I ran Edinburgh Marathon on Sunday and survived! I say survived because the weather warnings leading to it seemed biblical at times and in the end, whilst it turned out to be a pretty nice day, the wind did play a significant part.
I signed up to this almost a year ago when I started running and it was originally my ultimate goal. Since then I’ve discovered ultra, hill and trail running and my overall running mind-set is significantly different to long distance road running. I considered in the lead up to Sunday about being a DNS, however, the allure of my first actual marathon event and some curiosity about how I would do took hold of me. I also have the Great Glen Ultra in just over a month so a hard, long run seemed like a good idea.
So it was then that at 09:50am on Sunday I was lined up in the yellow pen ready to go. I think when I signed up I put In for a sub-4hr time, which earned me a place in this group. Given I hadn’t put any thought into this run or specific training, I wasn’t sure how I was going to do. It could have been a struggle to the death to get close to 4 hours, or I could have been easily jogging over the line in just over 3 hours. As it turns out I was somewhere in between.
I’d never taken part in a running event as big as this. Looking at my results, I see that there were over 7000 people taking part in the marathon and it certainly felt like that. There was an atmosphere around the start which everyone should experience at least once in their running lifetime. With so many people though what I discovered was that the start isn’t actually the start. The loud speakers all along London road proclaimed the countdown to the gun, two minutes later I was still stood in exactly the same spot. Eventually, as wave after wave of runners were released, the yellow pen got their turn and I was off. Or at least, I was almost off. I managed to spot Tony and Brian from Falkland Trail Runners at the start line and stopped for a blessing from these two squirrel gods. Thankfully it turned out they were before the timing mat, so it didn’t impact my overall time.
I set off with all the guidance I’d read about online in my mind, start slow, pace yourself, don’t get pulled into a faster pace than you want to run at the start. Going into this, because I hadn’t really thought about it too much, I was torn between running a 5min\km pace and a 5:30min/km. With a km down in the race, I was running at 4:45min/km. Sigh.
I was ok with the faster than planned pace as it felt like an easy pace for me to maintain. I suspect all the hill running has increased my average pace levels, but also since the fling, I’ve found that I have felt a much stronger runner overall. The route weaved its way through Holyrood park and out towards the coast via Meadowbank. The crowds were pretty special along these stretches and several others along the way. One thing that caught my eye was a tiny little girl on the path near Leith links with a sign saying “High 5 me for superhuman powers”. Who could resist such wonderful support?
Before I knew it I was on Port prom and my pace had averaged out at just below 5min\km. This was feeling good and my mind started to work out the possibilities. I knew from my quick pre-race calcs that a 5min\km pace would get me in around 3h 30min, which was my upper end of ambition. In my head I was expecting a 3h 45min time, so this was all feeling good at this point. My legs were pretty strong and I had settled into a nice steady pace and stride and felt like I could go all day.
We hit Musselburgh before I knew it and the race course flashed by. I knew from the course map that the finish was around there somewhere, so everything I was running now was to be run again after the turn. I started to pay attention to landmarks so I knew where the home straight was going to start. The slog out along the coast line was exactly that, a slog. I think mentally I had it being much shorter than it actually is, but the bulk of the marathon is along the stretch of road from the race course out towards North Berwick. I was keeping an eye out for the elite runners who I expected would be passing on the other side some time soon. My watch with the delayed start was saying 1h 30m at this point, which mean they were probably 15mins ahead of that, so should be coming close towards the finish by now. The course takes a loop around a country estate on the way back after the turn, so I missed most of the elites, however I managed to spot a few. I’d never seen elite runners before so this in itself was exciting for me and worth the effort of being there.
By now I was about 15 miles in to the race and still feeling ok. My pace had levelled out at just a few seconds over 5min/km which I felt good with. I had a hand held bottle with me for hydration and fuel, and I’d drained this already. I grabbed a couple of bottles at a water point and refilled as I ran. I was using Tailwind nutrition which I learned about from the fling. I’d used it on a few shorter runs recently since grabbing a bag of it when I was last in the US for work, and it seemed to work well for me. The challenges I had in the latter stages of the fling are something I want to overcome, and the marathon felt like a good place to give this stuff a decent road test. I have to say it worked well. Throughout the race I felt like I had a steady amount of energy and never once felt like I was starting to slump from lack of energy intake.
The course turns back at about 27km and you get to almost retrace your steps back to Musselburgh. It was at this point that I realised how strong the wind had now picked up and on turning around was faced with about 25-30mph winds. The offset of that of course is that meants for the past 27km presumably I had that same wind on my back, so things should balance out. I think the wind picked up towards the 2nd half of the race though, so that probably isn’t entirely true on this occasion. Whatever, the impact was immediately obvious. the few elite runners I’d seen heading in the opposite direction earlier all had strained looks on their faces and now I knew why. Running at their speed must be challenging enough, doing it into a 25-30mph head wind must be brutal.
My pace dipped enormously here. Mentally I was still feeling strong, my legs felt like they had some left in them, but the pace was saying something very different. Below is my pace graph taken from Strava and you can see the turning point at around 27km and the impact the wind had on the pace after that. I hit my fuel hard trying to perk myself up at this point, knowing I had a hard run ahead. I started to notice others around me pulling up with cramps and that made me focus on keeping a steady intake of my tailwind mixture to help prevent any problems from being low in sodium.
About 35km’s in I spotted 3 other guys from Falkland Trail Runners heading in the other direction. We had an impromptu hug in the middle of the road for a second before wishing each other well and plodding on. In my head I wanted to try to run a strong final 10km, but the wind was arguing with that idea. I decided that the final 5km must be in a more built up area which should disrupt the wind a bit, so aimed to push through to there as best I could then to try to make some time back with a faster finish pace as the adrenalin kicked in.
That didn’t work either. By now I had long ago worked out my 3:30 time was dead, but I wanted to be sure to get under 3:45. I was keeping track of distance on my watch and saw the 2km to go point come up so started to try to open my legs a bit. Others around me were doing the same but were crashing with cramps almost immediately which wasn’t nice to see. The crowds had grown now and the noise was having a great impact. I turned the corner to see what looked like a motorway leading to the finish gantry and it was all over. My time was 3h 39min 43sec. Very happy with that given the conditions.
After taking in the atmosphere around the finish area, a quick stretch and bottle of water, I headed out to collect my drop bag and warm back up again.
The sun was out now and I felt fantastic.
Looking back I’m even more happy with the run overall and my time than I was after I finished. I felt comfortable at the distance and was glad to have run at a reasonable pace for the full race. My race day strategy worked with regards to logistics timings before and after, water and nutrition worked well as did my shoe and clothing choices. I think if it had been a calm day my time would have been closer to 3:30 and possibly under. I’m really glad I took part in such a big event with so many people. The marshals were all fantastic with so many smiles and cheers to keep you motivated.
The one thing I settled on after the race was that I don’t like road running any more. All the time I’ve spent in the last year running on hills and trails has really given me a different perspective on running. I can really see why people enjoy running the marathon, it is a huge distance and a hell of an achievement and I am tempted to pick up the challenge to better my time. I found the going tough on my legs though and there seemed to be less of a community spirit amongst the runners than you get at trail and hill races.
I feel ready for the build up to the Great Glen ultra (GGU) now. I think this run has given me some more confidence, it feels like my endurance is building and I am starting to feel that I know how to pace better than before in longer runs, although I still have some work to do. I have a 30 mile recce planned along the GGU route for next Monday with a running friend and I’d like to try some pacing options out on that. I also have the Caledonian Challenge coming up in just under two weeks which will be a nice stretch for my legs.