Monday, 23 May 2011

Edinburgh Marathon 2011

 "Make sure you don't hit the wall. That's never pretty"

If you watched the BBC coverage of the London Marathon back in April, you may well have seen Mara Yamauchi interviewing fist-time marathoner Jo Pavey. It was a compelling interview as Yamauchi sought to provide Pavey with some knowledge from her considerable experience over 26.2 miles. The thing that stuck in my head was to Mara's advice to Jo to control her pace through the first half of the race so that she didn't hit the wall/bonk/crack as "that's never pretty".

So it was that on Sunday morning, at about 09:45 as I stood in the rain on London Road in Edinburgh that Mara Yamauchi's words came back to me. I was there in the third wave of five on what was being hailed over the PA as the "fast" start with a marathon to run, and feeling a bit out of place. The last time I'd run this course was 2009, my first marathon, and the wall had been right there for me to crash into at 21 miles which really wasn't an experience I wanted to repeat. In 2010 I'd completed the Brathay Windermere Marathon course without the same problem - but there was still the nagging doubt in my mind at the Edinburgh start that these roads had beaten me before.

The running conditions were perfect for the start: a little drizzle, a cool temperature and little wind. The forecast was for the wind to increase during the day - and we'd know all about that later. However, problem in the race organisation had already started to come to light. There had been no formal printed final details for the runners, it was simply a case of downloading a PDF and printing it out - then hoping that everything was going to be ok. The two starts didn't appear in my race details and it took a little bit more finding - and certainly more walking before a race - than I would have liked. But I made the start in plenty of time and the pens and line were well organised.

I set off and the second problem with the race day was highlighted after about eight or nine minutes when I hadn't seen a mile marker. Another eight minutes went by and still no sign of a mile marker. I knew I wasn't running that slowly, despite the crowds around me. Then there was a water station ahead sign: three miles in and still no sign of any information to the runners relaying the distance covered. I realised why at the four mile point, when I saw the sign but instead of the standard black on fluorescent yellow race marker they were white on dark blue and placed very high up on lamposts. Once I knew what I was looking for, I only missed seeing one more in the race: the 26 mile marker.

After that the race itself progressed well. I had a plan and I stuck to it: steady to 20 miles and then increase the pace. The profile of the Edinburgh Marathon route is largely flat, with a slight loss of height from start to finish so there were no hills to worry about. With the exception of one water station at 16 miles the route was well marshaled and the hydration/nutrition well delivered.

As the course turned back on itself at the 20 mile point, I was really pleased that I'd kept something back for the last quarter of the run. It immediately became apparent that as we'd been running away from the city a westerly wind had been getting stronger and that the final 10km were going to be into the teeth of it. I don't mind running into the wind too much as we get a lot of it on the Cheshire Plain and while it didn't necessarily help my time it certainly helped my position as I started going past many runners in these final miles. The support on the streets of Port Seton and Prestonpans was brilliant and must have kept loads of runners going to the end.

Tick off the 21-mile marker. Tick off 22-miles. And 23. You're still running: you're going to make it.

And then we come to the finish. Seemingly there was no 26-mile marker, or at least it was so well hidden that I didn't see it. There was a great crowd at the entry to Musselbrugh but then as the finish line approached it thinned out, a very strange feeling as you're digging in for a "sprint" finish and there's no-one there to cheer you home. Crossing the line, my watch showed 3:18:08 (later confirmed to be my chip time) which meant I'd set a new personal best by a minute or so, and a gun time of 3 hours 20 which considering the wind in the finale was really pleasing.

It seems that the race organisers had taken the strange decision to ban spectators from the last couple of hundred metres and relay the finish to a big screen. Only the technology failed them so they were showing an old T In The Park instead of the race. Fortunately, my wife and the friend we were staying with had managed to somehow get closer to the finish line than they were supposed to be, so saw mwe finish and we were easily reunited. Following the #EdinburghMarathon hashtag on Twitter and looking at the comments left on the official Facebook page it seems like we were incredibly lucky.

All in all, a great race and a performance I am more than pleased with really spoiled this year by some logistics failures. I'd need to be convinced that these had been addressed before heading back to this particular event.

Race day photos by Mary Mowat.


Anonymous said...

I missed Miles 7 and 8's markers, but as it was my 1st marathon I didn't have the 'usual' sort of marker in mind. 26 was high up, just on the corner of the final stretch; you'd have been focused on the end and not spotted it. I'd come up by coach the night before by myself so had no one to look out for along the course or at the end, which may have slowed me down as much as the wind did.

I agree the pre-run info was very vague in important places. Having to drop a water bottle un-opened as I couldn't unscrew the lid was annoying, as was the long walk to the coaches, the long queue for one, and the £3.50 I paid for a ticket no one was minded to look at, to return to the start.

Congratulations on your time. I got a PB to the 1/2 marathon distance (2h8m) - I'd only run 6 miles outdoors before - but the little hill at mile 16 took all the fun out of the run for my legs and I wasn't able to convince myself to go quickly when the wind was blowing me sideways through a hail of empty bottles and barriers falling over. 5h10 was very poor having got to 16m in 2h38m (4h30m was my original marathon target, training up to 18 miles at 10min mile pace) but I now have something to improve on, and a proper idea of what The Wall feels like. It feels like pain.

Eight Hours on another coach for the ride home wasn't ideal either, but as I was running at very short notice I'd not been able to get a better plan together. As you say, reading #EdinburghMarathon 'tags on Twitter points to a tough day for a lot of people; I did wonder why they'd gone to the bother of having a viewing stand erected but then having it empty...

Deborah Main said...

Great post, really enjoyed reading it :-)

Anonymous said...

Great post. It wasn't Liz Yelling's first marathon in April, though - are you thinking of Jo Pavey?

Adam said...

Thanks - and I guess you're right! I've correct the mistake - good spot and thanks for the correction.

Sheri said...

I think I only saw about 5 mile markers the whole way! They were all there, I think, but cunningly hidden... there should have been a prize for anyone managing to spot them all! I found the course itself OK, but the finishing area was a complete shambles, so much so that I am really put off from ever running this again. Great blog, well done on your race :)

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you had a great race. Well done. Injury robbed me of a decent time, but I share the frustration at/after the finish. I've run London several times. For Musselburgh, read Greenwich. Now that the organisers boast the second largest marathon (behind London), why not follow their lead, and bus us to Musselburgh, let us run the course in reverse, and finish in the expanse of Holyrood park, for a reunion and short hop into the city centre for post-race refuel.
I forsook the burgers and beer in the reunion park, and after queueing for the bus back to EDI, started my 'proper' post-race refuel approximately 3 hours after I finished. That is bad sports science!
Imagine the size of the crowds if we finished 'uptown'!

Shan't be running Edinburgh again in a hurry. Still - that headwind at the end will live long in the memory!!!!

Anonymous said...

Good to hear other's comments on the race. I had a pretty bad experience myself after the finish. Nobody was there to point me where to go, and no sign of medals or goody bags. I'd agreed to meet my wife at the finish, but was unable to get back to the crowd to our arrange meet point.... then it started to rain.
I was now cold and shivering, and my body started to kick-back at what I had just put it through. I carried on walking... and walking.... and walking until someone gave me a medal..... then a bit further..... a banana ...... then a goody bag...... or was it a T-Shirt? I definately wasn't going to queue to get a photo taken when I felt like I only had minutes to live before I died of exposure! I was starting to feel really bad, so was looking on the floor for a plastic bag to wrap around me. No luck. I just carried on walking until I came to a large fenced off area with faces pressed against it looking for loved ones. I scanned the fence, but no sign of that familiar face I see every morning.
After what seemed like an age, I found my way to the reunion area where a couple noticed [from the running club on my T-shirt] I was from Norfolk. They tried to talk to me, but I couldn't string a sentence together. I was in pieces and tried in vain to apologise. After a full 40 minutes of finishing, I finally found my wife. As soon as I saw her I burst into tears and was sobbing like a baby on her shoulder.... This is hard to admit, but I really had broken down emotionally and probably looked a real idiot to the others nearby. I was so happy when I finished the race as had done a PB (3:38), but the cold and uncertainty of the last 40 minutes made me go from an incredible high, to an all-time low.
Without this cock-up at the finishing line, I would have been raving at how well everthing was organised. Yes the mile markers were hard to spot, but I thankfully had my trusty Garmin to tell me just how far I still had to run! Hydration points were well spaced, and always a smiling out-stretched arm with a bottle in it.
Did I mention the buses back to town were another 30 minutes walk away? I have to go now.... before I cry again at that memory......

Adam said...

Wow, that is an horrendous experience at the end of what was a great time.

I'd had real trouble finding my wife after the 2009 Edinburgh Marathon, and even more trouble finding my friend who had also run it. This year, as much as I didn't like the idea, I ran with my mobile in my back pocket and I think I will do the same for any other city marathons I might run. Depite the poor organisation, at least I could be immediately in contact with my wife as soon as I'd crossed the line.