One of the interesting things about the Edinburgh Marathon (other than a large part of it actually being outside of Edinburgh!) is the fact that it’s part of a weekend-long festival of running. Should you be so inclined, you can participate in a 5K, 10K, half marathon, full marathon or team relay (in which the full marathon route is divided between 4 runners). With legs ranging in distance from approx 4.5 miles up to 8.5 miles, this relay allows runners of all abilities the chance to participate and enjoy the experience of a marathon without having to actually run 26.2 miles. A tempting prospect.
I first took part in the relay in 2010, when I took on the first leg a few weeks after my marathon debut in Paris. I really enjoyed that experience and in 2011 took on the full 26.2 miles of the Edinburgh marathon as part of a double marathon madness (London and Edinburgh) to raise funds for a local charity. With Edinburgh being the second of those two marathons, I found breaking the route down into the relay legs a useful mental tool to psychologically manage the race (it also helped that both my dad and my sister were running legs 3 and 4 of the relay so I was able to see friendly faces in the latter stages). This year, in the absence of running a spring marathon, Steve and I decided once more to enter a relay team along with my sister and one other runner who has been coming along to Steve’s running club on a Saturday morning – we even sweetened the deal by taking the two longer legs (1 and 3) ourselves!
And so it was that last Sunday saw yet another early start to collect our team, drive through to Edinburgh and take on the logistics of transporting 4 people to a variety of different locations in and around Edinburgh.
Logistics are, in my experience, something that the Edinburgh marathon organises well. A number of buses are laid on and, so long as runners/spectators are in the right place at the right time, everything is very straightforward. Leg 1 runners start with the second wave of full marathon runners on Regent Road, so after parking the car in the centre of Edinburgh we walked to the Omni centre for coffee, toilets and kit organisation. There is no baggage lorry for the relay, so bags are kept by the next runner and collected when you finish your leg. Easy enough to sort out, but it can require a little thought to make sure everyone has what they need before relinquishing their bag. Steve was on leg 1 as he had been training some runners taking part in the full marathon and wanted to meet them before the start, so we left him in the company of his espresso and headed off to the back of Edinburgh Castle to join our relay buses. The leg 2 runner is on their own from this point, while the leg 3 and 4 runners can stay together as their starting point is the same (leg 3 is an out-and-back section of the route).
By this point, I was in possession of two bags – my own (which could stay with me as I was on leg 3) and that of the leg 2 runner. My sister was on leg 4 so we found our bus and were in position at the changeover point by about 10:30. This is the part of the day I’m not so keen on. Steve would begin running at 10am, but it would be around midday before it was my turn – a lot of hanging around! The changeover points have toilets and there are hot drinks etc on sale, but otherwise there’s not a great deal to do until the front runners start to come through and provide some excitement. Thankfully it was a dry day, so I used the opportunity to relax and enjoy the views across the water to the Lomond Hills and Fife. I also bumped into some other runners I know and had a chat to them.
Probably one of the highlights of my day came, rather unexpectedly, from the toilet queue. There was a woman a little in front of me wearing a Scooby Doo costume. Just as I was wondering how she would, you know, “manage”, I was distracted by an announcement being made to the waiting runners. When I turned back, I saw this:
It caused a great deal of amusement in the queue!
After a little more hanging around it was finally time to get ready to run. Steve had sent me a text message when the leg 2 runner set out so I could estimate when she would reach me. Waiting runners assemble in pens which correspond to their race number (our number was green so I was in the green pen) and spotters call the numbers of the incoming runners so the waiting member of their team can move forward. I was all ready to go but still stuck at the back of the pen when our number was called (I suspect some people at the front were a little optimistic!) so there was a bit of work to get to the front where I received the red wristband (the baton, if you will, for this particular relay), started my Garmin and carefully joined the pack, falling into pace with those around me so as not to get in anyone’s way. I hadn’t been aware of many relay runners setting out around the same time as me, so I knew I was running in a crowd of full marathon runners who were just over half way through their race at this point – I did NOT want to be an inconvenience to any of them!
Having waited so long to get started and being fresh from a few days off running, I set out a little too quickly and had to consciously pull back on my pace – ok so I wasn’t running a full marathon, but it was a warm day and I was running along an exposed road by the coast so there was little shelter from the heat. The sun had actually been behind the clouds while I was waiting to run, but as soon as I set out he quite suddenly popped his hat on and came out to play! I wanted to try and sit between 8:30 and 8:40 per mile so concentrated on falling into a rhythm and the first couple of miles were done before I knew it. I enjoyed that first couple of miles and remember thinking it was a shame that I wasn’t running a full marathon this year. A mile or two later as the temperature crept up and the contents of my water bottle went down quicker than expected, I soon dismissed this thought and was quite content with what I was doing!
My leg of the route would take me from the changeover point at Port Seton (just before the 14 mile mark of the marathon), along the coast to the turning point just beyond Gosford House (between 17 and 18 miles), through the estate to experience some “fresh” farm smells then back along the coast road to the same changeover point (now roughly the 22 mile mark). My Garmin clocked this at a total of 8.1 miles.
To be honest, I’ve had better runs. My Garmin splits suggest a decent performance with my average pace right where I wanted it, however for most of the time it felt like awfully hard work. Despite hydrating well (or so I thought) throughout the morning, I felt thirsty and hot. I was carrying some High 5 Zero in my running bottle and was supplementing this with sips of water at the water stations (before pouring most of the bottle down the back of my neck to cool me down!) but I just didn’t seem to be able to drink fast enough for the conditions. I suppose the real problem was that the weather so far this “summer” has been poor and there has been no chance to acclimatise to running in warmer conditions. My poor body got a bit of a shock to suddenly have to race 8 miles in rather different conditions to those I had trained in!
Despite all that, there was no way I could look like I was finding it in any way tough while I was running. I couldn’t see anyone else round about me with the telltale red wristband of the relay so everyone around me had slogged all the way there as part of the full marathon. I had only just started and when I stopped running, they would still have more than 4 miles to go, mainly into the headwind we were met with as we rejoined the road after running through Gosford estate (it felt a bit like running into a hairdryer!). No, I just had to suck it up, complete my 8 miles and get back on the relay bus to the finish. I got my head down, tuned into my music and counted off the remaining miles.
I completed my run in 1:09:29 and gladly handed over the wristband to my sister along with the hurried warning that it was both hot and windy. I collected her bag (yep, two bags again!), found my leg 2 teammate who had waited for me and set off to rejoin the relay bus. I knew we wouldn’t make it to the finish in time to see my sister cross the line, but hoped to be there shortly after. The bus would drop us off at the Wallyford park and ride, but it would then be about a 15-20 minute walk to the actual finish area in the grounds of Pinkie School (a process we would have to reverse in order to get the shuttle bus back to the city centre later). This walk took us along the last mile or so of the route, allowing us to offer encouragement to runners along the way.
When we arrived at the finish area, I glanced at the clock on the finish gantry. We had hoped to complete the race in around 4 hours and it looked like we had sneaked in under our target. Our total time was later confirmed as 3:37:16 and 76th relay team overall. 3:37:16? I would do ANYTHING to run a marathon in that time by myself! It was worth the tough run to know we had smashed our target.
Finally reunited as a team for the first time in several hours, we were at long last able to take possession of our medals and goody bags (tech t-shirt, High 5 sample, breakfast bar, sweets and the omnipresent selection of leaflets) and pose for a team photo. Our team name was Lost in Pace:
It was an enjoyable day, but I have to say that I find the relay a slightly strange experience. Ordinarily a race day experience involves a mass start and a finish line, yet here only the leg 1 runner lines up at the start and only the leg 4 runner crosses the finish line. Runners on legs 2 and 3 are therefore running in a kind of limbo. It can also be a bizarre experience for the leg 3 and 4 runners who find themselves running on fresh legs alongside full marathon runners who feel anything but fresh! Support along the route is superb but I for one don’t feel I deserve the encouragement of spectators when I am running such a comparatively short distance: support should go almost entirely to full marathon runners who need the boost of a crowd to help propel them through the final tough miles. The other thing is that although the transport and other logistics are well organised, it’s such a long day with a lot of travel that I actually felt almost as tired as if I’d run the full marathon (but without the weary, aching legs and massive post-race appetite!).
But these are minor issues in the grand scheme of things and I certainly think it’s a worthwhile event to take part in. No doubt I’ll be back at the Edinburgh Marathon festival next year, but as for which race I’ll take part in, that remains to be seen…