When I finished the Boston marathon, I wasn’t sure how I felt about doing another one so soon afterwards. I was more mentally unready than physically unready, as I had recovered pretty well from Boston thanks to a thorough sports massage from Tim Doyle. As the day drew nearer I got more and more nervous, way more nervous than I had been in the run up to Boston. Why? Not sure really, perhaps because so many people I knew were running it!? I really wasn’t sure what I was aiming for on the day either – a sub 3:30 would be great, but if I didn’t match my Boston finish of 3:36, or beat my Loch Ness 3:26, I wasn’t going to be disappointed. It’s a brand new race, there would probably be teething problems, and despite the fact it’s a relatively flat course compared to Loch Ness and Boston, there was a torturous 2.5 loop at the end that I knew would be mentally challenging. The idea was to turn up, run just a touch below a challenging pace and see what happened.
The ‘banter bus’ that took us up to the event was a great idea – thanks Allan for organising! No stressing about finding a parking space and loads of excited chat up to the start line at Blair Drummond Safari Park. On arrival there was a bit of a long wait for loos, but that’s par for the course. I made it into my pen in time for a selfie with a marshal in an elephant suit, and a hug from my colleague Sarah who was in the next pen. As I had put down a predicted finish of 3:30, I was put in the ‘fast-paced club runners’ pen. This was a first for me, and slightly daunting. I had the privilege of lining up at the start with running legends Zola Budd and Liz McColgan, though at the time I couldn’t make out who was who through the throng.
The road out of Blair Drummond was nice and flat and gave me a chance to get into a comfortable rhythm. The gentle incline into Doune was a good chance to get the hamstrings and quads pumping, and I decided early on to use every mile marker as a prompt to do some high knees and kick backs and hopefully stave off the cramp that had plagued me around mile 21 at both Boston and Loch Ness. So far my pace had been about a 7 minute mile, which surprised me as I didn’t feel uncomfortable running at that speed for quite a few miles. I tried to relax into it,and told myself that if I started to hurt or the effort felt too much, to knock it right back. Amazingly it didn’t and I ran pretty consistently between 7:20 and 7:40 most of the way.
Doune and Dunblane were a real highlight for me. It seemed that the whole village had come out to support us, and in the pouring rain too – which started at about 10:00, a few hours ahead of forecast. There were kids wanting hand slaps, which I did as much as I could, and grannies hanging out of windows with cups tea in hand. A handmade sign in the centre of Doune made me smile – “You’re DOUNE great!”, and the jelly babies were on offer in abundance . At about mile 8 some kind lady shouted “Nearly half way there!”, which of course isn’t remotely true, but I never get annoyed by such comments. These folk have taken the time out of their day to stand in the rain and cheer us nutters on, so any words of encouragement are good in my humble opinion!
Coming out of Doune I ran past a lady with black capris and cropped blonde hair that I’d spotted in front of me most of the way so far. People were shouting lots of encouragement at her, but at the time I didn’t think much of it, as we all had our names on our bibs. I also had my name on my Harriers vest, so was getting a few personalised cheers too.
At mile 12 I took a good swig of Tailwind and a couple of pieces of Kendal mint cake to keep the fires burning. I started to develop a headache at mile 14 so took a couple of paracetamol. Everything else was going well though, no signs of cramp and nothing aching too much. Coming out of Bridge of Allan I spotted a familiar figure at the side of the road yelling encouragement at the runners. I think I took Yan by surprise as when I started to run towards him with open arms he jumped out of the grass and started grappling with his phone to try and get a photo. I grabbed a sweaty hug and bounded off back into the road towards Stirling. The rain was drizzly now and there was hardly any wind. Perfect conditions for running a a marathon.
The next bit of the course was pretty boring, relatively flat A roads leading into town. I could see the Wallace monument in the distance but you didn’t really get very close to it. Once in town there was the loop system to deal with. Sandra’s report has covered what most of us thought about them pretty well, but it didn’t really start to annoy me until the second lap, when I had to negotiate my way around the larger, slower crowds. The underpasses had been painted, cleared and the bollards removed, and the inclines gave a bit of relief to the legs. In the town centre there was a horrible patch of cobbles, which I had to concentrate really hard on not to slip or trip… three times! Here though the crowds were immense, and made the deja vu a little more bearable. I kept an eye out for fellow harriers here but only caught a glimpse of another colleague, Ines (Edinburgh Running Network), who I ran Loch Ness with. I’d seen her partner, Gordon, out supporting at various points, and the last time he shouted “Liz is just ahead!”. I laughed and assumed he was egging me on.
I hit 20 miles at 2:30, and worked out that a PB was perfectly possible even if I slowed a little in the crowds. On my final approach to the finish I felt really good, the best I’ve felt in a marathon so far. Once I reached 26 miles I ramped up the pace a little, and in the finish lane ahead of me I spotted the cropped blonde hair and black capris lady and decided to try and catch her. I heard the announcer say something like “And here comes our world record holder, finishing the Stirling Scottish marathon, Liz McColgan!”. Suddenly it dawned on me that I was about to finish just behind her and the euphoria just washed over me. Could I really be just behind an Olympian? A Scottish sporting hero? One of my sporting heroes? Looking at my finish photos you can see just how shocked I am! I hope I gave the Marathon Photos guys a good laugh. Sure enough, as soon as she finished the cameras descended on her and I jogged past into the finish funnel giggling like an idiot. Stopped my watch and realised I had not only busted my sub 3:30 goal, but a 3:20 one – 3:18:36! I was so giddy I took the wrong size t-shirt pack and completely failed to claim my free Harvieston beer (for the first 500 finishers) or gin (for every runner) and instead opted for nice hot, sugary cup of tea courtesy of the lovely Rachel Drummond who was waiting at the end of the funnel.
Gradually we met up with other Harriers, some Moorfoots and both my colleagues at the finish. After nearly getting stuck on the ridiculous wall we had to clamber over for the baggage and shuttle buses, we were off back home on our own ‘banter bus’ once again. But not before I had spotted Liz McColgan in the crowds and walked over, encouraged by Rachel, to chat and ask for a selfie. She graciously accepted, despite the fact I was gibbering and making no sense, and asked me how I found the race. What a lovely lady. Yes, I know she’s a decade older than me, has 5 kids to my 3 and was running to finish not compete, but I’m still over the moon I finished just behind her. I’ll be going on about this for the next twenty years at least!
The next day I scrutinised my results and saw that I placed 20th female, 240th overall, and 4th in my age category. Absolutely over the moon with that. But honestly, I wouldn’t have been able to contemplate, never mind achieve a finish time like Stirling if it wasn’t for the support, friendship and encouragement of the best running club in the world, the Penicuik Harriers. Sweaty hugs all round!