Ran the Loch Ness Marathon 2021

Back in December 2019 I signed up for the Loch Ness Marathon! it seems a long time ago now, but it was meant to be a surprise for my nephew-in-law, Dominic, whose words “I’d like to do that one” inspired me to do so. Anyways here we were at Loch Ness in October 2021 and allegedly all ready for the run – well I’d roughly followed my own trademark 3 month marathon training plan to do it anyway. Must admit I was not filled with confidence about this one, but we drove up to Loch Ness from London via a fine airBNB in Penrith. We arrived around 7:30pm Friday night in rain and pitch dark via a country back-road at the Forester’s Lodge B&B at Inverfarigaig, which is half-way down on the East side of Loch Ness…

We were warmly greeted by our excellent hosts Jane and Jo, who very kindly cooked us the best dinner have had in a long while – chicken, haggis and vegetables – can see why this is apparently the Queen’s fave dish!

Surveying the area

The Map

The day before the marathon we drove along the route on a tour to Foyle’s Falls, Fort Augustus and the other side of the Loch – including an obligatory selfie with the Loch Ness Monster(Nessie) at the Loch Ness Clansman Hotel πŸ˜€ The marathon route runs along the B852 road – starting on a hill just North East of Fort Augustus and running all the way up to Inverness town centre, crossing the Ness Bridge and finishing in Bught Park. Obviously I noticed and Bronwyn had great fun pointing out that this B852 was indeed rather hilly! I’d read a blog saying this was the case, but this road looked ridiculous in parts, adding to my concern somewhat. Our car journey ended at Bught Park where the marathon expo was and where I picked up my running number and safety pins. I tried on some new Β£140 Hoka running shoes, which were very nice and then some Β£120 Brooks‘ which were even nicer.

The Build Up

Building up to this day I really was possibly the least confident of a race I’ve ever known. As the marathon-eve day proceeded I even found myself considering bailing out, as the thought of running in the freezing rain for 5hours didn’t appeal at all. I put this down to 3 factors :

a) I’d done the 20 mile practice run way back at the beginning of August, almost 2 months ago and this now seemed like some impossible feat I’d accomplished and now was at a loss to know how on earth I had covered such a distance.
b) I was hugely torn between wearing TSLA zero drop trainers and Mizuno regular shoes. I loved running in the TSLA’s, but they really suit soft ground and a fast pace, I found a 10mile road run in them left me having no feeling in the bottom of my feet(as they were bashed so much). The Mizuno’s were good too, but I’d had the odd knee trouble with them. The night before I decided to go with the Mizuno’s, as at least I may be able to walk out the race with them.
c) everyone at the Marathon EXPO looked to be good runners, like way fitter than me! there had also been some email note saying “People that finish in over 5 hours please tell us” – participation-wise this was the smallest marathon I’d run and it crossed my mind maybe it was only for speedsters.

The Safe Haven

Anyways, after registering, Bronwyn and I had a soft drink at the Kitchen Brasserie bar by the River Ness. I desperately wanted a beer, but knew that would not be a sensible option. Some kind of pasta meal was required, so around 7pm we headed over to Zizzi’s and then Bella Italia to find that surprisingly both were booked out the entire night long, funny that considering 6000 runners were in town. Despite Bronwyn’s objections I demanded we go to my one guaranteed safe haven – Wetherspoons! we walked straight into The Kings Highway with a friendly nod from the doormen and despite the place being packed with youths, we got a small table by the door. I immediately felt a calm sensation of deja vu, recognising the layout, bizarrely I must’ve visited when was last here in 2014 whilst waiting for a train. Anyways, I ordered the finest pasta dish on the Wetherspoons menu + chicken (this now seems to be the only pasta dish on the menu). I then ducked out for a few minutes to the Co-op opposite to purchase a much needed packet of ham for my trademark pre-race JR Marathon Ham Sandwiches. Returning, the pasta was hot & ready and I gulped it down, it was very satisfying, tasty and definitely what was needed. Thanks and compliments to the Wetherspoons chef!

We then drove back the 30mins to the B&B and atempted to have an early night around 11pm. I prepared all my racing gear and attempted to attach my running number to my trademark green running shirt – attaching the running number is always the most difficult thing involved in any running race, but it only took about 2 revisions to get right.

The Day of the Race

The Start – a Freezing Hill Top

Sleeping reasonably well until waking up wide awake about 5am, I rested as best possible until 6:45am and had a porridge and toast breakfast. One of the bonuses of staying in this area was not having to get the 7am bus from Inverness! a couple staying at the B&B were both running, so had no way of getting back to the B&B so had no option but to drive to Inverness at 6:30am and catch that bus to the start! Lucky me had Bronwyn driving – so I caught the 7:55am bus from Inverfarigaig junction (a 3min walk from the B&B) to the start, which is a hill by the side of Loch Knockie. I was not in great condition due to being quite tried from the early morning nor in a state to converse and sat in silence all the way(we had to wear a mask so that helped, despite everyone else was chatting). I was a bit relieved to see people that looked less fit than me get on the bus have to say. So we get out and it was raining and it was cold and we were on a wind-swept hill and there was over an hour to wait until the start! I put on my rain jacket, hat, snood and gloves and stood in-between one of the buses used as a bag-drop and a parked van. Next to me were 3 very tough, serious, athletic looking blokes who I assumed wouldn’t want to speak to me and I too was more than happy not speaking to anyone and just concentrating on keeping warm and psyching myself up for the run. There was also the constant distraction of folks running into the surrounding trees to relieve themselves rather than wait for the toilet queue. Standing there shivering for 45mins was probably the least pleasant bit of this marathon πŸ˜€

I also heard some guy say that due to lockdown he’d run a bunch of “virtual races” this year and that you could’ve signed up for the London Virtual Marathon today – so in theory you could do 2 marathons in one day! if only had thought of that!

Anyways, there were loud and repeated shouts from stewards that it was 9:45am and the bag drop lorries would be departing ASAP, so I slowly made my way to the queue of runners. Promptly just before 10am the rain stopped and a warming sun came out! HOORAY! I put my rain jacket in my backpack(this is the first marathon I’ve run wearing a backpack). Then lots of encouraging words were spoken by a guy with a loud-speaker and minutes later the speakers started to boom with “…and I would Walk 500 Miles” on a loop (what more appropriate place to play this iconic Proclaimers song than at the start of a marathon by Loch Ness)…AND WE WERE OFF!

The Course

Running by the forest

The course runs along and overlooks the south side of the loch(on your left), it is bordered on the other side by forest and trees, providing a nice covering and good shelter against the wind and rain.

We headed down the hill, where I heard someone say the first 8miles were downhill – this was not true, it’s essentially downhill, but up and down quite a bit, but not too bad going if you like hills. My aim at the start was to get to the Forester’s Lodge at least and the fun atmosphere seemed to propel me along. I remember going up the first big hill, about 1.5miles down the road but it was covered with trees and heather and was most picturesque. We passed the Whitebridge Hotel – where the bus had picked up a load of runners and were boosted on by some encouraging cheering.

Next thing I remember, was seeing the sign-post for Foyers Falls and then passing the falls themselves – this was the first landmark recognised from the drive we did the day before and quite encouraging! This meant I couldn’t be too far from the Forester’s Lodge – saying that, it took what seemed like an age to get there – amazing how a few minutes in a car can take so long to run. I discovered it was somewhat fake news on the race map that Inverfarigaig was 8 miles from the start, as it was over 9miles, still, I made it to the very welcome sight of Bronwyn cheering us runners on and her giving me a hand full of jelly babies! I stopped briefly to give her my rain jacket from my backpack and kept going.

The Crowd Support Was Good

Then it started raining! As mentioned though luckily you are quite protected due to the thick forest, also as a distance runner you get used to running in the light rain, so I just kept going. There was another long, hard climb and an hour of so later I reached Dores, the next major point on the route and what seemed like the most populated area before reaching Inverness. Once again the welcome sight of Bronwyn was there, cheering us on!

The Monster

About 18miles in, another incline began, only this time a sign asked “Can you Conquer the Monster?“. This one went up and up and on and on, for at least a mile, it took me back to Stockholm where there was a huge hill famously called “The Climb” – due to the extreme heat I walked up that, so this time I forced myself to soldier(or rather plod) on. I found myself overtaking a surprising number of people, all whom had been reduced to walking due to the gradient. You’d see people attempt a short jog and then buckle back to walking pace, the whole way all you heard was silence and feet shuffling.

Running Battles

Towards the top just as I saw one guy running with some friends, just as I overtook him, he bravely decided to leave his walking mates with a cry and powered on past me, only to drop back behind me 45seconds or so later, this happened 2 or 3 times until over the crest, when he slowed down and presumably waited for his mates to catch up. I wouldn’t call it a battle, as we weren’t trying to out-run each other, this wasn’t a testosterone fuled dual at all, more a mutual sustained effort, we were just trying to get up this thing as best possible!

The best part was at the summit another sign now appeared. Judging by the mood and state of most people around I was probably the only one who read it – it said mischievously “Well done! Now it’s down hill all the way, Kind of“. They should have added “LOL” to this, as it turned out there were plenty more hills, including another very long tree-lined incline just before entering Inverness which seemed to go on forever, but they nothing like as steep as “the monster” had been!

Having mentioned the non-battle I had on the hill, what I would call a battle was the on-going spar I had with the 2 charity runner guys(both of whom looked quite experienced) for about 20miles of the course! before, during and after the big hill, they would run significantly faster than me for long parts of the race, often I assumed I wouldn’t ever see them again, but I’d find myself slowly overtaking them at random intervals. It really must’ve been quite annoying for them. I started to make a difference on that monster hill though, for they did indeed overtake me yet again, but from then onwards(am guessing due to general fatigue) they stayed well within sight until about a mile from the end, then things changed dramatically, as you will see.

The next 4 or 5 miles were somewhat of a blur, as delirium of possibly finishing came into effect. I managed to keep a constant, steady speed and continued over-taking people, even along the very long tree-lined finale incline. I noticed more and more people cheering us on the road as we entered the outskirts of Inverness, then the River Ness area came into view. Re-bolstered by recognising this river area from the day before and knowing the end couldn’t be too far, I somehow picked up speed – passing the charity guys and quite a few others for the last time. The only struggle was the ramp going up to the Ness Bridge to cross the river for the straight to the finish line, I could see that ramp ahead and did not look forward to it, man, that was quite tough on the legs, but somehow pushed myself up it. Towards the end of the bridge I caught up a lady who proceed to speed up, so my solution was to desperately run even faster to get ahead of her and hope she went away, which she seemed to.

I somewhat miscalculated just how far the straight to the finish line was from the bridge, but a combination of desperately wanting to finish and impatience kept me going. I managed to keep up quite a pace, especially into the gated stretch along Ness Walk, a few people even clapped my gritted-teeth effort. Suddenly intense cheering could be heard as Bught Park appeared. Then the finish line banner could be seen up ahead! Nobody else was ahead of me! I was quite content to keep going at this reasonable pace for the final 100m’s, enjoying parading merrily past the crowd BUT then I heard the finish-line announcer shout something like “Let’s have a sprint finish, Phil!”. Phil promptly sprinted past me, like very rapidly, then the lady I’d overtaken at the bridge over 500m’s earlier sprinted past me! Hey! I couldn’t have this! using the fear I’d be criminally beaten to the post with just metres to go like Ollie Garrod in the over-long Brighton Marathon last month I went into super high gear and found some energy left! Surprisingly poor Phil had himself maxed out and faded hugely after about 20m’s and my long legs powered me past the lady. I held my hands aloft as I crossed the finish line in a moment of great joy at doubly finishing the marathon and winning an epic sprint finish. Aparently I ran the final mile and a half at faster rate than the previous 14, not sure how my legs did that, but there you go!

Hanging Out At Bught Park

Found Nessie At Last!

Anyways, after being given a most stylish Loch Ness Marathon finishers medal and goodie bag(which always contains numerous mystery items), I grabbed much appreciated cup of yummy Campbell’s Soup(kindly given free to us runners) and hung around the park for a couple of hours. Mostly it was me stumbling about with tired legs, chatting to Bronwyn elatedly about it all. It did start to rain, but no matter, it wasn’t particularly cold and the Hoka, Brooks and merchandise tent was rather pleasant, adequate shelter. The atmosphere was a fun buzz of fellow runners. When the rain slowed we spent a time cheering on people crossing the finish line and then I hobbled another half-a-km to the Glenalbyn pub for a much-looked-forward-to pint of Guinness and packet of crisps. On the pub TV were highlights from the London Marathon, my friend Pablo and Hannah had been running it today too, which was cool. From the pub window we could see the late runners crossing the bridge, they were still getting cheers from onlookers, which was such a nice thing to see and do. Leaving around 7pm to get the car, we managed to see the last runner cross the line in nearly 9hours – being out there for 9 hours is most impressive in my book, talk about fortitude. We wandered back via the island area along the River Ness, spotting Nessie at last and then drove back to the Forester’s Lodge for a sumptuous dinner and a much needed relax in their hot tub, words cannot express enough thankfulness for that πŸ˜€

Overall a surprising, adventure of a marathon day and a very enduring, but enjoyable experience. If you fancy a tough one, I recommend the Loch Ness Marathon.

TL;DR Ran the Loch Ness “Monster Hills” Marathon, was quite apprehensive beforehand and despite the profile, it was an incredibly hilly course, but charged-up on Wetherspoons pasta, I finished in a sprint finish beating 2 other runners and with a PB! 4:29:20hrs 1331 out of 2640 So #wellPleased πŸ˜€

Click here for the Loch Ness Marathon 2021 – Race Map and Guide

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