“Then everything went black” – The Edinburgh Marathon

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I almost didn’t start the Edinburgh Marathon, faltering before the starting gun had even been lifted. I had been battling a pretty nasty stomach bug leading up to the race and knew that even if I did make the race I would be running on empty. Luckily, with less than 24 hours to go before the race the bug cleared and I could finally keep food in. Having come all the way to Edinburgh, I couldn’t not race even though doing so could put me at risk. Foolhardy I lined up and begged my body to just endure.

My aim in the first three marathons of the year was to break the 4 hour 30 minutes mark and all attempts had been thwarted; Rome with the weather, London by being a good Samaritan and now Edinburgh would be some reduced chicken from my local supermarket. So as I began to run I warned myself to just play itself, I hated that I had failed but knew just finishing in the condition I was in would be an achievement.

The weather forecast in the build up had predicted overcast and mild temperatures but as we wheeled around the foot of the imposing Arthur’s Seat the sun cracked through the dark Scottish clouds and the mercury began to creep up. Even-though the race is called the Edinburgh Marathon be warned most of it isn’t in Edinburgh. Within 5 miles you are out of the city and along the coastal roads of the surrounding towns. If you are a marathon tourist this isn’t a race for sightseeing selfies. You essentially run as far out of Edinburgh as you can for 17 miles along a coastal road before looping back on yourself, returning to a town outside of Edinburgh where you finish. Regardless, having the sea for a running partner for much of the race is a wonderful pleasure.

As the miles slipped by I was still feeling great, actually ticking off the mile splits to hit my 4:30 aim. Arrogantly I believed that I was stronger than I was and at mile 11 it came back to bite me. Suddenly and without warning I felt my body use up the last bit of stored energy and my legs just stopped. I began to stagger forward, running no longer a continuous possibility

I began a strategy that would see me to the end of the race; run half a mile, walk half a mile. That over and over for the next 15 miles filled me with boredom and worry. The heat was also starting to become a concern as I knew that dehydration was a serious risk for me.

As I finally reached the turn back point at mile 17 I knew that my body was really struggling, I was drinking double at every aid station and still feeling dehydrated. The running part of each mile was just me watching my watch until it told me I had run half a mile and then I’d coming to a spluttering stop. As we ran along the mixed terrain section in the breathtaking grounds of Gosford House the sun beat heavy on my face. The throbbing in my head tightened it’s grip on my senses but I felt my body urging me on, so I pushed my feet out and began to run again. Then, in an instant, everything went black.

I must have only blacked out for a second or two as I hadn’t gone to ground. When my eyes snapped open I was in a bush, luckily I had chosen then for my senses to stumble as the tarmac would have not have been such a cushioned fall. The shock of it tightened my muscles and I knew that I was beginning to put my body in some serious strain. I slowed again and took as much water at every aid station I could.

I used the next few miles to collect my thoughts, check up on my girlfriend who had just completed her first ever half (not much peer pressure involved in her doing it at all…) and chat to other runners. All this was to distract my body as I tried desperately to strengthen my resolve. Edinburgh Marathon was the first race I’d ever debated stopping. They say pain is temporary and quitting is forever and in those moments I knew, finally, what that truly meant. By not finishing that regret would creep into every dark doubting moment that I would have from then on; “You’ve quit before, do it again”. By just finishing this marathon I would live to fight another day, by quitting I would be letting the old, lazier me resurface.

These thoughts swirled angrily around my head until mile 25, when a song came on. Surprise Yourself by Jack Garrett was my anthem for last year. When I went from never really running to completing 4 marathons, 6 halfs and 1,000 miles. I ran myself back to life in that year. I closed my eyes and pictured all the monumental moments of that year  and when I opened my eyes again I began to run. Really run. I was running stronger than I had done throughout the entire race, fuelled by memories alone, and when the finish line finally came into view I sprinted.

As I crash landed into some welcome shade under a tree I couldn’t help but think how I would be feeling in this moment if I had pulled out of the race. In that moment I vowed to endure, simply endure. I’m never going to win races or even come close but I can fight to finish. Walk, run or crawl we can all make an impact.

Next Race: Endure24

Three Song Playlist

Jack Garrett – Surprise Yourself

Dean Lewis – Waves

Dan Auerbach – Shine on Me

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10 thoughts on ““Then everything went black” – The Edinburgh Marathon

  1. Antony Greensweig says:

    James, your experience sort of mirrors mine on Sunday, not the blacking out, thank goodness, nor the dodgy chicken, but certainly the concern over dehydration ,the walk/run plan in the middle miles and the sprint finish! My last mile was sub 9…fastest of the race…I have no idea how I did it but I am so glad I finished, as you say, a DNF is forever! It was such a hot day…it was Edinburgh for gods sake!

  2. 50in50marathonquest says:

    very well written recap…really enjoyed reading and i think any marathoner can relate at sometime or another – congrats on pushing through to that finish, that goal time will be there for you soon, keep fighting…cheers!

  3. cat h bradley says:

    I am so amazed by people who seize up or have problems like this so early in the race and are still able to persevere and finish. I have pushed through and kept on for 2-3 miles, but 9-10 +? Really amazing. Well done.

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