After beating myself up for completely failing to execute my race plan at the D33, I had twin objectives for the Lochaber Marathon. Firstly stick to the plan this time and secondly make sure I didn’t have a bad race, the latter being most important in my head with only 3 weeks to go to the Highland Fling 53 mile race. Without broadcasting it too widely I was also hoping for a time round about 3:30.
I make no pretence to being a writer of suspense so I’m going to blow the gaff straight away and say “yes” for me the day went well.
I’ve been fretting about the mix of Ultras and road marathons I’ve signed up for this year, or more precisely how do I train for them, especially given the limited time between events. I’ve also been missing too many weekend back to back runs, either dropping one or both runs. Although my overall mileage has been on a par with last year there is a disturbing lack of runs over 20 miles. I felt this was the core of my WHW race training last year with a solid base built up through January, February and March and I've compromised it this year.
Anyway enough introspective navel gazing and back to the main event, the Lochaber Marathon.
Given that Fort William is around 4 hours driving from Dumfries and I've had bad experiences of long distance driving after races, I’d decided to book the luxuries of the Travelodge for the Saturday and the Sunday nights. Ann had agreed to come along as bag carrier; cheerleader; photographer; first aider and rescue driver to both myself and the rest of the Dumfries contingent comprising yours truly; Caroline; Neil, Lesley and Ian.
A leisurely drive up gave time to collect my number and t-shirt on the Saturday afternoon and fit in a shopping spree in Cotswold Outdoors, where a bright shiny new pair of Salomon Speedcross 3 CS, mysteriously found a way into my basket.
Having slaked my shopping thirst, we met up with Caroline; Neil and Lesley in The Grog and Gruel (that’s a pub, not a euphemism for pre-race activity) for food. We were all very restrained and after nice meal and a couple of pints it was time for an early night, although I did consider that my choice of Boar’s Breath Chilli for a meal might have been slightly imprudent given a stomach that had ranged from volatile to volcanic throughout the day.
|Pre-race confidence (and "the leg pose")|
With a race start at 11am, there was no rush in the morning, with ample time for a lie-in, shower and my usual pre-morning run breakfast of porridge and an Ambrosia rice pudding, a shower and a leisurely stroll along to the Nevis Centre for the obligatory team photo and race briefing.
With a weather forecast varying from light rain to heavy rain throughout I’d opted for a long sleeve compression top, club vest and light gloves, a choice I was happy with from start to finish.
We all had slightly different objectives for the day. Lesley hot of the back of a great race at Trimpell 20 miler, was gunning for a PB, Neil building for his City to Summit Duathalon was looking on this as another training run ; Caroline was aiming to run a steady measured race as she’s running VLM next weekend and The Fling two weeks after that; Ian had more modest objective’s hoping for “anything under 4 hours” as he’s been battling a persistent foot injury for some months. We also chatted with Ian Minty who was very much using the event as a marker both on his return from injury and part of his WHW race build up.
There was a palpable lack of enthusiasm as the 350 or so runners wandered out to the start line on the shinty pitch, with a persistent drizzle and grey skies no doubt mirroring the mood of many. No preamble, no hooter, a quick count down and it was off!
The race route is an out and back mostly on the A830 road to Mallaig alongside Loch Eil, it’s billed as flat, IT IS!
There was none of the early congestion you can get in bigger races and within the first half mile I found myself running alongside Ian Grey with Lesley slightly ahead. My race plan was for steady 8 minute miles and when mile 1 beeped at 7:31 pace, I knew it was time to ease back slightly. Ian and I ended up running the first 9 miles side by side before I edged ahead as Ian indicated he was having trouble with his foot. Over these miles Lesley continued to edge ahead eventually moving completely out of sight. At this point I could bang on about the rain, but I’ll just say it pretty much rained all day, varying from drizzle to sheets of rain to spits and back to sheets again. What a magnificent job the helpers at the water stations did, they all looked frozen and drowned, but were unfailingly cheerful, a big thanks is due to them all.
It was good to have some company for this first section, I suspect our “where’s Wally” Harriers tops and steady conversation and good humour stood out well but we regularly moved aside to let speedier runners through without undue obstruction. The first three or four miles until you pass the sawmill at Kilmallie are on footpaths thereafter we were running on the road, which was open to traffic in both directions, but pretty much every driver slowed or stopped for runners so no issues there.
|One mile in|
I think it was somewhere around mile 11 that the lead runners started to appear running back in the opposite direction, I gave a few shout outs (but apparently this is something that Ultra runners do, and marathoners don’t) and I made a conscious effort to count the ladies as I reckoned Lesley must be running well.
I was right, Lesley was running well and perhaps a quarter mile before the turn I saw her and shouted out “4th lady”, immediately to hear this echoed by her husband Neil who had sneakily run up behind me. Round the turn and the plan is still holding together nicely, miles 1 – 11 were all sub 8 minutes, miles 12 and 13 a couple of seconds over.
Homeward bound now Neil and I ran together for a mile or two, until he edged ahead about 20 metres. I was taking on water and isotonic at every opportunity, prompted by vivid and painful memories of lack of hydration induced cramp at D33, still feeling very good, no signs of cramp and only slightly sore legs. Kirsty Burnett was on my shoulder too, running really strongly until she suffered a dodgy tummy at mile 19, Kirsty is building really well for this year’s WHW race. I was also getting regular roadside shout out’s from a rain swept Ada Stewart, what a difference a bit of encouragement makes to your mood, thanks Ada.
I love the phrase “a marathon is a race of two halves, the first half is 20 miles and the second half is 6 miles”, as I went through 20 miles I was still feeling good, relaxed and uninjured and I was still running and feeling like a proper runner, as opposed to shuffling. I cannot remember exactly when I passed Neil, but it was probably just after 20 miles, but it wasn't just Neil I passed, I was slowly but steadily picking off other runners. All in all, a much nicer feeling than being passed! In fact over this last 6 miles I was starting to see and pass quite a number of runners reduced to walking, a few stretching off cramp and a few obviously injured too. I tried to give each and every one a shout out. Miles 13 to 24 were all slightly above 8 minute miles, but I was still happy as I knew I’d banked a few seconds on the first half.
At mile 25 you turn almost due south and then the blustery cross wind became a full on head wind, two of the safety pins on my number gave out, so rather than end up chasing my number across the road I finished the job and scrunched my number in my fist for the run in. Bizarrely I couldn't stop smiling on this stretch, pishing rain and an awful headwind, NOW I feel I’m well in my comfort zone, all those winter training trail miles paid off. There is one horrid little uphill slope exactly 0.6 miles from the finish then it’s into a housing estate, I couldn't see anyone ahead of me and I knew no-one was close behind, but I couldn't see any marshals, might as well go straight ahead.
Fortuitously correct a couple of 90 degree turns and it was through the gates and onto the shinty pitch for the final 100m, as I ran past the grandstand I milked the soggy crowd for a cheer, whilst trying to sprint, smile and hold up my number for the timekeepers to see.
Job done 3:31:53, 26.2 miles at an average 8:03 pace, I couldn't see Ann so grabbed a bottle of water and climbed over the fence surrounding the pitch to head for the grandstand. As I jumped down I felt something go twang around my left chest.
Oh the irony, 26,2 miles without injury and I strain my left boob climbing the fence.
The purists among you will probably say that if I felt that good after a marathon I wasn't trying hard enough, probably true, but remember the race plan back at the start of this post? I’d done exactly what I wanted to do and proved to myself that I could plan and execute a race plan without getting carried away…result.
Lesley had had a blistering race, clocking a PB and finishing in 3:25; Caroline came in running strongly also logging a PB in 3:37 with Neil completing the trio of PB’s not far behind in 3:39.
|Neil and I - Captain Sweatpants and Co, post race|
We hung around for the presentation to see Lesley pick up her 1st FV40 trophy, then with Lesley, Caroline and Neil facing the long drive back to Dumfries, it was back to the hotel for a quick shower for me and then a well deserved beer or two.
I've mentioned before that for me the best measure of any race is "Would I do it again?"
As far as Lochaber Marathon goes the answer would be an unreserved "YES", good value for money, flat route, abundant water stations, friendly marshals, potentially stunning views and a technical T-shirt, I'd definitely do it again.
To cap the weekend off on a positive note, we went for a meal at The Crannog restaurant, where my ego got a further boost, when a chap (sorry I didn't catch your name) asked me "Are you Keith Ainslie? I read your blog" .....RESULT