Well, it's done. 2 marathons in 2 days, which is a first for me. So what was it like?
I had never been to the Outer Hebrides, so part of the reason for wanting to do the Stornoway marathon was the chance to visit one of Scotland's remote islands. I left the house just before 12 noon on Friday and arrived at Ullapool around 4pm, in plenty of time for the 5.15pm ferry. I was not at all surprised to meet quite a few people I knew on the boat, and passed the 3 hour ferry crossing very pleasantly having a couple of beers with some of the Hunters Bog Trotters, who happened to be staying in the same hostel. Aftet arriving I registered for the race, checked in to the hostel, met Ellen and Murdo for a (non alcoholic) drink, and headed back to the hostel, which was full of excited runners, including a couple of members of the 100 marathon club. Its been quite a few years since I've stayed in a hostel and the dorm of 7 was quite noisy, but at £15 a night (including breakfast) I can't really complain. After a few hours sleep I was up just after 5am, had some breakfast, then caught the bus at 7am to head to the marathon start at Callanish Stones.
Callinash Stones was an incredible place. The stones are reputed to have been there since 3,500 BC - that's a long time by any stretch of the imagination. It was also "blowing a hoolay", as the locals would say. I was glad that we didn't have to hang about for too long, and the race started on time at exactly 8.30am.
The course was one of the most difficult marathon routes I have run. We ran north for 7 miles along an undulating road, then turned onto a minor road which headed east across the moor. I am not exaggerating when I say that the road climbed for the next 15 miles across barren moorland, with the entire section being into a really strong headwind. It was a real struggle, and I was very relieved by the time I reached the outskirts of Stornoway at mile 22, even though we still had 4 miles to run through the castle grounds. I had managed to keep my pace below 9 minute miles across the moor, and managed to pick things up on the more sheltered castle grounds. I passed a few of the half marathon backmarkers and finished strongly, managing to dip under 3.40 in an official time of 3.39.52, in 15th place from 89 finishers.
The post race buffet was fantastic, and after a few sandwiches and cakes I dragged my weary body to the pier for the 1.45pm ferry. I arrived in Ullapool just in time to hear the end of the Scottish Cup final (how disappointing Queen of the South didn't manage to get an equaliser), and with the roads being quiet I was back home by 8.30pm. The thought of doing it all again the next day was not appealing at all - my legs were stiff and I felt really tired -but it is amazing how quickly the body can recover. I went to bed around 11pm and slept like a log.
When the alarm went off at 5.30am this morning, I wondered why on earth I had decided to do 2 marathons in 2 days. It seemed a totally idiotic idea. I felt shattered and my legs were a bit stiff, although not as bad as I had feared. Another 5 hours in my bed would have gone down a treat. However within 15 minutes I felt a lot better: my legs had loosened, I enjoyed my pre-race meal of beans on toast, and left the house for Edinburgh at 6.30am. I parked and the office and walked the mile or so to the start at the far end of Princes Street. There was a big race feel to the event, and by the time we were lining up for the start I was actually looking forward to it, but determined to run at a sensible pace.
And I did. I set off at just below 8 minute mile pace, and felt good. We hit the wind on the promenade at Portobello. It was strong and into our faces, but nowhere near as bad as yesterday's wind on Lewis, and I just worked away at a steady pace. I was through the half way in about 1.46.30 and was still feeling good: by the time I turned at the far end of the course (around 18 and a half miles) I was still feeling good and beginning to think I could better yesterday's time, which would be a great result. After running into a gale force wind for the best part of a day and a half, it was lovely to have the wind behind for the final 8 miles or so, and I managed to pick things up and pass quite a few people, including Duncan from the club (who incidentally was wearing the largest rucksack I've ever seen anyone wearing in a marathon. I'm not really sure why. Maybe he thought the course was too easy and wanted to make it as hard as possible).
I felt remarkably comfortable over the last few miles, which were still at 8 minute mile pace, and crossed the finish line at Musselbrough racecourse in a time of 3 hours 34 minutes and 44 seconds. I was more than 5 minutes faster than the day before, and felt a lot better. To be fair was a much easier course, and running in a bigger field did make a difference.
I've been a critic in the past of the Edinburgh marathon, but I have to give credit where credit is due. It was a really good course and very well organised. The facilities at the start and finish were good - there were even plenty toilets at the start, which has been a criticism in the past. The baggage trucks worked very well. The finish at Musselbrough racecourse was great, with spectators able to see it all from the stand, and the route was varied enough to be interesting throughout: through the city, along the prom, through towns, along a rural road, and through a big estate. I'll would definitely recommend it and will hopefully be back.
All in all a great weekend, but with less than 4 weeks to go it is now time to start thinking about tapering for the WHW race. In the meantime I plan to have a bit of a rest.