Photo shows the start of the marathon

Loch Rannoch Marathon – 14th October 2018 – by Barry McDonald

Although I’ve been playing football for a number of years, I only really starting running properly (rather than for football training) this year. I had done Montrose Parkrun a few times, entered a few 10km races, a few half marathon races (including the Dundee Half DRAM where I was the first BRR member home despite being hungover) and taken part in a few of the Brechin Road Runners 5km handicap (staggered start) races which are really enjoyable as I usually start last and then have to try and overtake as many of them as possible. But I had never done a marathon, and wasn’t confident that I was ready for one. However, several members were training for an autumn marathon and so some of the people I was training with were putting in high mileage.

After weeks and weeks of getting my mileage up to between 35 and 50 miles per week and doing at least one solo long run on a Saturday then a long run with Brechin Road Runners on a Sunday morning I was really wanting to test myself by running a marathon. But I was scared to enter any as a marathon is something that not a lot of people can do. As the weeks rolled on, I think 5 or 6 Brechin Road Runners signed up for the Loch Ness Marathon and they said it was such a good marathon to enter. They were trying to persuade me to sign up too, and I eventually decided that I would. Unfortunately I was just a little too late in deciding: as I went to enter I discovered it was fully booked. I felt gutted, but also relieved in a way because it meant I would be able to get more training with long runs. I tried a few 20-odd mile runs on my own and felt okay, but I was still not sure if would manage a marathon. Keith Jackson then asked me (when I was out with him on a run) if I fancied doing Loch Rannoch marathon. He had signed up for it and was keen to have some company. So I thought, well a marathon is on my bucket list and Loch Ness is fully booked so why not, and I bit the bullet and just got it booked.

Photo shows the start of the marathon
And they’re off. Keith and Barry are both in black with Barry right at the front

Weeks were flying in and during the Sunday morning long runs everyone kept talking about marathons and ultras which got me a bit excited. Then after Loch Ness marathon they were all telling me about how good it was and how I would have loved it – which was a bit gutting. Everyone did so well getting PBs and Pauline doing well in her first marathon which she loved.

So the week before I Loch Rannoch I was out on my last long run with David, Pauline, Charlotte, Ann-Marie and Michael and they were giving me some very good tips on what to do so I took them on board. David and Charlotte in particular are really experienced runners and very good, so I listened to their advice on strategy. The next week just flew in and Pauline sent me a message asking if I wanted some gels so I took the offer on board and got 4.

It came to the weekend and my nerves were getting worse but everyone was just saying just enjoy it – a marathon is a big experience.

Photo shows Barry running behind two guys and looking determined
Game face on, following the pace.

Keith and I went through to Aberfeldy on the Saturday as we had booked a hotel and thought it would be a lot better to have less traveling in the morning. When we got there we checked in then went somewhere for a munch and a couple of pints to see if that would settle the nerves. We went back to the hotel about 10pm for an early night. But I was finding it really hard to sleep: I think I saw every hour. We got up about 7am and had quick shower, then I had a banana and cereal bar for breakfast. When we were driving there I was thinking to myself I should have done the Forfar Guide Dogs 5km because that would have been a lot easier.

We got to the place in plenty of time then got our numbers and had look around. It was such a beautiful place with loads of great views. The nerves were kicking in so we got ready and went down to the start line. The route had to be changed quite last-minute because all of the flooding the night before so it was a very undulating alternative route. I was a little disappointed not to be able to go all the way around the Loch, but race organisers don’t have power over the weather.

Photo shows a typical Highland scenic view from a bridge over a river
The view from the bridge. Seriously, isn’t this just archetypal highland scenery shrouded in mist.

Thankfully the weather conditions were perfect for racing: not a lot of wind and not too hot. So as the race was away to start I wished Keith the best of luck. In my head I was targeting 3h 20 mins at about 7:40 a mile. I just wanted to enjoy the experience and the beautiful views especially on first marathon because it could have been my last. The race got started and I just seem to follow the pace which I always do. I don’t want to do that as I know it can result in starting too fast, but it’s hard to go off at your own pace. So of course after the first few miles my pace was far too fast, but I had built up momentum and just couldn’t help it. I was doing about 6:50 a mile which is slow for me in terms of 10k races but in the marathon could have cost me near the end.

Around 4 or 5 miles into the race I caught up with another 2 guys. We started talking about how beautiful the views were and how I wished I had brought my camera. We also discussed previous races: they had done marathons before whereas my longest race was a half marathon. They were asking me what was my target time. I said 3:20 and they said “You’re going a bit fast”. I laughed and said I was just going with the pace – which in my head could have been a bad thing. I got to about 8 miles and thought I would try a gel. Despite Pauline and Charlotte going on about the importance of testing nutrition strategies for the marathon, I had mostly been running without fuel other than sports drinks and hadn’t been too keen to try gels. I still wasn’t really sure if taking a gel was going to be a bad thing  (I’ve done a couple of runs with Pauline where she had stomach issues!) but Pauline said that gels helped her during the Loch Ness marathon and the very experienced long distance runner Charlotte said I should take them every 6 miles, so I decided I probably should take one. Charlotte had also said that if you wait until you feel you need one it’s already too late. I had meant to take one at 6 miles like she said, but I forgot as I was speaking to the other 2 boys for ages. When I took that first gel I got a stitch and felt worried. I really hoped my stomach was going to be okay. Thankfully the stitch seem to go away so I was relieved.


Photo shows Keith looking relaxed and happy on his way to a half marathon PB
Keith looking relaxed and cheerful around the halfway point

As we got to around the 12 mile mark, one of the boys started to speed up so I just kept at the same pace. The other boy was slowing down a little by this point. It was really good to get the company for so long and it passed nearly half the race. Soon I was the half way point and it was time to turn back the way we came. I checked my watch and it was about 1h 30! I was thinking to myself that maybe I went off too fast, and I hoped I wasn’t going to regret it. About 15 miles in I was still feeling pretty good though, and even considered that I could maybe push it and get 3h. But I wasn’t getting too excited as there was still loads to do.

The miles kept going past and hills started to come at me. I couldn’t really remember them from going out so they couldn’t have been major – but as the miles in the legs increased the hills kept getting (or seeming) harder. At about 18 miles I took my second gel. This was later than I’d been advised to, but I was really scared to take another one after the first one gave me a stitch. Luckily the second gel went down much better and gave me a bit more energy. There weren’t many people around me at this point – just the same person most of the way, so I didn’t really have anyone to pace myself against. I tried to keep at the same pace, but I was tiring.

360 degree photo taken from the car park showing mountains in the distance
The view from the car park

Getting tired wasn’t the only thing that slowed me down though. There were water stations about every 4 miles. However, perhaps due to the flooding there weren’t volunteers at every station. This meant, being one of the first runners to go past, I not only had to pick up a bottle and open it, I sometimes had to rip the cases open: at one station there were three of us trying to get the bottles out. This happened at the second to last water station I think, just when the tiredness was creeping in. There was a guy just behind me when I stopped at the water station. I was struggling to rip open a case and not getting anywhere fast – probably due to the fatigue. He got away from the water station before me. I hoped I might chase him down, but I never managed to catch him again. To be fair, he finished nearly a minute ahead of me so probably would have overtaken me anyway.

As the race was getting closer to the 20 miles mark I was still well ahead of my target of 3h 20 so I was pleased. I don’t really remember most of the views coming back because I was starting to tire and my legs were getting tight. I tried to tell myself it was just 10km to the end – not a lot at all. But as the miles were going down my legs were struggling. I just kept pushing myself though, because I was on for a really good time. The longest I had run before this was around 24 miles. At that point in the race I decided I would take a final gel to get me through to the end. I was glad to still have gels available as the legs were tiring and getting sore: I was trying not to think about it but it was really hard not to. I was trying so hard not to look at my watch, but that was hard too, and I was checking it more frequently than before. When I got to 25 miles I told myself it was only 1.2 miles to the finish which is nothing. But it felt like the longest 1.2 miles of my life. Even the last half mile seemed to go on forever as I kept looking at my watch. I had been slowing down a little and 3h was out of the window, but I was trying to get under 3h 10 minutes so I really pushed myself and got 3h 8 mins! I was so chuffed – I didn’t ever think I would get that time.

Photo shows Barry running with both thumbs up and a big grin on his face
Barry looking very happy, finishing his first marathon in an amazing time

The relief when I saw the finish line was immense and the best experience of my life. It’s fantastic to be able to say that I have actually completed a marathon. When I got over finish line I stopped and got my medal and t-shirt – and immediately got cramp in both my hamstrings. A lady asked if I was okay and I said that I didn’t know yet because I had never had this before. I just kept walking about because my both legs were getting really bad cramp. I was really tired but couldn’t even sit down because I was too scared to. The sun was shining, and I couldn’t have asked for better conditions. I waited on Keith to finish. Unfortunately for him he had injured his knee and struggled from around 15 miles. I felt sorry for him as I saw him getting near the end and he was really struggling. I was really hoping he was going to get a PB because he put in a lot of work and training. Sometimes these things just happen though.

Photo shows Barry at hoem after the race, in his t-shirt and medal. His white cat is also in the photo, looking unperturbed
Barry proudly wearing his t-shirt and medal. His cat doesn’t look that impressed though.

I’m so glad I came along to the Brechin Road Runners and started running regularly with them. They have help me so much. I would never have managed this without them. Loch Rannoch was a great marathon. It’s very small in terms of participant numbers, but the views make up for it, and I found people to run with for a fair section of the route. The views are absolutely stunning, and though it’s undulating there are definitely tougher courses out there. And the smaller number of participants meant there was no congestion to hold me back – just fighting with water cases!  I would have preferred to do the regular route rather than the alternative out and back one, but I might well come back again to try it. I’ll have more experience then. I seem to have recovered from the marathon pretty quickly, and think I have a faster time in me if I can get the pacing and nutrition right. If you enjoy smaller races in beautiful locations and don’t care too much about having crowd support for the full 26.2 miles then this is definitely one for your bucket list.


Photo Acknowledgements

The scenic photos were taken by Keith Jackson. The photo of Barry at home was taken by Kelly Smith. The race photos are the official photographs and were purchased from Run Nation.

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1 Comment

  1. Pauline Belford says:

    Very well done Barry. And you completely forgot to mention that you finished in 10th place! Phenomenal achievement for a first marathon :-)

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