Monday, 22 May 2017

Stirling Marathon and Other Stories

As usual I have things I need to do. However, I'm having trouble moving on from post-racing obsessing, so maybe I can put it all down here.

It starts the weekend before last, when we went through to Kinross to see friends Ian and Emma who were over visiting from America.
We went a run up the Lomonds in the drizzly rain. I was going to try to limit how far I ran to 6,,,or maybe 8 miles...just because my legs were full of aches and pains, so it seemed like I shouldn't push it. It was great to see them however, and we made some route choices, and in the end ran 11 miles. I actually did some sprints when we encountered a horde of savage cows too.

The next day was much brighter. I stopped to take a photo every chance I could because I had discovered that running really wasn't my thing. My thing is taking photos of clouds.

And then it was on into the week. I've been busy and am still under pressure with the CBT thing, so I did 3 unremarkable and lack-lustre runs and wasn't really thinking about the marathon. My achilles were sore all week. Whenever I got out a chair I had to take off slowly until my tendons got used to the idea of my feet flexing. 
None of my shoes have been suiting me. 
I got some Hoka Clifton 3s fairly recently, hoping they would make a good marathon shoe. I don't know if it was me or the shoe, but we never got on. I went out one long run in these shoes and my left leg was stuffed by the end of it. Something must have happened to my gait, odd at the best of times, and I 've had a pain at the side of my left knee ever since - I think it's where my IT band attaches.
So then I got to thinking - I've been enjoying wearing Hoka Claytons, but they're a lighter, faster shoe for shorter distances. Aren't they? But maybe if I got a brand new pair for the marathon they would have enough cushion to protect me?

But I couldn't get the original Claytons on-line, - they'd moved onto version 2. I ordered version 2 and they just didn't feel the same.

My other option was a pair of off-road shoes that have loads of cushioning in them. (Hoka ATRs. I just couldn't bear to write 'Hoka' again.) I knew they wouldn't do anything bad to me, like throw my gait off - but they're a bit clunky and warm for road-running. On Saturday, I suddenly woke up to the fact I had decisions I needed to make and tried on every combination of shoe and t-shirt and gel belt and ended up going for the Clayton 2s after all, because when I put on the off-road shoes my feet felt stuffy and when I put on the Claytons they felt light and airy.

While I'm boring on about this I may as well tell you about my vest choice too. You can just skip it if you like! I had a nicer vest top which I could wear with a gel belt or I had a vest-top which I'd bought from Run4it which  was a bit over-engineered and was the wrong size because they didn't have my size. What was good about it was that it had gel pockets - and in fact a paracetamol pocket, although maybe Ron Hill didn't know that's what it was. It also had a bunch of elasticated straps round the back for even more gels. More gels than you could ever need. The down side? Well, it was a bit horrible. In fact Peter told me that I looked frumpy in it and should wear the other one. I agreed.

I hate wearing anything round my waist in a race though, because it can set off a stitch. And in truth I have been feeling rotund of late and didn't relish the idea of anything around that area. The clincher was the large cardboardy Great Run number. If I wore a gel belt it would interfere with the number. It's the kind of thing you can just do without when you're running a marathon - your gel belt trying to scissor your number off. You need the whole team working together.

So I went for the frumpy top and the Claytons - which just happened to work together colour-wise quite well.

Fast forwards...

Marathon morning. There were shuttle buses setting off from car parks in Stirling ridiculously early. Buchanan is not a morning person and I felt there was only so early I could winkle him out of bed. I figured out the very latest I could afford to leave and still have a little bit of wiggle room for the unexpected was 6.45am. He grumped but he accepted it. I was even leaving later than Dr Neil Jones, a man notorious for his last minute arrivals at races.

0645 hours and all's well. Well maybe 0650hrs.

All went well until we went over the rise in the last mile on the M9 before junction 10 and saw a tailback all the way to the junction. We were still in good time, but that line of traffic wasn't moving.

We had planned to get to the Prudential car park by 7.45 and get the 8am bus to the race start at Blair Drummond Safari Park. 8am came and went however and we were still on the M9. We finally got parked up about 8.25am. The last bus was supposed to be at 8.20 but we could still see buses coming and going so were hopeful the situation was still retrievable.

The photo below is straight from the camera, which clearly chose to put an artistic gloss on the stark reality that we were standing in a huge queue for the bus to get to the start of the race.

We got there though - but with little time to spare. There was a huge queue for the toilets so I went for a pee in the woods. (Me and the men.) Happily I noticed as soon as I was out the woods that my gel pockets were now empty! I ran back and retrieved them both. At the time I thought it wouldn't have been too disastrous to lose my gels as I thought I'd read in the information pack that there was going to be 5 stops with lucozade at them in the race. This made gels a bit superfluous, but it's nice to have some control over things, and one of the gels had caffeine in it, so I wanted it for a late race booster.

As it turned out, what I thought were going to be lucozade stops were "zero calorie isotonic sports drinks" stops, so thank God I retrieved my gels. At that point I had to readjust my thinking. Would 2 gels really be enough? Well, I'd be finding out, wouldn't I?

Anyway - before that, we had to get to the start. Peter was still hoping for a spell in a Portaloo. We thought the race might be delayed as the buses were running late. I couldn't make out what the usual overly-loud spewing of enthusiasm from the loud-speakers (with disco music backing) was actually saying, but from the sheer pitch of it, it sounded like the race might be starting on time - which was in 3 minutes. I parted company with Peter with him still looking for a Portaloo and never knew all race what had happened to him. I felt very bad for him. He was wanting to keep up a good pace but if he was, as I feared, starting behind me, he would have to negotiate his way through a sea of slowies to even get started. Happily he  vaulted two fences and ran through the lion enclosure to get further up the field. I should have had more faith.

So anyway. Oooooh Marafun. Feckin' terrible. Boring and horrible. I'm just getting it out, because I need to move on. The scenery. Who gives a rat's ass about the scenery?
8.50 pace. I figured out that to have any chance of achieving what seemed utterly impossible - a sub 4 hour marathon, I should start at a steady 8.50 pace. This would leave me a margin, and hopefully wouldn't destroy me for later in the race. If I was going over 4 hours I only hoped it wouldn't be too far over because the longer you're out there the more dispirited you feel and the worser it hurts.

The actual physical act of running wasn't too bad. The thought of the endless miles ahead was.
 "What would you like?" I asked myself. "Do I have to be conscious for this bit?" I replied to myself.
I wanted the first bit out of the way so I could get on with suffering my way into the 2nd half. The trouble is by 20 miles you pretty much know if it's possible to do what you wanted to do or not.
I told myself some stories but there was a forced quality to it. I have much history in this part of the country, because I was a student in Stirling for 5 years in all. "This is where we went on a pub-crawl and Sandy drank the Tabasco sauce sitting on the bar, then he went bright red and made Scottish noises and poured with sweat."

A couple of nice things happened though. Lying awake the night before I had found myself thinking about a particular nightshift when I worked at the Royal Edinburgh. I can't say much about it, but it was a PTSD quality film reel. I was working with my friend and fellow nurse Caroline and that night we had a flood and a fire on the ward, had to evacuate all the patients, and had to have a van load of police to come in and help us. I don't know why I was thinking about it - just passing the time - but as I was running through Doune someone said "Hello Mary". I looked up and it was Caroline. I haven't seen her for years as she moved back to Forth Valley. What a coincidence. It made the day feel a bit special.

Also later I got a cheer from Andy who was on my counselling course. Again, I haven't seen him for ages as he's been living up North at Apple Cross. These cross-overs from other parts of my life were helpful.

At Bridge Of Allan I got a shouting at from Julia Henderson of Helensburgh. I thought she was shouting "Where is your party vest? Where is your party vest?" I kind of thought she might mean I should cheer up. It was only about a mile down the road I realised she meant my Porty vest. Where was my Porty vest? If my Porty vest had gel pockets and a paracetamol pouch I might have worn it!

Talking of which. Around about 9 miles when I was having the chat with myself about whether I wanted to be conscious or not, I thought that losing a little pain would be losing a little consciousness and decided to take the paracetamol which were for "just in case". From training I realised they took pretty much an hour to kick in, so if I was going to take them it might as well be soon.

It was kind of a concern when to have my 2 gels as well. There didn't seem to be much sense in waiting until I had run out of energy so I had one at 7 miles and the one with caffeine at 11 miles. After that I would have to rely on running to get me through.

Something happened round about 15 miles. I had been flagging and I assumed I was on the usual trajectory to a slow, painful, disappointing marathon. I didn't fight it as I've learned if you're going to fight it better be late on. Otherwise you just exhaust yourself for nothing. But round about 15 - thinking about it - I think people were starting to cramp up and walk. And I was still fine really. Bored but fine. Just the same. And I was still mostly doing sub-9 miles. In an unusual burst of enthusiasm, Peter had said the day before that he had decided that the fact there were 3 laps of Stirling to finish was a good thing. "I think it'll be good" he said, "you'll have all the country stuff out the way, and you'll be tired, but then you'll have the crowds for a boost!" Aliens must have actually taken him over because anyone who knows him knows he doesn't relish the crowds, in fact he usually calls them names.

It was as good a thing to think as anything, however, so I adopted that thought. 

And there was some truth in it. God knows how the crowds in the centre managed to keep that level of enthusiasm for such a long time but there were about three clumps of people who seemed to adopt me on the way round the course and so every time I went past I would get a "Go on Mary! Fantastic! Well done!". It was getting later and I was starting to realise that my sub 4 hour marathon was a possibility. At 20 miles I was under 3 hours and I thought that meant that as long as I kept the pace above 10 minute miles I could finish in under 4 hours. I did the sums several times as I didn't trust myself at all.

I wasn't running anywhere near 10 minute miles, however, most of them were still sub-9. I'd slowed down but only a little bit. As success seemed likelier and likelier I got more and more paranoid that something would happen to stop me from getting there. The laps were getting busier and people were tiring so sometimes the person in front of you would just suddenly start walking and it would take a quick side-step not to run into the back of them. Just profoundly unwelcome at that point. On the third and final lap of Stirling the route was getting even more crowded as more and more runners joined in. At times it was clogged completely, right across. I'll admit to a rather unsporting bellow of EXCUSE ME, at a narrow bit, as five or six people running in slow motion blocked the way entirely. I squeezed through.

Then finally I neared the finish. For 2 laps we'd turned right at this point and then if you were finishing you got to turn left. It was such a joy to do it. Still I was paranoid about people walking across the route with baby strollers, and taking me out right at the end.

But they didn't. 3.55.08. Just way better than I could have hoped for. Strava says I ran an average pace of 8.52, but that was for 26.4 miles.
Looking back at my splits I ran the first half in a bit over 1.55 so I ran the 2nd half in a little under the 2 hours making it one of the most even-paced marathons ever. I think at Lochaber I once ran 1.44 for the half and 3.32 for the full marathon, but I lost my Garmin Training Centre data for 11 years of running when I updated from Windows XP to Windows 10 on my laptop, so tragically the world will never really know for sure. We'll have to rely on my increasingly unreliable memory.

I was so pleased, I bought the over-priced official race photographs.

If you are still with me, well done. It was a long journey wasn't it?


Pleased to see Peter again, long since over the line and waiting on me coming in.

Dr Jones. Who arrived early and missed the queues.

More bus action with Gus.


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