Over 9000 runners took part in Sunday’s Baxters Loch Ness Marathon & Festival of Running accompanied by sunshine and blue skies.
Ross Houston produced an outstanding performance, defeating a field of 3,960 competitors to win the 11th Baxters Loch Ness Marathon in blustery conditions at Inverness. In doing so the 32 year-old Central AC athlete picked up the Scottish men's national title for the second year in a row.
The race got off to a flying start with German athlete Oleg Ranzow setting a hot pace which only Houston tried to match. After five miles, however, Ranzow began to fall back leaving Houston with the unenviable task of running the rest of the route on his own from the front.
He battled on bravely to complete the course in a fantastic time of 2hours 20 minutes 24 seconds which was just 11 seconds outside the course record set by Kenya's Simon Tonui in 2009.
Houston said: "We were doing five minute miling for the first few miles which was probably too fast. I was on my own after about four or five miles, and that was quite hard, but despite that I still thought I could get under 2hr 20mins.
"From about the 20 mile mark, however, I found it hard and I just wanted it to be over. But it's another step forward for me and it’s great to win this race and the national title."
Ranzow paid for his early exuberance and finished 13th in 2:50:27.
Aberdeen's Ben Hukins came through to take second position in 2:29:17 after a hard battle with Ronhill Cambuslang's Kerry-Liam Wilson who picked up the bronze medal in 2:30:36.
Hukins said: "It was tough. I realised after about 10 miles that I wasn't going to get the time I was hoping for, so I just concentrated on finishing as well as I could.
"Kerry-Liam caught me at 22 miles so I had to work hard to get away from him again to get second position."
Terence Forrest from Grantown on Spey won the Gerald Cooper Memorial Trophy for the first Highland runner to complete the marathon. Forrest recorded 2:48:34 for 10th position.
Avril Mason (Shettleston Harriers) ran a well judged race to win the women's title in 2:54:54 which is a lifetime best by 23secs. She said: “I’m pleased to win, but to be honest I was hoping for a quicker time.
"The pace was too fast early on. I ran with Lisa Finlay and Jill Knowles for the first nine miles. I got away from Jill around the halfway mark and I was clear of Lisa after about 17 miles.
"It's nice to win the Scottish title as its my first championship medal, and to be quite close to a personal best time is also pleasing."
Finlay (Dumfries Running Club), last year's winner, had to settle for the silver medal on this occasion, but took some consolation from running her fastest ever marathon time of 2:57:55.
She said: "I'm inside my personal best but I don't think I ran too well as I started too fast and I was hanging on towards the end. Avril ran beautifully and judged it very well."
Jill Knowles (Scottish Prison Service AC) took the bronze medal when recording 3:03:07 on her marathon debut.
Erica Christie (Bellahouston Harriers), who has now competed in all 11 Baxters Loch Ness marathons, maintained her fine record in the race by finishing first in the over-50 age group, 11th overall, in the women's division of the race with a time of 3:12:46.
DOUGLAS EDGES OUT NEWSOM TO WIN BAXTERS RIVER NESS 10K
Andrew Douglas (Inverclyde AC), from Halkirk in Caithness, won an exciting Baxters River Ness 10K by recording 30 minutes 27 seconds to finish one second ahead of John Newsom (Central AC) while title-holder Kyle Greig (Forres Harriers) was third.
Douglas and Newsom were locked together until the final kilometre when the Edinburgh-based Caithness man opened a small gap.
Douglas said: "We ran side by side until 9k, then I got a wee bit of a gap but I had to work really hard from there to the finish.
"I'm pleased with my performance as I've come back from some injury problems recently and I feel ready to push on with my training with a view to getting some marathon experience at Dublin later this year."
Douglas has been a regular competitor in the River Ness race over recent years, but this was his first win.
He was second behind Poland’s Artur Kern in 2010, third behind course record holder Amanual Hagos (Shettleston) in 2008 and third again in 2007 when Birchfield’s Jean Ndaysenga won.
Runner-up Newsom was also satisfied with the result. He said: "It’s my fastest time of the year and probably the second fastest I have ever run, so I'm happy enough with that.
"Its all good preparations for later this year when I plan to make my marathon debut in Frankfurt."
Third-placed Greig, who recorded a personal best 31:38, was also delighted despite losing his title. He said: “I never expected to get such a fast time, so I have to be pleased."
Edinburgh University student Rhona Auckland (Banchory Stonehaven AC) scored an impressive victory in the women's race when recording a personal best time of 34min 35sec when finishing 11th overall from a field of more than 2,900 runners.
Nicola Gauld (Aberdeen AAC) was second in 35:17 and Morgan Murphy (Edinburgh AC) took third position in 35:42.
Auckland said: "It was a really nice and fast course. We were all together for three miles then I pushed on from there and I'm pleased to get a personal best time."
The Cream of Baxters team of Paul Taylor, Clyde Marwick, Keith McArthur and John Munro won the Baxters 10K Corporate Challenge with a combined time of 2hr 37min 52sec.
The 3 Scots team of Graham Paarker, Scott Shaw, Ross McBride and Graham Parker finished second in 3:01:14.
Third place went to Akva Group who recorded 3:02:12 thanks to the combined efforts of Ian Lawson, Robbie Duncanson, Tom Hogg and Brian Knowles.
Dingwall Academy youngster Luke Shaw (Inverness Harriers) led home a field of 1600 runners in the Baxters River Ness 5K.
The 14 year-old North District cross country league champion finished ahead of Ewan McKerrow (Kilbarchan AC).
Natasha Robinson was the first woman when finishing narrowly ahead of Charlotte Hill.
Blustery tail wind conditions for much of the marathon route may have contributed to many of the 4000 strong marathon field recording new personal best times. The marathon is also one of the major events chosen by many as their first attempt at completing a marathon thanks to the race’s scenic route through Highland moorland, along the quiet back roads down the south side of the iconic loch finishing in the shadow of Inverness Castle and crossing the finish line to the cheers of thousands of supporters at Bught Park in the city centre.
First staged in 2002 attracting 860 participants, the event has grown to become a firm favourite on the UK marathon calendar and is now the largest participatory sport north of the Scottish central belt.
Race Director Malcolm Sutherland said: “Fortunately the weather was kind to the competitors this year and, as usual, thousands of runners finished their race with a beaming smile on their face. For a large number it was their first marathon, and we hope that many of these runners will choose to come back and run the route again.
“We’re continuously looking at ways to add to the running event and festival atmosphere for both runners and supporters, so year on year the event differs in some way and, we hope, gives everyone an even better experience when they return.
Bill King, CEO of Baxters Food Group said: “Many congratulations to everyone who ran in the marathon and the other races today. I’m always so inspired by the dedication from all the participants, who are running at all levels and ages, and impressed at the amount of money they raise for so many good causes. Baxters Food Group is proud to be title sponsor of the Loch Ness Marathon and Festival of Running for the 11th year running.
“I’d also like to congratulate the winning team in the 10K Corporate Challenge – the Cream of Baxters – not least because it was one of the three Baxters teams which had entered. They and all the other participants should be very proud of their accomplishments.”
Paul Bush OBE, Chief Operating Officer for EventScotland said: “EventScotland are proud to be supporting the Baxters Loch Ness Marathon for the eighth year and delighted to welcome such high calibre athletes, including marathon winner and Scotland international Ross Houston, to compete in one of the UK’s most scenic locations.
“The event is a major charity fundraiser as well as delivering significant economic impact to the local economy; it is testament to the continuing growth of this event that over 9000 runners took part this year.”