Edinburgh Marathon 2016


Lesser spotted Erme Valley Harrier (Slower variety)

A couple of days ago I had the privilege of running in the second largest marathon in the UK, the Edinburgh Marathon. There were over 6550 finishers in a race based in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It was fairly expensive at £20 more than the London Marathon in 2016, but it was well organised and had a lovely slightly rolling route with some gorgeous views.

Edinburgh is still a long way behind the London Marathon in size, but it does try to attract folk by offering a refund if you enter early and then get accepted into the London Marathon later in the year. It also sells out every year, so enter early!

It had been a while since I last visited Edinburgh and I really enjoyed walking around the city the day before. We covered about 8 miles wandering about, hardly a good taper, but it was well worth it. We enjoyed quirky shops, some lovely views and great food.

The race itself has two starts with colour coded areas depending on your predicted finishing time. This colour was evident all over the race numbers, as well as the number showing the name of the road you would start in and your name. The finish was several miles away in Musselburgh, so the organiser allowed you to drop your bag in a lorry at the start which would take it to the finish. There were also plenty of portaloos (still not enough. Are there ever enough?) and a tannoy in each road keeping competitors informed of timing and the race count down.

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When the race started the roads were wide enough so that there was plenty of room. It felt busy, but not over crowded, with runners thinning out as the race progressed. It started by weaving around the streets of Edinburgh, past Holyrood, the Royal Mile and Arthur’s Seat before heading along the coast until mile 17 when it turned back on itself down a compact trail and back onto the main road to the finish at Musselburgh. Here glory and a heavy medal awaited, along with a bit of a rubbish tech T and a very light goody bag.

You then need to get back to Edinburgh and your car/hotel/family. The event laid on shuttle buses which took 45 minutes, or you could walk the 1.7 miles to the local train station. It only runs once an hour though and is a small train in high demand, so be wary of that when making your choice. If anyone has driven out to meet you then they will find the traffic in Musselburgh mostly stationary on the race day afternoon with very little available parking. The organisers do warn that there is no Musselburgh parking for racers and their supporters, so do use the public transport options.

In summary Edinburgh is a fast course based in a gorgeous city. It is accessible and fun to take part in and is an event that I would highly recommend if road marathons are your thing.

My race

That’s the race summary over with, now what was my experience like?

I am fortunate in that my sister-in-law lives in Edinburgh, so I had somewhere local to stay at zero cost. My wife and I spent the day looking around Edinburgh on the Saturday and everyone was primed to come and see me finish on the Sunday. I ate my usual breakfast, picked up my drop bag and was given a lift to within a mile of the start. Edinburgh seemed to soak up the extra people and traffic well and the roads were quiet as we drove the two miles in.

My plan was pretty simple:

  • Portaloo
  • Bag drop
  • Portaloo
  • Race

The portaloos were spread alongside the start areas, with the ones nearest the bag drop being the busiest. I started walking towards the quieter portaloos further along as there were plenty without a queue at this stage, approx 40 minutes before the race start. I was wandering along looking about when I heard “Richard?” I looked up and there was T, a very fast runner that I know from my triathlon days. He was here to do his first ever marathon and hopefully bag a competitive place for the 2017 London Marathon. We chatted for a bit before I resumed my plan and stepped into a portaloo.

Next I made my way to the bag drop where I sorted my stuff. It was a chilly overcast morning, but the sun would be coming out later. I was dressed in my Erme Valley Harrier running vest, shorts and Brooks Launch road shoes. I was already shivering so I donned my bin bag to keep the heat in, bumped into another couple of guys from Plymouth, put my bag into its allocated section (by race number) on a lorry and headed back to the portaloo. While in the queue I ate a honey stinger waffle with 20 minutes to go. The toilet queues were moving really slowly and I finally stepped into my pen with less than five minutes to spare.

My race plan was simple. I was in better shape than ever before, although I was not totally fresh. It was only the end of May and already I had run 4 marathons and 3 ultra marathons in 2016, including the Ox Marathon just 7 days before in hard conditions. That notwithstanding I planned as if I had tapered perfectly. I would run to perceived effort in the first half of the race, getting as far as I comfortably could before the sun was due to peak out from behind the clouds later in the day. Once the sun came out and I started to tire then it would be time for the really hard work, doing all I could to maintain the pace to the finish line. Along the way I would collect gels from every aid station that I could as well as a mouthful or two of water at each one. I would not be walking the aid stations and I would be aiming to beat my PB of 3:39:12 set last year at The Dartmoor Vale Marathon. I was defying good racing convention by planning a positive split based on experience of what has worked best for me in the past.

The two minute countdown came and went. I checked my shoe laces, made sure that my small bum bag (containing mobile, £20 and two emergency gels) was in the right place, and rolled my shoulders as I waited. 30 seconds, then the 10 second countdown. BANG! We shuffled forward with everyone breaking into a trot and starting their watches as they went over the timing mat.

Folk spread out and there was very little mad swerving in my group (Yellow) and it all felt very sedate. I got a good look at Holyrood Palace and Arthur’s Seat before we headed to the coast. I glanced periodically at my watch, to check that I wasn’t being over exuberant or lulled into running too slowly. My pace was fluctuating between 7 and 8 minute miles, bang on target. The front of my right hip felt a little sore due to too much racing in the last few months, but I had expected that and ignored it. A small child was holding up a picture of a mushroom from Nintendo’s Mario with the words “press here to power up” written next to it. I “pressed here.” I don’t think I turned down the opportunity for a single high-5 on route. I swear that they help, and it makes the kids, and occasional old lady, very happy as well as speeding me up for a step or two 🙂

Onto the coast I looked up and saw a Plymouth Harrier’s Vest in front of me. I made a flippant comment as I drew alongside and ran the next 7 or 8 miles chatting with the Plymouth Harrier,  D, who was good company and despite the occasional complaint of feeling tired seemed to be doing an effortless job of moving forward.

10km came and went in 46 minutes. The half marathon came and went in one hour 38 minutes. I still felt pretty good, although my hips were getting stiffer and the miles coming harder as I started to push through miles 15, 16 and 17. I had already consumed my emergency gels and was grabbing extra wherever I could on the course. My pace had yet to slow, but I knew things would get worse in the last 10 km. No matter who you are the last 10km of a marathon are an exercise in suffering and pushing your body as hard as you can. At one stage I saw the race leaders glide by seemingly effortlessly in the opposite direction. I became very aware of the mile markers, but they were still coming and going pretty quickly. I passed the 30km mark in 2 hours and 21 minutes still on target and with some “fat” in my schedule. I looked down at my wrists. I have “Never Given Up” tattooed on the right one. I nodded at it. On the left I had a temporary tatto from the Organisers of The Oner that said “Be More Brutal.” I grunted at that, dialled the perceived effort up to 9.5 and cranked on.

There were pipers at the start and a couple of bands drumming and playing out on the course. All were excellent and made me smile. I tried to give them all a grimmace and a thumbs up to know that this runner for one appreciated their presence. With about four miles to go and the sun blazing down on me I walked an aid station, shovelling in a gel, a handful of jelly babies and then mugging a Salvation Army man for his store of Jelly Beans before starting to run again. My form clunky and my pace slowing step by step as I ground onwards. I was still on track for a PB by a substantial margin.

1 mile to go and with the perceived effort at 9.7 I pushed onwards. Then disaster. CRAMP. My left calf locked up, I eased it out while still running and then the right one went, then a muscle in the back of my left knee made me swear with the sudden pain and rock to a stop. I had only one option, to stretch it out. The pain eased off and I started running again in a clumsy gait trying to find an unused muscle that I had yet to exhaust. As soon as I started to lift the pace both calf muscles went again and I stopped again. I stretched, looked at my watch and ran the numbers in the head. I might still get a 3:30:0 but it was going to be tight. With around 400 yards to go I looked at my tattoos, gritted my teeth and ran. Both calf muscles tried to lock, the backs of both knees felt like they had razor blades in them and I pushed on. Perceived effort smashing against the red line as I came into the finishing straight. I was lurching like a zombie and weaving like a drunk quazimodo, but moving ever closer to the finish line.

I stopped the clock at 3:30:01 and a PB of 9 minutes and 11 seconds. It was all I could do to bow my head and collect my medal as I staggered off towards the bag drop. I bumped into T again, who had also been clobbered by the heat and cramp. He still managed an awesome sub 3-hour marathon though. D had also finished in front of me in a wonderful performance, strong to the finish.

My support crew had been held up due to the earlier trains to Musselburgh being full, so I wandered over to collect my bag, creakily got changed and walked the 1.7 miles to meet them at the train station. I was wary that if we missed the 14:45 train then the next one, an hour later, would be a lot busier. We got onto the train ok, then it hit me. I was exhausted. The heat of the train caused me to sweat profusely and as we went to get off I collapsed into a seat, dizzy and nauseous. What was going on with me? I staggered off the train, onto the platform and lay down. My wife and friends looked on nervously, so I opened one eye and reassured them that I was ok. One went to fetch me a bottle of water. The cool ground helped and my body temperature stabilised. My blood pressure also levelled out and I realised that I had mild heatstroke. The next couple of hours were spent poking fluids into me. I was still fine when walking around in cool air, but as soon as I went inside and the temperature got warmer the sweating and nausea would return.

Slowly I returned to normal and started to feel ravenous. I had a burger and felt a lot better. I continued to take on fluids and was soon back at my sister-in-laws munching on jerky amongst other things and continuously sipping on a glass of water. I soon felt well enough to have a bath and drink a cup of coffee. It was then that I noticed the shape of a race vest seared into my body by the sun. I am normally so careful about looking after my skin, but I had totally forgotten that while running in a race vest my shoulders would be that much more exposed than normal. The power of the Edinburgh sun had completely caught me out.

Final thoughts

To be honest I don’t like running like this, despite setting a significant new PB. I shall try to explain why.

I had purposefully gone to Edinburgh to run myself into the ground and set a new PB. This meant an acknowledgement on some level that I would physically push myself harder than my body can cope with. I hoped that this wouldn’t have any negative side affects, but there would be no guarantee.  This was the first time I have ever suffered from heatstroke and I have competed in endurance events in a wide variety of conditions. I usually prioritise looking after myself above everything else so that I will live to race another day.

If the sun hadn’t come out from behind the clouds then I would have got away with it more easily, and I probably would not have brought this up. The sun did come out though and I was not willing to compromise. To be honest I didn’t even think about it until after the race when I observed the heatstroke and the sunburn. Until that point I was so busy pushing myself onwards that I didn’t notice.

My personal preference is to enjoy myself and to push my mind much more than my body, hence a tendency to run “hard” trail marathons and ultra marathons or to compete in events like Ironman. In these events you have to look after yourself or you wont make it to the finish. If you like to race as often as I do then you have to look after yourself or risk failing to turn up at the start of a subsequent race or races. I also want to do everything I can to ensure that I come home from every race or expedition to my family.

Next up I have the Giants Head Marathon, The Dorset Invader Marathon and the Bad Cow Weekender before heading off to Iceland 🙂 Expect slower times and some beautiful pictures of the Wiltshire countryside.

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