Another week, another strange experience for me. This time a bit of spectating, but at a race I had originally expected to be running!
One of the biggest perils of entering races in advance is that it’s such a big gamble: anything could happen between the date you sign up and the date of the race that might prevent you from toeing the line. Since race entry fees go towards the expense of putting on the race (permits, road closures, first aid, water, goody bags, medals, etc) opportunities to defer are rare, going some way to explain why so many people wait until the last minute to sign up unless there is a good reason to be an early bird e.g. a significant saving or a popular race that is filling up fast.
I was an early bird.
I was so early, that I signed up A WHOLE YEAR in advance.
I admit it, I got carried away, over-eager. When I got an email alerting me to a brand new race, a half marathon no less, I felt I had to be part of it. Sign up, they said. Be part of something new, they said. Who wouldn’t want that? So I signed up.
But one year on and running a half marathon was suddenly out of the question. A few months ago that was a fairly “short” Sunday morning run during marathon training, but 5 months of injury and some ongoing strength and rehab work on my injured leg meant that 13.1 miles was completely out of the question so I sensibly withdrew, but Steve had also signed up so a morning of jacket holding and being chief cheerleader beckoned.
I had been sent my number and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t tempting to go ahead anyway, but I’m being really careful to listen to my body right now. I want to be able to run strongly, and that means rebuilding the miles gradually whilst working on strengthening some weak muscles. The race number was left at home 😦
And so we got in the car and set off towards Edinburgh, stopping only to pick up Mark. Mark joined Steve’s Zero to 5k group back in January and then I worked with him in the 5k to 10k group, watching him get faster and faster along the way. More recently, Steve has been training him in his newer half marathon training group and this race was Mark’s first half.
Since this race was point to point, there were a few logistics to consider, but it was all straightforward enough. We parked at Wallyford park and ride (the bus pick-up point at the end of the Edinburgh marathon) and got the shuttle bus to the start at Meadowmill Sports centre where the race began. We were fairly sharp but already there were lots of runners milling around (I believe somewhere in the region of 3000 took part).
If you look closely, you can just about see my “favourite” power station from the Edinburgh marathon route (which would also feature in this race). Spot it?
Ah the memories!
While we were waiting, we chatted to some other runners we knew, the guys joined the lengthy toilet queues and we made sure to take a “before” picture:
As the start time got closer, Steve and Mark headed off for one last toilet stop while I took a few more photos to keep me occupied. The colour-coded start pens were within the all-weather pitch and the plan was to walk each group towards the start line when it was their turn. This would help ease congestion in a fairly narrow start area.
Steve was stuck in a toilet queue for some time so was one of the last heading into the start pens. This meant that I didn’t have the greatest viewpoint for the start as I had waited for him, but I did manage to juggle the extra bags I was holding (thanks guys) to get some photos of the official starters, Olympic and Commonwealth judo medallist Gemma Gibbons and Scottish distance runner Freya Murray-Ross:
From my point of view the start looked pretty well organised, but sadly I was only able to get a photo of Steve’s back as he shot off!
I waited until all the runners had started (mainly because I was hoping for a photo with Freya but they marched her off pretty quickly) then I headed back to the shuttle bus to go to the finish at Musselburgh Racecourse.
It was on this otherwise uneventful bus journey that something rather strange happened. It had been a little weird being at the start of a race I was meant to be running and not taking part, yet in an unfamiliar location with an unfamiliar event, I was ok with it. But as I got closer to Musselburgh, that changed. All of a sudden, things weren’t quite so unfamiliar. There was the Wallyford Park and ride again, but now we were heading down the road I’m so used to shuffling up after the marathon. There was the back of the school where the marathon finishes, and there were the streets that make up the final painful miles of the marathon, with cones along them and marshals ready to direct and encourage the runners. On that sunny morning in September, I was instantly transported back to that much more painful day in May when I hobbled along there towards the finish line on my injured leg. I felt emotional. I felt a veritable wave of emotions wash over me. And with those emotions I understood that my 2014 Edinburgh marathon experience is still much more raw than I realised. Not only was I in pain that day, but the repercussions of that event have continued to haunt me ever since and kept me from running through the summer months. I actually felt that a tear or two might be justified, but I’m not sure what exactly I would have been crying for. The memory of pain? The accomplishment of finishing? The loss of months of running? Maybe all three.
If it hadn’t been for the fact that I had previously had a successful run at the Edinburgh marathon in 2011 (indeed I set a PB then which stood until the Paris marathon this year) then I might truly have cried, but I pulled myself together and gave that moment of emotion a little more thought. And that’s when I came to my second realisation: of the six marathons I have run, I can tell you my exact finish time for four. That’s right, four. The other two? Well they were the ones where I was suffering the pain of injury and simply wanted to finish, not caring about the time. Although I have a record somewhere of my times from the Lochaber marathon in 2012 and Edinburgh marathon this year, what is seared on my mind more than paces and times, is the pain and the tears. These are the only two marathons where I have actually cried rather than just felt like I wanted to. There is clearly a great deal of significance in that. Each race brings its different challenges and leaves its mark in different ways. I guess this was the first time that I had really delved into that in terms of my own marathon experiences.
Soon after this, however, the bus stopped and I was pulled from my reverie by the hustle and bustle to get off and make my way to the racecourse, where I discovered an empty and almost eerie finish line waiting for the first runners to arrive. So with time to spare, I got myself a coffee and settled down in the stands with my Kindle to read.
The winner came in around 71 minutes and it was lovely to see the reception he got and watch him break the tape. Normally this is a part of a race that I miss as I’m still slogging away out on the course.
After this there was a further trickle of finishers which gradually increased until I spotted Steve coming in. He was a little earlier than I had expected so I knew he had run a PB.
I missed Mark finishing as I had gone to meet Steve, but we got an “after” photo and the guys were still smiling as they showed off their medals (which were pretty good!):
For me, although a bit strange and emotional, this was overall a positive experience. It was nice to see a big race from a spectator’s point of view and I was reminded of the time I spectated at the London Marathon when I was just beginning my running journey. That experience spurred me on to train better and run my first marathon. My experience of watching the Scottish half marathon was just the motivation I needed to finally overcome the demons of this year and get my running back to where it was. My journey has been a bit derailed in recent months, but now I am getting myself back on track so watch this space.
You might also be interested to know that early bird entries are already open for the Scottish half marathon next year. Steve has got his in, but for some reason, I’m hesitating 😉
Have you ever been a spectator when you had expected to be a participant?
What is motivating you right now?