To say I was excited about running this marathon would have been an understatement. It was my Christmas present from Mark so had been a long time in the planning. I’ve only ever run one marathon before and that was over 11 years ago, before I’d had three babies, and was prepared for with the minimum amount of training required to finish. This one was a different story altogether!
The buzz created by all our wonderful London Marathoners in April this year really inspired me to give this one my best shot. I had picked a pretty hard-core training plan, which I ended up adapting after a few weeks as it was just too tiring. But with the beautiful Pentlands on my doorstep, and some great route advice from Susie, I made sure I was prepared for the notoriously hilly route of the Loch Ness Marathon.
The day itself was superb. The sun was shining but the temperature stayed below 15°C. The bus ride to the start got everyone buzzing. Despite a ridiculous queue for the toilets at the start line, I made it to the correct pen in good time for the gun. I was there with my colleague and running buddy from National Museums Scotland, Ines Castellano. After an obligatory selfie and the start line we lined up, started to run, then quickly went our separate ways – “See you in 26 miles!”
People bleat and moan about the ‘beast of a hill’ at mile 19, but they neglect to tell you about the numerous smaller hills between 3 and 8! Still, no problem for a Penicuik harrier, or so I thought. I bounded up and down those hills all gazelle-like, feeling strong and full of beans. I weaved in and out of the crowd, passing and passing until the throng spread out and I could settle into a good pace (goal = 8-min-mile). All was going well, the scenery absolutely stunning, the waves of Loch Ness lapping on the shore, the steady thud of feet hitting the ground. Urquhart Castle hove into view then seemed to take forever to pass. And all the way along trees gave welcome shelter from the sun and any wind.
I passed the half-way point at 1:38ish, and felt sure my 3.5 hour goal was in reach. I ran beside a Carnethy vest for a mile or so, chatting about the Skyline, which we agreed would probably hurt more than this! Then at mile 17 the fatigue set in at the tops of my legs. Some comical knee raises help loosen things off, and as I approached the ‘beast’ at mile 19 I put my head down and tried not to look towards the brow of the hill. A lot of runners were walking at this point, and it was hard not to feel just a wee bit smug as I ran past them – all that hill training is worth it after all! But then, as I was looking at the runner ahead of me I felt as though I had something in my eye. Wiped at it but no luck. Then the familiar ‘aura’ of an approaching migraine came into view. Great! This could go one of two ways – this is the end for me as I’ll probably be sick and have to pull out, or the pain elsewhere in my body will cancel it out before it comes to anything. I still have 6 miles to go!! Luckily the latter happened, and despite not being able to see very well for a few miles, it didn’t stop me.
At mile 23 we were heading back into Inverness and my quads were screaming (those hills at the start got me after all). I stopped for a few seconds to check the damage and quickly realised that if I didn’t start running again soon they would probably seize up altogether. Everything, even my arms hurt at this stage. This never happened in 21 miles through the Pentlands! I slowed my pace down a wee bit, which helped. Then at mile 24 I could hear the roar of the crowds at the finish line. The spectators were out offering jelly babies and water and bags of praise and encouragement. I was trying hard to smile but my bottom lip was quivering and I wanted to burst into tears. I repeated a mantra in my head that one of my colleagues had written on my Justgiving page – ‘run with love’ – and thought about all the money I’d raised for the hospital that looked after my best friend (who died in May this year). On the approach to the finish line along the River Ness there were some knowing glances from other runners as we ran through the agony. I never thought the sight of an enormous inflatable Nessie would be so welcome! The event DJ, Brian Burnett, called out my name as I approached and I crossed the line in 3:26:49 – under target! I wanted to cheer and cry at the same time, so did a comedy combination of both. Apparently I was only 3 places behind our very own Yan Horsburgh, but sadly didn’t see him. Also missed ‘Wonder-Mummy’ Vicky at the finish area but managed a quick chat on the phone.
After forcing down some rank chicken stew from the runners food tent, inspecting the treats on offer in my goody bag (tin of soup, various snacks, banana and a beetroot drink) and grabbing a nice hot shower at the Bught Park campsite* it was homeward bound. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay awake long enough to see the ‘blood moon’ eclipse that night so planned nothing more strenuous than getting Chinese food and drinking a cold glass of beer (or two) that evening. Got home in time to catch the kids still awake and got a heroes welcome.
All in all, a fantastic race, very well organised and incomparable scenery-wise. Knocking 38 minutes off my marathon record was just icing on the cake. Would I do another? Maybe. Vicky informs me I now qualify for a ‘good for age’ entry in London…
* I can highly recommend staying here if you’re planning on running this – the bus pick-up is right next to the site and it was only £16 per night for a pitch and car.