I went to my desk and searched runnersworld.co.uk for a marathon for later in the year and I found the Edinburgh marathon. It was poetic as Graeme was Scottish. We had never been to Scotland and Edinburgh was on our list of cities to visit. It was another win-win. We made a trip out of it and explored the city.
I repeated the same training recipe of adding another mile every week around Regent’s Park. But with only three months to train, I was feeling the pressure. Time was certainly not something I had a lot of. Less than a month after I finished the half marathon, my wife gave birth to our second child, a beautiful baby girl. I was now needed more than ever at home. Work was relentless with it’s long hours and stress. And the ticking countdown to when I would have to run 26.2 miles was not helping. But I was not going to quiet, sleepless nights and all.
The night before the Edinburgh marathon I had a moment of panic. I wasn’t ready to run 26.2 miles. What was I thinking? I’d taken too much on. I hadn’t trained enough! But in the morning, my family shoved me out the door. There would be no excuses. We were already here, after all.
Edinburgh is referred to as a "fast course." Which is to say it’s flat. Every time I would run up a slight incline I would complain to myself.
I finished the race in just over 4 hours. I spent the rest of the day kicking myself for not running a little bit faster and finishing under four hours. This was a mistake that I would make for many future races. After completing a goal I would immediately look back and think what I could have done better. I would never celebrate a success.
Things were really getting hectic at this point. Work needed me in NYC. We came home from Edinburgh and moved out of our apartment. We spent the next 8 months in Manhattan. Running went on hold for a little while. I would still squeeze in runs whenever I could, but it was tough.
In February of 2009, we moved back to London. I was ready to take running seriously again. To do so I had to give myself motivation. I registered for the Vienna marathon which was only two months away. This time, I joined the Serpentine Running Club to help. They are a hard group to miss. They have the unfortunate colors of bright red and yellow.
Running with runners is far different than running by yourself; you learn to run faster in a group.
I showed up at the Seymour Leisure Centre in central London. There were so many runners chatting and milling about, waiting for the runs to begin. I felt really lonely and nervous. Almost like the new kid on the first day of school.
An elderly man named Sid Wills spotted me looking pathetic and came to me. He was lean with very short hair and a kind fatherly smile. He volunteered with the Serpentine Running Club and took me under his wings. He explained how the club worked and made me feel welcome.
Prior to joining the club, I had run at only one pace (10 minutes/mile).
Now I would learn to run faster.
I ran with the Serpies that Wednesday night and would continue to do so every week.
Running with people faster than you was not something I was used to. I threw up on one occasion trying to keep up with people faster than me. I learned that alfredo pasta an hour before a fast run was not entirely wise.
I loved running with people, it made the time pass by faster, and you will met some amazing people.
“You need a heart rate monitor," one Serpie told me.
So I bought my first one. A Polar with a pedometer. I spent many many hours picking the right one. Although running sounds simple enough, beginner runners obsess about gear. There are many resources to fast track the research process:
Going into the Vienna marathon, my goal was very simple. Shave 15 minutes off of my 4 hour marathon time. To do this, I set my fancy new watch to ensure I stayed on pace for a 3 hour and 45 minute marathon.
We were joined in Vienna by friends with kids of similar ages as our own. The Vienna marathon was also very family friendly, with lots of organized activities at the finish to keep the waiting families busy. Knowing that Areeg and the kids wouldn’t be waiting for me for hours at the finish restless and bored was a huge relief.
The Vienna marathon is fairly flat and is surrounded by beautiful landmarks. I followed my standard routine for the marathon: Couldn't sleep the night before, was so nervous that I couldn't really play with the kids, set straight by my wife.
As I ran, keeping with the new pace was very difficult. My brain wouldn’t shut up. So I started counting 1-100 over and over again to make my brain shut up. It worked for a while. It was the first of many techniques I have learned over the years to quiet the mind.
I also found another runner that was running at my pace. I asked him if I could run with him. He just grunted and I took that as a yes.
As I rounded the corner to the finish I saw the marathon time clock and thought something must not be right. It said 3:33.
"It can’t be," I thought.
My watch was set to only show me the pace and not the "elapsed time"
As it turned out, my watch, which was not equipped with GPS, was not calibrated correctly. I was running faster than my watch was telling me. I crossed the finish line almost 13 minutes faster than planned and was met by hugs and applause from my family and our friends.
I learned a profound lesson that day; endurance athletics is a mind game.
After the race, I took a shower and we explored the city. As much as I'm in my own head before the race, I become alive afterwards. We café hopped trying different Viennese cakes and comparing sachre-tortes for the next few days. It was glutinous and relaxing; just what I needed after that hard run.