First of all, I’d like to thank everyone who has sponsored me, or supported me in other ways, through all this. It’s over now! I’ve done it: completed my first – and last – marathon, and raised over £1,000 for Epilepsy Action, who have been such a big help to my daughter Molly over the past 17 years. Thank you!
As anyone who’s followed my blogs and tweets and general whinges will know, the lead up to my first marathon had its ups and downs. Norovirus stopped me training for a couple of weeks at a key stage, and knocked me back from being able to run 20km to struggling to manage five; a broken thumb caused all kinds of problems – it jarred with every step I ran and made it hard to carry drinks on the longer runs; my sciatica started to play up after every training run; and then, to cap it all, a few days before the race a carpet nail left me with a gash on my heel that refused to, well, heal.
But still, the day came, as they do. Debbie and I travelled up by train on the Saturday. It was an interesting journey… I managed to work on my novel and a book review, despite the noisy, chavtastic pole dancer, and headphones man who stamped so hard in time to his music it felt like his foot might go through the floor. Later they were replaced by a lovely Geordie family completely ruled by Grandma; they broke out wine and beer and chocolate and we all had a lovely time with them.
The hotel was very central, and not far at all from the marathon start, which was handy. It was a small place with only ten guest rooms, all of them occupied by runners. We got the attic room. In a hotel with no lift. We had three flights of stairs to get up. No problem on Saturday, but come Sunday, after the race…
After a lovely evening exploring Edinburgh, it was back to the hotel for a night broken repeatedly by noisy vibrating pipes. Not the ideal preparation. Still, a good breakfast would make up for that. It probably would have, too, but that’s only surmise on my part. All the guests turned up for breakfast at 8, to allow time for it to settle down before the race start. The one woman running the place seemed surprised by this, even though she’d asked everyone on arrival when they’d be taking breakfast. There was instant coffee, tea, juice, bananas, bread for toasting and a few pieces of cheese. And not enough seating for everyone. There was supposed to be a cooked breakfast, but with no sign of it ever materialising we gave up, and I think everyone else did too.
We found our way to the rather chaotic starting area easily enough and hung around, not quite sure if we were hanging around in the right place or not, but then nobody else seemed too sure, either, so it was all okay. Ten minutes before the start there was a sudden shift in the crowd, and runners strode up the course, leaving behind spectators. Eventually I reached the starting line and then we were on our way.
I found my pace, which was intentionally very very slow, and stuck at it. The route took us out around the foot of Arthur’s Seat, not too shabby a way to start such a race. Within a few minutes my sciatica kicked in, and I ended up doing pretty much the entire race with back pain and a dead leg; there was no problem with my gashed heel though, which was a huge relief.
One of the many things that will stick with me long after the day is the people around the course. As I was at the tail end of the field, by the time I reached them these people would have been standing and sitting along the course to encourage people for five or six hours at least, but still they clapped us as we passed, yelled out encouragement and handed out jelly babies by the bucket. Every time this happened it was hugely lifting.
I reached Leith far more quickly than I’d expected. At one corner there were a couple of guys yelling out encouragement, along the lines of “Not far to go: just around the corner and a wee bit more…” Yes, some twenty-plus miles more, but it made me smile. Further along, in Musselburgh, one family had their stereo playing full blast with The Proclaimers’ Five Hundred Miles. At times like this I couldn’t help laughing, which must have made me look like a loon, but what the hell.
The route was stunning. From Edinburgh and Arthur’s Seat, along the Firth of Forth, much of the route followed the beach, with beautiful views. At Gosford House we took a detour through the grounds, with the House looming magnificently and free range hens scattered across the route. Then, just past the hens, there was a cottage and in the garden a woman was playing violin accompanied by a man on trumpet. Completely mad. But great fun.
Now that we had turned and were on the return leg of the journey, it was possible to look ahead and see the power station we’d passed a while back, and way beyond that, Arthur’s Seat. That was a real Father Ted moment: little, far away, little, far away… I knew Arthur’s Seat was pretty damned big, so it must be very far away, which meant I’d run a long, long way. That was one of the poor things about the race organisation: until the last eight miles or so, there was very little to indicate how far we’d come. The first mile-marker I spotted was the one that said “You’ve reached halfway!”. Up until then, it had been guesswork to work out how I was doing.
My aim at the outset was to run at least half the marathon, then see how much more I could do before breaking it up with some walking breaks. All I wanted was to get round under my own steam. When I reached that halfway marker I realised I was actually doing okay. After that, it was a matter of setting little targets: the next village, the end of the next village, the point farthest east where we loop back, the funny little spur they clearly added on when they realised they were still half a mile short. Then I started to see markers every mile, so it was 20 miles, 21…
The day was pretty wild: heavy showers in the morning and big gusty wind. Heading out, this wasn’t too bad, as the wind was from the west, but everyone was dreading the turn, and the last six or seven miles heading straight into the gale. And gale it was. At one stage, a woman next to me was almost blown off her feet, and I heard later that at least one woman was actually blown over. Perhaps the worst point of the run was where the road passed a beach and the wind was whipping up the sand and blowing it in our faces. Now, the day after, I still have an irritated eye from getting sand in it, and I was washing the sand out of my hair that evening. That was tough.
After 20 miles I was seriously thinking that I might manage to run the whole 26, but it wasn’t to be. Around 22 miles there was a long exposed stretch, where the wind was relentless. Determined to keep running, I was almost at a standstill: every step I took, the wind was blowing me right back. Raise a foot and it was blown like a sail… People who had resorted to walking had a better time of it: it appeared to be easier to keep your head down and push through the wind if you were walking. But I was determined to keep going.
I made it past that stretch, but within another half mile I suddenly realised that I’d broken into a walk. From then on, it was a matter of running the sheltered stretches, and walking where it was more exposed. True enough, heading into the gale, walking was more effective than trying to run and I was over-taking those who persisted with running.
Reaching Musselburgh on the return leg, I started to run again. People by the road were yelling that we were nearly there, and this time I could believe them. Along Musselburgh High Street, turn right at the junction and I could see the finish line. I started to speed up; I even managed to sprint the last hundred metres. Well, as close to a sprint as my aging legs can manage these days.
It was a huge surprise at that stage to realise that I had more in me. No, I hadn’t run the whole marathon, but I’d run about nine miles more than I’d expected before starting to take walk-breaks. I’d beaten my six hour target by five minutes. And I genuinely believe that if it wasn’t for the gale I would actually have run the whole 26.2 miles. All in all, I was pretty damned pleased with myself.
Back at the hotel, the only challenge that remained was the stairs. Have I mentioned the stairs already? All three flights, as we were staying in a hotel with no lift and we had the attic room. I managed them. I even managed the stairs.
So yes, I actually did it: managed a whole marathon under my own steam. I even enjoyed it. I never did hit the wall. All that got in the way was that pesky wind. It was a day full of lovely memories, and a challenge I’m very glad to have met.
And what’s more, I raised over a grand for Epilepsy Action. It’s possible to sponsor me for another three months after the race, so do feel free to add to that total. I’ll stop pestering people now, though. And I’ll stop taking on these mad challenges. No, really I will.