The weather forecast was for a sunny 25C with no breeze and I was fine with that. Well, more sort of horribly fascinated. I struggle in hot races and ever since London, where I’d been well prepared and trained, I’ve been exasperated by my inability to deal with hot weather. I wasn’t expecting a fast time today but I was hoping to finish feeling in control and not vowing never to run a marathon again.
It was also my first big overseas race. Something I’ve always fancied and I think I chose well. There were 48 nationalities which handily meant that English was the unofficial lingua franca. We started at 9am sharp and headed west along the seafront. I knew it was race to be run with the head, not the heart, and I settled into a steady pace. The breakfast run on Friday morning had been useful in finding out how I dealt with the heat and I realised, somewhat to my disappointment, I would be wise to stick to 6:15min/km and see how it went. (A 4 hour marathon is 5:41min/km). The first 10km are an out and back turning at the naval port and it was a little congested towards the turn, probably because the first lap of the marathon is shared with the half marathon.
I was slower than I wanted to be but in control and comfortable. Back past the cathedral then into the old town. This was just amazing and shows how a city can embrace its marathon (are you listening Edinburgh?). The marathon route unashamedly blasted past the front door of the cathedral, and probably the side door and back door too. Then up and down so many narrow alleyways that I was completely disoriented. But life and business went on as usual. Waiters paused at cafe doors before nimbly stepping through the race to look after customers on the terraces, and if ever there was a choice of going round an obstacle or straight through the middle – the direct route usually won. Any second now I half expected James Bond to burst out of a side alley in the middle of a high speed car chase.
Through the middle of a major shopping centre and suddenly it’s the Tour de France. Policemen blasting on whistles and waving the crowds back who were either surging forward because they were watching the race, or drifting onto the course because they were on their way to lunch. It was fantastic fun. Roberta was trying to track my progress from my smartphone but it was doubtful whether it was helping much. In the end she settled for drinking coffee and walking the few yards to the race route when she thought there was a chance I’d be showing up again.
I’d lifted my pace a bit in the erratically shaded alleys and soon we were back down to the seafront to start the second lap. If I was going to run a negative split, then this was about time to begin splitting my negatives. Along the coast road for the second time and I was feeling pretty good. Always mindful of the heat I was micro-calibrating my speed more on perceived exertion and comfort rather than too much attention to the Garmin. Things were going well until about 22km, and then suddenly they weren’t going quite so well. I had half-expected it but was still disappointed. I’d trained well for this race but racing is always full of surprises and I knew that I might have problems. But I’ve learned a lot from London, and many other hot races, and I knew the trick was to stay in control of the race, not the other way round.
I dropped my pace until I felt comfortable, then simply micro-adjusted my pace until I wasn’t so comfortable, then back down again. We’ve all done it. Eventually the relentless heat of the seafront gave way to the old town again and it was great to get into the shade. I was irritated to be feeling so stuffed as I’d really enjoyed this bit of the race first time round and wanted to enjoy it again! Still, I was still in control of the race and steadily passed walkers and much slower runners as I maintained a reasonable running form but at a maintainable pace. I did some tactical walking at aid stations and on the hills (that I hadn’t noticed on the first lap) and so never really slammed in the wall as I have done in previous marathons.
The last 2km run in to the finish were a gentle downhill straight through the cafes and main shopping street which were all open of course, it’s just the roads that were closed. There were a couple of “C’mon Striders” and “Well done Elvet” that were uncannily reminiscent of the Harrier League, right down to the accents, although “Go UK!” was a new one for me (your national flag is shown on your bib).
I was a bit disappointed to finish in 4:30 but was pretty happy that I’d run the race about right; tactically and responding to the conditions so that I had pace and form to the end. As my first experience of an overseas race I have to say it was an absolute blast. The carefully balanced chaos of running through the old town like a street mob and the carnival atmosphere surround the event were wonderful. There really isn’t anything about the race I didn’t like.