Red Wine Runner

A Scottish Running Blog

Loch Ness Marathon 2011 – RACE REPORT

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5 hrs 12 mins 2 secs

2059th place, 336th in age group

Badger and I left Aberdeen for Inverness late on Saturday morning after the rugby was over and made it to our B+B by 2.30pm. We got ourselves set up and then headed over to Bught Park to get me registered and to have a look at the layout of the finish area. It had been a miserable day of rain so there weren’t that many people hanging around. I got my race number and then we headed back to the B+B to meet up with Ian, Donna and Mike and to go to the Run4It marathon sale shop which was in a hotel near the centre of town.

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Although there were lots of goodies to tempt me at the sale I didn’t buy anything. If I buy any new gear right now it should be winter appropriate – I have enough vests and pairs of tiny running shorts to last ‘til next summer with no problems…

So off we headed to the local Wetherspoons pub for piles of cheap food, cheap drinks and good chat. We met up with Alan and Tommy (of Mike’s WHW race support crew fame) and also some people from Fetch. We had some good laughs but everyone had a big day ahead of them and people were obviously not up for hanging around. We were back in our hotel room by 21:00 and watched a little TV before calling it a night. The alarm was set for 5:30am and my kit was laid out.

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Naturally I had an awful night’s sleep. I don’t think anyone ever does before an important race, but at the first peep of my alarm I leapt out of bed and jumped in the shower. I had an odd sense of calm – I really wasn’t nervous at all about the race to come, whereas prior to my recent half marathons I’ve suffered from nerves to a certain extent.

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I was ready to go at 6.30am and Badger and I headed down for breakfast. Unfortunately the B+B didn’t serve breakfast earlier than 7.30am (even though 3 out of the 5 rooms had marathoners staying in them) but they had laid out fruit juice and cereal. I had bought Soreen and fruit to eat and managed to force down some muesli as well. Not what I normally eat but I felt happy enough.

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Ian and Donna joined us and soon after we left to make the short walk to Bught Park and the buses at about 7:10.

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There must have been 30 or 40 coaches lined up ready to be filled with runners, it was quite a sight! The atmosphere was buzzing as thousands of runners were directed seamlessly by the marshals to the busses and said their final goodbyes and climbed aboard. We somehow managed to meet up with Alan and Tommy almost immediately and all ended up on the same bus sitting together.

On our bus there were runners from all around the world – there were a group from Singapore, a group of Germans and some Japanese people to. I suddenly felt an odd sense of pride that people had come from all over the world to run in my back yard! I began to be struck with waves of emotions which continued throughout the day as the reality of what I was doing sunk in.

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I sat next to Alan on the bus and we blethered constantly for most of the journey which made it pass very quickly. The buses left en masse and were escorted by a troupe of marshals on big motorbikes (including some pimped Harley Davidsons!) who blocked off roundabouts and junctions allowing the convoy to travel uninterrupted all the way to Fort Augustus.

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As we drove deeper into the countryside the scenery became more dramatic. It was very misty with a lot of low cloud, and as we approached Fort Augustus and the start line itself we realised it was raining pretty heavily.

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We all got chucked off the buses and began the procession to the start and the baggage lorries. Our coach luckily had a toilet which I was able to use but the first thing many did was rush off into the woods to relieve themselves!

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The mist was so eerie – it was like we were walking in to Mordor, or something equally as sinister as 26.2 miles. Ian, Donna and I stuck together until the start but we lost Alan and Tommy fairly quickly. By sheer fluke we met Mike as he got off his bus and he gave us some last minute sage advice before heading off to the front with the greyhounds –

Don’t be a dick!”

The story behind this comes from the West Highland Way race – he had written this on his hand to remind himself not to try and show off and go fast on the easy bits, and equally to not to give up easily when on the hard bits. It’s pretty good advice to live your life by really.

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It really was very, very wet; but everyone was relieved the sun had stayed away for now. I could have done without the torrential rain but it wasn’t going to ruin my race like heat could.

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The start was slightly delayed by 10 minutes to make sure everyone was ready. The skirl of the pipes came from the distance and the Lochaber High School pipe band began their procession from the back of the runners to the front. Hairs on the back of my neck stood up. This. Was. It.

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After five minutes I crossed the start line and my marathon commenced. Again, not a hint of nerves; I was confused – I expected adrenaline to be pumping but it was more a quiet acceptance of the challenge ahead. I had trained hard, I was healthy, there was 26.2 miles to be ran, and all I had to do was run.

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The first few miles were crowded but chatty. Everyone was delighted to be on the move finally and the weather responded by dumping even more rain on us. I usually wear a little makeup to races but my mascara and eyeliner were washed off in moments as we ran face on into the rain.

Mile 1: 10.05 – an old, old couple were out leaning on their garden fence wrapped up warm to cheer us on despite the rain.

Mile 2: 10.44
Mile 3: 10.37

The first few miles slipped by effortlessly. I was running near a pal from Fetch and a few other Fetchies were around as well – having the blog URL on the back of my tshirt was a great idea as I even got to say hello to a few readers! At somewhere around mile three I saw a familiar face cheering encouragement and it was the famous John Kynaston, who at this point I’d never met but we’ve followed each others blogs/twitters since the West Highland Way race. He was cycling the course to support his wife Katrina’s first attempt at the 26.2 and popped up at various points en route.

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Mile 4: 10.33 – It began to brighten up and and dry up, but then there was a hailstone shower during this! It was as if someone had thrown a handful of chuckies hard at us, and everyone screamed and laughed in surprise.

Mile 5: 10.46 – The first supporters appeared, with cars parked at the side of the road playing music and hand made banners, whistles and drums.

Mile 6: 11.05 – a short steep hill which I leaned into and kept running up steadily.

Mile 7: 10.58

Mile 8: 11.04 – Finally the Loch begins to appear in the distance through the trees

Mile 9: 10:36 – descending towards the Loch shore on to the ‘flat’ part of the course.

At this point I made a short video saying that I was feeling ok but my hips were beginning to stiffen up. My hip adductors were beginning to make their presence known in a way that they usually do after about 20 miles. I was quietly concerned but kept pushing on, enjoying the drier weather and the sporadic but enthusiastic support – a car parked in a drive way blaring country music, an old lady standing outside a cottage banging a pot lid with a spoon whooping, a very very old lady sitting in a croft window waving, water and lucozade stops that came out of nowhere staffed by children, army cadets and scouts.  All friendly faces seemingly delighted to be supporting these 4,000 nutters invading their quiet Lochside abodes.

I was surrounded by roughly the same people as the miles went by as we all plodded at the same pace – there were the usual array of colourful vests of charity runners, soldiers from the Scottish Regiments marching/running together in full kit and packs commanding quiet respect from all that passed, people with vests and tops from races and clubs from all around the world – I lost count of the countries but the news reports say there were entries from 45 nations who came to run along our famous shore.

Mile 10: 10.57 – I begin to feel pressure building on the side of my right knee. I try not to pay attention to it, but it doesn’t go away.

Mile 11: 11.28 – “There’s definitely a pain happening, oh god what’s going on, this can’t be happening, please stop please stop please stop, don’t do this, not today.

Mile 12: 11.28 – I concentrated on running as smoothly as I could and relaxing all my muscles. With every step when I put my weight on my right knee pain throbbed and my hips continued to get stiffer and stiffer. I refused to acknowledge that this was happening – it was clearly a resurgence of an old ITB injury that used to bother me when I built my mileage up past 10k level back at the start of the year. I knew if it continued then there would be serious consequences, I also knew that if I stopped running I might never start again.

Mile 13: 11.28 – Alongside the knee throb with every step my hips were getting unbearably stiff. I knew how to stretch them to loosen them up but that would mean stopping. What was going on?! This was only THIRTEEN miles in – I had been running longer runs than that distance since July, only a month ago I crossed the finish line of a half marathon grinning like a chimp and gagging for more. My body was trained for this, why was it acting like my garmin had never seen 14 miles before?

Cracks in my focus began to appear, this was not a dream. This was not the nightmare where I ran my first marathon and got injured half way through – it was real and I needed to think on my feet and work out what to do about it. A water stop appeared around 13.5 miles and I decided to walk through it and stretch my hips. As I slowed to a walk my legs began to feel ‘spongey’ and too light to be attached to my own body – I could hardly feel them, I felt like I was floating. I took long strides and gently stretched out my hips by turning them outwards. I sped up my walking as I drank my fill and decided at the road sign 20ft ahead I would continue running.

I gently pushed off my left leg to run and as soon as my right leg took my weight on its step I felt a sickening crushing feeling as something gave way and an invisible blunt object struck the outside of my knee. I cried out and bit my lip with the pain as it struck my knee again and again with each step I took.

Mile 14: 13.26 – The pain I was feeling was completely unprecedented, I was actually seeing stars. I felt so betrayed by my body and couldn’t believe this was happening – there was 12 more miles to get through like this, I realised that there was actually a possibility that I might not make it to the finish line. I’d mentally prepared myself for every scenario the race could throw at me – not finishing had never even crossed my mind. I found myself completely at a loss, surrounded by people but completely alone with pain in my knee so loud it seemed like everyone near me should be able to hear it.

After half a mile or so the wild smashing feeling shrunk to an almost bearable thud, the invisible hammers lessened their blows and my hobbling continued. I worked out if I bent my knee less, the pain was less acute and that if I stopped to walk, starting again put the pain right back to the smashing start. Mentally I envisioned the next three and a half miles ‘til the start of the hill at Dores – if I could just keep going til then I could walk up the hill and then I’d be at 20 miles. Then there’d only be a 10k to go. Breaking the remaining miles up into manageable chunks was the only way I could get my mind around coping with 12 mile of agony.

Mile 15: 11.55

Mile 16: 11.40

Mile 17: 11.49 – I got to Dores and villagers surrounded us with cheers and well wishes. Children reached out for high 5’s, bunches of balloons were tied around the water stop, good luck signs were held aloft and music played. So much happiness and positivity – I should be having the time of my life but I’m in hell, I can barely raise my eyes from the asphalt in front of me to acknowledge the friendly encouragement. People call out my name as it’s written on my t-shirt, telling me how well I’m doing but I want to fall in to their arms in tears for comfort. My whole world becomes putting one foot in front of the other.

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Mile 18: 14.35
Mile 19: 14.19 – The hill goes on and on, the runners now walkers trudging intermittently in single file. Power walking up hill feels good – it seems to be the quickest, least painful way of transporting myself forwards.

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At the top of the hill I see someone on the other side of the road in what looks like Fetch colours – could it be? A Fetchpoint…? As I crested it I saw that indeed it was a man in a fetch tshirt with his car parked up blaring Lindisfarne “Run for home” on repeat. Like a neon mirage he appeared in the darkest of times to lift the spirits high “2 miles down hill now! Then you’ll be nearly there!” It turns out it was Old Croc and he took pictures of us all – somehow I managed a smile and a thumbs up.

Mile 20: 14.36 – The downhill hurts more than ever as I can’t control the pressure on my knee, my ‘run’ turns in to some kind of crazed hobble with both my feet turning inwards and my knees rendered useless by swelling – I can hard bend them.

Mile 21: 12.28 – This mile was mainly flat with little undulations. The sun had come out and was dappling through the trees as it turned in to a beautiful day. Every one around me was walking, it seemed like I was surrounded by people who had given up and were just walking for home. I could have screamed with frustration – this isn’t me! I don’t belong here! I trained so hard for this, I’m NOT that person who has to give up running at mile 21, I’ve NOT hit the wall! I wanted so badly to feel the relief of running the final miles to the finish, to pass my family at mile 25 smiling with joy – about to become a marathoner.

Mile 22: 14.08 – At this point I was run/shuffling until I thought I was going to pass out with the pain, then walking until I could face it again. It was still the case that starting running again was the most painful part, but after a few moments it eased, then after a few more minutes my hips would seize and I’d have to walk. At four and a half hours I looked at my watch and I was at 22.7miles – my family would be expecting me any moment, they didn’t know I was struggling desperately three miles up the course. Thinking of seeing my Mum, my Dad and Badger was the only thing that was pulling me forward – walk, shuffle, crawl – I was going to finish this race.

Mile 23: 13.01

Mile 24: 12.55 – The route arrives on the outskirts of Inverness and we find ourselves running down residential streets. There’s not many people about at first but soon there are groups walking along the pavement who call my name and cheer encouragement. Cars hoot their horns and the wonderful marshals still are full of smiles, hours after the race began. It seems like another lifetime ago, thinking back to the glorious start on that hill in the mist. It becomes harder and harder to keep the tears back and keep myself together as I battle on.

Mile 25: 12.28 – From somewhere I seemed to find some strength to keep going, more running/shuffling than walking – pride keeps me moving quickly as I don’t want these spectators thinking I’m crap because I’m walking, and there’s absolutely no way I’m letting my family see me walk. In the distance I see what seems to be the road dipping off to the left – that’s mile 25! That’s where my family is! They’re there, I can see them!!

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Pictures – Stewart Mitchell/Earthly Light

Mike, Alan and Tommy were there as well, just around the corner – seeing them as well was such a lift! I gave my Mum a high 5 and continued on for the final mile.

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Mile 26: 10.52 – I’ll remember this mile for the rest of my life. The riverside was lined with bars and cafes full of marathon finishers getting stuck into a beer and the noise they made was incredible. So many people were calling my name, it felt so surreal. I nodded and gave thumbs up to everyone and pushed my legs to work as hard as they could. I had fashioned a hobbling penguin-like stride where I was barely bending my knees but bouncing from leg to leg and propelling myself with my arms. There was absolutely nothing left in my legs to give.

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.2 : 2.10 – The last 200 yards were down an alleyway of shouting, I saw Mike cheering and I pushed even harder to overtake the guy in front of me as the announcer called out my name. I crossed the line, and became a marathoner.

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Pictures: Stewart Mitchell/Earthly Light

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photo: John Kynaston

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pictures: Stewart Mitchell/Earthly Light

I don’t think I need to say any more about how overwhelming it was, where words fail me; pictures speak. I was ushered through the finishing chute and had my beautiful medal hung around my neck by a small boy. I was given a goodie bag and a t-shirt and tottered on my spent legs out from the shade into glorious sunlight in a field full of people. I just stood alone for a second in the mud with the sun on my face and wept tears of joy, relief, and pride. I did it. I am a marathoner.

Impossible is nothing.

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Mike knocked out a phenomenal Personal Best time of 3hrs 09m 15s – a Boston Qualification! Ian and Donna crossed the line in 5hrs 47m 07s/08s respectively and had a great race. Alan got a sub-4 personal best on his second attempt at the Loch Ness Marathon despite suffering 8 miles of cramp – 3hrs 53m 3s, and Tommy came in in 4hrs 16 minutes after also suffering cramp. After we’d all been fed and fuelled we went to our respective B+Bs for a shower and then headed to the pub. A bottle of Moet was procured and enjoyed, though drank mainly on the street after the pub went on fire.

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The pub was full of Loch Ness Marathon finishers – no-one was going anywhere fast in an emergency but at least I had the foresight to grab the bottle on the way out.

Two days later I’m still suffering from knee pain and terrible DOMS. I’m going to see a physiotherapist tomorrow and hopefully will be back on the trails soon. I’ve got a couple of things up my sleeve for the rest of the year but that’s another post for another day.

34 Comments

  1. An amazing marathon report, it was so interesting to read mile by mile and brilliant photographs. Congratulations again on finishing, you must have been in so much pain, but good on you for carrying on and at a good pace too! You should be very proud of yourself 🙂

    (Once you’ve recovered I’d be really interested to hear about the hip adductor exercises you mention and how you managed to overcome your ITBS first time round – I suffer the exact same symptoms you did and have tried almost everything but I still struggle)

    vixand26

  2. You might not have got the time you hoped for Rhona but there’s no doubt this race highlighted one of your best attributes, fantastic resilience and inner strength against massive odds. That’s a cracking distance runner quality to have. Well done again.

  3. Felt I was with you there. Incredible report and so very well done, I feel all tearful now!

  4. Kerry-Liam Wilson

    October 5, 2011 at 7:10 am

    Excellent blog !!!
    Great pics(I’m in the one at the start).My only regret is that myself and my wife who ran the 5k didn’t go out down the town until about 8pm and then it was just to the one place although we were meeting up with folk it would have been nice to soak up some more atmosphere.
    Well done and maybe see you next year

    Kerry-Liam(Sunbed Athlete)

    • Thank you! We tried to keep moving and went to town as soon as we were showered – I knew if I sat down and rested I’d never get back up! There were so many people wearing their medals and sporting the signature tentative cowboy style walk!
      Congratulations on a brilliant race, I can’t imagine what it must be like up at the front like that 🙂

  5. Really well done…great run….great race report. Expect to see you lining up for the Fling soon.

    With regard to ITBS, I have found that a foam roller is excellent for relieving this. You can get a them cheap off Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/66Fit-Elite-Foam-Roller–Blue/dp/B002IKO2YU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1317802575&sr=8-1

    • You’re right – I love the foam rolelrs at my gym and am planning on getting one soon for home – birthday coming up soon 🙂
      The Fling would be a great race to do – it’s definitly on my radar…

  6. Carol Middleton

    October 5, 2011 at 9:40 am

    Well done Rhona, again a great report and pictures. Thorougly enjoy reading your Blog

  7. I nearly cried just reading this – can’t imagine how you must have felt on the day!
    Once again, a truly inspiring blog post.

  8. Wow, brilliant writeup, really enjoyed reading that! Can’t imagine the pain of running over half the distance with a busted knee though.

    Thanks for the inspirational story and I hope your knee is on the mend already.

  9. Great report and photos Rhona. You have been on quite a journey and congratulations on making it to the end.

    It will be interesting to see how you get on next year (if you do it again) having trained for and ran an ultra or two.

    Hope to see you on the trails … off road is so much more fun than road marathons … in my opinion!

    • Thanks John, I’m looking forward to exploring more trail and ultra races now I’ve completed all the conventional road distances. I’ve still got time goals I want to hit but I want to keep striving for longer distances 🙂

  10. Just amazing! I welled up reading that, especially the end. So so happy for you! Congratulations x

  11. What a wonderfully descriptive narrative! I was willing you on all the time I was reading – very well done.
    I only did the 10k and I will definitely be back next year to do it again but plan staying over another night to party after! LOL

  12. I’m welling up reading this and looking at your photos. I really feel for you. Total respect due to you for carrying on when many others would have quit at the first sign of pain. It must’ve been agony! So have you entered another marathon yet?

  13. Hi Rhona,
    Excellent race report I could feel your pain and the pictures of you approaching your family nearly brought a tear to my eyes. Hope you recover quickly and get back on the road and trails.

  14. I’ve read a lot of race reports … but not many that bring me to tears. There will undoubtedly be many more marathons to come … but you’ll never forget this one.

    And with that attitude, you were born to be an ultra runner.

    See you soon

  15. Hey Rhona

    Fabulous congrats from the Tropical South! Joe’s sat here suggesting this is something I might like to do someday, but after reading your blog, I’m happy to live marathons vicariously through you!! We have however signed up for the Reindeer Run in November which is a 10K in aid of the Lifeboats where you get to run with reindeer antlers and a red flashing nose 😀 Been training hard already, and actually enjoyed the 26 minutes we did tonight!!!!

    Hopefully see you soon,

    jenx

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  21. Just read this again as I’m running the Loch Ness Marathon next weekend. Just wanted to say thank you for this blog, I love reading your race reports and now feel quite well prepared for what is to come – hopefully!

    I am hoping to follow in your footsteps (literally) by attempting the Highland Fling next year.

    Cheers

    Stuart

    • Good luck Stuart! I hope you get on better than I did!
      I must go back and do a better job on that course soon.

      • I had a great day, managed a 25 minute PB of 3:40! Got a ballot place for London so now targeting a 3:30.

        I reckon a second attempt at that course would be a good idea. The big hill can’t ever be as bad as the first time you do it..!

        • Ya beauty! Well done, that’s a cracking time!
          I am very tempted to give it a second shot next year; I think it will work well with everything else in 2014.

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