The bucket list must-do marathon, Loch Ness, promises spectacular views of the Highlands, while its little sister, the 10K offers a super-flat course. Did they deliver? Tina Chantrey and Esther Newman found out
With an exposed, rainy and chilly and what felt like bleak start in the Scottish mountains, runners were reluctant to discard their bin-bag rain coats to get the 2019 Loch Ness Marathon underway. As soon as you start running, though, the magical beauty of this point-to-point race starts to unfold.
Organisers bus all runners to the start, 26 miles from Inverness, where, apart from the baggage truck and a cluster of portaloos, there’s nothing except heather and hills. For the first six miles of the race as you round the top of Loch Ness and begin your long journey back, you feel like you’re going mostly downhill, though there are undulations – and these last for the length of this course. Some of the downhills will get your knees working; they are mostly short but some felt steep.
The mountains, pine trees and tranquil loch make for a spectacular backdrop along the single lane road that wends back to Inverness. There are no marshals except on the aid stations, no barriers, no instructions – just a trail of runners.
‘Wee hilly bit’ was one of the signs that definitely boosted morale, as this stretch of hills was nothing compared to the two-mile incline runners are treated to from miles 17 to 19. It wasn’t too steep, it was just mean to include it at this stage of a marathon. It never seemed to end!
Is Loch Ness Marathon the UK’s most scenic marathon? Undoubtedly. But it’s more than this. It’s relaxed (the starter was announcing over the tannoy “Don’t pee in the trees”!), cups of tea were being given out at the start as it was so cold, the silent, magical course won’t ever be forgotten, the expo, number pickup and facilities give runners exactly what they need and it is incredibly friendly. If you like big city races with thousands of spectators, this is not a race for you. But if you want to be taken out of yourself, with the chance to spend a few hours in peaceful harmony with the great outdoors, this is a truly magical race.
It was a shame to see so much single use plastic littering the course around the aid stations – a problem that all our larger marathons have yet to solve. This was the only very slight downside, for you leave Inverness with a hefty medal as a beautiful reminder of an unforgettable experience, and you get a lovely t-shirt (men’s sizing only) plus a delicious warm meal at the end. Yes it should be on your bucket list, just make sure you come prepared for some proper Scottish weather!
Women’s Running also tackled the point-to-point 10K course, part of the weekend’s Festival of Running. We say ‘tackled’, but this incredibly flat – and sometimes even slightly downhill – road race was super quick, and utterly beautiful. The scenery was largely small country roads, complete with vast puddles to hop over from the torrential rain overnight. The course was well-stocked with water stations when you needed them (cups, not bottles) and small pockets of cheering crowds. The finish was the same gantry as the marathon, with a lovely straight run into the park. The medal was only slightly smaller than the marathon one, there was more free Baxter’s soup than you could shake a stick at, and you got the best biscuit in the world in the goody bag: shortbread!
Early bird entries for 2020 are now open at lochnessmarathon.com
Thank you to HOKA for getting Tina to the Highlands: the Clifton 6s made it a real Highland fling!
And thank you to Matt and Lindsey from L Evans Consulting for helping Esther over the finish line with as many pre-race breakfasts as she could manage. That’s a lot.