Edinburgh Marathon

The finishers medal
The finishers medal

It’s been a long road, it’s not been easy but I did it, I finished my first marathon. Thank god that’s over.

The build up
The trouble with this marathon lark is that the training period is so long and you’ve invested so much time and effort that it becomes quite a big deal. I’ve been really quite concerned over the last week, almost convincing myself that I’d not done enough training and that it would end in ignominious defeat. When I saw the weather forecast for sunny and hot I got even more worried, not only wouldn’t I finish, but I might die.

My family and I got the train up to Edinburgh the day before the race, booked into a very decent b&b and of course I settled down to a big plate of pasta and a galleon of water. That night I could hardly sleep and woke up tired at six for my breakfast of cereal. I covered myself in generous amounts of Vaseline and not quite enough sun block, strapped on my energy gels and I was ready.

Got to the start in plenty of time, but as usual there were enormous queues for the loos. 9500 runners and about 40 toilets or so it seemed.

The Race
Due to my optimistic predicted time I was in the 3rd out of 6 starting groups which at least meant that it wasn’t long for me to get over the start line. The sun was shining and the views were good, firstly through town and then beside Arthur’s seat before heading over to the firth near portobello.

Apart from the nice views my main thought was not to go too fast, the one piece of advice everyone seemed to agree on. I therefore concsiously reigned myself in and fought against running my natural pace. As it turned out I think this really worked for me.

I sailed through the 13 mile marker having run for 2 hours thinking to myself ‘I’m feeling pretty fresh, I might be able to do it after all’. At 16 miles Deborah and Rose were there for my first bit of family support. It was great to see them and it helped spur me on. At around 17 miles I distinctly remember starting to feel a bit tired and I could also identify the start of some blisters. Nothing major, but I could feel them. At 18 miles the route down the coast did an about face and we now headed back the way we had come. I really felt from this point that I was definitely going to do it.

At 19 miles I passed the family again, grabbed a quick kiss from wife and daughter and feeling confident now.

It more or less struck me at the 20 mile marker that my legs were now shot and that it had suddenly got significantly tougher. I’d been told beforehand that 20 miles is the real half-way point and having got through it I think that’s pretty true. From here on in it was just about metronomically keeping my legs going.

I’d kept to my nutrition plan which was to have an energy gel every 5 miles, drink 100ml or so of water at each water station and the odd lucazade. As temperatures were so warm I also poured a bottle of water over myself at each station which was a great relief.

At 23 miles I was dead on my feet and would have happily sat down but kept grinding out each step. It was about this time that I made my only mistake in the race. I took and ate a couple of jelly beans being handed out by a friendly bystander. For some reason they made me feel quite nauseous and I really wish I hadn’t.

The last three miles seemed to take forever and I’m sure there was a point between 24 and 25 when I thought ‘maybe I’ll just walk for a bit’. There were a lot of walkers by now, but I’m glad I didn’t join them.

They tease you with a mile marker at 26, which it’s tempting to think is the finish, but of course there is still another 200 yards which felt like another mile.

Crossing the finish
Crossing the finish

The end
Four hours, twelve minutes and forty seconds. Not bad, in fact it was much better than I’d hoped for and was spookily bang on the estimator time from the runners world website (based on my long run time). Of the 8,257 finishers I came a respectable 3367th.

I gamely tried to look happy at the finish line and raised my arms, but if I’m honest, I just wanted to collapse. Somehow I managed to stumble through to get a medal, water, banana, t-shirt and goody bag. I then picked up my rucksack from the truck and sat down. My legs were just awfully painful and I was feeling quite ill. I wish I could have stayed there for a while, but I needed to find my folks.

Deborah was fantastic, getting several trains to various bits of the route and then to the finish. I couldn’t wait to meet them.

There I was, I’d done it, yet I felt strangely free from elation (and still do as I write this the day after). I feel like I’ve been through some kind of trialalthough I think I passed. I’m actually really pleased with the time and feel that I’ve made a good account of myself. It seems you can do a marathon with no more than three training runs a week. It was also pleasing that my race plan really worked.

As things stand at the moment, I don’t feel the need to do another one.

I have to give a special thanks to Deborah who has had to put up with my training, my moaning, my worrying and occasionally my tetchiness. I couldn’t have done it without her.

Marathon training #4 – Tapering

In my last post I  reported on my maximum training point (28 km), but since then I’ve been ‘tapering’.

It seems that marathons are so exhausting that after a proper level of training it’s then a matter of ‘resting’ for nearly a month before the big day. I’ve found this principle quite different from my previous training for 10km or half-marathon when the maximum training is usually the week before the race.

Since my longest training run I’ve gradually reduced the ‘big’ run each week by about half an hour with my last run yesterday being about an hour. The good news was that an hour run these days seems fairly short and relatively easy.

I’ve been bugging everyone that I know who has run marathons for their advice and tips. Various useful things have been said but the one that everyone has mentioned is ‘don’t go too fast at the beginning’. I have a feeling that this is tougher than it sounds.

A couple of things I’ve heard recently I really like and aim to use. The first was from Ranaulph Fiennes on his ascent of Everest “tell yourself to ‘keep plodding’, the mountain never ends, just keep plodding, like a mantra”. Wise words. Another was from Andrea who said that half way in a marathon isn’t half way in effort. Treat 20 miles as half-way. I aim to keep both these things in mind.

Race plan
Considering this is my first marathon and it’s a bit of a journey into the unknown, I’ve found planning the race a bit tricky. As far as I can I’d like to take things fairly easy for at least the first 10 miles, maybe even up to half-way and then see how I feel.

I intend to have an energy gel every 5 miles (despite them tasting horrid) plus I’m going to walk through all of the water stations in an effort to actually drink the water. Even with walking I still found this tricky in the Hastings half-marathon but I think it’s worth a shot.

I realise now that we are only a week to go before the race that I’ve been incredibly imprecise with logging my run speeds and routes which is unusual for me. I generally always like to know my pace and distance, but this has been really hard for the marathon training. I’m now finding it really hard to know what sort of pace I should be doing and what time I should aiming for.

Time for wild predictions. Obviously my main goal is to finish. Secondly I really want to have got there without any significant amounts of walking. If I do manage to run all the way, then I should definitely be under 5 hours and under 4 hours 30 mins should be possible.

I’m feeling really nervous. I’ve been running regularly for years and taken part in numerous 10km and 21km races, but this is a real leap into the unknown and I’ve no idea what to expect. I’ve heard a lot about ‘the wall’ but when I’ve actually asked people about it their stories are all different. I guess I’ll be finding my own.

It’ll be an adventure and I dare say emotional.

Marathon training #3 – Peak training

Well, that’s my longest training run in the bag. Will it be enough??

The half-marathon I ran in the last report gave me a real wake up call and I have to say I’ve taken things a lot more seriously since then. Each week I’ve manged three runs, two shortish ones and one long one at the weekends. I realise that my total weekly mileage is relatively low and I’m relying more than I should on the long run. My problem is just a real lack of any more time to do any more sessions.

The weekly long run in particular has steadily got longer in both time and distance, increasing by 20-30 minutes each week. This week I did my longest run (that I’ve ever done in my life so far) of 28km (17 miles) which took me about 2 hours 45 minutes. I’m relatively happy with my pace, it just remains to be seen whether I manage another 14 km on the day. I’m really hoping that my tapering and final rest week will be the difference in the extra energy that I’ll need.

On this run I carried a home made isotonic drink and had an energy gel about half way round, both of which I was very grateful for. If I’m honest I felt tired almost from the beginning and by 13km my legs felt spent but something in me just let me plod on. I didn’t try but I felt I had just the one steady pace that I could neither go faster or slower than. Weird, but that’s how it felt.

Considering that I was feeling very despondant last week on my chances of finishing, I feel a lot better about it now. Even with tapering I still have some long and potentially tough runs still to do, but hopefully I’m through the worst of it.

I put this time through a pace estimator and it tells me that I’m on for a finish time of 4 hours 13 minutes. If I got anywhere near that I’d be very happy.

Bring on Edinburgh!

Marathon training #2 – 13.1 miles

I said that the half-marathon was going to give me a good idea of progress, and it has.

The good news at least is that I can at least get round the first 13 miles of the course. The bad news is that I don’t think I could have taken another step. Things aren’t desperate yet, but I do have some hard work to do now to get in shape for the big one.

Hastings half-marathon
It all started fairly badly with the most chaotic and stressful starts I’ve ever had. We got to Hastings with what I thought was a reasonable 45 minutes to spare, however, what with traffic almost at a standstill and then nowhere to park I nearly didn’t make it. I was also busting for the loo and there were no toilets, ahhhh.

Always check out the route of a race. I didn’t and found that this race was amazingly hilly. Significant amounts of the first 5 miles are up-hill with one stretch of 2 miles continuously! This was fairly tough and I was very glad of my hill training at home. After the first 5 miles the route undulated or was flat or downhill which was good as my legs were about done.

I kept going through the unseasonably warm March weather (it really was a beautiful day), but I increasingly found as time went on that I was passing less and less people and many more were passing me.

During the race I gave a strategy that I’d read about a go. In this race I walked through all the water stops, tried to drink the cup and additionally threw a cup over my head. I still found drinking much water a struggle, but the pause was always welcome.

I was very grateful to see the ten mile marker as I ran through Hastings old town as I was fairly beat by now and I knew that it was just a run along the front to the finish. Those last miles, however, I found very tough and it was mostly will power that kept me going. Things got particularly desperate when I didn’t see the 11 mile marker and it seemed like forever before the 12 came into view.

I eventually made the finish line, though I couldn’t manage a final sprint. Very tired. Spent. Happy.

The Hastings half-marathon is a tough and hilly race and I only just made the finish. I did just about get in under two hours though, which is a plus. Not sure I’d do this race again, too much hassle to get to the start.

Now the real hard work begins…

Marathon training #1


Following several years of trying and failing to get into the London Marathon and getting injured before the New Forest marathon I’m now down to compete in the Edinburgh Marathon on 31 May 2009.

Contrary to intuition, the Edinburgh Marathon is in fact one of the flattest and therefore fastest in the UK. The course starts in the city centre but quickly makes its way to the firth of forth and then goes up and down the coast and ends at Musselborough.

Training plans
I’ve been greatly confused by the many training plans for marathons that seem to be out there. I’m confused as many have them starting a 20 weeks schedule with a ten mile run in the first week. For myself, I’ll just gradually build on greater distances each week with a fairly steady graduation.

Last week I managed three runs totaling 20km and i’m hoping to increase that this week. On the 15th March I have a half marathon race in Hastings which should really give me an idea where my training is.

At the moment I’m struggling to find enough time in my week to do more than three runs, but I know I’ll need to increase this somehow.

One big training issue I have is the fact that I live in an area covered in reasonably sized hills and all of my routes involve at least one and sometimes two or three climbs. In a way, I’m sure this is good training, but I do sometimes wish that I could have the odd long flat run without a lung-bursting climb in the middle of it.

My half-marathon race report should be the next milestone in the training plan and I’ll get a good measure of how I’m set then. I’m not panicing yet.