Our race weekend started mid day Saturday, when we packed up Pat’s car and drove north west to Inverness. I’ve heard from many, including Pat, that the road from Aberdeen to Inverness is a nightmare, and now having driven the A96 from Aberdeen to Inverness, I can confirm this statement. The road itself and the countryside are great, but it’s the 100+ roundabouts you drive through from the south side of Aberdeen to the centre of Inverness that really gets on your nerves. That, and slow traffic with no passing opportunities. It took us about three hours to drive 100 miles; usually, this takes us less than two hours. We had to take this road because Pat needed to fill up his car, and with no gas stations remotely close to us, this was our only option. I am never driving the A96 again….
We arrived tired and impatient to an incredibly busy Inverness; it was marathon weekend after all. We joined a massive line of cars all headed to the same place: Bught Park, the site of the Baxters Loch Ness Marathon and Festival of Running. I had already received my 10km race pack in the mail a few weeks prior to this weekend, but Pat had to register for the marathon in person, the day before the race. This was a great opportunity for me to also enjoy my first ever race expo!
The race was backed by Run 4 It, and there were stalls of many of its well-known brands of clothing, nutrition and other running gear suppliers: Garmin, Brooks, ProSport Compression and Osmo Nutrition. After reading about Osmo Nutrition’s women-only formula on Erin’s blog – because women are not small men – I bought a few sachets of their sport drink to try out for longer bike sessions. I also bought some Honey Stinger chews for mid-race energy. Two brands that I’ve only ever seen across the Atlantic!
Race day started early, like marathoner early. Pat and Steve had arranged for me to drive them to the marathon meeting point, lucky me. We were to leave the hotel at 6:45 am Sunday morning. I got up, got dressed and had my usual bulletproof espresso. Then we hit the road to Bught Park, where the guys would be bussed out to Fort Augustus for the marathon start. I gave Pat a good luck hug and kiss, and then headed back to the hotel for breakfast and to check out.
The River Ness 10km is a point A to point B race: we would drop off our bags and start at the Inverness Royal Academy, then run 6.2 miles (or 10km) to Bught Park in the centre of Inverness. I already knew what to expect based on Allison’s race recap from the year before – I like knowing what to expect, I’m that kind of person. The race is called ‘River Ness 10km’ because by mile 3, you join up to the marathon course (mile 23 for them), and run along the River Ness to the finish. It’s also mainly a downhill route.
Have you ever been one of the very first competitors to show up at a race? I can now say that I’ve been that guy. I was about the fourth car in the Academy parking lot. I had arrived for 8:30 am and had a long wait before it was time to check my bag (to be picked up at the finish), and start the race.
I spent this time resting my eyes, texting Allison and my friend Joanne, and getting mentally prepared for the race. I had told the universe, Pat and Allison that I was going to go for a new personal best, (my current personal best of 57:37 was set in November 2013). I thought based on my lighter weight and change in training, plus hitting a new 8 mile PB the weekend before, that this was feasible. All I had to do was keep each mile around the 9 minute mark to best my current 10km PB of 57:39. Although I’d never run 10km at that pace, I felt, based on current fitness, that this was a realistic pace.
Race time finally came, and I was in the corral waiting for the start. I stood still during the aerobics warm up, people-watching, then readied my Garmin. The few minutes it took from the end of warm-up to the wave of runners starting to move felt like years. I had a personal best to beat! The crowd started to move forward, walking turned into jogging, and I saw the official start ahead. I started my Garmin and my quest for a new 10km personal best began.
The race took us in front of the Academy to a roundabout, where we took a right. There was a slight hill up to the roundabout, which ended up being the only climb of the race; the rest was either flat or downhill. The first three miles were spent running through the outskirts of Inverness, either through new developments or smaller country roads through the trees. It was actually very pretty, and most of it was slightly downhill.
I kept track of my pace with my Garmin because I didn’t want to make the mistake of starting out too quickly only to lose steam midway. At the start, my pace was about 8:30/mile, so I made sure to slow down to at least 8:45/mile and see how I felt after each mile.
As I made my way through the route, although it was unintentional, I was picking off runners one by one. The route was crowded, but with enough gaps to pass and maintain a good pace. Nothing like the ridiculousness of the EMF half. I was also feeling really strong, like I was running at steady pace. I didn’t feel any strain in my lungs and my legs felt strong. I also had decided to take advantage of every downhill section: I didn’t bomb down to tire out my legs, but just picked up the pace slightly.
Mile 1: 8:48
Mile 2: 8:55
Mile 3: 8:21
By mile 3, we joined up to mile 23 of the marathon route. I was checking my Garmin constantly, looking for a possible new 5km PB, and when 3.1 miles hit, sure enough it had happened: 27:02, (my previous one was 27:42 at the Dunecht Dash in 2013). I smiled at my achievement. The next on my list was a new 6.2 PB.
Still feeling strong, I maintained an 8:30 – 8:45/minute pace along the flat part of the route between miles 3-4 of the race. It felt a bit difficult but not impossible, so I just kept my pace. I also kept passing people.
By mile 5, there was another hill to run down. My watched beeped 5 miles so I picked up the pace slightly on the hill and continued it on to the flat, joining up to the walks alongside the River Ness. My pace increased to sub-8 minute miles, but after a minute or so, and in seeing that I still had to run to a bridge up ahead, cross that bridge, then run along the other side of the river, I decided to just maintain my current 8:30/mile pace. I knew at the point that I had a personal best in the bag, even if I slowed to 10 min/mile pace.
I crossed the bridge and headed toward the finish. Mile 26 of the marathon – and mile 6 of the 10km – came, so with 0.2 miles to go, I started my sprint finish. I knew I had a PB, it was just a matter of how much. I crossed the finish, heard the beep of the timing mat and stopped my Garmin. I had run 6.23 miles in 53:51!!!!!! A MASSIVE personal best! As you can see, I was incredibly pleased with my efforts.
Mile 4: 8:42
Mile 5: 8:33
Mile 6: 8:42
Average pace: 8:39/mile
I walked through the finisher’s chute and collected my medal, a water, a banana, a peanut butter Clif Bar, my t-shirt and my goodie bag. I’m not used to having so many treats from a race!
I caught up with Allison and told her of my achievement and we hugged to celebrate. I picked up my checked bag and went to change and stretch. My race was over, but Pat was still to finish. Allison and I waited at the finish until her husband Steve finished (in 3:26:xx), and then I waited for Pat to come in.
I’ve never watched a marathon finish in person before, I never thought it would be such an emotional place! Some runners were sprinting in, pumping fists, huge smiles across their faces. Others had stopped to lift their child(ren) into the finishers chute to cross the line with them. And then there were the more painful, clearly exhausted runners, who had hit the wall and were trying their very best to just keep going. Hunched over, agony on their face, such a compromised gait, but they made it. Some runners came in limping, holding a body part; others were holding hands. I saw every emotion possible at that finish line Sunday. It was so touching I had tears in my eyes at one point.
Pat came in sight and I readied myself to take a photo and cheer for him, but he sprinted by so quickly that I didn’t have time to snap one!!! His race was over though, and I met him with a hug and kiss. He had a run a very strong and smart first marathon, finishing in 4:13:03. He had managed to pick up the pace for the second half and, like me in the 10km, pick off runners one by one.
After a stretch session for Pat, and some chicken and pea risotto for both of us, Allison and Steve drove us back to our car parked at the Academy and 10km start. It was one of two left in the parking lot, and was locked behind a fence! Luckily, the security guard was handy to let us in to our car. It was then time to start the long journey back home, through the Cairngorms instead of that horrid A96.
Two days after the race, I’m still in awe with myself. It’s completely surreal that I’ve just run a sub-54 minute 10km. I thought I would get around the 56 minute mark, but never did I imagine my time would start with 53. I have to keep checking my Garmin to remind myself it’s real.
I credit my massive improvement in time to a few things:
- Losing 10kg – it does help.
- Cross-training, aka triathlon training. Swimbikerunning every week has made me so much stronger in terms of stamina and speed.
- Body weight sessions 1-2 times a week. I’ve gained 4 lbs. of lean muscle mass since June!
And finally, I was in the zone and focused only on the race then entire race. I have a tendency to write blog posts, including race recaps, in my head as things are happening, but for this race, I just kept checking in with my pace, picking off runners, and checking in with myself and how I was feeling. I also made sure to look around to admire the scenery.
I would definitely participate in another Baxters Loch Ness race as the event overall was so well organised and sponsored. It’s such a treat to get spoiled at the end of a race the way we were this past weekend. I envy my American and Canadian runner counterparts who seem to get treats like this all the time. It was also incredibly useful to have signs to the 10km start and finish posted for participants; it made getting to these places incredibly easy and worry-free. This has definitely been my best race experience to date. Maybe my next Inverness race won’t be just a 10km…
Have you run a Baxters Loch Ness/River Ness race?
What’s your best race experience?
What’s your best race souvenir?