Despite a rather disappointing finishing time I'm feeling quite positive after today's Edinburgh Marathon. It's a funny one: as my friend Roy pointed out, distance running is subject to so many variables that the runner, especially the unsupported amateur, is never really in control of his or her performance. The providence of terrain, weather and microbiological vagaries make this quintessentially solitary pursuit something of an ensemble piece after all.
For me it began to unravel last weekend, after a training programme that I thought was going swimmingly. Having misread my training plan and set off on a 12-miler rather than the eight allotted by Hal Higdon's website, I was quickly prancing on my toes due to the abrasion of my new shoes against my ankle. It was sore and bleeding, but up on my toes I could manage. I hadn't quite realised how much I was compensating alas, and the next few days I suffered with very tight and sore calfs. So this morning as I stood at the start line (in perfect running weather it has to be conceded) I was vaguely aware that my legs felt like lead. I hoped this was just my bad angel whispering malevolently into my ear and felt quite buoyant from the gun, running to the perimeter of Holyrood park to the cheers of wonderful local support.
The first mini disaster however was a couple of miles thereafter when the Compede with which I'd dressed my ankles detached from the left and my shoe began once again to attack. "Fool!" cackled the bad angel, while my good angel coughed politely. Why hadn't I double dressed it? And why for that matter had I left it so late to get new shoes? Stopping to stuff a large plaster roughly in place, I set off again with what felt like a few hundred people passing me.
I would have to get used to that. I felt like my legs were simply not complying with my mind and my under-taxed cardiovascular system. At seven miles they felt achey and one of my angels said, "When you ran your PB last year, you didn't notice the first 13 miles."
I think, after all, that was the voice of my good angel: if I was toiling so early I had to surrender my target time and my PB and work on finishing without injury or misery.
People pass me at a steady stream. Bad angel pipes up: "Behold your descent down the food chain! Eagle to seagull."
Mile 10: "Fish."
Mile 13 "Worm."
Fortunately, my good angel won out: "A very sensible run! How blessed you are to participate in this celebration of life, this carnival of movement! How lovely to receive from these supporters with their festive drums and jelly babies! (Perhaps you should abandon that Camel Back though, which is bouncing around on your back and hurting like hell?)"
(Mile 17, a man painted all green passes me. "Plankton.")
And then bad angel gave up. My iPhone, which was giving me pace updates ran out of battery at mile 20 but by then I wasn't overly bothered. It deserted me midway through Dizzee Rascal's 'Butterfly' so I probably deserved it. I enjoyed the refreshing attention of a kid standing upon his front wall and gleefully showering willing runners with his supersoaker. My legs just rolled onwards, sore and at capacity, but never feeling like they'd give way, and "the engine" was just ticking over pleasantly.
The support at the end was wonderful again, and gave me a little injection to a sprint finish. Coming in at 3:21:00 I felt it could all have been a lot worse, despite being nearly a minute per mile behind my target.
There's another reason I feel OK about this race too: love. I am always rather conscious that this fundraising and training for a marathon can be a bit self-indulgent, but so many people gave me such encouragement for it in any case. Whether in terms of money for the Mental Health Foundation, patience with my training (Mrs Box!), accommodation in Edinburgh from old friends, kind words from so many of you and a quite delightful blessing an as yet unmet friend in California wrote, I just felt an enormous sense of presence with others. Not such an unsupported amateur after all: thanks for indulging me.
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