Race Report – Rock ‘n’ Roll Edinburgh Half Marathon

It’s been two weeks since this race and life has somewhat got in the way of me writing my report, but better late than never as they say!

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At the beginning of this year, it crossed my mind that since I wasn’t going to be running a spring marathon, perhaps a spring half marathon would be a feasible alternative, and the Rock ‘n’ Roll half has been on my radar since its inaugural Scottish race last year. I liked the sound of it but the date clashed with my marathon so taking part wasn’t an option then. I heard (and read) some good reports of the event though, so it was added to my “race wish list”. But when I was felled by the flu from hell in February, I shelved the idea, thinking that I just wouldn’t have time to build up my mileage.

That all changed about a month before the race when Steve asked if I still fancied running it as he was considering entering. I was running regularly, covering 10k fairly comfortably and worked out that I could build up sufficiently to feel half marathon fit (although certainly not in good enough form for a PB!) without overdoing it. So that was it: decision made and race entered! I decided not to tell anyone outside of my immediate family that I was running as I didn’t want to feel like I was under any pressure, I just wanted to take part and enjoy the event without worrying about my time. And so it was that 4 short weeks later, with a long run of 11.5 hilly miles under my belt, I was ready to toe the line in Holyrood Park with around 4500 other runners.

I’d love to say that race day dawned bright and sunny, but sadly it did not. This being Scotland, Mother Nature decided to throw some of Scotland’s famed “all 4 seasons in 1 day” weather at us. By the time we got to Edinburgh it was raining and strong winds were swirling around us, so strong that some of the portaloos in the park had actually blown over! Being wet and windy, it also felt colder than it really was and the park was filled with runners wrapped in bin bags, huddling under cover where possible and wondering if it really was such a good idea to head out for a 13.1 mile run in THAT weather!

Strangely enough, I felt quite calm about it. Earlier in the week, as I wound down my mileage ahead of the race, I had a mild case of the sort of “taperitis” usually reserved for marathons (probably my own fault for reading too many marathon reports and putting my head into marathon mode even though I was “only” running a half!) but helping Steve at his running club the day before gave me the chance to shake that out. I was feeling strong, and the lack of pressure to finish in a particular time meant that there was nothing to worry about: I knew I could cover the distance in a respectable time. Yes, the weather would make it tough, but there was nothing I could do about that other than make sure my “mansuit” was zipped right up to the top and get on with the business of running.

The start was divided into waves (or “corrals” to use the American terminology of the organisers) and I was in corral 5. Although my half marathon PB is 1:56, I had made a more conservative estimate of 2 hours for this one to account for my much more minimal training in the weeks leading up to the race. I thought I was in similar form to when I ran the Great Scottish Run back in September (which I completed in 2:01) but given the conditions (and the fact that the Edinburgh course was going to be a bit more hilly) I thought 2:02-2:03 a likely finishing time. Since everyone had waited until the last minute to check their bags/kit and enter the corrals, I ended up at the back of mine as everyone tried to get through the crowds and into position.I didn’t bother trying to move up any further as the race was chip timed and I figured it wouldn’t really make a difference.

I had opted to race in shorts and a short-sleeved top along with arm warmers which I could roll down if I got too warm (despite the weather the underlying temperature was somewhat milder than preceding weeks) and my compression calf sleeves. Shivering in my corral I wondered if this had been a mistake, but I also knew from experience that within a couple of miles I would be quite warm enough. Many were wearing running jackets, but it was the sort of day when this would soon turn into racing whilst in your own personal sauna and removing a jacket on the run can be quite tricky! I checked the zip on my mansuit and just focused on the miles ahead.

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There was a short delay to the start time as the weather was causing problems on the course. Based on things I heard later, my best guess is the problems were to do with barriers and signage blowing down. Although I was cold, the delay did give me time to address a bit of a problem: my Garmin absolutely refused to pick up a satellite. I can only assume that a combination of the prevailing weather conditions and the presence of thousands of other Garmin-ed runners was causing some sort of disruption. In the past this would probably have stressed me out, but I decided just to disable the GPS and use the timer function: it was me running the race, not my watch! Mile markers would help me get an idea of my pace and I would just run to how I felt. No problem!

Finally my corral was called forward and the countdown began to our race. The sun had decided to make an appearance and a beautiful rainbow was ahead of us. As the countdown ended and the crowd surged towards the start line, I started my timer and fell into a comfortable pace among the other runners.

Having studied the route ahead of race day, I knew that the first 4 miles or so were on part of the Edinburgh marathon route and therefore familiar. I was probably a little slow coming out of Holyrood Park as everyone settled into their pace and jostled for position. This didn’t really worry me though as I knew there were hilly sections to come and I needed to conserve some energy rather than leave it all on the road in the first few miles.

I barely noticed the first 2 or 3 miles as we wound our way towards Portobello Prom. It crossed my mind that the last time I ran on those streets I had 26.2 miles to complete, so having “just” 13.1 to run this time seemed almost paltry by comparison!

I had been looking forward to running along Portobello Prom again, however as I crested the hill at the top of Seafield Road ready to run down onto the prom I realised that this time it wasn’t going to be so enjoyable. Just when I should have been coasting downhill towards the prom, I ran straight into a powerful headwind that meant I had to work quite hard to keep moving. A doubtful voice began to whisper in my ear as I ran along the prom: “You haven’t even run 5 miles yet. You still have the hills to come. You haven’t run this far in months. Are you sure you can do this?” I blocked that voice out by tuning into my iPod, securing the zip on my mansuit, and gritting my teeth. Within a few minutes I was turning away from the exposure of the prom towards my first energy gel and the start of the hill climb.

The elevation profile had revealed a climb from roughly 5 miles to 7.5 miles, a brief respite then a further climb to round about 9 miles. The course would then level out for a bit before the final downhill stretch to the finish. Since I train on hilly routes, I wasn’t too concerned about this and the hills of Edinburgh, although lengthy, weren’t quite as steep as the hills on some of my favourite routes. The wind, of course, did add to the challenge so I simply dug in and kept an eye out for mile markers to help me gauge where I was. Unfortunately, some of the mile markers had blown down so I didn’t see them all, but the telltale bleeps of GPS watches every so often meant I had a good idea of how far I’d run.

Despite the weather, it was great to see so many people out on the course to support the runners. In particular I remember the mother and young son sitting outside their house round about 5.5 miles in. They had wooden spoons and saucepan lids and were making lots of noise with their banging and cheering. It was just what we needed at the start of a long hill climb and it made me smile as I passed by. At other points there were small children standing with their hands outstretched to get as many high fives as they could from the passing runners. I tried to high five those I passed and saw the delight on their faces as so many runners indulged them.

Before I knew it I was turning back into Holyrood Park and the downhill stretch towards 8 miles. There was a great atmosphere among the runners as we finally got a break from the uphill climbs, and everyone looked wistfully towards the finish line we were going to pass by so tantalisingly, knowing we had 5 miles to run before we would see it again! Those 5 miles were going to cover much of the same route as the Bupa Edinburgh 10k I had run a couple of years previously and I was looking forward to running through Cowgate and the Grassmarket, past Princes Street Gardens and ultimately down the Royal Mile. This part of the route was probably the busiest in terms of supporters as we were running through well-known city streets and tourist hot-spots.

As I ran by The Meadows and the route levelled out around the 10 mile mark, I still felt strong and realised I was beginning to pass people. A look at my watch and some hasty calculations (always fun as a race progresses!) suggested I was still on track to finish in the region of 2:02-2:03. Spurred on by my recent consumption of energy gel no.2 and the continuing crowd support, I kept my pace steady and tried to visualise the remainder of the route.

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Soon, I was running alongside Princes Street Gardens towards the 12 mile marker with Edinburgh Castle at my back. At the top of Market Street, behind Waverley Station, a DJ was announcing that we had less than a mile to go. I knew the remainder of the route so once I got round the corner onto Canongate (negotiating the potentially perilous cobbles) it was time to put the foot down and move as fast as I could to the finish. It was a great feeling, almost like flying down the hill, passing other runners and knowing I still had a little left for a sprint finish. At the sight of the 13 mile sign, I kicked it up a final gear and sprinted towards the line, arms aloft and grinning for the cameras I knew would be there.

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A quick glance at my watch told me I had finished the race in 2:02:XX, later confirmed as 2:02:15 by my chip. Perfect! A hilly route, tough conditions and comparatively little training. I was definitely pleased with that, particularly given that I had finished strongly and clearly had a bit more in the tank. Perhaps that indicates that I could have been faster, but with all the uncertainties of the day – weather, fitness levels, lack of GPS, not to mention the hills – I’m comfortable that I paced it about right.

Grinning, I made my way through the finish chute collecting everything that was on offer – water, banana, crisps, Haribo and the all-important medal! – before moving back onto the main part of the park where Steve was waiting. I grabbed a foil blanket from a passing volunteer then noticed a lengthy queue to my left. What on earth was that for?

It was at this point that the full impact of the weather became apparent. While I had been battling the wind and rain on the streets of Edinburgh, race organisers had been waging a battle of their own. The marquees which had been set up to distribute race T-shirts had blown over and T-shirts had been hastily re-located. Similar problems had beset the baggage tent, resulting in a health and safety nightmare and significantly slowing down bag collection. The lengthy queue was for bags. I knew I was going to be waiting a while, and for the first time in my life I actually used my foil blanket as I was getting cold. Race volunteers were doing everything they could to speed up the process, but as more and more runners crossed the finish line, their task got harder and harder. It wasn’t clear at this point what exactly was causing the problem, resulting in lots of cold and disgruntled runners shuffling about the park. It was only later that the full extent of the problems were explained via the event’s Facebook page and people became much more understanding. Scottish weather is unpredictable and sometimes we just have to make the best of it, but for next year the race organisers obviously need to think more carefully about their plan B in the event of similar conditions (although next year will probably be the complete opposite with runners suffering from heat exhaustion and sunburn  – anything’s possible in Scotland in April!)

Overall, I enjoyed this event. The route is best described as a compromise between the marathon and the 10k, the marshals and volunteers on the course were superb and the atmosphere was supportive and encouraging. The bands and DJs every mile certainly aded to the atmosphere, but as a runner you only get to appreciate them very briefly as you run by. Yes, there were some problems at the finish, but I eventually got my bag and got my T-shirt fairly quickly after that. Ok so I got a little cold, but I warmed up pretty quickly and my mood improved with a hot drink and some food. Perhaps still some lessons for the organisers to learn before next year, but given the chance I would definitely take part again and would recommend this race to others who enjoy the atmosphere of a big city race with lots of runners and lots of support. Runners are also rewarded with a pretty decent bit of race bling in the form of a “heavy medal” (see what they did there?!)

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In every photo from the race I’m wet and windswept yet grinning like a loony so I obviously had a great time. Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon, consider yourself rocked!

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4 thoughts on “Race Report – Rock ‘n’ Roll Edinburgh Half Marathon

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