Saturday, May 28, 2011
I truly believe that a race is run in an athlete’s mind before ever reaching the course. It all starts with the desire, a goal, an ambition and unwavering determination to cross the finish line. Putting my own goals, desires, ambitions and unrelenting determination to the test in Edinburgh on 22 May moved the mental race plan once again to the physical.
Sixteen weeks prior, on a cold 31 January, I began on the road to Edinburgh, my 9th marathon. This city, the capital of Scotland, is where five years ago I learned to respect the 26.2 mile long-distance race. It is where I crossed my very first marathon finish line and realized what I was capable of; to become a Marathoner, and knew I had more within me. So it was only fitting to revisit the location of Arthur’s Seat, The Edinburgh Castle, The Royal Mile, and stroll in Holyrood Park, to return to absorb the atmosphere of bagpipes, tartans, windswept streets and the mix of the amazing architecture of Edinburgh Old and New Towns.
We planned our arrival time to be in Edinburgh before the morning commuter traffic built up. It was a scenic drive up the motorway through the Northern Lake region of England, across the border passed Gretna Green and onto a duel carriage-way, then a more rural road from our western approach to the city.
Arriving early at our hotel meant we needed to wait for our room to be ready. With no race activities scheduled for the day, while waiting, we took in the fantastic sites of the city. This would be the only day we would be able to walk any great distance, and we did.
Friday morning my husband left for his three mile run and shortly after I followed the same route. Memories of five years ago flooded back to me as I retraced the route I had taken then. Even though it was early, the city was waking to commuter buses, cyclists and taxis. I ran along the well visited Princes Street with the beautiful and majestic Edinburgh Castle high above me on my right. I ran passed the Scott Monument, The Nelson Monument, and finished at my turn around point of the Balmoral Hotel. Before reaching my halfway point, my speedy husband and I passed each other and stopped to exchange a bit of encouragement before continuing on our way; he back to the hotel and me yet to complete my half way distance.
Saturday was the final two mile easy paced run. I was out again in the early morning following the same route to Princes Street but this time turning just passed the Scott Monument (dedicated to Sir Walter Scott). I had hardly stepped from the hotel and my earlier- out-the-door husband was finishing his run. After a quick exchange we continued in opposite directions, with me on towards the one mile mark. Once reached, I briskly retraced my steps with the knowledge that the next run I would undertake would be more than 24 miles longer.
The afternoon was very low key; focus on packing the remaining items to our kits bags, organizing our race gear, setting a wake up phone call for 0400, and a last walk over to Starbucks for lunch and the local running store across the street. We were concerned about the weather as winds and rain had been forecasted for the next morning. We made sure that included in our kit bags were the appropriate rain protection.
We went to the hotel restaurant to enjoy our pre-arranged, pre-race staple dinner of jacket potato, cheese and salad. Disappointingly it wasn’t satisfying enough so on return to our room we rounded it off with a bit more carbs of a cheese sandwich and a quiona salad. Then, to try and calm my nerves, I feel asleep mentally re-running my last long. The restful silence was shattered by the wake-up phone call; Marathon morning had begun.
Once again I followed through with the well memorized pre-race routine; natural peanut butter sandwiches , fruit, and a recovery drink prepared for after race fuel, my Camelbak filled to the rim with SIS sport drink, a breakfast of muesli, soy milk, banana; then showered and dressed to be ready for a 0700 hotel departure to walk the 1.5 miles to the start.
There is a unique quietness that accompanies the migration of racers to the start on a marathon morning. It’s like a homing beacon signalling and lighting the way through the city streets to beckon us along. Thus it was for my husband and me as we walked along the route we had run just days before in training.
There were two start areas, and due to my husband’s quicker finishes he was with the faster racers and their start was a further half mile along a different road. We walked and talked about the race, our preparations, our shared goals, and our finish area meeting plans. The quiet buzz of anticipation was beginning to accelerate as more runners arrived and the race marshals made adjustments to nearby equipment. Knowing that I needed to walk back to my start road and begin my own preparation, I embraced and kissed my husband, wished him an incredible race and made my way through the approaching athletes.
The half mile walk to my start road enabled me to see the starting mats that I would soon be crossing. Continuing up the hill, music and race announcements mingled with the voices of thousands of anxious runners. I found a low wall to sit on while I made my final preparations; over-pants removed, shoes and socks replaced with race ones, jacket and after race items placed in kit bag and throw away sweatshirt and space blanket secured around my shoulders. All this done before the first of the rain started. I received one more text from my husband wishing me well, and after replying, I stowed my phone in my waist belt, secured my stars and stripes bandana and turned my kit bag in to the truck that would take it to the finish for my retrieval. One last port-a-loo stop and it was time to position myself toward the beginning of the purple corral.
Somehow amongst all those thousands of runners I was alone with my thoughts. I drifted from wondering how my husband was doing in his start area, when would he start, to keeping warm by doing a bit of foot shuffle while clutching my sweatshirt and space blanket. Unexpectedly we began to move, I draped the sweatshirt over the side rail to be collected for charity distribution. I wished the woman next to me a good race as I continued my approach to the start line. I tied the space blanket to another rail as the pace quickened. Soon I could see the first of the timing mats and I crossed over with the electronic beep registering my foot strike and start time exactly as I started my Garmin.
I had prepared a race pace band with a new goal time of 5:35:00, an ambitious time as this required a 12:47min/mile pace, quicker than I had ever planned before. I glanced at it as I continued the downhill towards Holyrood Park and the impressive Arthur’s Seat. This was not the time to doubt my training, or worry about previous marathon quad and calf issues. I needed to focus on my breathing, keep my thoughts positive and watch my pace.
The rain at the start had given way briefly as I momentary looked at my watch near the first mile marker, 10:33! Once again I had been caught up in the adrenaline fuelled beginning miles. The course made its way passed the Leith Links and the rain returned. Flashbacks to five years ago and running on some of these same streets jarred my memory as I approached the four mile mark, my watch showed less than 46 minutes, I was getting faster.
I could see the sea front road ahead and once more my thoughts went back to 11 June 2006 and my first marathon on these same roads. The course had changed but I couldn’t forget the spot where I crossed over twenty miles for the first time, I was now crossing over it at just five miles. Onward along Portobello Promenade and the Firth of Fourth to my left and the 10K mat; my time was 1:12:40 and I was four minutes ahead of my pace band. The cheers and encouragement from spectators fuelled my determination to keep to my finishing goal. My breathing was comfortable, not laboured; my stride was constant , not difficult; my pre-race niggles were not even whispers.
As I approached the double digit miles, the course had a frustrating twist, it took me right passed the finish line! It would take me another 17 miles to get back to that spot! I turned my focus to reaching the half way point and perhaps catching a glimpse of the lead runners as for the majority of the rest of the course we would be passing each other in opposite directions.
Soon after passing mile 12 and the welcome water station I caught sight of motorcycles, then the lead race vehicle as they approached and followed by the lone swiftest racer. He was nearing 24 miles to the applause and cheers of spectators and us fellow racers who had only completed half his distance. I watched as additional racers came into view and hoped that I would catch sight of my husband before my route turned away from the oncoming soon to be finishers. However, I was forced to follow the road as it turned away from the shared road and missed seeing him. I crossed the half way mat nearly 10 minutes below my watch band time; 2:37:16…I had never run a half distance that quickly!
Could I keep this pace? Could I run a sub 5:30 marathon? Could my legs hold out without cramping? Would my breathing remain steady and constant? Questions started to filter into my mind as the rain started again and the wind became more pronounced along the openness of the seafront rural type road. I just wanted to reach the distant turn around point passed the 30K and feel the mental reward of running towards the finish line. If only I knew what awaited at that directional shift!
The WIND! There was a slight incline to the turn around point and once I changed directions the wind was unrelenting. Except for two detour type turns from the sea front, the remainder of the course would be with a head wind!
With these conditions and the fatigue I started to experience my time was slipping. The rain briefly returned, I noticed the oncoming runners behind me, I pushed my body and took necessary walk breaks. I kept my concentration by timing these breaks and then forcing myself against the wind to pass others in front of me.
I counted down the mile markers…..5 left, 4 left…just 3 more miles. My breathing was still strong, my body was getting weaker though. The wind made for added effort and my mind needed to sharpen me to keep focused.
At the 24 mile area there were crowds lining the street. I saw finished racers walking with their kit bags and medals around their necks. I was so close now, I had to push on. My time had slipped even more and I was beginning to doubt if I would finish better than in Philadelphia 6 months earlier.
My calf muscles were getting tight, my hamstrings were aching. I could just walk it in if I wanted. I could let a personal best wait until next time. NO! I had run this race in my mind and in my mind I had done a PB, and that is what I wanted. Somewhere, somehow and with the cheers of those spectators in my ears and a little more than a mile to the finish , I regained my rhythm. Run, then quickly walk, run, then a quick walk and then mile 26!
My legs wanted to buckle and they ached. My hamstrings wanted relief, but I pressed on. RUN IT IN!, my mind shouted. RUN! Finally I could see the finish banner, my time was still good. I could do this, I WOULD do this. RUN and you will make that PB time! Don’t give in, you can stop and rest when you cross that final mat. RUN till you hear the electronic buzz! Breathe, press ahead.
This was my own final battle. Here is where my months of training, cross training, boxing, reading, nutrition and mental talk would show. I RAN! I focused on the finish gates ahead of me. I watched as the clock numbers moved. I RAN! Then finally and with a last push of body and mind I heard the electronic buzz! I had done it! I finished my 9th marathon in a new personal best time of 5 hours 36 minutes and 37 seconds…close to a minute better than in Philadelphia!
(P.S. Speedy hubs finished with another PB: 3:17:59!)