It is Saturday night. A week ago was the eve of the 2018 Edinburgh Marathon. I made a quick photo blog of the event earlier in the week, but due to low levels of inspirational juice I did not attempt what would be the last post under the category of McRunning Man. The juice levels have fluctuated over the last few days, aided or hindered by varying amounts of wine and beer. I think I have hit that optimal level to hit the keyboard…
The title, as is not unusual for my posts, has both a literal and metaphorical meaning. Musselburgh was the finish line for the Edinburgh marathon, but to reach it we had to run beyond Musselburgh, along the East Lothian coast, past Cockenzie and Port Seton, to as far as Aberlady, then loop back round. Oh, how I wanted to cut across the dividing cones and join those elite runners who were already on the home stretch as I was passing through the town for the first time!
The marathon started in the cold and grey surroundings of university buildings on Potterrow in Edinburgh. I had a last minute panic when I became a bit distracted and disorientated trying to find my starting pen – the purple one, especially for us slow runners. A starting pen makes it sound like a fenced-in area with a gate that suddenly springs open and we race out in pursuit of a mechanised hare. In reality, it is just a flagged section of what is a long queue to reach the starting line. For those of you not familiar with the technical intricacies of these big road races, the elite athletes at the front of the queue head off as soon as the starting gun is fired. It took me about 21 minutes after then before I crossed the line. At that point, the timing chip attached to the back of my number was automatically activated (electronically or by magic, for all I know), only to be deactivated once, and if, I got to Musselburgh (on the second pass, as noted above – if I had crossed over the cones, it would probably have given me a mild electric shock for being naughty).
It felt really good at the start. I had to check my pace and slow down a bit for fear of letting rip too soon. Despite the murky conditions, Edinburgh looked great. We ran past Greyfriars Bobby, down The Mound (thank goodness it was not up it, as I had thought it would be – I had clearly researched the route well!), along Princes Street past the Scott Monument, dipping down past Waverly Station before heading down part of the Royal Mile, veering round to Queen’s Drive that circles the base of Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags, and then somehow wending our way down to the coast at Portobello. A lot of dipping, veering and wending….
…and tripping. At mile 7.5 I somehow lost my footing and took a tumble. I was a bit
shaken, but only sustained mild grazing to my hands and right knee. Someone kindly helped me up, and others checked to see if I was ok. Great camaraderie, as anyone who has taken part in these events will testify to. And time stood still. Literally. The fall had stopped my sports watch and as I fiddled with it I ended up re-setting it. I knew it was about 7.5 miles into the race, but I was not sure what my timing was at that point. It seemed a simple exercise to add 7.5 to each new mile I registered with my reset watch and then subtract that from 26.2 to know how far I had to go, but the challenges of mental arithmetic were beyond me a couple of miles further on, and again I did not know my split times accurately. For us elite athletes, this is crucial information as we monitor our progress and hone our race strategies (which for me was basically “try to keep going forward”).
I became a bit dizzy around mile 9, and not really able to interact well with my support team who were cheering me on at that juncture (I learnt later they were worried about how I looked so early in the race – only another 17 miles to go!). I felt tightness across my back (this had kicked in much further in on my long training runs, and I had consciously tried to keep my posture relaxed) and my right calf muscle felt on the edge of cramping. These feeling persisted, with a little ebbing and flowing, until the end of the race, so there is a large chunk in the middle that I only have a vague memory of – it hurt, the finish was a long way off, the miles seemed to get longer, and I was never going to do this again.
I think part of the problem was not doing enough long runs during my training. My nutritional strategy was also a bit out of kilter following my fall. I had carefully calculated the amount of carbs I needed to consume to complete the race, but I found I had fallen short by about 70 grammes (equivalent to 280 kcals). I don’t think I “hit the wall”, but I certainly grazed against it.
As I approached mile 21, I think I found renewed energy. While there was still around an hour of running ahead, it seemed to be more manageable. I imagined the 5 mile training routes I enjoyed, how the road curved over little bridges and passed through those lovely Northamptonshire villages. It was helpful to imagine the miles broken into smaller, more manageable bite sizes. My race statistics showed that while I was passed by 28 runners in the last 5km, I passed 137 runners, thereby improving my position by 109 places.
To round the final bend to find myself heading down the home straight was a brilliant feeling – joy, pride, relief, exultation. I tried to maintain a strong posture, aware that my superb but worried support team would be cheering me on and massively relieved to see me.
Final thoughts? Although I still think I could run it faster (my chip time was 05:37;32), I think that finishing at all – and out-running the sweeper bus – was an important personal achievement. At the risk of falling into cliches, the mental/psychological/emotional axis of taking part in an endurance event is as important as the physical axis….
Which brings me back to the title of this post. The metaphorical dimension concerns where I go from here, both in terms of my running and my blogging. I do want to run another marathon – that feeling when crossing the line obviously more than makes up for the pain, or perhaps more accurately exists as it does because of the pain and struggle (above and beyond the release of endorphins).
And, unsurprisingly, I still feel that I have more to say about running and psychology. So, I am happy to announce that I will be launching a brand new Blog in the next few days! Please join me! The Frothy Filosofer will still be here for the usual non-running related content.
And finally…a huge thank you to everyone who has said such lovely things about “Mcrunnning Man” and to everyone who has donated to Kettering Mind. I know this is greatly appreciated also by the charity. The total raised with my Edinburgh adventure is currently £500, and I’m hoping that will increase over the next month – my page remains open…!!
[Additional photo credits – Tim and Kathleen Lee]