The Loch Ness Running Festival consists of 5km, 10km and Marathon races. This year, a party of ERNs, friends and supporters travelled up the A9 to take part in what is billed as Britain’s 3rd largest marathon and, by all accounts, the most scenic. Following on from a very dreich, windy Saturday, Sunday dawned to a bright, calm, autumnal day; perfect for running. The races turned out to be all they’d been billed to be and a great time was had by all.
The Marathon starts on the high ground between Fort Augustus and Foyers and drops down to the banks of Loch Ness at Foyers. From there, the route follows the loch’s south eastern shore, heading north east towards Dores on the northern tip of the loch. From Dores, the race heads directly into the centre of Inverness, turning left over the main bridge in the city centre. The last mile and a half runs alongside the river Ness, before heading a short distance to finish at the Inverness Queens Park Stadium. The 10km race is a flat point-to-point which starts on the south side of Inverness and finishes at the Queens Park Stadium. The 5km race is a flat circular route again finishing in the stadium in front of the grandstand.
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Murdo said: Some personal thoughts and experiences from this race (the marathon) that may be of interest particularly if you’re thinking of doing it in the future.
Tracy suggested this marathon based on positive feedback from others so Alan, Phil and I signed up for the marathon and were subsequently joined by Denise. Others were interested in the running festival but opted to enter either the accompanying 5km or 10km races. We put together a marathon training plan following Hal Higdon’s guide for Intermediate 1 runners. This is an 18 week programme based on one cross-training day, three runs during the week, a pace run on Saturday and a long run on Sunday culminating in two long runs of a maximum of 20 miles prior to tapering for the race itself. Link to programme here at Higdon. For the long runs we put together a programme of ERN Sunday runs of the required length with accompanying shorter runs that members could use to train for the 5km/10km runs, other events or simply as alternative runs. These proved to be popular with regularly 10-12 out between the different routes. As far as practical, the first section of the routes was shared to allow people to meet up and blether etc. We also incorporated local races as part of the training plan (Musselburgh 10km, Donkey Brae, Glasgow half/10km). In my opinion, this worked very well and we supported each other through the inevitable niggles and up/down experiences we had.
Entry to the event is straight forward through the detailed and easily understood website at Loch Ness. Entry was open till September for club members. Emailed updates and a detailed brochure were issued in plenty time to avoid any anxiety. Once you applied, the main difficulty turned out to be getting accommodation as places were booked very early on. For transport, we opted to train it up Friday afternoon and come back at 1830 on Sunday. Others travelled up on Saturday. If you book in advance you can get tickets (with reserved seats) for £10 each way which is excellent value and stress free.
Registration is on the Saturday afternoon/evening at marquees erected at the Queens Park Stadium which is within walking distance of the city centre. Very straight forward; collected number, chip, pasta party ticket (if you’d ordered it or you could buy them-£10), post race meal ticket and baggage ticket. There was no real expo, just a stall from Run and Become selling running clothes, gels etc. Pasta party consisted of a three course meal (Baxters soup, various pasta options and pudding). There was also excellent live fiddle music when we were there. Probably worth doing.
The weather on Saturday was dire; wet, very windy and cold. Sunday thankfully dawned to clear sunny skies and a calm beautiful autumnal day. Buses left the stadium at 0800 to take you to the start (about 50mins distance away) for a 1000 start. Buses later also took the 10km runners to the 10km start in the south of Inverness. The 5km was a local start. All races finished in the Queens Park Stadium.
Arrived about 0730 and queued along a line of buses for a seat. Managed to get on one but it became apparent that there didn’t appear to be enough. Turned out later that the provider (Stagecoach) had difficulties on the day providing the requisite buses and this led to delays while alternative arrangements were made. Thankfully the weather was fine and benign. If it had been as Saturday this would have been a very serious issue with risks of exposure, injury, frustration and conflict. As it was, it was handled very well by the marshals and runners considering it was all outwith their control. We eventually left at least 30mins late. My bus broke down (overheated I think) twice on the way but because of the slow convoy we actually caught everyone up as we arrived at the start. The start area is on an open road area with the start canopy, toilets and baggage lorries. The idea being you had a pee, changed out of your travelling clothes, put your bag (with the issued baggage ticket) on a lorry, warmed up and were ready to go. To the organisers (and in particular the public service announcer’s) credit, this was well handled with runners being calmly advised that the race would not start until they all had the opportunity to do the above and would start at 1050. This prevented a free-for-all and, along with the good weather, allowed the race to start with everyone ready and as stress free as practical in the circumstances. However, if the weather had been foul this would have been a nightmare as there was no shelter available. We also had the Lochaber High School P&Ds marching through the runners area playing and stirring the blood before we left – brilliant. Race eventually started at 1050 as revised.
The race itself is mainly held on single track roads, very rural with the exception of the last couple of miles. After the first couple of miles, there was plenty of room to run at your own pace. Water and/or lucozade drinks were available every 3 or so miles and were well organised without any major bunching, trip hazards etc. Nice to see the Army Cadets out manning some of the stations as well. Support was sporadic in areas as you would expect on such an open course but was very vocal (and much appreciated) when it was there and at the various villages it was positively uplifting. Great welcoming and supportive feel about it all. The route is downhill in total over the first 6 or so miles but there are some noticeable uphills included as well. Undulating may be a better term! There are a noticeable couple of climbs around mile 4 and a significant long climb at mile 18. I actually found the cumulative effect of the downhills (which were steep in areas) to be the most tiring.
I stayed in sight of Alan for the first quarter and ended up following his pace until the hill at mile 18 where good sense (or more correctly, my physical ability) made me slow down and finish the race at my own pace. Phil was also with us up until that point. The excellent pace making by both was the main contributor to me finishing in the time I did. Aicha had also cycled out to this hill after completing the 10km and it was a real lift to see her there supporting us roadside. The race is very scenic; on country roads, with lovely wooded and mountainous views and of course Loch Ness on your left hand side for a large proportion of the race – plenty to keep you visually occupied – lovely. Ended up in town along the riverside and then around the back of the stadium before finishing on the track in front of an enthusiastic audience. The finish was well organised with medals, bananas, water immediately available, your timing chip removed and a very good goody bag handed over (nice T-shirt and a couple of tins of Baxters among other things!). Warm showers were available in the stadium (very good) after picking up your baggage. A free post-race meal was available to runners but I didn’t take up the offer so can’t comment on it. There was also a coffee and a beer tent set up next to the finish. As the marathon runners finished very close to each other, we all met up very easily and it was good to see a lot of the other runners who hadn’t had to leave early supporting and cheering everyone on. That made a huge difference and was really much appreciated.
Ended up running a PB by about 5mins – yee haa! This was due to Tracy making me follow a structured training plan for a change and also to Phil and Alan’s excellent pacing until the hill (or my legs) intervened. No injuries, probably because of the training programme, but my quads ached for days afterwards probably due to the down-hills.
In summary, a great, friendly, well organised event. Beautiful scenic route that is undoubtedly humply but, if you’ve trained for it, very capable of providing a PB. You should do it at least once – highly recommended.