‘Never again!!’ my friend exclaimed as she crossed the finish line of the Manchester Marathon back in April
The next morning she texts me: ‘Do you fancy Loch Ness Marathon?’
‘If the medal is a monster count me in’ was my reply…
…and so last weekend we found ourselves making quite the road trip to the Scottish highlands for the Baxters Loch Ness marathon.
Race Numbers were not posted for this event so it meant a trip to the expo the day before the race to collect them. Your number had been emailed so it was simply a case of getting in the right queue and collecting your envelope.
The expo was small, however, very handy for anything you may have forgotten. I picked up a few different flavoured torq gels to try – Cherry Bakewell, in case you are wondering.
This is the first race I have done that hasn’t been a loop, you are bussed out to the start and you have to run back. The marathon follows a point-to-point route from Loch Ness, through the stunning Highland scenery before finishing in Inverness. Pretty straightforward.
Before the race
It was an early start as we arrived at Inverness 6.45am for the bus to the start line.
Almost every coach in the Northern Highlands must have been booked for this event.
Coaches transported approximately 4,000 runners in convoy along the Loch, to the start between Fort Augustus and Foyers. It was a picturesque route and as our coach struggled up those hills the concept of running all that way back again started to sink in.
Almost everyone I’d discussed the race with beforehand had told me it was amazing and as we stepped off the bus and looked at the idyllic surroundings you could tell why. With the mist just lifting, it was one of the most serene marathon start lines I have ever experienced.
This is as close to a trail race as you could get for a road marathon. The remote surroundings made you question whether you should have brought your trail shoes. There were complimentary cups of tea on offer at the start with followed by a lengthy toilet queue and two trucks for baggage. There may have been queues but it all ran like clockwork.
During the race
The sound of bagpipes played us over the start line at 10 am prompt. It’s a downhill start, with the route descending several hundred metres over the first two or three miles. There are with hardly any spectators on this course, so you only had the clapping sound of trainers hitting the tarmac to cheer you on.
Earphones were banned, yet it was sad that a lot of people had ignored this rule. The roads are closed but photographers and motorbikes are backwards and forwards patroling the route. The occasional echoey shout of ‘CCAAARRRRRRR’ interrupted the silence and the run leader in me (and the fact I have a mouth like a foghorn) kicked in; ‘runners keep left’.
Training prepares you for the race, nothing prepares you for the scenery
As with any race, the first 5 miles were pretty cosy, then people started to spread out. I had been hoping for 26 miles of Nessie spotting, but there were only brief glimpses of the water as the pretty tree-lined route covered a lot of the lochside views. Luckily I wasn’t running for a particular time, so when the opportunity arose I stopped to take a few pictures of the stunning surroundings.
The heavens opened as I reached mile 11. I looked like I’d been thrownin the Loch. It came down fast and I walked briefly as I couldn’t see where I was going. A further 2 downpours followed as my wet, soggy feet slowly ticked off the miles. Water and electrolyte stations were every few miles and gels and shot blocks were handed out in abundance.
Let’s talk about the hills
In the first half, they were manageable as they were short and sharp. Later in the race, around mile 17/18 onwards there is (what certainly felt like) a three-mile-long slog and a steeper hill that follows, which at that stage of the race, was mentally challenging.
I got chatting to other runners around me. We were trying to keep each other’s spirits up, picking points to run to, having a walking break, then running a bit more. We got each other through the toughest part of the race by breaking those hills down. This was when I realised how amazing the running community really is.
A mile from the finish and you can hear the finish line, it tricks you a little as you have to run back on yourself to the finish. I did wonder if swimming across the River Ness would’ve been quicker. There were plenty of spectators around this point and as I thanked a lady giving out jelly babies I could’ve cried. I thought this marathon would be all about the views, but it was actually the people that made it a really great race.
I crossed the line in 4.44.26. Not my best time, not my worst, but I was just grateful to have completed it, having not quite dried off from the last downpour.
Even if you run slower than expected, you succeed in any marathon when you finish.
On finishing you were handed your medal and goody bag. There was plenty going on in the event village so I got a coffee and waited for my friends to finish. There was also a post-race meal of chilli and rice, but the queue was quite long, and I never really feel like eating straight after a run.
In the weeks leading up to the event, the beginners training plan I had followed left me feeling underprepared. It did, however, get me around it in one piece without aggravating my previous injury. Respect the distance, anyone who tries to take on a marathon without training is only asking for problems. Especially on a course like this.
Would I do it again?
If it didn’t require an 8-hour drive and an overnight stay in Edinburgh then yes I would. I can see why it was listed as one of the UK’s most scenic marathons. It’s a stunning course, very well organised and is one I’d recommend. As always, a huge thank you to all of the volunteers.
Entry Cost: £56.00
Water stations: Around every 2-3 miles (non-sports top). Electrolyte stations (plastic cups)
Photos: Yes – marathon photos
Baggage Facilities: Yes, although didn’t use.
Post-Race Goodies: T-shirt / medal / water / soup / pen / clif bar / post race meal
Highlights: Stunning scenery, friendly atmosphere
Low points: The rain (not the fault of the race, obviously)
I have been nominated for the best personal blog at the 2019 Running Awards. If you could take a few moments and vote for me I would be eternally grateful 😍