Wow! What a day! This was a truly memorable day, not in the same way as when I last ran this race in 2017 but one I won’t forget anyway. The day had everything – heavy snow on the drive there, strong winds and rain during the race then heavy snow and blue skies on the drive home.
When I ran this race in 2017, I smashed my PB with a time of 1:29:06 and I was looking forward to going back there again this year. Allison decided to stay at home and go for a run from there so I jumped in the car and headed north just after 8am. The journey usually takes 2 hours and with a 12.30pm start, it’s fine for a drive up on the day although for next time, I may just take the train up and look for a cheap hotel to stay overnight like a few guys I’d spoken to.
I wasn’t far out of Perth when the snow started and it didn’t take long to get heavier, not enough to close the road but enough to cause problems. There was one point where I seemed to be the only person driving north and pulled in to the side to check that the race was still on. Curiously, once I got near Aviemore, the snow had stopped and the road was clear the rest of the way. I parked up in the city centre and walked across to the Sports Centre to registration.
They organisation of this race is very good (same organisers as Loch Ness Marathon) and they’d sent out an email at the end of last week with an update on the weather forecast and advice on what to wear for the cold temperatures. I wore a base layer under my new vest, my new shorts bought after my recent chafing problems and made sure to pack some gloves as my fingers get really bad in the cold.
It seemed quite nice just before the start apart from the wind. I was getting a sense that this wasn’t going to be the day for PBs! I followed the strategy from 2017 of ignoring everyone else and settling into my own rhythm. I had wanted to try to go sub 1:30 again but my runs over the last week or two suggested that may be unlikely. My ‘A’ goal was sub 1:30, my ‘B’ goal was to get as close to 1:30 as possible and my ‘C’ goal was to go sub 1:35.
The first mile was done in 6:44 and I thought I might be on for my ‘A’ goal but when I went through mile 2 in 7:05, I knew ‘A’ was unlikely and so it would be ‘B’ or ‘C’. The wind started to pick up along with the visit of some rain. As we headed out of Inverness, the incline increased and my pace decreased and I stuck to my plan of feeling in control knowing I could speed up at any time. I was able to pick up the pace in miles 6 and 7, even got a Strava PR on a segment during mile 6!
There was a large turnout from Perth Road Runners for this race as the start of their Championship series and so I tried to pick out some green vests along the way to keep me going. Apart from a couple in the first few hundred yards, I could spot only one ahead of me that I had any realistic chance of catching. Lenny had got out of sight at the start but I managed to spot him in the distance from mile 4. I wanted to try to catch him but wasn’t going to do anything daft to do it and so I was happy go with the flow and see what happened.
I could see the distance getting shorter between miles 6 and 7 but it didn’t help that we seemed to be mostly running into a headwind, especially when we hit downhill sections! I kept things steady as we made our way round a residential area and spotted a glorious opportunity to pass Lenny on the downhill just after mile 9. I leaned forward and went for it, passing a few people along the way. This was a great adrenaline rush!
When we got to the bottom of the hill, we were back on the flat and heading back into Inverness. There would be no more uphills, only downhills and I knew I could speed up even more. I took a gel before we got to the water station. The water was served in cups, which is a great thing for races, but still needs a bit more practice for people like me who still seems to choke when taking a sip! I followed my usual water station strategy of taking a sip to rinse out my mouth, a sip to swallow and pour the rest down the back of my neck. I had a moment where I knew I was a runner as I poured water down the back of my neck even though it was raining!
We were soon into the last couple of miles and onto the riverside in Inverness. This is always the hardest bit of the Loch Ness Marathon for me as when you approach this section, you can hear the announcer at the finish line just the other side of the river but you’ve still got over a mile to go to get there. We crossed the bridge in the centre of Inverness and began the last mile and a bit to the finish. This also coincided with another stretch of running into a headwind. The race is hard enough without that in the closing stages!
The last bit of this race is entering the athletics stadium through some trees and a trail path where we’d get halfway up one side, hit 13 miles then just get round the final bend to the finish. I was tired but my legs seemed to remember the sessions I used to do on the track late last year and so when I passed mile 13, I started to speed up. I moved away from the guy who was beside me for the last few miles and with 2 guys ahead of me, I stepped up the pace as we hit the home straight and ‘flew’ past them on my way to the finish.
When I say ‘flew’, in my head it was a glorious sprint but I suspect to anyone watching, I was the only one not to slow down even more!
The great thing about this race is getting the official time straightaway after crossing the line via text message. We walked round to get our medal, t-shirt and goodies which consisted of shortbread, gels, shot blocks and an apple. There wasn’t the suntan lotion we received in 2017 in the rain!
I went back into the hall, got some photos taken, got changed, spoke to a couple of guys from PRR before heading into town to get a coffee and begin the journey home.
Looking back on the race, I was delighted with my time as I would’ve taken it in a shot had I been offered it before the race. I knew before the race that a PB was unlikely as I’ve felt sluggish the last week or two and while I’m happy with how the race went, I do feel a little disappointment that I wasn’t able to go faster.
So I entered the Edinburgh Half Marathon in May. Part of the reason for wanting to go sub 1:30 was so I could claim a place in the first corral for the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon in September and be able to race it rather than treat it like a fun run as was the way in 2018.
On the plus side, my average pace from yesterday was 7:04 min/mile and if I can work on being able to maintain that for longer, I will be bang on target for my sub 3:15 target for Stirling Marathon in 7 weeks. Some easy running this week I think then step it back up again for these final few weeks!
As for the Inverness Half Marathon itself, I would highly recommend this as part of your Spring Marathon training. Weather aside, it’s a great course with all the inclines coming in the first half, good flat sections, a very good downhill section at mile 9 then a gradual descent coming back into Inverness late on as you come back the way you went out. The last mile or two can be a bit challenging along the riverside in the centre of Inverness and on the way to the finish. The finish itself is on a running track at the Athletics Stadium, attached to the Sports Centre.
The organisation for this is very good and while there can be some congestion in the sports centre for registration, this is a small detail compared to the level of support given to the runners throughout the race and the efficient process after the finish line. This is a good race to measure your progress and also a good one to get a PB.
The weather may have been terrible but I’ll definitely be back!