The unusually hot summer followed by some work crap and then a health scare to top it all off meant the last few months have been really pretty ropey training wise and it had hit my motivation pretty hard. My weekly mileage wasn’t bad and I had managed some limited structured training (a few speed and hill sessions when time and motivation permitted) but any regular weekend long runs were missing so I had already resigned myself to getting round and trying and enjoy myself.
The 500+ mile drive up from Northamptonshire to Inverness was split over the Friday evening after work and most of Saturday with an overnight in a Premier Inn in Carlisle. The Saturday drive through the Highlands was stunning (especially the A9 from Perth to Inverness through the Cairngorms, wow!) so I had high expectations for a race that prides itself on its scenery.
After collecting my race pack on Saturday from the village I could see that parking might be a bit of an issue so set my alarm for 5am and got changed into my gear in the bathroom of our hotel room so to not wake the family. Even after a mad panic scrabbling around in the dark looking for my car keys (had laid everything else out in the bathroom, but forgot the bloody keys which I’d left in the back pocket of my jeans, now neatly folded in a wardrobe!!!) I was still one of the first cars at the parking they’d put on for marathon runners at the village (and finish) in Bught Park.
Smashed down two packs of pre buttered Soreen fruit loaf with some water and managed about 30 minutes sleep in my car before my second alarm woke me.
The race route is a point to point; starting in the mountains and finishing back in Inverness and the runners (all 4000+ of them) are bussed out to the start. The bus collection was quite a sight; it looked like they’d scrambled every bus, coach and minibus in the Scottish Highlands. Everyone piled on and buses set off in convoy on the north road past Loch Ness to Fort Augustus and up into the mountains.
Like the cool kid that I am I grabbed a seat at the back of the bus, got my hood up and managed to catch another half an hour of sleep on the hour long bus journey.
The drop off was beautiful, pine forests on either side of the road and the clouds in the valley below. A temporary race start village had been set up with a load of portaloos and urinals shipped in, a full PA system with speakers at regular intervals along the road and a very entertaining guy making timing announcements, giving shout outs, shouting at those peeing in the woods and just adding some general fun to the proceedings.
The bag drop was in the form of a few large lorries split into sections by race number.
I hit the loo, grabbed some sugary tea to get the taste of SiS Go out of my mouth and stripped out of my tracksuit bottoms and hoodie, replacing them with a very fetching bin bag outfit. Extra gear in the bag, bag in the bag drop and with twenty minutes to go it was time to head down the road to the start.
Hold on, I need to pee again, dammit.
Queue for the toilets is huge and I’m now down by the start.
Maybe I’ll leave it. Maybe it’s just nerves, besides it’s a long run, it might reabsorb or something, that’s how the body works, right?
No? Ah no, it’s not nerves, definitely need to go, right off into the wilderness to water a pine tree. Not my proudest moment but I wasn’t alone stood there amongst my fellow runners peeing into the wilderness with thousands of runners assembling along the road behind us.
The race route didn’t disappoint in its natural beauty, the whole course drops 1000ft but for the first half it felt like every drop was met with a similar climb. I settled into a comfortable rhythm, enjoyed the scenery and even managed to take some photos along the way as the course snakes through the countryside and down eventually to the Loch itself.
Around mile 7 we started to see the Loch, rain came in around mile 15 which was a nice relief. I started to take more notice of my pace and by my maths it seemed like I could be on for a sub-4 which surprised me. I only needed 10 min mile pace from here on and had been comfortably doing 8:45-9ish but needed to stay focussed and not get complacent and burn out later on like I did in the Milton Keynes Marathon last year.
Then came the hill... they’d teased about it with a roadside sign that suggested there was a bit of an incline ahead and I cracked open the first of my SiS caffeinated gels I’d reserved for the second half to give me an extra pick me up but my legs had nothing left by the time I got to it. A 300ft climb over two miles.
Once that was over pace still looked promising for a sub-4.
I hit a wall at mile 24, my legs felt ok but something in me just couldn’t give any more, walk-ran for a bit as we headed into Inverness and the crowds started to line the course.
Along the River Ness to the bridge, then over it and back on ourselves for the last stretch where I got a second wind from somewhere; a woman went past at an almost sprint pace and spurred me on to push for the finish in 3:52:58. A new marathon PB and finally my elusive sub-4!
I wandered through the finish channel like a zombie collecting my medal and freebies on the verge of tears then collapsed in a heap on the grass.
Bag collection was fun; it’s only when you’re trying to point out your bag to the volunteers when you realise what a silly idea it was to bring a 25l black Berghaus rucksack that looks identical to EVERYONE ELSE’S but after the fourth bag I’d pointed out as “definitely mine” I got my bag and after a quick trip to the gift stand to buy some key rings and a running cap I headed back to the car and a shower back in the hotel.
Usual stiffness afterwards in my legs and did seem to suffer some unfortunately positioned chafing this time around which has actually outlived any muscle pain since so will be looking at some better compression shorts for future events.
A great event, very well organised in a beautiful part of the world plus an unexpected PB so overall an amazing weekend. Will definitely be back when time and family commitments permit.