Baxter’s Loch Ness Marathon, October 2021 – Nathaniel Redcliffe

They say that the weather is unpredictable in Scotland. I wouldn’t say it was “unpredictable”, I knew exactly what it was going to be… cold, wet, and windy.

A collection of coaches, and double decker buses collected myself and four thousand other runners from Bught Park in the cold dead of night (7 a.m.!!). The back of the coach seats were each lined with plastic, and we all had to wear a mask. Despite the extra covid measures that the company had taken, we were all sat next to a complete stranger. The guy next to me was from America. He had traveled to many different continents to try different marathons, some of these included: Antarctica, Norway, Istanbul and Hawaii (I get it, he’s much more interesting than me, so I’m going to move on and stop talking about him).

Just past Fort Augustus; we all departed the coach on top of a large hill, to stand in the cold pouring rain. From the distance you can see other mountain peaks, clouds, and – more importantly – portaloos. Everybody broke the social distancing rule to huddle together, protecting each other from the bitter cold and the sharp wind. This is one of the reasons why I love the running community, everybody has an instinct to look after each other. Another guy from America (who also flew to Scotland for the first time, just for the marathon) noticed how cold I was, and offered his spare space jacket. A girl I was talking to at the start line also offered me her spare bin bag liner, which I gratefully accepted. For this race, it is essential that you bring a disposable poncho, and an old jumper to throw at the side of the road, because the last thing you want before the race is hypothermia. One of the benefits about this marathon is the bag drop is close to the start line, so you can wait till the very last minute before you abandon your layers. (Of course, the truck where your bags are stored will get transported back to the finish line).

To initiate the race; a traditional Scottish bagpipe player walked down the centre of the crowd to the start line, completely unfazed by the cold and wore his kilt. Once he had finished playing his banging tune, the race had begun. The run started with me descending downhill to the base of another hill, then I ran around the hill by the side of two forests. However, the fifth mile was a long, sharp and curvy ascent (every runner’s nightmare). At this point, people had started to walk, which was unnerving.

For the next seven miles, there was a mixture of two things: a long undulating segment or a short sharp incline. Either way, they both end with a long downward drop. Meaning, I ended up going more downhill than up. This was a perfect opportunity to let gravity do the work, which allowed my legs to recover after the ascent. From the sixth mile, I could see the River Ness from the gaps of the trees. The trees had yet to receive Autumn’s cold grasp, meaning they still held much of their green thick leaves, which made the view on the left hand side even more spectacular. It was a sight for anyone with sore eyes. The view on the right was just a slight landslide risk.

The reason why headphones were banned from the course is because of the passing emergency motorcycle first aiders. There were other runners who did not heed the warning, and decided to wear headphones anyway. Between miles 10 – 12, you wouldn’t believe the amount of times I had to shout at people “bike behind”, or “keep to
the side”, but they still never caught what I was saying. I wore my bone conductors… like the professional athlete that I am. The heavy metal music blasting on top of my ears was a blessing between miles 12.5 – 17.5, because it was a long five mile drag in the rain. If it were not for the runners beside me, I could have easily stopped. There was nothing new to see, just trees closing in on the road. Running on the hard tarmac had become very uncomfortable for my legs, I had to have a few Jelly Babies (which are always recommended for a long run) and the race’s free gels (which is at every 10k) for muscle recovery.

After mile 17.5, the village Dore was a welcomed sight. It was the first wave of supporters since mile nine. The echoes of clapping and cheering were a much needed boost. Also, as we got into Dore the paths opened up, allowing me to see more of the landscapes that Scotland had to offer. Unfortunately, the route took me up one of these landscapes. Between miles 18.5 – 20 was one long climb uphill… and that’s when the sun decided to show its face. “Not now! You big yellow warm b*stard!”. A few people I met at the hostel and at the Wetherspoons said this is where they struggled after going too fast at the beginning – so remember “it’s a marathon not a sprint”.

Once at the top, it was a fast 10k finish. About 95% of it was either downhill or flat. It reminded me very much of the last 10k at Sheffield Half Marathon. Speaking of Sheffield Half; it’s worth noting that a very steady hilly half (or any race), a week or two before a hilly marathon, will help a great deal when it comes to hills. Unless you run a lot of hills in your area.

As I approached Inverness town centre, more and more spectators came out. By mile 25, I could see the finish line… it was just on the wrong side of the river. This was very disheartening. Especially since I had nothing left in the tank. But, once I crossed the bridge onto the correct side – the atmosphere at the finish line was phenomenal (and so was the free carrot soup). The achievement of beating my estimated time (under four hours), the adventure, the good atmosphere at the finish line, the scenery, and the carrot soup – definitely made me want to sign up for another marathon soon.

Oh, I’ve forgotten – something strange happened on the 16th mile. Whilst I was running behind two people with headphones on, I noticed all the birds flew from the trees and little wooden creatures fled across in one direction out of terror… away from the river. The water’s gentle motion had turned into a vicious whirlpool, and from the dark centre of the vortex – a beast like no other had risen from the depths of the deep blue water. It gave an almighty roar that had caused the ground beneath to quiver at its mercy. Its long scaly skinned neck stretched out and devoured the two runners in front of me. They would have heard it coming… if only they weren’t wearing headphones.