I thought it would be interesting to write this blog to tell Owain’s Stirling Marathon race from my perspective. As a runner myself (I use that term very loosely), I think it is probably harder to watch from the side lines as I know exactly what Owain is going through but have no control over it.
Owain has made no secret of the fact that he wants his sub-3 hour marathon time. What some people may not know is that he does in fact have a sub-3 to his name already having ran the Loch Ness marathon in September 2012 in 2:58:49. However not long after that it was classed as a downhill course and accordingly does not count as an official time. Since, then Owain has been chasing an “official” sub-3 time and has just missed out at London in 2013 and Edinburgh and Amsterdam in 2014. Those races have been so difficult afterwards as I know how much training Owain has put in to them and that he is capable of running sub-3 but it just hasn’t come together on the day. After Amsterdam, he decided to take a break from marathon running and focus on getting his times down so that he could run comfortably, rather than teetering around sub-3 pace and having us all on tender hooks – him included!
As most folk will know, I tend to come along and support Owain at most of his races when I am not running. Because of the logistics of Stirling marathon and the runners being bussed to the start, I got the first train from Edinburgh to Stirling at 9.35am. This meant I had a slightly longer lie in than Owain who had an early start of 5.30am! We seem to have gotten in to a pre-race ritual of a quick good luck kiss whenever we are racing so I made sure I got up and wished Owain well before he headed off at 6.30am. I wasn’t leaving the house until about 8.45am but there was no way I was going back to sleep now.
About 15 minutes before I was due to leave, I had a brainwave that I would surprise Owain by making a sign for him. Of course, this meant running about the house like a headless chicken trying to find cardboard and pens to make a sign but I managed to find a little bit of card that would do the trick – although Owain later told me that he wasn’t able to read it first time round!
It was then time for me to make my way to Stirling. It felt strange to be standing waiting for the train when Owain had already started the race. I got the earliest train through and not surprisingly it was really busy with other supporters - even the aisles had people standing in them. On the train you could hear people talking about the runners they were supporting and checking the tracking app to see how they were getting on. This was the first time I have been able to track Owain on an app – and to be honest I wasn’t sure whether I liked it or not!
The app had Owain’s start time along with predicted times for splits at 10k, 20k, Half, 30k, 40k and finish time. I wasn’t quite sure how it was being tracked but assumed the split times would be accurate using timing mats. Not long after the train left Waverley, I checked the app and saw that Owain had gone through the 10k point and was on track running a few seconds faster than his target pace. All around people were chatting about current pace/predicted times as the app showed mile progress but while I looked at it I wasn’t convinced as to how accurate it was. Just before I got off the train, I had a quick look at saw that Owain was now passed the 20k marker and was still on track – all good!
The train arrived in Stirling to some pretty heavy rain – not ideal for runners or spectators. Thankfully by the time I got through the train station it had turned to light drizzle - perfect running weather.
Having looked at the map of the course, I had expected a bit of a walk to get to the course so was pretty surprised to find myself on the route not long after heading out the station. I walked round to a marshal crossing point who told me that we were around the 17/21/25 mile marker – a perfect spot to see runners at the start the loops. I know the three lap finish wasn’t great for runners but it was great for supporters as it is not often you get to see runners that often during a marathon course.
While waiting for Owain to come round the first, the nerves started. For his previous marathons, I have only ever seen him around 8 miles in and again with about a mile to go and so he has always been pretty focused, even when he has known he is no longer on for his sub-3. London was the only exception when I saw him at 20 miles and it wasn’t good. When he came across and stopped at the barrier to speak to me, I knew he was having a tough race but also knew there was nothing I could do and could only try to encourage him to keep going and get another good for age time. It was heart-breaking to see him like that.
Checking the tracker again, I saw that you could sign up for alerts and within seconds I had an alert to say Owain had passed the 17 mile marker so knew he would be coming through soon. Unfortunately, the tracker also showed that his predicted time had changed – and he was showing a 3:03 predicted finish. I had been texting my sister back and forward as she couldn’t get on the app and told her this latest news. “Reckon he’ll pick it up again?” – she asked. In all honesty, I didn’t know. While I had complete confidence in his ability to go sub-3 and knew his training had gone well, I wasn’t sure if he had the mental toughness to fight back from losing the pace after the disappointment of his previous attempts.
However, I didn’t have long to think about this as before I knew it Owain came into sight running with Nick, a fellow EAC runner. I gave them as much encouragement as I could, waving my amazing sign, and Owain came running past looking really comfortable with a big smile on his face giving me a hi-5 as he passed.
This really confused me as I was then wondering whether he knew what his pace was and that his predicted time was not on track. All sorts of thoughts were running through my head - was he just putting a brave face on because he knew how terrible I felt when I saw him at London? Did the app expect a slower pace towards the end which was affecting the finish time? I quickly checked the app and saw that his predicted finish time was still over three hours. However, on looking closely at the app I saw that his average pace was still showing at 6:36 minutes/mile – faster than the 6:40 target pace that would bring him in at 2:55. Phew!
Not long after I got a text from my sister saying “boom” – she had managed to track him and said he had had a fast stretch. I checked the app again and was pleased to see the predicted finish was back under three hours.
I knew Owain would be about 20 mins for each lap so stayed where I was giving support to other runners on the course. Before I knew it Owain was back round for his second lap, looking pretty much the same as he did for the first lap and giving me another hi-5. Nick had pulled slightly in front of him but Owain was still looking comfortable. I quickly checked the app after he passed and was pleased to see he had maintained his pace and all was looking good.
At this point, I decided to walk towards the finish line so that I was in position to give him a final shout and bumped into Susan Morrison cheering others not far from the 800 metres to go – a perfect spot and the time flew by as we chatted while cheering on runners.
By this point the course was pretty busy with other runners coming through for their first and second laps so I was just trying to pick out the Edinburgh vest. I focused my attention on the left hand side as the faster runners had been coming through that side so they could cut off to the finishing straight further ahead.
I saw Nick come through and gave him some final encouraging shouts while trying to keep an eye out for Owain behind him. It’s funny how you can easily spot runners you know and I soon saw the tiny dot of Owain approaching. At this point, I knew sub-3 was definitely in the bag and so was rather vocal in my words of encouragement – Owain said he actually gave me a wave to let me know he had seen me because I was being so loud. A final hi-5 and he was gone, chasing down that final 800 metres to go.
I tried to get to the finish line as fast as I could and on my way got a text from my sister saying his finish time on the app was 2:52:52! Woo hoo, he had done it! Plan A all the way! Words cannot describe how pleased and proud I was – and still am. It was so amazing to meet him at the finish and see that smile on his face. Whilst I wasn’t there to see him cross the line, I am sure we are all now familiar with his picture that very much tells his story.