2nd September 2012
Time: 4hrs 19 mins 30secs
Position: 106th/141 finishers
Gender: 21st/33 female finishers
Category: 7th/ 10 Senior Ladies
Kynon and I travelled up to Elgin the night before the race and stayed at the Eight Acres hotel on the outskirts of the town. It was a bit of a last minute luxury decision to stay Saturday night; Elgin is only about 2 hours’ drive from Aberdeen but I decided the extra expense was worth the peace of mind of arriving the night before, and of course the extra time in bed.
When we got to the hotel we decided to get the most out of our stay and use the leisure facilities. I was bouncing off the walls with pent-up energy and nerves so was glad to have a gentle swim, and also enjoyed some time in the jacuzzi and sauna to really relax my muscles. My ITB had been tight since my last run on Thursday but other than that I was feeling in peak condition.
We met Naomi and her Dad for dinner – simple, staple carbs at the local Wetherspoons. I had vegetarian sausages, mashed potatoes and peas with gravy, and a side of steamed vegetables. I can’t say I really enjoyed it – I was too nervous to have any appetite but I shovelled it down anyway, knowing that I had to eat.
Kynon and I were back in the hotel by 8.30 after a gentle walk home to digest our dinner along part of the route as the sun set. I was still so nervous and wound up; I spent time sorting and organising all of my things and going over the plans with Kynon before doing some final foam-rolling and settling down to watch some Paralympics in bed. I wasn’t in the least bit tired and my mind was going like a freight train but at some point I fell asleep. I had a restless night however, and awoke several times throughout the night as the sky grew lighter and the countdown to the start continued to decrease.
0600 came and my alarm shrieked into life but I was already awake and staring at the ceiling. Sick with nerves, I went through the motions of the race morning ritual without much thought: Make coffee, get washed, drink coffee, apply bodyglide, get dressed, eat porridge, tie hair up, put some mascara on, check fuelbelt, check gadgets. I sleep-walked through all of this and suddenly an hour had passed and it was time to go downstairs and check out the breakfast buffet.
I had taken breakfast supplies with me despite booking the room on a B+B basis as I wasn’t sure what food would be available. Breakfast was served only from 0800 which was disappointing, but we’d been assured that there would be a continental breakfast available from 0700. What they should have said was – there will be cereal, milk and juice laid out… I had drunk all the coffee in the room and would have killed for some more with some toast, but it was not to be. I had some muesli and some orange juice.
We left the hotel at around 0800 and made the short drive to the town hall to register. Parking was plentiful and registration was done quickly since there was no queue. I got my number and race t-shirt and took the first of many trips back and forth to the bathroom. We hovered about a bit and decided to go back to the car; I was just a total wreck of nerves and didn’t want to be around others. I couldn’t for the life of me work out why I ever thought doing another marathon was a good idea, I felt physically sick and shed one or two nervous tears on Kynon’s shoulder before I counted to five and managed to pull myself together. He was doing an excellent job of keeping me as calm as possible and should be commended for getting the balance right between sympathy and tough love.
I caught up with Naomi who was definitely sharing my nerves as well. We spent some time nervously chattering with the other ladies from Fetch who were running the Half Marathon, and when it was approaching 9am I decided to turn my Garmin on. The power button didn’t respond. Pushing it again and again proved fruitless – the damn thing was not turning on at all. Frantically I asked around to see if anyone knew the buttons to press to ‘reset’ the Garmin 305 – it had done this once before and I managed to reset it but I couldn’t remember what to press. Marie’s husband managed to breathe some life into it but immediately it gave the alert that it was low on battery. The red mist descended – what the f*%k was it playing at?! I had made sure it was fully charged the night before and the charge obviously just hadn’t taken – again; this has happened before, but never at a race. I freaked out for a brief minute until I realised there was absolutely nothing I could do. My best option was to carry Kynon’s stopwatch and write down some splits on my hand for 5, 10, 15 and 20 miles and hope for the best. Could I run a race blind?
At 0915 there was no point in delaying the inevitable any longer and we made our way to the start. It was as low key as I imagined – a simple inflatable start/finish gantry and about 100 lanky, serious runners in club vests hanging around with family and friends. I was happy to see my friends Ryan and Sheenagh at the start – Ryan’s family are based in Elgin and they happened to be visiting this weekend so they came out to support me which was great. We took a couple of pictures and then it was time to line up.
With Naomi – Picture by Ian Sharp
Picture by Ian Sharp. Inspiration by Mo Farah.
There was the briefest of race-briefings which I heard absolutely nothing of, and then a countdown. My nerves were gone and I was excited to FINALLY get started. 5…4…3…2…1…
It’s the silence at the start of races which never fails to surprise me. After the first few hundred meters have passed and the cheers and claps of your supporters have faded, all you can here is the slapslapslap of trainers on asphalt and the sound of clothing brushing with arm-swings. I didn’t think too much about the task ahead of me – I had done enough worrying to last a lifetime and I had exhausted all possible thoughts about the race. I was so glad to be finally started and embraced the feeling of unknown potential I get at the start of every big effort. Anything can happen in a race this long! Even good things!
The course wound its way out of Elgin along pavements and the side of minor roads. The field was immediately spread out and we were running in dispersed single file by the first mile. I was clinging to the last bit of power in my garmin – at least it had lasted long enough to allow me to gauge my pace at the start and avoid going out too fast. My plan was to maintain 9:30 pace and to hold that as long as possible into the race and then see what happened after 20 miles – hopefully I could speed up.
I knew to expect incline by mile 3 but it really wasn’t that bad – the hill came and went without much event, as did much of the first 10 miles to be honest. My Garmin gave up the ghost at mile 4 and then I knew I just had to latch on to that pace and not budge. I passed a few people who I thought were slowing down and I was a bit worried that I was speeding up, but I was confident enough to pass them and in hindsight it was the right thing to do as they finished well after me.
I had arranged to meet Kynon at Burghead which was about 10 miles in to the race and therefore the first major milepost for me. I saw him pass me in the car some time before then so I knew he’d be waiting – I was so happy when I saw him in the distance! Coming into Burghead there was beautiful views over to the cliffs of the Black Isle – I had been looking forward to this part of the course which ran parallel to the coast and is a beautiful part of the world.
I reached Kynon at 1hr 37m – roughly 2 minutes behind schedule, but then he may not have been waiting at exactly 10 miles so I really have no idea of my timing. He had a bottle of blue powerade for me that I sipped from as he jogged alongside me for a minute or two. We had a quick chat about nothing in particular and then I gave him the juice back and we parted ways. So far the weather had been reasonably cool and cloudy but the sun was beginning to come out and it was warm! As I climbed out of Burghead I began to feel the heat coming off the tarmac and hoped that the clouds would stick around.
Picture by Ian Sharp
The next milestone for me was my parents waiting for me at Hopeman at around 11.5 miles. I was feeling great and was all smiles as I passed them – I was so happy to pass them with a big grin.
The sun was blazing by now and I was getting a bit warm so I poured water over myself and wet my buff to keep my head cool in the sun. I also decided to turn on my music and put one earbud in as we were running on a safe pavement beside the road. One of my favourite things about this race was the DESCENDING mile markers counting down. Seeing the big miles disappear quickly and more achievable distances appear was a great boost – 12 miles to go? Easy money!
The road between Hopeman and Lossiemouth is loooong and straight. The only other runner I could see was about half a mile ahead so I was racing on my own. Notable things from this section mainly involve roadkill – a bifurcated deer; the fresh remains of which were ALL over the road, a partially skinned rotten rabbit and a badger upside down on the verge. All somewhat traumatic for this animal lover. Other than that, everything was going fine and I remained within a couple of minutes of my schedule and I was yet to walk. I was just locked in to my pace and ignoring any discomfort – my ITB still felt tight but it was not worth worrying about.
The next meeting point was 15 miles in at Covesea. I could see some cars in the distance so I knew Kynon was waiting, however I also saw some red and yellow balloons which could only mean one thing – Fetchpoint! Maz and Sheri had travelled up with their daughters to cheerlead for us all and it was such a lift to see them. I took some more powerade from Kynon and we had another short jog and chat.
No, I don’t know what he’s doing either.
I powered on to Lossiemouth. As I entered the town I saw no signs of the race – I could have been on a long training run for all the evidence there was of the marathon. The odd gel packet and bottle on the ground let me know I was still on the right course, and there was one or two marshals situated at turnings who kept me right as the route wound down to the harbour front. I was getting tired now and my stomach felt a little queasy so I decided that I would walk through the water stop here and take a proper drink as was feeling properly thirsty and I didn’t want to swallow lots of air. I turned a corner and suddenly Ryan and Sheenagh were there – Noooo! The first time I walk in 19 miles and my friends see me! I can’t have walked for more than a minute though and quickly kept moving forward along the harbour beside the packed cafes. There were no claps and cheers of encouragement though – everyone looked at me as if I had two heads as I was running by!
Kynon was waiting for me at 20 miles and again I was very glad to see him; things were getting tougher as I was getting fatigued and a muscle in my back was really stiff. I power-walked with him and he gave me a pep talk and told me he’d see me in less than an hour in Elgin. 6 miles to go – easy, easy!
It wasn’t all easy though; of course the last few miles went on forever and ever. I demanded that my legs kept on doing as I asked and kept running – I was annoyed that I couldn’t see my pace as I felt like I was pushing really, really hard but I knew that I’d probably be struggling to get under 10 minute miles. Or was I? Part of me was glad that I didn’t know and could just concentrate on running as best I could. Every time my weaker side thought about walking and just forgetting my time goals, I told myself “What – did you think this was going to be easy?! Just because you’ve done the hard training did you think the race would be a breeze?! NO! You have to FIGHT for this! Now RUN”.
The final miles ticked down: 5…4…3…2…1. The last three were in direct sun and straight into a headwind which was really hard. The muscle in my back was agony and I was desperate to lie down and stretch it out. I passed one or two more people until I entered Elgin and I was on my own for the last mile. My stopwatch said 4hrs 11 so I knew if I worked hard I’d slide under 4:20 happily.
The town looked so different than it did earlier in the morning, now bathed in sunshine. The streets were deserted though; it was almost eerie in places as my fatigued mind started thinking about zombie movies like 28 Days Later. In the distance I could hear a man’s voice and a megaphone – the finish! I could almost taste the glory! The course re-entered Cooper Park in the shadow of the ruined Cathedral and the last 100m in the park was a glorious straight with spectators on either side. I saw Ryan and Sheenagh first on the left, and then heard Kynon bellow my name from further up. The Fetch girls were a vision of red and yellow on my right as I flew past them and finally, the finish line was in front of me.
Picture by Ryan Roberts
I ran hard right to the end and slowed to a wobbly walk as soon as I was under the clock. I took two steps before my stomach heaved and I bent over and retched heavily and loudly several times. The queasiness that had built up over the last few miles had been peaked by my sprint finish and my stomach needed to empty itself except there was nothing in there! By the time Kynon had run over to congratulate me I was on my knees on the grass verge retching and struggling for breath – he said he wasn’t sure whether I was going to throw up or cough up a hair ball.
The need to retch quickly subsided however and I was able to straighten up and fall in to his arms – “4 hours, 19 minutes, 30 seconds. I am SO proud of you!” he said. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry really; my Fetch ladies came running over, Ryan and Sheenagh were there too and I had lots of congratulatory hugs with everyone. Someone had handed me a medal at some point and Kynon put it around my neck for me and gave me some juice; I was overwhelmed with happiness and couldn’t believe the race was over – what an incredible PB! Fifty-two minutes off my previous time!
The next half hour was spent basking by the finishline in the sunshine and the glory of achievement. The stiff muscle in my back started spasming badly though and I could hardly straighten or lift my left arm so I took some ibuprofen and hoped for the best. I needed some help to put my new race t-shirt on though!
This is the Mitchellbot, by the way…
We were expecting Naomi at around 5hrs and after nervously waiting for her for 10 more minutes she appeared around the corner into the park running strongly and wearing the biggest smile; one reserved only for those who have achieved something truly great for the first time. Naomi completed her first marathon in memory of her Grandmother in a time of 5hrs 10mins and 14 seconds.
After finish line celebrations were concluded we headed back to the town hall en masse to change before heading off. Being such a small, fast race there were not many runners left but we were still able to get a sandwich and a cup of tea. Sitting in the car on the way home I couldn’t believe how easily the whole race have come together in the end; it had passed so quickly for me and without any drama whatsoever. What on earth was I going to blog about?! I had just achieved what I set out to do by putting one foot in front of another and doing so until I reached the finish.
My legs were feeling great; a little stiff in my ‘duff’ knee but otherwise fine. My feet had escaped largely unscathed apart from one nasty blister entirely removing a nail stump from its bed. The ibuprofen did the trick on my angry back muscle and it relaxed and stopped hurting soon after. I was annoyed that I didn’t have my Garmin splits to pour over and examine my pace, but I was most pleased about the fact that I had ran 19 miles without walking – the furthest I’ve ever gone without a walk break.
I wore my medal with pride for the rest of the day until Kynon took me out for a celebratory curry and a couple of beers at Brewdog. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little stiff when getting up for work the next morning, but two days later only a little tightness remains in my quads and I’m looking forward to a recovery jog tomorrow if the weather is right. I’m taking it easy this week but I’ve already signed up for my next race which is the Crathes Half Marathon next Saturday and am on the hunt for more challenges to finish up the year with.
I’ve made a lot of sacrifices in the last few months for this race, but it’s all been worth it. Brewdog: I’m sorry I’ve stopped spending half my salary and time in your bars and on your beer; it’s not you, it’s me. The hangovers were slowing me down. Scott: I’m sorry our flat is always covered in freshly washed running gear drying and that the washing machine is always on the go – it’s been a sweaty summer. Family: I’m sorry that you rarely see me anymore, I promise to try harder to figure my work/life/run balance out. Non-running friends: I’m sorry you never see me any more either, but thank you for your continued support of my lunacy. There’s always room for one more on a run if you want to join in.
I might not have reached the magic 4hrs 10mins, but a 52 minute PB? I’ll take it. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say that about the marathon again! That time is for every 5am weekend start, every agonising back-to-back, every dazed and stiff pre-work mile, every exhausting post-work mile, every turned down afternoon in a beer garden, every shortened night out and every turned down party invitation. Good things don’t come to those who wait; good things come to those who work their asses off and never give up.