Baxters Loch Ness Marathon – Sunday 3rd October 2021
Harriers Running: Phil Hanson, Diane Lee and John Pratt.
As a marathon virgin, when Phil Hanson mentioned it was a scenic, downhill race, I thought it sounded like the ideal introduction to marathon running. And in many ways it was.
Loch Ness Marathon is a point-to-point road race starting ~ 1000 feet up on the South-East side of the Loch on the old Military Road, on exposed and open moorland, near the village of Whitebridge. Participants are bussed from near the Race HQ in Inverness at 7-7:30 am, or from various other towns and villages around Inverness, to the starting line.
From the start the route winds its way over an undulating course downhill to meet the Loch at ~10 miles. From there the route contours the Loch until the village of Dores at 18 miles, where the ‘Big Hill’ starts. It’s actually a 2 mile hill with several false summits, but with only 250 total feet of climb, it shouldn’t be much of a problem for Harriers, even with tired legs. From then on the route continues to undulate down into the centre of Inverness, eventually following the River eastwards as far as Ness Bridge. Here it crosses the river and heads left to the finish line, a very long mile away. The event is part of the Festival of Running and includes 10k (River Ness), and a 5k (Wee Nessie) races.
The 3 of us travelled up by train on the Friday and met up to check-in at the race HQ in Bucht Park on Saturday morning, collect our bibs, and take a look at the small expo in (Covid-friendly) open-sided marquees. Due to Covid restrictions no live music or runners’ cafe.
Sunday was a very early start. Breakfast at 5am and meeting on route to the busses for 7:30 departure. The race is very popular and attracts around 5000 entrants annually from around the UK and abroad. We understood more than 70 busses left from Inverness alone!
The trip to the start is around 1 hour and follows the north-west side of the Loch, only turning to the south-east side near Fort Augustus.
We decamped our nice warm coach and layered up with ponchos, coats and bin bags and headed for the loos. The weather at the start was cold (3-4C) with brisk winds and squally showers, so we delayed stripping off, and dropping our bags until just before the start.
There was rousing rock music and commentary in the starting line, which got everyone fired-up for what was to come. Then as we waited in line and shuffled forward, the rock music was replaced by a lone piper. At this point, as is usual for me at large and significant events in my life, I suddenly felt quite emotional. I thought of those loved ones who I was running for, for the support from my fellow Harriers and of the personal significance of running, and training for a marathon for the first time. Something I never thought I could or would ever accomplish.
Crossing the start line I settled into a very conservative pace, not to ruin my legs on the downhill early in the race. It’s said that a marathon is 20 miles of transport followed by a 10k race. That is what I did, using PRE as my guide.
After dropping off the top and into the wooded sections (there are a lot of these), the wind dropped, sun came out and it stopped raining. So at 3 miles I removed my Kamleika and gloves and carried on. At the halfway point I was probably 1 minute off my pace, but felt ok with that. Anything over 20 miles would be venturing into unknown territory for me.
At 18 miles I took advantage of a freshly vacated Portaloo for a very quick comfort stop, then ventured on up the long hill without issues. Quite surprisingly (for me) I started to overtake people. That doesn’t normally happen. At 20 miles I still felt good and began to pick-off targets, still with quite a conservative pace. At 23 miles I started to notice a little calf tightening but managed to keep it at bay. I had been keeping ahead of my fuelling, fluids and electrolytes so put it down to muscle fatigue. No other issues had cropped up
Coming into Inverness the streets were lined with cheering and clapping crowds. Really uplifting. Crossing the bridge and hitting the last mile to the finishing straight was an experience that I’ll never forget (I get quite emotional as you know). The support from the crowd was just amazing and pulled me along to the last 100m when I went for some sort of finishing sprint. I was thinking ‘Chariots of Fire’, but I’ve seen the photos and it most certainly wasn’t!
I crossed the line a complete slobbering wreck in 4:40:12 and beaming from ear to ear.
Diane finished way ahead of me after a fantastic performance in 4:16:04.
Phil made a phenomenal comeback with an inspirational 4:51:17.
- It’s downhill, but hilly – Garmin says 1622’ climb, 2605’ descent.
- Think carefully about when you have your breakfast.
- Use the loos before getting on the bus.
- It’s a beautiful and scenic route, faultlessly organised and marshalled, with well stocked water and fuelling stations.
- I trained and raced with my friends and mentors Phil and Diane, and will be forever grateful for their support and encouragement throughout the whole 18 week program. Sincerely, thank you.
- I met all of my personal targets: 1 Not die, 2 Not walk, 3 Finish the race, 4 Enjoy it!
- Would I recommend this race? Yes, but do the training, and don’t wait until you’re my age to do it!
John Pratt 64 ½