“Never again!” exclaimed my friend as she triumphantly crossed the finish line of the Manchester Marathon back in April. The very next morning, she sent me a text: “Interested in joining the Loch Ness Marathon?”
My reply? “If the medal is the Loch Ness monster, count me in!”
And so, last weekend, we embarked on an epic road trip to the breathtaking Scottish Highlands for the renowned Baxters Loch Ness Marathon.
Race Numbers for this event weren’t mailed out, which meant a quick visit to the expo the day before the race to collect them. Fortunately, your number had been emailed, making it a straightforward enough to queue up and grab your race packet.
The expo, though small, was incredibly convenient for any last-minute essentials. I took the opportunity to stock up on a variety of Torq gels.
Unlike any other race I’ve tackled, this marathon wasn’t a loop. Instead, we were bussed out to the starting point, and our journey would take us back to the finish line. The marathon route followed a point-to-point course, starting at Loch Ness, winding through the Highland scenery, and concluding in Inverness.
With an early 6:45 am arrival in Inverness for the bus to the starting line, we realised that nearly every coach in the Northern Highlands must have been booked for this event. Approximately 4,000 runners were transported in a convoy along the Loch to the starting point, nestled between Fort Augustus and Foyers. As our coach navigated those picturesque hills, the thought of running all the way back began to sink in.
Everyone I’d spoken to prior to the race had raved about it, and upon stepping off the bus and gazing at the serene surroundings, it was eclear to see why. The mist gently lifted, creating one of the most tranquil marathon starting lines I’d ever witnessed.
This race was as close to a trail run as a road marathon could get, making me wonder if I should have brought my trail shoes. The start even offered complimentary cups of tea, followed by a queue for the toilets and two trucks for baggage. Despite the queues, everything ran like clockwork.
The race itself:
The sound of bagpipes serenaded us at the 10 am start. With a downhill beginning, the route descended several hundred meters over the first few miles. Spectators were sparse along the course, leaving the rhythmic sound of trainers on the pavement as the only encouragement.
Although earphones were prohibited, it was disheartening to see some runners disregarding this rule. The roads were closed, but photographers and motorbikes patrolled the route. Occasionally, shouts of ‘CAR!’ broke the silence, prompting me to use my voice to remind fellow runners to stay left.
Training prepares you for the race, nothing prepares you for the scenery
The initial five miles were pretty cosy, but as the race progressed, runners naturally spread out. I had hoped for 26 miles of Loch Ness monster spotting, but the tree-lined route limited our views of the loch. Fortunately, I wasn’t racing for time, so I seized the chance to pause and capture some photos of the stunning surroundings when they did appear.
Around mile 11, the heavens opened up, drenching me as if I’d taken a plunge into the Loch. I briefly walked as visibility became a challenge. Two more downpours followed as I trudged along with soaked, soggy feet. Water and electrolyte stations appeared every few miles, generously supplying gels and shot blocks.
Let’s talk about the hills
The first half of the race presented manageable, short, and sharp inclines. However, around mile 17/18, a seemingly endless three-mile slog followed by a steeper hill tested our mental limits. I struck up conversations with fellow runners, providing mutual support by breaking down the daunting hills into manageable segments. It was during this stretch that I truly appreciated the camaraderie of the running community.
With just one mile left, the distant cheers of the finish line teased us. Running back toward the finish felt like a cruel trick. At this point, the crowds had gathered, and as I thanked a lady handing out jelly babies, I felt a surge of emotion. While I had expected this marathon to be all about the views, it was the people who made it an incredible race.
I crossed the finish line in 4 hours, 44 minutes, and 26 seconds—not my personal best, but far from my worst. I felt grateful just to have completed it, still not entirely dry from the last downpour.
Even if you run slower than expected, you succeed in any marathon when you finish.
Post race relections
After finishing, I received my medal and a goody bag. The event village was bustling with activity, so I grabbed a coffee and waited for my friends to cross the finish line. Although there was a post-race meal of chilli and rice available, the queue was lengthy, and I rarely have an appetite immediately after a run.
In the weeks leading up to the event, the beginner’s training plan I followed left me feeling underprepared. Nevertheless, it got me through the race without aggravating any previous injuries. Respect the distance; attempting a marathon without adequate training is a recipe for trouble, especially on a course like this.
Would I do it again?
If it didn’t entail an eight-hour drive and an overnight stay in Edinburgh, I would unquestionably participate again. It’s easy to see why this marathon is listed as one of the UK’s most scenic. It offers a stunning course, impeccable organization, and it’s one I wholeheartedly recommend. I extend my heartfelt thanks to all the volunteers who made this race possible.
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)