1st September 2013
Gun time: 3hr 58m 30s
Marathon number four. Marathon number two of 2013 and my first concerted attempt to achieve the coveted ‘Sub 4’ time. After executing Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 2 marathon plan with a degree of accuracy that was mediocre at best, at times recently I have felt a bit of a phony when talking about my lofty goals for this race. Despite missing some major chunks of training due to unavoidable life obstacles, I still had every intention to go out at #1 goal pace and employ the old chestnut of ‘fake it til you make it’ until either I couldn’t hang on any longer, or until I crossed the finish line. Friends of mine have tried multiple times to try and get under four hours and have missed out unfairly again and again; surely it was too much to ask for me to wing it for 26.2 miles on my first attempt? Or was it…
4pm on Saturday saw me give up on pacing around the house and ask to get in the car and leave earlier than planned, since I was feeling like a caged tiger. The hours and night before a race are the absolute worst; the agony of having hundreds of miles of training ready to explode out of your legs and having to sit down, rest, and eat, and somehow not snap at your loved ones. I was nowhere near as nervous as I was last year but I just wanted to get the last hours over with and get my legs over that starting line.
I had bagged us a room at the Premiere Inn on the outskirts of Elgin where a number of other runners were staying. We headed to the glamorous heights of the ‘Muckle Cross’ Wetherspoons pub in the town centre where I enjoyed a double vegetable burger with onion rings and fries, and a Strawberry Sundae to follow. Maybe not the most ideal of pre-race meals but I had had a large bowl of pasta for lunch and washed my burger down with alcohol free pear Kopparberg cider, so I was at least ticking some athletic nutrition boxes.
Back at the hotel I had a hot bath and watched ‘Run Fat Boy, Run’. The first time I saw this film I wasn’t a runner; this time around I was picking holes in the plot all over the place and snorted at the idea that one could register for the London Marathon just 3 months in advance. I know it’s just a fun film but I’m a serious runner the night before races, remember?!
In my freshly steamed and extra relaxed state I dropped off to sleep quickly and awoke 5 minutes before my alarm 8 hours later feeling refreshed and excited. Even though I had levied a certain amount of pressure on myself to perform a specific time, the fact that at the base of it all I was just really happy to be fit and running was keeping my nerves at bay. If I totally blew up and lost the sub-4 goal I knew I’d finish one way or the other, and the thought of notching up another marathon finish in a few hours time was enough to keep me cheerful.
We decided to go for the Premiere Inn breakfast served in the pub next door, which was of surprisingly high quality. I’ve had some stinkers of hotel breakfasts on race mornings so I generally bring my own food, but here I was able to have a bowl of Weetabix loaded with dried fruit and seeds and Costa coffee on the side. Whilst the fresh pastries, yogurt and breads were tempting, I knew they would do me no favours later on so I sadly left them untouched. I was extremely jealous of Kynon’s full Scottish which was admirably huge; I usually don’t really like eating first thing in the morning but anything involving beans, toast, hash browns and mushrooms has me right on board.
We arrived at registration at 8:30. It was held in the town hall once more and was quick and painless. The race top was a navy t-shirt with a gold logo and no advertising at all which is a refreshing addition to my collection, especially as it came in small sizes too. There were the requisite multiple trips to the toilet and hurried hellos with friends, before the quick walk over the road to Cooper Park and the start.
It was extremely windy and I was very reluctant to shed my outer layer but I knew within a mile I’d be warmed up. I’d been trying not to think too much about how the winds could affect my running; there’s nothing worse than trying to battle against a strong headwind but the forecast seemed to indicate that it would be Westerly. Remembering the shape of the course from last year I knew that would give me a boost between miles 10 and 18, but the rest of the miles could possibly be tough ones. Since there was nothing I could do about it I didn’t dwell on it and just tried to keep my mindset positive. I got to run another marathon! Woohoo! (!?)
The race had grown slightly in size from last year from 140 to 160 starters but it still retained its friendly, local feel. After I had a final pep talk and kiss goodbye from Kynon I joined the small crowd and had a short wait before the hooter went and we were sent on our way.
My plan was to run at around 8:40-8:50 pace for the first few miles and then decide how I felt. I turned my garmin to the ‘average pace’ screen so that I didn’t see the accumulated time or mileage and I would just focus on one mile at a time. The time I was projected to finish each mile in would be clearly visible as I glanced at my wrist, so I decided I would try and avoid looking at the accumulated time in case it broke my mental game. As long as I knew I still had a chance at getting sub-4 then I wouldn’t give up, if I was running at the correct pace then I’d still have a chance…that was my rather irrational line of thought anyway.
3) 9:18 (hill – the highest point in the course)
The first hour went extremely quickly. It rained for a bit and there were blusters of wind but nothing which was affecting my pace too badly at all. A man ran behind me for a while and we exchanged pleasantries, but he was running very closely to me and somewhat in my personal space. The noise of his bumbag/waist pack bouncing was annoying me as well and I couldn’t figure out why, in such a small race, he felt he needed to be so close until I realised he was drafting off me. He was running so closely behind to my right so that he was running in my slipstream and avoiding getting battered by the winds – very cheeky. After 4 miles or so he decided that I wasn’t moving quick enough and moseyed on to slip in behind someone else. I was grateful for silence once more.
Each mile ticked by faster than goal pace. I tried to caution myself in to slowing down but I figured that since the pace felt OK I’d stick at it for a while longer. My stomach felt a little odd and unstable and I wondered if I’d eaten my breakfast early enough, but other than that I had nothing to complain about.
As I approached Burghead I began to slow a little as there was some long slow incline and the wind was having more of an impact. Kynon was waiting for me at 10 miles with my Powerade and ran alongside me for about 20 seconds. I remember saying to him ‘This isn’t coming particularly easily today!’ and him telling me that I would be fine and that I’d have the wind at my back for a while now. Once I’d climbed out of Burghead and was on the long straight to Lossiemouth, I knew I could just relax and hopefully let the wind carrying me a little.
Like last year, my Mum and Dad were waiting at Hopeman as they’d taken their camper van up for the weekend and had popped up to the road to cheer me on. I was really happy to see them and Dad took a cracking couple of pictures…
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13) 8:36 (New Half marathon PB?!!! 1hr 54m 48s??)
On the way to Covesea and 16 miles I started feeling extremely hot. It was a strange kind of heat; the sun wasn’t out and it felt like I was overheating from the inside out and that I could never drink enough water again. I was wary of pouring water down my neck in case I got a stitch, but sipped carefully from the bottles every 5km. The straight was as lonely as last year, with the next runners 20 meters in front and behind and only my thoughts for company. I was pleased at the pace so far but my feet were starting to hurt and I still felt a bit sick…the excuses to slow down started to trickle in but I rebutted them with thoughts of how much it would suck to walk and start running again, and besides, continuing running meant it would be finished quicker.
I saw Kynon again and told him about the huge combine harvester which had scared the living daylights out of me, even though I wasn’t wearing head phones. The monstrous thing crept up behind me and took over the whole road so I ran on the verge until it had passed.
Coming in to Lossiemouth was when I began to lose my grip on my race. The sweat was pouring down my back and my stomach was starting to feel very nauseated as I ran into the town. I just couldn’t seem to cool down which concerned me a little. I noticed that I was now passing the back end of the half marathon field which meant I must have been doing okay but I still hadn’t looked at my accumulated time, despite knowing that if I just got to 20 miles under 3 hours then failing catastrophe, I’d reach my sub-4 goal.
Just after the water stop I got shooting cramps in my stomach which developed into a sharp stitch on my left side. Remembering the helpful advice some of you have given me, I breathed out as deeply and steadily as I could and exhaled as fully as possible before breathing in as deeply as possible again. I pushed my fingers into the cramping muscle and then tried to stretch it out but it continued to stab and bend me in the middle with pain. I could see Kynon in the distance awaiting with further Powerade and hoped that slowing to a brisk walk to try and get the muscle to calm down would help. I swigged hungrily at my drink and after about a minute I began to feel better and could breath more regularly again. I was annoyed that I had to walk a little but since I had physically been rendered unable to run by the stitch I hadn’t had much choice.
“Right, let’s get this done” I said and tentatively sped up to a run. I was expecting the stitch to kick right back in but surprisingly I felt fine. I decided to slow the pace a little and not over-cook it so that I’d have energy left for a strong finish in the last couple of miles. To my mind at this point, the sub-4 was gone. I knew that I’d slowed a bit since Covesea and taking into consideration the short walk, I decided that all hope was gone and that I should just concentrate on getting to the finish at a run. Oh how wrong I was…
It’s so easy to mentally talk yourself out of your goals when you’re tired in a marathon. Why the hell did I not look at the time? Had I done that I would have seen that I’d hit 20 miles in 2hr 58m and was well within my target pace! What an idiot. I came so close to blowing it.
Kynon had handed over my iPod for the final push and I had selected a dubstep album to keep a steady pace to and to try and block out my sore feet and hips/glutes. I locked into it and ran to the beat which translated to around 9:30ish miles on average. I took comfort in knowing that it would be over soon and I’d have another good finish – I might not get under 4 hours but I could pb perhaps…
Thankfully at 23.5 miles a girl who I’d exchanged chat with earlier came level and we blethered a little again. “We’ve only got 2 and a half to go” she said “And at least we should get under four hours…” What? Really?! I looked at my watch for the first time in 3hrs and 32 minutes and saw that I had 28 minutes to run 2.5 miles. I couldn’t believe it. Who had I been trying to kid? It was totally in the bag.
This sudden boost completely focused my mind again and all of my aches and pains disappeared. The real race had begun – I could almost taste the sub-4 and I wasn’t going to let it get away from me for the second time in a day. 0.5 of a mile later though, the route left the forest and the headwind which had helped me so much earlier on in the race was now my worst enemy, intent on ruining my race.
The wind made those last two miles a battlefield. Thankfully I still had the energy to push hard, but I could not get my pace below 9:30 minute miles. It was as if a big hand was pushing back against my chest; like the worst weather I run in down at the beach in winter; you can try all you like but running against it takes EVERYTHING out of you and you do not move any quicker.
I was terrified in case my exertions triggered another stitch which would ruin absolutely everything. There is a hill coming into Elgin which I’d forgotten about which made it even harder but I knew once I got in amongst the houses that I’d get some shelter from the wind. It didn’t make as much of a difference as I thought, but running back down the other side of the hill certainly did and I was finally able to unleash the last of my speed to get me home.
Coming around that corner by the cathedral is both magic and torture – the finish is still a good minute of running away but it feels so close! I could see the clock still said 3:5:XX in the distance and over all the noise I heard Kynon yelling at me to get a move on.
I remember feeling like I was running using someone else’s legs – they felt so wobbly and and I was feeling so sick, but I knew it was only a matter of seconds ’til I could stop and all the pain would be so worth it.
No, I don’t know what’s happening with the way I’m landing on my right foot either, but my 1000-yard stare is focused on that clock ahead of me and I was going to get myself there one way or the other even if it meant running like a bag of spanners.
The announcer called my name and my club out over the tannoy and I heard some girly screams which must have been my friends who’d finished the half already. I heard Kynon and my Mum yelling for me and punched the air as I staggered under the clock.
The glory lasted all of half a second before I wibbled, wobbled, dry heaved once or twice and then finally slowed to a halt by bending over and gripping a traffic cone for support until it started collapsing under my weight. By then Kynon had galloped over and was heaving me up on one side as my Mum was hugging me up on the other. Waaargh!! I did it!
A nice First Aid man came over and asked if I needed some help but all I needed to do was sit down for 30 seconds so I found a patch of kerb to negotiate a safe return to earth on. I looked at my watch – 3:58:29…
It was definitely on my wrist and not someone else’s. Who am I? Is this what I do now? Run sub-4 marathons?! I was actually lost for words – I could not believe I’d managed to pull it off with everything that’s happened this summer.
Dad took some pictures as I babbled away recounting tales of my race whilst drinking all the water I could get my hands on and some orange juice as well. I felt too sick to eat those bananas I was clutching, but they were hoovered not long after in the hall as I waited for a massage.
This is the face of a very, very happy runner. Happy in the first instance because I got the job done, and in the second instance because now I have a sub-4 time I need never do it again. Or at least not for a while… Marathons are now marked as strictly for fun only, like Kielder in four weeks. I feel so lucky that I can ride my post-marathon high knowing that I have another marathon just around the corner, and I get to do it all over again but this time with my best friend for his first ever marathon.
Three days later and it still hasn’t quite sunk in. I’m not really sure if I deserve it given the amount of training I’ve had to miss and I feel like I might have just got really, really lucky, but that’s an examination for another post.
For now I’ll just enjoy the achievement, relish the recovery, and look forward to the next one!