I wasn’t going to write a post about the Loch Ness Marathon but I really want to remember every detail I possibly can, so here we are.
Training had gone reasonably well. Up until mid-August I’d been really consistent, ticking off all the runs and setting PBs over all distances. Then life happened and I missed a couple of long runs, but I went into taper with an 18.5 miler and a 20 miler under my belt. I wouldn’t say I was feeling confident necessarily, but I felt ready. More ready than I did for my first marathon in London, that’s for sure.
We flew up to Inverness on the Friday night, and spent the Saturday expo-ing, lunching with friends and snack-loading, playing Scrabble and watching football with Clare and her husband.
A terrible night’s sleep ensued and we were up at 5.45am for the 10am start (!). Possibly the only downside of this race was the need to be shipped by bus to the start line, 26.2 miles away which made for a very early start. It did also make for a very impressive fleet of buses, though. I can’t imagine there were any left in a 20 mile radius.
To the start line we drove, passing stunning views, lots of hills and the realisation that a marathon is A Very Long Way.
The hoard of binbag/charity shop fleece-wearing runners then disembarked into the middle of a very beautiful nowhere. Photos were taken, wild wees were had by those brave/desperat enough, portaloos were queued for and we enjoyed listening to the most enthusiastic commentary of toilet queues you’ll ever hear. “We’re now at 30 runners using the toilets every minute!”
The line did indeed pass efficiently, and we made it to the start, at a very prompt 9.50. Bagpipers (natch) started us off and we were away.
Loch Ness Marathon is net downhill, with much of the downhill being in the first 10 miles. And it’s pretty steep. So of course the advice is, not to go off too fast. I had been telling myself throughout the buildup not to go off too fast. My coach told me not to go off too fast.
I went off too fast.
Three days later, my quads are still telling me this was an utterly terrible idea, but at the time I felt comfortable, the adrenaline was flowing and the idea of banking some time very tempting.
I say I felt comfortable; I did actually have a raging stitch for the first 6 miles, which gave me The Fear as that’s exactly what happened at London and led to me being unable to take in any fuel. Thankfully it did subside when we hit the first hill in km 9. Hoorah. Every cloud.
With the first hill came the birth of my hill strategy; run up them as far as I could, then walk if necessary. This meant that depending on the gradient/length/my mood I ran up the entirety of some hills, walk/ran others and walked the rest. I ran them to effort rather than pace and just tried not to do anything stupid.
In an effort to make sure I didn’t bonk, my cheeks were almost constantly stuffed with Clif Bloks and jelly babies. I definitely wasn’t about to let fuelling become an issue.
With 16k came the first mental milestone I wanted to tick off (10 miles) and the first time I started to really struggle. The early pace caught up with me and I felt lacking in energy. Come 18k and a heavy rain ‘shower’, my head started to get the better of me and I walked for no reason I could fathom. The next few kms consisted of being very grateful that I wore a visor to keep the rain out of my eyes and bargaining with myself to keep running. I was feeling very guilty about keeping my run partner at such a stop/start pace and urged her to go on without me. Bless her, she stuck it out with me until 16 miles, but I still feel awful about holding her back. Eventually I found my comfy rhythm and managed to keep running reasonably consistently – hills aside. My pace had slowed but I’d banked such a lot of time in the beginning that my overall pace wasn’t too far off my target.
I played alphabet games to keep myself distracted from the burning in my legs and found that counting backwards from 500 worked really well to keep me on track; it meant I could tell myself to keep running until I hit 0 and also flagged up if I was lacking fuel, as I would struggle to count backwards properly.
I also made sure to stick to one of my pre-race goals and LOOK UP. The scenery was incredible, especially as you run alongside the loch and I made sure to look out at the views and take it all in.
A fair few undulations later and we reached mile 19 and The Hill. I had prepared myself to walk the whole thing, so struck up a power walk and some chats with a few runners that I had been leap-frogging. There’s nothing like that camaraderie when you’re all suffering together, and I leapfrogged the rest of the way with a couple of them, very glad to see them finish.
Weirdly, rather than struggling mentally at this point, with 12k to go I was really happy that the end was in sight. I’m not sure if I’m just saying this with hindsight but the marathon distance definitely seemed more manageable second time round. I also started doing some marathon maths and realised that I possibly hadn’t buggered my goal times completely, and could still make a ‘reasonable’ time.
By the time I got to 8k to go, I realised that sub 4.40 was on and made this my mission.
By now we had left the Loch and were entering into Inverness, where it became much more of a road race and the atmosphere intensified. There had been pockets of support in the villages we had passed to this point, but it became more consistent now. I got very emotional at a cheer point around this time, and had to tell myself to save it until the end and not to lose focus.
With 5k to go I realised I had 45 mins to make sub-4.40 and whilst I wonder now if I could have pushed on to a 4.30, but at the time I really didn’t think I had it in my legs. I started an 800m walk/200m run strategy which saw me doing 7 min kms to the finish, so well within my target. With a couple of km left to go, you pass the finish line on the opposite side of the river, before looping back to the end. Some people found this tough, but I really liked it. The cheering and the atmosphere at the finish area sounded INCREDIBLE. I couldn’t wait to get there. When you turn the corner onto the finishing straight the finish line takes forever to come into view, but when it does it’s only a couple of hundred metres to go. I picked my feet up, got overtaken by a flying sprint finisher and crossed the line in 4.34.34.
And then cried.
I really hope I’ve done the race justice with my report. It is a fantastic marathon and one I’d recommend to anyone. If you can get over the early start it’s well organised, beautiful, friendly and well worth doing.
I’d set myself three goals before the race:
- Sub 4.20
- Sub 4.30
- PB – sub-5.02
So I was close to my silver goal and well within bronze. It’s been a bit of a battle not to be too disappointed with not getting close to 4.20 but with a solid chunk off my PB I’ve ended up happy.
There were no ‘never agains’ this time around, but marathons certainly aren’t something I can run frequently. Spring 2020 will be my next one (London Marathon ballot success aside), with 2019 focused on building more strength and becoming a triathlete(!), with the aim of a sub-4.30 next time around.
But for now, thank you Loch Ness. You have a special piece of my heart now.