I had reached the start line in good shape with illness and injury successfully avoided. The training had been good and I would have to score it at a sound 80%. I would ideally have liked a few more long runs at, or nearer race pace, but the body was not up to further stress. The rest week had been very good and I had even kept a food diary to try to get 700g+ of carbs per day in the final three days. The training program had left almost nothing to chance. I say “almost” nothing because, as it turned out, there was one factor over which I had no control – the notoriously hot Scottish weather! Despite checking the forecast twice daily in anticipation of a break in the high pressure, it stubbornly lingered.

The weather meant a few changes to the plan. Firstly, I was completely convinced that my new target was 3:20. This was not a day to be stupid. So, on went the 3:20 PaceTat.

On long training runs I had even arranged family to support with up to three water stops to best prepare for the event. The temperatures of the previous week had indicated that I was going to need much, much more than three water stops and on seeing the still and sunny conditions at the start I decided I was going to accept water at every station. My trusty long-sleeved racing top was left on the bench and most incredibly of all Mr. Vain even accepted that a hat had to be worn.

The start was well organised and relatively hassle-free for an event of this size. There were no problems getting started in the London Road red zone and I was soon settling into somewhere just over 7min/mile pace. My splits for the first few miles were good and I stuck to my relatively conservative plan, determined not to blow up in the heat. The water stops were rattling past at a good rate and I made sure to take a bottle at each. Residents of Edinburgh, Musselburgh and Prestonpans – thank you for your fantastic support. You were incredible and I apologise for not being as appreciative on the way back. A side thought – I wonder how many kids were grounded on Monday for drenching complete strangers in the street with Super Soakers. I had an incredibly near miss around 9 miles. What was a very generous intention of support from @dongnr and @dunsrunner almost ended in disaster when I turned to acknowledge the former’s screams of encouragement and was tripped by a speed bump. Only my feline-like reflexes kept me on my feet. Recovering my stride, by around 10 miles I had around 3-4 minutes of credit when compared with the PaceTat goals.

The support through the next few miles was a great lift and before I knew it I was approaching half way. The amount of water I had taken on board seemed to help keep me on the road, but it soon became clear that I was in some discomfort and just beyond 12 miles I noticed a fellow runner exit a portaloo and decided that this was an opportunity I had to take. A few minutes taken now would let me concentrate on running for the remainder of the race. A fleeting visit to the toilet soon turned into something a little more protracted and it was a full 2.5 minutes later before I was back underway! I soon got back in my stride and the next few miles were solid. The heat was slowly but surely started to hit me and at the turning point (around 17.5 miles) I was becoming uncomfortable. The part of the course that took you round by Gosford House seemed to be the warmest and driest part for me. At one stage there was a huge bird of prey hovering above the runners and I joked that the vultures were waiting. Once again, the effects of the water hit me and the magical appearance of a (remarkably enough unused!) portaloo in the East Lothian desert tempted me to another pit-stop at a cost of another full minute. Strangely enough, though the spirit was yielding, the legs were still not offering any resistance to getting back underway. This time, surely I would make it to the finish!

Around this point I realised that I was now slightly behind the PaceTat target, but worse still I was outside the 7:38 target with every mile. This needed action, so I stepped on the pace. 50 metres later I realised that there was no increase to be had. Unless something changed quickly, 3:20 was gone.  Once we were back on the coast road I managed to get a steady speed for a few miles but it was becoming increasingly hard. It was only upon checking the Suunto statistics after the event that I realised that my heart rate had been pretty steady at 155bpm but suddenly jumped to above 170bpm (and stayed there) around 18 miles where there was no obvious increase in load. No significant incline and certainly no increase in speed. “The Wall” gets plenty of airtime in marathonland and the heart rate chart looks a little like a wall is there to me.

 

Heart Rate

At around 21 miles I suddenly realised that I didn’t want to be doing this any longer. I had a thought that a nice friendly face might take me by the arm and tell me that I didn’t need to continue. If that had happened then I would have found it difficult not to accept such wise advice. I dug in, but my sense of humour had long since gone and the marvellously enthusiastic kids soaking me were no longer endearing.

Around 23 miles I felt a searing pain under the little toe of my left foot. I guess I was lucky to get this far without feeling the effect of any blisters, but this one became apparent and detached from my foot in the same instant. Even if the legs wanted to keep moving – and they really didn’t – the stride pattern was becoming irregular with considerable pain every time my left foot was in contact with the tarmac. Much to my surprise (and relief), the pain subsided considerably after 5-6 minutes and I was once again able to commit my full attention to the general discomfort that I was experiencing.

It was only a couple of days later that I realised that while I had full sensory appreciation for the first 16 miles or so, and took in the entire experience, I have very little  recollection of the final 4 miles or so. I therefore have a period of more than 30 mins that is at best blurry.

 

Speed (km/h) vs. Time

 

The crowds near the end were once again terrific with lots of support and cheering for everyone. Aware that I was in full view of the spectators I put on my best front, lifted the shoulders pushed through the legs. The sight of my family cheering me on with a few hundred metres to go gave me a great lift. A left hand turn into the finish area then presented me with the welcome sight of the finish line. Once again I focused on good strong running form, working against the somewhat wobbly rubber matting. I had no
energy to pick up the pace. Runners around me were still able to throw in a final sprint flourish and an exultant raising of the arms.  Through gritted teeth I focused on forcing the legs on and crossed the line in 3:27:11 for by new marathon PB! I was greeted by a smiling Derek Carswell – one of the founding team from Falkirk parkrun – at the finish line and advanced to the runner’s village. It was at this point that I was overwhelmed with emotion and the tears started to flow and would not subside. The combination of relief at completion, satisfaction at the achievement, and a slump in blood sugar washed over me. The volunteers on duty did their best to offer verbal support, presumably assuming that I was dealing with some personal grief. I even had one fellow runner pat me warmly on the shoulder by way of support. The heavy medal with the innovative design took its toll on my sore neck/shoulders and soon I was basking in the sun devouring a very small oat bar from the “goodie” bag.

I love 10k road races. I have not fallen in love with the marathon. That situation is not going to change.

Postscript: Despite all my focus on strong form at the end, the online event videos at the finish strangely show my body being occupied by that of a hobbling old man, running with all the panache of someone with marbles in the shoes.

 

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