Running someone else's race.
3 weeks ago I wouldn't have dreamed of running the Dreadinburgh Marathon. Last marathon was Kielder Water in 2011 which was off road and hilly. I was well out of the way of road 26 milers. Then I saw Angus F had got himself marathon fit without a marathon to run. His otherwise gimpy foot gave him a few months' respite, he had lost some weight and put in a good few weeks training. He managed to get a place for Edinburgh and was keen to take a shot at the elusive sub3.30.
Alan's race pretty much ended at Gosford when he crouched down in the trees and failed to un-crouch back up. Sadly his hat finished the race there. You should ask him about it!
This struck me as an intriguing project. Why not pace Angus and see if I could help him achieve what until now had stayed just out of reach. It was possible, but could go either way. If I got involved would it make any difference other than moral support? Can you make someone run faster than they might otherwise? I knew where I could find an unused number and offered my services. I'd never run a marathon at any pace other than flat out and sometimes I think that is the problem. Starting too fast and dying in the last 6~8 miles, slowing to a miserable jog. It is possibly my worst distance preferring longer or shorter, never managing an ideal 26.2.
Angus and Mark
The closest I got to a game plan was to write in biro on my left arm the times we should hit at every five miles, and the distance we should be at every hour. I planned for a 3.27.59 finish leaving a 2 minute emergency window for unforeseen difficulties. I had no real plan as to what I might do if we were going too slowly, so it wasn't foolproof, but Angus has done enough long runs to know what pace he can hold. I offered to carry any rations which turned out to be 4 gels and 2 shot blocks. Since it was going to be such nice weather I took my compact camera (not the “disposable” racing one.) I would be running a minute slower per mile than race pace. But had no idea if that would seem easy, or if by mile 24 it would still be the same shipwreck of any other marathon I've done. Lack of road miles and specific training was a slight concern but I felt it was a day for others to worry and I should just go forward and assume confidence.
Approaching the jamboree at London Road I was beginning to feel the pre-race butterflies. The weather was crucial and seemed to be pretty good. Traditionally the EMF weekend is when you plan your BBQ. Last year there was many a burnt coupon. And it looked like it might go that way if the day before was anything to go by. We had been swimming in the sea off seacliff in one of just 3 hot days of Summer (so far). Thursday and Friday had been howling gales and I was not looking forward to getting Angus to try and draft me for miles on the exposed coastal route. Happily the wind dropped and it was looking good. If you like warm.
We started as a three – Mark, a pal of Angus, joined us in the white pen. His first marathon. If you had binoculars you might just have made out the start line, a thousand folk ahead. We were set off at 9.56 and crossed the start line 2 minutes later. Nothing as compared to Mary who had a place in the Half Marathon (mysteriously starting ahead of the full marathon at 8am) she didn't cross the start until after 14 minutes of walking. It's this kind of madness and crowd-scenery that makes me avoid big city races. In fact I have been so audible on the subject that I fully expected many of the spectators en route to level the charge of hypocrite as I ran past. And in a way they'd be right. I think there are far more interesting and less commercial races, more deserving of our attendance. I didn't wear a club top for similar reasons. And had it been colder might have opted for a balaclava. If it's any consolation I sweated off my sunblock early doors and baked my face comprehensively.
Mitchell and Berit taking...
... a photo of me and Mark
In the masses it would be easy to lose one's mark so I kept close to Angus – his distinctive t-shirt back design being a bonus. I hadn't studied the route but knew it dodged around before dropping to the coast and staying pretty flat for the rest of the race. I was surprised we went through Holyrood. I greatly enjoyed the first ten miles chatting and running at such a comfortable pace. There were loads of friends out taking photos and cheering us on and there was a very relaxed atmosphere. Angus needed to stop for a pee break so we hit the portaloos in Leith Links taking about 35 seconds out of our 2 minutes emergency fund. Looking at my arm I saw we hit the 5 and 10 mile mark accurately to the second. I would like to take credit for this but I was just following Angus's pace. We had been looking at Garmins as we ran but just seemed to fall into this sub8 pace naturally. There were many Porties and other club runners out supporting all the way from the Dog and Cat Home to Joppa and beyond. At the bowling club I saw Amanda who was a part of the legendary Porto Belles Relay Team. I ran with her for a few yards and commiserated with her impossible task of chasing through the slower moving crowds of runners.
Fiona spent the first half quite close by, but was displeased with her second half
Jesus was ahead for a long time
Amanda at Porty Prom
At ten miles we were spot on target although it was far too early in the process to start feeling like we had nailed it. The sun had been behind clouds but more and more was scorching down from out a blue sky. I was wondering if that other EMF tradition of running out of water for the back markers was transpiring today. They were handing out gels as well as water at the aid stations and I tried not to think about about what poor souls were going to be picking them up. I had one or 2 gels and popped the wrappers in litter bins. (Cycling to work the next day along most of the route from Leith to Longniddry I counted a mere 52 gel wrappers and less than 20 water bottles which is impressive given there was about 30million of either the day before.) The bottles also posed a trip hazard. In a hill race you would be disqualified for dropping a gel wrapper deliberately.
The route was empty of car traffic and it was really quite pleasant running the coastal road to Gosford House. By this point Mark had drifted off the back and was maybe 80 yards behind. I was thinking its a tough day for a first marathon.
Bernie, probably first Porty.
PB, Will, Angus.
After 17+ miles we turned and ran back into the Gosford Estate. A band was playing on the grass at the side – one of many entertainments during the run. A guy called Will had asked to join us. I was flattered he identified us as a force he wanted to be a part of. Right enough the majority of the runners around us were flagging and slowing down – many walking already. We continued at a regular sub 8 pace, overtaking hundreds, possibly more than a thousand over the 26 miles.
It was Will's first marathon and he seemed to have got fit from playing football and only 12 weeks “proper” training. He was running far too smoothly for 18 miles into his first marathon and had set off well within his abilities, an unusual trait for such a young runner. He was 24. He chatted with ease and was obviously having a splendid run. Angus and I exchanged looks and decided to put it down to his youth – being less than half either of our ages. The three of us dodged through the human traffic together over the next few miles.
Many people had made their own signs to encourage loved ones.
We passed Richard H from club in Gosford. We had seen him a bit ahead at the turn and from the look of him I reckoned we would be overtaking shortly. I asked him how it was going and he said “Terrible!” There's nothing much to be done but slow down and limit the damage at that point and although he appeared cheerfully resigned, both then and at the finish, I don't think he enjoyed it much. There were quite a few in the same state or worse in the following miles, at points the zombie count was higher than the runners, and we had to dodge round so many folk who had obviously started too quickly. (My usual form.)
The conversation in our group had died to monosyllabic grunts about water and gels. There was an occasional gust of headwind but nothing that required drafting. I watched my Garmin like a hawk as there was a tendency to take your pace from the joggers in front and just fall into line. But we had to keep the pace up. I would see 8.40 in the momentary pace window and thinking we had slowed, put in a few faster yards. The pace would jump to 7.15 and I would realise it was just the inconsistency of the Garmin. It is accurate over the mile measurements but fluctuates unhelpfully over short spans. I was pleased to see we did actually nail it to mile 23. After mile 5 and mile 10 being spot on we got a minute ahead (of my time prediction arm) at mile 15, two by twenty and so had enough time in hand to push out a couple of slow miles towards the finish and still make it. I thought it better to allow this to happen than rush Angus into a cramp situation. The last 5 miles was littered with runners clutching their legs or running with horribly one sided limps. Once that happens it's game over.
And the photo Mary took.
Around mile 24 and we passed Mary sat on the grassy verge between Prestonpans and Musselburgh. It was a lift to see her and we both took photos of each other. Mile 25: I may not have been racing but it was no less a pleasure to see that sign. The temptation is to think (and I suspect I actually said) just a mile to go. However it's 1.2miles and that has caught out many a person chasing a specific result. (In fact many people measured the course long at over 26.3miles.)
Jill and family.
Tony the Tiger in green top: perceptive as ever Tony saw I wasn't in club vest and probably smiling too much, shouted "who are you pacing?" "Him" I pointed. I had seen Tony earlier on the Prom so he spent the whole race out cheering folk on.
We passed a girl trying to work legs that were behaving independently. The crowd were lined down either side of the street although it was tricky to know just how far still to go. I had been watching the time and knew we had possibly a minute left of injury time and that barring disasters, we were going fine. Then a left turn into the park and the finish line in sight.
Angus started working the crowd and we knew we had done it. It was a splendid moment and I felt just as pleased as if I had done a pb. The timing clock over the gantry showed 3.30.something, which gave me a start until I realised that was gun time and we had taken 2 minute to cross the starting mat. My watch confirmed this and showed 3.28.30+, chip time, which I shouted out to Angus as we crossed the line.
The biro numbers on my left arm already sweating off. Thanks to Brian for taking the photo.
I hadn't realised just how much determination had been required of Angus until I saw how done in he was moments after crossing the line. We collected medals and goody bags then drank some water and did some stretches. Oh and got a photo with Will, who had surged on in the last couple of miles while I stayed with Angus. He was still looking far too fresh amongst the dead and wounded and I suggested he would manage sub 3 with minimum training. Angus was falling apart rapidly and we queued for cups of tea then went over to collect baggage. Halfway through getting changed he lay on the ground then shouted out lots of words beginning with F and one or 2 others, as I looked around to see how many families were within earshot. A stranger supported his raised legs and pointed his toes until I took over but it was some while before the cramp let go its grip and it looked mighty sore!
Angus said he had thought about throwing in the towel many times in the last 3 miles but I think felt an obligation to the situation and particularly to myself to carry on, and just suffer through the horror of marathon aches and wrung out legs. So the answer is yes, it is possible to influence the outcome of someone else's race, although I'd like to think it was the companionship, rather than just the guilt trip! And his evident joy at the finish was a joy shared.
The Wreck of the Hesperus
Myself, I had a great marathon. (I am still denying the term show-boating, but I was a lot more chipper than in any other marathon I've ever done, at every point throughout.) Yes a few delicate toe ends afterwards as per usual but also a convincing run to catch the bus home in Musselburgh that would be unheard of normally. So if you really want to enjoy running 26 miles do it at a minute a mile slower than usual. That was the steadiest I've ever run the distance – an interesting discipline and a superb training run. I really enjoyed the samba bands and hi-5-ing the crowd as much as they normally make me curse. I had the camera mostly on rapid fire mode and took 1388 photos. Some of the better ones are here, and capture the day more accurately than my partially fried brain, the rest will be run together into a video in due course. Meanwhile I must get some sleep as I have gel wrappers to count cycling into work tomorrow.