Having heard great things about the race, I’ve been lusting after a Loch Ness marathon spot for years and was delighted to be taking part in the event last weekend. Launched in 2002, the 26.2-mile race around Scotland’s iconic Loch Ness has built a solid reputation as one of the UK’s most scenic marathons and I was keen to pit my legs against the beautiful highlands.
With a successful training strategy behind me, I should have been well prepared for the race. But then, as is every marathoner’s greatest fear, the morning before race day I woke up with a stinking cold. If I was sensible I might have dropped out, but being a bit rock and roll, I decided to give it a crack anyway. Apologies if my account is wildly inaccurate, in my defence I was high on Lemsip.
Armed with snotty tissues and enough energy gels to launch a rocket ship, I woke up on the morning of race day determined to run. With the finish line in Inverness, the runners were all bussed out to the start line in Fort Augustus for a 10am start (a potentially logistical nightmare that it is worth mentioning was handled with aplomb). This certainly made for a picturesque route, but the length of the bus journey added to my pre-race anxiety. As we trundled around the lake, the concept of running all that way back again started to sink in.
Upon arrival at the start line I quickly forgot about the distance and stopped to soak up the formidable views. Surrounded by beautiful hills sparkling in the early morning sunshine, despite the enormous task at hand it was one of the most serene marathon start lines I have ever experienced. Runners queued amicably for the loos, laughed together and listened to the sound of pipers playing on the breeze while we waited patiently for the start gun.
Once we set off, the first section was a bit sneaky as it starts downhill and definitely lulled everyone into a false sense of security. Gliding downwards in the morning sunshine beneath a perfect blue sky I felt like I could have run forever and had to force myself to slow down. But as we hit the loch the road started to level out and I experienced the first ascent.
All the reports I’ve read about Loch Ness say there are only two hills worthy of note, but this is not strictly true. If you’re hardcore and Scottish there are only two hills. If you’re a southern softie (like me) the majority of the race is a rollercoaster ride that will leave you wishing you had trained harder. But what goes up must come down and before long I began to enjoy the mini challenges the rolling road provided.
At the halfway point my stinking cold took over and despite the picture perfect day, for the first time in my running life I tried to DNF. Fortunately the marshals were savvy to quitters who needed a push and informed me it would be quicker to finish the race than wait for the sweeper bus. So after a little break and a stiff word with myself, I endeavoured to keep on running.
At mile 18 the road took a rather dramatic upturn, but by this point I had given up on my PB dreams and succumbed to the nasty cold, so I was grateful for an excuse to walk. The last few miles were tough, but the sound of the finish line urged me on and the crowds were incredible, so against the odds I squeezed out a sprint finish.
I assumed the Loch Ness Marathon would be all about the views, which it had in abundance, but it was actually the people that made it such a special day. I made friends with multiple total strangers, received incredible support from the medics and marshals and was motivated to keep on going by caring runners too many times to count. The hot soup at the finish line was also a bonus.
While I wouldn't recommend running with a head cold, for runners looking for a well organised road marathon in a beautiful setting surrounded by genuinely lovely people, I can’t recommend the Loch Ness Marathon enough. Visit www.lochnessmarathon.com for details.