So that was the Great Scottish Run 2014. It was brilliant. I’m honestly shocked I had such a good time.
I wasn’t expecting much of myself. As I said before, September was a shoddy month for training, and I was pretty sure my fitness had backslid a tonne since August. Not only that, but Fridays #runcommute was maybe not such a good idea. This morning my thighs still felt a lingering ache, and my left ankle was stiff and sore. Not what you want before you set off for a 13.1 mile run.
But you know what? That sort of took the pressure off. I thought it was going to be tough, painful, and slow. I didn’t really think my ankle was going to hold, and wondered if I’d be walking the back half. With all that going on, my expectations plummeted. Back in August, when the training was going well, I had my eye on finishing somewhere between 2:00 and 2:10. By this morning I’d downgraded that to around 2:20 (and was convinced I was being optimistic).
I don’t have much experience with official runs yet – my sole prior half-marathon was in New Delhi in 2012. I ran that in 2:30:04, and I did it badly. I set off way too fast, and when the heat climbed to a horrific 32 degrees half way through it absolutely killed me.
Today, the weather was perfect. A little grey, but cool, and the rain held off for the whole distance. I reached the starting zone (above) in plenty of time, did some very minimal stretching (I’m pretty convinced that loads of stretching makes no difference whatsoever if you’re running anything over 10K), worried about my ankle, and in no time at all my wave of runners was making its way to the start line. My only plan was to run slow, and try to enjoy the sights.
The first obstacle was St Vincent Street, which is one big hill. It’s actually not too brutal, but because you hit it straight away, before you’ve found your groove, it feels worse than it is. I jogged up nice and easy, and didn’t have any trouble (I am, in retrospect, grateful to my nemesis the Ayr Road for fully preparing me for this sort of thing).
When I crested the hill, and we went down into Finnieston, I made a discovery.
Loads of runners are terrified of running downhill. They have the brakes on all the way down (and their legs take a pounding for it). Again, I’ve the hills of the Southside (and some top online tips) to thank for having gotten over this fear. The trick is to lean further forward than you’re comfortable with, take short light steps so you retain some semblance of control (and seriously, the faster you go into it, the more control you have), and let gravity do its work. Not only is it exhilarating, but when you get to the bottom you realise you’re not breathing any harder than usual. Hills are free speed, if you can just steel yourself and go with them.
And because everybody else had the brakes on, I zipped past them. I was back to my previous plod when it ended, but the morale boost of weaving in and out of the crowd for just a short time was fantastic. I did it every time I hit a downhill stretch, and every time I was the only one. Nice.
On a bit of a high, I jogged into Finnieston and back around to the Kingston Bridge, where the M8 motorway crosses the Clyde. It’s one of the highlights of the route, simply because you get a view that pedestrians aren’t usually allowed. Many runners sacrificed seconds in order to snap selfies over the water, leaving the rest of us dodging around them like we’d hit a Japanese bus tour. We ran down the exit on the other side (more free speed), past Shields Road tube, then into bits of Dumbreck and possibly Shawlands that nobody recognised. The runner in front of me, Glaswegian through and through, turned to his mate and said in a bewildered voice: “I got no f*cking idea where we are.” I was glad I wasn’t the only one. I had visions of Haile and the other elites taking a wrong turn somewhere up front, and the whole marathon going off course.
Then Pollok Park happened (a relief, as it meant we were definitely going the right way), a nice off road change of pace from the streets, followed by Bellahoustan Park in short order. Then we were onto Paisley Road West, heading back into town.
I saw a ten mile marker, and laughed for a bit. I wasn’t anywhere near exhausted. I was doing fine. So much so that when we crossed back over the Clyde for the last couple of miles along the riverfront to the finish, I started to pick up speed. Turns out I was way too cautious starting out. I was bounding along, and feeling great about it. By the time I got to the Wall Of Support (a massive bank of screens which friends could submit messages to online) I was already feeling great. Then your messages popped up when the sensor on my shoe (it measures your official time) went over a big pad laid out on the road. You absolutely filled that thing. For the few seconds or so before it changed to the next runner’s messages, that race was all about me baby (and thanks so much to everybody who sent something through). In fact, it was so full I couldn’t take all the messages on board. The one that lingered best came from Meghan in the US, who proudly informed both me and the crowd that there was a zombie right behind me. Good enough for me, I I still felt like I had plenty in the tank so I hammered the last half mile all the way to the finish.
I totally underestimated myself. The official finish time was 02:12:36, 6741st position, and I think I might have run a negative split. I’m very, very happy with that. More importantly, I loved the run. Every bit of it. There wasn’t a single moment where it was a miserable endeavour. The crowds helped, and so did the amazing volunteers who seemed always to be around to cheer everyone on. As I wasn’t taking it very seriously I took the time to high five as many kids along the route as possible – one very sweet Downs Syndrome sufferer in a pink coat sticks in the mind (so does the wheelchair bound lady who had either Motor Neurone Disease or Cerebral Palsy, and who came out to man one of the water stations at Pollok Park). The volunteers and the crowd at large made the whole run an absolute joy.
And if all that wasn’t good enough, the finisher’s pack included a single sachet of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce for no clear reason. It doesn’t get better than a random sachet of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce. It just doesn’t. If they’d thought to mention at the start that an incredibly random sachet of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce (for eggs that can’t be beat!) was awaiting me at the finish then I suspect I would have broken two hours, easy.
So yeah, a great day. The half marathon is so well organised that you don’t even notice how well organised it is until you think about it later. Plenty of water and sports drinks going round, and what felt like half the population of Scotland’s biggest city cheering you on. What more could you ask for?
Right. I’m off to sign up for the Edinburgh marathon. Who’s with me?