I ran the Edinburgh Half Marathon today with Rose George. Rose has been instrumental in getting the TeamLou initiative off the ground, an initiative that has brought together a disparate bunch of people who all wanted to run some kind of distance this weekend in memory of our friend Louise who died all-to-soon last year of bone cancer. Along with Lou’s husband Alan, Rose has been at the forefront of organising, cajoling, fundraising and generally keeping us in touch with the real objective – remembering Lou and making a difference to the chosen charity, Skeletal Cancer Action Trust.
I hadn’t met Rose before, but had seen her speak at Lou’s funeral last year, and in the course of various logistical emails this week a thought struck me – she was looking to improve her PB, and I was looking for an excuse for failing to get one. Could a PB and PW a successful weekend make? I think so. The plan was threefold: Objective one, to get Rose a PB (better than 1hour 55), next, if possible, a sub-1hour 50). Was a 1 hour 45 possible? Maybe, and in case it was I made us a little pace bar strip each for our wrists with 8 minute/mile pacing on it.
The weather forecast didn’t look promising and when the alarm went off at 6am (why do I do these things to myself?) it was looking gloomy outside, to say the least. I had forgotten that my mountain bike had a flat tyre when I cycled home on Friday so I fumbled around my wife’s bike, adjusting and oiling (the bike, not myself).
I dumped the bike at Market Street, said hello to the few marshals from my club Carnethy that were at Regent Road then changed, dropped my bag in the luggage truck and made my way to the meeting point at St Andrew’s House for a TeamLou photocall. One of runners, Elliot Elam, appeared with a half marathon place and a half marathon bib, but was also in possession of an extremely low-numbered full marathon bib. It turns out that Alan had entered him for marathon, not the half marathon by mistake, but with a predicted finish time of 2:05. For those of you not in the know, the current world record of 2:03:23 was set by Wilson Kipsang of Kenya on September 29, 2013 at the Berlin Marathon, and I don’t think Wilson realises that there was a runner only 90 seconds away from this (predicted) running today (which says more about the vetting procedures of the organisers than anything else). Elliot is a lovely bloke, but he’s, well, not Kenyan. He’s kind of northern, with a beard and was at the pub last night.
After the photocall we dispersed and Rose and I somehow ended up in the pen towards the back of Regent Road. It took an age to get started and by then the heavens had opened and it was all becoming a bit miserable and chilly. We discussed tactics – 8 minute miles or 8.20s and go for a fast finish? In the end it was all a bit academic because when we did finally cross the start line the crowd of runners was so thick it was difficult generate any sort of momentum at all. The first few miles in particular were a muddle of swerving and jinking and the race as a whole was much the same.
Which takes me back to Peter Buchanan’s thoughts in his (always entertaining) blog from this time last year (http://bestpartday.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/edinburgh-marathon-260513.html). Can you make someone run faster than they might otherwise? It was a good question and one I was keen to find out. I’d never run this way before and didn’t really know what to do other than push the pace, try to get Rose to stay with me and shout a bit maybe? Rose seemed to be up for that and the fact she has a trainer back home in Leeds meant that she was probably up for a bit of a shouting at.
We made our way through Holyrood Park (passing another TeamLou runner, Claudia, on the way) and snaked around Meadowbank and down Lochend Road. We were sitting at 8.16 pace at this point and I had already reckoned that 8 min/miles might be beyond reach, even at 3 miles in, but it was still early days. At Leith Links the crowds were out in force, bless them, and as we turned along Seafield Road the sea was looking uninviting to say the least. We headed along Portobello Promenade and I dutifully ripped open a caffeine gel and handed it to Rose. Halfway there and 52 minutes down.
We saw the outcrop of Musselburgh in the distance and it didn’t look another 6 miles away, but I was informed that we run through it and back to it again to make the distance.
At about 9 miles we saw the Marathon Relay transition point and Rose asked for another gel, she was flagging a wee bit at this point (in her mind) but the pace said otherwise – it was holding steady at 8.17 and I knew that the 1:45 attempt might have passed, but the sub 1:50 was definitely on. As we came near the finish area (having still 3 miles to go), we saw the faster finishers coming in in the opposite direction. This was probably a double-edged sword for Rose as it told us that she was close enough to the finish to feel it, but the Garmins told us that we still had a 5K to go.
The long stretch here before turning is where the mind games had to begin. I knew if I just upped the pace and tried to push it then Rose would have just let me go, so I ran forward a bit, hoping she’d come with me and when she didn’t, slipped back into line with her. Overall though, I think I stopped her from slowing the pace over these final miles rather than increasing it. We turned with a mile and a half to go – this really was the home stretch now. I was predicting a comfortable PB for her, but it was still touch and go for the sub 1:50. Matters weren’t helped by my watch reading 13.16 miles when we passed the 13 mile mark. We finally entered Pinkie Primary School playing fields and a sprint finish got us over the line in 1:49:44. Phew! Rose was rightly chuffed, as was I and after a slight quiver where I thought she was going to vomit on me, we headed off to get medals, bags and buses and thence home to the later festivities.
Conclusion? Well Rose said afterwards that she wouldn’t have done it without me, but at the end of the day she still had to do the running. I do think that having a faster runner just ahead of you (but within range) all the way through a run, keeping a consistent pace (and feeding you gels on demand) can only make your chances of running faster better, however. Maybe there’s a market for that sort of thing – Running Bitch anyone?