I’ve run the Loch Ness Marathon twice before. The first time was my third marathon and my first attempt at getting under 4:30. I sneaked a PB of 4:38 but did not have a good race. A couple of years later I returned and had a much better race there, finally getting under 4:30 (and then some, running 4:25:21). I really enjoyed that second time; not just the race but the whole weekend, which tends to attract a whole crowd of my friends.
Last year we were on honeymoon and running the Disneyland Paris half on Loch Ness weekend. While that was totally amazing, I was also a bit jealous of everybody in Inverness so I entered the marathon pretty much as soon as entries opened (although I was married by that point I clearly wasn’t used to my new name yet as I entered under my maiden name!). I booked the same hotel that I had stayed at in 2015 as it was in a perfect location for the race.
Much later, we decided to book an all-inclusive holiday in Spain for our main holiday of the year, to start just after our anniversary. This meant that we would be returning from 10 days of laziness and all-inclusive eating and drinking on the Friday before the marathon… at least I would be well rested and fuelled! The holiday was absolutely amazing and we were utterly lazy. It was too hot to do much running, but I did manage a few runs and one long walk.
Then, two days before the end of the holiday, we went on an organised bike ride in some stunning hills near Benidorm. Halfway through the first of three rides for the day, I took my hand off the handlebars of the bike and the next thing I knew I was on the ground. The immediately obvious injury was the bruised and bleeding knee, which was quickly patched up, and I finished the rest of the ride. However my left arm, particularly the elbow and wrist, quickly stiffened up and became extremely painful, to the point where I really thought I might have broken something. Long story short- European health cards are amazing, and an X-ray revealed no broken bones. But I was in a lot of pain and really not sure what the implications would be for the marathon.
We came home on the Friday, and by the Saturday I felt ready to attempt a parkrun, having not run since the fall on the Wednesday. I nervously started running and as long as I didn’t move my arm, it felt ok. While the arm was generally not too sore, I still couldn’t straighten or bend it fully, and certain movements sent excruciating spasms of pain through the arm. In some ways, parkrun made my decision even harder. It would have been easier if it had been awful and I knew there was no way I could run a marathon; instead it was fine- but 26 miles is very different from 3 miles.
We were going to head up to Inverness either way; Stu was keen to support the races on his bike, the hotel was non-refundable, and I knew that I could have fun supporting and cheering the runners on if it came to it. I packed both running options and warm supporting clothes. Since Stu had driven up from Edinburgh the previous day I was supposed to be doing the driving, but my wrist was too painful and I couldn’t change gears or steer, so the driving fell to Stu again. We set off mid-afternoon and arrived around 5pm, checking into the hotel before heading to the expo. Stu was absolutely delighted to be attending the expo as a visitor rather than working at it!
I had decided to pick up my number so I could make my final decision on the Sunday morning. I did also think about entering the 5k, but as there are limited entries on the day I decided to leave that until the Sunday. We bumped into Maz, Erin and Laurie, and I showed off my now spectacular leg bruises to all and sundry; it was actually quite good to have something tangible to show people as to why I was considering not running (although it was the arm that was the problem rather than the legs!)
I decided against getting my picture taken with my number and the giant Nessie as is the tradition, as I still really didn’t know at this point what I was going to do. I had put a post on Facebook posing the question of DNS, DNF or Tough it Out, and got very mixed responses. At the end of the day though it was going to be a decision that only I could make. I knew that a DNF would hurt more than a DNS, compounded by the fact that Loch Ness by its nature is a difficult course on which to DNF (although I did bump into a friend who said that when her friend had to DNF she was looked after very well and returned to the finish in reasonable time).
We headed out for dinner and I ended up having a couple of glasses of wine, then we went and met Stu’s mum and I had another. By the time the wine had gone down, I was definitely leaning towards at least giving it a go; helped by the fact that Stu’s mum, who is a nurse, said that I was unlikely to do any further damage by running (always the big concern). We bumped into the Jog Scotland lot on our way home, and I told Maz that I would probably be seeing her in the morning, but that if she didn’t hear from me it was because I had chosen a long lie over the run (one of the pros for a DNS being avoiding the 6am alarm call).
6am arrived and I was awake and relatively pain free; I hadn’t had one of the pain spasms since early afternoon the day before, and it had much less painful than previously. If I was going to do the 5k I was going to have to be up in about an hour anyway, so it wasn’t like I was going to get much of a long lie anyway. Probably to nobody’s surprise, I got up and started getting ready to run a marathon. Tying my hair up was really painful but I felt otherwise ok, and soon enough we were walking to the start, as I texted Maz “I appear to be walking to the start dressed in running gear”. I arrived in good time, used insider knowledge to use a loo with a short queue, and soon enough was sitting on a bus, at which point I also texted my dad to confess- “I can’t not give it a go”. He was also not surprised… it seems I’m quite predictable.
Unfortunately tying my hair up had caused the arm to really hurt, and as I was sitting on the bus I started to doubt if I had made the right decision. I vaguely thought about jumping off the bus. If it was this sore just sitting on a bus, how was I going to run for 5/6 hours? But I was there, and I was still on the bus as it pulled out of the car park and headed to the start. Holding my arm still I dozed off, and by the time I came round 45 minutes or so later, I was extremely relieved to find the pain greatly reduced. I was less relieved to see the bleak looking weather outside and hear the wind howling against the bus. One of the problems of being driven up to the top of a hill in the middle of the Scottish countryside is that you are of course very exposed to the elements. We arrived at around 8:40 for a 10am race start and I was dreading standing out in the wind and the rain, but luckily our bus driver let us stay on the warm bus- what a life saver. Eventually though my bladder won over my need to be warm and I left the comfort of the bus, fortunately into weather not quite as bad as I expected.
I soon found the (very long) loo queue, and a Maz, and a Sheri! It was great to see them and the queue did move; we reached the front around 9:45, then it was time to head to the start. We bumped into so many people I knew and the atmosphere was buzzing- I knew then I had made the right decision, I would have been gutted to miss this. I had mentioned to Maz previously the possibility of running with her, but we hadn’t agreed anything for sure; now we agreed to start together and see how it went. I wasn’t sure I would be able to keep up with her but was keen for the company.
We set off and immediately as we ran down the steep hill my calf was a bit tight and sore; my arm was alright though I was holding it a bit awkwardly. Thankfully the leg loosened off and wasn’t any more sore than you would expect it to be with all the bruising! Maz carefully ran on my right to stay away from the bad arm, and the first few miles ticked by pleasantly. As soon as we dropped down the wind died and I straight away regretted my decision to keep my long-sleeved top on and transfer my number from my vest to the top. Never mind- it would be an excuse for a walk break later! Quite soon after the start we saw an altercation to our left. At first we thought it was a domestic (think Maz was quite excited!) but then we realised it was a landowner going mad at some guys using her trees as a pee stop. She actually hit the guy! That gave us something to talk about for a few minutes at any rate. We were also passed by a running squirrel, which was a bit nightmare-esque.
The day before, Stu had suggested that if I did end up having to visit A&E or my doctor about my arm I could say that I fell during the marathon. I said that I wouldn’t need to do that, but I had no intentions of mentioning the running of the marathon… I was busted after about two miles as my GP ran past and chatted briefly to us!
The miles were ticking by nicely, quicker than the average pace we needed but that was to be expected given the downhill. It’s a fine line at Loch Ness between taking advantage of the downs and not mashing your legs too much. We chatted to a few runners here and there, including complimenting one woman on her top which read “I run on gin and inappropriate thoughts”- don’t we all!
The first half passed by fairly quickly. At some point we picked up Lyndsay, who was taking it easy after her phenomenal run at Glenmore 24. It was nice to have somebody else to chat to, although she probably did pull her pace on a bit. We also passed a group of soldiers who were walk/running, and we all rather enjoyed that, although they were very young! We were also getting rather annoyed by a couple of runners around us with appalling etiquette (they appeared just after I had remarked to Maz that the overall etiquette was very good!). They were run/walking but with no apparent logic; they would sprint past us, overtaking unnecessarily close, then stop dead right in front of us. We were very relieved to leave them behind!
The flat stretch along the loch, from miles 10 to about 16, looks on paper to be the easy bit of the route. It sucked! It just dragged on and on, nothing to really break it up, no crowds, long gaps between water stops. Stu texted me at around 14 miles to say he was at Dores at 16 miles, and I was so looking forward to seeing him! In fact I had thought I had seen him a couple of miles earlier when I looked over my shoulder and saw a cyclist in a red top- that could have been very awkward as I nearly said “hey sexy!”. He popped up on his bike as we hit around 15 miles, and cycled alongside us. I was struggling at this point, while Maz was doing ace and powering on. I needed some walk breaks but never let her get too far ahead and was able to run to catch her. Luckily Stu was there for the low patch and it helped to have him to chat to. The weather at this point turned a bit nasty with the wind and the rain picking up but thankfully it didn’t last too long.
We lost Lyndsay around here, but Maz was still doing amazingly and powering on. We knew the tough hill was coming but we were bang on where we wanted to be time-wise. Luckily I had started to perk up a bit too and our energy levels were more well matched again. The support coming through Dores was ace. Maz had her name on her t-shirt and was getting lots of cheering, which I gratefully accepted as my own. We joked that I needed and “I’m with Maz” shirt.
Soon enough the big hill began in earnest. Because half the road was open there were traffic cones at regular intervals and they were brilliant; run a cone, walk a cone. Oh ok, run an extra cone. Our brains were wonderfully in tune with each other and we pushed each other on using the cones. Stu was passing us around here too, and took an excellent photo which sums up Maz’s thoughts on the hill perfectly.
Around here we passed a girl who was limping along supported by a guy. She was crying and really didn’t look very well. We offered to get Stu to cycle on and get her help, as well as water and haribo, but she said she didn’t need anything. When we reached the next water point we were going to tell the first aiders about her, but there was already a police car there letting them know. We were surprised and delighted when she flew past us a few miles later looking strong and happy!
Finally, after a few false peaks, we reached the top of the hill. The PB was definitely on, and even 5:30 was looking possible if we pushed on a bit. There were a few pockets of supporters here, and I went out of my way to high five a couple of kids who were standing at the road side cheering enthusiastically, and must have been for hours! We were both tired now, and Maz’s legs were threatening to cramp up, but we were moving forward at a good pace. We had also passed quite a lot of people on the hill, and in comparison to the field around us were moving strongly.
We pushed on a little down the next hill. The road here was still coned off as one side was open to the traffic coming towards us, and we were surprised to have a car coming up behind us and having to pull in beside the runners when cars came in the opposite direction. It was rather satisfying when they reached the end of that road section and got to a marshal, who evidently told them off for driving down a closed road and send them back all the way that they had come!
With around 4 miles to go the marathon route joins the 10k route and I always find that a boost, as you know exactly how far is left in kilometres. We were still going well and I was trying to push Maz on a bit, aware that 5:30 was still within our grasp. It was tough though- there are a few mean uphills in those last few miles that I had forgotten about! I was telling her “just a short long run”, then “just an evening Jog Scotland run”. We passed the 5k marker which meant less than a parkrun to go! Shortly after that we crossed a large roundabout, where Maz suddenly veered off to the left. I wondered what was happening until I realised that she had shot off for a kiss on the cheek from a tall and rather attractive policeman. You honestly can’t take her anywhere!
We were still using cones to motivate ourselves, knowing that soon we would reach the riverside and the crowds. We mustered our strength so that we could run strong past our friends, and then we turned the corner and ahead was a tunnel of orange and noise. It was amazing and Maz started to cry, but I told her to save her tears to the end! That gave us such a boost and took us into the last mile. We walked up and over the bridge (it feels so steep at that point) and then started to run back towards the finish; there was a bit of a headwind but not too bad.
We passed a group of three ladies who were walking and one of them said “Are you Naomi?” it turns out she’s the girlfriend of a friend of mine from work. I stopped to chat with them briefly then caught up Maz, who was getting more cheers from people she knew as she headed towards her PB. She was hurting now but I knew that glory wasn’t far away so she wasn’t getting much sympathy. We took a few walking paces then pushed on to the end. There were more Jog Scotties, and right near the finish the Metro lot were there, screaming and cheering, and it was such an awesome feeling as we crossed the line, in a brand spanking new PB for Maz and just a few seconds outside 5:30 (for the love of a kiss from a policeman!).
We hugged and grabbed our medals and goody bags, before heading out of the finish area to meet friends. I was so proud of Maz, and so relieved that I had made the right decision to run. We were two very happy ladies.