By Meg Davidson
I always compare running a marathon to giving birth. While it is happening, it hurts like hell and you just want it to stop, but the extreme joy and happiness you experience afterwards makes you forget the ugly part.
And before long you start to think, maybe I would like to do that again…
I was one of the 3581 people who ran the Baxters Loch Ness Marathon last weekend. It was my third time running the distance, but the first since having our three children.
Just like having children, marathon training takes up most of your time. You would think that the two endeavours would be incompatible, but unbelievably, I reached the start line of Loch Ness in better shape than both of my previous marathons.
Somehow I had managed to get in enough training miles and avoided the dreaded overuse injuries that had plagued me in the past.
Crazy as it sounds, I believe that becoming a parent has made me a better runner and I have identified two main reasons. Firstly, my patience and tolerance levels have had serious workouts from dealing with seemingly irrational children’s tantrums. I’m more mentally resilient because of this and because of getting up in the night for months on end to feed, soothe and change a crying baby. Mental resilience is vitally important in endurance running.
Secondly, I believe I am generally more active now as a result of having the children. When we were a carefree young couple, we’d come in from a run and veg on the couch for the rest of the day, while our muscles seized up. Now, I don’t stop when I return from a run, I just run around after the kids instead, so my muscles don’t get stiff. I am convinced this has helped me stay injury free.
There is, however, no getting away from the problem of how to fit in all the hours of training needed for the marathon when you have family responsibilities.
I didn’t want to spend hours away from the kids and who would look after them while I was off running anyway? So, we bought a running buggy and every day, while our son napped and the girls were at school, I ran. Running has become my transport. If the kids have activities to go to, they cycle, and I run.
As marathon day got closer, I started to run at 6am, before my husband went to work, in addition to my lunchtime run with the buggy, and in this way I clocked up the 40-plus weekly mileage required for the marathon.
I sometimes felt guilty that my running obsession wasn’t fair on the kids, but I felt reassured reading books by elite running mums including Jo Pavey (This Mum Runs) and Moire O’Sullivan (Bump, Bike and Baby) who both combine family life and serious training.
I was feeling very excited and hopeful for a new personal best as I arrived at the Ice Centre in Inverness very early on Sunday morning to catch the bus to the start down at Whitebridge. I was struck by the sheer number of buses lined up and very impressed by the calm organisation of the marshals directing the thousands of us runners onto the waiting coaches.
It felt like getting on a flight as I listened to the different languages and accents around me. Apparently more than half of the marathon entries were from overseas. The chap sitting next to me was an Italian, living in Berne, Switzerland. This would be his 10th marathon. I felt proud when said he chose Loch Ness for his 10th as he wanted it to be special after listing Berlin, Athens and Helsinki among his previous marathons.
After a long trip along the north side of Loch Ness, we arrived at the start line and left the warmth of the coach to join the various queues for hot drinks, toilets and the baggage lorry. There was a lot of confusion about which queue led where, but everyone was in good spirits and somehow, we all managed to organise ourselves and take our places at the start. The mass of runners stretched as far as I could see in front and behind.
Wearing shorts and a vest with only a bin bag to protect me from the October wind and rain, I started to feel a bit grumpy, but as the Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) began belting out of the speakers, I was filled again with excitement and anticipation – and then we were off.
I started near the back of the pack to avoid the urge to go off too quickly. I reminded myself to relax and breathe deeply. My plan was to ignore the mile markers and split the run into half-hour segments. Every 30 minutes I was allowed a bite of Snickers. The route flew in and I was surprised to miss Dores, only realising I had passed it when I reached Aldourie school – my husband attributes this to low blood sugar rather than a fantastic race strategy!
After 17 miles it started to get tough. I wasn’t overtaking anyone any more. I felt sick of Snickers and needed a toilet stop, too. I changed my strategy and my mantra became “just make it to the next cone”.
Once past the roundabout at Holm, the crowds were out, and I found their support so uplifting. Many of the children were giving us high fives and it really helped to hear the encouraging shouts.
The final couple of miles of the Loch Ness Marathon are tough. The route follows the river into town then crosses the Ness Bridge and doubles back on itself, so you can hear and see the finish on the far side of the river while you still have over a mile to go.
I continued my “cone to cone” strategy until finally the blissful sight of the finish line came into view. My family were shouting from the side. The girls had made “Go mummy” and “you can do this” signs. I felt myself let out a sob as, overwhelmed with emotion and relief, I crossed the finish line.
I rushed to be reunited with my husband and the children and, just like that, I was back in mummy mode.
The kids had had a long morning doing the 5k and enjoying the event village at Bught Park. They had reached their limit and needed to go home. As usual, no time to stop and put my feet up – but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’m sure that my lack of muscle soreness the day after is down to having walked straight home with the kids instead of relaxing in the hospitality tent with my post-race meal. At least, I’ll keep telling myself that, anyway!