Part of being prepared for the marathon, is making sure you can actually participate in it. To have done all this training and suddenly find out that there was nowhere to stay, or our kit wasn’t complete and thus we weren’t eligible to run, etc. would have been devastating. So we sorted out all of the logistics that we could think of in preparing for the marathon. A brief overview of the things we felt necessary to consider are included below.
This is a big one. As with any pair of running shoes you want them to be comfortable. If you’re going to be logging 100’s ok kms in these bad boys, you better not dread putting them on your feet. So comfort is a big factor in choosing the race shoes. All good websites will also tell you that you should train in your shoes, so we wanted to make sure that we trained in our race shoes and logged a minimum of 150km before race day so they were sufficiently worn in without being worn down. The second bit of advice we got regarding shoes was about safety. Early on, we did a 15 km trail run (the birthday run) through the Pentlands (grass and track mix) in road running shoes. The downhills were treacherous on the slippery wet grass and the strain of “careful running” was felt in the calfs and shins for days afterwards. It was clear that in order to enjoy this type of running, we were going to need new shoes.
Fortunately, there are many good running shops around Edinburgh, and with a bit of research and a few discussions we were recommended to buy either fell shoes or trail shoes. The main difference (to my knowledge) is the grip. The fell shoes have much more pronounced grip and are therefore not recommended to be used for much road running at all. Whereas, the trail shoes have a lower profile and can do a bit of road as well as off-road. Convinced by the “birthday run” that more grip for any grassy downhills was critical, we opted for the fell shoes. Tell went with the inov8 X-Claw 275 - “I’ve got a wide foot and these shoes are super comfortable.” Since then, some people have commented on the fact that with these shoes they find their foot moves around to much in the shoe. They are certainly spacious and have quite generous ankles, but they are comfortable and for me, this was key - a good pair of socks and tight laces and I didn’t have any problems. Pierre went with the Salomon SpeedCross 3. He liked thew fancy laces :-) Also highly recommended.
As with any long run, you need to make sure you are properly hydrated. There is ample advice about this on any sports/running website. I recommend water, with a bit of an electrolyte drink if you’re pushing out over 15 km (90 mins) or if it is hot. Basically, you need to keep your electrolytes up and if you are sweating, you should be replacing. For the actual marathon, this is much less of an issue. The prevelance of the food/fuel stations on the route (one every 5 miles ~ 7 km) meant that we could carry minimal water (two small 200 ml bottles) and just refill these along the route with water or electrolyte mix as required.
Food is equally important on longer runs. There are two aspects to this, pre-run (weeks and days before) setting up your body for the big event; and the actual day. One of us, is much more sensible about their health habits. They recommend the following plan in terms of getting your body ready for the big day:
Whatever you do, the basic rule of staying off the booze the night before the run and doing a bit of carbo loading is probably good advice. In terms of fuel during the run, we both agree that practice, trialling different options and having a good strategy for how much and when is critical. Here are a few things that we found.
Energy gels and snacks are the main items that are useful on log runs, whether road or over hills. There are various recommendations that are out there about how often to “gel”. Typically, the gels recommend every 20-30 minutes, this is a highly scientific suggestion based on the amount of energy you are using during that time and the amount the gel can provide. In my experience, it is more enjoyable to do this based on distance - you have to have something to drive you on for that next km. So I typically think a gel every 5km or 7km on a longer run is a better marker. The problem with either method (time or distance) is that after about 30 km (3 hrs - 6 gels) the thought of another gel, no matter how tastey they are, is revolting. We tried several different gels, but the Science in Sport gels are the ones we recommend. They have a fairly good range in terms of flavour and they also have the “secret weapon” the caffeine gels, good to intersperse every 15 km for a little added boost :-)
Snacks are good, particularly for training, when intensity is not as high, but you want to keep your spirits up. Typically, chocolate, 70% or better Lindt chocolate is my recommendation; muesli bars (various brands are available, but Pierre recommends the “Natural” bar); and energy bars. I found these in a store and had never seen them before. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to test them before the marathon, so I can only explain my one experience with the at the 30 km mark in a marathon. They are AMAZING! Despite the compactness of them, they are very chewable and easy to swallow and digest. Pierre's experience with his muesli bar at the 30 km masrk was not as enjoyable – read about it in the final note of the marathon writeup.
In summary, there are lots of good products available, for both eating and drinking. They are definitely worthwhile for training and particularly useful on long runs. However, for the marathon, it was fairly safe to be minimal with the food. If you’re running hard then the intensity of the run negates eating anything heavy, the fuel stops along the way mean you don’t need to carry a lot of water, or even much food as this was also available - but gels are essential. Train with them and find some you like, they can be life savers…
On the Glencoe mountain marathon, you need to carry a certain amount of compulsory kit. This includes, a spare warm layer, a waterproof jacket, waterproof trousers, a survival bag, a safety whistle, gloves, a fully charged mobile phone, a battery backup for your phone. I hesitate to offer any advice on this kit, the weather can change quickly in the highlands and it is always better to be prepared. However, all our forecasts the night before said that the day should be fine (and it was), so we carried the minimal kit with skins as our warm layer. If it looked like actually being cold, a proper warm layer would probably be necessary. However, I’m not convinced about the need for a safety whistle and safety bag. There are hundreds of runners and the route is well-marked, with feed stations at regular intervals - so I’m not sure how much trouble you could really get into. Nonetheless, we needed to carry it all given that it is mandatory kit and we wanted to run. So you are definitely going to need a bag to carry all this stuff - even if you go minimal.
Pierre went with the overwhelmingly popular choice of a backpack - small and fitted with good straps to minimise bouncing. These can also be fitted with camel packs, which is particularly useful for long runs when it is hot. I opted for the much less prolific “bum bag”. Training with this was pretty good, however on long runs there was a bit of rubbing and bruising around the base of the spine. With this in mind, I taped up the area before the run. However, the tape quickly rubbed off and the result was a very ugly graze and bruise that stayed with me for weeks. In summary, probably best to go with the majority and get a well-fitted backpack.
It’s hard to give advice on this, as it will depend on where you are coming from and what your arrangements for after the marathon will be. However, the basic parameters we considered were:
a) Start time. The run starts at 9am in the morning and you are expected to be at the campsite for organisation etc, around 8:30. We didn’t like the idea of a 3 hr drive from Edinburgh, so we wanted to stay close. We figured a 45 minute drive would be acceptable, that way we could leave at 7:30 and if anything went wrong with traffic, etc. then we would have a comfortable buffer built in. However, if the roads were clear, but the weather was cold, we wouldn’t be standing around the campsite for hours freezing to death.
b) Driving after completing a marathon. We were fortunate to have some team drivers, but in the event that we had to drive, the idea of driving for hours after hitting complete exhaustion was not attractive. Again, 45 mins was considered acceptable, so we looked for a place within 45 mins of Fort William.
c) Facilities. It depends on what you want, but we wanted a place where we could all stay together in a cottage to be able to cook our own meals for the night before and have a BBQ (weather permitting) after the run. We wanted enough space for everyone coming along (6 of us in total) and we wanted to be able to bring our dog.
d) The next day. The marathon was on a Sunday and unfortunately, that meant back to work on Monday morning. We really didn’t fancy driving home on Sunday evening. So we needed the accommodation to be south of Fort William, i.e., so our return journey on Monday morning to Edinburgh would be shorter and thus presumably faster.
This was a fairly restrictive set of parameters, but we found quite a few places that were acceptable and we went with a cottage in Crianlarich. It was really good and I would recommend it both as a spot for the marathon, but also for a longer stay in the highlands.
Other considerations post-marathon.
If we weren’t pushed for time and needed to return to Edinburgh on Monday, then it would have been nice to stay in Fort WIlliam. Completing an epic event like this is exhilarating and there is a sense of wanting to share the experience with others. However, because we were in a location without any other runners, we couldn’t really discuss how other people experienced the run. It may be nice to stay in Fort William so you could meet other runners out at the bars in the evening and swap stories about the run. I imagine that this happens, but we weren’t there - so I can’t guarantee it.