The wait is almost over for those taking part in Baxters Loch Ness marathon on Sunday (30 September). One runner eager for the race to begin is Scotland international, Ross Houston. Ross starts as one of the favourites and is in the running to be crowned national champion for the second year in a row.
The 32-year-old hopes to represent Scotland in the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and has enjoyed a successful season, setting personal best marathon and half marathon times.
Houston said: "I'm looking for a confidence boosting run before trying to get a Commonwealth Games qualifying time next year. The standard for selection is under 2hr 19min and my best time at the moment is 2hr 21min, so if I could improve on that and get a personal best time this weekend, I would be really happy.
"If I could get under 2hr 20min that would be perfect, but it depends on a number of factors including the weather and whether or not there's a group of us together to push things along."
The Central AC runner collected his first Scottish title when he finished 15 seconds behind Salford's Tomas Abyu who won last year's Loch Ness race in 2hr 20min 50 sec. There is, however, some doubt as to whether Abyu will be on the start line on Sunday. The Great Britain international has indicated he wants to bid for what would be a fourth victory since 2003, but hasn't confirmed whether he will make the journey north.
Houston's opponents in the race, which again incorporates the Scottish marathon championships, will include Aberdeen runner Ben Hukins, Ronhill Cambuslang's Kerry Liam-Wilson, Dumfries athlete Marcus Scotney and Germany's Oleg Rantzow.
In the women's field, Lisa Finlay will be back to defend her title at the event where she set a personal best time of 2hr 59min 06sec last year. She will be confident of achieving another fast time after her performance in the Great Scottish Run, which saw her set a personal best half marathon time of 1hr 20min 14sec.
The Dumfries athlete faces a tough challenge from Shettleston's Avril Mason who has a best time of 2:54:31, which she set at the 2011 London marathon. Ethiopian Aregash Abate could also pose a serious threat if her visa comes through in time for her to make the trip to Inverness, which would be the first time she has competed outside of Africa.
As well as the marathon, Loch Ness Marathon festival includes River Ness 10K, 10K Corporate Challenge, River Ness 5K Fun Run and Wee Nessie. Entries have closed for the marathon and 10k but limited entries will be taken for the Baxters River Ness 5K and Wee Nessie over the course of the race weekend. For more information visit the Loch Ness marathon website.