Champions pledge to return to Loch Ness • Run4It:

Salford's Tomas Abyu and Dumfries athlete Lisa Finlay have pledged to defend their respective men's and women's titles in the Baxters Loch Ness Marathon which has been named at this year's Scottish championship.

Entries have now opened for the race which takes place on Sunday 30th September, with Abyu and Finlay among the first to confirm they will be competing.

Abyu, a Great Britain international, enjoys the Loch Ness marathon so much that he keeps coming back.

The Salford Harriers' club member has now lifted the top prize on three occasions and has shown amazing consistency, posting a winning time of 2hr 20min 59sec in 2003, then, quite remarkably, recording precisely the same time of 2:20:50 in both 2010 and 2011.

The course record is 2:20:13 set by Kenya's Simon Tonui in 2009 while the women's record is 2:46:49 by Ethiopia's Dinknesh Mekash Tefera in 2010.

Finlay, from Dalbeattie, set a personal best time of 2:59:06 when winning last year's women's title.

Race Director Malcolm Sutherland says that the Loch Ness race is building a global reputation.

He said: "Baxters Loch Ness marathon and festival of running is a notable fixture on the international running calendar with the scenic beauty of the area and the legend of the Loch Ness monster proving a major attraction for runners from around the world."

"The opportunity to put such a memorable marathon on their record has been a really strong pull for thousands of runners of all abilities from countries as far afield as USA, New Zealand, South Africa, Germany, France and Ireland."

“We are expecting over 9,000 runners this year, and hope that many people who have only ever run in city marathons will accept our invitation to come and experience the difference of running the scenic country roads around Loch Ness.”

Audrey Baxter, Executive Chairman of event sponsors, Baxters, said: “The Loch Ness marathon has gone from strength to strength and Baxters are honoured to be the title sponsor for the 11th consecutive year."

"The run provides an opportunity for all ages to come together and celebrate a truly fantastic sporting event. Whether it’s the Wee Nessie, the Corporate Challenge or the 10km, the event offers a platform for both running novices and seasoned pros alike.”

The leading runners in the marathon will share a cash kitty of £6,100 with the first man and woman each pocketing £1,500.

There's also a substantial masters prize fund up for grabs with vouchers totalling £1,200 available in the over-40's, over-50's and over-60's age divisions.

The accompanying Baxters River Ness 10Km also offers an attractive prize pot totalling £1,400 in cash for the top three men and women plus a further £720 of voucher prizes for the top three men and women masters (over-40, over-50 and over-60). In addition, the 10Km also features a corporate team challenge.

The festival of running offers something for all the family as the programme of events also includes the Baxters River Ness 5K Fun Run for all ages and the Wee Nessie 400m for youngsters aged five and under.

Entries are now open at www.lochnessmarathon.com