Monday, 24 May 2010

The Edinburgh Marathon

Over the P.A. system we heard the announcement that the race had started, but no one in my pen - I believe it was comprised runners who'd estimated 3:30 - 4:00 finishing times - moved forward. There were probably 2000-3000 runners in front of us, and until they got across the start line we had to wait. After a minute or two we shuffled forward a bit, and then stopped again. Eventually we moved forward again, and began to break into a slow jog. I crossed the start line about 3 mins into the race, and started my watch.

The human traffic was dense, and I was content to run at an easy pace through the streets of Edinburgh. We descended under a train overpass, and a woman in front of me was breathing hard and walking. She had no obvious muscle tone in her (ok, I'll say it, plump) legs, and seemed to be struggling. The sun came out, and you could feel its warmth We then entered the Holyrood park, and my first mile was 8:48.

Bloody hell.

To qualify for Boston I needed to run sub-8 minute miles for the whole race.

I wasn't too worried, however, because I wanted to start slow - although, perhaps, not quite this slow - and run an even race.

Mile two was 6:50. Back on pace.

In mile three I started chatting with a guy who made scientific instruments in Glasgow. 7:14. Too fast.

Four came in at 7:30. This was more like the pace I wanted to run. The sun was out in earnest, and I was sweating. I wanted water, but accepted a sports drink at the water stop. It tasted very sweet.

At mile five we reached the promenade along the sea-shore, and I was surprised to find that I'd run an 8:11. Perhaps I'd chatted a little too much with the instrument maker in the last mile. He'd peeled off to say hi to a friend, so I was on my own now.

I tried to stay in the shade of building when I could, but there wasn't much. Also, if was difficult to run an even pace, as I'd find myself stuck behind 2 or 3 runners in a horizontal line.

My 10K time was 49:05. So far, I was on pace, and feeling ok. It was clear, however, that it was going to be a very hot day.

I was able to hold the pace below 8 mins. per mile. Crossing the bridge into Musselburgh near mile 8 I felt like I needed water.

At mile 9 I received a bottle of water at the water station. I drank some, and poured some over my head. The water felt cool and good as it made its way down the back of my shirt.

I started to feel the need for a pee, and looked for a place to peel off. I came to a porta-potty, however, and popped in. Even with this stop, my mile time was under 8 mins.

I reached the half-way point at 1:42. Just half to go.

I ate one of the brownie squares I'd been carrying in a plastic bag with me. I did the same at mile 15.

At 16 the course made a detour away from the coast, up a bit of a road and back down, I assume to make the distance correct. Here I really felt the heat of the sun and the road. It was baking now.

At 17 the course left the road and took a slightly broken road up around Gosford House (which I didn't even notice). I didn't realise this at the time, but it was a slight climb. I was alarmed by my split for this mile - 9:14.

I picked up the pace, but also benefited from a slight downhill. 18 was 6:44. Again, on average, I was back on pace.

My time through 18.6 miles (30 kilometers) was 2:26:31. I didn't quite realise it at the time, but I'd just slipped over the 8 minute-per-mile average for the race thusfar.


Can one identify, in the moment, when things switch from one path to another? One moment is so much determined by its predecessor. How can you know, in the moment, that by slight degrees, one's course has been shifted from one trajectory to another?


20 was 8:11. This, now, wasn't a mile that was confined by the crowd, or inflated by a climb. It was an honest mile, in the blazing sun, at the only pace I could now run.

I was starting to switch to survival mode. I clutched a water bottle from the last water stop, but felt like I needed some sugar. I picked up a discarded sports drink bottle - still partially full - and mixed it with my water. As I was doing this, a friend called out to me from the runners still out the outbound path. I waved, and then drank. The sports drink was hot from being in the sun.

21 was 9:14. I couldn't do anything about it. The mile markers seemed farther and farther apart.

I reached mile 23 at just over 3 hours. 3.2 miles in 30 minutes? Under normal circumstanes I would have little difficulty doing this. At this point in the race, I knew it was impossible.

I just kept moving forward. I tried to focus on just completing each mile.

The muscles above my knee began to be quite sore. My left knee - the iliotibial band -started to hurt. I focussed on the hazy tarmac and front of me, and just shuffled my feet.

24 was 11 something. The crowd was growing, but I had nothing to respond with. Now, I was starting to get cramps in my upper calves. At the water station I drank water and then some sports drink.

Many, many people passed me as I shuffled along. In turn, I shuffled past people who were now walking.

I started to think if I could finish this, I'd have a beer in the beer tent.

25 was 14 something.

I made the turn into the final straight-away. I saw my wife and children, and really appreciated their being there.

Ordinarily, I would have sprinted to the finish line, but I could not at this point. The cramps in my left calf felt like electric shocks. I hobbled across the finish line.


My time was 3:45:55. I'd failed to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

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