PART ONE. The outward journey.
Yesterday's coming of age movie started at 5am. By 6.20am I was out on the street waiting for Eric to arrive in the silver Corsa as the sun rose over the B&Q at the end of the road. It was a beautiful, cold, clear morning. A perfect day for running a marathon.
We picked up Richard a mile further down the road and then, as it was early and the roads were empty, the miles flew by. I enjoyed watching the landscape change from Eastern Civilisation to the Wilder West and particularly enjoyed the drive through Glencoe, listening all the while to the ambient sounds of the Grand Prix in China which "the boys" were listening to on the radio in the front.
We spilled out the car in Fort William just a fraction under 3hrs after we'd left from my house and, having picked up our numbers and said hello to a few folk, made our way over to the Morrison's cafe for coffee and cake.
After a bit of preamble we were piped out to somewhere indistinct up the road next to the shows. Slightly before 11am we were set off, a little unexpectedly, and the game was on. When my Garmin beeped the 1st mile long before I reached the 1st mile marker I was cursing myself for having started way too far back and giving myself some extra work to do. My plan was to knock out steady 8.11/8.12 miles, reaching halfway around 1.47. I knew I probably shouldn't but I ran a bit quicker to start with, partly to make up for the time I'd lost right at the start and partly wishing to just get some miles under my belt. I felt okay - not fabulous, but not bad either. At 5 miles I thought I should settle into the pace I intended to run rather than the pace I was running so allowed a relaxation. The time passed fairly quickly but by mile 10 I found myself looking for the next mile marker rather than just settling in. There was still plenty distance to cover.
In a way the Lochaber route is boring as hell, being an out and back, turning round a marshal at 13.1 miles. One of the benefits of it, though, is that you get to see the leaders coming back down the road. Its the 3rd time I've run the race and each time this has given me a kind of contact high. Seeing these proper athletes flying along the road is inspiring! This really kept me going to half way which I hit bang on 1.47.
I wasn't feeling all that great by this time though, and to say I wasn't looking forwards to the 2nd half would be...true. I wasn't.
What followed was a long, tiring, non-heroic general slowing down and getting passed by lots of people, with miles and miles still to go and nothing much to think about. My legs were crampy. I think I was dehydrated but I didn't want to drink much. The Lucozade was vile and I drank as much as I could at the 4 fuel stops trying to balance taking energy on board with the rebellion my stomach was threatening if I downed too much too soon. I probably drank about half of the 4 330ml bottles I took. I felt I was near to getting a stitch, but without getting one.
There were quite a few clusters of enthusiastic cheering supporters and I really wished they weren't there because it seemed too churlish to go past them without acknowledging them but having to acknowledge them somehow dragged me back to the reality and misery of my situation. I wanted to get away on some kind of thing in my head to entertain myself as my stiffening, cramping legs made their way mindlessly home-ward.
If you're still with me, well done, you're looking good! I passed a few people who were looking worse than me in the last few miles. Without meaning to be cruel this was kind of cheering. At least passing other people gave me a sense I was moving forwards rather than backwards. I hadn't done the "ideal time, good time and acceptable time" thing. I just set out to run 3.35. When I knew that wasn't going to happen I figured the early 3.40s would be better than anything I did last year or the year before and would do. As the miles passed the possibility of doing this grew thin and died. With about 4 miles to go a cyclist passed and called out to me and another lady "keep going steady girls and you should go under 4hrs". Humph. At last something to kick against. "To Heck" with that. I had already told Richard that I didn't approve of jokes about suicide but if I went over 4hrs I was going to open a vein. I made a last ditch attempt to assess what could still be salvaged and I settled randomly on a Good for Age place for London - which meant going sub 3.50.
I can do sums but am not always inclined to. And in the latter stages of a marathon it becomes doubtful whether I can do them. I had it all figured out that I was going to float under 3.50. All I had to do was keep going quicker than 10 min/miling and I would be fine. But then I remembered that a marathon isn't 26.1 miles as I'd been thinking, but 26.2! Hell's teeth, I had made this mistake before! I upped the pace as much as I dared with the imminent threat of show-stopping cramps or a stitch never far away. I was actually pretty bloody sure I would go under 3.50. But then I remembered about the disparity between when my Garmin was bleeping the mile and when the actual mile markers came around. Often in a race, if there is a disparity, it sorts itself out. You realise that a mile marker was put somewhere not because it marks the mile but because at that point there was somewhere to put it or something to tie it to. Not so this time. Each mile marker remained stubbornly about 0.1 of a mile beyond my Garmin miles.
As I made my way up the short series of steep uphills on the lane up into the housing estate I started to realise that it was getting seriously tight. Never having been a priority before, this good for age place now seemed an essential target which could rescue something from the wreckage of my marathon hopes and dreams. I upped my pace considerably and started really pushing. The Garmin shows that I was suddenly running at 7.30 pace rather than err...umm pace. The 26 mile marker came and went and there was still some distance to go and after a while I looked down at the Garmin and saw I was at 3.49.43 and realised to my surprise and horror that I was...not going to make it. 3.50 came and went and then at 3.50.58 (by my Garmin, results aren't out) I finally crossed the line with 26.4 miles showing on the Garmin face.
Richard was there at the end saying something about looking good and still smiling. Stuart Hay was there and I came out with some garbled something about not being good for age, which I could tell didn't make sense to him. Oh I was just glad to finish. He had run a corking 2.50, which only now occurs to me is 1 hour faster than me! The cheek of it. Shortly after Anne came over the line. I think she'd had a rough marathon too, with a horrible stitch for the last couple of miles.
I made my way over to Richard and moaned a bit again and then got round to asking him how he'd done. He didn't know whether to be pleased or disappointed having gone just 23 seconds over the 3 hour mark. A massive pb. I don't know if it makes it worse or better that the course was long. It means he really did go UNDER 3 hours for his marathon, but it means he's not getting official acknowledgement of it. At this point I still thought the over-distance thing was just me, but then I went for a shower and the topic of conversation was... the length of the course. Pretty consistently people were saying it was about 26.4miles. The air was full of the stories of targets just missed. A girl in the showers had just missed the 4hr mark. Another had just missed a pb. Greig Glendinning had been gunning for sub 2.40, running at consistent 6.06 pace. He thought he had it nailed and then found he'd crossed the line in 2.41, at 26.4 miles. (Greig wasn't in the showers, he was in the hall afterwards.)
I can hear the hill runners laughing at all this consternation about time. The hill runner in me is laughing too. And saying never again. Or maybe only once a year as a test of metal. I'd hate to become too pure to road run. Still, you set out to do something and you can't do it, you go home older and wiser. Failure is a richer experience than success. I want to move onto the next part of this road movie. It was more fun and much lighter.
PART 2. The return.
Once I'd had a shower I found I'd put a lot less thought into what I would wear after the race than what I would wear during it. Therefore I found myself dressed as a gymnast from the Eastern Bloc in the 80s. I felt a bit embarrassed by this as I re-entered the hall. Richard, clad in his favourite blue fleece with a little white horse hair on it, assured me I was looking fine. Soon the Porty team found each other. Eric got over the line in just over 4hrs 30mins having enjoyed himself. It just shows, character is fate. He has a goal of finishing 60 marathons before his 60th birthday, and I think after yesterday, has just 17 left to do and 4 years to do them in. He struggles finding time to train so is kind of using each marathon as long running training for the next one. (Jon Pickard was not around at that point and was not heading back to Edinburgh so I didn't hear how he got on apart from he arrived in at some point between me and Eric.)
We thought it fairly unlikely that we'd be collecting any prizes so after some tea and floor stretching set off home. We were all much more relaxed and happily the grand prix was over so we had a good chat about all kinds of things in the car. All of our legs were cramping up so we stopped for a stretch and a chip supper in Callendar. I have gone quite rapidly from never touching chips to quite the old hand at eating them over the last few months. This time they were no less good. None of us were walking well at this point and we must have looked kind of odd, hobbling along and laughing. We took our chips down to the pond and sat and watched the ducks while we ate. I was disappointed in myself that I didn't have the camera because I would dearly have liked to capture the glamour of the moment. I remarked to Richard that I felt like we were out of an episode of One Foot in the Grave to which he intuitively responded "Do you mean Last of the Summer Wine?" which is what I had meant. It was freezing cold, so we ate with our collars turned up while a scabby pigeon pecked around our feet among the fag-butts.
Chips finally gone and greasy hands wiped on trousers we telescoped ourselves back into the Corsa and were back in the metropolis in about an hour, saying our fond farewells. It had been a long day and bonding had occurred...
So, no more words. This report has been another marathon in itself. As was getting up at 7am this morning to cycle to Musselburgh. Well done Porty. Thanks for a lovely day Richard and Eric. Vive Ecosse Ya Bass