Lochaber Marathon, 14th April, 2013
My first 26.2 mile race of the season took place at the ultra-scenic Lochaber Marathon in Fort William.
The course is an out-and-back job, starting at the Fort William shinty ground near the Nevis Centre and running pretty much east to west along Loch Eil, before turning and heading back to the always wet town of Fort William.
The race proclaims to be flat but it is more like ‘gently rolling’ and whilst there are no killer hills, there is enough ups and downs to keep you on your toes.
There were four of us doing the race and I travelled up with Barry the night before. The weather on the journey up was OK but by the time we put our heads on our pillows the rain was bouncing off the roof. When we got up it was, well, bouncing off the roof. This made the decision making around the gear to be worn critical. It was warm (for Scotland) and wet. I plumped for my North Face Leonidas jacket and a thin under garment.
5 miles in this was a mistake as the traditional four seasons had already happened and we had gone from heavy rain to nice sunshine. All of which was accompanied by a variable wind.
My strategy for the race was to finish in sub 3:15 and to go steady Eddie all the way. Scott Cameron was joining me in this quest. Neither of us had officially gone under 3:20 before. Scott had recently PB’d at the Meadows Marathon (3:22) and I had run some quick training runs but carried a PB of 3:26 and change from Edinburgh in May 2012.
So, whilst we thought 3:15 was doable, if we landed it there would be mega-PBs for us both.
If I am honest, there wasn’t a lot to write home about in the first 13.1 miles. We stuck to our plan to make almost all miles land in the 7:2x area and hit the turn on 1:37. The plan was working.
At this point, I should mention that the views are incredible. You run through a valley created by 1000s of years of glacial shift and with Ben Nevis and the views across Loch Eil it is so pretty and distracting that the miles just fly by.
The halfway point was reached and both Scott and I did a check-in. All was good bar both of us having some tummy trouble pending. We did a count and there were 77 runners (600ish entrants, 380ish starters) ahead of us. A pretty fine standard.
The challenge was set – no overtakers in the second half of the race. As we turned the wind was benign and possibly behind us and so the miles were ticked off. MIles 14-20 were all sent packing between 7:20-7:30 but then the tummy issues mentioned earlier hit Scott back and he had to take a pit-stop at 20.5 miles. I went on.
I reckoned I could go well under 3:15 but am targeting Edinburgh in May for that and resolved to keep to the target. I ticked off mile 22 in 7:14. Too fast. I was about to start slowing when I saw a chap falling up ahead of me and rushed to make sure he was OK. He’d terrible cramp so I stopped. PBs are nice but looking after your friends and fellow runners is nicer. I helped him stretch off the muscles and back to his feet and I lost about a minute and this meant I had to make some time back.
I did the final 5k in 22:30 and managed to cross the line in a new PB of 3:14.24. I was super-delighted with this. I had to work harder in the last 20 mins than I wanted but it was the right thing to do, and for the right reasons. I am not sure where I finished in the race. I managed to avoid anyone overtaking me in the 2nd half and but for the stop I would have ran up a negative split. In the end I finished 38th of 364 finishers. I am well chuffed with this.
This has set the scene for a good tilt at 3:10 in Edinburgh in May and I am now focusing on that as my “A” Race for the first half of the year. Two years ago my marathon PB was 3:43.47. Now it is under 3:15 and with room for improvement.
A word on the race. The winner, Robert Gilroy, took the title with an amazing 2:33 and, both the first and second in the women’s race broke the course record. Joanna Zakrzewski took the win in 2:45. There is a pretty high-standard of runner in terms of depth in this race. Hats off to all.
The race is superbly well organised by the Lochaber Athletic Club. The marshalls are brilliant and for such a small race, the crowds who dotted the course, sometimes in ones and twos, were just superb and really helped. The drink stations were well spaced throughout the course and the after race provision of massages (£5), rolls, coffee chocolate (with the entry fee) were really welcome and gave this race a nice homely feel.
Oh, and Scott? Well he should some not insignificant strength to fightback from his set-back come in just over 3:19. A fantastic effort.
Lastly, a big shout out to Robert Dods and Barry Mowat who also completed this marathon in testing conditions, and especially Robert who had an eventful few days!