Monday, 22 April 2013

Lochaber Marathon

I'd originally planned to run the Lochaber Marathon but decided that a fast road marathon two weeks before The Highland Fling probably wasn't too sensible for me. So I substituted a run from Kingshouse to Fort William on the Saturday and supporting Dumfries Harriers Neil, Lesley & Ian on the Sunday.

The view from my room

This section of the WHW is the only section I've not run continuously so I was keen to see and run it before the WHW race itself.
Caroline and I set off around 8:45 am at a nice easy pace, the weather was almost ideal for running but a low cloud base and significant lying snow on all the hills was a reminder that winter running on the Way should never be undertaken lightly. The Devil's Staircase was snow-free but we topped out through clouds and the path from the summit was pretty much covered in snow, making the first mile more of a slow walk to avoid an ignominious face plant.

Kinlochleven from above
I've read lots of race reports describing the lights of Kinlochleven appearing deceptivly close, when you've still got over 4 miles to run and I was glad to be able to scope this out before the big day itself. The descent from KL seems to go on forever, I'm sure it's going to be a real quad buster on race day.
We didn't stop in KL itself and our climb out saw the sun make it's first appearnce of the day, cue photo-stop and my first look at the Lairig Mor, "christ it looks like the road to Mordor!". There were a good sprinkling of walkers on this section many of whom looked pretty knackered, we couldn't resist the temptation to bounce past looking fresh, that particular burst of hubris may come back to haunt us.
Up to now I'd thought in terms of getting to KL then I've only got a half marathon to go. Geographically correct maybe, but a very tough half marathon, again so glad I was scoping this out in advance. I pushed on a bit after Lundavra and waited for Caroline to catch up before starting down the forest road to Braveheart car-park, again stopping en-route for photos. Before we got to Braveheart the official WHW seems to have been re-routed, veering through a forested section off the road heading almost directly toward Ben Nevis. It puts you onto the tarmac road well before Braveheart and made the run in to the leisure cente 1.75 miles. Total distance for the day 23.8 miles. Although I felt pretty fresh, not tired or out of breath in any way, I could certainly feel the hills in my legs.

Happy and sunny on the leisure centre steps

We were kindly met by Eileen who'd volunteered to drive me back to Kinshouse for my car.
So I've now run the entire WHW race route albeit I'm more familiar with the first 53 miles, I'm planning a two day effort during May and again it'll be on the Way.
I was able to enjoy a nice relaxing Saturday evening with Neil, Lesley and Ian, without the stress of running a marathon on the Sunday, my duties being team photographer and moral support.
The weather on Sunday morning was pretty grim,gusty winds and squally rain making the choice of what to wear for a 26.2 mile effort pretty difficult for runners but easy for me. Full-on goretex hill walking kit, multiple layers and 100% waterproof. I met up with Zoe and EIleen, who are both part of my WHW support team and we made our way to the Nevis Centre. I was asked a couple of times if I wished I was running and was able to truthfully reply with an emphatic NO.

This was to be Lesley's first marathon, Neil's Second, with the more experienced Ian using it as both a recovery run after injuries and training for an Ironman attempt later this year. I was pleasantly surprised to bump into Jo Zakrzewski of Dumfries Running Club, who had made a last minute decision to enter her first Scottish marathon as part of her Comrades training.
The runners assembled on the shinty pitch in a persistant drizzle and were quickly on their way. The route is an out and back one, through Corpach along the Mallaig road and one of the flattest marathons around. EIleen and I were planning to head out along the route for photos whilst the ever practical Zoe was heading for breakfast and a shower after an evening at the Clachaig Inn and a night in her camper-van.

We headed off and found our first stop around the four mile mark where eventual race winner Robert Gilroy had already established a clear lead, Jo was first lady (and 4th overall) running shoulder to shoulder with an HBT runner. As expected Ian G appeared first followed by Neil and then Lesley, photos taken we jumped into the car and headed out to mile 9, giving a shout out and a hoot as we passed our 4 runners. With positions unchanged and the sun now shining enough to allow me to strip off a layer or two, Jo looked totally focussed, Ian was still smiling, Neil was starting to look a little "peaky" and Lesley was having a ball, more photos snapped we headed to the turnaround point before heading back into FW. I did think that Ian had set off pretty quickly, probably close to 7 minute miles for the first 8/9 miles, pretty speedy given the injuries he's battled with, this season.

Back in FW we met up with Zoe, grabbed a bite to eat (or more accurately a trough of food in my case) and headed back to the shinty ground. Reckoning Jo should finish around 2:45 we didn't want to miss her finishing.
The weather had gone full circle and was back to being properly miserable, with a stalwart line of supporters huddled in the back row of the grandstand avoiding both the rain and the medical gazebo which blew away. The winner finished strongly in 2:33:19 and to our delight Jo came home in 2:45:55, not only 1st lady but 2nd overall too. I reckoned Ian could be anywhere between 3:15 and 3:50 as we watched a steady flow of finishers toughing out the last leg. The weather so bad by now that even the piper had given up and gone home.
I'd positioned myself on the finish straight and much to my surprise the first Harrier who hove into view was Lesley, "Jesus Christ it's Lesley". I wasn't being sexist but I was genuinely surprised it wasn't one of the boys we saw first. Lesley crossed the line in 3:40:56, a fantastic time. Next home was Ian in 3:45:55, who admitted straight away that he's gone off too fast and that his pace in the last 8 miles fell off a cliff. Ian being ever honest later posted his splits on Facebook under the tag of "How not to run a marathon, what happens when you go off too quickly". It was pretty cold by this time so with Lesley cocooned under my jacket we settled to wait for Neil, the chat was that he wasn't having a good day. We'd packed a limping Lesley off to the Nevis Centre for food and warmth before Neil finished in 4:20:55 promptly slumping onto the soaking grass, duly wrapped in the obligatory post marathon space blanket we didn't hang around and husstled Neil and Ian back into the warmth too.

I'm so glad I wasn't running in those weather conditions, definately a tough day at the office. albeit a good flat course for a marathon PB attempt.
Having made sure that everyone got a hot drink and something to eat and with Ian joining the queue for a massage and Lesley and Neil staying overnight in Fort William we opted not to stick around for the prize giving.
EIleen's lift home had fallen through so my route home via Edinburgh saw me getting home around 9pm.


I'm very happy with how I ran on the Saturday and with the opportunity to recce the route. I'm gald I didn't run the marathon, I'm sure it would have been the wrond decision for me 2 weeks before the Fling.
It's the first time I've supported at a marathon, it was great fun but it also emphasized how important it is to have some-one to look after you at the finish.



  1. Keith, in the race don't follow the WHW sign to the right after Glen Nevis campsite; stay on the fire road all the way past Braveheart car park and down on to the road. It's the same finish as the Devil O. Ian

  2. Road to Mordor! Lol!
    No, no, no, it's the road to a Goblet!
    Fiona xx