Race report: Edinburgh Marathon

Al & James in the with medals and a cider just out of shot
Al & James in the with medals and a cider just out of shot

Edinburgh Marathon, 26th May 2013

Ah, you can’t beat the smell of anticipation on the morning of a marathon. You know? The kind of palpable excitement that comes with running 26.2 miles and the crushing effect this has on your will, psyche and body. Despite all of my forays into ultra running the marathon still remains my favourite distance. Well, for the time being anyway. I mean, it’s not my best in terms of performance (probably 10k or ½ marathon win that) but it is the one I enjoy most.

All of which made my inability to race the Edinburgh Marathon this year disappointing. After my comfortable 3:14 at Lochaber I had a simple of goal for Edinburgh; to achieve the good for age (GFA) standard for London and qualify for next year’s Big Smoke Extravaganza. Then I got hit with twin blows:

A)     They announced a reduction in the GFA standard to 3:05 from 3:10

B)     My knee had been knacked since Lochaber

Right up until a week from Edinburgh I had been kidding myself that I could still race it, but anytime I pushed the pace my knee played up. Despite a few (expensive) physio sessions I called time on my GFA attempt and decided instead to pace my sister-in-law, and erstwhile running partner, Al, in the race.

Al, you see, had done two marathons and with a PB of 4:19:58 she was determined to beat that mark. Her training hadn’t been brilliant in Q1, culminating in a Morbid March where she suffered from illness and a horrible Liverpool half marathon experience where a patronising, but well meaning I am sure, old fellow attempted to encourage her effort levels up a notch near the end. Anyone who knows Al knows when to not to approach her. He didn’t know her.

Anyway, Al had boomeranged out of March and had an Awesome April. A 21 mile run in early May set the scene for a PB tilt. She had the pace, but could she sustain it over the last five miles?

As well as Al, I had the pleasure of Des Tinney’s company for the day. Des should have done New York last year but alas, the hurricane which battered the US’s east coast put paid to that. So he was starting a marathon for the first time and wanted to run with us for the experience.

Now, if you don’t know Des but were in Edinburgh on marathon day chances are he spoke to you. He chirps like a bird when running and dishes out high-fives to kids at every turn. Indeed, on one occasion he jumped into a shop to high-five the ‘keeper and her customers. I made that last bit up. It was a café.

After the usual long queue for the toilets we were away. Setting off from the Regent Road start at 10am our plan was a run/walk strategy (10/1) and to keep it easy throughout. I had set my watch to 9:32 mins per mile to make 4:10 the target. That was the optimistic aim but the plan was simple, get Al to 22 or 23 miles at this pace and hang on for a PB.

The opening miles passed in a blur and after 5k our pace was 9:05 mins per mile. That was a shock and despite my attempts to bring us back in line as a group, Al and Des were happy at this pace so we carried on. The miles clocked by as we headed out to the coast and to the seaside at Portobello, all the while feeling comfortable as the weather warmed to a nice temperature.

As we made our way to Musselburgh we got to see many of the earlier half marathoners coming back from their race which had started a couple of hours before the marathon. Des decided to invite every single one of them to try the marathon next year. Most laughed and joined in the banter. Others cursed and burnt effigies of Des at home later.

It was at this point that we really got a sense for how much busier the race was than last year as the people on the course never thinned out, which was true right to the end. I observed a couple of times that this year’s race must have been close to the capacity possible. It was great to see some many runners out there.

We passed the racecourse, headed out towards Cockenzie and Port Seaton and after the wee towns the runners hit the coast road for a ~7-8 mile section that is very sparsely populated by fans. We’d gone through halfway in just under 2:03, a fantastic pace and well inside the 4:10 standard I was intent on setting.

I’ve found on a few occasions that this is where people can fall apart and start to lose their rhythm. The step into the second half of a 26.2 miler and the lack of people on this section can reduce motivation and energy. Des had begun to quieten down and as we got to 14 miles he was feeling ropey. The legs were not too bad but the fuelling strategy wasn’t working. A couple of easy miles when we slowed by 30s per mile didn’t help and Des dropped off the pace. He was going to have to fight the last ten miles on his own.

Hey, it’s not Platoon!

Onwards Al and I went. Up to the turning point and round Gosforth House. This is the point in Edinburgh when I feel you are striding for home. After a quick toilet break at 19 miles we discussed revised targets. I didn’t tell Al we were pushing 4:10 pace but instead kept her motivated by explaining we were in good shape for a PB. All the while I was really amazed at the comfort with which she appeared to be running. If she could keep this up…

At mile 21 I passed Angela, a fellow member of a Facebook group committed to Ultra Running, appropriately entitled Ultra Dafties. We high-fived, inspired by Des I suppose, and took the energy from that. Al meanwhile was running strong still. I revealed 4:10 as our new target and we set mile-by-mile targets for the remainder of the run. We agreed to take mile 23 easy to give us some energy for the remaining 2.2 miles. Easy was only 15 seconds off pace but it worked. The Edinburgh course is mainly downhill for the last two miles and so we breezed in here knowing that two 10 min miles would get us home in sub-4:10.

Instead of struggling Al re-doubled her efforts and demolished the final section with her fastest two mile stretch in the race. Two miles under 9:10 and a final section (of 0.4 miles, thanks Garmin) under 9 min mile pace saw Al home in a remarkable 4:07:53.

A splendid result; well inside our initial 4:15 target. Al ran the perfect race; she fuelled well, kept strong, kept focused and revised her strategy as necessary. Yes, I was there to help and pace her, but that is only one part of it. It wasn’t my legs which carried Al, it wasn’t my mind which dealt with her pain. It was all Al.

I couldn’t have been happier for her and kudos for a brilliant run.

What about Des? Well, he high-fived and sung his way home to a 4:22 debut marathon. A tremendous effort and he should be proud of being able to re-group like that. When you start marathon running you don’t appreciate the latter stages until you do them. I’ve always said the last 6 miles of a marathon are where you find out how much guts you have. Des has done his first and has climbed the wall. He will smash that time in York later this year I am sure.

And my knee? Well, let’s just say I didn’t need to take the Vitamin I that I had stashed in my shorts before setting off. That has to be a good sign.

Next stop for me is the Clydestride 40 ultra in July. Adieu .


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