Loch Ness Marathon
Loch Ness Marathon
by Conn Bardi
10th February 2012 – the beginning of my diagnosis with fibromyalgia
25th September 2016 – I ran my first marathon, in Loch Ness.
My journey into running took off in February 2016. I cycled a lot up to then, but it used to leave me tired – both physically and mentally. Physically because it simply did not agree with me. Mentally, because I had to deal with traffic, cars, roundabouts. With the aggression on the roads on the increase, going for a ride became a chore. So my running jaunts in my old pair of trainers became more frequent. The jog round the block grew into a commuter-run. The commuter run turned into a longer trail round my town on my rest days. In time, distances that left me sounding like a nuisance caller, were not challenging enough. My body was growing stronger, my energy levels were rising, and – unlike cycling – I was not dodging cars. The bike was left parked and a new pair of trainers took its place. I learnt about parkruns, gait analysis, and wondered why 6.2 mile races were called 10k.
6th March 2016 – I ran my first ever race. A 10k circuit round Milton Keynes and collected my first of many medals of 2016. I still remember the anticipation and trepidation I felt waiting at the start line. Will I make it round the course? I did and I felt like a hero.
4th June 2016 – I ran my first ever Half Marathon in Otmoor, Oxfordshire. A baptism of fire, with trails and tracks. I had by then booked the Loch Ness marathon. My taste for long distance running had been whet.
I arrived in Inverness on the 23rd September. The Highlanders are unusually friendly. Well, unusual for a Londoner. Pleasant, warm and helpful. Cars would stop at main roads to let pedestrians cross the road; and not try to run them over whilst they were doing so. People would stop and chat. Greeting a stranger in public was not perceived as a public declaration of insanity; unlike London!
I quickly settled into a cozy Airbnb ran by John and Jane. John was a true Gael from The Outer Hebrides, and a professional musician playing the bagpipes. I saw a real Sgian-dubh and listened to the sounds of the bagpipes over breakfast. It cannot get anymore traditional. I had the pleasure of enjoying some rich conversations with John over a few common interests. Jane, a warm and travelled Glaswegian, provided me with vegan food and fresh fruit. The peaceful and picturesque environ of Scorguie, could not prepare me for the views of Loch Ness.
The other room in the house had been booked by Maria and Rodrigo, who arrived on the 24th. Maria, a Spanish lady living in London, was running her fifth marathon.
25th September 2016 – M-Day.
I beat the alarm to it. Actually I don’t think I slept much that night. I had run marathon and 30 mile distances during training, but this was the real deal. I was off to see Nessie.
My objectives were:
- Finish the Marathon
- Not to walk a single step
The temperature for the day was forecast to be around 14º. Still, I took a bin-liner just in case I needed an extra layer whilst waiting at the starting point. It proved a wise decision. After a breakfast of raw oats soaked overnight in soya milk, plenty of Vicks vapour rub and Vaseline on my feet, blue t-shirt and shorts (I was in Scotland after all), and my 4mm Skechers, I was good to go. Rodrigo, Maria’s husband, dropped us off at the pick up point.
The coach ride from the Ice-Ring next to Bught Park took around an hour to reach the start line. The views en route were majestic. Along the way we saw Urquhart Castle and Fort Augustus. The start line was between Fort Augustus and Foyers on General Wade’s Military Road the B862. At the start point there was nothing but wilderness; pure unadulterated nature. A couple of ewes and a ram nearby looked puzzled as coach-fulls of runners were sprinting for a pee. We had been told to use the porta-loos in case we upset the locals. As far as I know though, none of the sheep complained. The bag drop-off was well organised, and there was music and entertainment whilst we waited for the start-gun. It was a windy and crisp morning. I was chatting to a fireman from Orkney, who told me he was feeling the chill. Yet there were some other runners in just a t-shirt.
The start of the race was an unforgettable moment. I was taking my initial steps of my first marathon. On the other side of the arch, we were met by the local cadet bagpipers. A very fitting way to set off on our 26.2 mile journey. After the initial chatter, all you could hear for a while was the rhythmic footfall of runners trying to get into their own rhythm. Maria and I were nattering away about the Athens marathon, the marathon in Rome and other runs. I took her advice, on hydration and kept taking little sips of water very often.
The route followed the B852 down to the edge of the loch at Foyers. From mile 6, we were running alongside Loch Ness. The true beauty of the area cannot be captured by a camera. There were houses along the way overlooking the loch. How serene must it be to wake up in such a natural environment. With a steady cadence, I was easily clocking up the miles. It felt more like a Sunday run; only the air was much cleaner. Wherever there were houses, the local people would be out cheering us. I even met a runner from my local club that had retired to the Highlands. Jealous..? Me..? …well maybe a little.
There was a stretch of road that was lined with pine trees either side; Christmas trees as I called them. It was truly a picture postcard. At mile 11 we saw Urquhart Castle again, only this time it was on the other side of the loch. The route was undulating, but nothing too severe. At mile 12 we were greeted with Clif shots, which I went to take but didn’t grip well. A kind runner behind me grabbed two and passed me one, saving me from having to run back and lose my rhythm. There is a unique camaraderie amongst long distance runners. We can feel each other’s pleasure in pain. Talking of pain, we had been warned about the steep ascend at mile 17. Mile 17 came and went. Maria and me looked at each other with amusement. It felt like a long shallow ramp. Having conquered that we carried on at a good steady pace towards the left bend in the road. And as we came out of the bend into mile 19…
Fiddle sticks! (Well, perhaps something more Anglo-Saxon was uttered…). This was not a steep hill. From where I was (running) it was like the travelator from the TV show. There was not a single runner running. ‘Come on,’ I said to Maria. ‘Small steps and we can do this.’ I was leaning so far forward and was at such an angle on the tips of my toes as to make a Swiss long ski-jumper jealous of my pose. I am sure I went past a sign that read ‘Wee hilly bit;’ I tried to laugh but the oxygen was much needed in my legs and lungs. I can’t remember the exact mile marker, but at some point the climb ended; and so did my legs, and my energy – but I was still running. Two caffeine gels later, fairly close to each other, and I was moving along nicely again. We were not that far now. The distance of a couple of parkruns and the bling would be mine. The sign on the side of the road this time read: ‘It’s all downhill from now (mostly)!’ I had set my virtual pacer at 12:30 min/mile, aiming at a finishing time of 5 hrs 30 min. I was well ahead of that. But at mile 20, my body had different ideas.
I took some gels to store and a bottle of water from the refuelling station, but decided to stop to use the porta-loo. Being vegan, when nature calls you listen; a tree just wouldn’t cut it. The other runner inside the loo kept apologising, but I used the opportunity to stock up on enough Clif gels (thank you kind volunteers) to last me into my next marathon. I was not walking, but standing so still meeting my objective. By the time I was done and running again, I had used up 8 minutes. I sped off to make up the time, and with my watch buzzing that I was ahead of pace I was trying to catch up with Maria; but she was nowhere to be seen.
Gradually Inverness came into sight. The first roundabout appeared, with priority given to runners over vehicular traffic. I was the only runner at the time, so I felt like a celebrity when all the traffic was stopped for me. I no longer had to fear of staggering in last like Run, Fatboy, Run (Schwimmer et al., 2007), whilst local life was being returned to normal. I was so close now.
Some runners had already finished and were walking back to their hotels or houses. On the pavement were a mixture of people that were out to cheer us on, and others that were going about their Sunday business. Very close to town, possibly around mile 24, was a runner being helped away towards an ambulance.
The crowds on the pavements grew larger along the River Ness. The finishing line was now in sight. Along the river, over the bridge crossing it, and a little distance further down was Bught Park; where it had all started. The weather had changed by then and a drizzle cooled down those of us who were still running. Despite the rain, there were people still out there encouraging and cheering us along. One side of the road on The River Ness Bridge was closed off by police, who cheered me as I ran past. Being applauded by Police Scotland is definitely another celebrity moment. My legs were tired, but my mind had found a new lease of energy; something raw, hidden deep inside.
And suddenly the arch with the word ‘FINISH’ appeared before me. I crossed the line with a time of 4hrs 48 min 41 sec. 42 minutes quicker than I had anticipated. A few seconds later, I was wearing the Loch Ness Marathon medal.
Maria was waiting for me with her husband, who had bought her a bouquet of flowers. She had finished 5 minutes earlier than me, which means that I had managed to make up 3 minutes of my time lost for my loo stop. Rodrigo, being a real gentleman, had shopped and cooked for both of us.
Three things mattered to me:
I had finished the marathon,
I did not walk a single step.
I was a marathoner…