I looked at my alarm on the morning of the Edinburgh Marathon. It said 12.30pm. OMG I started screaming and crying. It was over, I’d let everyone down, how could I let this happen.
Then I woke up.
What a nightmare. I’d slept a little bit but was too excited for a full proper sleep before my first marathon. It was a really sunny morning in Edinburgh with bright blue skies. The guest house we were staying in didn’t do cooked breakfast so I had bought a porridge that only needed hot water and had a banana too. I had laid my clothes out the night before so it didn’t take long to get ready. Before we left the guest house we had some “continental breakfast” which consisted of cereal and toast. Not very continental but I had some toast and two cups of tea.
My husband dropped me off as near to the start as possible. I was left with a 15 minute walk to my start area, Regent Street, which was easy enough to find by following the trail of other similarly dressed runners. I was at my start area for 9.20am. At this point I joined the infamous toilet queue which took around 15 minutes. I chatted to a few runners in my purple pen. One was part of the relay team and another three were also hoping for a 5 hour and 30 minute finish time. I felt in good company.
The clock ticked 10am and the race started. Well, it did for the fast runner and but the purple pen didn’t run over the start line until at least 10.20am. It was hard to keep to my planned race pace. For a 5 hour and 30 min finish time I needed to be doing around 12 min 50 seconds pace on average. I looked at my Garmin watch and it said 9.5 pace. I slowed again and it said 10.15. I slowed again and it said 10.45. I slowed again and it said 11.15 and when I slowed again it said 11.3. I decided to keep at this pace. I felt perfectly fine…
Around the mile one marker I befriended a fellow runner, Claire from Leicestershire. It was her first marathon too and she was also hoping for a 5 hour 30 min finish. We chatted away and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company and the fantastic atmosphere. There were lots of crowds at the start. I had my name printed on my T-shirt. It was such a motivator hearing people shout “come on Elena” or “Well done Elena”.
The joke for the first 6 miles was trying to keep ahead of the dreaded sweep bus for those runners who were running too slowly. Every time we heard an engine sound our hearts fluttered and we practically sweated our way forward to find out it was the bloody paramedic on a motor bike! It kept fooling us on more than one occasion. We were both keeping at a 11.45 pace and we felt good. It was very hot.
Around mile 8 our pace slipped to 12.45. This felt ok as this was what our pace should have been from the start. We continued chatting. From the half way mark our pace dropped to 14 min mile pace. I felt fine, honestly but my legs had a different idea! We worked hard at trying to stop getting slower. Running at the faster pace for the first 8 miles wasn’t such a great idea.
It was frustrating as I had read all about this as part of my marathon preparation. The advice was to stick to your marathon pace and retain energy for the latter part of the race. Despite reading lots of information about keeping to your race pace and not to run off too fast I defied them all! My pace at the start should have been 12.5 which is slow. But had I done this I know I could have maintained it to make my 5 hour 30 min finish. In the end I ran 8 miles 1 minute faster than my race pace and in so doing used up all my energies. But despite what my Garmin pace was telling me what I already knew-I was running really slow-I was really enjoying the atmosphere.
From 10 miles up to around mile 20 there is a loop in the marathon route. This involves running on a stretch of road with both sides having runners going in different directions. At this point we saw the elites pass by. We gave them all big cheers. You see, us slow runners are a really chirpy bunch. Or at least my group was. As group leader I ensured there was lots of motivational talk; “this is a Sunday training run” “we can do this, we are already doing it” Plus some spontaneous acapella. A group favourite was Back Street Boys “Everybody”. A wee mantra we coined to get us to the finish was imagining having a pint and chips. Pint and chips was a real motivator let me tell you! Especially when nearing “the dark place”, as Claire put it.
At mile 15 I saw in the distance a young woman who was topped by the road. She was crying and looked as if she was trying to be sick. I immediately stopped beside her, as did Claire. She said she thought she was having an asthma attack. She knew she wasn’t but after stopping wasn’t sure how to start again. We helped her by giving her some encouragement and walking with her for 10 minutes. This totally mucked up our race finish plan but it was the right thing to do. I was brought up to help and care for people, offer an extending hand to those who are less off. It’s probably why I ended up being a social worker!
This stretch of the road was utterly demoralising. Seeing large crowds of runners on the other side running onwards to the finish and knowing we still had 10 miles to go was heart destroying. In reality I would say to the organisers the stretch of the road was too long for a loop. This reason alone is why I won’t be running this marathon again, especially if your finish time is 5 hours and over. When you have been running 3 and a half hours the last thing you need is to be reminded visually of how long you have still to run. By this time the mass of spectators had disappeared.
It was comforting to know that while we were slow there were others behind us who were even slower. Success on a small-scale is nonetheless success!
I was totally beaten by mile 20. My hips were aching whether I was running fast or slow. I just couldn’t find any rhythm. My running buddy Claire was feeling pain in her feet so I championed her on. I remembered a bit of advice offered by a friend of mine who said to keep you mentally alert and get through a difficult patch was to start counting or saying the alphabet or people’s names using the alphabet. I chose to count; once to 582, then to 382, then another 445 and who knows what else as when I lost count I just started again. The pain at points was unbearable.
I looked at my watch and it said 5 hours 35 minutes. We were only at mile 24.5. We knew we had not made our aim of finishing if before 5 hours 30 mins. Our new aim was to be in before 6 hours. Claire and I tried so hard to make it but our legs could hardly move. It was like trying to run in treacle.
The last 600 metres was more crowded again. This time spectators and fellow runners were cheering us on. We entered the last 200m. I saw my two boys at the side of the road. It was so amazing to see them. I felt a last rush of energy as I ran over the finish line with Claire. I am so proud of my achievement. Claire and I hugged each other.
Thank you so much Claire, you gave me such a memorable marathon experience. I would like to say a huge thank you also to my wonderful husband, parents and children who came to watch me. This made my marathon journey more fantastic.
At the end we had to walk 20 minutes to get the shuttle bus back into Edinburgh as the race finishes in Musselburgh. Having run for 6 hours and 5 minutes I discovered that pain had found a new frontier!
During this walk I swore I’d never run a marathon again. However, 24 hours is a long time in a runner’s life. By the next day while I felt a little stiff I was feeling stronger too. As I was on a day’s holiday from my work I took the opportunity to search for my next potential race. I might not do a marathon next year but I will definitely be running another marathon. I want to get faster before I run my next marathon. The cut off for Paris Marathon is 5 hours and 30 minutes…