Inverness marathon races around Loch Ness | Loch Ness 360 Challenge

In the first of a series of blogs, ultra-athlete and journalist Sean McFarlane talks about setting targets and entering 2020’s newest Inverness marathon – the Loch Ness Challengeﹾ.

New year, new you

How are those resolutions going? No meat, dairy or alcohol? And soon no laughing or talking no doubt! Most of us either start the year by going without something, or at least considering it. How about sporting challenges? They’re also firmly on the radar of several of us at this time of year. Hands up who’s entered an ironman? And hands up who actually knows what an ironman involves?! Striking that vital balance of finding something that is ambitious but realistic is all-important but very difficult to do. Running events of some sort or other have long been the most common of such targets, and for good reason. From 5k fun runs to ultras, there’s plenty to choose from. A marathon is undoubtedly a great challenge and more established than really anything else. But why not avoid the tarmac this year and take your pick of a choice of three off-road Inverness marathons, set right in the heart of Scotland’s most famous location?

Castle Urquhart on Loch Ness

What is the Loch Ness Challenge?

The Loch Ness 360ﹾ trail, an off-road track of 80 miles around Loch Ness, is perfect for a whole host of outdoor activities, none more so than running. The end of May this year sees three marathon distance events run on consecutive days around this world-famous body of water. It starts on Friday 29th with a race from Dores to Drumnadrochit. Then Saturday 30th sees competitors run from Drumndrochit to Fort Augustus with finally Sunday 31st having competitors heading from Fort Augustus to Dores. Take your pick from any of the three or do all three! And just in case that’s not enough for you there’s even a race of 80 miles taking in the entire trail!

Dores to Drumnadrochit

The first off-road Inverness marathon race is from Dores to Drumnadrochit and being on a Friday requires a day off work for most. What better excuse do you need? Starting by the lochside, you’ll soon climb away from the water then head along the trail, wide to start with then narrowing up at Torbreck and from here round the south-west side of Inverness itself. No time to relax though as you climb again to the north of the city and out eventually to Abriachan high above the loch on its north-west side.

From here it’s more forest trail which narrows up before the trees fall away and you see the magnificent Urquhart Castle. Not far now but still a few miles before reaching Drumnadrochit and the finish line. What a way to start the weekend!

a runner in the hills of Scotland

Drumnadrochit to Fort Augustus

Saturday’s route sees you quickly pulling up high out of Drumnadrochit and onto the forest track. After plenty of very pleasant forest running, you descend into Invermoriston. What goes down must go up though, or something like that, and climb you do out of the village to more forest trails of varying width. On several occasions, the trees lessen and you’ll catch a glimpse or two of the loch.

Then the trees thicken once more and as they do you descend into them and the outskirts of Fort Augustus. Try to avoid the Nessie hunters, all snapping photos of anything monster related. The finish line is in the centre of town. You’ve thoroughly earned your pint, or two, tonight.

running men in the Highlands of Scotland

Fort Augustus to Dores

Sunday’s offering is back to Dores where all the fun began. Perhaps the most defining aspect of the Loch Ness 360ﹾ trail is its ever-changing terrain, which fundamentally adds to its enjoyment. And that changing terrain is very much on display on this route. First climbing on the perfect smooth gravel trail out of Fort Augustus, the beauty of the track does somewhat alleviate the pain of climbing up to over 400 metres and the signature location of the whole Loch Ness 360ﹾ trail. Above Loch Tarff, in
any weather, is special.

Even if you’re in the lead at this point, stop, even just for a few seconds and marvel. This is why we run, so pause to reflect on how lucky we are to be able to do so. Ok leaders crack on, others feel free to gaze a bit longer! From here the trail meanders so pay attention and enjoy. It’s not difficult to do. Resist the strong temptation to stop at Cameron’s Tea room in Foyers, or not! This south-east side of the Loch has a very different feel to its northwestern cousin. Far less busy but equally if not even more worthwhile, certainly for us on two feet.

Soak it up and have fun on the surprisingly technical section to Inverfarigaig. More climbing follows up the broken tarmac and hairpins, aptly named the Corkscrew by locals. From here, that ever-changing terrain is once more on full display as you head through the Fair Haired Lad’s Pass and the winding and loose descent.

Hopefully down in one piece, a final section of forest track and road is all that lies between you and the finish in Dores. Which Inverness marathon race to do? It’s a genuine dilemma. So forget abstaining from things in January and instead enter one of these truly iconic events!