Thursday, 18 April 2013

Ladies' Day in Lochaber

Our "Lodge" - what a front door!!!
My friend Mark and I had discussed going up north for a weekend, so he could go biking and I could go running, and last weekend was the only one that seemed to suit both of us. A colleague of Mark's offered the use of a lodge at one the Devere Hotels (Cameron House on Loch Lomond) and it seemed too good an opportunity to resist.

Judging by the Tom Scott race, I had recovered well from Barcelona, and so it seemed like a good idea to profit from all the training and run another marathon. This had been an idea developing over the past few weeks, but it had depended on finding a good marathon at the right time, and upon how long it took the spring to return to my legs. I had never run a marathon in Scotland before and Mark was happy to do his cycling up in Fort William, so the Lochaber marathon appeared to fit the bill. The only problem was that I had to be good and not make use of the sauna and steam room facilities at Cameron House on the Saturday........imagine starting a marathon dehydrated from spending too much time in the sauna!

Having entered the marathon at the last minute (number 495 out of 500), meant there was no external pressure on me for a "performance", and it helped to be staying somewhere nice and just travel up on the day. There was a speedy lady (Kim Fawke, a 2:39 marathoner) from Telford who had entered early (number 15) and was being accommodated by the race organisation, as she was hoping t break the 15 year old course that was another pressure I didn't have on me.....I could just go and run my own race.
The forecast was for pouring rain and gale-force winds......and so I started obsessively checking for updates, as if that would change anything. Whatever the day actually brought, I hoped to get a good strong run in the bank.
2nd Breakfast out of the rain

A soggy warmup
As we drove up on Sunday morning, we couldn't actually see any of the beautiful scenery as the rain was driving across Rannoch Moor, but it did seem lighter as we got to Fort William. After registering, I had a second breakfast of instant porridge and coffee in the car (my word, thermos flasks are a great invention), and then braved the elements for a soggy warmup. There were drinks provided on the course but no gels, so I arranged to meet Mark at certain places in order to grab some......and he kindly took my waterproofs from me as I headed to the start.

The race started on the shinty pitch and then we headed off through a housing estate out to the main road. I found myself passing Kim in the first mile, which surprised me, as I had been telling myself not to go off with her as it would be faster than I intended to run. I exchanged a few words with the guys running alongside me - one from Shettleston (John Duffy, who had actually won the race on two occasions) and one from Hunters Bog Trotters (HBT). We seemed to be going up and down a couple of sharp inclines and round some twisty corners......but I was sure that I'd read it was a fast flat course. They reassured me that the first and last mile were the worst (great......something to look forward to at the end when you're knackered) and that there was a drag uphill at miles 3 and 4.
In a sunny spell
After a few miles we were all spread out, with the leading 3 men visible quite a way ahead along the undulating road, and John having dropped back from us. I got slightly confused as there was no 6 mile marker, and a water station appeared earlier than the advertised 7 mile point. Mark, however, was standing in his high-viz yellow waterproof jacket (the jacket actually meant that many people asked him if he was a medic en route) at exactly our agreed 7 mile point and handed me a gel......mmmmm, tasty......not!
The weather had been improving as we'd been running, and not long after this, the sun actually came out and it became quite warm. This was amazing considering the horrendous forecast, but in true Scottish style, we were then treated to a mixture of rainy, windy and sunny spells as we continued on our way.

There was plentiful support on the roadside as we headed towards the turn around point and it was great to see the leaders heading back towards us, so we exchanged waves and "thumbs up" signs. I rounded the marshal in 5th place overall, but then watched the distinctive brown HBT vest shoot away from me at an amazing speed. It was also interesting to see that Kim was 40s behind me, with no one in between us, so I figured she'd overhaul me at any time.

Although I was now running alone and felt the wind more strongly on the return leg, I loved the encouragement from all the runners heading the other way. I felt that I was tiring but couldn't hear any cheers behind me so figured that everyone must be feeling the same.

Out on the road
If you wanted to think about something apart from where the next mile marker was, you just had to look up and be inspired by the beauty of the surrounding snow-covered peaks.......or you could focus on the road and be entertained by the traffic. The road isn't closed for the race, and although runners are told to keep to the side of the road and run no more than 2 abreast, there were times when cars and lorries were on completely the wrong side of the road. At one point a lorry kindly waited for a good time to pass runners when a car decided to pass it on the wrong side of the road and a cyclist also tried to cut through the gap. It was tempting to tag alongside the lorry and use it as a windbreak, but it just wasn't possible.

I heard that the gap behind me had narrowed to 100m but I gave myself a good talking to, reminding myself just how stubborn I can be. I figured that I had to keep driving on, so that if anyone passed me then it was because they were running well, not because of me flagging. By this point I had moved up into 4th position and was over halfway back. 

I was spurred on by seeing that the gap to the man in front (from Kilmarnock) was closing up, but felt guilty when I saw how much he was struggling, possibly due to his fast start. I passed him at the 21 mile marker though I did ask him if he was ok (and to give him credit, he carried on to finish under the 3 hr mark). I was very relieved to crest the hill at 23 miles as I knew that apart from the sting in the tail of the race, it was mainly downhill. Grabbing a last gel from Mark, he reassured me that the gap behind had opened up and I just needed to keep going for the win. I tried to calculate how much faster than me someone would need to run every remaining mile in order to go past, but I knew that it wasn't over until that line was crossed. In the next 2 miles the man in front (this time from Ayr - SW Scotland seemed to be dominating the sharp end of the race) also came back significantly, so that he was only about 20m ahead when he missed a right turn. I screamed his name and the marshals chased him to get him back on course. As we were within the final windy mile, which included those sharp inclines, I fully expected him to charge back past any minute.

Finishing on the shinty pitch

Not sure about my "finishing face"...
It was an amazing feeling to make the final turn out of the houses and towards the finish gantry on the soggy wet shinty pitch.

Everyone was very surprised to see me as the second finisher overall and they desperately tried to create a finish tape for me to break.
Unfortunately the only bit of tape they had was only about 50cm wide, but at least it made me smile!
It was only after finishing that I heard the announcement that I'd broken the 15year old course record by 4 and a half minutes. And what a day for the ladies, as the second lady finished in 4th place overall, in a time that was also under the previous record! Girlpower!

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