(for various reasons several of my biggest achievements this year went unblogged. With a few days left in 2015 it’s time to put that right, so here’s a look back at something amazing…)
I’m not certain when my fixation with running Edinburgh Marathon began, but it almost definitely coincided with seeing the course profile. Any race that ends at a height 30 metres below where it starts must be entirely downhill, that’s just logic that is…well, my logic at least.
Having finally coerced a friend in to believing marathons where a good way to spend a Sunday a plan was made, accommodation booked, road trip playlist curated and we were off. (Obviously there was also 16 weeks of blood, sweat and tears training building up to it, but you can read about the highlights of that here, here and here)
Once in Edinburgh it turned out our cheap twin room at the youth hostel was seconds from the start line, my obsessive planning had paid off! With a day to waste in Edinburgh we set about walking more miles than is probably sensible, including a quick visit to the expo (don’t bother) and a wistful admiration of Arthur’s Seat, the hill that overlooks the city. Glad we didn’t attempt the climb before the marathon but disappointed we didn’t make it up there at all.
Saturday evening and it was pre-race burgers washed down with pint after pint of lime & soda, one day I’ll take race prep seriously, today was not that day. An early night back at the hostel, a crap movie on the tiny telly and one more sleep before a 26.2 mile assault on the streets of Edinburgh…
The hostel kitchen was full of people in lycra making porridge (and a very confused foreign family doing a fry up), the tension palpable, the microwave in high demand. Thanks to our proximity to the start and reconnaissance the previous day there was the minimum of stress as we wandered to the start line and met up with friends also going for a long jog (well, friend, the others were just there for the gin and to offer moral support). It was at this point we went our separate ways as I headed to the “not quite a fun runner but going to be out there a while” pen whilst the others headed for the “allusions of being a racing snake” start.
I don’t remember much about the start or first few miles of the race. It went off smoothly enough and the downhill start really helped set the tone and get the legs turning over. I’d set my watch to lead me to sub 5 hours, a generous time given the performances in training but still a PB and I know how easily the wheels can fall off on these long runs. I was comfortably getting ahead of target and eating up the miles, really enjoying the atmosphere and course. Conditions were near perfect and as we got to the coast around Musselburgh the expected coastal winds failed to appear. Support was sparse but enthusiastic, at least in the middle section of the race, but the atmosphere among runners carried you along. There were several contraflow sections and seeing the faster runners coming back the other way was a welcome distraction, for some reason I always run better on an out-and-back section where I can support others.
Then catastrophe. At exactly halfway and for no conceivable reason my Garmin just gave up measuring distance. I knew I was ahead of pace, but not by how much, and for the last 13 miles I had no idea how fast I was moving or whether I was gaining or losing time. In some ways this helped as the task of attempting complicated mathematics at mile markers stopped me thinking about the running. What didn’t stop though was my vocal and quite sweary tirade of abuse aimed at Garmin, satellites, watches, buttons, orange things and even my own wrist at one point. I was not a happy jogger.
We made the turn at mile 18 and it turned out the feared coastal winds had actually been there the whole time, just at our backs. This meant the final 8 miles was heading in to it, which was nice. After a few minutes of swearing at weather for a change I got my head down and dug in. Through miles 20 and 21 and I was still feeling surprisingly strong. I hadn’t slowed to a walk or shuffle even momentarily by this point, and now entertained thoughts of actually running the entire marathon. The thought of working harder somehow gave me a boost and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Back in to the crowd-lined streets and the final few miles fell away beneath my feet. It wasn’t meant to be like this; I’d trained to survive, not thrive. There was none of the pain or doubt that I expected, which was such a feature of previous marathons, just an overwhelming belief that I was going to run over the finish line in a time I could really be proud of.
4 hours and 7 minutes after crossing the start line 26.2 miles ago I sprinted over the finish. As is my way with marathons, a triumphant roar was issued but there was none of the tears of London or relief of Bournemouth. My main emotion was confusion at how I could possibly have gone so quick, so comfortably and finish so strong…for a few moments I was convinced there’d been a mistake and I hadn’t actually run the whole course at all!
Before long I was reunited with friends, exchanging hi-5s and tales of the road, before a walk to the buses laid on to transport us back in to town. As we made our way from the hubbub of the finish, cheering those in the last mile of their race, I was stunned at just how capable I felt of walking, so there you have it folks, apparently training really does help!
I really enjoyed Edinburgh, and in the right circumstances I’d be tempted to go back and have another go, but with so many other marathons out there that’s unlikely. If it is true though that it is the fastest course in the UK then I’ve got some real work to do if I’m ever going to go sub 4 somewhere else!