I’ve known of the Loch Ness marathon for a number of years but have never got round to fitting it into my race schedule. For this reason I was thrilled when I was invited by the Loch Ness Marathon to come and experience their race and write about it. The offer was rather last minute being only 5 days before the race but luckily I was able to go and pleased to accept their kind offer.
I have done many point to point races. They always create logistical problems regarding transportation of runners and baggage handling. My question is how well the race organisers are prepared for this so as not to adversely affect the enjoyment of the runner’s experience. The Loch Ness marathon is an extreme example with the start and finish over 20 miles apart. Before the race I wondered whether the race was going to be worth travelling so far north for and would the necessary logistics be in place to make everything run smoothly and make the race an enjoyable experience for all the runners?
The race starts near the southern end of Loch Ness and finishes at the northern end in Bught Park, Inverness, on the banks of the River Ness. All the runners are required to use a special bus service which leaves Bught Park at 7:15am and arrives at the start area at 8:45am. This makes for a very early morning alarm call. I must admit it is quite exciting as thousands of runners board dozens of buses and leave together in convoy like a long train.
Runner mentally preparing himself for the marathon.
For a moment I thought I had found the Loch Ness Monster!
The start is high up on what I can only describe as open moorland. It feels very remote and far away from any human civilisation. As I stood there and watched the buses arriving and the runners disembarking in their hundreds I started to ponder how surreal it was. One Sunday morning once a year thousands of runners from 50 different countries, lots of buses, 50 odd portaloos and a loud quality sound system playing up tempo dance music appear. Then within an hour or two every one will have gone leaving the place once again peaceful and remote.
I was very impressed with the organisation of the transportation and the start. There also seemed to be an adequate number of portaloos for the thousands of hydrated runners that had just got off a one and a half hour bus ride . . . I’ll not go into any more detail! It goes without saying there was a band of Scottish bag pipers at the start of the race giving the race that real Highland feel it deserves.
Ten o’clock and the race finally got underway. I knew from looking at the course profile it was down hill for the first 5 miles but it still surprised me by how much. It was hard to balance off not setting of too fast but also not holding back too much as neither are good for the beginning stage of a marathon. By mile 6 the down hill section was over and in fact we had already encountered a couple of short steep up hill climbs.
We were now down by the shores of Loch Ness and ran with it on our left. The narrow tarmac road was closed to traffic but plenty wide enough for us runners. It felt very tranquil, all I could hear was the breathing and foot steps of the others runners, the wind rustling the leaves in the trees and sound of the loch’s water lapping onto the shore. There was no distant hum of traffic. We were running through woodland made up of mainly native Scotts pine and birch. The ground was covered in ferns and moss covered rocks. Everything was so natural, undisturbed by man and beautiful. For miles the tarmac road was the only thing I could see that was man made. If you want to run a mass participant marathon and yet get away from the city then this is the one for you. During this section of the race there was virtually no crowd support, it didn’t seem important as there were plenty of runners for company. The route continued undulating along the the shore like this for about 11 miles before we came to the village of Dores and the first spectators for a long while to cheer us on. After the village we reached the part of the course I had been warned about, from 18.5 to 20 miles was a steady climb which was seriously energy zapping. Anyone who hadn’t trained enough would definitely feel it here. Half way up I was distracted by a banner which read “Humpty Dumpty has issues with walls too”. It made me chuckle and forget about the hill for a short while.
After reaching the top and starting to descend the other side I thought I had cracked the race and could coast the last 6 miles. How wrong I was, no one had told me about another hill at 22 miles and the other undulations still to contend with. It might be a net down hill course but don’t be fooled this course had plenty of undulations and hills.
Finally we came to the outskirts of Inverness. The crowd support increased, which I found encouraging as my legs were feeling very tired. The course made its way to the banks of the very picturesque River Ness, over a bridge and back into Bught Park, where a well laid out finish welcomed us with plenty of crowd support.
In answer to my question at the beginning of this blog post “Was it worth all the logistics to do this point to point race?” Well my answer is a resounding definite 100% YES! The scenery was absolutely stunning. The course is very demanding but that only adds to the sense of achievement and appreciation of the lovely medal awarded at the finish. This has got to be one of the most scenic marathons I’ve ever done, I certainly don’t regret coming. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being here and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a scenic, challenging mass participation marathon.
I must thank the Loach Ness Marathon for the last minute opportunity to run their race and especially Leanne who looked after me over the weekend.
The event is already open for entries for next year so if you fancy a run along the Loch and the chance to see a glimpse of Nessy then follow the link below:-
Eventually I found Nessy!