When I started my marathon training this year, I often thought of starting my challenge in Paris: running down the Champs Elysées, snaking along the banks of the Seine and crossing the finish line with the Arc de Triomphe ahead of me. I also often thought of Loch Ness, where my challenge will end and crossing the finish line will mark not just the end of the marathon, but the end of a monster year of running (if not an actual monster sighting!).
I never thought about Edinburgh.
To my mind, Edinburgh would take care of itself. The race would be run from the same training cycle as Paris and I would feel relaxed and ready, safe in the knowledge that I had run 26.2 miles just 7 weeks earlier. But as race day dawned, relaxed and ready were the last things that I felt.
I actually slept well the night before the race, despite my injury worries. Taking part in the 5k on Saturday had taught me that I certainly would feel some bearable discomfort from my leg, but what was bearable for 30 minutes might not be quite so bearable for four hours and beyond! I was prepared for this, and was simply hoping to enjoy my day and finish more or less in one piece.
But as I looked out the window my heart sank. It was pouring. In recent years the Edinburgh marathon has generally fallen on a hot, sunny day, but what I saw beyond the hotel curtains was some truly miserable Scottish (summer?!) weather. Just brilliant. Not only would my leg be sore, but I was going to be soaking wet (and no doubt miserable) into the bargain.
I quietly busied myself with having a shower and firmly taping my leg while Steve had his breakfast before setting out for the start of the half marathon and his mammoth running adventure. I put on the kit I had so carefully laid out the night before (Macmillan vest, Nike twin shorts, compression calf sleeves and my arm warmers) then headed downstairs for a lonely breakfast.
Unfortunately the hotel hadn’t been able to lay on an early enough breakfast for Steve, who ate in the room, but I arrived to a dining room full of tense, quiet marathon runners all trying to force as much porridge into their nervous stomachs as they could whilst glancing knowingly at each other, united in pre-race nerves. I did my best, but I was so anxious that I was really struggling to eat despite knowing that I had to get something into me. I managed some porridge, a couple of mini pastries and some coffee then headed back to the room for a while to relax since I was so close to the start line (bonus – lots of use of the civilised hotel bathroom rather than questionable start line portaloos!). The hotel foyer had a table set up with a notice wishing all the runners good luck and there were loads of bananas and bottles of water for us to take with us. I’m not normally a big banana fan, but since I had struggled with breakfast I thought a banana might be a good idea to give me energy so grabbed one as I went past.
Back in the room, however, I suffered a pretty serious wobble. Could I really go and run 26.2 miles on a dodgy leg in awful weather? 26.2 miles, in case you hadn’t realised, is a VERY LONG WAY! I couldn’t stop thinking about the misery of Lochaber in 2012 when I was in a similar situation with an injury and somewhere around 18 miles just wanted to sit at the side of the road and weep. I really couldn’t go through that again! I needed reassurance and human contact to settle me down (there were a few minutes when I got so anxious that I genuinely though I might vomit!) so with Steve already away running the first of his two races that day, I turned to social media for help. My Facebook post detailing my wobbly, nervy meltdown resulted in my friends and fellow runners doing exactly what I needed them to do – to tell me I was ok, to remind me of why I was doing this and to let me know they were behind me. It was sort of like a giant Facebook hug, for which I am incredibly grateful. And it worked. I pulled myself together, finished getting ready and set off to the start.
Miraculously, it had stopped raining but was still rather grey looking. We had been issued with Macmillan “ponchos” to keep us dry before the race, but these don’t have hoods and I feared another downpour so instead I broke out one of my pound shop ponchos. The pound shop (equivalent to a dollar store for any readers on the other side of the Atlantic) nearest me sells a pack of three disposable ponchos for £1 so I stock up on these regularly and keep them in my bag for races. They’re thin, but substantial enough to keep me warm and dry before a race as they reach my knees and have a hood. They’re then really easy to rip off and discard just before the race starts. I can’t remember where I learned this, but it’s a great tip.
From my point of view, the start area on Regent Road was really well organised. I had to walk past the baggage trucks on my way and was ready to deposit my bag. I then continued on along the road to my start area. I was in the pink pen which was towards the front (the REALLY fast runners start on London Road about ten minutes earlier than Regent Road) and there were several toilets in each start pen. I walked down to my pen, joined a toilet queue, then took a rather scared-looking pre-race selfie before getting back into the growing toilet queue for one last visit before the starting gun. All the while I could hear the announcer giving out last minute reminders, encouragement and advice to runners and spectators alike.
Soon it was time to get into position. We were told that once London Road was underway we would have a two-minute warning then a countdown to our start. I was thinking of Steve and wondering if he was on the back of the motorbike yet. Was he close to getting back or was he stuck somewhere? The most complicated part of his challenge was not running a half and full marathon back-to-back, but the logistics of getting back to Regent Road from Musselburgh in time!
And then before I knew it we were counting down and moving towards the line. A shuffle became a surge into a jog and then, pressing start on my Garmin, I was running. It was a little cool, but still dry and I was becoming a bit more hopeful that the weather, at least, might be on my side.
The first few miles in Edinburgh are reasonably straightforward, with a lot of downhill sections. Early on we weave towards Holyrood Park where the Saturday races took place, then via Leith Links to Seafield Road and on to Portobello Prom. These first miles were run round about the same pace as my early miles in Paris, but I knew that as the race went on and my injured leg muscle became wearier, that I would not be able to maintain this despite feeling fit enough otherwise. I was aware of a slight discomfort, but nothing too bad and the feeling remained constant, neither worsening nor easing off. I did have one eventful moment round about the 2 mile mark when one of my gels worked its way loose from my belt. I somehow contrived to kick the gel as it landed, resulting in it sliding away from me downhill on the wet road. I was rather impressed that I was able to bend down and scoop it up on the move without breaking stride! Since I was using my usual gel strategy of one every five miles, I decided just to keep it in my hand rather than mess about trying to put it back in my belt again and possibly have the same thing happen again.
By the time we were approaching Portobello Prom and the coast, the sun was starting to come out. Yet again, I had opted to leave my sunglasses behind thanks to a less-than-promising forecast, and found myself wishing I had them anyway! Shortly after arriving on the prom it was time for my gel so I moved to the side, slowed to a walk and took it. One thing I had been concerned about was starting to run again after I had stopped, but my leg was still doing ok. Once underway again, I was keeping an eye out for Mark who had said he would be cheering runners around the 6 mile mark. I spotted him and called hello, but I’m not sure he picked me out in the crowd. Despite that, it was nice to see a familiar face and I felt spurred on for the next few miles.
I was employing several mental tricks to get me through this race – apart from anything else, it kept my mind occupied! Principally, I was counting off 5 mile segments between my energy gels; next I was counting down the remaining miles at each mile marker; finally I was checking off the 4 legs of the team relay which is run alongside the full marathon. Just after mile 8, I was in the second leg and my least favourite stretch of the route which is a rather dull slog towards and past Cockenzie Power Station and on to the halfway point. I suppose the power station is impressive in its own way, but I don’t find it particularly inspiring as a running landmark!
I was getting a bit fed up and promised myself that I could have a short walk at the halfway point but when halfway came around I knew I could keep on going until my 15 mile gel. This section of the route follows the coast towards the turning point beyond the Gosford estate, then following a stretch through the estate itself returns along the same route – a bonus second viewing of the power station!
One thing that did remain on my mind is that 16 miles is usually my tipping point if an injury or problem is going to surface. It’s when I reach this point in training that any niggles that are going to make themselves known become apparent and it was at this point that the wheels rather fell off in Lochaber. I had been slowing thanks to a combination of discomfort from my leg and a strong headwind along the East Lothian coast, but was ok until about 17 miles. After this, I realised that I was going to need to take walking breaks in order to cope with how my leg was feeling. Interestingly, although my leg was sore, it never once crossed my mind that I wouldn’t finish, nor did I ever feel miserable like I did in Lochaber. For one thing, in Lochaber there is a small field so when I was suffering I was not only on my own, but there was no crowd to spur me on. Much of my misery on that day stemmed from loneliness, but on this course there were always people around me, on some occasions people who looked like they were suffering even more than me, and there were supporters and charity cheer points lining the route to give my spirits a lift. Running this marathon just became what I did. It was like it was my whole life – gel every 5 miles, run when I could, walk when I had to, stop to stretch when I needed to. The miles just kept ticking by (granted not as quickly as I would have liked!) and I simply kept on going. Perhaps the knowledge that I’d come through despite the misery in Lochaber meant that this time I just KNEW I could do it regardless. My leg was uncomfortable, but in all honesty I had expected worse and until the 24 mile mark I was on course to finish in around 4:30.
But it was at 24 miles that I really felt I’d had enough. I was fed up of shuffling along on my sore leg and running was becoming a bit too uncomfortable. I had to walk a significant chunk of the last 2 miles, but still managed to remain cheerful, occasionally exchanging a few words with other runners. There were still people on the other side of the road on the outward stretch and they had a much longer day ahead of them than me! It had crossed my mind that Steve, who would have been one of the last to start the race, might not be too far behind me (I was sure I had seen him passing by the exit point from the Gosford estate at the far point of the course as I was coming downhill through the estate to rejoin the road). Every time I stopped to stretch or slowed to walk I would be looking over my shoulder to see if I could spot him. I had made Steve promise that if he caught up with me he would run with me for a bit and since we were so close to the end I thought it would be cool to finish together, but sadly he never quite caught up with me.
As I neared the finish and the crowd support grew, I managed to re-establish a shuffling run and was fairly sure I could maintain this to the finish line. I passed the 26 mile point and turned the corner to Pinkie school with the finish gantry ahead of me. A quick check of my Garmin told me that with a bit of an injection of speed, I could finish in under 4:40, but I just couldn’t do it. I had the energy, but my leg wasn’t up to a fast finish so I simply kept myself moving towards the line. I had made it!
My official time was 4:40:02 – just about my slowest ever but it was hard fought and on this occasion all I needed was a finish. I’ve looked at the official video of the finish line and I’m not sure I would describe my movement at the end of the race as running, but at least my shuffle-hobble got me round those last miles and I was still able to move in the finishing straight (I do look a bit glum in the photos though)!
After the finish line there was the usual collective shuffle through the finish area to collect a tech Tshirt, medal, water and goody bag (mostly food, some leaflets and assorted samples).
The Tshirt is pretty cool. The front is the same as the generic finisher Tshirt from the Saturday races, but the back is emblazoned with 26.2 and a reflective detail outlining Edinburgh Castle (a design also used on the medals this year).
I got my photo taken with the EMF backdrop then made my way (slowly) across to the baggage trucks (which seemed to be miles away) then back towards the charity tents, stopping en route to buy an EMF hoody I had spotted the day before but being conscious of room in my bags had delayed purchasing until after the race.
Arriving at the Macmillan tent was brilliant. They had cheerleaders lining a red carpet to cheer you in then runners were immediately directed to a massage table for a post-race massage. In the later stages of the race I had been aware of a hotspot suggesting a small blister on the inside of my foot at the front, but it was only when I removed my shoes and socks for the massage that I got my first look at it. Thankfully I still had some kind of “decency filter” engaged as when I peeled back my sock to reveal a rather unsightly looking blood blister (don’t worry, I didn’t take a picture – nobody needs to see that !) I somehow managed not to swear – and that beauty certainly warranted some choice language!
While I was on the massage table, I was alerted to the fact that Steve was a couple of tables along. He had finished his challenge and was still in one piece! He came over to me (slowly and painfully) when his massage was finished and took my hand, at which point I burst into tears. It had been an emotional day, I was sore, I was proud of Steve, I had experienced the usual surge of assorted emotions at the finish line and had kept myself under control until this point, but in all honesty I just had to cry. There was nothing in particular wrong, I just needed a wee cry and then I was ok. The girl doing my massage was fantastic though – she recognised that I needed a moment and tactfully left, telling me I could stay on the massage table as long as I needed to and I was really grateful for that.
Once I’d pulled myself together, I was able to find out all about Steve’s day while drinking my recovery shake. We then chatted to Rob from Macmillan and got some refreshments which had been provided in the tent. The weather had changed again and there was torrential rain. I was under cover, but starting to get cold so I had a cup of tea and grabbed a pasta pot to eat later. We didn’t really get a chance to sit and enjoy it though as Steve was in demand for some photos and we obviously wanted some finisher photos of our own.
To be honest, I’m still not sure how I feel about this one. Whilst running, it crossed my mind that while I love marathons, I’m not overly fond of this marathon. It was my second time running the full Edinburgh marathon rather than a relay leg, but on both occasions this has followed an earlier spring marathon. The route feels a little like an old friend (with whom I have an argument around Cockenzie!) but I’m not sure how keen I am to go for the full Edinburgh marathon again. If I did, I think it would have to be my spring target race, rather than part of a spring double. Of course, my judgement may be clouded by the tough experience I had, and it wouldn’t be the first time I changed my mind about running Edinburgh! My time is one of my slowest marathon times, but I feel I earned my medal that day. More importantly, though, I was part of the event when Steve triumphantly completed his four-race Edinburgh challenge. I’m incredibly proud of him and am going to finish by sharing some of the official photos of him from the day.