The Edinburgh Half Marathon 2011

Editors Note:  This story is intertwined with the lost luggage post from The Rocky Road From DublinSummary: I am very glad that I picked this race to be my first half marathon.  The field of runners was international.   The race was well-planned and organized.   The city itself was easy to get around and people helpful.  The race was scenic and it passed by too quickly, even for a slow runner.

Race Profile for the Marathon. Half is similar.

                                                          Key Information

Race Name Edinburgh Half Marathon
Location Scotland
Elevation Profile Downhill for the First 10K.  Very fast race
Organization Professionally done.  Good website for managing information.
Terrain City streets.  Uneven payment at a few points.
Water Stations Four well stocked and well manned by volunteers
Highlights Architecture, Natural Wonders.  Nine miles of running withing view of the North Sea. Scottish Parliament and Hollyrood Castle. Promoted as the fastest marathon in the UK.  Supportive crowds.
Other Events Marathon, 10K,  5K, relay and junior event
Good for Beginners? If you can run 8 miles, you can probably finish this race.

I had previously planned a 12 day trip to Europe for work.  I had to be in Scotland the morning of May 23.   As I always do when I travel, I checked the local races and found that Edinbugh Marathon Festival was scheduled the weekend that I needed to be in Scotland.   Seemed like a good opportunity to run in the UK again.

When one arrives at the Edinburgh airport, there are busses and taxi’s that can take you into town.  The bus service into Edinburgh is quite good, making the taxis a waste of money.  The event website listed several hotels packages available through a third-party company. I stayed at the Marriott, which was on their list, but if I had thought about it a little more I probably would have stayed closer to the center of town at someplace off the recommended list. The Marriott rewards points got the better of me and it is always nice to stay with a known entity.

International participants had to pick up their bibs at the expo in Hollyrood park on Friday, Saturday or pre-race on Sunday.  The park itself was beautiful and if I had been in the right shoes, I would have explored it more.  Bib pickup was quick.  My next to-do was to find a gel.   I know that it’s a bad idea to try a new gel during a race as one never knows how ones body (digestive system) will respond. Given that I had planned to visit two countries prior to arriving in Scotland, I didn’t want to transport my normal gel as I probably would have had to declare and explain them (I never take anything I will have to declare).  I purchased 3 Lucozade gels (orange), one to try out that evening and two for the run the next day.  I also bought two Black Currant Power Gels in case the Lucozade didn’t sit well in the evening.

It was fun to walk through an expo in a different country and see the other races that were promoted.  The Loch Ness Marathon and the French Rivera races were ones that really captured my imagination.  I looked at some of the clothing and shoe vendors.  The airlines assured me that my luggage would arrive that day, otherwise, I would have gone on a shopping spree.  Instead, I walked away from the expo thinking that in a few more hours, I would be reunited with my luggage.  WRONG!

Hollyrood Castle

I left the park and came upon Hollyrood Castle.  I had always thought that Balmoral Castle was where the Queen stayed when she was in Scotland.  I learned that Balmoral is her personal residence where Hollyrood is an official State residence. Charles and Camilla were scheduled to be in residence at Hollyrood the following week.

On race day, I was up at 5am and in my work clothes and shoes because my luggage had not arrived.  I ate a quick breakfast and hustled to the expo to find that there were no vendors.   I had the number of several race shops, but none were open that morning.  I tried moving myself to the full-marathon in hopes that the two extra hours would allow me to secure some gear.   Transferring was not allowed at this point.  My last hope would be that someone was selling gear at the race start as I have sometimes seen at trail runs.   I made my way to the starting line and there was no gear to be found.  Game over.

Somewhere to go but all dressed up.

I stood at the starting line of the Edinburgh half marathon feeling gutted. In 20 minutes, five-thousand runners would be leaving the starting line and I was going to be left behind.  My first half-marathon was going to be a Did Not Start (DNS).  I was angry, dejected, and alone. I was going to have to accept that I was here in this beautiful city, on this cool day, at a race that was downhill for the first 6 miles and I was not going to get to run it.  Many things ran through my mind.  I started to think about what other options I had for myself and what was limiting me.  For starters, I was wearing my work clothes and shoes for the last two days.  One can’t run a half-marathon in dress shoes… Can one?   I could try running barefoot.  Others do, I really didn’t want to start on wet Scottish roads. I have run through airports in these dress shoes though, with a pretty good gate.  People run races dressed in Elvis costumes.  Soldiers do more in combat boots with packs on their back.  Decision made with 10 minutes to go. I was running in my work clothes and shoes.

I realized that in these shoes and dress socks, I would probably end this race with some very sore feet.  Then I overheard myself say out loud that blisters heal faster than regrets and I was certainly going to regret not starting this run. I took my leather jacket off and stuffed it in a bag with my day-timer. They were then handed them off to the luggage truck. I put my passport and blackberry/mp3 in my shirt pocket and took my place in the purple pen with the rest of the slow runners.  Please note that running 13.1 miles with a phone and a passport in ones dress shirt pocket will result in one very sore nipple (runners will understand this).

When I race, my natural introverted nature comes out. I tend not to run with friends or family.  I like to keep my own pace and experience the race in my own little world.  I may run along side strangers and chat for a few minutes, but I much prefer to stay invisible.  This race was different for me in that so many were paying attention to me.  People were asking questions why I was running in dress shoes and work clothes and I told them, “Aer Lingus has my luggage in Dublin and they won’t give it back”.   People understood and were very supportive.

The race started and made its way between  Hollyrood Castle and the Scottish Parliament.  From there it routed through the beautiful Hollyrood Park.  I realized that I didn’t really stretch for this run, so I took the first mile slowly.  As I hadn’t run in 10 days so, nothing hurt.  I wasn’t being left behind by the pack, which was a good sign.  This shoe thing might not be too big a deal.  I did change my stride to land mid-foot.  My heel striking tendency would destroy these new $300 shoes. I wondered if the Nordstroms customer service department would take them back if I complained that they didn’t stand up in a half marathon.

The next few miles ran through the city of Edinburgh.  At mile 3, I felt great.  My goal in this race was to beat the pickup bus which was following behind at a 15 min pace.  I would have been happy beating it to the bus to the 10k mark then calling it a day.

From mile 4 turned onto the Portabello Promenade.  For the next 9 miles an inlet to the North Sea was always in view on our left.  It was beautiful.   Short rain showers fell around miles 4 and 7.   The rain drops were long, skinny and substantive.  The soaking rain was unlike much of the misty precipitation we get in California.

I would later find out that I crossed the 10K checkpoint at 1 hour 05 minutes.  I was more than happy with that pace. That pace was the worst I would have been happy with in running shoes.   I had some shin discomfort, but nothing that wouldn’t work itself out a mile or so down the road. Regretably, the miles ticked off too quickly after that. I fell into a very loose pack of runners, all of us running about the same pace.  There was a couple running for charity as well as a US soldier who was stationed in UK.  I met a lady in her 60’s who had recently taken up the sport and was doing her 4th half of the year.   We all chit chatted along the way, and they became my pacers.   There was no way I was falling behind this lot and I wanted to keep them close so I had someone to challenge near the end.

Last 5K were out and back! Sure glad I was in the less crowded back of the pack.

The last quarter of the race was in the town of Musselburgh.  I was surprised when near the end of mile 9, I saw the finish line ahead and then passed it on my right. Miles 10 through 13.1 were an out and back, so I got to see the crowds of people who were 30 to 40 minutes ahead.  I didn’t really like that, but it was what it was.   At Mile 10 I smiled because, the race had just become a little less than a 5K.  Anyone can do a 5K I said to another runner. That meant there was a turn around point 1.5 miles or so up the slight incline.  I paced myself up this steady hill and even stopped momentarily to take a photo.  At this point, it felt like I was running barefoot, as I could feel every crack in the road through my shoes.  I wondered if my shoe split under me. My left foot felt like there was a 2 inch diameter blister on the bottom.

A quick photo stop for a photo before making the turn for the last 1.7 miles. The North Sea Inlet is on the other side of this wall

The turn around point was like a breath of fresh air, literally.  A nice gust of wind was blowing in my face.  I didn’t care.  With 11.4 miles behind me I was going to finish this race strong.  One of the marathoner who I met days later in the Newark Airport mentioned that the wind was a challenge for them all the way through their race, which had a 10am start.

The cleanup wagon was chasing me. If it caught up to you, it meant your had to clear the course. The marathoners were behind it.

At the start of mile 12, I saw the cleanup vehicle on the opposite side of the street.  It was much closer than I would have guessed. Behind it, the half-marathoners were walking on the sidewalk.  About a minute or two behind it, came the vehicles supporting the marathoners.  They started two hours after me and the elite runners were on my dress shoe heels.  I may never compete with elite athletes ever again, but there was no way I was going to let these guys catch me.  I pushed that last mile with everything I had and left most of my cohorts behind.  Then, without warning, I passed the finish line and the race was unceremoniously over. My time, a 2 hours 45 minutes.  I placed 4409 out of the 4510who finished, which means I happily came in behind 97.7% of the field and ahead of 2.3%.

Normally, I would have been upset with this time.  Today, I felt blessed to be able to be there and be able to finish.  I was blessed with health, I was blessed with a job that allowed me to travel to such wonderful places.  I was blessed with a support system of friends and family and I was blessed with the ability to complete such an event within the allotted time and blessed with the ability to see a unique solution to what was for me, a heart-breaking problem.

Just after I finished a young lady came up to me and said that she was amazed that I could finish a half marathon in those clothes and shoes.  She seemed inspired.  I thanked her, in what was for me, an awkward moment.  I was thankful that someone noticed, but I wanted to disappear.  I got so many thumbs ups and smiles that race. I didn’t really know how to feel.  I knew I my body hurt though.  I had to keep moving or risk stiffening up.  I stretched a little and walked slowly to the bus to take me back to the center of Edinburgh.  I was able to stand on the bus which helped.

It was late enough in the morning that I could call my dad and tell him what I did. At first he didn’t understand why I didn’t sound my usual high energy self.  Once he understood, he was very supportive.

After I got off the bus, I went into Marks and Spencers to buy new clothes for work the next two days.  I waddled around the store. If the shoes, pants and shirt that I had worn during the race hadn’t been brand new, I would have burned them.

The next order of business was post run nutrition. I was pretty sore, but wanted to visit Twitter follow, The Whiskibar, on the Royal Mile across from the Radisson. I was starved after the race and ordered the Shrimp and Chorizo linguine. While I was eating I saw them bring out a beautifully presented order of Hagus. Had they done to-go orders, I would have taken it back to the hotel to eat later. Not wanting to look like a pig, I didn’t order it as a second course. I wish I had.  The Whiskibar is a must visit if you are in Ednburgh.

I waddled back to the center of town and took a bus back to my hotel room.  I showered and put on clean clothes for the first time in 3 days.

Post race, my legs recovered quickly but I had multiple blisters on both feet.  I wasn’t too bad barefoot. As the only pair of shoes I had were the ones that provided the offense resulting in the blisters, I was quite tender of foot on Monday and Tuesday for work.  Tuesday was much better, but still painful.  Tuesday night, my luggage arrived and I was so happy to have my tennis shoes to put on. I was even able to take a walk.

Thoughts on the Edinburgh Half:  Excellent!  Scenic!  Well organized.  I must do this one again one day.   This is a great race for anyone even close to being able to run 9 miles.

You tell me, how did I feel?
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The Edinburgh Half Marathon 2011

3 thoughts on “The Edinburgh Half Marathon 2011

    1. One of my goals for this year is to run 500 miles. On a 12 day trip 8 to 9 time zones away, it’s very easy to be a lazy bum on the weekend. It was a perfect event to help me stay on pace. Thanks for the visit.

  1. Jessica says:

    Not many people get to have experiences quite like that (however odd) and this has inspired me to make my way up to Edinburgh one day and do that race.

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