We had been planning this weekend for some time, and it was going to be special, not because ‘I’ was running, but because the rest of the family were running – in fact this was to be the first ever time that we had all run together at an event, so really a bit of a family milestone.
Edinburgh has for a number of years held a ‘festival of running’ on the weekend when the marathon has taken place, and it is advertised as a family friendly event, so ideal, we thought, to motivate the children with a tee-shirt and a medal as they arrange races at all possible distances from junior races of 1.5km and 3km, and then 5km and 10km races on the Saturday and half and full marathon races on the Sunday.
Having failed to make the ballot for the London Marathon this year, I had decided to enter another marathon about now and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get the children involved as well, so Liz and her friend Colleen both entered the 10km, we entered Joshua and Morgan into the 5km and the little ones were signed up for the 1.5km. My only criticism of the entries was that Luke would probably have been better doing the 3km, but the age limit was 11 so he will have to wait a few years before he can do that at Edinburgh, although we were of the opinion we would find them other races depending upon the success of this weekend 😉
We had arranged to go up on the train and arrived through various means to meet Colleen, who was travelling from Wales to London, at King’s Cross Station for our 2:30 train on Friday 23rd May. We almost missed our initial connection from Guildford as the trains were running late due to a ‘fatality’ further up the line. We made in it plenty of time, but the upshot was that three trains worth of people were trying to fit on one train, and we had to sit in the aisles for the first couple of hours, to York! The children were good natured about it and as long as we kept them plied with food and iPods, they were more than happy.
We eventually arrived at our flat in Edinburgh after a 4½ hour train journey and a taxi from the station about a mile.
After some supper, it was an early night for all, with a big schedule planned for the Saturday.
Saturday 24th May 2014
10km – 9:00am Start – Liz and Col
There was a bit of drizzle when we set out first thing, but it could not dampen our spirits. There was also a lot of talk about how things would go, and a theme began to emerge here, which was repeated consistently over the weekend; since it was our first run for some time, or in the case of the little ones, their first race ever, we all had minimal idea as to we were all going to do. Liz and Colleen had not run a 10k for some years, and although I had done the distance in training, I had not run a marathon since London in 2010, but more of that later.
We made our way, walking from our flat in Grange Street to the Holyrood Park, where the races were taking place at various intervals on the Saturday. We soon found ourselves heading towards the hill in the centre of the park and the usual bravado talk of having to run 10km up and over this ensued 🙂 but was quickly overtaken by concern when we realised the undulating nature of the actual course, which we joined from about 8½ km around the circuit, with about 1km to the start.
We made it in good time and the weather, although still damp, was beginning to clear a little and the ladies were keen to get into the line for their race, so we wished them well and they lined up with their own mental preparation to keep them company for the last few minutes before the start.
The children and I were like expectant fathers, pacing up and down the outside of the penned off roadway, also waiting for the signal to go. It arrived soon enough, and despite my best effort to get some picture of our heroines passing ‘Go’, I would clearly have to practice for the next few races.
As we made our way back up the hill to the 4.5km mark, I made some mental estimations as to how long we had to get there. Plenty of time I though, after the ice cream van had been spotted earlier on, even in the atrocious weather, I was not going to get away without a detour.
Ice creams in hand, we made our way back round the looping circuit about a kilometre up the hill, to where Liz and Col were converging and they would then split off to do a further loop which would conveniently to allow us time to get back to the finish line.
Col came through first, speeding down the downhill section after about 21 minutes. Liz followed her at about 26 minutes, beaming away at the sight of her family and dropped off her MdS ‘buff’ which was clearly no longer needed. They were both looking strong and I was confident there would be no injury worries and we would see them both at the finish before too long.
The weather, while still grey, had dried up a bit and we started to applaud the front runners as they came through, shortly after we had started our journey back down the hill. They passed us just before the final kilometre mark, at around 28 minutes.
As we expected, Col came through first at about 43 minutes; she was looking exactly like she had run a good 10km and we all cheered her as she passed us, some 100m from the finish. We ran round to find her, but she had already disappeared into the convoluted finishing chute which routed runners underground and then back up the other side of an underground car park, to eject them finally into the roadway and reunion area. We all ran back to our holding positions to await liz’s arrival and we did not have to wait for long.
She also came through looking as if she had poured her heart into her running. Having not run a race for some years, certainly nothing significant since her stroke, but she had not known what to expect in terms of pace and so was elated at having comfortably beaten her 1 hour target.
Both runners were ecstatic with their times and we chatted afterwards, doing the usual post-mortem of the course and how expectations had matched with reality. The older boys listened intently, as their race was scheduled for 11pm around one loop of the same course. They knew they would be finishing at the same point in the near future.
I grabbed a coffee.
5km – 9:00am Start – Joshua and Morgan
We were not sure if they were ready for this – as parents we had a sudden feeling of guilt that we were throwing them in at the deep-end with this distance. They have run it before, but always run-walking and never on their own. I guess it was a bit of separation anxiety (on our part) but we felt it would be a good experience for them and something to gauge improving performance over the next few years.
They showed little sign of anxiety at the line-up for the race, but they stood close to the back nonetheless, as sure sign they had no idea what was about to unfold.
As official family photographer for the day, I managed to get mostly pensive photos of them at the start and then waved goodbye to them as I again left for the front of the start line to get them passing.
After the gun, I waited for what seemed an eternity for them to come through. They were stuck behind a slow moving group and having not been in this situation before, seemed reticent to pass the group, as they passed me.
And then they were gone.
We made our way back to the finish line, which was only a few hundred metres and then spent quite some time working out what the best position for photos would be; having had prior knowledge through the previous race, I was confident I had a good spot marked.
Savannah proceeded to warm up for her race (a little prematurely!) by running up and down the grass verge next to the finish straight, after commandeering a purple charity balloon.
Liz and I were not sure who was going to come through first, or in what state they would be when they arrived, but we needn’t have worried.
Morgan came through first, after around 31 minutes, clearly enjoying the respite of the downhill, but also immensely proud and pleased with himself that he had made it to the end and when he spotted us, he beamed with pride in his achievement.
We kept a lookout for Joshua, watching for his red top and shorts with black extremities and although there were several false alarms within the 500m that we could see people making their way downhill, eventually he too came into sight – less than 2 minutes after Morgan, and he was clearly equally as pleased to have got round the undulating course without too many difficulties and to finally have the finish in view.
We followed them through to the finish pen, and immediately caught up with Morgan who was being modest about his achievement while we congratulated and encouraged him.
Joshua found his way through shortly afterwards and with medals and tee-shirts intact, we found ourselves halfway through the competitions for the weekend.
After such exertions, Morgan and Joshua felt the need for some calorie intake, and although looking for pastries for a lunch snack, we ended up in Pizza Express, and a good time was had by all in celebration (and pre-celebration) of their races. I cannot believe the size of the pizza that Joshua managed to chow 😎
Our little ones were keen to get under way, and we were asked many times through the meal, whether it was time to go yet. A little reassurance and the explanation that there was an additional race (3km) at 12:30pm, was all that was required, but soon it was too much so we got their race numbers attached and slowly made our way back out into the cold and prepared our youngest for their moment of glory!
1.5km – 1:30pm Start – Luke and Savannah
By the time we got there, there were already crowds of youngsters lining up in short pens, some with their parents ready to run alongside them. Liz and I had originally anticipated running with them, but in the end decided it would be a better experience for them to run alone with their thoughts (without parental distraction) and on reflection this had been the right decision.
After the now traditional start line photos, they made their way onto the roadway behind all the others and I waved them goodbye to make my way to the front of the start. Liz and the others made their way to the turn around point, about halfway up the out and back route, to ensure they had maximum support.
The youngsters were slowly inched forwards by the organisers in their pens, and even after the start gun had gone, each pen of around 40-60 children was held back to ensure there was not too much jostling, tripping and elbowing as the adrenaline started to flow!
Luke and Savannah soon came through, but they too seemed to be held up by slower moving competitors in front of them – I hoped this would not spoil their experience and upset them. As they disappeared off, I made my way to a vantage point at the centre of the road where I could get them coming downhill, just before the final finish turn.
Luke came sprinting down the hill unbelievably fast, after only 7-8 minutes and was very focussed so didn’t hear me calling him as I snapped away with the camera. He was very quickly followed by Savannah though, who was looking very rosy cheeked and I was sure she would be pleased to finish. I ran the short way back to the roundabout and just managed to get another couple of photos of our girl 10 metres before the finish.
I ran around as soon as she disappeared across the finish line, although on reflection it may have been better to go straight through with her – I had the ‘collect-your-child’ tags which we had ripped off their numbers earlier – clearly they take security very seriously, but it is a shame that that sort of measure is even necessary. I found my way through and only after hearing Liz shouting from outside where we had met earlier, realised Savannah had already found her way out, with her medal and T-shirt but Luke was waiting for me.
We made our way down to the labyrinth car park which had been usefully repurposed for the day, and we were soon all together again, with our 8 and 7 year old regaling stories of the race as if they had run a thousand before. Luke had been held up and Savannah had actually gone through the halfway point first, pacing herself a nice even race, but making Luke’s performance even more impressive!
We ambled around the marathon expo briefly with all the runners in a state of euphoria at having achieved their goals for the weekend, and then after a slightly longer walk than I had anticipated (yes, dad got in trouble with grumpy children) we made our way back to our flat.
Everyone was happy and a nice filling pasta meal ended the day, and set me up for the morning.
Sunday 25th May 2014
Marathon – 9:50am Start – Richard
I was feeling a certain amount of trepidation, just like all the others, even after the masses of races I have done before; I think the marathon distance over a road course can be quite intimidating, although maybe that is just me.
I had prepared my things the night before and so got ready quite quickly and after a bowl of my now traditional pre-race corn flakes we were soon waiting for a taxi to take us through the rain to the city centre start; after last night’s ‘walk’, I didn’t feel another indeterminate length of stroll for the children, especially in the rain, would be a good idea.
As it happened, it had been raining heavily all night, but the precipitation was now subsiding and by the time we arrived at the end of the start line at around 9:30am, it had stopped. Miraculously, even though I had my black-bin liner (with cut out) I now looked as though I would not need it.
We said our goodbyes and I was wished luck and then I was off once again to compose my thoughts. I had bought bus tickets for everyone so then could get to the finish line at Musselburgh, which would also allow them with any luck to see me at about 9 miles on the way out to the turnaround point.
After a quick queue at the toilets, I made my way to the start pens; my optimistic estimation of my performance when I entered meant that I was in the front area behind the elite runners. I was not too worried about this; generally speaking at the front I can keep up with most runners at the front, albeit briefly 😉 The biggest problem is that normally going off too fast, and being carried along with the crowd and then burning out too early. I was aiming to pace evenly this time.
Installed in my pen, I had little time to contemplate my strategy though, as we were soon counting the seconds down, and it was my turn to hear the gun within the throng of runners and cross the line just ahead of me. It only took me 30 seconds to get to the start and I pressed my watch and was on my way.
Things quickly settled down and after a few kilometres I was feeling good, but I was wary of not going too fast and also conscious that the first 3-4 miles was predominantly ‘downhill’ from the city centre to the shoreline where the Firth of Forth joins the North Sea. I enjoyed the initial miles and kept a pretty constant 4:32 min/km.
I knew when we had reached the shoreline, not from the view, but from the ENE wind which suddenly hit us as we turned to run along the promenade through the various towns along the coast. Initially the route took a slightly south-east direction so the gusting wind was from the side and was more distracting than debilitating, but gradually as we followed the course around the bay, we would head directly into the wind until the turn around point. I tried to ‘slipstream’ where I could but this didn’t really work for any length of time, so I got one of my salt caramel gels out and had some comfort food 🙂
Despite the wind, I was maintaining a fairly even pace, within my target time, so I was happy about the way things were going and I was soon pressing the button on my phone to send my preprepared text message to Liz, letting her know I was approaching the 9mile point (she received that message about 5 hours later!)
The route had been well supported and lined with cheering crowds uo to this point, but I soon came round a corner with even more people and so was on the lookout for my family. I was beginning to wonder if I had missed them approaching 10-11 miles, but suddenly spotted them at the side of the road. I apologise to the runner behind me who had to make a sudden correction to avoid my departure from expected behaviour as I kept to the side of the road and swiftly hugged everyone before waving and continuing on my way; another disadvantage of road marathons and speed targets – no stopping for the family who by this stage had been waiting for about 80 minutes.
At least the threatened rain had held off which was great for them, but I was regretting the decision to wear both a long sleeve and short sleeve top with the Sun now threatening to come out.
After the joy of seeing my family I had managed to maintain a good pace and I soon made the halfway point, after about 1:35 which I was more than happy with – having been aiming for 1:37. Having initially gone through the city centre and the suburbs of Edinburgh, followed by the coastal villages, the route now became far more rural, and had also turned noticeably directly into the wind.
I enjoyed the change of scenery but felt myself getting considerably slower, so grabbed a gel (orange) from the bench at the next water stop. This helped a bit, but took its time to take effect and in the meantime I tried to concentrate on maintaining my technique to keep as efficient as possible. I also tried to memorise landmarks on the route so I would know where I was on the return journey.
Just before about 14 miles there was another of the ‘relay changeover points’ where the out and back route had split around a seafront town – I think this was the second of the points which would have signified an exchange of ‘baton’ for those competitors in a team of 4 running about 10km each – and after the out and back routes joined each other again I started to notice some of the half-marathon runners coming back. Some of them were looking decidedly weary so I guessed I had missed the front-runners. Soon after this though, I saw the elite marathon front-runners come through – it never ceases to amaze me how fast they are going and yet how ‘relaxed’ these guys appear.
At 16 miles I was starting to look for the turnaround point and the final torture was a view of the runners about a mile ahead of me disappearing into the flora across the water of the tightly curving bay.
Eventually, after passing both the exit and entrance to a stately home, around which we were about to be diverted, I reached the end of the road and the turnaround point. Psychologically this was a boost and I managed to step up my pace a touch as we dipped into the ‘driveway’ of the grand building and detoured around the forests and gardens. By the time we had popped back out onto the roadway, we were at nearly 19 miles. This was the first time I had the chance to see all the runners behind me, still heading to the turnaround point.
I was feeling good at this stage, but my pace had become highly dependant on my gel intake, and as soon as I could I took on another gel and water – it was only at this point that I realised the gel flavours were ‘random’ and this one was banana; to say I had to force this down, banana NOT being my favourite flavour, would be an understatement.
I started to recognise the route on the way back but was counting down the kilometres to the finish now, grabbing water and sipping away and ruing the fact that I had not brought more of my own gels along – the last one I grabbed was some forest fruits flavour, but by this stage I was past caring and focussed on keeping my legs turning over as fast as possible.
Eventually, after a run through the well supported route in the towns to the east of Edinburgh I was heading to the finish, past the racecourse at Mussleburgh and I thought I heard my name from the crowd, but was too focussed on the corner turning into the last 200m before the finish to turn back to look. The clock ahead on the finish line taunted me as I approached it, such was the distance from which it was visible, but I finally managed to cross the line at 3:18:42 – a new PB by over 9 minutes from my last London marathon 4 years ago.
My family soon shouted to me, after I had sat down on the ‘pitch’ through which the finish line was funnelled.
They were pleased to see me, and I was over the moon to see them! We chatted briefly and then Savannah and I went through to do my final grabbing for the day, of goodie bag and t-shirt, which I proudly donned to match the rest of our team.
I was feeling a bit dehydrated, given the tunnel vision I was experiencing, and so the first order of the day was a coffee with lots of sugar, and after couple of those, while the children had food, I was feeling better. Ironically, the sunny day had deteriorated almost immediately after I had crossed the finish line, and we had to shelter under the awning of the food stall as the heavens opened, and I felt sorry for the people who were still out there running.
The bus which Liz, Col and the children had ridden over was a couple of kilometres back up the road – in the direction form which I had just come! We started our way back and after the bus to the centre of Edinburgh and another taxi back to our flat, the journey was over.
We had a great supper that evening at the hostelery a mere few yards around the corner from our flat and the only thing that remained to cap the weekend off in true style was the photo of us all for the album. It was a great weekend and all of us triumphed over the streets of Edinburgh, whether it be a first time, a return to form, a PB or just proof that it could be done, we all felt like we had achieved and would love to go back again next year as it is a great festival for all ages and abilities to take part.
For the record the times for all in the end were:
- Liz, 10k – 0:56:07
- Col, 10k – 0:43:44
- Savannah: 1.5km – 8:16 (PB)
- Luke: 1.5km – 7:16 (PB)
- Morgan: 5km – 0:31:31 (PB)
- Joshua: 5km – 0:33:02 (PB)
- Richard: Marathon – 3:18:42 (PB)