The alarm went of 5:55 on Sunday morning. Ninety minutes later I sat in one of the many buses taking us to the start of the Marathon near Fort Augustus.
I sat next to Tim from England, who had done this one and other Marathons before. “Why”, I asked, “is it, that thousands of people get up at an ungodly hour, to be taken, quite literally, to the middle of nowhere, where they gather in the freezing cold, before spending the next few hours in a painful approach towards a line on the ground, some 26 miles away?” To runners, it’s a rethorical question maybe, “the sense of achievement” can’t fully explain it either. I don’t know the answer, other than I’ve done it and that I’d do it again, no questions asked.
It was a beautiful morning, in a surreal, picturesque scenery. Brian Burnett walked around with his microphone, asking people to “not wee at the wee trees, beause they’re just wee trees, not wee trees” (“wee” can mean both “small”, and “pee”), slightly extending the queues to the many portaloos.
I had my upper body covered in a fashionable black bin bag to get some protection from the wind and cold, before some final warm ups. 10am on the dot, the start signal sounded and roughly 2.500 people started setting foot after foot on the descending single track road towards Inverness. Weeks and months of preparation condensed down to just three mantras: Until 15k – hold a steady pace and power through any little hills, but hold back and avoid exhaustion. Then, until 35k, step it up and take the pain; after that – just fight.
I managed the first 15k well and found it easy enough to speed up on the flat bit opposite Drumnadrochit and Urquhart Castle. By then I had had a quick chat with a guy who wore a “100 Marathon Club” T-Shirt. I just could not let him and the chance for some advice pass. I asked what pace he’d suggest for a 3hr Marathon and he said “at most 1:25 at half time”. I thanked him and as he said he was aiming for 3:30, while I felt I might have something faster in my legs, I ran past him. My 21k split time was 1:29.
Some ten, fifteen minutes later I ran with a guy, who for one reason amazed a lot of people on that day. “Man, are you serious, don’t you have blisters all over your feet!?” I, and surely many others, asked him. “No, I feel great, thanks! First time in Scotland, first Marathon”, he replied. Wearing blue Crocs. No socks. Crocs. Unsurprisingly, we got along well and run next to each other for a while. Suddenly I felt a stone or something in my shoe. First I wanted to ignore it and run on, then it bothered me too much. “I’ll have to stop and get something out my shoe”, I told Croc-man. “OK, cool, I gotta pee somewhere, catch up then”, and off he was. A short sprint to the next water station, sit down, shoe off, sock off, rub the toes, sock on, shoe on, let’s go.
The miles ahead got fewer and eventually there was the famed hill at Dores. Some runners had stopped, trying to shake off cramps, a few of them had overdone it even more and threw up next to the road. By this point my legs started to feel heavy too, but, o cut it short, what I had hoped for had come true – many hours running up hills finally paid off. The gradual ascent was tiring, but not steep, allowing for a steady pace below 5min/km. The man with the hammer said hello, but I had no time for him just then.
By 34km I checked my time and calculated which pace I must have on average for the final 8k to come in just under three hours. I struggeled, a lot, but I managed to stick to it exactly. Once the road led through Inverness centre, the hundreds cheering and clapping, including Fi and the girls, helped a lot in keeping it up. I crossed the finish line in 3:00:45, had I remembered that it’s not 42k, but 42.2k, I might have done it in a minute less, might. But I have absolutely no reason to be dissatisfied, and that goal remains for another day.
Harvesting some kudos from loved ones and geting congratulations on the achievement (#43) from experienced runners was a pleasure, all modesty aside, I’m proud of that run.
Croc-man (I never found out his name) must have had a turbo-piddle, he finished in under three hours. Among the many other astonishing moments from that day, only one more mindblowing one, seeing how lenghty this already got: 75 year-old Masumi Yabuta from Tokyo did the run as well. It was his 700th Marathon. Seven. Hundred. That’s around twice a month, for 35yrs straight, for any 40yr old considers to give it a go. I’ve done my first one that day, probably with a few more to come. But not 699, I’m rather sure.
Final fundraiser call: With four days to go, the toll stands at 165 GBP, the mileage at 1480km (you know what to do).