What an adventure. A personal best, lots of pain, a spot of redemption, travel shenanigans – this trip had it all.
Started out on Saturday morning for Victoria bus station to catch my early bus to Edinburgh. Unfortunately I had plumped for the cheap option, as money is tight at the moment, so I had nine hours on a coach to look forward to. The coach ride was uneventful, except for the gaggle of French girls playing music out of their phone and singing along. Oh – and we were 1 1/2 hours late. And trust me, when you’ve spent 9 hours on a coach, an extra 90 minutes sucks the fat ones. Sorta like running another 5km after already running 35!
Got in to Edinburgh, and attempted to make my way to my friend Siobhan’s house – who had gracefully agreed to put me up for the weekend. After arguing with a bus driver about whether the destination actually existed, I finally got a cab. In retrospect, I think I was actually on the wrong bus! So – if you’re reading this – driver of the (I think) 17 bus in Edinburgh – sorry I was a jerk.
Ate a bit of pizza and stayed up talking for the evening with Siobhan, who gave me the same concerned look that others had been giving me all week upon hearing my chest cough. The thought was occurring that perhaps I should really take it easy in the race. I really didn’t want to do any damage.
Sunday morning was the most relaxed I’ve ever been before a race. So relaxed that I ended up leaving the house late and running to the bus stop for town! A good warm up I think. Got to the pens and dropped my bag off, took a selfie in front of the start line, and then sat down near my pen to have a bit of a meditate (it helps, I swear) and stretch.
At 10:15am or so we were off, in cool and slightly misty conditions. I had set my Garmin to track 4:30 marathon pace, and went out a little bit faster for the first kilometers. This was deliberate. I wanted to build a slight buffer over my goal time. I could then use that buffer to stop and stretch at 5km intervals. Once I was 1:30 ahead of my goal pace, I drew back and settled into a rhythm.
This worked well for the most part. The first few kilometers melted away quickly, though I could tell early on that I wasn’t feeling well. I held a steady pace though, and stuck to the plan of gels and stretching every 5km. Through the first 10km I felt good, and the breakdown of 5km at a time was doing wonders. I felt great. At 20km I still felt really good, though niggles in both my hips were developing. My cough had virtually disappeared though, so now I was just focused on running.
Things started to turn a bit between 20-25km; as my stomach started to revolt a bit and the effort started to take its toll some. When I looked down at my watch though, I was still easily on pace, so I kept it up. This was the part of the race in 2012 that had destroyed me so. Leaving Mussleburgh and heading right out of town, you pass a power station and then it’s a coastal road. On the coastal road in 2012, at about 22km, I absolutely bonked. My legs went and I could barely shuffle – it was hell, and I won’t forget it anytime soon. In 2014 I managed a rye smile as I cruised past people who looked like they were having a similar experience. I was conquering this road that had haunted me. Things were great.
At this stage my mantra was directed at my legs. I kept saying ‘you do not have my permission to be sore until 30km’. I wanted to get to 30km feeling ok and then dig deep for the last 10km. I got close. At 28km I hit struggletown. My glycogen stores obviously went, and I hit ‘the wall’. I started walking a bit, and used some of the 2 minutes I had built up on my goal pace. My hips were causing great pain, and I was coughing so hard that I felt chest pains. Things were turning south.
I tried to urge myself to fix on getting to 35km and then work from there. This is when all the negative thoughts creep in. Things like ‘it’s ok to run 4:35 instead’, or ‘just walk, it’s fine’. I ran as much as I could, but my mind kept winning the battle. As Siobhan had said to me the morning of the race ‘the mind quits 1000 times before the body does’. My mind was giving up on me more than my legs.
At about 34km I had stopped to stretch, and a young woman gave me a pat on the back. We ran together for a while, and she told me that she was running her second marathon in six weeks. Just the conversation helped the kilometers tick over. I was now less than 5km from home and on track to run a personal best – but sub 4:30 was gone.
The last couple of kilometers were the typical ‘I’m never doing this again’ thought process, mingled with urging your legs on and avoiding crying. I was now focused on getting as close to 4:30 as I could, and for the last kilometers I told myself to dig deep. I did ok, stopping to stretch every kilometer or so. I stopped my Garmin at 42.2km, and then soaked up the crowd support at the finish. I even had some fun with them when I was on my own – stopping and getting them to cheer, bantering a bit and then jogging off to bigger cheers. It was fun, and I hope I gave them a laugh.
I’m going with my Garmin time of 4:39:36 for the race – a new personal best for the marathon. I thought I’d be disappointed with that time; but after the week I’ve had and the illness, I’m pretty happy with that actually. I’m especially proud of myself for fighting through the pain again – for the third time – and finishing a marathon. It’s a hell of an achievement I think, a test of mental fortitude that I’m proud to say I’ve overcome.
After lying on the grass in the finishing area, I then hobbled the 1 mile or so to the buses (why?! 1 mile away!) to take me back into town. On the way back to town, it absolutely bucketed down with rain, and I was caught in the middle of it
I honestly think I’ve rarely been so drenched in my life. I had the teeth chattering and everything. I also couldn’t get a cab, because everyone had had the same idea, but fortunately I found the right bus home this time.
A quick warm bath and a blanket was heaven, and Siobhan and I topped off a great weekend with a House of Cards marathon, with take away Chinese filling my stomach full of MSG goodness.
So now I’m on the coach back to London. I’m still a bit tired, but proud. I’m also excited to now hit the pool and start working towards Eton. A week off or so first though, and then easing in. For now, I’m going to bask in marathon success.