a really sociable way to start the day as only runners were on the bus. Even at the early hour of 8am there was plenty of chatter and support. The bus windows steamed up and there was a distinct smell of Deep Heat wafting through the bus. The convoy of buses headed out of Inverness then we were on the actual route we would be running. The buses were often wider than the road. The convoy slowly snaked through the trees, brushing the branches and missing stone walls by millimetres. There were a few surprised locals stood in their PJ’s steaming mugs of tea in hand looking out at this convoy of what must have been half of the towns buses rolling past their small cottages, steadings and smallholdings. Through the condensation on the windows we got glimpses of sheep, highland cattle, forests but no Loch for along time. The roller coaster ride should have alerted us to the fact that we would be on a hilly course.
Then after an hour and a half the convoy stopped, we disembarked into a beautiful but remote spot. All good runners who had been hydrating ran to water the heather – men & women and bus drivers. There were Port-a-loos for number twos !
Heading to the start which we had driven through there was a stream of water from recent rainfall following us down the track so you couldn’t avoid getting wet feet or splashed, then bags were handed up into baggage trucks, last minute preparations and adjustments made to shoe laces, compression kit, hats, ipods etc. Good luck and hugs all around and we had the first glimpse of Loch Ness in the background. Tea & coffee was available but the sun was up, the sky blue and we were all glowing with excitement of what was a head of us.
Vic, Karen and I took our position in the 4:30+ which seemed to only be two thirds of the way back even though it was the last posted finish time zone. A Piper band started up to signal the start and played as we passed under the inflatable start arch, then the familiar beep-beep confirmed we were active on course.
The first few miles were down hill, but that in itself can create problems – you go off too fast, risk tripping as gravity takes over, extra pounding on the legs when not warmed up and a giddiness of excitement when you see you are doing less than 9 minute miling when in fact you should be 10 minute plus.
The weather was perfect, about 11c, blue skies what should have been a tail wind but the trees along the loch shore provided too much shelter for us to benefit. The sun was to our right but again we were shaded by trees. The road had dried out and made of a much coarser chunky chip surface than the smooth tarmac roads of home.
Mile 5 gave us the first real tester of a hill and there were few heroics along this with almost all walking it. The hills did give you a chance to chat to your fellow runners find out haw far you’d come for the race, how many marathons completed, what to expect from this one, also when would we see the loch again? All agreed that the scenery was stunning and you almost forgave the hills.
Don’t trust gradient profiles as what looked a long flat section in the middle was more like the top of a Walls Vienetta ice cream desert– so much so you could count the ripples along the road ahead.
The hills and undulations were taking their toll on us as the miles clicked by, we all really hadn’t had the best preparation and were down on training miles, plus we all carried an injury or niggle into the race. I pulled/twisted my ankle on a run the previous Sunday, Vic was suffering from a bad back from the mattress in the rented flat and Karen had tight hamstrings.
I’d lost Vic & Karen at about mile 2 as they dived into the pub for a toilet stop. I kept plodding on as my ankle was a constant reminder and seemed be over sensitive to the road camber and undulation under foot. I really didn’t want to drug myself up so I lost all feedback of pain levels. So I took the centre line along the road and walked the hills as necessary. Vic caught up with me at about mile 7 and decided she liked my pace so stuck with me. We saw each other through as when Vic dipped into her ‘dark phase’ I kept her going and vice versa when my ankle ached she walked with me. Didn’t see Nessie but were chasing a bottle of beer in our minds around mile 15 !
We seemed to adopt an Ironman shuffle for the last 10 miles and no need to apologise to each other when we needed a walk break.
The spectators were great supporting us along route in even the remotest of places. Good luck messages on driveway mirrors, hanging off tractors, on farm gates, telephone boxes and homemade banners along the roadside.
We saw Karen’s husband Nick and kids at mile 17 which was a real boost though I was wanting a water a few hundred meters beyond them so pushed on after a few minutes chatting. Mike & Sally with Bertie the dog greeted us just after 23 miles and we got extra high-5’s and cheers from the Macmillan team cheer points as we were running in their vests.
Socialising with the spectators added 25 minutes onto our marathon running time but 25 valuable minutes of rest recovery & support that was greatly appreciated. Next time can you all take a flash of tea & a few extra biscuits !
The feeding/aid stations came approx every 3 miles and the mixture of water, gels/Blok and energy drink was spot on. Only one glitch when one station early on ran out of Bloks, my preferred energy source, so I had to scavenge a few discarded or dropped packets off the road ! As the roads were closed to traffic and narrow, in many parts 3 runners abreast was the max width of the road so only bikes could get up and down. Many thanks to the local Harley Davidsons riders who transported supplies up and down the route and lifted us with Barry Manilow Copacabana blasting from his Harley speakers ! Surreal moment.
The scenery is stunning and we enjoyed the views across Loch Ness and river Ness. Local runners pointed out castles and named places for us as well as let us know what was ahead on the twisting winding rural road.
The sun stayed out and the temperature was comfortable. Finally we left the rural road as we entered the city for the last 3 miles.
Inflatable Nessie along the finish line was a sight for battered legs ! But we’d done it, Vic & I got back before dark taking a long slow hilly 5 hours 19 minutes arms aloft together as we crossed the line. Karen rocked up 20 minutes later.
In hindsight we didn’t really deserve to complete the marathon with our reduced ad-hoc training and injuries, we were all lucky and bloody minded. In future we all need to give the hills much more respect and training.
But I am chuffed to bits to have completed two marathons and looking forward to training and revisiting London marathon next April, I found out on Thursday before I travelled to Scotland I am in on the ballot.
I will be back again to tackle Nessie in the future, it was a great point to point course, fantastic organisation from pasta party, the buses, aid stations, marshals and goody bag and post race meal. The medals and technical t-shirts are beauties and I was proud to wear both to the pub that night and on the plane home !
Yes we all ache but that’s a good reminder of our achievement and the need to respect the marathon distance and course. Pain is temporary – pride forever. The worst of the aches are over, the memories still fresh.