After sixteen weeks and more of preparation, the 27th of May 2012 dawned and it was time for the marathon.
|Polmont Station – I wonder where the normal people went?|
To say I was nervous would be something of an understatement. In spite of promises of mist and fog, the sun was splitting the sky as I had my breakfast of Weetabix and Cheerios. A glass of water, and it was time to go.
Marie drove me to the railway station, and as she dropped me off I wondered if there would be any other runners on the train. That turned out to be a foolish question – the real question was wheter there were any non-runners on the train!
On the platform, it was quite clear that there were loads of people who were going to Edinburgh to take part in the marathon. I started chatting with a lady who was also doing her first marathon, and seemed almost as nervous as I was. She was hoping to meet some friends on the train, but when it arrived we realised that just getting onto the train was going to be challenge enough by itself!
I don’t know how busy the 0750 from Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh normally is, but I’ll bet it seldom requires six carriages and is still standing room only by the time it reaches Polmont!
Those who were obviously regular users looked on aghast as their train was filled with people in strange running costumes, talking about gels and race timing, race strategy and just how long a distance of twenty-six point two miles was beginning to look!
On the train, as I chatted to a few others, I realised to my horror that I had left my Garmin at home. I had left it charging on top of the PC, and it was undoubtedly still there. Not a great start, but not the end of the world.
The train got into Edinburgh, and we all departed. I walked towards the starting area, and found the toilet block. It wasn’t hard to do, you just looked for the queue of several hundred people. Luckily, I had prepared for this, so I walked back to Waverley station, fished 30p out of my racing bag and paid to use the facilities in the station. They were busy, but nothing like as busy as the toilets at the start looked!
|East end of Princes St|
I went back to the bag drop-off area, put my label on my bag and deposited it on one of the trucks that would take the bags to the end.
The next area you came to as you walked towards the start was a kind of preparation area. There were runners and well-wishers, all wandering around somewhat aimlessly trying to work out what to do next. People milled around, but already we were very well aware of the heat. The promised mist was nowhere to be seen, and the hot sun was a harbinger of more to come.
I walked through this area, up the hill and on to Regents Terrace.
When you sign up to take part in an event like this, the organisers of the race ask you to predict your finish time. This allows them to put you into a “pen” with others who are expecting a similar time. The aim is to avoid putting fast runners in with slower ones, and the fast ones having to slow down and force themselves past the plodders.
I had put down a predicted time of 3:50. This was as a result of my time for the Alloa half marathon (1:44:00). The Runners World Performance calculator said that I could expect something like a 3:35 marathon time, and so I added something on to that time and submitted it. It wasn’t until I started running some long runs that I realised how stupidly optimistic that was… but by then it was too late to change it.
|The Orange Pen|
So I walked past pen after pen of people who had put more realistic predicted times. They were named after colours, and I must have walked past an entire rainbow before I got to my pen – the orange one. There were two starting points, but the orange pen was the very front of this start point. Too late to change anything now, I entered my pen and started listening to the Radio Forth outside broadcast that was being relayed to us all.
We learned that over 12,600 runners were taking part today, that a 72 year old lady was doing her first ever marathon, and that a 101 year old gentleman was taking part in the relay marathon. And we learned that it was really, really hot. That latter part wasn’t from the radio!
Soon we were told that the élite runners had started, and we had ten minutes to our start time. A couple more motivating songs (e.g. Eye Of The Tiger), and we were off!
We started off running downhill towards Holyrood Park, through the park (it’s very pretty – I’ve never been there before), then towards Leith Links. I was running very easily here, relying on the once-a-mile shout of pace from Endomondo on my old phone. Things were going well, and I had to hold myself back as at one point I heard my back pocket telling me I did a mile in 8:20.
Eventually we crested the small rise at Seafield Road and got our first view of the water. It looked lovely… but there was still none of the promised haar and the temperatures were steadily rising. Even at the six mile point I saw several runners who looked as if they were going to have to apply loads of after-sun cream when they got home.
There were loads of water stations – every 5km or so – and loos at all of them. I succumbed at mile nine and went to one, which was the first break in a run of sub nine minute miles. However, I was able to restart and pick up my former pace.
The support along the way was tremendous, with people lining the streets, cheering us on, shouting our names and encouraging us to keep going. We went through Musselburgh and Prestonpans, but I began to realise around this time that I was losing pace. Mile 11 – 8:48. Mile 12 – 8:55. Mile 13 – 09:00.
It must have been around mile 14 that a ripple of applause broke out amongst the runners. As we were running east, the élite runners were passing us, going the other way. They didn’t even look tired!
I kept going through Cockenzie and Port Seton, but between mile 17 I found myself walking. I was by no means the first – I had passed people walking since about mile six – but I was still disappointed in myself. I started back to running, to pass the huge Macmillan cheer point in the grounds of Gosford House, but from this point on I struggled. I alternately walked and ran, never stopping but not keeping up anything like the pace I had hoped for.
Not that I was the only one walking. Far from it. Every time I walked, I recognised about half the people that passed me. And when I started running, I passed many of them walking too.
As we ran on, the number of people at the roadside being tended to by first aiders was quite alarming. When we later got to Marie’s car, it told us that the temperature in the shade was 24°C – out on the road it was considerably higher. Once or twice we were ushered in to the side of the road to allow an ambulance to pass – I hope that everyone was okay.
Having said that, I cannot fault the organisers at all on the level of water available to us. Every 5km or so, a water station with no shortage of water for us to drink. Energy gels were widely available too, there were occasional water showers for us to run through, and members of the public were out spraying us down and handing out sugary sweets.
My pocket stopped talking to me after mile twenty, so I have no idea what my actual pace was. That may be a good thing. But as we got towards the bigger mile numbers, the periods of running began to get longer. As we approached the twenty-five mile mark, the crowds were swelling and the noise increasing. People kept shouting “Keep going, Alan”, and I couldn’t stop.
From somewhere I found the energy to run again, and I was catching people. I was looking for people in front that I could recognise – a brightly coloured top, or something similar – and I was making them a target. I was catching them.
I heard a shout and someone waved to me. It was my wife Marie, my kids and my mum cheering me on! I probably should have spotted them, but I was just focused on getting to the line now. I caught up with one target, then the next… and then it was a left turn into the finishing straight. I was really running fast for me, and… I was through!
I had completed 26.2 miles. Not, perhaps, as I had wanted to, but I had completed it none the less, and in pretty torrid conditions.
Once through, I was given a large bottle of water, I collected my goody bag, found a space on the Astroturf and sat down. I wasn’t quite sure if I would be able to get back up, but that could be handled later. I put the electrolyte tablet we were given into my bottle of water, shook it up and drank. I have no idea what it tasted like!
Soon a steward apologetically asked us to move on, out of the runners finish area into the general reunion area.
My supporters had come through to the reunion area, so we met up and had a chat and some hugs. We found a place to sit, and I drank some water that they had brought for me.
I was told that they had been standing for about an hour and a half at the roundabout just near the finish. The kids had been great, cheering everyone on, shouting out the names they saw on shirts, and doing their best to encourage as many runners as possible.
After a little while, we went to the Macmillan tent. This was an area set up for people who had been raising funds for Macmillan cancer support, and it was really well organised.
|Leg massage – heaven!|
I took them up on their offer of a leg massage – it was lovely – and also took some of the food and drink they had on offer. They even had a group of cheerleaders cheering on everyone who came through. It was somewhere between lovely and embarrassing – but the amount of effort that was being expended on making the runners feel special was clear to see.
We hung around for a while, enjoying the atmosphere, but decided to leave and head for home. I guess it was here that the only minor “nit” about the organisation came in; it was a walk of over a mile to get the shuttle bus, and the queues for the Edinburgh buses were huge. But that aside, I have nothing but praise for the organisers of the marathon – everything went smoothly and I had a great time.
|Me With My Bling|