Race Report: Stirling Marathon

Alarm goes off at 5:30am. I wake up feeling good. I have had a solid night's sleep which was unexpected the night before the race and a pleasant surprise. My kit was laid out the night before and obligatory pre-race photo of kit taken. All going well so far!

5:45am: Have breakfast. A tried and tested porridge mix which I knew wouldn't cause me any issues during the race. Porridge oats, milk, a couple of pinches of salt and a couple of tablespoons of maple syrup. Wash that down with freshly ground coffee. Perfect! 

6:00am: Get ready and then head down to the car to meet Nicholas, a fellow Edinburgh AC team mate, at 6:20am.

The drive to Stirling was uneventful, Nicholas and I discussed our individual race plans, which turned out to be almost identical. We headed up the slip road off the M9 and joined the queue of cars trying to get in to the first car park. Quickly realising that there were a lot of cars driving back out of the car park I turned around and headed for the second allocated car park for runners. This was much better. We drove in and got parked straight away and then boarded one of the many buses that the event organisers had put on for all the runners to get them to the start line. Stress free, we were soon making our way to Blair Drummond Safari park where the race would start from. The bus took us out over a bridge which looked back down the M9 where we had only 10 minutes ago come off and there was a massive queue now forming! We had timed it perfect! 

Pre-race

Within 15 minutes we were at the Safari park and followed the marshals instructions to get us to the start area. We walked and walked and walked a bit more. I'm glad it wasn't raining because it was a half mile walk to the assembly point. No idea why the organisers couldn't have worked out a way to get us dropped off closer, especially since we were overtaken by a bus that was empty, making it's way to the assembly area! 

Once we finally got to the starting / assembly area Nicholas and I joined the queue for the loos and then found a seat. There was plenty of space for all the runners which was good but there is never enough loos. The queues soon became massive and those who really couldn't wait took to the bushes! 
The only thing I think the organisers again hadn't considered was, if it had been raining, where was everyone going to shelter? The simple answer was, we wouldn't and we would have all been soaked and cold before the race even started. Not a great way to be before any race let alone a marathon. Maybe the organisers had organised the perfect running conditions and so didn't need to worry about these things?

30 minutes to go

I ate 1/2 of my Stoats porridge bar which I was meant to eat completely an hour before the race but had totally forgotten about it! Oops!

15 minutes to go

Before we knew it, it was time to pull on our Edinburgh AC vests, have a final toilet visit and then get in to our starting pens. Once in the pens we met up with other club mates and said good luck to other people we knew who were racing. (Richard, Martin and Peter)

I had planned on a good warm up but after less than half a mile of running I felt ready. 

10 minutes to go

Take my first High 5 Isogel of the day and wash down with a little bit of water. 

5 minutes to go

As I was in the 'elite & fast club runners' pen, we were the first to walk down the road to the start line, as soon as our pen was empty, the next pen joined the back of us. This continued until you had the slowest runners at the back of the pack. The system worked well. 

9am

We were meant to start at 9 but we were still standing on the line, waiting. I presume we were waiting for the all clear, maybe a tiger had broken free or a monkey had moved a marker on the course, who knows but eventually a 9:02 we had the countdown. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 - Brendan Foster then pressed the hooter and we were off! 

I had setup my watch to show me overall time, lap pace, overall average pace and overall distance. I would get a notification every mile of that miles pace so when the first mile clicked up at 6:37 I was happy and the second mile was even better, 6:38. 

For the next couple of miles I kept one eye on the road and the other on my watch. 

Nicholas and I were running close to each other, I would pull away on some of the hills and he would catch me on the downhill when I put the brakes on. Richard was away in the distance and Martin and Peter somewhere behind us.

Doune

4 miles in and we came across the first village of the route, up until now it was empty quiet roads. Doune put on a fantastic show of support. Hundreds of people out on the streets giving us all massive cheers and in return Nicholas and I gave anyone that wanted one a High-5. The adrenaline was flowing from all the support and before I knew it, the mile had gone by in 6:31! I spend the next two miles taking it easy, 6:36 and 6:37. 

Dunblane

We arrived in Dunblane at about mile 8 and they must have heard that Doune had put on a show for us and they upped their game. More cheers, more support, and even a fast downhill section! 
I was feeling amazing but I reminded myself that I wasn't even half way yet and feeling great now doesn't mean everything will be great at mile 20. I stay relaxed, Nicholas and I kept within reach of each other, still giving high-5s to the kids and just enjoying the run. 

It felt like we were just out on a Sunday training run together. The roads were ours to do with as we wished. The pace felt easy, the weather conditions perfect. 

We left Dunblane back out on to the empty roads and the next stop was Bridge of Allan

Bridge of Allan

Again the support was brilliant here but in the back of my mind I new what was just around the corner. The hill at Stirling University campus. I didn't really know any other part of the course but I know the campus due to there being a cross country race there over the winter. 

Just before exiting Bridge of Allan, Martin Devine from Portobello AC passed me. Before we started the race I invited him to join Nicholas and I for the 2:55 target but he felt that was outwith his grasps just now but when he passed me, he was looking strong and I know I was currently on for sub 2:55 so he was having a great run! 

Nicholas and I headed in to Stirling Uni campus. There was some familiar faces at this point giving cheers of support - thanks Jennifer, Christine and Helen. I know there were a couple of other cheers but I apologise, between trying to take a gel and a drink of water I didn't quite catch who it was. I tried to give a thumbs up and thank them though. 

My gel plan was one at 75 mins and then one every 30 minutes after that. 

Even running past the Wallace monument heading towards Stirling city centre, a seemingly random roundabout which we skirted around, there were supporters cheering us on.

Probably around miles 14 and 16, the heavens opened which was actually really refreshing. I was still feeling good but half way of a marathon for me is the 20 mile marker and I knew I still had the 2.5 loops of Stirling City centre to deal with. I'd made a mental note that mile 17 was the final mile before the loops started. 

Nicholas and I were still running together and we entered the loops, headed up in to the city centre and started to high-5 the spectators again. The crowds were 2 or 3 deep and as we passed through the main shopping area I saw Mandy. I was feeling amazing and spotted she was holding something in her hand but I couldn't read it. Instead a gave her a high-5 and continued on my way giving her a quick shout that I'll see her again soon. 

Continuing up the road the crowds were lining the street for literally miles. Adrian Stott from Run and Become spotted Nicholas and I and commented that we both looked like we were cruising. This was a massive encouragement. 

Soon after this Nicholas started to open up a gap between us and when I checked my pace I realised I was now 'cruising' faster than the plan and I hadn't hit 20 miles yet. Mile 19 was 6:20! Even with the downhill I wanted to ease off a bit but then I thought to myself, there are only 6 miles to go, just a morning run, let's forget about the watch and just enjoy the last section of what was turning out to be the best race of my life. 

About half way around the first loop the lead runner, Andrew Lemoncello lapped me and he went on to win in 2:25:01 but it was amazing to watch him cruise by. I was hoping I looked as effortless but I doubt it. 

21 miles in I spotted Mandy again, this time reading her sign but still getting a High-5 in. My legs were starting to ache now but mentally I was in a strong place and I was still on target to hit Plan A - run the full distance and finish sub 3. 

This was now the second time around the loop and the number of other runners now on the loop was increasing. I was finding I had to dodge people, go around people and have my wits about me a bit more. I wasn't able to take the racing line quite as easy either. The underpasses were getting narrower and I had to ask people to let me past a couple of times. Not ideal when chasing a time and I found my breathing went a bit laboured due to this. For the first time in the entire race I wasn't relaxed. I quickly rectified this. 

I was approaching the end of the second lap now and all I had to do was run 1.5 miles. My plan was to really pick up the pace on this lap but the number of runners was now making this plan unrealistic. I was really needing to dodge people, I was getting stuck behind people and trying to squeeze through gaps that maybe weren't there to squeeze through. 

Coming in to the city centre for a final time, the slight incline up the to main shopping area was now a zombie nightmare. People walking, shuffling and struggling. I reckon if you were having a tough time during the loops it would have been really easy to just stop and walk here, so many people around me were doing just that but I only had a mile to go now and I really wanted to give it my all. 

Every time I saw a gap, I went for it and every time I got a chance to stride out I did, this last mile reminded me of the full 26.2 miles of London marathon. Too many people for the space given. The crowds were great but they were now 5 or 7 rows deep and spilling on to the course making it even narrower. 

With 800 metres to go I heard Mandy shouting her support, I gave her a wave, shouted over "I'm going to do it!" and went chasing the finish line. 

Coming down the final stretch of road, towards the 'lap gantry' which I'd gone under twice already, I knew the finish was close, I had spotted it the 2 previous times I'd past it. I opened up the pace and gave it my all for the final 400 metres. 

Heading down the final straight the crowds once again were the best I've ever experienced. I looked at the finishing clock and gave out a massive cheer. I'd done it, I'd run the full distance, I'd followed the race plan I'd discussed with my coach and I'd ran 2:52:52, a full 6 minutes off my previous 'unofficial' PB or 10 minutes off my 'official' PB. 

A new day but nothing will take the sub3 hour marathon away from me. Love this photo which was taken as I approached the finish line of the @great_run Stirling marathon yesterday. Words can not express the feelings I had when I crossed that line! ⚫️⚫️🔴🔴⚫️⚫️🔴🔴⚫️⚫️🔴🔴⚫️⚫️🔴🔴⚫️ My first marathon in 2008: 4:50:13, yesterday: 2:52:52. If I can do it, anyone can! Thank you to everyone who has left messages and contacted me with kind words, you're all amazing. ⚫️🔴⚫️🔴⚫️🔴⚫️🔴⚫️🔴⚫️🔴⚫️🔴⚫️🔴 #ashmeirun #teamiamrunbox #fit #fitness #furtherfasterstronger #happyrunner #instagood #instarun #instarunners #marathontraining #dailyrunpic #run #runchat #ukrunchat #runhappy #runner #runners #running #runtoinspire #seenonmyrun #time2run #trailrun #trailrunner #trailrunning #training #runtagit #runplanet #runshots #runthroughuk #runnersofinstagram

A post shared by Owain Williams 🏃 (@scottishrunner) on May 21, 2017 at 11:55pm PDT

The finish

 I crossed the line and felt on top of the world. It's by far the best race I've ever had. Some people have said they hated the loops but I enjoyed them. Mentally I knew what was coming and I broke the final 9 miles down to 3 mile loops. Focus on each one, one at a time. 

Martin met me at the finish and congratulated me, he had a great run. Nicholas and Richard also came over to congratulate me on the result. 

I collected my finishers goodie back, my free can of beer and then met Mandy. Giving her a massive hug and then making my way to the baggage busses - once we worked out where they were! 

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The good point from this race were, for the first ever Stirling marathon the organisation was great. The course was good and the support from the crowds amazing.

The bad points were how busy the course got in the final mile or two. The underpasses were potential leg killers, steep downhill followed by short sharp climbs. 
There also wasn't any sign posts to tell you where the baggage busses were and so when the rain started we were left tired and cold looking for our dry kit! 

The Ugly - If I hadn't got my sub 3, that would have been the ugly! I honestly reckon I would have given up running, at least for a couple of months - all that training and to miss the sub 3 again, I would probably have wondered what I was doing wrong! Thankfully, I don't need to worry about that now. Phew!

 

Massive thanks as always to Mandy, the best wife, coach, supporter, just everything really, in the whole wide world. Thanks to Garry and all the team at Edinburgh Athletics Club, you've all been part of my sub 3 journey. Thanks ashmei & IAMRUNBOX for their support with kit, and a massive thanks to all the crowds who stood out on the streets on Sunday, you were amazing. See you all same time next year!

Owain Williams

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