We turned the final corner and into the finishing straight. The GPS watch on my left wrist bleeped for mile 26 in 7:03, just before we passed the mile 26 marker on the course. The digital clock at the finish line read 3.06 in the distance. I pushed Gemma one more time, “come on, here is where you need to be.” I pointed 5 metres in front of her. “In line with me. Let’s go!” She responded and kicked once again for the finish. The crowd roared with appreciation of the extra injection of pace. “Go, go, go,” I shouted loudly just before I stepped off the track one metre from the finish. Gemma took the last two steps of the marathon herself and crossed the line in 3:07:43. It was a new personal best.
The journey started about 5 weeks ago when Gemma Hockett and I came into contact on twitter. She was looking for somebody to pace her round the Edinburgh marathon in a target time of 3:05. This is an excellent time for anybody to achieve and takes a lot of dedication and training. The next 4 weeks flew by, and with a couple of telephone calls, our plans for race day had been made. For the final week leading up to the race I gave Gemma some guidance on how to carb load properly which seemed to be music to her ears. To say that she is a carbohydrate monster may be a bit of an understatement!
Two days before the marathon I received this Facebook message. “Hi Colin I see you are running Edinburgh? I am coming up tomorrow and due to some confusion I have nowhere to stay.” It was from my Kenyan friend Tarus Ellis. We met last year at the Loch Ness marathon which Tarus won in a time of 2:24, with me in 6th position, 9 minutes behind him. We made arrangements to meet in Glasgow and he stayed at mine the night before the race.
On race morning, Tarus and myself met up with Gemma outside Waverley train station. Tarus and myself sipping on water, while Gemma on the other hand munched on a full size bagel, an hour before the start!
After our warm up we headed into the starting pen. Gemma and I were positioned nicely in the “good for age” start, just behind the elite group. The starting horn sounded and off we went, trying to hit the target pace from mile 1. The road was busy and crowded with the sound of runner’s feet tapping off the concrete road almost drowning out the shallow applause from the spectators. We had to do a little bit of weaving round slower people although Gemma seemed to like running in an almost zigzag fashion. I had to put a stop to this by telling her to aim straight towards the inside of the next corner. After a couple of miles she started get the hang of this and followed the shortest route naturally.
Five miles into the race I handed her the first energy gel for the day and a couple of sips of water to flush it down. Still looking fresh, she was actually starting to relax into the pace, making it look easy, as it should be through the early stages. The first 6 miles to Portobello are overall downhill and we were 20 seconds faster than target pace. Perfect. I was sure we would need this in the final miles of the race.
Musselburgh came and went quickly and before we knew it were heading out into the open road along the coastline with our eyes set on the turning point at 18 miles. Miles 13 to 18 were very exposed and the runners were hit with a head wind. I ran in front, Gemma tucked in behind me, sheltered from the wind to conserve her energy. She was struggling to stay with me at the target pace, however I told her just to dig in and grind it out as this would be the hardest section of the entire course. After 18 miles, the wind would be behind us. As we approached the turn, the elite athletes were heading back down on the other side of the road. We cheered on Tarus, Japhett (from the famous book Running with the Kenyans) and one or two others.
We hit 18 miles, having lost a little bit of time but Gemma was still looking in good shape and a lot fresher than the other runners around about us. I tried to push some of them on also as we passed them but not many of them were happy with my sarcastic banter. It is not a good feeling to be in pain at 18 miles in a marathon, knowing that you still have over 8 miles still to go. But we were in good shape. Despite a little bit of moaning about the wind and looking for the next downhill, Gemma was still cruising along nicely.
Miles 21-24 were the toughest and slowest for Gemma. For the first time she started to use negative language and said, “I can’t keep up.” With a bit of encouragement from me, commitment and bravery from herself, she managed to dig in a hold a pace about 20secs slower than the target. I was aware that the sun was getting stronger, the temperature rising and other runners around about us were walking and dropping like flies. I knew we had to get to the finish line ASAP.
At the last water stop I grabbed 2 bottles of water. I instructed Gemma to take a few sips, wash her hands and face and use it to cool down her body. Before long the finishing crowds started to appear. With some more encouragement from myself and thriving off the cheering crowd, she managed to increase the pace from 24-25 miles. I knew it was going to be close. Her initial target of 3:05 had gone, but this run deserved a PB. I knew her previous PB was 3:08. To miss out on that now would be a travesty.
“This is the final mile. Give it all you have. No regrets,” I barked at her. Remarkably, Gemma had managed to pick up the pace and was heading towards making mile 26 one of the fastest miles of the entire race!
We turned the corner and into the finishing straight . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Tarus had finished the race in 7th position with a time of 2:33. He had been struggling with a hamstring injury recently which took its toll in the last ten miles of the race. Hopefully he will be back to full fitness in time to defend his trophy at the Loch Ness marathon in September.
And so my duties for the weekend were complete.
Colin Thomas. firstname.lastname@example.org
Colin is a freelance Physiologist, writer and speaker who helps runners, beginners to elite, all over the world to reach their running goals. He has spent time in Kenya with some of the world’s best coaches and athletes. A runner himself, with a current marathon PB of 2.33.
You can follow Gemma’s progress at www.marathongirl.org