Looking back on Loch Ness

Along with a record 5200 others, runABC Scotland’s Christine ran the Baxters Loch Ness marathon, on Sunday, her 46th birthday. Here she shares her experience:

I’ve always wanted to run at Loch Ness and I’m glad I finally got the chance. Everyone raves about the event and I can see why. It’s got the buzz and energy of a big city race, but with the relaxed and friendly vibe of a smaller event. It really is the best of both worlds.

Over 60% of Sunday’s runners travelled from outside Scotland to run 26.2 miles along the shores of Loch Ness, and there’s no doubt their presence created a good deal of the excitement on an otherwise pretty bleak day.

Even being dropped off in the rain and wind at the top of a hill in the middle of nowhere for the start didn’t dampen the spirits of the international runners I spoke to – they were looking to experience Scotland, in all its glory, and our weather certainly lived up to their expectations.

Many of the international runners made a special effort to get into the local spirit, which was much appreciated. Spotting kilts, stuffed Nessies, and ‘See You Jimmy’ hats paired with ‘Denmark’ running vests made me smile through my chattering teeth, shivering inside my bin bag, waiting for my chance to run that iconic course too.

And what a course it is! Paced correctly, the downhill start helps you warm up for the 20 miles to follow. The ‘flat’ mid-course section is more fairly called undulating than flat – but I was well prepared for what was in store on the road back to Inverness after reading through Fraser Clyne’s very thorough course notes. Tough as the little climb after five miles was, it wasn’t a surprise.

When my spirits dipped a bit when the rain came back on, trying to catch the international runners in front of me so that I could read their club vests proved a useful game to play: Denmark, Poland, Greece, Germany and Italy are just a few of the countries I remember.

Thankfully, the blue skies came out – along with great support from the crowds – just in time: right before the hill at Dores at mile 18/19. Cowbells, no shortage of Haribos offered by young spectators and a glimpse of the sun helped me power up the notorious slope.

Huddling for warmth around the baggage lorries before the start, I was lucky enough to find myself standing next to last year’s winner, a very cheerful, if slightly soggy, Sheena Logan. When asked if she had any advice for my run, I expected a winner’s detailed, considered guidance on pace or technique in reply. But she gave me even better advice: she told me just to smile, to help my whole body relax and run easy.

After reaching the top of the second last climb – that little sting in Nessie’s tail around mile 21 – I was finally able to take Logan’s good advice: I smiled and relaxed into the final few downhill miles towards home, knowing the hard work was done.

Around mile 23 and the return to Inverness, the crowds appeared again, and the cheers I could hear from the finish line just across the river told me there wasn’t long to go. Even that final stretch from Ness Bridge to the finish went more easily than I had feared, thanks to the energy the spectators shared with everyone grinding out that dreaded last mile.

In terms of my final time (3.27.42), I've been feeling a bit under the weather of late, so the hoped-for present of a PB for my birthday was never to be. But I learned a lot, running my fourth marathon. Most importantly, I learned that being able to run a marathon, and one as beautiful as this, is a gift in itself.

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