If I had to describe this marathon in one word, it would be LONG. Everything about the race seemed to take forever – the 7:15 am bus ride to the starting point near Ft. Augustus (the ride took over an hour), waiting around for the race to begin (we arrived around 8:40 but the race didn’t begin until 10 am), the long lines for the portapotties, the incredibly steep ups and downs of the never-ending hills along Loch Ness, even the distances between aid stations (there would be individual stops for water, electrolyte drinks, and gel blocks and shots). I am sure that the final mile into Inverness and the finish line at Bught Park must have been at least a mile and a half or longer, although it might have been my overwhelming fatigue that made it just seem like forever.
It had been 45 years since I had last visited Scotland so I was eagerly looking forward to this trip. Because Darcy and I had been immersed in moving and all the angst involved with selling and buying houses, I decided to use Amazing Running Tours based in Huntington Beach, CA, to book our trip. Overall, it worked out fine, with just a few snafus, and it certainly saved me lots of time and decision-making.
We left on Sunday, a week before the race, flying from Jacksonville on a red-eye to London Heathrow and then on to Edinburgh. A driver met us at the airport and brought us to the first of our hotels, the Crown Plaza Royal Terrace. This hotel was located close to several pubs, shops, and tourist sites, so it turned out to be a good location. Past experience has taught me to always book an upgraded room or junior suite when traveling overseas because European and British hotel rooms tend to be on the small side compared to American hotel rooms. Our suite at the Crown Plaza was a large room with a fireplace and included access to the club lounge for snacks, drinks, and light meals.
To make the most of our time in Edinburgh, I used Viator.com to book several excursions. On our first full day we took a 3 hour motor coach tour and Forth Bridges sightseeing cruise. The bus trip had audio commentary about the streets and houses we passed on the way to Queensferry and our boat. The cruise portion took us under several suspension bridges, along Inchcolm Island, and by numerous seals and seabirds. Afterwards we had a late lunch at the Deacon Brodie Pub in the heart of the bustling tourist district.
The next day we slept late and then walked to Edinburgh Castle where I had booked tickets on Viator for easy entry. We joined a guided tour and learned about the history of the castle, viewed the Scottish Crown Jewels, and walked through the National War Museum and the Royal Palace of Mary Queen of Scots. Of course, we also had to visit several of the gift shops in the Castle and taste some real Scotch whisky (which I later learned was delightful Scotch whisky liqueur, rather than the much stronger actual whisky). We also had to have tea and scones at the Red Coat Café. To round out the day, we toured the National Gallery of Scotland as well as the Museum of Childhood and then walked up Calton Hill, site of several monuments including one that resembled the Parthenon of Athens. We took our late afternoon meal at the Royal Theater Pub where I indulged in traditional fish and chips and a Tennant’s lager, a locally produced Scottish beer.
On Thursday, it was time for the Highlands portion of our trip. We took the train from Edinburgh’s Waverly Station to Inverness, a 3 ½ hour ride. We had so far been very lucky weather-wise. There had been no rain at all in Edinburgh during our time there and although it was cool, it was also fairly sunny. However, when we alighted from the train station in Inverness, the weather was blustery with a light drizzle. We opted for a taxi to take us to the Glen Mohr Hotel, situated right across from the River Ness. The location was prime but the hotel had definitely seen better days. Once again, I was glad I had booked the junior suite because we had two good-sized rooms, with one overlooking the river. However, the hotel in general was badly in need of a good paint job and some upgrades. At least it was clean and certainly convenient. After checking in and depositing our luggage, we went looking for a place to eat. Most of the pubs don’t serve food until 6 pm so we chose a restaurant nearby that offered nachos (yes, nachos) and mac and cheese.
Our tour package included an all-day tour of the Highlands so on Friday we boarded a comfortable motor coach at 9:15 am and took off for an extensive trip past Loch Ness, several picturesque villages, Urquart Castle, Eileen Donan Castle (where we stopped for a self-guided tour), and on to the Isle of Skye. I tasted Cullen Skink (finan haddie) soup at a local restaurant on Skye and then we toured several other small towns. We returned to Inverness after 7 pm – it was a very long day and we were tired.
On Saturday the expo opened so I walked from our hotel to Bught Park to get up my race bib and pasta dinner tickets. I remembered that finisher shirts in some overseas races are not sized for women so I decided to purchase a Loch Ness Marathon cotton tee shirt at the expo just in case. I walked back to the hotel, did a little shopping in town, and then Darcy and I returned to the expo site for the pasta dinner inside a big tent set up in the park. If the tickets to the dinner had not been included in our tour package, I would have definitely passed on this meal; the pasta was not especially tasty but at least it was filling. There was a choice of chicken or veggie ziti, vegetable soup, and either fruit or cheesecake for dessert. Water was the only beverage.
Race day dawned clear and cold but the weather for later in the day was predicted to be sunny and much warmer. That made it hard for me to decide what to wear, since I knew I would be standing outside for 3 hours or so in cool weather but then would have to deal with warming temperatures. And that is exactly what happened. I was over-dressed, even though I tied my jacket around my waist after several miles. I walked to the park around 7 am and boarded one of the two or three dozen buses waiting to transport runners to the start. As I mentioned earlier in this report, the bus ride was long, the wait at the start was long, and the portapotty lines were long. I learned from chatting with some people from Aberdeen that the weather last Sunday was pouring rain so I was very grateful for the clear skies. Right before the start of the race, a high school band of bagpipe players, dressed in colorful kilts, marched through the runners and gave us a wonderful sendoff.
The scenery was stunning. The course follows the River Ness all the way back to Inverness, passing through neat little towns like Foyers and Dores. Around mile 17 the land changed from forests to pastureland, with sheep and cattle and horses dotting the landscape. But what I remember most, especially in those later miles, was the hills. In the beginning, it was fun to run down the hills and walk up them. As my legs tired, though, I plodded up and down the hills, feeling just a little discouraged about how far I still had to go. It had been over a year since I had done a hilly race of any caliber, and this one qualified as extremely hilly. Although I usually get a resurgence of energy by the time I reach mile 20, that didn’t happen in this race. At mile marker 22, I was trying hard to push my way up a hill when my right hamstring seized up. I had to spend several minutes stretching before I could move – slowly – again. From that point on, instead of speeding up, I had to walk gingerly to avoid cramping.
Oh, it was so wonderful to finally reach Inverness and see mile marker 25! But then I still had a very long way to go (or so it seemed) until I could get to that finish line. I crossed in 6:24, under the 7 hour time limit, so I was relieved and happy to have marathon/ultra #206 (and country #11) under my belt.
The medal shows the 3 humps of the Loch Ness Monster, as does the finisher’s shirt. The 3 humps on the shirt are actually laces of a running shoe – a very unique and creative expression of the monster. The post-race food seemed to be leftovers from the pasta dinner of the day before – more chicken and veggie pasta – so after returning to the hotel for a shower and quick nap, Darcy and I headed out to a pub for a tasty meal. We had several long travel days ahead of us so we needed our rest.
This was definitely a fun race to do and very walker-friendly. There were at least 40 people who finished behind me, the last one around 8 hours, and because the course follows the river, it is essentially impossible to get lost, even for me. Just one caveat, however; be prepared for hills!