I was aiming for 4 hours and thought to get this I would have to run the first half quicker and hope I had enough gas in the tank/legs to get through the tough final miles. The start is in the highlands and the route drops down to the Loch side. The middle miles run alongside the waterfront, so there was excellent scenery throughout. I think I saw Nessie at one point but it might have been the impact of an energy gel mixed with Lucozade playing tricks on my mind, I wasn’t prepared to jeopardize my sub 4 hour aim to go back and check.
First half went to plan, crossing half way at 1.52 and the good pace continued until around 17 which is when the course changes and the hilly section begins.
I was worried that I was going to come to a grinding halt at 20 miles, which happened in my last marathon. The downhills that followed the ups gave recovery time though so when the 23 mile marker came and went without the dreaded thunderbolt I knew I was going to make it.
There is a very cruel end to this race, where you run past the finish at about 24 miles, only a small bridge away from the end but they send you on a loop round to the next bridge and back again- very demoralising but instantly forgotten once the finish line was crossed. I ran 3 hours 54 minutes, which I was delighted with.
An excellent race with great scenery and a good atmosphere throughout. Highly recommended!”
Jings, Crivvens and Help Ma Boab were just three epithets that didn’t cross my lips as I tumbled over the finish line just 3 and a bit minutes the wrong side of 4 hours. There were times when I really thought it was going to happen – that I was going to duck under the elusive 4 hours, but not today.
The day started promisingly enough with orderly queues of runners filling up the endless queue of coaches that parked neatly around the start. Unfortunately, just as I was about to alight, they turned out not to be endless after all. There was a lot of radio chatter and hairy bikers flashing by on snazzy motorbikes, but no more buses. This was looking interesting. Eventually, 50 minutes late, a queue of bulging coaches departed Inverness. 50 minutes; remember that number.
About an hour later, somewhere in the Scottish Highlands, the inevitable happened. Not to me, because I’ve long since ignored the bladder-busting pre-hydration tosh that is often routinely promoted as essential pre-race preparation, but to the poor sod sat at the front of the top deck of my bus, things were getting desperate. He started politely enough by asking the Germans packed on the stairs to pass a message to the driver, to pull over if possible. This got lost in translation. Then we passed a coach that had succumbed to its rebellious passengers, and our chap got a bit agitated, and decided to take more positive actions. He stood up decisively, leaned over, and pressed the bell! If he thought that was going to have the desired effect he was sadly mistaken. For the next 5 miles our bus was “Just Stopping” (in the middle of nowhere) according to the neon sign, then we passed another coach in a passing place, and it was all too much. This time he jumped up in a state of agitation and pressed the bell at least 5 times with a noticeable lack of interest from the driver. At this point I heard some ladies behind me say “Oh look, the poor man, he’s obviously in real pain!”. Laugh, I almost didn’t.
Finally he cracked; our hero jumped up and, with his face a picture of pain and frustration, announced he was getting of the bus NOW. He climbed over the Germans on the stair and was lost from view, then the coach lurched drunkenly and suddenly into a passing place. A cheer exploded throughout the coach and at least 80% of the coach, clearly wishing to show solidarity, followed our bell dinging hero out to the facilities.
It was all very well behaved. The ladies went to one side, and the gents to the other. There was a grey area where, well, I’ll spare you the details. But barely(!) 3 minutes later and we were all clambering back on the bus and congratulating our rather bewildered hero who clearly was unaware quite how much so many people had felt his pain. All that was missing was a sign saying “Contaminated Land – do not enter for 100 years” and you would never have know we were there. Then again …
So much excitement and drama, and we hadn’t even reached the Start! The coaches eventually arrived at the Start 10 minutes after the race was supposed to have begun. We just about had time to get off the coach get changed and put our bags on the baggage bus. The atmosphere was pleasantly peculiar. There we were, about 7500+ of us, in the middle of the Scottish Highlands, listening to a DJ pumping out music and firing us up, and all around were mountains and glens. Weird. But Cool.
Lately I’ve been running races badly so I’d decided to take a bit of time and do a lot more thinking and planning for this one. I’d considered a few options and talked to many old-timers before coming up with a Plan ‘A’ and a Plan ‘B’. Both were for sub-4 targets but Plan ‘A’ largely focused on pace, and Plan ‘B’ on heartrate, although they both followed the principle of running a negative split. I used the calculator at marathonguide.com as a guide. However the route is very uppy and downy and about 2 minutes after the race started I abandoned both plans in favour of Plan ‘C’, a hitherto undeveloped plan that went along the lines of “Let’s see how it goes without going ballistic too early”.
For Striders thinking of doing this Marathon don’t be fooled by the course profile. True, it has an overall drop, but it has lots of nippy little hills that the profile sketchers decided weren’t worth making a fuss over. I’d say it’s a fair bit harder than Edinburgh (Phil?). One thing I think I did right was ‘allowing myself to run faster’ on the descents. A lot of runners seem to hold back on the downhills when in fact you can gain quite a bit of time just by letting yourself go without increasing your energy expenditure very much. I passed the half-way point in 2.02 and for at times I thought I would pull back the time to sub-4 then another cheeky little hill would suddenly appear. Then I hit a biggie at mile 18 and I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I heard my name shouted around this point and looked round to see Phil who was hobbling cheerfully along ‘not really racing’. For Phil this race could be classified as a ‘quarter of a Hardmoors’ (and a little less hilly), so just a little bit of warm down really. Given that this is only a week later, Phil finished in an indecently respectable 4.16. Some people have no shame. A mention too for Anna Seeley who ran a blistering sub-3.30.
I ran all the way and was doing 8-9 min/miles towards the finish. I judged it about right. I’d been worried that by running a negative split I’d feel that I could’ve gone faster earlier but there was little danger of that. I was pretty much done in by the finish and my mile pace kept slipping as I tried to pull it back down. It was a good race plan and I simply wasn’t fit and strong enough on the day to run it. Next time! Oh, And it was bit hot. Scotland. Loch Ness. October. Off course it’s going to be hot!