Monday, 4 October 2010

"All the way is far enough": Baxter's Loch Ness Marathon 2010 Race Report

Really didn't know quite what to expect from my first marathon... I'd done most of the training (although circumstances had interfered a bit over the last few weeks), I'd read every bit of advice I could find, some of it contradictory, I'd packed and unpacked my bag several times, tried to positively visualize myself crossing the finish line, studied route maps and elevation profiles and weather forecasts, and although I was wildly excited I still didn't feel a bit ready.

Got to Inverness, found our B&B more or less by accident, then walked down to registration in Bught Park, though the B&B turned out to be further away from the park than it had looked on the map and the little one was complaining of tired leggies. Registration was straightforward enough, got my race number and chip (strange loop thing) and got the little one registered for the Wee Nessie pre-schoolers' race which she was excited about and very pleased with her free Nessie t-shirt. She was also enthralled by the giant inflatable Nessie which greeted us on arrival at the park.

We were pretty hungry by this time and hadn't booked tickets for the pasta party, and I was a bit worried that everywhere would be full, but we managed to find a place to eat without much trouble and despite looking longingly at various other menu items I decided to do the sensible thing and opt for pasta, which happily turned out to be delicious. Then met up with some friends we hadn't seen for ages who were doing the 10k and had a pleasant few drinks before heading back to the B&B where I had a pretty restless night thanks to pre-race nerves.

Got up at 6.20am, put my gear on (rummaging about in the dark so as not to wake the little one, couldn't find my socks for ages even though I'd laid everything out the night before) and went down for breakfast, which I could hardly eat any of although the B&B lady had kindly provided me with a big bowl of porridge. I managed a few spoonfuls and then just couldn't eat any more, but took a banana to eat later. Said goodbye to husband and (still sleeping) daughter and headed off to catch the bus - it was a really pleasant early morning, not cold at all, I had my jacket with me but didn't even feel the need to wear it.

We were on the bus for much longer than I'd anticipated - nearly an hour and a half, reaching the start at about 9:25. The guy who sat down next to me didn't seem inclined to chat, enabling me to proceed with my planned programme of staring out of the window feeling sick. At one point we passed a garden centre which declared itself "Scotland's Best Garden Centre 2010" on a huge banner, which sounded good (though I don't know who had appointed them Scotland's best or whether they had just decided that they were) and I wondered if we would have time to visit it before we left before deciding that no, we definitely wouldn't. A bit later, one guy on the bus persuaded the driver to stop in a layby and a whole load of men piled out of the bus and stood in a line at the side of the road having a pee next to a fence. Since by this time I was desperate for the loo (despite having visited a Portaloo just before getting on the bus), this left me musing, not for the first time, on the unfair advantage enjoyed by the male anatomy in such situations.

We finally reached the start area, by which time the formerly pleasantly balmy morning had turned cold and wet and horrible. Dumped my bag at the baggage vehicle and headed off to stand in the queue for the Portaloos, shivering. I'd taken an old jacket to wear and discard but was still cold and actually looking jealously at the people who had fashioned stylish items of clothing out of bin bags and thinking I really should have done that too.

Thankfully it wasn't long to the start, and I congregated with my fellow tortoises near the back of the throng while the sound system blared out music and encouragement, oh, and the pipe band was a nice touch. The gun fired and, to the sound of Scotland the Brave, we were off - well, kind of - it took me a good 3.5 minutes to shuffle over the start line, but then I really was off, and downhill too, and already feeling quite emotional ("I'm finally doing it! And I've got to keep doing it for 26 miles!").

I was very conscious of not going off too fast and had a rough game plan of aiming for 11 minute miles, but also was aware that the first half has a lot of downhill and the second half more in the way of uphill, so although I know you're not meant to do this I also had in the back of my mind the idea that it might not be so bad to make up a bit of time in the first half, given that like many people I find downhills easier than uphills. I decided to stick to what felt like an easy, manageable pace for the first half (had decided against wearing HRM, which might have helped). First few miles were fairly undulating with a sharp uphill at around 5 miles - I did the first 5 in 51:48, hit 10 miles at 1:45:03, and 13 in 2:17:22, and that was the end of my sub-11 miles. To be honest though I can't remember much about it - it's all a bit of a blur. Stuff I remember: first glimpse of the misty loch; the person in front of me dropping their mobile, which broke; spectators at Whitebridge and Foyers; getting a text from husband at around 8 miles to say the little one had done her race and got her medal, and then trying to work out how far I still had to go when I'd done 8 miles. (My maths isn't usually that bad!) And the guy playing Scottish music from his car at the bottom of his lane - I can't remember at all at what point that was, but it was a nice boost.

Managed to stick to my fuelling/hydration plan with a combination of Shot Bloks, gels, plenty of water and Lucozade Sport, and I think it worked because although I was very fatigued later in the race I never hit the dreaded wall or felt that I couldn't carry on. But predictably enough the second half was much harder, especially when I reached The Hill At Dores (which had already achieved mythical status in my mind) in conjunction with the weather started to feel quite hot. I don't do well in the heat - I'll take rain and wind any day, for running in at least. I fast-walked up a fair bit of that hill and the one after (so did most people around me), and hit my worst point at the next uphill which didn't look as if it was ever going to end. That was the only point where I really felt like stopping for a breather, but I knew if I did I would struggle to get going again, and kept run-walking to the top. Saw the guy who had collapsed at the side of the road - I didn't stop, as there were several people round him, but was glad to hear subsequently that he was fine.

Marshals and spectators were fantastic, really encouraging, with cries of "You're looking good!" (not true) and "the worst is over!" (also not true, but a nice thought).

By the time we reached Inverness my legs felt really, really tired and my pace had dropped considerably - I was doing 12 minute miles by this stage, just trying to keep going, and spent the last few miles doing mental calculations as to how much leeway I had to make it to the finish within my target of 5 hours. Although I'd told everyone my aim was just to get round, I knew I'd be massively disappointed to be over 5 hours. Running through Inverness when I could hear the finishers on the other side of the river was tough and it felt like an awful long way to the Ness Bridge, though it really wasn't! I was barely noticing spectators at this time, apart from looking out for husband and daughter who were there somewhere.... finally saw them at the entrance to the park, ran into the park, saw the finish ahead of me and someone shouted "100 metres to go!" which by this point felt just as difficult as the previous 26 miles, but kept going, even managed a smile for the camera, saw the 4:58 on the clock, and finally stumbled across the finishing line in 4:55:07 on my watch (and official chip time), 4:58:59 on the clock, suddenly bombarded from all sides with goody bags, medals and bottles of Lucozade, shared an emotional moment with the girl who'd finished a few seconds ahead of me (another first-timers) and emerged into the muddy quagmire of Bught Park, very tired, achey and already thinking about the next one.

In summary.... although a lot of it is a blur, I had the most fantastic time. I don't know if my tactics were the best (probably not) and I should probably have done more hill training, and immediately afterwards I started thinking I could have pushed myself a bit more in the second half (first half in under 2:20, second half in over 2:35) but given how tired I was at the finish I'm not sure I could have done that much more, at least at my present level of fitness, as the hills in particular really took it out of me. Next time.....

Appreciated the shower afterwards and the great medal and t-shirt, though (a) a technical t-shirt would have been nice as would (b) one which didn't advertise the Scottish Daily Mail on the back, but hey, I'm not complaining!

Still stiff and sore two days later but still on a high, and currently considering the 2011 Edinburgh Marathon to try for a good PB....