"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.
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.