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Race report: The Baxter’s Loch Ness Marathon, Sunday 25th September 2016

By Jon Laye

 

Back in January I finally committed to racing my first marathon. I chose the Baxter’s Loch Ness Marathon because it has a hugely positive reputation. It is famous for being amongst the most beautiful courses in the country and it has the benefit of boasting nearly 10 miles of descent in the first half of the route! Starting way up on a mountainside east of Fort Augustus at just over 1000ft above sea level, the route, which is entirely on closed roads plunges down to the southern shoreline of Loch Ness at almost sea level, which it then follows until finally reaching the picturesque Highland metropolis of Inverness. Having said that, the marathon is also renowned for not exactly being a push-over: the extensive descent (which in places is actually shockingly steep) is notorious for destroying runners’ legs long before they are faced with a mile-long climb up the foothills before a final descent to civilization!

 

Despite this, I journeyed to Inverness in a confident mood. Much of my training had focused on long descents plus finishing my long runs with suitable climbs to simulate the actual event. Throughout my training I had really concentrated on trying to refuel on energy gels and drinking sufficient water to maintain my speed during my long runs. I knew that on race day as long as I wasn’t stupid enough to ignore refueling and rehydrating I would finish (and possibly even with a smile on my face)!

 

On the morning of the race I joined just under 3500 other runners at Bught Park beside the River Ness in the outskirts of Inverness from where we were transported in a fleet of over 50 coaches to the start of the route. Once deposited on the windswept mountainside the whole event started to become a bit of a reality check for me. It was freezing cold and damp, and yet morale remained high as we all gathered together and shuffled around shivering like penguins in a polar storm. And then suddenly the skies cleared, the sun shone and a beautiful rainbow appeared just as the Highland pipers marched down the road raising our spirits ready for the race. I just had time to warm up when all of a sudden we were off! And what a start! Within minutes I really had to apply the brakes because the descent was monumental; we were flying! I remember trying to stay calm and pace myself but this seemed almost impossible as mile after mile we plunged down to the Loch.

 

Everyone knows about the legend of the Loch Ness Monster, but personally I have always been very skeptical. But now I know it exists! Because I have confronted this monster and it is terrifying and can reduce a (relatively-fit) runner to a trembling, exhausted, hollow-eyed wreck!! I really hadn’t expected to confront the monster as a consequence of energy gels, but I suppose reclusive mythological beasts rarely behave in a predictable fashion. At the first nutrition station I grabbed an energy gel as supplied by the race sponsors and gulped it down. Granted, this was not the normal brand that I use, but I had successfully tried several of their products before, but I did not expect the immediate result: a wave of nausea, uncontrollable retching followed by stomach cramps! At the second energy gel station I tried again but just a small slurp of the energy gel resulted in the same immediate response!! Here the monster raised its ugly head and in a mocking tone gurgled at me, ‘No nutritional input for ye on this marathon, laddie!’

 

The horror of this hit me at about mile 15. I had passed the half way point in relative comfort in just over 90 minutes, but panic set in followed by that horrible feeling that I now know all marathon runners get: this is going to be a battle regardless. But the prospect of no energy gels completely destroyed me. I can’t remember hitting a specific wall, but from mile 17 onwards I was running through treacle and my guts were hurting so much that I could not breath. Again and again the Loch Ness Monster made me suffer! When we reached the hill, the monster climbed onto my back and reduced me to a shuffling wretch! On the descent into Inverness the monster dragged along behind me reducing me to a crawl! I crossed the line at some point that afternoon and swore never to run again, ever. Ten minutes later I started to rationalize and realized the error of not carrying my own gel supplies, especially when I had become so reliant upon them over the last 5 months of training. I also realized that I rapidly needed some food, and only after eating a banana and 3 chocolate bars did my feeling of terrible disappointment start to lift. And then as the Loch Ness Monster slowly slipped away back into the River Ness to swim back upstream to its home in the Loch, I finally started to smile.

 

What an amazing marathon to complete. I was vaguely aware of some of the beautiful scenery. I have a fuzzy recollection of enthusiastic crowds at each and every small village on the route followed by hundreds of people in Inverness. The weather was great (I think) with rain showers only blowing in later in the afternoon. The organization was really very good and I can confirm that the Loch Ness Marathon does indeed live up to its reputation.

 

Would I return to run this race again? My immediate response would be ‘Yes’, but then I think of that fearful, black, oily creature lurking in the cold, dark depths of the Loch casting its beady eye in my direction again, and I think ‘Perhaps the York Marathon sounds safer!’

 

Name Club Position Gun Time Chip Time Gender Position Cat. Position M40
Jon Laye Abbey Runners 157 03:22:15 03:21:51 148 46

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