Inverness is a really special place for me. In 2012, I went there to complete the river Ness 10k. At the time, it was not only my first ever 10k, but also the first time I had even run that far in one go. I remember the trepidation as I stood on the start line, could I really run the whole thing? How would it feel?
Two years later in 2014, I arrived back in Inverness. This time for the Loch Ness marathon, but with all of the same questions running through my mind. What would happen when I went past the distance I had trained to? Would I make it all the way? This time, the unknown period of the race was the size of my first ever run in Inverness; I had come a long way in every sense. It’s fair to say that I was really excited about running in Inverness again, even if those I had spoken to about the parkrun course there were often less than enthusiastic.
Every visit to Inverness until this weekend just gone, I had been living in London. For most of these I had chosen to fly, with one exception when I took a sleeper train. I remember from this visit that I had woken up somewhere in the Cairngorms, as day was breaking. I found myself gawping through the window trying to take in a sort of prehistoric moonscape which was so far from being on a human scale that the part of my brain which kept my mouth from hanging open short circuited. I knew the train ride up would be pretty special.
Inverness is one of the few parkruns which are not possible in a day trip. It is by no means the least accessible, but the earliest train from Edinburgh will not get you there until around 10.30am. This meant that I would definitely need to make a weekend of it. Wifey was quite happy about this as a little jaunt for her birthday, so we booked into the same B&B we have now stayed at 4 times.
We arrived into Inverness with a little light left in the sky. After checking into the B&B, and a little dinner in town, we had a short wander up the river and around the islands on the Ness. We traced some of the final throes of the marathon route and reminisced over the abject cruelty of seeing the finish line over the water opposite you when you have 2 miles left to run. We get back to the B&B to find that I have forgotten to bring the toothpaste. I don’t know if any of you have ever tried brushing your teeth without toothpaste, but it’s a decidedly odd affair which I’m not sure I would recommend.
After a great night’s sleep, I woke up at a very leisurely 7.30. We went down for breakfast which was waiting for us at 8, and get this – we didn’t have to leave the B&B until 9. I could really get into this. This was actually something that I had really needed. After three weeks of very early starts on Saturdays, I had gotten a cold last Sunday and had spent much of the week being that irritating guy with the cough. I had felt awful most of the week, and frustratingly couldn’t get back to training last week, despite my back starting to feel a bit better.
We looked out of the window to see, well, not a great deal. The forecast had changed from sunny spells to a wee bit dreich, but at least it wasn’t absolutely lashing it down. We made a steady jog down via the scenic route to Bught Park and into the growing scrum of runners warming up ready to go. I got chatting to a volunteer who informed me that at one time, Inverness was the most northerly parkrun. Having geeked out quite a bit recently on parkruns in Scotland, I love this sort of stuff.
We shuffled our way to the start line for the usual briefing, and before we know it we’re charging off up the field toward the ice-rink and round a sharp bend. Inverness parkrun is run almost entirely on grass, which with the damp conditions today should be interesting after nearly 200 people have had a couple of goes at it. Down now toward the river, then a left and we’re now running alongside the river. I’m inching my way past a few people whilst slowly working my way into a daze. I’m seeing just the mossy green colour of the chewed up grass, the sound of the river flowing in the background and the gentle rhythmical clomping of feet. We turn back on ourselves to get back over the start line, and the spell is only broken slightly when we go through a gravelly car park section. It doesn’t last long, and after inadvertently performing the running man dance move as we go past the start line I settle into the same rhythm for lap two. Mile 1 done in 7.09.
I’m still in a sort of trance as we get into lap 2, but without much on the course to distract me, I now start to realise the things in the far distance. Those mountains look incredible, I can see the water flowing on the river, even the tree roots are submerged here to keep the calm feeling in my head. I know now why some runners don’t find this course appealing, but for me this is almost meditative. It occurs to me that this is the longest I have gone without coughing in 3 days, and the only niggle I have had so far is that I really should have cut my toenails. Lap two comes to a close before I know it, mile 2 done in 7.10.
Onto lap three, and things are now getting slightly more squidgy underfoot. I’m starting to lap a few people and I’m doing my best to give them a ‘well done!’ as I go past. I’m having to work harder as the lap goes on, but I still feel the serenity of the last few laps through me, and at every step I feel on top of the course. The last k or so of a 5k can often feel like a mountain that’s getting bigger and steeper the more you hit it with, but with every step I could feel the course shrinking. Maybe I should have worked harder… certainly with mile 3 done in 7.15 that should have been the case, and I buck up my ideas and push for home.
In the cafe afterwards, my volunteer friend from earlier comes to sit with us. Since I’ve been telling him about this idea to do all of the Scottish parkruns, he wonders if there is anything I’ve picked up elsewhere that I could recommend to improve Inverness parkrun. I’m genuinely stumped. The thing about this is, that I have over a number of years entered quite a few professionally run races. I can think of a good few of these that were nowhere near as well organised and slickly put together as parkrun. The thing with parkrun, in general, is that it’s simple and it works. Inverness is a slick, well-oiled machine and I’ve had an absolutely brilliant time.
Scores! 43rd place, 22.38