Not all marathons are equal, some like Lochaber marathon are special (writes Sue Northrop). If you think marathons are about runners and running, this race is for you. Set in one of the most awe inspiring parts of the country, in the shadow of Ben Nevis, Lochaber marathon is beautiful and memorable; and flat. And small, a maximum of 600 runners.
Registration was available on the day or the afternoon before. It was quick and easy. As a first timer, I was very nervous, but the registration folk were really positive and I knew whatever happened I'd be fine. I got my Team Strides top and a wee dram to mark the race's 30th anniversary then off to the Ben Nevis Inn for a spot of pre-race fuelling.
Sunday morning was dreich. Small, very wet rain; strong wind - yuk. But given the awful weather during training runs, it would have been pathetic to pull out now. It's an 11am start and luckily we had the sports hall to keep warm and dry. There were plenty of toilets so the queues weren't too bad and easy parking so you can take all your stuff just in case - perfect.
As we stood at the start on the shinty pitch, spirits were high and the skirl of the pipes drove the clouds away. Then we were off. I was running my first marathon - gulp.
The route heads out onto the romantic Road to the Isles. At the end of the Loch you turn and come back. As we ran, the views got better and better and the sun came out Luckily there were plenty of hydration points. There's two sets of toilets during the race - I saw no queues.
The atmosphere was fabulous and the marshals were superb - friendly and encouraging, keeping us safe, keeping us going. All along the route people waved and cheered us on - not what I'd expected in such as remote setting, but people waved from cars, windows, and gardens and it was great.
I realised when I signed up that in a small marathon, a slow first timer like me was likely to come near the end. My strategy was to stay at the back, run my own race and enjoy the scenery. This meant that a lot of the second half I was running alone, just how I like it, so it suited me perfectly, but not for everyone. In a big race I'd probably have been tripped up or fallen over a plastic bottle.
I came in 10th from the end to a round of applause and a lovely hug. Then tea, sandwiches and chocolate in the sports hall. There were showers and a massage for those that wanted them.
I couldn't have picked a better first marathon, and I'd love to run it again. Friendly, small, stunning scenery, great organisation and fantastic support. We were real people, not numbers and it was real running. What more could you want?