Edinburgh Marathon – 26th May 2013
When preparing for my first marathon in London last year I had three main aims. Firstly, to finish with a time beginning with 4. Secondly, to enjoy it. And thirdly, to run every step. I achieved all three, finishing in 4:44:37, despite a very injury-ridden and interrupted buildup.
Training for the Edinburgh Marathon this year had gone perfectly. No injuries, no illness (except for a bout of tonsillitis in week one) – I was feeling stronger that ever before. So strong, in fact, that I flirted with the idea of aiming for a sub-4 hour finish. In the end I decided to stick to my original plan of going for sub-4:14:37, and taking half an hour off my PB.
My boyfriend and I headed to Edinburgh on Friday, as we’d decided to make a little mini-break of it. It turns out that once we’re out of London we are susceptible to the same tourist traps as everyone else, and we ended up doing not one, but two ghost walks.
My main concern pre-marathon was my stomach. My delicate digestive system doesn’t take too kindly to eating at restaurants followed by long distance running, and the last thing I wanted was to make an emergency toilet stop halfway through the race. I tried to eat carb-rich, bland foods, and not massive portions.
Sunday morning came around quickly, and before I knew it I was at the Regent Road start. The Edinburgh marathon has a duel start system. The speedy runners start at London Road, whereas the “slower” runners begin at Regent Road (just for the record – I don’t think a 4 hour marathon is in any way slow!) I was in the front pen at Regent Road, metres from the start, which was very different from my experience in the London marathon, where I was right at the back with the rhinos and blokes with fridges on their backs.
I always find the start of a race quite anti-climatic, although this is no bad thing. The last thing I wanted to do was to get too emotional at the start, which is pretty easy to do! I settled easily into the 9:30 pace, blocking out the runners passing me, confident I would be strong enough to pass them later on. The first couple of miles took us in to Holyrood Park and past Arthur’s Seat, where the crowd support was strong. At mile 3 I found my boyfriend. I felt strong and comfortable, and I was really enjoying the un-congested, relaxed feel of the race.
The race took us out of Edinburgh and to the coast, which was looking gorgeous. The sun came out at around mile 5, and I enjoyed the scenic route, happily plodding along. We ran past some drummers. There’s nothing I love more than running to the beat of a drum. I vowed that I would research races where the route is lined by drummers. Then I vowed that if there was no such thing, I would set one up. I felt good. With the benefit of hindsight, I would say I was extremely cocky during the first 10 miles of the race. My pace per mile repeatedly snuck down, only by a few seconds, but enough to make me feel like I should re-adjust my goals and go for a quicker time. Luckily, the sensible part of my brain took over, and I told my legs to slow it down – if I still felt good at 20 miles I could push the pace.
I passed the half-way point bang on target, in 2:05:03. At mile 14 the route bottlenecked as we approached a long out-and-back section. My pace slowed due to the volume of runners in front of me, which caused me to panic slightly. I knew the reason for the slowdown was the congestion, but somehow I got it in my head that I was tired. I pushed it aside, but the seed was planted…
Miles 14 to 18 were a long stretch to the turn-around point which would allow us to head home. I enjoyed seeing the speedier runners coming back, but this stretch was tough. The sun had come out, the crowd support was sporadic, and I had no idea how far we had to go until we could turn back. I held on to the 9:30 pace, but it didn’t feel easy.
I tried to employ the tactics that I’d used in my first marathon. I told myself I wasn’t allowed to get tired until mile 22, because I’d completed 22 miles in training. I thought about my post-marathon curry. I thought back to training runs where I had felt strong. But it wasn’t really helping.
Finally, around mile 18, we turned back. The home straight! But all I could think about was how far there was to go. It felt insurmountable. My pace began to drop. I’d been taking energy gels every 5 miles, but I knew I needed more fuel, so I allowed myself to eat again, earlier than planned. After the turning point we headed into a wooded area, which provided some much-needed shade from the relentless sun, but the road was uneven, lots of small stones – not the most comfortable surface to run on.
I managed to keep up the pace until mile 20, when I let some dark thoughts in. I wanted to stop and walk so much. During my last marathon I’d kept telling myself “You can’t run 20 miles then walk the last 6!” I repeated that mantra to myself, but my brain hit back with “Yes, you can! Everyone else is walking! You can too!”
I told myself that I was allowed to slow down, but I MUST NOT walk. I told myself it was only 6 miles. Just a morning run. I visualised my normal 6 mile run back at home.
21 miles… one mile into my morning run… past the Post Office. 21.5 miles, now I’m entering Hyde Park… 22 miles, I’m running past the Albert statue now…
I’d never “hit the wall” before. Of course I’ve read lots about it, but I always assumed, being pretty good at pacing, it wouldn’t happen to me. How wrong I was. I’ve never felt so awful in my entire life. I couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong. Everything felt so bad. A man running next to me started moaning loudly. He sounded like how I felt, but I didn’t have the energy to make sounds. I was desperate to keep the pace under 10 minute miles, which I managed until mile 23.
The ground felt so uneven. My head was wobbling around, I couldn’t keep it straight. My eyes kept closing. My shoulders were slumping. I was shoving jelly beans into my mouth, desperate for them to give me even a tiny bit of energy. My pace was slowing and slowing. I was shuffling at best. For a while I followed a man called Ian, who was wearing fairy wings and a tutu. I told myself to keep him in sight, but by mile 24 he’d got away from me.
The only thing that kept me running was knowing how pissed off I’d be with myself if I walked. I thought about all those early morning runs in the wind, rain and snow. I owed it to myself to keep running. I’d worked hard for this.
The last few miles seemed to go on forever. A man in the crowd shouted “only half a mile to go”, which made me feel awful – half a mile is so far! I finally turned a corner and saw the finish line. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful in my entire life! I raised my hands over my head, crying with agony and relief, and finished my second marathon in 4 hours, 13 minutes and 27 seconds.
It was so difficult to keep moving over the line. Everything hurt! I immediately knew I’d made the right decision to keep on running. If I’d stopped, even for a second, I would have never started again. I gratefully received my massive medal, and hobbled off to meet my boyfriend.
Later that night I set another PB in curry eating. I was (still am) ravenous! I definitely think insufficient pre-marathon eating was part of the reason I bonked so badly. My muscles are desperate for glycogen!
I’d taken 31 minutes 1o seconds off my PB. During the race, the words “never, ever, ever again” had echoed around my head. But that won’t stick. I’ve already got a place in my next marathon in Yorkshire in October. I was hoping to dip under 4 hours in that one. I’ve no idea how I’ll manage that! Answers on a postcard, please…!