Despite the fact that this race was my autumn goal, what with everything that happened towards the end of August I was feeling rather ambivalent about the whole thing by the time race day rolled around. I knew I had trained enough to finish in a respectable time, but I also knew that I wasn’t in my best form for the distance. Somehow, my enthusiasm for the race had diminished, so I decided to re-set my goals so as not to put undue pressure on myself.
Originally, my A goal was a new PB (anything quicker than the 1:56:35 I ran in Aviemore in 2012), my B goal was a sub-2 hour time (something I’ve only achieved once in a race despite going faster in long marathon training runs) and my C goal was to complete the course quicker than I completed the EMF half back in May (2:04:18 as part of a much bigger adventure!). Knowing that a new PB was really not likely any more, I re-set my A goal to be sub-2, my B goal to be faster than in the EMF half and my C goal to not getting a personal worst (2:13:02 from my first ever half in Aviemore back in 2009). New goals set, I was ready…
The forecast for the day was pretty good, so I opted for my favourite racing kit: running skirt (this Under Armour one is my current favourite), calf sleeves (these are by Bondi Band) and Adidas Ultra Boosts (my “long run” shoe of choice) along with my Macmillan running vest. I was using this as a “race rehearsal” of my new hydration strategy for future marathons, so was using my Nathan hydration pack too. This meant that I could keep a long sleeved top with me right up until the start then quickly stash it in my bag. I also stuck a couple of post-race essentials into Steve’s bag as I knew he would finish before me, thus saving 2 bags going on the baggage trucks. The only real problem I had with my kit was the increasingly regular issue of a cat believing herself to be Essential Race Kit!
With the race not starting until 11am (a little late for my liking, to be honest), we had plenty of time to get organised, however we opted to set off at just after 7:30am to allow plenty of travelling time. The race started at Meadowmill Sports Centre by Tranent, however no cars were allowed at the start. Instead, we were encouraged to park nearer the finish (Musselburgh Race Course) and use the free shuttle buses to access the start. We parked at Wallyford park and ride, a location all too familiar from catching post-Edinburgh Marathon shuttle buses. Since we were nice and early, there was plenty of parking and the first bus was waiting to be filled with passengers. Straightforward enough, and my only real quibble is with access to toilets. We had both spent the drive to Edinburgh making sure we were well hydrated, and inevitably needed the loo by the time we parked the car. Last year, there were portaloos at the park and ride and, sure enough, there were a couple there again. But they were locked! Dismayed, we got on the bus (which suddenly seemed to take an awful long time to get underway!) and watched a stream of arriving runners make exactly the same disheartening discovery we had! Fortunately, when we did depart, we only had about 4 miles to go to the start area and as soon as we stopped I jumped up and hurried as fast as I comfortably could to the portaloos (which were still quiet since we were so sharp). After that, it was just a matter of waiting around until it was time to race.
A slight change to the start area this year saw the front two waves lining up behind the start line, while later waves were stacked up around the running track (last year it was the all-weather pitch, but I think it was a little tight for space, hence the change). Steve’s wave was one of the first two, while I was in a later wave. We got ourselves settled in the seating by the track and passed the time catching up on social media and chatting to others while we waited.
About half an hour before we were due to start, we put Steve’s bag on the baggage truck and joined a toilet queue by the track. We thought this would be plenty of time, but for some reason it seemed like the queues just weren’t moving. What on earth were people doing in there? Actually, I think I’d prefer not to know! I wasn’t worried as I knew the race was chip timed, but still wanted to start in my wave rather than having to weave around slower runners in a later wave. Eventually, Steve had to leave as his wave was starting, while I stuck it out and bonded with a couple of women behind me who were getting similarly frustrated. The race start was actually delayed by a few minutes, probably because of the toilet queues, but by the time my turn came, my wave was already starting to move forward so as soon as I emerged I had to quickly dart in beside everyone else as we were walked towards the start.
As I neared the start line, I heard the announcer give me a namecheck (Steve had also heard his name mentioned while we were in the toilet queues!). This race is organised by the same group as the Edinburgh Marathon Festival, and following our madcap multi-race schemes over the past couple of years, it would seem we’ve become fairly (in)famous here! Upon hearing it announced that I was “no stranger to these events,” I gave a little wave shortly before reaching the start line and getting underway.
With the staggered starts, there was enough room to run and it was reasonably easy to make my way out towards the main road where we ran out in a straight line parallel to the coast for over 2.5 miles before making a turn into some houses and the first water station. The turn into some shade was welcome as it was a warm day and the later start meant we were getting the brunt of it. There was a fair amount of crowd support here as many locals had set themselves up on chairs outside their houses, and one enterprising chap had a cardboard sign indicating that he had water available and books for sale! (He did actually have two trestle tables: one with cups of water and one with books – if I hadn’t been running, I might have stopped to browse!). The route then continued on and joined Lyars Road around the 4 mile mark. Previous participants of the Edinburgh Marathon may remember the route used to have a short out-and-back section on Lyars Road back when the event finished at Musselburgh Racecourse.
The first 4 miles had ticked along quite nicely at under 9 minutes per mile, a pace I thought could see me finish in under 2 hours. But that all changed as soon as I left the safety of the houses and joined the coast road…
Not just any old wind, but that peculiarly Scottish swirling wind that never seems to be behind you. I could actually sense everyone around me slow in unison as they ran into the “coastal breeze”. I vainly hoped that when I reached the turn (after about a mile and a half) that things might improve, but it was not to be. It was even worse after the turn. Not even a gel at the 5 mile marker just before the turn gave me enough of a boost to keep the pace up (although my effort level felt like I should be getting much more speed than I was!). Although I wasn’t losing position (everyone was fighting the same battle), I realised that a sub-2 was slipping away and it was going to be a real case of head-down-and-just-keep-running until I reached the finish.
It was at this point that I realised I’m a bit done with this particular stretch of road. It ALWAYS seems to be really windy, there’s hardly any support as there’s no access once the road is shut for the race, and the skyline was dominated by the imposing chimneys of the Cockenzie Power Station. Remember it? Here was our coastal selfie taken during our walk out to the relay changeover at the EMF:
As it turned out, The Scottish Half was our last opportunity to “appreciate” the power station as this happened the following weekend:
Getting back to the race, and as I ran into Port Seton around the 8 mile mark (and the location of the final changeover point in May’s Hairy Haggis Relay), I found I was feeling rather jaded from constantly fighting into the wind and opted to walk for 30 seconds or so to grab a proper drink and give myself a bit of a talking to. Marginally refreshed, it was back into battle on a very familiar stretch of road for the final miles into Musselburgh. The only slight deviation from the Marathon route was a turn-off which took us along by some shops and cafes. This was actually quite welcome as there was a bit of shelter from the wind and without even trying, I found my pace increased a bit. But all too soon we were back on the main stretch of road and that was it all the way to the finish.
Finally, I caught sight of the racecourse, however it seemed to take ages to run along by the course towards the point where we would enter the final furlong. My instinct was to speed up, but that pesky wind was still making things tough and the turn into the course was a very welcome sight! With a bit of shelter from the crowds lining the final stretch, I was able to find a burst of speed, crossing the line in 2:03:01 and hitting my revised B goal of a faster time than back in May.
Once across the line I shuffled through the finishing chute to collect my goody bag (T-shirt, assorted food, Teapigs teabag, moisturiser samples and High 5 tablets), enormous medal and 2 bottles of water, before emerging to the crowds where Steve was waiting for me.
We decided just to head straight back to the car so we could get organised and head off for some food. And this was when we made an interesting discovery.
Having experienced the Sunday races at the Edinburgh Marathon Festival on many occasions, we were fully expecting the traditional march of the dead up the road to the Wallyford park and ride, however this time there were buses waiting to take us up there. This was a great touch and something that would be very welcome after running 26.2 miles in May!
Back at the car, it was time for some photos:
Then suitably freshened up, we were back in the car and heading for Ikea as Steve had come up with a great idea for post-race food: meatballs! I have to say, a large plate of Swedish meatballs with salty fries and loads of lingonberry juice just hit the spot and gave us enough oomph for a saunter around the showroom afterwards. I even managed to pick up a couple of things my mum had asked me to get for her!
In all honesty, I didn’t really enjoy this race, but that was nothing to do with the organisation which was very slick (other than a couple of hiccups with toilets!). The buses worked well for us, support in the latter stages of the course was good (I particularly remember a VERY enthusiastic marshal around mile 10 and some cheery charity volunteers a little further along) and the finish area was well staffed. My real issue was with the route which, as I mentioned earlier, I’m pretty fed up with now and the relentless wind along the coast didn’t help. I know I was in good enough form for a sub-2 finish, but I really couldn’t have done any more in the conditions on that day. By the tine I finished, I was in a bit of a grump and declared vehemently that I didn’t want to do that race next year. I still feel the same now, but I know many runners really enjoyed it. Next year there’s going to be a 10k as well which will start and finish in Musselburgh, so that might attract even more people to sign up (although I’ll wait to see what the route is before committing myself – it’s bound to be along that coastline again!). I would also prefer the race to start a bit earlier as getting pre-race nutrition right for an 11am start when there are other logistics to consider is not easy and I was effectively running over lunchtime – not ideal.
If you enjoy running by the coast in the middle of the day and don’t mind some lonely sections on the course, then this is probably the race for you. Personally, I’m going to wait a year or two before I run along there again!