Running the Race
Racing in Edinburgh was a fantastic experience. The crowds were loud and raucous in the well-populated town sections – particularly Musselburgh and Prestonpans. Several houses lining the route had music blaring out to help sustain that festival atmosphere. Small boys took great delight in using their hefty water guns to soak runners on request in the building heat. Kettle drum bands were in full force as always, accompanied by that strong Scottish tradition of hula dancing. Mile after mile of kind Scots folk held out bowls of sweets, Irn Bru scented sun tan lotion, and locally grown oranges. Some aspects of these facts are subject to confirmation.
My race plan seemed simple – run to half distance holding a pace a shade under a 3:10 finish time (7:15 mile pace) and then moderate mile pace by 10 to 15 seconds from halfway to 20 miles (or the finish) based on the circumstances and my condition. This was never planned to be a negative split performance. I wanted to have a solid platform by mid-race to allow me to maintain a cushion and protect my Boston qualifying time if the going got grim. London “good for age” standard was a late landing stretch goal but I had also built in a 5 minute buffer for that too. The calculated risk taken here was that pacing aggressively at the start may result in complete crash and burn past 20 miles. My long run and recent race performance suggested this was unlikely but not impossible. The pace over distance was unknown territory and I felt distinctly less confident in stepping up to a negative split given the closing stages of my previous marathon and with so much at stake. Adding to this rationale, the course gives up most of its downhill help early on during mile 4, probably gifting a minute or so at my planned pace between Meadowbank and the coastline. My white holding pen vest meant only 500 or so runners were ahead when I crossed the starting mat. I got a clean solid start, finding my rhythm early and encountering little in the way of traffic or mobile distraction. I went through halfway in 1:34:07, had hydrated well, eaten on plan and felt good, although it was now getting a little warm and I was conscious of seeking some shade in narrower streets. The direct sun and building temperature were a factor in my choice to then ease the pace a touch and stay as comfortable as possible up to 20 miles. The race leader, and ultimate clear winner Tola Lema from Ethiopia, flew towards the finish on the return side of the road as I passed the 15 mile marker. Miles 16 to 19 of the course are pretty much inaccessible to spectators and have long sheltered sections lined with trees, including the furthermost point of the course at 17.5 miles. Brutal mentally, as all that could be heard for long periods was running shoe hitting tarmac laced with birdsong and the relentless pumping of blood in the ears.
Immediately following the turn for home is the Gosford House off road section, which became an eventful five minutes. A fellow runner faltered and collapsed to the ground in front of me, the heat was starting to take its toll but thankfully there were immediately marshals on hand to deal with this. I became convinced that one of a group in front of me had earlier lost control of a key bodily function and the effluent aroma combined with the dusty heat was an unwelcome heady brew. As I eased passed them, I shot the suspect a glance without thinking, just as a piggery yard appeared beyond a fence behind him, which was clearly the origin of the foul stench. Sorry Jimmy, got that one wrong. I crossed the 30km timing matt in 2:15:53, with a 3:10 finish still very much in range and then….bang – a shot of locking cramp in my left leg and suddenly I was standing still. Stretching desperately and digging fingers furiously at the muscles brought some relief, enough to promptly start running again to my surprise, but I was destined to run the final 12km on a tightrope between full cramp seizure and the longest stride that I dare. The pain level rose steeply and soon after every fibre of my being wanted this to be over in short order – a desire shared with thousands of others in tandem of course. The shortened step I adopted contained the condition until deep into mile 25 when I was forced to stop once more in response to a locked calf, this time accompanied by a volley of Scots brogue from the sidelines as the swollen lines of spectators rallied around the closing stages. By then, too much time had leaked away and running the second half in 1:42:42 I finished the 2013 Edinburgh Marathon in 3:16:49; 409th position from a field of 8182. A painfully close 1m50s beyond the good for age standard required for London but immediately becoming an eligible V45 qualifier for the 2014 Boston Marathon.