More than 9400 entrants from 45 countries will be descending on Inverness this weekend for the Baxters Loch Ness Marathon and Festival of Running.
Event director Malcolm Sutherland is understandably delighted: “We have a truly cosmopolitan event, with 60% of our marathon entrants coming from outside Scotland.”
This year, there’s been a noticeable increase in the numbers of runners coming from Scandinavia. 222 Norwegians have entered, 160 of whom are doing the marathon. Sutherland puts the interesting trend down to a TV programme, 'Dag Otto’s Bucket List’ which was made at the event last year and which aired in Norway soon after.
He added: “Everyone is treated in the same friendly and supportive way and they’ll all enjoy a wonderful Highland reception.”
In addition to the 160 Norwegians, 5000 more runners will be taking on the scenic marathon course: a record number for the event.
Fife's Sheena Logan, who won the women’s race last year in a personal best time of 2:51:11, is one of them. The Auchtermuchty runner and recent winner of the Scottish Half Marathon at Musselburgh is showing good form in the lead up to her title defence.
Logan said: "My run at Loch Ness last year was a bit of a dream and I really enjoyed it. However, I have no specific time in mind on this occasion. I suppose anything is possible but you need so many things to align on the day to get a good performance. I'll just try my hardest and we'll see what happens. It's a great course and we had brilliant conditions last year so fingers crossed for that again."
In the men’s race, Veteran Kenyan athlete Isaiah Kosgei is hoping it will be a case of third time lucky. The 44 year-old African, who lives in the town of Iten, famed for producing a remarkable array of world class distance running talent, finished fifth in the 2017 race and was third last year when Manchester-based Jordanian Mohammad Aburezeq completed a hat trick of wins.
Kosgei believes he is ready to challenge for top spot on the podium and suggests that the course record of 2hr 20min 13secs, set by his compatriot Simon Tonui a decade ago, could be threatened.
Kosgei said: "I am in a good and better shape for Loch Ness than before. I can’t say I will win because everybody is preparing for it but my aim is still to go for the course record. If all goes well 2:19 will be good, although the course is not an easy one.”
Kosgei has added motivation for featuring as highly as possible on the prize list as he generously uses any money received from his running success to support not only his family but also the wider community back home.
He explained: "I will try my level best to win prize money. It is so important to me because it helps me sustain the life of my family for some time, as well as giving back to my community by helping the needy children in my village to get access to education by paying school fees. I will be running Loch Ness to raise money to buy uniforms, shoes and school learning material for 21 children under the Kosgei-Walepole foundation."
In the River Ness 10K, Metro Aberdeen's Cameron Strachan is relishing the prospect of facing Dundee Hawkhill Harriers' James Donald in what promises to be a fascinating battle for the top of the podium.
Scotland international Jenny Bannerman is clear favourite to retain the women's title at her home event. The Inverness Harrier first ran the 10km in 2009 and has been back for each of the past five years, winning three times and never finishing lower than fifth. In 2018 she set what was then her fastest time of 34min 53secs.
Bannerman said: "There's too many factors which can affect your time so I'm not putting any pressure on myself. It’s my local race and I always enjoy the occasion so we’ll see how it goes.”
The marathon, 10km and 5km are full, but limited entries will be taken for the Wee Nessie Run for children aged 5 and under over the weekend.
Full information about race weekend, including the free-to-all Running Expo and activities in the Event Village, can be found at the event website.