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Seven Things I Learned Running The Loch Ness Marathon

The Loch Ness Marathon
(Image credit: Unknown)

The scenery is not something that’s usually a big draw with a road marathon. Many events take place in city centres to ensure sizable crowds and there are landmark buildings to supply interest for the eyes, rather than stunning natural landscapes, which are usually reserved for off-road events.

One event that bucks this trend is the Loch Ness Marathon. The paved route runs alongside the famous loch in Scotland and even if you don’t spot Nessie along the way, you are treated to an incredible view for almost the entire course, with only the final few kilometres in the urban environs of Inverness.

As a result, the Loch Ness Marathon has been on my race bucket list for some time, so when running gear brand Hoka One One (opens in new tab) offered me a chance to run in the 2019 race, I jumped at it. Here are seven things I learned about the event which may come in handy should you ever decide to run it.

1. Be Prepared For An Early Start

The Loch Ness Marathon is a point-to-point race that finishes in Inverness and starts 42.2km away near Whitebridge. Getting all 5,000 runners to the start line in what seems like the middle of nowhere involves an awful lot of coaches and an early start – runners need to get to the main departure point in Inverness for just before 7am. This means you’ll need to change your pre-race routine, because when you might normally be having breakfast and lining up a trip (or trips) to the loo, you’ll be on a coach.

I ended up staying in Drumnadrochit, a town on the northwest side of Loch Ness. This meant I had to travel into Inverness to get my race number on the Saturday and make a longer trip home after the race, but it was closer to Whitebridge and meant my bus pick-up wasn’t until 8.15am on race day.

2. The Start Is Beautiful, But Chilly And Lacking In Loos

Of all the epic views you’re treated to during the Loch Ness Marathon, the best come at the start, because it’s the highest point of the course. However, that also means you’re quite exposed, and it’s the windiest and coldest part of the course. While waiting for the starting gun, wear bin bags and old jumpers you’re happy to ditch. Fortunately, the race starts with a long downhill in the first two kilometres, which quickly gets you out of the wind, so don’t base your expectations of the weather on how it feels at the start.

There also weren’t enough toilets at the start, with queues stretching a long way and not moving fast enough for many runners, who decided not to wait and instead took a trip into the woods beside the road. Announcements will ask you not to do this, but in truth there’s little choice – if everyone waited for the Portaloos a sizable proportion of runners wouldn’t have made the start on time.

3. Don’t Go Bananas On The First Downhill

The race starts with around 90m of downhill in the first two kilometres, which is lovely. However, if you’re someone who already tends to start races too fast this can be like a red rag to a bull. Downhill running might feel easy, but if you’re going a minute per kilometre faster than expected, that may well come back to bite you later on.

4. The First Half Isn’t As Easy As It Looks

If you examine an elevation profile of the Loch Ness marathon you’ll immediately be struck by the general downhill trend of the first half of the race, especially the first 16km or so, where you descend almost 300m in total.

However, the course actually undulates a lot, and there’s a sharp hill at around 8km that caught out a lot of runners expecting an easy ride for the whole first half. My advice is to run the first half of the race cautiously, enjoying the benefits of the downhills without pushing yourself too hard. That way you’ll have more energy for the second half, which has more uphill sections, and you’ll probably find you’re passing a lot of runners who blew it all on the downhill.

5. Enjoy The Scenery

This really can’t be stressed enough. The Loch Ness Marathon is beautiful, with long stretches through forests and constant views of the Loch itself and the hills around it. I ran the first 25km with a huge smile on my face just looking around at the scenery. The time and the kilometres flew by.

6. Be Ready For The Hill

This is the real Loch Ness monster – 3km of almost entirely uphill running starting in kilometre 28. It sounds brutal, and if you’re struggling with your race then it can be, but if you know it’s coming and keep some energy in reserve the Dores hill can be conquered without it derailing your race plan. For the most part, the gradient is not actually too steep and there are a couple of breaks in the hill along the way, so focus on getting to those to break it up rather than worrying about getting to the very top.

7. There Are Still Ten More Kilometres To Run After Dores

Once you crest the hill just outside the town of Dores you’ll see a helpful sign saying something like, “It’s (almost) all downhill from here”, and you might well start to relax. The biggest hill in the race is done and you can roll right down into Inverness to the finish line.

Not quite. Running ten kilometres is never easy and especially not at the end of a marathon. All the undulations will have beaten up your legs to the point that even downhills start to hurt, and there are a couple more uphills after Dores too, even if they’re relatively mild. Stay focused and don’t start celebrating the finish line until you see it.

Early bird entry for the 2020 Loch Ness Marathon is open and costs £54. Sign up at lochnessmarathon.com (opens in new tab)

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.