Fort William Marathon – Race Report by Rob Davies
A marathon run on my birthday – why not? In the highlands – oooh even more enticing! And a chance to run 26.2 miles with my pal Nige Hetherington and tag on a campervan holiday. Definitely a must!
Overall, if you like running this distance or fancy a challenge, with scenery, banter, hills and weather, then this is your race. And whisper it quietly, this may, just may be on a par with the wonderful Marathon Eryri for stunning scenery.
Nige was getting his excuses in, he’d not run much in last few weeks, but in one training run he speeded ahead on the Mold to Nercwys hill, and drops talk of recent ultras into conversation, alongside his sub 4hr London this year, and completing the Everest marathon 18 months ago. Maybe Nige could pace me?
My preparation had gone reasonably well with a few long runs in the bag 2 x 25miles and a 32-mile hilly slow run. I wouldn’t normally run these distances in marathon training, but I had also entered a 42-mile ‘Run to the Castle’ Ultra for August 19th. In the week before Fort William, the talk at Buckley Runners had been of folks’ great efforts at the Snowdon half, well done that sounded brutal, and of the Wrexham 10k (well done Steph Brown, Steve Harris). This helped me stay calm in taper week.
Preparation on race morning can be everything. Porridge consumed as usual at least 2 hours before the race, then walk to the Lochaber High School 200yds from the camp site entrance. There was supposed to be a shuttle bus from the school to the start leaving approx 08:10. We were there at 08:05 but it did not arrive until 0843, just before the next scheduled bus. By then a fellow runner waiting had cadged a lift from another helpful runner. Glynis volunteered to take me up to the start in the campervan, a good time to experience her first driving of such a large vehicle. Fortunately, we had driven to the start /registration at the Nevis Resort on the Saturday, and found it had a massive carpark, and a ‘campervan-friendly wide road’.
So arriving at the start slightly later than planned, we met Nige and his wife Louise who had left their home near Perth at around 5:30. One advantage of having you own (hired) campervan, no need to join the pre-race loo queue. Smug J. As Nige and I were chatting near the start, Louise vanished for a moment, then I heard an announcement over the tannoy; ‘Special mention for ‘Rob Davies running his 44th on his fifty-something birthday!’. Applause, thanks Louise.
Nige and i set off with Ken, a Belgian who was at Everest marathon with Nige, but as Ken has somewhat longer strides being 6ft 6 he soon glided forward. The first few early miles were uphill / undulating reasonably easyish trails, probably similar to the wide trails on the lower slopes of Moel Famau, good for 10-minute miling.
I don’t know about you, but I like to set several goals for races, of course to finish, consider PBs or course PBs. For Fort William, my goals were to finish, to finish under 5 hours (as that was my goal for Snowdonia; folks often say add 30mins to your flat marathon time), and then to see how good it could be. Studying the profile before the race suggested it might or should be easier than Snowdonia, though much is trail or off-road, the elevation probably less. During those early miles, I considered and shared with Nige that perhaps my best Snowdonia time could be my goal, 4hr 48.
Nige and I decided to divide the race into park runs and in those early miles he (virtually) ran me though the Perth and Dundee Park Runs, I tried to remember the two New Forest parkruns, where I was lung busting for a 24 minutes and Liz Yelling (Olympic marathoner) trundles past pushing a double buggy (joys of running); we were saving virtually running Wepre parkrun until later!
Early miles along wide trail and then narrowing where the path was single file or folks just wanted (early on) to avoid getting too muddy or wet (little did they know about what was to come). Forest trails, great countryside, I didn’t look up much wanting to keep ankles intact, nervous after the ankle fracture. This was generally northwards to Spean Bridge, and lots of banter with Scots, English, South Africans, Belgians helped soak up the miles with only occasional drizzle. The weather forecast – as always in Scotland – included heavy showers but not until afternoon; we thought maybe we could be finished by then.
Some gentle downhill, then some quiet lanes into Spean Bridge where we had to cross the main road, very well marshaled, reminded me a little of the queues of cars allowing us runners to get by in Beddgelert in Snowdonia marathon. Then more off road and undulating, then up and up, as we went up a seemingly endless hill, possibly only ½ mile, we could see other runners snaking back down; maybe that’s what made it feel endless. AHA – the summit & turn at the Commando memorial, then gently undulating downhill, absolutely stunning views of the Ben Nevis range to the left and Great Glen ahead. I took a few photos and a video clip, with random runner Chris who shakes my hand for running my 44th marathon on my birthday.
The route is here
After being ahead up the hill to the memorial Nige waits, then we’re together going towards the Caledonian canal, stunning as river and canal come into view. So far at 13 miles the weather has been very kind, mainly dry or brief gentle drizzle. Nige chatted with a chap getting himself fit for army selection, and I chat with Mark, a Norwich city fan of footballers we’ve both followed from Iwan Roberts, Craig Bellamy to Chris Llewelyn, and Kevin Drinkle. We are plodding alongside the Caledonian canal and I feel my pace, slowing considerably, even though its dead flat for 5 or 6 miles. Mark starts wanting an alternative to water and is thinking of coffee at the cafe at the end of the canal. Nige drifts ahead along the canal path.
RAIN or should I say Monsoon! Just as well we were running otherwise we could have been a little bothered by the rain. But as we’d warmed up to 18-20 miles by now, hey might as well keep going, the odd thought of putting on my light jacket passed, as it was already sopping around my waist. Even though the canalside section was long maybe 5 or 6 miles there was a lot of interest with boats and birds, and banter. Training along the River Dee from Chester to Deeside has done me well for keeping running albeit slowing down alongside long straight waterways.
Back onto a quiet minor road we had to stop briefly to take photos with highland hairy cow, just before route touched outskirts of Fort William then past the campsite and to the Lochaber high school where Glynis and Louise were waiting. A quick chat and slurp of water then onwards. Nige encourages me as we turned left/ north and upwards crossing the A82; keep some pace, 11-minute miling, and I’d smash that Snowdonia time.
We were together as we turned left and away from Fort William and past the Nevis distillery. Though the path alongside the road was gradually uphill, and it seemed like a stream was flowing down the path, no point in trying to avoid getting wet now as I was already wet through. I found it difficult to keep any pace apart from a slow plod – but ever onwards – and Nige waited at the last support station
‘ c’mon still possible.- to beat your best Snowdonia ….
Later I checked my watch, yes possible 4:40, it can’t be far, I have gone past 25 haven’t I? May be possible to beat that best Snowdonia time of 4:48.
I’d put my music on the iPhone (no separate speaker) at the 20-mile mark, with the Wepre parkrun playlist – Proclaimers, Jonny Cash, and Elbow ‘One day like this’. Nearby runners were amused by me shouting out ‘its looking like a beautiful day‘ as we jogged uphill through the forest trails in the heavy rain.
To the finish. I could hear the finish, and we were approaching the large carpark, but my Garmin hadn’t shown 26 miles yet – ah yes a little tease – we crossed the car park to another few hundred yards of forest and then back to the finish. I finished in an official time of 4 hours 49. Goal 1 of sub- 5 hours achieved! Goal 2 to beat my best Snowdonia time only missed by taking the photo of the highland cow!
A marathon on my birthday and with one of my best running pals Nigel Hetherington, what was there not to like, even the monsoon was warmish!
Results are here
Fort William Marathon, if you get the chance, DO IT, you won’t regret it.
Just have a look at the reviews on their Facebook page, and the official photos were available for only a £2.50 donation each!