Sometimes you train for a race, work really hard and it all works out perfectly. This wasn't one of those times. Somehow - and I still don't know how - it was even better.
A terrible build-up to race day
In the six weeks since SDW50 I've had precisely three runs in which my legs felt good. They haven't hurt, they've just lacked - and please excuse the technical terminology here - oomph. My longest run was a half marathon that was supposed to be at an easy pace with the last 40 minutes at marathon pace (MP). Since the turn of the year, I decided MP was 8 minute miles. This was always ambitious but I could keep it up for a few miles at a time, and I wanted to push myself. Realistically, MP for an actual whole marathon was going to be 8.20-8.30.
I told Robbie my marathon PB (3.56) and he told me he was sure I could beat that. I thought the same but some reassurance definitely helped. He suggested 3.30-3.45 was achievable and to aim for 1.50 at halfway and see how I felt. My gut feeling was that if I got to halfway in that time I'd do well to maintain that pace. The other option was to go out hard and see if I could hang on. But frankly I didn't have any confidence in that working so Robbie's plan it was.
Aside from a few nerves I felt fine. I put on my bin bag and my race face. Here I am looking exceptionally sexy...
The rain promised for the day had cleared and we set off out of Edinburgh.
"Go on Superman!" came the cry from the crowd as a man in an outfit ran by.
"I'm Supergirl!" came the reply from the man in the skirt and glittery crop top.
This wasn't a big marathon (8,620 runners) and fancy dressers were few and far between but I did also see a Robin (a woman), and a couple of men in kilts so it wasn't a dead loss on the comedy outfit front.
For the first few miles there were a couple of gentle downhills but nothing as much as I'd imagined. I was maintaining a comfortable sub-8.30 pace and it felt okay, not great, but fine for now. Having done virtually no warm-up I'd probably take at least 45 minutes to get into a groove.
Forty-five minutes later and there was no sign of a groove. I had a gel and got a little burst of energy. I think it was at this point that I decided to break the race down into segments. I genuinely couldn't imagine how I'd be feeling in the second half so focused only on the next section. I'd have another gel at 10 miles and then some of my Clif bar.
This might seem a bit odd to any marathon runners reading but having hit the wall spectacularly at 17 miles in Belfast, I experimented with a protein bar at halfway at Greensand and felt full of energy in the second half of that so had decided to repeat the approach.
By ten miles we'd made our way to the seafront and it really was right by the sea. The sun was out and it wasn't too windy and I just focused on keeping it steady, taking an S!cap on the hour and looking forward to the next feed.
Uncertainty remained but there was nothing to do but keep running so that's what I did. My perma-tight hip flexors moaned a bit but I ignored them and soon enough the 13-mile marker arrived and I tucked into my Clif bar. I'd already broken it up into bite size chunks so I had a few while negotiating the crowds. Pretty much by accident I'd reached halfway in 1h50m, bang on target.
It's all downhill from here (just not literally)
Whether it was psychological or physical I don't know, but almost immediately after eating I felt like I had more energy and felt more relaxed. Reaching 14 miles in under two hours I started making some calculations in my mind. If I could maintain this pace and get to 21 in three hours, I'd have 45 minutes to do the last five and a bit miles, which meant I could afford to slow down to almost 9-minute mile pace and still get a comfortable PB.
Being slow at mental arithmetic meant that by the time I'd figured all this out I was already at mile 15. People had started to walk by this point. My Clif-induced buzz was still keeping me going strong and I found myself overtaking people regularly. I had a feeling that the turnaround point - this being at least in part an out-and-back course - was at 17 miles. If I could get there still in reasonable shape, the last nine miles were going to be okay.
More overtaking. Then a u-turn and a diversion into a wooded area that felt more like a trail run than a road marathon. I was already feeling a lot happier and a short under a mix of tree shade and dappled sunshine put me in an even better mood. I broke out my first caffeinated gel and pushed on to the road home.
On the way out I'd noticed that the people coming towards me were either going up or down slight inclines. But all the while I was running I couldn't feel them. They weren't huge hills but they were visible and while on other occasions I would have noticed them, this time I didn't. It was at this point I realised quite what a rhythm I'd got into. It wasn't zero effort but considering how far I'd run it was pretty close. It also helped that I was overtaking more and more people. I couldn't care less what position I finished but the psychological boost I was getting from running past people approaching 20 miles was huge. All I could think was that even though they had been slow miles, the ultras I've been doing had been preparing me physically for precisely this sort of challenge.
I reached 20 miles in 2h48m, just three minutes slower than I had at the Hyde Park 20 so knew I'd get to 21 miles ahead of the three-hour mark. By this point I was looking at my watch less and less. My body had circumnavigated my brain and knew what to do so it kept doing it. When I did look, it told me I was actually getting faster.
The sun was bright now and I was getting warm so I took some extra water to fill my bottle and an extra S!cap, just in case. The next significant mile would be number 23 as that meant just a parkrun to go, or 25 minutes at worst, if I could keep my pace the same. I was beginning to think that it was becoming harder to keep up my speed and checked my pace at the end of the mile. 7.59. No wonder it was getting harder - this was the fastest I'd gone all race.
The crowds were building by now and a few noisy spots really made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I was still in the groove but I was hanging on a bit. I wanted to push on but couldn't trust myself to go before the 25-mile marker. Then it appeared and I kicked on. Still overtaking people but hurting more now. I looked straight ahead and just kept everything moving. Just eight more minutes and I'd be done. I hadn't checked my watch since about 3h10m but was heading for a 3h40m finish. I daren't look now, I just ran.
The 26 mile marker appeared. I upped the pace again and finally there was a left turn, the finish arch and some weird, bouncy matting that signalled me to break into a full-out sprint for the last 50 metres.
I crossed the line and stopped my watch.
How did that happen then?
To be honest, I'm still not quite sure. I didn't feel like I was in control at any point. The first 10, even 13 miles held such uncertainty that I was just going through the motions. After that, my body seemed to take over and all I needed to do was steer it in the right direction and keep fuelling. It wasn't quite an out of body experience but it wasn't far off. For about 10 miles from halfway I was totally in the zone. From thinking in the first few miles that I didn't really like marathons, that ultras were more fun, I found myself flying along and not wanting the feeling to end. It was most peculiar.
Here are my mile splits:
I made no conscious effort to increase my pace from mile 19 and yet there it is in black and white. My mind had its doubts but my body didn't and by the time I realised, I'd got my confidence back. I certainly wasn't aiming for a negative split, and maybe that suggests I should started quicker but the fact was I wasn't prepared to try it on this occasion. This is my second road marathon so it's all a learning experience.
In the taxi into town the day before the race, the driver had said it was the easiest marathon in Europe. It's probably not the hardest but I don't think there's such a thing as an easy one. But if the next one one goes as well as Edinburgh 2014 I'll be very happy indeed.
- Headsweats cap
- Centurion SDW50 t-shirt (partly to show off, but mainly because it's super comfy)
- Race Ready shorts (loads of pockets)
- Nike dry-fit socks
- Saucony Kinvara 4
- Ultimate Direction Fastdraw handheld bottle (with handy zip pocket)
- SIS gels (2 x apple, 2 x cherry, with caffeine)
- Clif crunchy peanut butter bar
- S!Caps (x4)