Elly aims to defend title in Baxters Loch Ness Marathon

Loch Ness

Tarus Elly (handicap MINUS 3.6)  is ready to defend his title in Sunday's Baxters Loch Ness marathon which will host the Scottish championships for the fourth year in a row and is also the penultimate counting race in the 2014 Scottish road running grand prix series.

The Manchester-based Kenyan was a clear winner twelve months ago when he sprinted home in 2hr 27min 21sec to claim the top prize of £1500.

Elly sustained a knee injury earlier this year but says he's now fully recovered and is confident of putting in another strong performance.

He said:"I planned to run in the Manchester marathon in April but I had a bit of an injury which lasted for a couple of months. It's fine now and I feel as though I can run at least as fast at Loch Ness as I did last year.

"I did a 10Km race recently and that gave me an indication of my form and I was happy with it.

"It would be good if there was a few runners together at the front as that would help us all get faster times."

Elly faces some formidable opposition led by three times previous Loch Ness champion Tomas Abyu, (handicap MINUS 1.9)from Salford, who won in 2003, 2010 and 2011.

The Great Britain international has a best time of 2:10:37 set in Dublin in 2007, and although he hasn’t been in that sort of form in recent years, the 36 year-old is still more than capable of taking the top prize.

Elly and Abyu aren’t eligible for the Scottish title which last year went to Edinburgh-based Patryk Gierjatowicz (handicap MINUS 3.5) who finished runner-up in 2:30:49. The Polish athlete, who improved his best time to 2:24:27 at London earlier this year, plans to compete again on Sunday. He is currently in fine form, having set a personal best 10Km time of 30min 38secs in the Scottish championships at Stirling earlier this month.

Another potential front runner is Paisley’s Paul Giblin (handicap 2.8) who is stepping down in distance to tackle the marathon. Giblin is one of the country’s finest ultra-distance runners and later this year he will represent Great Britain in the world 100Km championships in Doha. In June he set an amazing record time of 14hrs 20min 11secs for the 95 mile West Highland Way race between Milngavie and Fort William.

Kerry-Liam Wilson (handicap MINUS 2.8), Scottish championship bronze medallist at Loch Ness in 2011 and 2012, and over-40 age group champion on both occasions, is also in the starting line-up.

Speyside Way 36.5 mile race champion Terry Forrest, who won the HSPC Gerald Cooper Memorial Trophy as the first Highland runner across the marathon finish line last year, will also be back.

There should be a cracking battle for supremacy in the women’s race in which Great Britain mountain running international Megan Crawford (handicap 1.5) attempts to defend her title. The Fife AC runner set a course record time of 2hr 46min 37secs last year in what was her debut marathon.

She said: “I don’t have any specific target for this year although I hope to be in the mix at the front of the race again. It looks as though it will be a very competitive field, which is good.”

Crawford’s Scottish international team-mates Jennifer Emsley (handicap 0.9) and Shona McIntosh (handicap 1.5) are sure to give her a stern challenge. All three took part in the Scottish 10Km championships at Stirling earlier this month, Emsley taking gold, Crawford silver and McIntosh bronze.

The Scots will also have to overcome experienced Romanian athlete Alina Nituleasa who is making a return visit to the Highland capital after finishing second last year. She said: “It's quite a hard race, but it's nice. I hope to run better than last year and I’m looking forward to doing it. I’d like to thank the organisers for all the work they do.”

Some familiar faces will be in the field including Erica Christie (handicap 7.5) who has competed in all 12 Loch Ness marathons so far. The veteran Glasgow athlete finished second in the women's division of the inaugural race in 2002 and she has competed every year since then.

Her quickest Loch Ness time of 3:06:51 was set when finishing fourth in 2009 and her slowest of 3:18:47 came in 2013 when she was second in the over-50 age group. That's pretty impressive consistency.

Baxters Loch Ness Marathon Course Records

Men: Simon Tonui (Kenya) 2hr 20min 13sec (2009)

Women: Megan Crawford (Fife AC) 2hr 46min 37sec (2014)

Andy Douglas (handicap MINUS 4.2), a member of Inverclyde AC and North Highland Harriers, is one of three previous champions taking part in the Baxters River Ness 10Km. The Edinburgh-based athlete, who comes from Halkirk in Caithness, has been in outstanding form on the mountain running circuit this summer.

In July he was 10th in the European championships at Gap, France, helping Great Britain win team silver medals, and earlier this month he was 21st in the world championships in Italy.

Douglas has also shown his pedigree on the roads by setting a personal best time of 49min 56sec when winning the Frank Duffy international 10 mile race in Dublin last month.

He has been a regular participant in the River Ness 10Km over the years, finishing third in 2007 and 2008, and second in 2010 before going on to win in 2012.

His opponents this weekend include title-holder John Newsom (handicap MINUS 3.4) and the 2011 winnerKyle Greig (handicap MINUS 2.5). Other contenders include Scotland international Neil Renault (handicap MINUS 4.3), who won the Inverness half marathon in 2009, recently crowned North of Scotland champion Donnie Macdonald (handicap MINUS 1.4), Aberdeen 10Km championBen Hukins (handicap MINUS 3.1) and North 10 mile champion Gordon Lennox (handicap MINUS 1.9).

Ireland international Nicola Duncan (handicap MINUS 0.5), winner of the women’s prize in this year’s Inverness half marathon, hopes to have recovered from injury to take part in the women’s race, but Great Britain international Rhona Auckland (handicap MINUS 0.6), winner for the past two years, is unable to compete on this occasion.

Jenny Bannerman (handicap 2.0) , fresh from setting a personal best time of 35:37 at Stirling, leads a strong challenge from local club Inverness Harriers. Sarah Liebnitz (handicap 3.2), third last year, Catriona Fraser (handicap 6.6) and Jodie Lynch (handicap 5.8) are among the other Inverness runners hoping to challenge for the top prizes. Others to look out for include English hill running internationalPippa Maddams (handicap 4.3),Gemma Cormack (handicap 3.6),Louise Cartmell (handicap 6.5), Alison Winship (handicap 9.1) and Charlotte Black (handicap 7.5).

Baxters River Ness 10K Course Records

Men: Amanuel Hagos (Shettleston) 29min 35secs (2008)

Women: Cathy Mutwa (Kenya) 33min 46sec (2006)

Runners from 56 different countries have signed up for the festival which, in addition to the marathon and 10Km, also includes the Baxters River Ness 5Km and the Wee Nessie children’s run.

Race Director Malcolm Sutherland is delighted by the numbers and is anticipating another super day of running held in a carnival atmosphere.

He said: “It’s fantastic that we have so many runners of all ages and abilities, and from so many different countries, coming to participate in our festival of running. There’s always a superb atmosphere over the whole weekend and there’s a real buzz about the place.

“It’s also a great honour for us to host the Scottish marathon championships for the fourth year in a row and because of this we expect a highly competitive race in both the men’s and women’s competitions.

“The 10K has also attracted many top quality runners and we anticipate some keen competition in the team Corporate Challenge.”

A new feature of the marathon and 10Km this year is the Clan Challenge which has been introduced as part of the Homecoming Scotland 2014 celebrations.

It’s an idea which Sutherland believes will provide an additional element of colour and interest to the event.

He said: “We want to find out which clan is the most heavily represented in the races so when people enter they are being invited to indicate which clan they represent and where they have come from. We will also be encouraging participants to wear some tartan in the races. The results of the 2014 Clan Challenge will be based on numbers of runners from each Clan who successfully complete either race.”

Entries have now closed for the marathon and 10Km but limited entries will be taken for the Baxters River Ness 5K and Wee Nessie children's run over the course of the race weekend.

For full information on this weekend’s event, including road closures visit: www.lochnessmarathon.com