Wow. I’ve now completed the Edinburgh Marathon, the culmination of over 8 months of training and more focused exercise than I’ve ever done in my life. Looking back at my Nike+ training shows the last 8 weeks (minus two Sundays while I was in Egypt/Jordan) featured at least one 10 mile+ run, the last 6 weeks all being half-marathon length or longer. Just the thought of doing that kind of training a year ago was nausea-inducing – ten years ago, it would have been nigh on inconceivable. I find it a bit surreal to see how far I’ve come since my colleagues at John Blake convinced me to sign up for the Royal Parks Half Marathon in Oct 2009.
A stunning blue sky over Edinburgh
I have to say, Edinburgh looked absolutely gorgeous when we landed on Saturday afternoon. The temperature was perfect and sunlight bathed the famous castle in a gentle golden glow. The atmosphere was enchanting, full of people sitting out on restaurant terraces having a good time, and I immediately regretted not being able to stay for longer. It was probably in our best marathon interests that we didn’t arrive any earlier than we did – otherwise I would have used up all my energy just wandering around the city.
We checked in at Budget Backpackers, which was the perfect place to stay, really. Cheap, cheerful, and having forked out for a private room (it was still cheap!) we had all the facilities we needed. Getting down from the bunk bed the morning after the marathon was interesting though!
In terms of fuelling my body for the marathon… I didn’t overdo the carb-loading, but my diet before the race consisted of:
Friday night – Spag bol with wholewheat pasta & garlic bread
Saturday breakfast – pain au chocolat (that surely counts as carbs!)
Saturday lunch – leftover spag bol & a bit more garlic bread
Saturday dinner – Jambalaya Risotto from Giraffe at the airport, banana, Twirl bar while watching Eurovision
Sunday breakfast – Espresso, toasted bagel & cream cheese, banana
I also drank a lite Lucozade energy drink on Saturday and tried to maintain my hydration throughout the week (especially considering how hot it has been in London). The hostel really came into its own on Sunday – having our own cooking facilities was amazing as I could prepare breakfast exactly as I would have done if I’d been at home, plus they had a cafe downstairs so I could get a shot of espresso. I didn’t want to have to stop during the race so the espresso was to make sure the digestive system kept on moving!
Before the race, a last shot of a beautiful Edinburgh morning
The weather actually looked slightly overcast as we left the hostel at 8.30am for the race start, but it quickly burned away and was replaced by glorious sunshine. We dropped off Tania’s bag at the big luggage trucks (all very easy and well-organized), then headed up to the corrals. Tania was technically supposed to be two corrals ahead of me, but as her training had been scuppered by an injured ITB band (hip-area), she hadn’t done nearly the amount of training she wanted, so she decided to start with me, horray! One quick pitstop at the portaloos and we were ready to rock. In my pockets were: mandatory packet of wine-gums for energy (only allowed after mile 14 – I’m strict with myself!), tissues in case hay fever got the best of me, my iPhone with motivational running tracks, and bottle of full-strength orange Lucozade in hand. My Lucozade acts as a security blanket over those first 10 miles – I’ve always run with one in training and so can’t imagine starting a race without it.
Tania and I in the Blue starters pen
The atmosphere at the start was brilliant, and I was glad that we could actually hear the race announcements as normally I’m so far back the loud speakers don’t reach me. We all joined in the countdown to the starting gun, although we didn’t move for at least a minute after it went off. When we did finally start to run though, it was a great feeling!
The course itself was stunning – downhill from the starting line and out towards Arthur’s Seat, then along a beautiful stretch of boardwalk-running by the beach. The benefit there, of course, was the sea breezes! Really enjoyed those as it was hot hot hot. For me, the goal was to do 10-minute miles, and I did that pretty well right up to the half-marathon point which I completed at 2hr15.
Starting line – can you see it?
Strangely, mile 15 was my fastest mile of the race. The elite runners had just gone past and cheering them on gave me a bit of a boost. My favourite running track (‘A Matter of Time’ by Foo Fighters) came onto the iPod and I was feeling good. At mile 16 I picked up an energy gel from the station which was a calculated risk on my part – I’d never used them before but I’d heard good things. The taste was pretty disgusting, in my opinion, but I didn’t have any problems digesting it. Others, including my running pal Tania, weren’t so lucky – but more on that later.
Edinburgh Marathon route map
After mile 17 came ‘the turn’. I’ve been reading on several running forums that many people found this the hardest part of the race, and I was no exception! The course turns back in on itself and heads slightly inland at this point – away from the breezes, away from the crowds, away from the water stations. I was in pretty dire shape by the time 18 miles came around, barely able to pick up my feet. Even the prettiness of Gosford House couldn’t distract me from the pain! We then started running through a farm, and thankfully the farm had set up an unofficial water station – which became the first station I walked through. It was only a break of a few seconds but it was enough to make sure I got proper hydration and a boost to keep going. Also it was a bit pongy out in the fields, and the terrain was pretty slippery which required concentration I didn’t have!
Hitting 19 made me feel better again and I wasn’t prepared for the boost I’d get at mile 20. I’d never run further than 19 miles in training and 20 really felt like a massive accomplishment. I was in the “2”-s! Horray! Everyone around me was dying for water and energy by the time we reached the next station at 22. I was also in countdown mode at this point, so 4 miles to go meant all I had left to do was my run to work! Easy, right?
The crowds here were unbelievably helpful at this point. At every mile marker I had done a little jig and cheer, and everyone cheered with me. To anyone who turned on their sprinklers or hoses or even waterguns – bless you! Running through a sprinkler a) released the child within me for a second and b) provided instant relief from the heat. Another thanks to mum & dad who reminded me to take extra water to throw over myself as well as drink! The only downside was I inevitably washed off all the sunscreen on my back, so my shoulders are a little burnt as a result. I also have to shout out to the girls handing out orange slices (so yum) and the man handing out Jaffa cakes at mile 24 – you are a legend as I’d finished all my winegums at that point and was bored of jelly babies!
Mile 22 was also greatly improved by the fact that Lofty’s podcast came on over my iPhone speakers. For my first ever half marathon three years ago, Lofty had made me a radio-style countdown playlist and hearing a friendly voice made things so much better! It also was another reminder of how far I’d come in training and I became all emotional while running. I’m sure that didn’t have anything to do with feeling completely spent and still having miles to run!
The sight of the mile 25 marker was bliss, the crowds were really buzzing at this point. I picked up my pace considerably, finding energy out of nowhere, but that 26 mile marker took FOREVER to appear. Literally forever. I think I was lucky to not start swearing at the crowd as much as I was swearing in my head – Where the *&^% is the end? Even when 26 FINALLY came, I still couldn’t see the finish line. Wasn’t it just 0.2 miles until I was done? What was going on?
Then I rounded the corner into the racecourse and the terrain changed from road to a black rubber, slightly-bouncy surface lined with spectators that made me feel like I was at the Olympics. The finish line loomed large and I only glanced at the time quickly to see that I was still in the 4hour-zone – that’s all I wanted! I sprinted across the line with a huge smile on my face, hands in the air… what a feeling!
Me and Tania, with our medals
I changed into my finisher’s T-shirt straight away, and within minutes of crossing the line I had a text message with my provisional time. Very good service 🙂 I was a bit disappointed with the goody bag – I really could have done with some kind of protein drink at the end, but the medal is lovely. I sat and stretched in the park while waiting for my fellow runner to finish. I’d left her after the first mile as I was aiming for a slightly faster time – and obviously, I had had the benefit of proper training while she had been injured! It turned out that she had suffered a bad reaction to the energy gels at mile 16, and in combination with the heat and lack of hydration she felt really nauseous and had to walk the final 9 miles. She still completed in a remarkable 5hrs 39mins, pushing right on through to the finish. What a champ.
The half-hour walk to the buses back to Edinburgh was aggravating but probably did us both some good as it is always tempting to do absolutely nothing post-run! It meant I was a little less stiff this morning when we had to get up at 4.30am to catch the plane back to London. I wore my medal all day at work – hey, it’s not very often that I get to wear a medal, okay?
Here were my official split times:
Race Number: 9787
Full Time: 04:42:59
10k split: 01:04:01
Half marathon: 02:15:49
30k split: 03:15:45
Overall finish position: 5461
Obviously dropped off a bit between 30K and 42K but having averaged 10.48min/mile over the whole race, I’m very happy. I think I could get sub-4hr30 though… oh god, is this me accepting I’m going to put my body through all this again one day?
In all seriousness, I know I will. Pushing myself to that limit actually proves to me that there aren’t many limits. And now that I have nothing to train for, I feel strangely empty. I’m going to need another goal, another challenge, and pronto 🙂 Although my running watch said I did 27.1 miles – how much weaving and swerving did I do?!
And so for now, I’m just going to allow myself to enjoy the moment. I’m officially a marathon runner!