Three years ago, May 2011, I stood on the start line of the Edinburgh Marathon. I’d been coaxed out of running retirement to train Alison Hutton to her first marathon. I was overweight, out of shape and was running a slow 100 miles tops per month. We went over the line in 4:19:58 (my own PB of 3:43 was done in 2008) and I was wasted. I vowed never again. No siree. Then, a few months later my running light was rekindled and I have regularly gone beyond marathon length as I found the ultra scene very compelling.
With this in mind, it’s strange approaching a marathon with no trepidation. Not that I am gallus and can look down on the 26.2 mile distance, more that having done D33 and G2E this year so far, stepping down to the marathon felt like a relief of sorts.
But, I planned on working this one hard.
My PB going into Edinburgh was 3:14:23 from Lochaber last year. My aim was to go under 3:05 and to achieve a good for age time for London marathon. This would give me the option of adding London to my 2015 plans.
In addition to myself, there was a squad of us involved the race. Most of the names mentioned in my 5k report from Strathclyde Park plus a few others. We had Barry Mowat – fresh from a 2 week stint offshore – looking to PB in the marathon. Then there was Lynne McKenzie, who’d crammed her training and was hopeful, if not expectant of a PB. Scott Fergus had worked his behind and dodgy knees to the quick over the winter and wanted to bring his 4:38 PB down a notch. Scott Cameron was doing his third big race of the year, having already become an ultra runner in 2014 at D33. All of those mentioned had marathon experience, John Kirkwood would be popping his 26.2 cherry on the day.
Then, there was the Hairy Haggis quartet of Nico Juetten, Alan MacCuish, Darren Russell and Andy Stewart. We had predicted 3:45 for the fourball. About twice as long as a round of golf with Skoosh lasts.
Pre-race it was the usual kinda shambolic queuing at loos for poos and Barry and I made it to the start with a couple of mins to spare, only to then hear that there was a delay due to some parked cars a couple of miles into the route. Ach well…
The rest of our gang were up at Regent Road for the later start. I took my place in the red pen and did a mental checklist. The key thing for me was staying in control of my pace. Could I push 3 hours? Possibly. But there was a risk with that. In addition, every time I have run Edinburgh Marathon on this course it has measured 26.4 miles on the Garmin. So, while I was planning on 3:05, I had to run at 3:03 pace to be sure in the event that those sneaky 0.2 miles would come to the fore again.
I’ve done this race about 10 of the 12 runnings and the course has changed a lot, but now it is pretty much settled on the route we ran this weekend. The first mile drops from London Road into Holyrood Park, out by Meadowbank Stadium before heading to Portobello. I had a nice couple of minutes chat with Scott Cameron in Holyrood Park. Like me, he zones out and just tries to tick the miles off. It was at Portobello I saw Sarah Self propped atop the sea wall, being challenged in respect to height, it took a mighty jump on my part (imagine Michael Jordan in full slam-dunk mode) to give her a high-five. Worth it!
This was about 10k and I had been comfortably on pace. I had been targeting 7 min miles for the race and was a couple of seconds under this, and understandably so given the first few miles are a net elevation loss. Important thing was I kept my pace in check and removed the temptation to attempt sub 3 pace.
From here we started to head for Musselburgh, passing the finishing line and out towards the coast road, round Gosford House and back to Musselburgh for the finish.
I went through halfway in 1:32:09. Pretty much on pace. This measured 13.2 miles on my watch too, so the provision for extra distance had worked so far. I should point out that I am not saying the course is mis-measured, more that with dodging people, the natural variance in GPS devices and the fact that I would never stick to the racing line will always add that wee bit.
At the second relay change point, around 14.5 miles, I passed Andy, he was doing the glory leg and a failed high-five on my part was had.
By this point I was starting hurt a wee bit. I hadn’t mentioned to anyone as I am a firm believer in positivity, but I had been suffering from a cold for a couple of days and I was worried it would have an effect on me. Indeed, it was another shot across the bows for any sub-3 attempt.
By the time I turned to head back, although I was sore, I knew that I could afford 7:10 pace to the end and still go below my target. It was a case of holding it together.
At 18 miles I had the last of my sustenance. I ate two energy bars and had one gel en route. Nothing else bar water than that. I have learned over the last couple of years to get by on not too much in a race, I really think it helps.
On the run back towards the final relay changeover point I was looking out for our runners. Nico appeared out of nowhere with an enthusiastic hello, Lynne looked great at around her 15 mile mark and Scott Fergus was purring like a well oiled machine a few hundred yards behind her. The smiles on all three’s faces was a boost. As was the encouragement from Skoosh and Andy (again) at 22 miles as they waited on Nico to come into the changeover area.
I intentionally slowed a wee bit over miles 23 & 24, looking to hold on to reserve energy, and knowing that there was a nice downhill section in mile 25. 7:11 was my slowest mile of the race, but the respite was welcomed and I finished really strongly across the last mile and a half. I was channelling a certain Mr Mooney’s ‘run hard, breathe easy’ mantra as I approached the last 5k.
I was delighted to come home in a time of 3:04:06. Well inside my 3:05 target and with an average pace of 6:59 minutes per mile. My pacing was solid throughout and I even managed a 12s negative split by doing the second half in 1:31:57. In short, I absolutely nailed my strategy and am beyond delighted. It doesn’t always work out this way!
As delighted as I was with how I did, I was even more so for the rest of the team. Barry took down his PB by over 8 minutes, clocking in at 3:49:06 for his race, and this was against the backdrop of having spent a fair bit of his training in boats & rigs on treadmills. Superb effort.
Lynne crammed her way to a 40s PB as well (4:22). And I admit that as late as April I had my doubts she’d beat five hours, but she proved me well wrong with a stunning run. John Kirkwood was on track for an amazing debut until he started to suffer (from a headlong crash into the wall) at 22.3 miles, he had to settle for a brilliant run instead. And already he is looking at how his 4:20 will turn into sub-4 next time.
The Hairy Haggis relay team destroyed the course with a brilliant 3:41, which was 21 minutes quicker than our previous entrants into this race. They all done amazingly well and took down that 3:45 prediction.
Scott Cameron fell just short of his target but can console himself with the hundreds of pounds he has raised for Yorkhill again this year. Sometimes time is irrelevant.
Lastly, the biggest cheers goes to Scott Fergus. He absolutely destroyed his PB, taking 28 minutes off of it to come in on 4:10. I know from conversations, tweets, strava, facebook messages, smoke signals, tremors in the force and all sorts of things like that just how hard Scott has worked for this. I could throw all sorts of rhetoric out here, but all I will say is ‘hard work + determination = success’.
I am not going to finish with any negatives about the race. Rather, the best bit about the whole thing is the night afterwards. We headed back into Edinburgh, had a skinful of beer and wine and ate and laughed heartedly. Yes, it’s great to see how well people have done but the numbers on a Garmin don’t replace the warmth friendship and community brings.
No, numbers are no substitute but they sure make the beer taste better.