If you like your marathons to be scenic then this is the marathon for you. With a loop at either end you basically just run round the loch. If you want your marathon to be flat – then this is not the marathon for you. I heard the route called “undulating” but that is a fairly mild description I would suggest. In fact there is an elevation gain of 631 feet!
But let’s cut to the chase. If it’s possible to be disappointed with a 9 minute personal best then that is how I feel about the race. I went into the race more confident than I have ever been for a run. My training had gone superbly; my fitness and strength felt good; I had a clear plan and objective which would see me complete the run under 3 hours 30 minutes.
I set off quickly and happily. My plan was to run the first 13 miles at an average pace of 7 minutes 45 seconds a mile. But my competitiveness took over and I tried to keep up with the folk round about me rather than run to my plan. The first two miles were 7:14 and 7:07. I knew I was too fast but reasoned that I could slow down. But it didn’t happen. Mile 3:7:22; 4 :7:10; 5:7:27: 6:7:39: 7:7:24; 8:7:23 and so on. Because I felt strong and confident my heart was telling me : “You’re strong – you can keep this up and slow down on the second half.” My head was telling me that I was too quick and I was going to suffer in the second half. Stupidly I let my heart take control.
My other issue was that the three gels which I had put in the pocket of my shorts had fallen out in the first mile and I had nothing to sustain me other than jelly babies. This was another reason to slow down but again I was stupid.
I completed the half marathon in 1 hour 38 minutes – ridiculously fast. Even at that point I knew I was in trouble. The loop to the half-way point took us uphill and my legs started objecting. After we turned there was another sustained hill which was a real struggle. Mile 14 took 7:52; mile 15 : 8:16. There was a slight recovery in miles 16 and 17 where in a flattish part I recorded 8:03 and 8:02. But I knew even then with 9 miles to go that I was in deep trouble. My right calf was making it’s presence felt; my cadence had dropped; my breathing was laboured; the promised water stations weren’t there and I was getting sick of the jelly babies. I tried every positive strategy I could think of but nothing was working. From there to the finishing line was, to be honest with you, pretty hellish.
To be out of energy with 8 or 9 miles still to go is a horrible feeling. A voice in my head kept saying : “Stop! Give up! You’ve had it!” But I kept putting one foot in front of the other. More than anything I was annoyed with myself for bringing this situation on. Giving up is never a serious option for me. I determined that one way or another I would get across the finishing line. Mile 18 : 8:20; 19: 8:35. After mile 19 I tried to take stock. Physically I was ready to stop. Due to my fast start a decent time was still possible. But my sub 3:30 minutes dream died at that point. I realised how spent I was. I reassessed possibilities. For the first time in my running career I acknowledged that I would allow myself to walk the uphills. I mentally adjusted my target time to sub 3:35. Just then a water station appeared. I stopped and to celebrate downed an entire bottle in seconds. Next mile 9:05. From then on I walked the hills. I now knew what people mean by the expression “hitting the wall”. In great pain and exhaustion I kept going as best I could. Mile 21:8:49; 22:9:05; 23:10.03!; 24:9:37. In the midst of the darkness there were shafts of light. The runners who were passing me gave amazing support and encouragement. Some asked if I was okay; most shouted encouragement and support. It was fantastic and although I was too exhausted to thank them at the time I unreservedly do so here for helping me keep going. Mile 25:10:12 and mile 26:9:52. Here I am near the end – literally and metaphorically.
Even the last 400 metres seemed to take forever. I was keeping to the time required for a sub 3:35 finish – but only just. As I turned for the final finish I turned left too soon. Someone shouted to me to alert me. I tried to change direction but my legs went from me and I fell flat on my face. Somehow I got to my feet and staggered over the finish line. For around 10 minutes I felt a bit ropey but several mugs of tea revived me and I gradually recovered. My time was 3 hours 34 minutes and 39 seconds. But it was a badly run race and I only have myself to blame!