Loch Ness Marathon report
So the Loch Ness Marathon is done. Having had time to reflect, my thoughts on the race and the plan for the future are below. Let me start though with thanks to all the organisers and spectators. The whole set up was excellent. The event village, bus pick up and finish were all in Bught Park right by the river in Inverness which was an excellent venue. The course starts on a moor between Fort Augustus and Foyers up above the Loch. It is a true wilderness start and there is literally now way to get there other than by the event buses. The first 17 miles are down to and alongside the Loch shore and as a result long stretches of the road are inaccessible. In these places only the runners and the mobile support crews were around but at literally every point where spectators could access the route, farm tracks, lay-bys, mountain bike paths etc, there were at least a few spectators. Once into the edge of Inverness the numbers and the noise just built and built.
The start area is on a single track road. Rather than pen the starters, the approach was to signpost target finish times and allow everyone to pick their spot and line up for a rolling start. Just before the off, the Lochaber school pipe band marched down through the assembled field. There is nothing more evocative than the skirl of the pipes on an open moor so an inspiring start. I set off from halfway between the 3.30 and 4.00 hour points and settled into an easy feeling rhythm pretty quickly. Having said this, I rarely felt entirely right. I was easy and not struggling but not quite in the light, floating sense that means things are going really well.
There is virtually no point on the route that is entirely flat. Mostly, the road rolls up and down but there are three serious hills. The first two are in quick succession just before five miles and then up into Foyers just after six miles. Both of these, I managed fine, even eating an oatcake at the top of the second. I remember at this stage being a little nervous about my legs but managing to tell myself that things were going smoothly and still not feeling as if I was pushing the pace at any stage.
This pretty much carried on until the halfway point. I looked at my watch for the first time and it showed 1 hour 45 minutes so dead on my most ambitious pace of 3 hours 30 minutes. For the next couple of miles, I persuaded myself that the slightly sluggish feeling in my legs was due to going at a good pace even though it felt easy. However, after fifteen miles, I realised that my legs were getting seriously tired. At this point, I knew there was another substantial hill coming up after Dores and I started to think that I could slow down a bit, walk up that hill and run smoothly in from there. I knew I would miss three and a half hours but thought I could get quite close.
Another two and half miles along the road when I was just passing through Dores, this was out of the window! I stopped to walk for the first time while eating an energy bar and when I started again, I knew I was seriously struggling. I jogged on for about half a mile and then started walking again up the hill. At the top I managed to start moving again but my hips, gluteus and the top half of my legs were just screaming at me. I staggered on to the nineteen mile point and checked the watch again, 2 hours 55 minutes so surely I would be well under four hours.
By mile 20 the watched showed well over 3 hours 9 minutes and the comfortable four hours had gone the way of my other pre race plans. In running terms, this was probably the lowest point although by no means the worst feeling. Looking back, the objective to get under four hours drove me on but at the time it was more just sheer anger at being in a position where missing four was even possible, and so quickly after feeling basically fine. As it turned out, this was my slowest mile but as I passed the marker, I was far from confident of this outcome.
The remaining few miles were a constant battle. I just kept trying to run as much of the mile as I could then walk to the next milepost and start again. After time for reflection, it does not seem that bad but trying to honestly describe how I felt, the best word I can find is tearful. I don’t think I actually cried but I felt like it for most of that last three miles. The crowd was growing and the PA at the finish was audible for most of this stretch and despite appreciating the support, I remember the noise actually seems to be painful as I struggled along. At one point there was a bunch of Dutch people in Orange shirts banging, shouting and hooting and it felt as if my brain was being bounced out of my head. Not good!
Eventually I crossed the river, running at this stage and had only 1 kilometre to go. I dragged myself along the river bank still feeling beaten. With about 500 to go, I saw Sue and Lorna and heard them cheer me on. Lorna somehow wriggled to the front and ran along the footpath beside me for about 200 metres. I usually go back and run alongside her at the end of parkrun so this was a nice repayment and cleanly helped a bit. Another 100 yards along and I saw my friend Carole Spy jumping up and down. When I looked up, I realised I was going to make it as the clock was just at 3.56.
Unlike, the hard finish to the half marathon earlier in the year, I still felt terrible after the end. The kind lady who hung the medal around my neck nearly dragged me down and the goodie bag and tee shirt felt like lead weights. Eventually, I came out of the finishing funnel and Carole was there to meet me. A few seconds later Lorna turned up and have me a hug and Carole introduced me to her friend who was 3rd in the over 60 10km. I was still dog tired so apologies to them all if I didn’t seem that happy to be greater – it did really make a difference. Lorna had a great run in the 5km but was still full of beans so ran off to fetch my bag while I leaned on a wheelie bin. I was afraid to sit down. Then Sue appeared and I was able to concentrate on recovery. It was another three hours and a hot bath before I really started to feel human again.
My immediate thoughts were that it was brutal, that I was really pleased to have finished it and that there were going to be some big lessons if the Comrades plan was still on. I can honestly say that at no point did I think, Comrades is definitely a non starter but I did realise somewhere in the mist of pain and distress that some hard thinking would be needed. I will blog more about the lessons and my thoughts next week. Right now, more endurance, stronger core and quads and better nutrition look top of the list.
Final thing, it was a great event but my only quibble with the organisers is around the 5km. I know it is billed as a fun run but Lorna was really disappointed not have a time recorded. Pop a chip on the numbers next year please.