A Wee Bit Hilly, that Loch Ness Marathon
I think it was my mom who told me about the Loch Ness Marathon several years ago. She makes it her business to know about a lot of things, so she learned about this race before I did. It was added to my marathon bucket list immediately. I had always wanted to see Loch Ness in hopes of finding Nessie. What better way to see many miles of the Loch than by running alongside it for hours? But it took several years before I finally made it there. Scot and I spent 5 days (not nearly enough) in Scotland with two goals: 1) run the Loch Ness Marathon; 2) visit the towns where he lived as a child. Since this is a running blog, I'm only focusing on the marathon here, and sharing lots of photos.
|Loch Ness Marathon course map; we ran from south to north into Inverness|
|Elevation map does NOT give you a real concept of how hilly the course was; that middle section was NOT flat; just magnify all the little hills and you'll get the idea|
My first introduction to Loch Ness came on Friday 26th September (the race was on for Sunday) as Scot and I approached our B&B near Drumnadrochit on the northwest side of the loch. We caught a glimpse of the loch from Fort Augustus and even saw a rainbow. Then we continued our drive as the sun was beginning to set, stopping to get some photos at the ruins of Urquart Castle before calling it a day.
|South end of Loch Ness from Fort Augustus|
|Urquart Castle on the Loch|
The next morning we went to the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition to learn all about Loch Ness and Nessie, both fact and legend. And then we drove the rest of the way to Inverness for the marathon expo at Bught Park. There, we met up with Marathon Maniac Wendy who is currently living in England. Like us, it was her first time running Loch Ness.
|At the expo: end of the finish chute on the left, the white tents have the packet pick-up and the vendors, behind my right shoulder was the food tent, and the actual finish line was along the river to my left|
|The River Ness looking toward Inverness from the expo|
After the expo, we met up with my friend Christine and her boyfriend Paul, who recently moved from Edinburgh to Inverness. It was nice to have such great hosts and not need to stay in a hotel. We all went out for dinner at an Indian restaurant and a half pint at a pub afterward (I didn't need another full pint the night before the race). And then it was off to bed no sooner than midnight.
Race morning came early even though the gun didn't fire until the relatively late hour of 10:00 AM. This is because we had to drive to Bught Park and catch a shuttle bus for the hour+ ride to the starting line. We retraced our steps from the previous days, going all the way to Fort Augustus before looping up to the other side of the loch.
|We sat at the front of the top deck on our bus with great views of the loch (through the filthy, rainy windshield, that is)|
When we got to the starting area, I learned that this race was quite a bit bigger than I anticipated. It was a little cool and misty at the start, but we were comfortable enough waiting in line for the port-o-loos and looking for fellow Maniacs. Scot and I found Wendy, and also Roger, who lives in Canada but visits family in England and has run this race several times. We also met Gillian, a Scot who was running her first marathon (and did quite well, and may now be hooked on marathons). Later, new Maniac Elspeth saw our Maniac gear and introduced herself.
Scot and I got into the spirit of the highlands by wearing kilts. He wore Buchanan tartan, his family's clan. I wore a tartan called New World Celts, which symbolizes the new world countries with Celtic descendants (US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). Both came from Sport Kilt.
|Maniacs Roger, Elspeth, Sandy, Scot, Wendy|
|Scot and I sport our Sport Kilts|
|The line for the port-o-loos moved amazingly fast|
The race started with much anticipation, and we were off. I set out quite fast because the first few miles were downhill at a pretty decent grade. Then I found out that the course was not all downhill. One of the first hills was long and steep and I had to walk it. That would be my approach to most of the race: run downhill, walk uphill. I was not concerned with my time as Roger had said they let everyone finish.
|These guys were playing just past the start|
|Here comes Roger up the first tough hill|
|This guy was cheerful and had Scottish music playing|
This course was absolutely beautiful! It took a few miles to get to our first view of Loch Ness, but then we would see it for most of the way until Mile 19 or so. There were few spectators on the course, but when we did find them, they were very energetic and encouraging. I loved hearing "well done" said to me an an upbeat Scottish accent by spectators and volunteers alike. It always made me start running if I was walking, or put a smile on my face if I needed one.
|My first good view of Loch Ness from the marathon course|
|If we weren't looking at Loch Ness or sheep, the view looked much like this|
|Running downhill and then immediately uphill again|
For several miles we could see Urquart Castle, this time from the opposite side of Loch Ness. Scot and I took a few selflies with the castle in the background. Another common sight was fields of sheep. I had hoped to see some Highland Cattle, but I had to settle for sheep on the marathon course.
|Our selfie with Urquart Castle way in the background (on the tip of the land in the center of the pic)|
|With "Murray Moo" the "Highlan' Coo" carved out of wood, along the marathon course; note the loch in the background|
Early in the race, people were talking about the killer hill at Mile 18, as if the other hills weren't enough. Someone even said that the hill went on for three miles. It turns out that there was quite a long, steep hill, but it didn't start until about 18.5, and it certainly didn't go on for three miles. After the initial hill, there were some slight downhills, but then some more uphills. By the time we reached Inverness, the course was all flat, so that made the finish nice.
|Last look at Loch Ness before the big hill|
|Getting closer to town, even though the hills were not yet over|
We started to pass the finish line on the opposite side of the River Ness. We actually ran north of the finish, up river, then crossed a bridge, and then came south back to the finish at Bught Park. I thought it would be mentally defeating to run beyond the finish before looping back, but it wasn't so bad. For one thing, there were tons of spectators and faster marathoners who had already finished cheering me on. I passed pubs with people sitting on the patio enjoying a pint and yelling "well done" in my direction. I saw some nice scenery (the many bridges across the river, and then Inverness Castle once I crossed over. And then: there was Christine cheering me on! Paul had to travel to Edinburgh for work, but Christine came out to cheer us in to the finish and to bring our recovery drinks. It is so wonderful to have a friend or family member waiting at the finish line, and certainly a rarity because of all the out-of-town races Scot and I run.
|A welcome sight; note the Nessie in the center of the roundabout|
|Looking south toward the finish from the bridge as I crossed the River Ness|
|Seeing Inverness Castle from the river bank nearing the finish line, with Christine not far away|
Scot was waiting for me at the finish line. I was so sore from running the hills and I just needed to sit. Fortunately, this race actually supports the slower runners and we each had a goodie bag full of snacks, and also a hot meal of soup and bread. Christine hung out with us as we took care of our immediate post-race needs.
|Finishers! I was cold and glad I packed my $5 Walgreens sweatshirt|
|Scot's pic of the medal with the "Nessie" at the finish; really, it was an inflatable dinosaur wearing a tam|
Because the race started so late, it was also quite late by the time we got back to Christine's, got showers and relaxed a little bit. We actually had trouble finding a restaurant that was still open and serving on Sunday night. Our first pick was too busy, our second pick was closing; finally, we found a great pizza place and shared a meal with fellow marathoner Steve, who was also walking the streets of Inverness looking for an open restaurant!
To quote the Scots, this marathon was very Well Done! I was very pleased with everything from the pre-race communications to the expo to the marathon itself and then the post-race experience. I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to run a fun, scenic race in Scotland. The only complaint was that the very first water/aid station ran out of water. That was really inexcusable. At that point, we had been waiting at the start for quite some time, and then had to wait at least 2 miles in before we got to the aid station. An established race should have known how much water to stock. It didn't help that water was served in bottles that were larger than most people can drink in one go. Many discarded bottles were on the ground, and still halfway full or more. At future aid stations, I took a bottle and kept it with me until I finished it, usually miles later.
I guess I have one more regret: I did not find Nessie. Maybe she just doesn't like to come out on a busy day with so many runners along the loch. Or maybe she had another engagement. In any case, I may need to return to Loch Ness so that I can finally meet her.