This would be my 4th running of the Edinburgh Marathon, my 5th race in 5 weeks and standing conventional training and recovery wisdom on its head my 5th marathon or Ultra in just under 4 months.
I'd managed to pick up a relatively late charity place, running for Cancer Research UK so my main objective was focussed on fundraising rather than on time, although I still wanted to finish in a time I wouldn't be embarrassed about.
I drove up to Edinburgh the night before and stayed with my brother Ross, we enjoyed a quiet Mexican meal with my choice of Nachos with Jalapeños having the inevitable and rapid side effects. Although I managed a good nights sleep,and a civilised 8am alarm I still contrived to arrive at a chilly and windy London Road fully an hour before the start.
Despite being one of over 7000 runners it was a curiously lonely experience, as the sole Dumfries Harrier running the full marathon, and a real contrast to the friendly and sociable Ultra marathon scene.
Eschewing the sensible option of finding a coffee shop to stay warm in, I plonked myself on the pavement until I was so chilled I was shaking all over. Waiting 'till the last possible moment To put my bag on the baggage truck and made my way to the Red start pen, via two nerve induced toilet stops.
My appointed start pen was immediately behind the elite start, but knowing I wasn't in the same shape as my recent Malta marathon PB, I positioned myself right at the back of the 1000 or so runners.
I felt that with a following wind, I could average 8 minute miles to give me a finish in around 3 and a half hours, so immediately and rashly set off well below this at 7:30 - 7:45 pace!
It's well documented the the Edinburgh marathon starts in Edinburgh, but is really a tour of post industrial East Lothian.
The first mile takes you past Holyrood Palace, the Scottish Parliament and the brooding lump of Arthurs Seat but following a loop round Meadowbank it's 2 miles through quiet streets until the right turn onto Portobello prom at 5 miles. Thereafter keep the River Forth on your left for the next 13 miles until you turn round and you can't go wrong. There is of course the constant and slightly demoralising sight of the chimneys of the now decommissioned Cockenzie Power Station far ahead and the cheering thought that
A - they are a bloody long way away;
B - you are going to run past them an awful long way before you turn round and
C - there is a distinct and noticeable blustery tailwind, which is inevitably going to make the final 8 miles both interesting and challenging.
A lot of folk complain that the support on the course is spartan, Okay it's not London marathon busy, but given the less than ideal weather I thought there was a good smattering of vocal and enthusiastic support throughout.
Back to the race.
Having spoken to precisely no-one for the first 8 miles and with only two brief "fanny around for the camera" moments to break the Tarmac pounding monotony, it was really nice to see Christina Schmidt at the 8 mile mark although I'm not sure if she was so enamoured with me lobbing my sweat soaked gloves at her for safekeeping.
I held my pace below 8 minute miles all the way to the half marathon distance, passing this in 1 hour 41 minutes and briefly entertaining thoughts of a time in the low 3:20s. In fact I managed to maintain solid sub 8 minute miles all the way to the turn around point at 18 miles. Immediately on turning back west, the wind made its unwelcome presence known, and this wasn't a gentle spring puff to cool you, this was a proper noticeable headwind, it was going to be a long 8 miles to the finish!
There is a brief detour round the grounds of Gosford House and Estate and then you're back on the main road, running towards the stream of outbound runners. Initially it's a constant stream of hundreds, thinning out with every mile, until it's tens or runners then odd runners, then solo walkers and shufflers until you pass the last poor soul, being hunted down by the sweeper bus. Almost immediately my pace succumbed to the headwind, and almost as quickly runners around me were dropping to a walk, beaten by the wind, now I was slowly but mostly passing people, not quick not pretty but still passing.
With the wind gusting in our faces and the racing fairies reminding me I'd ran a 55 miler only two weeks ago my mile splits headed into the dark place that is 9 minute miles. I tried my counting 1 to 8 mantra, I tried my "any run is better than a walk" mantra, but to no avail, this was just going to be about grinding out a finish. I gave myself a stern talking to, "I've never walked in a marathon and I'm not going to bloody start now", it's time to wheel out ...........the Ultra shuffle.
(I was actually disappointed that I was taking a minute per mile longer until I heard a podcast with elite runner Steve Way (who finished in 2:29) saying that his entire second half was a minute a mile slower than his first half, if its good enough for Steve Way its good enough for me.)
About two miles from the finish a disgustingly cheery Ranjit from Dumfries Running Club ran past. He won't mind me saying but he's not the tallest bloke around and was happily drafting and chatting with his "draftee", shortly after he accelerated away to finish in a solid 3:28:20.
With one mile to go, I decided to man up and increased my pace again to 8 minute miles. The closer you get to the finish the thicker and noisier the crowds get. When you pass the Radio Forth cheering point there is a long straight towards the race course then a bend before the sharp left turn and the finish at Pinkie Park. Once I'm past the bend it's only a few yards, oh shit, oh shit it's not a few yards .....it's effing miles, I'm passing a lot of people now, the noise is rising, Oh thank the Lord, there's the turn. Sharp left and there's the finish arch about 200 yards away, I decide to forgo my usual milking of the crowd for more noise and I give it the beans. No-one is going to pass me now and I run like the hounds of hell are chasing me, although the evidence of the finish line video suggests otherwise, more of a studied plod than Usain Bolt.
I hear Sandra and Ian shouting on my right, but I'm too focused on the arch, nailed it......3 hours 30 minutes and 40 seconds.
There is no feeling in the world like finishing a marathon, relief, euphoria, satisfaction, joy all rolled into one, if I could bottle it and sell it I'd be the Richard Branson of the running world.
Momentary disappointment that I'm over 3:30, but only momentary. I feel like collapsing but keep walking to the finishers area, volunteers are handing out medals but I'll have none of that I insist it's hung round my neck. I collect my t-shirt and bottle of water and head to a quiet spot for a brief lie down.
Following a quick shower and a change, I'm heading to the shuttle buses for the ride back into Edinburgh proper, having negotiated the 1 mile uphill walk to the bus station with only minor swearing involved. I'm grateful to Ross who picked me up in London Road and gave me a lift back to my car, although I can't say I enjoyed the subsequent drive back to Dumfries.
I'm was slightly disappointed over the criticism of the race organisers on the EMF Facebook page. There were the usual moans about the route (solution...if you don't like the route don't sign up for the race). Moans about the weather...really folk, grow up, but most of the criticism seemed to focus on the fact that the finishers t-shirt was the same irrespective of whether you ran the full, half, 10K or relay events. It didn't bother me, in fact I was pleased that the design was a significant improvement on the plain blue of previous years.
Most importantly my fundraising for Cancer Research UK has now topped £1250, thanks to everyone who took the time to support me.