I’ve had a fantastic summer so far. 3 weeks of sailing around the Baltic sea with Craig and my family and managing to visit Estonia, Russia, Finland and Sweden, as well as many islands in between in that time….I’ve now come back to reality with a bump.
My plans for the next few weeks were originally: – Get back to training asap after doing very little while away – Run the Highland Perthshire marathon in September as a long training run – Try and beat my PB at the Stirling 10K (which would mean a PB in every distance this year!) – Run the Clyde Stride 40 mile ultra at the end of September.
However, for a while now I’ve not been feeling the drive to run the Clyde Stride. When I think about how excited I was before Glen Ogle or Strathearn, I realise I’m not getting the same feeling about this race. Whether it’s because I haven’t managed to go and run any of the route in advance or because I’ve done very few miles in the past month, I just wasn’t looking forward to it. So instead of running a race I wasn’t particularly feeling up for, I decided (with very little persuasion from Jemma!) to sign up for the Loch Ness marathon and see if I can break the elusive 4 hour barrier time before the year is out.
I’m much more excited about running Loch Ness again as now I know the course and I know where the hills are. I know not to go out too fast on the first downhill section and also not the give up on the nasty hill around 19 miles in. I know to take more gels and carry some paracetamol in case my knee starts to hurt again. Running a marathon in under 4 hours is my ultimate goal for the rest of this year. After taking 12 minutes off my time at the tricky Strathearn marathon, I feel I should be more than capable of it on this course, but after swanning around on holiday for weeks, has all my hard work and training taken a back seat?
With 4 weeks of hard work ahead of me, it’s time to really put some effort in.
Medal : No, but we did get a super technical tshirt
When Jemma signed up for this race last year, I was at the stage where I thought I’d never be able to run a marathon. I was just about comfortable with half marathons and I had just joined my running club with the main aim being to build my confidence in running and improve my speed over shorter distances.
Fast forward a year and many, many, many miles later (including a marathon and an ultra marathon!) and I was signing up for the Strathearn marathon without a second thought. After having to pull out of the Lochaber marathon in April I was keen to make this my big race of the year. My plan wasn’t to race it but more to get out and run it comfortably and get through without the pain and fatigue I’d felt at Loch Ness last September. If I got a good time then it’d be a bonus, but being able to drive home afterwards was my main goal!!
Race morning came and I was up bright and early to have a big breakfast of porridge, an electrolyte drink and some coffee. I took my dog up to the park for a short walk and to try and calm my pre-race nerves before I picked Catriona up at 7.15am. Just before I left I checked the forecast and with promises of “scattered showers, overcast skies and light winds” I slathered a little sunscreen on my shoulders and then didn’t give it a second thought. First mistake of the day…
The race begins at Cultybraggan camp which was first used as a prisoner of war camp during World War 2 and then later as an army training area. These days it’s owned by the Comrie Development trust and is used for a variety of projects. We met up with our team mates, registered and plodded about saying hello to various people for the next half an hour. At about 8:20am we decided to get in the toilet queue and then make our last-minute preparations for the race. I’d read on the race brief email that there was a tap available on the campsite but no one seemed to know where it was and then spent a stressful few minutes panicking I had no water and trying to find one! I eventually found it, got my bottles sorted and then bumped into Rachel who had signed up just a few days before and was using it as her last long training run before a big race in a few weeks time. By this point the sun had really come out and I cursed myself for lending my husband Craig my sunglasses to take away on his bands tour with him!
We all gathered for a quick race briefing just before 9am and then with a count down from 3, the 190 or so runners were off on our 26.2 miles journey around this beautiful part of the country. First off was a lap of the campsite and then it was out onto a minor road for the first 4 miles of the race. And they were pretty much all up hill – superb! You don’t join the Wee County Harriers to run on flat surfaces I can tell you and straight away I could feel that my training was going to pay off. This was by no means and easy course!
I settled into a comfortable pace and enjoyed the scenic landscape as I plodded on up the first set of hills. About 5 miles in the road evened out a bit and then from 7 miles there was a lovely gentle downhill section that lasted a few miles. At 10 and bit miles there was the first of the personalised water bottle stations and having guzzled most of what I had on me already, I swapped the bottle I had on me for another one full of tasty electrolyte water. We took a sharp turn out onto the main road for just over a mile and then in the distance I could see our next obstacle – the old Roman road. The term ‘steep’ would be an understatement, I couldn’t see the top of it! I slowed my pace right down and power walked up remembering how I had run up hills early on at Loch Ness last year and majorly regretted it about 20 miles in. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again and as it was only getting hotter and hotter I could see things getting messy further on in the race if I didn’t take things easy now.
By now I was really looking forward to the next water station so I could grab a bottle of plain water. Mainly to tip over my head but also so I could wash the taste of electrolyte water away. Note to self – the tropical one was not something I looked forward to drinking. I’ll stick to summer fruits in the future! The miles ticked by and I was feeling pretty fresh – slowing right down on the up hill sections and taking my time on the down hills so as not to ruin my quads. The rain came on at around 17 miles and it was a welcome and refreshing change however it didn’t seem to know which way it was falling and came down in all directions. Makes running exciting I can tell you! We came into Crieff just after the 18 mile mark and ahead was the second of the two personalised water bottle stations. I was glad to pick up another bottle with a different flavour in it and I drank hungrily from it. Coming out of Crieff we were met with yet another hill but this one had Stewart from the Wee County Harriers on it who was cheering us round, catching us at various stages of the course and taking pictures of our deteriorating performance! There was no way I was walking this one and kept the momentum going, powering straight to the top. By now my feet were starting to hurt and I had a slight pain between my shoulder blades but it was more annoying than sore. I was this far into the race and things were feeling pretty good, what was going on?!
The next few miles were a bit undulating and every time I saw a hill I made myself run up it and then slow down on the decline until I got my heart rate down a bit. At one point I slowed to a walk to take a drink and then struggled to get my bottle back in my belt. The guy behind me caught up, slowed to a walk to help me and then said “come on!” which got me back to a run , so whoever you are thanks so much for that! Not sure how much longer I would have walked had it not been for that. At 23 miles I got into a bit of a negative mind-set and started feeling a bit light-headed and sick but there on the horizon was another water station and some very, very cheery marshals who were just SO encouraging! The Strathearn Harriers are our neighbouring club so all the Wee County Harriers got extra amazing shout outs and to the lady who cheered my on going by 24 miles and told me I was looking amazing, Thank you so much! I definitely didn’t feel it at that point but you definitely spurred me on just that little bit further. And then the guy at 25 miles who told me my socks were amazing – you also pushed me on just that little but more. At this point every single cheer and shout helped, especially the little kid in Comrie who was cheering us all on and telling us we were nearly there – what a star! The last mile is along the road which runs right beside the Camp and you can see the runners entering the camp and the announcer shouting everyone’s name as they cross the line. So very, very close…
I glanced at my watch for the first time in miles. I knew that sub 4 was well out of the picture but coming along the last road I noticed my watch had just ticked over 4 hours!! I pushed through, back into the camp and onto the finishers straight to hear my name being called over the tannoy and my club mates cheering me on. I grinned and blasted over the finish line in just over 4 hours and 4 minutes. That’s just over 12 minutes off my personal best – how did that happen? I collapsed on the grass and tried to stop my legs from shaking and once I’d recovered I went to congratulate all my friends and cheer everyone else in.
This marathon was wonderful and I’ll definitely be back next year for another shot. The organisation, marshals, volunteers, set up, setting….. it was all perfect.I much prefer this type of race to the bigger commercial ones and with it being so close, I just can’t refuse. My only regret is that I didn’t put sun screen on my face. Rocking the tomato look at work today got a few giggles from the kids!
A little delayed in writing this, but there has been a little bit of laptop hogging in the Mackay household of late… but here we go.
A week (and another half marathon!) later, I am still on a post marathon high. Mainly because a few years ago, after I completed my first half marathon, my knees were in so much pain I vowed I would never run anything more than a 10k again as I just wasn’t built to run. Well I guess something eventually clicked and I realised that with a little more effort, maybe I could run distances. And here I am, 6 half marathons and a few too many 10k’s later… and I have comfortably (I use the term VERY loosely!) completed a marathon.
Since I joined The Wee County Harriers, my training has really stepped up a gear. Long weekend runs used to be a tedious affair, on my own with my music. But since I joined the club, I get to talk nonsense at weekends and the miles fly by. What a difference it makes, and what a lovely bunch they are….
Anyway, I digress. Last Saturday we set off for Inverness mid afternoon, got to our B&B, checked in and then headed over to pick up our race numbers for the big event the next day. At this point the reality of it still hadn’t set in. I was about to push my body to do the biggest racing event of my life so far, I was going to have to run for hours and hours and hours, and here I was skipping about Bught Park not giving it a second thought. And then we went out for dinner and almost every single pasta/carb based restaurant in Inverness was stowed out with runners, chatting about the upcoming event in the morning, and how they got on last year, and how the course was really hilly and THAT hill at 18 miles… And that’s when it finally kicked in that I was about to run a marathon. Something I had laughed at the thought of a few years earlier and something I swore I would never do. Oh well, here goes nothing!
After dinner we headed back to our B&B and I got all my kit ready for the next day, pinned on my race number and made sure I had everything I needed in my race belt. I’d had a look at the weather and thought although it looked dry I didn’t trust it, so decided to wear two vests – one as a base layer and also to stop my race belt chaffing, and then my club vest on top. My body was physically shattered, but I just couldnt switch my brain off and I was over thinking everything. As Craig dozed off into a relaxed slumber, I lay staring at the ceiling of our tiny B&B room and tried to fall asleep watching the T.V. I think I got a bit of sleep between 11pm and 1am and then from there until 5.30am it was a case of dozing for a bit on and off until I snapped fully awake, gave up and got out of bed just before my alarm. I was up way before the B&B started serving breakfast, but the land lady had said the previous day she would leave out cereal and fruit for us. I wasn’t sure at what point the milk had been left out, but the thought of room temperature milk did nothing for my already depleted appetite, so luckily I had brought along my own porridge pots and some flapjacks which I had along with a couple of coffees. By 6.45am I was ready to go, so I got my stuff together, put on my throw away top which I had bought the previous day and headed down to the buses to meet up with the rest of the crew.
The sun was just coming up as I walked over to the park and the roads were empty and quiet apart from a steady stream of runners, appearing from hotels all the way along the river. Jemma was already at the park and I met up with my brother in law Stuart (who was also running his first marathon), had a quick dash to the loos and made our way to one of the many coaches which would be our mode of transport down to the bottom of Loch Ness to our race start destination. The coaches starting moving bang on 7.15am, so we eventually found our way to a double decker and within a few minutes we were off! This was it, no other way back now!
The majority of the journey flew by, but once I realised how far we were actually going, nerves set in again and I was suddenly desperate for the loo. Unfortunately the last part of the bus journey is all up hill and the coaches slowed down to a crawl at this point. Getting to our destination was a very welcome sight!
The queues for the toilets were ridiculous. The queue was coming from both directions and people were skipping it all over the place. I guess there’s only so much you can do for 3000+ people who all the need the loo at the same time though! The countdown had now begun and we decided there was nothing left to do, no more we could do, but head to the start line and await our fate. This was finally it. What I had thought I would never manage. I saw a few club members, wished them luck and then bang on 10am we were off.
The first 5 miles or so were on a lovely down hill slope and very overcrowded. This caused me to go way too fast and I probably should have held back a bit for later in the race, but I just couldn’t stop my legs. A mixture of adrenaline and just getting swept along with the crowd made my first 5 mile splits all under 9 minutes. And then came the first wee climb…
That hill came out of nowhere and was steep! I pushed right to the top and then enjoyed the next few miles of gentle ups and downs and felt positive and strong as I fuelled myself with powerade and shot blocks. One of the things I really loved about this event was the amount of support. Not just from people standing along side the roads and through villages, but the runners themselves. Random people passed me and cheered me on, giving me a little boost every now and again and it was just fab!
I felt great until about 16.5 miles (I think) coming into Dores. I took a bottle of water and realised it didn’t have a lid, so I walked to take a proper drink and then just couldn’t seem to get my speed back up. I knew the hill was coming up soon so I tried to push on a bit further, but something in my leg started to ache. I tried to ignore it and got chatting to a lady as we started the plod up the hill, but it just kept burning away. I decided not to push it with so far still to go and walk the hill thinking the downhill section at the other side would help the pain. But no, it hurt even more. So from there I saw my 4 hour goal time slip slowly out of sight (up til now I had been on course for a comfortable sub 4 time, but this hill had seen an end to that!). I hobbled on, half running-half walking and then was caught up by two runners from my club, Susan and Catriona. Susan was running really well and as she passed me she said Catriona wasn’t far behind. I ran with Catriona for a bit, hoping the pain would subside and I could get my focus back, but it was useless. I had to drop back to a hobble again and let them slip out of my sight over the hills. This stupid pain was not going to end my race though, I had worked too hard and for too long to give in. So after forcing down another gel and some water I pushed on for the final undulating stretch of the race. Sub 4:30 was still in sight and that was what I was aiming for – nothing left to do but move these legs for the final 5 miles.
Coming back into Inverness the crowds started to grow and grow. This was just awesome. Big groups of charity supporters were standing either side of the road with foam hands and plastic horns and they were cheering everyone on. It was just fantastic! I pushed on and on and suddenly a lady passed me who I had seen much earlier in the race. We had been playing a game of cat and mouse for 4 or 5 miles and eventually she got away from me in Dores, and she said “come on Wee County, not far to go!”. How lovely. That really helped at this stage and I knew I would be able to run the final few miles, no matter how much my body wanted to shut down. Coming down along beside the river, you can see and hear the finish line on the other side. I was tempted to jump in and swim across, but I knew that wasn’t an option so I kept plodding round only to spot Karen and Claire from the club who had earlier completed the 10k. Their cheers and support definitely helped in that last mile and a bit and before I knew it, I was on the other side of the river looking back at the other runners making their way around and probably thinking my exact thought not 10 minutes previous. I could see the finish line and hear all the names being shouted out as the crossed it and from somewhere, I have no idea where yet, managed a proper run once again. I spotted Catriona walking just before the park, hung back for her and together we managed not only a sprint finish, but a SMILING sprint finish!!
And that was it. I had completed my first marathon! I felt a rush of pride, excitement and possibly slight nausea as I collected my beautiful medal and goodies, including Baxters soup (of course!), an awesome race t-shirt and lots of food!
It wasn’t quite the time I’d had in mind, but for my first marathon I was elated. I’d finished it smiling and that was enough for me! After a good stretch and some fluids, we were back in the car on our way home, sleepy, happy and a marathon runner.