Loch Ness Marathon – Race Report

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.

img_5623

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…..

img_5625

2 weeks to go

This has been a good training week. Not spectacular, just solid, grinding out the workouts.

Hard to believe this is the end of week 14 of my marathon training. It struck me yesterday that today’s long run would be the last time I’d do this kind of volume for a while – I’m going to focus on 10k / 10 mile races in the Spring, so the distances of my long runs won’t be like anything I’ve done for the marathon.

It’s also weird looking at my training plan (which I keep on Final Surge) and seeing an empty calendar beyond Sunday 24th September. Running’s a big part of my life, and whilst I know that I’ll need a week or two off after the race, it’s going to be strange not getting up at 5am to run. Just for a couple of weeks though.

I’m already looking ahead and starting to think about races to focus my training on for 2018. Some might think that I should be focusing on the race and not thinking about anything beyond that, but for me it helps to think about what the next targets might be.

I’ve been feeling more upbeat this week. I’d caught myself starting get a little negative in my thinking as the day of the marathon has got closer. My running friends have noticed it too, so big shout-outs to them for helping to pick me up, particularly to online chums Tony Green, Amanda Moore & Cat Bradley.

I’d also like to say thanks to Dave Nicholson, who’s a runner based here in Dundee. I met with Dave during the week at my office, and about 75 minutes of our 90 minute ‘business’ meeting were devoted to running. Dave had picked up on my mindset when he read the last couple of blog posts, so we spoke about what was making me feel concerned.

He even brought me a book – the story of Sharon Gayter, one of the UK’s best ultra runners. Dave had supported Sharon back in 2007 when she’d broken the world record for running from Lands End to John o’Groats, 837 miles over 13 days. There was a whole chapter of the book dedicated to that herculean effort and Dave suggested I read that, which I have.

img_7799

The marathon is going to challenge me both physically and mentally, and after this week I feel more prepared for what’s to come.

So bring it on Loch Ness, let’s see what you’ve got!

This week in numbers:

  • Distance run – 43.3
  • Time on my feet – 6:34:44
  • Books given to me – 1

Time for a refresh

As you may have noticed, I’ve been playing around with different themes the past few weeks. I’ve also been consolidating a couple of websites I own into this one.

Previously I’d had a ‘business-focused’ site at http://www.alasdairmcgill.com, and a separate ‘personal’ blog, where I mainly wrote about running & cycling. However, like many people, my work & personal lives blend into one another and so it made sense to do this.

If you’re visiting here expecting to only read about business stuff, then prepare yourself for stories from my marathon training. Likewise, if you’ve come hear to read about my running exploits, then now and again you’re going to find posts about design, business, accounting and customer experience.

I’ll do my best to keep them all entertaining. There’s so much bad content out there, that I don’t need to be adding to the noise. I’ll endeavour to tell stories, to tell you about the wonderful people and organisations that I encounter on my travels.

I’m also going to start documenting the journey as we launch a new business in August.

I’ll keep it human, I promise.

 

Week 5 – Almost a third of the way there!

Holy moly, this is the end of week 5 of my training plan, which means that the Loch Ness Marathon is only 11 weeks away! That means I’m almost a third of the way through the plan 😳

The training has stepped up this week. Not massively, but up until now it’s been lots of steady runs. This week included the first speed session in the plan. But before we get to that, I’ve been travelling this week, which meant that Tuesday’s easy run was done in Darlington.

We were due to leave Darlington at 7.30am to drive to Leeds, so that meant getting up at 5am to get my run in. It was a little damp, but very quiet as you’d expect at that time of day.

A little bit of searching on Strava showed that my hotel was pretty near the Darlington Parkrun course. Perfect! I managed a soggy 4 miles, which included a loop of the course (they run it three times to get to 5k), followed by a delicious hotel breakfast. Ideal!

Now, about that speed session. My legs are still sore today! The plan was 10 x 400m at 1:42 per interval, with 200m recoveries, then the session finished off with 3 x 200m with 200m recoveries. These are designed to build a fast finish apparently.

The hardest thing about doing 10 intervals is always the first couple. There are just so many still ahead of you, it plays on your mind. I’ve learned over the years just to focus on one at a time, don’t think ahead. Just count them down and before you know it they’re done. I hit the numbers (well actually I made sure that I did each one in the 1:30s!), then pushed it on the 200s. I really enjoyed the session, despite the pain I’ve been in the past couple of days (just my quads adapting to the intensity of the effort).

For yesterday’s easy run I got out into the countryside, travelling to Monikie Country Park, near Dundee. It was lovely to run off-road around the reservoir, then do my Form Drills on the grass. A pleasant change from pounding the pavements! As you can see from the photos below it was a beautiful day.

Today was the big one. At 14 miles, it would be the longest run I’d done since 2015, and I knew I was going to be doing it on tired legs. I won’t lie, it was a slog, and as I write this my legs are pretty sore. More stretching shortly, and a protein shake before bed should help. 

The main thought I was left with at the end of today’s run, was that in 11 weeks I need to be able to add on another 12.2 miles, and ideally run the whole lot 30 seconds per mile faster. Kind of a daunting prospect if truth be told, but that’s where my new book comes in! I’ll be reading this baby on holiday:

This week in numbers:

  • Miles run: 32.2
  • Time on my feet: 4:53:34
  • Hotel breakfasts: 1


My Addiction

I bought my first proper road bike back in Spring 2005. Within 6 months I would do my first road race, and in the following 10 years bike racing became a huge part of my life. It’s a sport that demands commitment – if you’re going to race, you need to put the training effort in. I raced in road races, time trials and cyclocross. I never got into mountain biking – I think the fear of crashing and injuring myself was too much.

Training has always been the thing I’ve enjoyed most however. I could lose myself in the effort, me against myself. I never enjoyed the racing as much – I found it too stressful, particularly after a few crashes and broken bones. But I could happily spend time training without a care in the world.

The bike has got me through a few tough times. It was there for me at the end of a particularly unpleasant business relationship a few years ago. Getting out on the bike, pushing myself to my physical limits, and other times just riding for the sheer enjoyment of it, lifted the gloom.

My last season of racing was 2014, when I had a pretty successful year in terms of results and performance, however by the end of the season I felt worn out. I needed a break. So I started running.

I’d been doing a bit of running as part of my cyclocross training, and with a bit of coaxing from my friend Julie Ramsay, I found myself signing up for the Winter 5k race in Edinburgh around Arthur’s Seat. The snow that day was ridiculous, but I loved it! Before I knew it I’d entered the Edinburgh Half Marathon, found myself a training plan, and started training for a new sport.

That’s always an enjoyable phase, you’re getting better all the time, beating PBs on a regular basis. There were other 5k & 10k races, a 5 mile and 10 mile race. The adrenaline of training and racing had me again.

Since then I’ve gone back and forward between the bike and running. At the end of 2015 I decided to get back on the bike. Trained solely on the bike for 6 months, then switched to running for a couple of months. Back and forth.

And so it’s continued. I’ve realised that training is my addiction. I love it. It makes me feel good, happy, content. I love nothing more than getting up at dawn and running as the sun rises. Or getting out for an hour on my bike while everyone else is asleep. My breakfast always tastes sweeter on those days.

My days of racing are behind me (for now). But I’m still training as hard as ever. Pushing myself, feeling the burn, getting fitter and stronger. This winter I’ve added HIIT sessions into the mix. I feel better than I have in years. My power on the bike is as high as its ever been, but I no longer feel compelled to pin on a number and race.

I’m content to just do this for me. That’s not to say that I won’t race again, it’s just that for now I’m doing what I love without the pressure that racing brings. And I’m cool with that.

Merry Christmas everyone!

So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over, a new one just begun.

I’m writing this a little earlier than I had thought I would, after The Circle & ACK’s Christmas Party yesterday afternoon. Given the reputation of some of my colleagues, I did wonder if I would be in any state to even contemplate writing today! However, I was home and in bed by 10pm, and so here I am at the keyboard.

This will be my last daily blog post of the year, as from today I’m on holiday until January 4th 2017. I don’t plan to impart any wisdom, or reflect on business events of the past few days.

I’ve always loved Christmas, and I’m excited because my daughter Rebecca is coming home from London later today. The Prosecco’s in the fridge, Joanna’s made mince pies, there are boxes of chocolates everywhere, and Rebecca’s bringing Elf on dvd. It’s going to be a pretty awesome day hanging out with my girls.

So in closing, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read these posts over the past couple of months, and to wish you, your family and those close to you a wonderful Christmas.