Most people’s idea of a weekend away involves taking it easy, possibly a leisurely walk and certainly lots of indulgent food and drink. Most people. But I am a runner, and the runner’s idea of a weekend away involves early starts, racing hard and bucket loads of pasta and energy drinks…and we love it!
This past weekend saw us Inverness-bound as Steve took on the Loch Ness Marathon and I ran the 10K to keep me out of mischief while I was waiting for him. A busy weekend with lots of driving, but most definitely worth it.
After a Saturday morning of rushing about on errands, we picked up our friend Graeme in the early afternoon and set off up the A9. With both Steve and Graeme taking on the full marathon, driving duties fell to me on this occasion and the three of us embarked on what is actually the longest road trip I’ve ever driven. It wasn’t long before the immortal words, “are we there yet?” crossed my lips, but a pit-stop at House of Bruar (they have nice toilets there!) and a delicious ice cream refreshed me for the remainder of the journey north.
Arriving in Inverness we headed straight for the event village at Bught Park (which I learned is pronounced “bucht” with the “ch” as in “loch”, not “bute” as I had previously assumed!). The Bught (as it’s apparently known locally) would be the finish for both the marathon and the 10K, as well as playing host to race registration, the expo and pasta party. As a 10K runner my race pack and number had been sent out in advance, but the marathon runners had to register on site. We had also all purchased pasta party tickets which we had to collect at registration. As it turned out, the pasta party ended at 6pm and we were actually the very last people to go in. Our meal consisted of a cup of Baxter’s soup (since Baxter’s is the title sponsor), a choice of 2 pasta dishes with salad and coleslaw, followed by apple crumble with custard and a bottle of water. It was all really good and a decent meal for the night before a race.
After that it was time to get back on the road for the 14 mile trip along the loch to Drumnadrochit where we had booked a B&B. Not having stayed in a B&B for years I was unsure what to expect, but we had a comfortable en-suite room and there was free wifi so all needs were taken care of!
The rest of the evening was spent chatting, hydrating and laying out kit ready for the morning. I had plenty of time, however the guys were being picked up at 8:15 for their bus transfer to the marathon start so I had to be ready to go at the same time.
Getting dressed in the morning I became convinced that my race number made me look like a tin of soup on legs and, with the early hour, found this rather amusing:
As you can see, with the weather forecast to be good and temperatures holding up, I opted for my club vest, favourite running skirt and sleeves which I could roll down as I got warmer. I also added the tape to my lower leg which has been allowing me to run without any discomfort and my calf sleeves to help the muscles recover better.
After a cooked breakfast (a pre-run first for me as I normally opt for porridge!) it was time to load our things into the car and wave the guys off. I then had to drive back into Inverness to the 10K start at the Royal Academy. With my race not starting until 10:45, I knew I would be really early, but figured I would have to wait somewhere so I might as well be at the start and safely parked. I quite enjoyed the chance to relax in the car, listen to music and wait until some other runners I knew arrived.
The start area was really well organised: there were marshals to help everyone park, plenty of toilets and a coffee van. The baggage trucks were leaving at 10:15 so I put my bag on at 10, holding onto my car key so I could still keep a few last minute bits and pieces and stick them in the car before I ran.
Soon enough, it was time to line up ready to start. I skipped the mass warm up in favour of a final toilet visit, then started working my way through the field to find a starting position. With around 3200 runners registered it was quite tricky to move forward, but since the event was chip timed I wasn’t too bothered and just wanted to be ahead of those who would be likely to walk since I knew some of the early parts of the route would be on narrow paths.
Bang on time, the race started and I began shuffling my way towards the start. Once over the line, I was able to settle into a run as we rounded a corner to a short climb. My goal in this race was simple: run a bit faster than in Stirling two weeks before. I have been doing a little more running since then now that I have had physio on my leg, so having completed that race in just under 56 minutes, I settled on 55 minutes as my Loch Ness target.
I had heard that there were some short climbs in the first couple of miles before a long gentle descent later. I kept my pace steady and didn’t worry too much about getting stuck behind slower runners as I knew I would be able to run faster later. The first 2 miles were completed in 9:05 and 9:07.
There were indeed some narrow paths here which did slow things down a bit, but by the time my watch was bleeping to alert me to the 3 mile mark, my pace was picking up and I ran the 3rd mile in 8:41. The 10K route joins the marathon route just before the 3 mile mark (23 miles into the marathon) and I was looking forward to running the final stages of the route Steve and Graeme would be covering later.
From this point I really enjoyed the race. There were road closures in place and there were lots of beautiful trees along the side of the road. Closer to the finish we were running by the river and the amount of on-course support picked up, even though it would be some time before any marathon runners would come that way. Still running downhill, I felt good and was able to keep my pace up, passing other runners as I cruised along. Mile 4 in 8:34 and mile 5 in 8:32 – nice and consistent.
About a mile and a half or so before the finish, I realised that I could hear the announcer at the finish line on the other side of the river. The route was levelling out a bit and I knew that the last section was by the river, over a bridge then back on the other side to the finish gantry. I dug in and kept going, keen to maintain the consistency of my pace and completed mile 6 in 8:33 before heading into the home straight. Unbelievably, I couldn’t actually see the gantry but could still hear the announcer and trusted the mile markers and readings on my watch. I pushed the pace on and sprinted towards the finish at around 8:04 pace and crossed the line knowing I had met my target: finish time 54:33.
Again, everything was really well organised in the finish area. I was first handed my medal then filtered on to collect my tech tshirt (plenty of small ones available), then my goody bag, water, banana and Cliff bar. It was a really good selection of race booty, to be honest, with a goody bag full of assorted food (including soup of course!) and leaflets about forthcoming events.
My race pack had also included a ticket to get post-race soup and a roll which I had along with some friends who had run the 10K. Fortunately someone also gave me an extra ticket so I would be able to join the guys later when they were having their food.
After that it was simply a case of enjoying the atmosphere while we waited. There was plenty to do and at no time did I feel bored: I had company and it was exciting watching the winner of the marathon complete his race and learn that this was his debut. The first female runner was also a debut marathoner so it was a good weekend for first-timers!
Of course there were also one or two photo opportunities to keep me amused and I took photos with both Nessie and an actual tin of soup on legs (remember this is what I had thought I resembled that morning!)
Soon enough, Steve finished and Graeme only about 5 minutes behind him. Both did phenomenally well having not been able to complete as much training as they would like. After all the congratulations (and a quick catch up with some of the other Perth runners in the race) it was time for some more photos. This mainly involved me trying to look pleased about being sandwiched between two rather sweaty (and not overly fragrant) gentlemen!
Job done, the guys headed for a well-earned leg massage then, with “runger” most definitely kicking in, it was time for their post-race meal. I had my second cup of soup and roll, while the marathon runners also got a hearty plate of stories and oatcakes which looked delicious and was another example of the stellar organisation that goes into this event.
That high standard of organisation is also apparent in the race logistics, some of which I’ve already mentioned. It’s quite clear that everything had been considered. As a 10K runner, my car was safely parked at the Royal Academy where I had started my race that morning. There were shuttle buses on hand to return runners to their cars which were running until 2:45, a good 4 hours after the race began. Not wanting to rush the tired marathoners, we weren’t ready in time for the last shuttle, but a quick visit to the fabulous volunteers at the information tent and we were able to order a taxi which arrived in good time. The driver was brilliant and delivered us right to the car so the guys could simply fall out of the taxi and be bundled into my car for the trip back home!
Overall, I had a fantastic weekend. I was really impressed with the slick logistics, friendly volunteers and scenic route. I may only have tackled 10K this time, but I’ll definitely be back at the Loch Ness Marathon Festival and I highly recommend the event. There’s something for everyone from 5K to the full marathon (and the Wee Nessie for the kids) all centred around the same race village. There’s loads to do and lots of tempting food stands. Maybe I’ll see you there next year…