RACE REPORT: Loch Ness Marathon

So I completed my first marathon! How did it go I hear you say? Well read on…

It was an odd weekend – as usual for Inverness it was very wet, I got soaked going to the event village to register on the Saturday and walking to the hotel which was further out from the centre of Inverness than I’d realised. I got quite nervous settling down the night before the race. Basically I was thinking “26 POINT TWO?” and realising it was a wee bit massive. I was aiming to run 3:45:00, but realised a sub 4hr marathon at the first attempt would be quite an achievement.

I had a very early start as I was planning on walking to the event village – up at six for a ten o’clock race start. Some other runners gave me a lift to the event village before we were bussed to the start – which took a long time, not going on the race route so around 30 miles, with some runners stopping for a wee – I was a little better organised! The race start isn’t a specific place, just a stretch of non-descript road at the south end of Loch Ness heading towards Fort Augustus. By now it was very misty, and then started to rain. My feet were already quite wet from dew/wet grass slipping through breathable running shoes. All in all, not ideal.

The rain continued to get heavier by the start, where I lined up very close to the front. It was vaguely divided into timed areas. I stood in the 2:30:00 area, purely as there was space aplenty to warm up in. I started reasonably quickly (even though I was continually telling myself – run relaxed, run steady, focus on your own race, fight yourself not the weather), but by 3 miles I annoyingly had to take my headphones out as the rain running into my ears was causing them to slip out. The first section was up and down, though with a little more down. At around 7 miles I chatted to someone and gave them my Anthony Nolan schpiel – which I suppose I wouldn’t have been able to do with headphones intacta! By 10 miles it was dry enough to get music back on, even though it was misty. At 10 miles my feet started hurting a bit, and my stomach felt a bit odd- short from adding to the mantra to occasionally check how the body felt though, there was little I could do. The mist kind of spoiled the views of Loch Ness when we got to the Loch-side flat section at around 13 miles. At around this point (without a fancy clever running watch) I think I remember my half way time was 1:47 – though I’m not sure. I was pretty happy with this – I knew the hills at 18 would be tough, so thought I was well on track to run 3:45.

The plan was to get to 18, after taking running gels at 6,12, and 18, and then to consider it as a standard 7ish mile run I do in training, but that I’m just really tired from running the day before. This worked to a point. The sun had come out a bit but with plenty of shade, though we were away from the loch and running through Dorres towards Inverness so no great views. The hills were tougher than I’d expected, with false crests that really challenged you mentally. Many people started walking, and at about 21 miles I really hit the wall. I started wincing with various pains, up the hills my left hamstring just above my knee started wobbling strangely. The hills were tough, but I kept on going. I slowed down massively but mental calculations became easier – just under 10 minute miles would finish me in under 4hrs. Although this was originally a security blanket, it soon became a quite realistic expectation.

Just before finish, and around 10-13 miles.

Coming into Inverness outskirts at 24 miles was great – I saw some friends who’d run the 10K earlier in the day and powered on. At one point I screamed out loud to get all the frustration out in one go and carry on. Into the final mile the route runs right next to the River Ness with the finish line and event village on the far side – close enough to see. Frustratingly you pass a footbridge heading straight there, yet have to run away towards the main road bridge. By now it was almost gloriously sunny. I managed to keep on going- mainly as I knew it was going to be incredibly painful when I stopped. When I saw the finish gate with the time I tried to push a little harder to cross within the minute still displayed, stopped the watch and threw hands up in the air – finally finishing in 3:54:44, which I was chuffed with.

When I stopped I could barely stand. Finishing halves I’ve felt out of breath, a little sick, a little bit headfuzzy. When I got my medal, bag etc. and got to the changing area I was desperate for a chair. It was then I found out the state of my feet, which due to the mild trenchfoot were not very healthy. I had to nip across to the first aid tent to get several blood blisters popped – and saw many people in worse condition than myself. The event provided some post-race soup, as well as some stovies and oatcakes (all courtesy of title sponsors Baxters, as we were continually reminded!). After hobbling into Inverness and further gorging myself on Pizza Express as it’s bang next to the station, I headed back to St Andrews- a trip made nicer by being able to chat to several other marathon runners on the way, and being able to take off my shoes!

The next day I wasn’t too stiff – actually looser than I felt after previous halves, and the crippling knee pain on Sunday evening going up and down stairs had receded. Feet are absolutely ravaged, so I’m still hobbling a bit. Already invested in some ‘1000 mile blister free’ socks and going to get new trainers on Tuesday in Edinburgh – the run and my feet have told me that they are positively at the end of their lifespan! New running headphones with ear loops as well – yet another investment.

What have I learned? Hills are a lot more challenging over a marathon distance. I perhaps need to be better at pacing myself in the early stages. Footcare is essential – if socks get wet before the start of a race, switch to a spare pair. Also, allowing for the challenging nature of the course compared to the flatness of London, I think I’m well on track to change 3:54 into 3:30. I’m now pretty keen to fit another marathon in inbetween now and London – perhaps Malta?

As always, don’t forget to sponsor me here.

Cheers for reading,

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