A few things I’ve learned from the marathon….

Sunday’s race was both great and awful at the same time. It was three years since my first marathon and I’d forgotten what a slog it feels from 18 miles on when every single part of you just wants to stop. But the support on the course was amazing. Given the heat and the fact my training hadn’t gone as I’d hoped, I was really pleased to finish in 3:22:54. Probably more then anything it was a good learning experience and here’s what a good few hours of running around East Lothian taught me last weekend….

1. Your mind can play some weird games with you before the race
In the weeks leading up to the race, I was feeling pretty unconfident. I’d managed to get ill twice during my 16 week training programme, had picked up shin splints and, as a result, had only just got to 40 miles a week at my peak of training. In the week before my race, my mind was making things worse: my shins were as sore as they’d ever been, my stomach was cramping up even for light jogs and, the day before, I was convinced I was getting the flu.
I’m not sure how much of the pain was real and how much in my head (I suspect more of the latter) but I was almost surprised on race day that my stomach pain eased as soon as I got on Dermot’s bike to do my warm up (I didn’t even want to risk any running before the race as I didn’t want to feel any stomach or leg pain which would have put me off the race). When the gun went I had a huge grin across my face as my legs felt light for the first time in ages, I felt full of energy and my stomach only gave me problems for a few miles. It’s very bizarre the games that your mind can play on you!

2. Mile markers can’t always be trusted
I thought the race this year was particularly well organised (unless you were a fast relay runner stuck behind a mass of marathon runners!) but I had set off with a pace strategy that relied on the mile markers being pretty much accurate to give me a guide on where I was. I’d printed off a pace band for a 3:20 finish time with the plan that, if, by some miracle I was feeling fresh with 10k to go, I’d push the time and see what I could do from there but, if I felt bad towards the end of the race, I’d have built up a small margin so that I could still aim to get in under 3:30.
After the first few mile markers, my pacing seemed to be seriously erratic: I was around a minute down on one and then suddenly ahead of target on another, all while I felt to be running quite steadily. I overheard a few runners with GPS watches point out that the mile markers weren’t evenly placed and I realised that I was going to have to run by feel rather than rely on an accurate pace check for the race. Whether the accuracy of the markers improved as the race went on or if it was just a fluke, I still kept half an eye on my pacing band and seemed to be pretty much spot on for most of the race but it was a good lesson to learn to run by feel rather than what your watch and a race banner is telling you.

3. You can get through a lot of chat in three hours and 22 minutes
My first marathon three years ago and the 22 mile race to North Berwick before it had both whizzed by quite nicely as I’d had someone to chat with to keep my mind distracted from what my body was going through. So I was quite pleased when someone came over to me while I was running through Leith Links and decided I’d make a good pacer for them. I probably found out more about him in the next 20 odd miles than I know about most of my friends and we covered a pretty diverse range of topics from his 81 year old time-trailling mum (who’s impressively fast on a bike!) to Lance Armstrong, the benefits of horses v bikes and Paula Radcliffe’s bowel movements (it was an educational race!).
As well as the distraction benefits, it also stopped me from heading out too fast or feeling too nervous and I’m sure it helped.

4. Every friendly face is worth its weight in gold when all you want to do it stop
Having last done the race three years ago with just a handful of spectators on the course, the difference this year was amazing. Having the half marathon crowd around Musselburgh was a big help and the Macmillan guys had really come out in force and were making a real racket to cheer everyone on, not just their own runners.
But by far the most valuable support was from friends along the way. Dermot managed to appear magically around nearly every corner while the rest of team EAC were being as vocal as possible around Musselburgh – I’m sure many marathon runners would pay to take Niamh along as support. Richard’s Lucozade, Garry’s seemingly endless water supply and everyone else’s cheering along felt fantastic: thank you to anyone who was out there on the day.

5. Warm weather training is quite handy before warm weather races
Less than two weeks before the marathon, I was taking part in the half marathon race at Club La Santa (CLS) in Lanzarote and, while sweltering away in the heat, was chatting to Jo about the marathon and being so glad I’d picked Edinburgh so I wouldn’t have to face such a long distance in the heat. Little did I know.
I was worried at the time that so much racing and cross training in the heat two weeks before the marathon was going to jeopardise my race, particularly as I’d only got up to a max of 40 miles a week at the peak of my training and really I should be starting to cut back and taper.
It definitely didn’t do any harm and who knows it might have helped me cope with the heat on the day. The lecture at CLS from Ron Hill on battling on through any problems probably also helped in some way.

6. There are occasions when you’d literally beg a small child to attack you with a water gun
How Ron Hill ever ran marathons without taking on water is still beyond me. It might be seen as a sign of weakness by Ron but I stopped at every single water station on the day and took a small sip and sprayed the rest all over me. It was still blisteringly hot even with regular water stations and the hoses and kids with spray guns were amazing on the day. It was great to see their faces enjoying the fact that this was the one day where they weren’t going to get told off for blasting strangers in the street with water!

7. Finally, never make rash promises on the finish line.
In particular don’t declare on finishing that you’re never going to do another marathon ever again because it’s a crazy race for crazy people. The next day, results will be up, you’ll start scanning where you came and considering what time you might be able to do next time and before you know it, you’ve committed yourself to more cold, long, dark winter runs and kitchen cupboards filled with more gels and energy bars than normal food. I’m not quite at that stage yet but I suspect I might be eating my finish line words at some point in the future.

8 thoughts on ““A few things I’ve learned from the marathon….”

  • Garry

    Great report Vik and great time. Sharpening up at CLS worked a treat. I agree that there is a new work opportunity for Niamh as a ‘rent a crowd’! Niamh had me feeling I should start running at the 25 mile point and I wasn’t even taking part. The whole EAC cheerleading team must have got several hundred runners back jogging again after they had given up. Well done to all runners and supporters 🙂

  • Steve Booth

    Nice report Vik. Sounds like quite an adventure and a great run given injuries and illness. Did the organisers start the relay runners off behind all the marathon runners this time?

  • Jenny

    I love the way you’ve written that Vik – a great alternative to the ‘traditional’ race report & very educational! I was smiling the whole way through that, imagining you out there having a good time :0). You must be chuffed to bits with your time too?

  • Vik

    Steve, Ask Seamus about the relay experience! They set them off after all the marathon runners targetting sub 4 hrs so it left them stuck behind a mass of runners from the start! For marathon runners though, the organisation was brilliant.

    • Steve Booth

      Thanks Vik. That must have been an interesting first leg then. I should probably apologise to Seamus then as I think my previous relay team selections might have inadvertantly influenced that policy change :-/

      • Richard Meade

        I am sure they did this as a result of the Booth Effect on recent Edinburgh Marathons, with your star studded international relay line-ups whipping the leaders in the main marathon!

  • Grant

    I read through your comments with repeated nods of agreement. Especially number 7! I’ve gone from “Shoot me if I ever mention it again” to “maybe next time I can do myself justice”. Aside from your time (well done!) your experience was very similar to mine.

    Great little report.

  • martin

    Great report, Vik. I was nodding through a lot of them too. When the weather is hot and sun is shining, I’m never sure if it’s best to pour water over oneself or not – the water would amplify the sun’s effect, surely.

    Given it’s two weeks since the race, can you tell us what you’ve signed up for now? 😉

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