Saturday, 18 April 2015

Loch Katrine Marathon 2015: Race Report

Last minute entry

Earlier this year I had considered doing the Loch Katrine marathon but before I could check diaries with my wife the event filled up and entry was closed.  I decided to just focus on training instead.  That was the plan until two days before the race day when I found out places had been made available, an email on Friday to Audrey MacIntosh, race organizer secured myself a last minute entry.  Game on.

I had been tipped off about the spaces by Steven Hill (here's his race report) who contacted me to ask about the elevation profile as I had done the race before in 2014.  Once I secured my place Steven and I hatched a plan to use the marathon as a training run, with the Fling both our current goal race, and would run together and aim for a finishing time around 3:40.  Steven has did the Glemore 12 last summer, (coming 3rd!!) but hadn't actually done a marathon yet.  This would be my 5th marathon, and my second Loch Katrine Marathon so I knew a bit more of what I was letting myself in for.

As I found out on the Friday afternoon I had got a place I had just one days taper before the race, so the Saturday I opted for a 4 mile recovery run to relax the legs. On Saturday night I aimed to get plenty of sleep, but ended up with an hour at most, despite aiming to just run the marathon as a training run the adrenalin levels were already out of control.  Arghg.... Have to get better at sleeping before races.

Race day

Steven was kind enough to pick me up from Callander and we arrived in plenty time for registration.  Plenty of runners from the Scottish ultra scene were catching up in the car park, had time to briefly catch up with a few before race briefing then we were off at 9am.

The plan was Steven and I to pace loosely on heart rate to even out the effort level going up hills, along flats and descents.  I worked out beforehand that from my training logs that I should be able to do 3:40 Loch Katrine marathon with an average heart rate of 145, so was going to aim for a range between 140 and 150.  We'd also use splits from my race last year adjust for a 3:40 finish to tell how we progressing relative our goal pace, with the marathon route being so hilly, around 1600ft ascent/descent, these splits are far from even.

For the first few miles I found myself tailing Steven.  Steven was taking the hills quicker them me, while on the descent I'd close the gap.  By about mile 3 were were running more in sync and got chatting about running, work, family lives, and just how great the view was!

One thing noticeable early on was that Steven's heart rate was well below mine, with mine up at the top of my target range most of the time, and on steeper hills it was popping over my range.  My heart rate in training for the pace were doing was quite a bit lower so it was a bit frustrating to not see this improvement when taking it easy in a marathon.  However, we were too busy chatting and enjoying ourselves to take too much notice of the HR monitor though.  My HR peaked around 160 on one of the longer climbs.  Ooops...

By mile 6 we both warmed up and going well.  Steadily catching folk, running at a conversational pace without problems, and a little inside the 3:40 target pace. All good.

By mile 10 Steven's heart rate was beginning to catch up with mine, but my own heart rate had finally started to settle and rather than struggle to keep my heart rate in the 140 to 150 zone, found it bobbling around 145 without effort, and on the descent having to pick up the pace noticeably.

A couple of miles before the half away point the front runners began passing. And so began around 100 calls of encouragement to fellow runners.  Just before the half way point photograph Stuart Macfarlane took a great sequence of photo's of Steven and I. 

Our splits at half suggested that time just below 3:40 might still be possible, but Steven was starting to get warmer, was breathing a little heavier and his heart rate had finally gone above mine.  Signs were that chasing 3:40 was likely to push Steven beyond what should be done on a training run.

We didn't give up on the goal right away though.  We stopped at the water points for slightly longer to make sure we took on water and grabbed a few bits of tablet and jelly beans to provide a bit of fuel.   It was great passing every one, it's such a small and friendly race that pretty well everyone has a positive word of support.  Lots of photo's on the way too.  We passed Fiona Rennie and she had a beaming smile and was taking photo's of everyone, what a lovely way to document the event :-)

Photo courtesy of Fiona Rennie.

My heart rate, particularly on the descents was now getting a bit silly, it was just going down below 130.  At times I was struggling to believe the readings, lots of wetting the HR strap contacts didn't make a difference.  Steven and I were still slowly winding in runners ahead, and caught several when we started heading back up the more serious hills around mile 18.  One aptly named graveyard hill.

The longer the race went on the more I just got into the groove, my heart rate was sitting comfortably in my target zone, energy levels didn't seem any lower than they were at the start of the race, I was climbing hills easily, descending strongly.  It seemed to have taken me 20 miles to warm up.

After falling behind target pace on the big ascents between mile 18 and 20 and I was keen to use the descent efficiently to get us back on 3:40 pace.   However, the day was getting warming and Steven was struggling a bit with the heat and energy levels.  The 3:40 target was slipping away.

At around mile 21 we were passed for the first time since the start. Something that should have been fine with me as the run was intended to be training run only, but feeling so good and having people pass felt unnatural, coupled with the desire to hit the 3:40 target I started feeling the urge to press on, but really didn't want to pressure Steven into chasing some pointless time.  I kept back till just before mile 23 when Steven and I had a chat about whether we should stick together.  Steven has happy just to take it easy for the last few miles and not worry about the time, so I headed on.

Holding back for so long left me with quite a bit of pent up energy, so once I decided to push I found myself charging off at silly pace without even really trying - it was just like I took the handbrake off.  The last 3 miles I ended up averaging 6:40 min/miles.  My heart rate headed out to 160 to 170 range, but still feel really comfortable.  My breathing was noticeable for the first time, and the bottom of my feet burned a little form hammering down the descents, but my quads and calves were all holding up really well.  I had a brief chat with a few runners before pushing on, passing the runners that I had passed me earlier.

This is now the second time I've done a silly finish at the Loch Katrine Marathon, both times done after running disciplined to 23 miles and having lots of energy left.  I was still aware of the damage that a quick finish could do so I kept my running smooth and never consciously pushed the pace on, just let it flow.  On the final 100m's to the waiting crowds at the finish I kept strained, just picking up the pace a little further, no 5min/mile finishing pace this year.

Just before the finish I spotted Steven's wife and my family, a quick wave and then I was across the line in 3:34:34, in 27th place.  Steven finished ten minutes later,  having stopped at the aid station at mile 23 to drink plenty of water and eat some more treats.  He finished nice a strong - a great showing for a marathon first timer.

Post race

My average HR for the day ended up being 145, with the average for the last three miles 166.  Despite the rather high HR at the start and finish, the low HR in the middle of the race just happened to balance things perfectly, certainly not textbook HR pacing, but a lot of fun spending time with Steven, and having the energy left to burn up the last few miles.  My strava log looks like:

I was 8 minutes slower than last year's Loch Katrine Marathon, when I set my marathon PB at 3:26.  Last year I aimed for 3:30 rather than 3:40 that I did this year so it's not at all surprising I was slower.  Last year my average HR was 157, this year 145, my guess is that I could of matched last years time with an average HR of 150.  This is quite a big improvement in HR for a given pace in just one year which suggests my training is going well.

Both last year and this year I ran the marathon as a training run, with the intention of being able to get back into running right away afterwards.  Last year I ended up with a minor calf injury so couldn't get back into training right fully for two weeks.  This year I had an easy week after the race but still managed over 60 miles.  The pace of recovery this year is another sign that training is going well, and my body is both more aerobically conditioned as well as being more resilient.

Three weeks after the Loch Katrine Marathon I had my next big test of fitness - The Skidaddle Great Tartan Ultra held on the 11th of April.  This adventure will be my next to write up.  I need to get done quick as it's now just one week before the Fling!


I'd like to thank Audrey MacIntosh and here band of merry helpers, the Loch Katrine Running Festival was a great success, it was a real privilege to be part of Britain's most beautiful and friendly road marathon.


  1. Well done. Further evidence that you are in great shape.
    I hope all goes well in the fling

  2. Great report, and like you say, the recovery is evidence that you're shaping up for a great year. x