Race Review – Loch Ness 2021

Loch Ness 2018 is still my favourite UK marathon, and is second only to Chicago in my world rankings. So coming into a rerunning of Loch Ness I could have had concerns, my memory tarnished like it has been at several other second runnings. What if it had been bad? Although I shouldn’t have been worried. It was still epic. It was pretty much a carbon copy of 2018, with the efficient setup, amazing scenery on the route, great medal/tee and soup in the goodie bag. And, at £54 for the race and a weekend away including a spa hotel right by the start and the Caledonian Sleeper there, I was pretty much set.

The Loch Ness marathon, this year anyway, had about 2,800 runners but, as you are on narrow country roads it feels like 3 times that. You aren’t left alone on the route, and there are always runners around. It has a more than generous 8:15 hour cut off and is a point to point race, rather than a there and back. You are bussed out at 7.15-7.45 from the race HQ to the south west corner of Loch Ness, up in the heather covered highlands surrounded by short fir trees that do nothing to protect you from the swirling winds and rain. The weather being an issue this time around, and to a lesser degree in 2018, because of the microclimates on the way to Inverness. So, picked up at 7.30, 45 minute drive around the other side of the Loch in the mountains to the start, and then… a 2 hour wait in the freezing cold and rain waiting to get underway.

This is the only downside. There are baggage trucks to dump your bag and throwaway warm clothes are recommended. I went to a local charity shop and, given they picked up all the used clothes then donated them to a local homeless charity shop, it was double bubble for philanthropy. We did freeze, people were visibly shivering from behind their buffs and masks. I know I was, as I stood in the wave to one side, to let the bagpiper walk up and down the racers “entertaining” us.

I think I went over the start line at about 10.15. A lot of races are starting later, or have staggered starts. My start at Manchester the following week is 11:30. It makes for a long day when you have already been up for 3 hours. I stripped down to my race kit but then put my cheap waterproof jacket back on. It was sensible but I dumped it later and that was a mistake. Again, those pesky microclimates as you drop to sea level, and then climb before dropping again. It would mean that, as I ran by discarded clothing on the route I quickly checked if anyone was right behind me, before weighing up if I could pick it up, whether it be a pair of gloves, hat, top, and put it on.

I took only one pair of shoes on the trip, my reliable trail/road hybrid Altra Torins. I had worn them at both the South Coast Challenge and Tring only a week before, and they were fine. Something they were not was waterproof. And they were soaked before the start and were squeaking by the end. I also had a new running belt with room for a set of keys, or hotel room key, spare headphones and a phone, as well as 6 loops for gels. And these I utilised. I bought a box of SIS gels, a mixed flavour deal and loaded the belt up.

What I discovered almost immediately was that wearing the belt under my t-shirt was a mistake. The gel wrappers scratched the hell out of you and were most uncomfortable, so I moved it to be over my t-shirt. It was the whole shirt tucked in or loose question, but with added discomfort. The gels too, I found, didn’t do much. As I had room for 6 I had originally planned to take one at the start and then every 7KM. But with the course being more undulating that I recalled, and water tables being every 5K, I decided instead to take a gel in conjunction with getting a bottle of water. I could then force down the gel and then take a few swigs of water to rinse away the taste before moving on. I took 4 gels in the end, and I don’t think I felt any benefit. If anything they made me feel a bit sick.

The route, let me cover that now, was as stunning and breath-taking as before. I mentioned that you start in the highlands surrounded by heather and fir trees, but in the distance in each direction you see mountains, and dense forests. The race takes you initially downhill for about 8K, through narrow country roads (all closed) between farmlands. Every so often you catch a glimpse of the loch on your left, or a stunning valley on your right, and the mountains always there. At 8K there is a bit of a lump. You climb a winding road before a sharp descent all the way down to sea level and the loch. And you finally get to see it. It is huge, edged with mountains. Stunning. Everyone stops to take photos. There is a photographer later and you all get a snap with you in front of a Baxters Loch Ness Marathon banner with the glory of Loch Ness behind you. There are further lumps to climb at 28K and 33K, with the latter being a long slog. And the flat, even though the elevation profile below looks like it has a lot of flat, isn’t flat at all.

It is constantly undulating. Over the space of 50 metres you have a 5 metre climb and descent. Then another, then another. I guess shrinking a 26 mile course into a 2 inch diagram you lose the detail.

I don’t want to come up with excuses, I was tired after the early start,  it was wet sure, and windy, and cold, and lumpy, the shoes were wrong and all the gels did was make me sick. But those are excuses. I always plan to run faster than the last time I ran the race. It doesn’t always happen but sometimes it does. However after COVID and the gym being closed for 18 months and therefore me not going and losing fitness, and the prior 11 ultras I’d run since April being comfy slow runs, I was not road marathon fit or ready. And in the end I ran the slowest road marathon I’d ever run. Even slower than the Liege Beer Marathon dressed as Indiana Jones, and drinking at the beer stops. Nothing to be proud of, but it’s a stat. Tick. 100 Marathon Club number 63 in just over 6 years (1 week over) and a 12 in 12 in a record 5 ½ months since April. Tick.

It shocked me a little. I wanted to run at least 45 minutes faster than I did. But looking at that, it would mean running the whole race over a minute per KM faster and I am not sure I can do that in my current state of fitness. I have since been carb loading and mentally preparing for Manchester. I know I won’t get anywhere near my time from Manchester 2016, which is still my PB 62 marathons and ultras later, but I aim to get my best time of the year. I just need to choose the right shoes.

Would I recommend the Loch Ness Marathon? Absolutely, as you can see from the scores on the doors it now occupies two of the top three spots in my races

Would I run the Loch Ness Marathon again? Totally

Scores on the Doors

NEXT UP: Manchester Marathon


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