When I first heard about the Loch Ness Marathon I thought nothing more than its a marathon in a bonnie place. Didn’t take much deliberating, I knew I wanted to run another one so up I signed. I had a little look at the route – start at one end, finish at the other – and the elevation, which looked pretty much downhill to me.
Oh how wrong I was.
A lot of the reports said – and I quote – ‘this is not one for first timers’. Naively I thought that was just because it wasn’t a route there would be many spectators along due to logistics. Turns out that was only part of it, a small part of it.
In true ‘Ella’ style the few plans that had been made were thrown in the fire just a couple of days before. The eldest wanted to go to a party on the Saturday night and we couldn’t leave knowing he would be drinking and there was no one here for him so it resulted in the other half staying at home and I would jump in with my parents in their motor home. A change like this throws my mind in to turmoil and yes, there were a few tears when we drove off but I managed to control them quite well. My dads dukes of hazard style driving is enough to distract anyone!
Registration was easy and my mum and I had a good look round the expo. This was my first expo and although small I still managed to pick up a few things. The other half had given me money to buy a top as a momento, probably hoping that would be all I’d buy but he was wrong – half price Brookes you say? The exact ones I had looked at before? Be rude not to!
These new trainers got me thinking about the ones I had bought instead of them a few months back. I wasn’t keen on them. I had to mess about a lot to make sure nothing was digging in to my foot before I started running. Wearing brand new trainers on a 26 mile run is a bad idea. But I did have my old ones with me, and I love my old ones. I decided to wear them instead. Take a gamble.
Worst. Idea. Ever.
But I will come to that.
After speaking to the couple in the campervan next to us I discovered there was a bus pick up point a 5 min walk from the campsite so after a little back and forth I managed to get myself booked on to it. It was an early start but no one likes a run starting mid afternoon so you really can’t complain. The only way to the start is by bus which is all put on for you as they close the roads. Very organised.
As I sat on my seat and watched my mum pulling faces at me I tried to focus on what was lying ahead. I had signed up for this, I wanted to do this, I had dragged my parents up here so I could do this. I had even had arguments at work because I wanted to do this. So surely I could sit on a bloody bus by myself for 20mins and get myself to the start line for god sake. I resisted the temptation to sit on my phone and instead listened to the loud voice of the guy a few seats up who was talking about all the different countries he had ran in. It was a good distraction if nothing else.
As soon as I got off the bus the cold and wind hit me. We were in the middle of nowhere with very little shelter. Luckily for me I’m smaller than practically every other human being so I immersed myself in the crowd and used them as protection from the elements. Survival skill training 1 0 1 people. I also knew from festival going that there was no way I was waiting in that queue for the toilets so yes, I did pee in a bush. It happens ok, do I need to mention Paula Radcliffe?
Steve was also running so I knew he had to be around somewhere. Trying to spot him was going to be difficult so I decided to wait by the baggage bus as I thought his number was close to mine. My tactics worked and after 25 minutes he appeared out of no where right in front of me. If I was the type of girl that did the whole ‘squeal when you see someone’ only dogs would have heard me!
We put our bags on the bus and headed to the start line. My big toe on my left foot started speaking to me, this wasn’t good. I quietly told it to shut up and took a last minute pre-race photo to try and ignore it.
A few last minute words of advice from Steve and we were off. He stuck by me for just over the first mile and I have to admit it helped settle me in to it. Unsurprisingly I didn’t see him again until the end.
It’s downhill from the start and I was very cautious of not going too fast too soon so tried to keep it steady. My left foot didn’t like downhill so I kept trying to ‘move’ it to a comfier position inside my trainer. This tactic did not work. I considered stopping to put a plaster on but didn’t want to lose my rhythm. Yes I know. Clearly I know what I should – and shouldn’t – do, but I did the opposite everytime. Have I even ran before?
It was a very quiet race from the start, there’s no place for hoards of spectators to get to and there wasn’t much chatting going on. The views were certainly breath taking though.
At exactly half way someone came up along side me. ‘Well hello fellow road runner’. It was Kenny from Perth Road Runners running the marathon for the 15th time – 15! He was now part of an elite group they had fondly called The Famous Five. He told me he loved this route and gave me a little tip – the section we were on was the flattest and straightest part and I should treat mile 18/19 as half way. I thought this a little odd but he’s the one who knows it like the back of his hand so I wondered what lay ahead.
By mile 15 my foot had progressed to toddler tantrums. I considered stopping to put a plaster on again but instead took a selfie whilst running – as you do.
The thought was there at this point I wasn’t making my sub 4 hour but the finish is still the finish. I put my ear phones in for a little bit to drown out the screaming foot and some of the stomach that had suddenly decided to say hello. There’s nothing quite like a little Fall Out Boy to get you going.
Miles 18/19. I died. Game over. Sub 4 hour – are you having a laugh? Who the hell told me this was flat?!? Mount Everest isn’t as steep and long as this for crying out loud! I was reduced to a hobble climbing up the monstrosity. That Loch doesn’t have a monster, this hill was it! I have found the Loch Ness Monster – it’s this hill!
Suddenly I realised what Kenny had meant. This is where the race starts.
I was having real problems with my foot now. I lose my footing slightly and the pain just shoots through my toe, I genuinely debate with myself whether or not I’ve somehow broken it its that sore. There’s nothing quite like an endurance trial to slap you round the face and bring you down a peg or two, remind you who’s boss ie not you. My core isn’t holding up very well either. I thought my core was quite good, not exactly been working on it but been doing some work. I was wrong.
I must be on lesson 5 by now!
As I hobble slowly up I do a slight double take as I pass a sign. Did I read that right? Did that say ‘Wee bit hilly’? Further on there’s another ‘Slightly steeper bit’. A bloke goes past me, ‘quite funny that’ he says. I wasn’t laughing. (Well, not at the time, but they were pretty funny ha ha).
Eventually I do reach the summit and I’m quite surprised there’s no cairn to put a flag in. I trundle along, appreciating the few supporters that have made their way out as I head through a small village and back in to civilisation. My pace is slow but I’m still moving. Negative splits aren’t all they’re cracked up to be I tell myself. Further on and I hear ‘oh a Perth Road Runner’, so I glance back with what I hope is a smile.
Ok, last bit. Past the finish line on the other side of the river (who’s idea was that?) across the bridge and then final stretch. There’s a fab breeze on the bridge and it feels so good. I see the 26 mile marker then hear my dad at the side ‘Ella, gies a smile hen’.
He gets a glare.
Completely unjustified but my foot and core have now joined forces and declared outright war on my very existence it’s all I can do not to surrender and throw myself in the river. Dramatic I know, but it hurt.
He bellows with laughter as I go past.
Onto the grass, music is blaring. Almost home.
Really?? Are you really going to try and kick it up a gear and finish strong?
Looks like it.
I pick up the speed and all I hear is ‘and Perth Road Runners are here, Ella Webley, what a fantastic finish!’.
He was a nice man, a liar, but a nice man.
I hear my mum at the side shouting and trying to get a photo but all I can do is put my head between my legs and wait to see if I have actually died. My lungs slowly fill back up and I stagger across to collect the countless things on offer. I’m asked if I would like 2 bottles of water ‘oh my god yes!! Thank you’.
I hear my name and spot Steve waving just at the other side so I make my way out to see how he got on. His wife Allison is there too and she tells me she was following us on the tracker – it’s an amazing thing! Steve managed an awesome 3hrs 34 despite holding back in that first mile. I discover I came in at 4hrs 9. I will take that.
My mum arrives and we head for our delicious free soup and casserole. My dad wants to get back down the road so I take it back to the motorhome where I also peel off my trainers and socks.
I will end it there – no one needs the detail on what marathon running can do to your feet. A very sore lesson to learn the hard way however it is most definitely learnt! My love affair with my precious trainers is no more. Just like Brad and Angelina we have parted ways. I’m ok with 4hrs 9, it’s better than my last time and it’s my own fault.
Next year will be a sub 4 hour – no doubt about it!