Wednesday, 6 October 2010
The Loch Ness Marathon
The horn sounded and the race began. Nearly 2,500 runners were behind the starting line, and I was between the signs for the 3:00 and 3:30 estimated finishing time runners.
I shed the garbage bag that I’d been wearing over my shirt as shelter from the drizzle and the cool morning temperature. I’d had my arms tucked inside the bag, trying to keep warm. I crossed the starting line. Music blared through large speakers: and I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more...
Mile 1 was a fairly steep descent, and I ran it in 7:06. This was fast, but it was due to the terrain.
The slope eased in mile 2. Runners streamed past me, at what seemed like a 10K race pace. My plan was to take it easy in the first 6 miles, and treat them almost as a warm-up. I’d learned a hard lesson about running out of energy in the Edinburgh marathon. I wanted to fool my body into thinking it wasn’t running yet in the first miles of this race. My time for mile 2 was 7:42.
There was more descent in mile 3, and it came in at 7:31. It was raining, and my shirt was wet. I settled into a more even pace and ran 4, 5, and 6 in 7:47, 7:45, and 7:46. As I had in my training runs, I snacked on a brownie between miles 5 and 6, and took a swig of sports drink at the drink station.
During mile 8 I felt a rock in my shoe. I stopped and took my shoe off, shook it, and then put it back on. This was my first mile over 8 minutes, at 8:01.
I was tiring slightly, but ran 9 under 8 minutes. I was pleased to get to double-digit miles at the 10 mile marker.
In miles 11 and 12 I started to flag. I hadn’t even done a half-marathon yet, and I was feeling tiredness in my legs. I ate more of my brownie, and took some water.
I fell in with a friendly runner from Ireland named John. We chatted as we ran and the miles slipped by. 13, 14, and 15 were at or just under 8 minutes per mile. The rain had stopped now, and we had occasional expansive views of Loch Ness. I’d finished my food now, and was running without carrying anything. Eventually, I slipped ahead of John.
Miles 18 and 19 held a large climb. Unaccountably, I started to feel good. 18 came in at 8:35, and 19 was 8:11. Although these were slower that my goal pace, they were hill miles, and I was encouraged to be this late in the race and still feeling o.k.
Near mile 20 I fell in with a runner doing the race for “Help the Heroes”. He was running a decent pace, and I slipped in behind him. Mile 21 came in at 7:47.
There was another climb in in mile 22 and by 23 I began to seriously tire. My pace slipped above 8 minutes/mile once more. I knew that it was only a 5K left, but my energy was depleted.
I just kept moving in mile 24. I wanted to stop. As my pace involuntarily slowed, I knew that I was unlikely to qualify for Boston. I was in the first stages of hitting the wall. I wasn't there yet, but I couldn't hold my pace any longer. 24 came in at 8:42.
At 25 I knew that it was only a mile and a bit to go, but I couldn't speed up. My watch read 3:19:33. Ten minutes to run 1.2 miles, but my pace was already above 8 mins per mile.
I fixated on the legs of the guy in front of me, and made that my whole world. I imagined that there was a rope between us and that he was pulling me. I thought of Joe Simpson crawling from back to his camp with a broken leg in Touching the Void. He didn't focus on camp, but on the next rock outcropping, and dragged himself towards it.
I just kept this guy's legs in view. We crossed a bridge over the river, and even the slight incline of the bridge was exhausting. The sun was out as we headed toward the park and the finish line.
26 was 8:48. I knew there was only a lap around the track left, so I began to sprint. I saw a large , inflatable Loch Ness Monster, and thought that this was the finish line. It wasn’t. I put in one more burst and heard the announcer say my name as I crossed the finish line.
I finished in 3:29:48. I’d qualified for the Boston Marathon.