Monday, October 19, 2015

Loch Ness Marathon

A year ago a Facebook friend posted some lovely photos of a race taking place in Scotland. Being the land of my birth, my curiosity was prickled and I went looked at the 'Loch Ness Marathon'  online and saw lovely sunny photos with happy faces plastered all over it. 'Could this be real, sun in Scotland?' I thought. After years of being 'rejected' by the London Marathon lottery I thought that this would be a nice option of a race and started working on a plan to get fellow runners on board. Five of us from South Africa and three UK-based ex South Africans all signed up.

The year slipped past and we found ourselves all ready and packed at OR Tambo Airport.

Standing at the flight check-in, I saw Comrades and running legend, Alan Robb, and I wondered out loud if he would be running the Loch Ness. I bounced over and blurted out my question to which his excited travelling companion said 'Yes, we are'! Chuffed to know that we would be running in the presence of greatness, we went through Customs and saw Alan talk to none other than Bruce Fordyce on the the other side of the strict customs officials. But later found out that the Comrades 'king' was going to Ireland instead.

We arrived in a sunny but cold Edinburgh and picked up our hired car. We had planned to stay with family as much as we could to soften the blow of our horrendous exchange rate so we made our way to our cousin who lovingly housed so many extra bodies in her home. She gave us a short tour of her pretty town and the following morning, we headed North to Inverness. The scenery was beautiful and green and the road got narrower, the further north, we drove. We turned off to our accommodation and arrived nice and early. We were staying at a hostel and it was interesting to see the different travellers that visit the the small town of Fort Augustus

We drove through to the finish area to register and had a quick walk round the small expo and tried not to gasp at the prices converted 21 times over. We spotted Alan Robb and Maritjie who had run the local 'parkrun' and we posed for a photograph.

I met up with a delightful friend who had travelled by motorbike to meet us, so we chatted in the rather chilly breeze before meeting up with my extended family. We met at a mall in the traffic-locked city and spent some time wandering around the shops before a leisurely walk along the River Ness. We joked at the amount of time we were spending on our feet unlike the day before Comrades when we try our best to 'rest up'. This was 'only a marathon'! 

Finally the morning of the race arrived and we all got ready in our SA flag tops and longs.

I was geared up with gloves, ear muffs and double layer clothing, taking no chance on this temperamental Scottish weather. We stepped outside the central heated rooms and gasped. The wind felt icy, but at least the sun was shining as we made our way for the bus to take us to the start. Two more of our 'party' joined us and we all climbed the bus eager for this delightful adventure to start. The bus climbed up some steep hills and dropped us off at the start. In the middle of nowhere there was speakers, toilets, huge trucks for our togbags, queues for free coffee, thousands of people rubbing and lubing and stripping down as the weather stayed kind to us. We huddled together in our designer dustbin bags to break the cold breeze and we saw Alan and Maritjie also in their SA flag tops. We chatted and felt honoured to be starting this unique race with a legend. 

The young pipe band started playing their bagpipes and walked through the throngs of people rousing up the heartstrings and leaving me teary eyed. This signalled that the race was about to start.

We were standing in the sub 4 hour starting pen, but it wasn't strictly controlled and everyone moved towards the start as the countdown began. The gun went off and we moved slowly forward. This is it. My first International Marathon start. Team SA ululated as we crossed the timing mats and our actual clock started. Our small group began to spread out and Marlene and I settled down to our own rhythm. We noticed how quiet the runners around us seemed and wondered if it was because we were still with the 'faster' group, but it turned out that is the way people run there. So Marlene and I chatted and took photos, greeted the few spectators, and generally had a great time. 

About half way, I started to feel two things differently from what I had expected. I was hungry and hot! This marathon only started at 10am and even though I had eaten a peanut butter sandwich on the bus, I began to crave real food. There was no coke on the road, only a sports drink and electrolyte sweets and the water was in bottles. I had my own supply of sweets but had forgotten biltong and crackers. The bottles proved quite useful due to the heat, and I made a point of keeping one in my pouch for the 3 miles in between tables. I contemplated taking off my top layer but then we would run through a shady area and I would feel a chill, so both layers stayed put. The views were magnificent when the trees cleared as we ran alongside Loch Ness for about 30km. The Urquhart castle ruins could be scene across the water and try I did to find 'Nessie' which had a £50 000 reward if spotted in a 'selfie'. But Nessie remained shy from our running eyes and the reward stayed sadly intact.
 At around 35km I saw my husband up ahead, walking upright. I was relieved as any leaning would have meant a problem, but he had suffered from cramps from early on and was walking rather briskly to the finish. We stayed with him, for the remainder of the distance, taking more selfies and greeting the spectators as we entered the city. With about 4km to go, the water table had a small packet of salty crackers and I asked if they could open them. They gave them to us and Marlene and I immediately wolfed them down, thankful for some solid food. We crossed the bridge of River Ness and waved as the 'Go South Africa' cheers gained momentum. All too soon we crossed the line in a rather slow time, but felt like we could still run on for longer. We collected our t-shirts, huge medals, soup and food and made our way over to our relieved family and shared our race stories

An absolutely fabulous race, perfect weather, beautiful scenery, no pain and great company, we can't ask for anything more. I will be back!

Och aye I will

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