A year earlier than I’d originally planned, yesterday I toe’d the line in my first marathon. I’d heard great things about the Loch Ness Marathon, and Inverness is a lovely town, so where better to start my marathon journey?
My training had been consistent – I’d done every workout on the plan, every gym session, stretched daily. I’d even gone teetotal the final few months, searching for every little performance improvement I could find.
All the way through this running journey there’s been one nagging thought at the back of my mind – this time last year I was still bike racing. Indeed, the winter of 2016/17 was one of the best pre-seasons I’d ever had and in February I was looking forward to another season racing my bike. Then in March I changed my mind and started running again. We were travelling a lot in the Spring, and taking my shoes let’s me see a City in a different way – one of my favourite things. So running became my sporting focus once more.
I knew I could run a half marathon – I did two back in 2015 – but could I run a marathon? I was going to find out.
The start at Loch Ness is 25 Miles up the side of the Loch. All 4000 runners are bused there from Inverness, an hour’s journey over twisty roads. By the time we got to the start I was feeling very travel sick. Fortunately the cold usually snaps me out of it, so when we got off the bus and felt the icy blast (and rain), I soon forgot my travel sickness. We had around 90 minutes until the start and they were spent queuing for the portaloos and trying to keep warm.
At 10am we set off to the sound of pipes & drums, a very special way to start my first marathon. Within the first mile I’d warmed up, and was quickly into my rhythm. All of my training was based on running 3:45, realistically I was just hoping to get round in under 4 hours. The early miles were smooth, I felt on top of the pace and was able to enjoy the scenery. The first challenge came at mile 5, the first real hills of the race, and I felt comfortable as we climbed.
Soon we were through 8.5 Miles, a third of the race done. There were water stops every few miles, so I was keeping well hydrated. I was also taking a gel every 45 mins, plus an electrolyte drink at each electrolyte station (I think there were 3?). I was continuing to stay on pace, aiming for a first half of around 1:55.
I actually made it through half way in 1:54, a little ahead of schedule but I was feeling good. Miles 14, 15 & 16 all went by without any trouble, however at mile 17 I started to feel it for the first time. I took a gel, along with a Cliff Shot, and pushed on. Mile 18 took us through the village of Dores, and I knew that we weren’t far away from the fabled hill.
I didn’t expect it to be so steep, or so long! The fact that you could also see it snaking away up in the distance didn’t help either, and it was here that I had my first real problems of the day. Like many others I found myself walk / running up the hill. I was tying hard to keep on running, but my hip flexors had other ideas, so at times I was reduced to fast walking pace. These 2 Miles, 19 & 20, saw me lose a lot of time. Mile 21 was downhill, so I got back into my rhythm, but then we hit another hill which saw me struggling again.
By now I knew that I was losing time – my average pace had crept up from 8:42 and was getting ever closer to 9:00. I knew that if I wanted to break 4 hours, I had to keep it below 9:07, but I also knew now that there was very little left in the tank.
So much of this is mental, and I was keeping myself going by counting (up to 8), and saying my new mantra, which was to say the names of my family, the people I love dearly, over & over again in rhythmical fashion. That got me to mile 23 and the outskirts of Inverness. At this point I knew that all I had left to run was a Parkrun, how hard could that be? However I was now in a new territory – I’d never run farther than 22 miles.
I won’t lie, these last few miles were slow and tortuous. I tried to lift the pace a couple of times, but my legs refused. By now we were in the centre of Inverness, crossing the bridge and turning down the last mile of the race, where I knew Joanna would be waiting for me near the finish. Again I tried to lift the pace. I knew that I wasn’t going to break 4 hours now, but I could still finish strong. My running form still felt good, which was a good sign.
I heard the announcer calling my name as I bared down on the finish line, then heard Joanna shout from the side. It was lovely to see and hear her. I crossed the line in 4:01:59, tantalisingly close to breaking 4 hours. That lack of running endurance that I’d been worried about had ended up costing me, but there was nothing I could do about it.
I was so happy to finish. Crossing that line was both a relief and a celebration. I’d just completed a marathon, in a time that many people would be delighted with. Yes, it wasn’t as fast as I’d hoped, but I’d done it and learned a lot along the way.
It was great having Joanna there with me for the weekend. We stayed in a lovely Airbnb near the Castle, enjoyed a delicious meal on Saturday evening (more pasta for me! 😬), and then Joanna looked after me post-race, driving us home in torrential rain – a journey that took over 3 hours!
I had no idea how sore my body would be today. I’m still incredibly stiff – I’m going for another ice bath when I’ve finished writing this. I’m also going to sleep in my skins (compression leggings) again tonight – anything I can do to aid recovery.
I’ve enjoyed the marathon journey, and am proud of myself for what I’ve accomplished. Of course, a time of 4:01 means only one thing – I’ll have to do another, I’ve got to get under 4 hours!
I might wait until 2019 though…..