It was a 5am early start on race day but I felt pretty good after a great sleep the night before. I managed a porridge breakfast and headed from Forres to Inverness and although I was stressed about where would be the best place to park it turned out there was nothing to worry about as I managed to get space straight away at the council car park. It’s always great on race day if you don’t know where you’re going as you can just follow the thousands of others who are in the same boat. I walked down to the green and joined the long queue for the buses! Can you imagine the logistics it takes to transport thousands of runners to the start line? It’s a view to behold! It looked as though every coach/bus in the highlands must have been roped in to help get us there and it all went so smoothly getting a record number of runners to the start. The hour on the bus gave us time to have a few last minute snacks and keep hydrated whilst taking in the beautiful loch views. It also gave us a cold hard slap of reality at the distance we were going to have to cover.
It was hard enough leaving the warmth of the bus but the biting cold winds outside were just awful! We were all aware of the weather forecast but some still turned up in shorts and a t-shirt with a bin bag. I had a long sleeve top, running jacket and hoodie and I still felt miserable! It’s a long wait until 10am but I can honestly say I spent most of it in the toilet queue. By the time I reached the portaloo they had started the race! Thank goodness there were a few thousand to cross the line as even after walking back down to the start I still had a few minutes to spare!
The skirl of the pipes fairly lifts the spirits and always makes me quite emotional and to have the pipers at the start line was a great touch. Those first few miles were filled with laughs and I felt full of energy which is why I got carried away and ignored my strategy of run/walk 3mins/30sec. There are a lot of downhill sections at the beginning which make it easy to get carried away. By the time I reached the 3 mile marker I settled in to my original strategy and felt more relaxed as the runners had dispersed a little. I managed to get rid of a layer at this point as I’d finally warmed up. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good downhill but these downhills are kind that burst your quads and zap your energy if you are not careful. To be honest it was hard not to just charge down them but after doing this last year I remembered what it felt like to run out of gas when it came to the hills. So I stuck to my plan and took it steady.
I seemed to be surrounded by others doing run/walk as watch alarms were constantly buzzing. I was thankful mine was just on vibrate. I had visions that I would struggling during the distance but I always knew I’d cross the line one way or another. By the time I reached the first fuel stop I thought I may as well risk trying them as my stomach would no doubt be sore anyway! (I’ve had issues with my stomach whilst running for years). Hi5 fuel was sponsoring the event and I had heard a lot of good reviews but never actually tried them. I was really impressed with the gels as they weren’t actually gel like. They were more of a liquid base which made it so much easier to stomach and the orange flavour was delicious! I can honestly say I felt the difference within about fifteen minutes or so as I felt really comfortable and any tiredness disappeared. I stuck with the race hydration all the way after that. The miles seemed to fly by in the first half which I put down to feeling good with the fuelling and Ella Fitzgerald keeping me calm on my headphones. The views off the Loch in between the trees really lift your spirits and there are plenty of spots to stop for photos.
After last year I knew what was coming after mile 18 and I was ready for the beast of a hill! I had decided I would walk the hill but at a good pace and admire the view by taking a pause every now and then to look back. By this point last year I was crying and ready to call it a day but something was different this year. I was mentally stronger and much calmer than normal. I felt as though I was at peace with my race which was a totally new experience for me in all the nine years of running. I normally struggle to get myself running again after a walk break but this didn’t really seem an issue. It may be due to the fact I reduced the majority of my walk breaks to 30 seconds rather than a minute. For me, I found the run/walk regime fantastic and it helped to keep my mind occupied by having a structure to follow. So when it came to the final few miles heading back in to Inverness I felt happy and comfortable. The marshals and spectators really help at this stage too as the majority of the route is not accessible to spectators. I found the last mile from the bridge at the bottom of the High street very emotional as it felt like I was being cheered to a Gold medal! The noise was deafening along the outside tables of the bars and restaurants which really does give you the energy to finish (especially on those horrible cobbles).
To finish in the sunshine with no wind or rain is such a bonus and the tree lined finish area such a welcome sight. I knew from mile 20 that it wouldn’t be an overall marathon PB but I had a chance of beating my Loch Ness one from last year and to me that was going to be good enough. So to finish with a PB of over 4 minutes may not sound much to some but taking into account that I HAD actually trained well for last year and not for this one I feel it’s a great achievement.
So what made this race so different to all the others? Who knows? It could have been the fuel although I had never tried it before it certainly tasted good and was very gentle on my stomach. I certainly felt it kicking in each time. Considering my longest run was 15 miles quite a few weeks before race day I am really happy that it went so well.
The mix of abilities in the marathon field are always fantastic to see and I think anyone who has ever dabbled with the idea of running one should really go and cheer one on. It’s made up of runners from all backgrounds and whether you walk/run, run, run and break records you are a marathoner and no one can take that away from you. They’d better not try anyway!
Whatever time we cross that line we all come away with the same medal and cover the same distance. It’s always an achievement and each time we stand on that start line we have very little control over how things will go on the day so it’s always good to relax and have faith in YOU. Why don’t you give it a go? Loch Ness Marathon
We want to say a BIG well done to Mairi and well done on a cracking run!
You can follow more on Mairi's running escapades by heading to her blog - runmairirun.com
If you have a running story that you want to share then please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.