The races in the Edinburgh Marathon Festival are hardly new to me, however this year was the first time I had returned since the infamous four races in one weekend extravaganza of 2015! (You can read about that here and here). Since that time the starting point (and therefore the first handful of miles of the route) has changed so this was an interesting combination of the new and the familiar.
The 8am race start meant an early departure for our drive to Edinburgh. We opted to park in our usual Sunday spot in town then walk from there to the start area around the university. The weather forecast had not been encouraging and the drive through was pretty miserable, but at least it wasn’t cold.
Once at the start area there was a slightly chaotic feel, probably because by this point I REALLY wanted to find the toilets and although there were plenty of giant maps up, I was struggling to get my bearings. In the end we got a race volunteer to point us in the right direction and headed to one of the university buildings that had been opened up. We then went our separate ways as Steve and I were in different start pens and we had to find the right baggage lorries (which were also in different places). This was also a bit chaotic as I quickly found myself part of a group of runners desperately seeking baggage lorries and not finding any volunteers who actually knew where we had to go! After much pushing through crowds, I eventually found the right place but the lorry I should be using had already been closed up. Fortunately, a volunteer at another one took my bag and assured me they would take it to the right place in the finish area. With that done, I made my way to my start point and waited in my disposable poncho and “emergency hat” whilst listening to all the pre-race announcements.
From where I was I couldn’t actually see the start line as the road curved around a corner, however I did hear the starting horn and could see people begin to inch forward. The pen I was in was actually pretty well organised, with event crew at the start walking everyone forwards towards the line. It probably took me 6 or 7 minutes to get there and get underway.
However I still found the first part of the route quite congested as there were sections that changed from quite wide streets to much narrower ones and this led to some sudden halts. As a result, I kept my eyes on where my feet were going so missed some of the key points of interest – the photos are from later in the day when we were returned to the start by the event buses.
I had worn a lightweight waterproof jacket, but within the first couple of miles it was off and tied around my waist. It did rain again later, but by that point I was past caring about being wet and just accepted it. It was actually quite refreshing!
Once we were through Holyrood Park, I did feel like I had a bit more space and enjoyed winding my way towards the coast. Although early, there was still some pretty good crowd support, with lots of really encouraging people along the route. I very much enjoyed some of the signs, my favourite being “Don’t Quit Like Theresa!”. It took me a moment, but once I got the reference I was giggling to myself for the next few minutes.
At this point I was ticking along nicely with the aim of a sub-2 hour finish. I knew I wasn’t in PB shape (anything under 1:53) but thought a sub-2 was within current my fitness level.
Reaching the coast, I was returned to familiar territory and knew I would keep running along there – past plenty more vociferous support – to about the 11 mile mark, then there would be a turn back to the finish. This meant that from about 9 miles onwards I could see the faster runners heading back towards the finish line. I spotted Steve but he didn’t see me despite my manic waving, and noted that everyone I saw was grimacing. I was still pretty comfortable and on-pace for my sub-2 so figured they must all be working pretty hard.
And then I reached the turn.
Suddenly, the reason for the grimaces was abundantly clear as I ran smack into a headwind that I knew I would be running into for the rest of the race. Ok, so it was “only” for 2 miles, but that’s still quite an effort after 11 miles of running! Fortunately, there was a water station so I walked through that to grab a drink and take a moment to gather myself before getting my head down and pushing on. I had my watch set so I could see my average pace and while I knew my last couple of miles would be slower, I still thought I could sneak it under the 2 hours I had targeted.
Finally, I saw the point where the route turns off into the finish area. There’s always a great crowd here and as the finish gantry came into view I picked up the pace to run over the line. Another half marathon in the bag and my time of 1:59:09 meant I had reached my target. I love it when a plan comes together!
I collected my post-race goodies – medal, bottle of water, High 5 tablets and a little blue box that contained my T-shirt, foil blanket and some hot/cold gels. The boxes are a great idea as they are far more environmentally sustainable than plastic bags. Another thing I noticed was that while there were small plastic bottles of water available along the course (which we were encouraged to toss into recycling bins around the aid stations) the bottles were not labelled so perhaps this event is moving away from having a bottled water company as a big sponsor. An interesting move when so often this is one of the biggest sponsors.
I found Steve, headed over to the baggage lorries and collected my bag which actually had been taken to the right place for me. Because of the forecast I had packed a full change of clothes and was soaking wet, so a change was needed. There then followed the least glamorous change of clothes of my life…in a portable toilet! I can confirm that it is possible, but it wouldn’t be my first choice if another option was available.
On a nicer day we might have stayed at the finish for a while, but this time we just headed straight off to the event buses which are at a park and ride about a mile from the finish. Runners and spectators can buy a ticket in advance and while the queue can be quite long, there are loads of buses so it keeps on moving. This is generally quite well organised, but the hike to the buses is definitely one of my least favourite things about this event. I don’t think there are any better solutions though, so just accept it’s how it is.
I was pretty hungry by this point so ate the cereal bar I had been handed at the finish and began dreaming of the post-race meal we would get once back in Edinburgh. Clearly I wasn’t the only one as I could hear others talking about how they had been dreaming of Domino’s pizza for the last few miles and when the bus went past a McDonald’s there was an audible groan from the passengers!
We were delivered back to the start area, which by now was being dismantled as the marathon itself had started, and we walked back over to town to get some food – McDonald’s remains my post-race food of choice even though I would be unlikely to want it at any other time!
We then headed to Hotel Chocolat for “dessert” before getting back in the car for the drive home. Ironically, it was much nicer weather by this time!
Overall, I liked the variation in the route but definitely caution against being distracted as it can be a bit congested at the start. I would also recommend getting to the start as early as you can in order to get your bearings and drop off baggage without too much stress. And remember that once you’re finished, you will still have a bit of a walk to the event buses to get back into Edinburgh again. In my experience, race day in Edinburgh is either roasting hot or pouring. We got pouring on this occasion, but for me it didn’t spoil the race. Not an event I do regularly these days, but it’s nice to be involved from time to time and I’m sure this won’t be my last EMF experience.