1 June 2017
A warm Sunday 28th May began at 05:30 and after 16 weeks of training it was time to get ready for the Edinburgh marathon, my second attempt at a marathon and the first I’ve really worked at. With some nerves I made it to the start line. I barely made it to the finish line.
The build up to the day itself went smoothly enough. We travelled north on the Friday, the hottest day of the year so far, in a car sorely lacking air-conditioning. A Saturday spent catching up with friends and family was a welcome distraction, and a timely break in the weather was a welcome relief. A strict Saturday evening involved plenty of water, a decent but not over facing meal with no frills, and an early night.
To the day itself. As my wife was helping with a charity cheer squad we had a very early start to make sure she could get out to the cheer point in advance of the half-marathon which went at an obscene 8am. Breakfast (overnight porridge oats in almond milk) was eaten about 6:15 to set me up for the race, a tried and tested breakfast that had worked well during training. By 6:45 we were out of the house and heading to Edinburgh.
As I headed to the start point I was nervous. When I’m running a 10k or half-marathon I know I can run the distance reasonably well so I don’t tend to get nervous, or doubt if I can do it. Here I was riddled with doubt. Unfortunately, to some extent, that doubt was justified.
I set off at a steady pace. My target for the race was to finish in around 3:30 so I kept my pace just under 8min/miles. I was feeling pretty strong through the first few miles and resisted the urge to up my pace in search of a quicker time. Plus, although it had cooled down from the temperatures hit in the previous few days it was still pretty warm. As the miles ticked by my pace was holding without feeling like I was putting in too much effort and at mile 15 I was feeling confident.
By mile 17 I noticed a slight drop in my pace, but not to any significant extent. I was down to about 8.5min/miles so I was dropping outside my 3:30 finish but still on for a time I’d be happy with. This continued up until mile 21 when things started to unravel. I was feeling warm, and concerned my pace was dropping further I decided to come to a stop at the next water station to take on water and another gel to try and get myself fuelled up and hydrated for the last stretch. Oh what a mistake this was. It may have just been the gel, it may have been the gel and too much water, but I never really got going again after this stop. A few minutes later my stomach was cramping and I was in pain. I tried to carry on, setting myself imaginary targets of getting to the next bus stop before I walked again, but it was useless. My stomach was seriously unhappy and I had to stop again. For the next mile or so I just about managed to maintain a reasonable split of run/walk but things were getting worse.
By mile 23 I was mostly walking and it was frustrating. In my previous marathon effort I struggled because my legs couldn’t handle the distance, my calves were cramping up from about mile 20 onwards. This time my legs were fine (well not fine, they were managing) but I’d overdone it on the energy gels and my stomach couldn’t cope. I took my first gel around 80 minutes in and one followed roughly every 30 minutes after that. In hindsight the signs were there that I was starting to react to them the more I took more, but I was so determined not to burn out like last time I ignored this and carried on taking them.
By miles 24 and 25 I was in agony when I attempted to run so these miles were in effect full walking miles. I considered a tactical roadside sick but the crowds were too big and I didn’t honestly know if I had the energy to get back up again if I went for this. I knew I had no chance of getting round under 4 hours, and for a little while I doubted if I would even finish. It was only two miles to the end but I just wanted to sit down and wait for this pain to pass.
About half a mile from the finish my legs eventually started to protest and were ceasing up, perhaps from the fact that they were cooling down after two miles without running. I knew I didn’t want to walk across the finish line so tried to run again. My stomach was a little better, a spell of wind (apologies to those around me) had helped and running was an option again, albeit on reluctant legs by this point. I was running at 10min/miles but the important thing was I was running and managed to keep it going to the finish.
And so the disappointment of another 4 hour plus marathon. It was just about a PB but well short of what I wanted. I was gutted, and in my tired state I couldn’t help but shed a few tears. Consoling words fell on deaf ears, yes I’d managed to finish a marathon but I only ran around 21 miles of it. And worst of all, what if I’d let E down. After all this was all for her. With a little food and recovery I started to come round, I was (and still am) gutted but less emotional.
During those walking miles I vowed never to run a marathon again. Truthfully, if I wasn’t already signed up for another one in October I probably wouldn’t. I love running but I don’t love marathons. The thought of putting in all that effort across 16 weeks of training, to then blow up again at 21 miles just seems like a waste. But I have signed up for it, so October’s Yorkshire marathon will be my last attempt to get a marathon time I’m pleased with.
I have learnt something from Edinburgh, I can’t handle energy gels. Or at least I can’t handle more than a couple during a run. Despite the fact we now have a cupboard full once again I’m going to ditch these and try something new. In my post-race frustration I took to Google to see what other options were out there and I seem to be down to two:
- Try to train my body to run a marathon without any in race fuelling or;
- Try out a non-sugar based option (a recipe for homemade bacon rice cakes has caught my eye).
I’d love to get to the point where I didn’t have to take on anything except water during a marathon, but that feels unachievable. The savoury option appeals, although the thought of trying to eat bacon at mile 21 seems equally unachievable at this point. That is a problem for another day, the next training plan kicks off on 19th June so until them I’m going to keep things light and enjoy a couple of weeks where marathon running isn’t taking over my life.