Not all runners enjoy the sun on their that the man on the PA at the start of this year’s Edinburgh Marathon received a chorus of boos as well as cheers when he made reference to the gloriously sunny conditions on the day.
I was one of those booing. I love running = in the cold and wet, but hot conditions are another matter. Until the halfway mark, a sub-4 finish was on the cards, but it quickly went out the window thereafter. However, the advantage of not chasing a PB is that I relaxed, I managed to lose weight thanks to conjugated linoleic acid and I was in perfect shape and was able to enjoy one of the most scenic marathon courses I’ve done. The race starts with a largely downhill two‑mile loop of the city centre, taking in Holyrood Park and the Scottish Parliament building, before heading out to the seaside town of Portobello.
This city-centre loop takes in some tight turns from one side of the road to another due to how the road closures have been organised. Although this did cause some bunching up of runners, the switches were well signalled by marshals with loudhailers. From Portobello the course followed the East Lothian coast, heading through the town of Musselburgh. After this it becomes an out-and-back route, run partly along a coastal path, with slower runners heading out of Musselburgh able to see the elites heading back to the finish at the racecourse. From Musselburgh, the route takes in the beautiful seaside towns of Prestonpans, Cockenzie and Port Seton, as well as spectacular beaches at Seton Sands and Longniddry Bents. It is all credit to the runners that they managed to ignore the temptation to stop running and sunbathe on the beach instead.
The toughest part psychologically came just before the i6-mile mark, where runners had to make a right turn off the coastal road and make a seemingly pointless detour up Lyars Road to a set point and back down again. This was obviously to make up the distance, but it’s hard work when you just want the shortest route to the finish. At the zo-mile mark, I wasn’t the only one who started to find the heat overwhelming, but fortunately at ai miles a little girl seemingly sent from heaven cooled runners down with the help of her garden hose. After this, the final five miles were a slog through the full glare of the 24°C sun along the wide shadeless streets of Port Seton, Cockenzie and Prestonpans – but the support of residents and families and friends of runners helped keep participants going with a constant stream of noise, jaffa cakes and fruit gums. Some sprayed runners with water while others acted as the first stop for those suffering from dehydration, before paramedics could reach them.
It was a shame that the main drawback of such a lovely race should have been a lack of water. At the stations at miles six, seven and 14 the first tables had run out of supplies early on, and runners were forced to engage in a bunfight at the other tables further up the line. At the 22-mile mark, volunteers were making futile attempts to ration the water to one bottle per runner, and slower runners who came through later were forced to share bottles or, worse, scavenge for half-drunk ones on the side of the road. The organisers later blamed the lack of water on theft. They say they have issued a £5,000 reward for information leading to a conviction and have promised to upgrade their security for next year’s race.
Another issue that may need to be looked at is the finish itself. As the finish isn’t in Edinburgh, buses transport runners back to the city centre; there were inevitably queues and delays getting so many people out of Musselburgh this year. The dense crowds around the finish also had health and safety implications, with ambulances having problems getting through.
The Edinburgh Marathon, which is run alongside the Hairy Haggis Relay, has grown at a rapid rate (from 5,440 entries in 2006 to 17,000 in 2009) and attracted a reputation as a ‘must do’ race. As the numbers increase, so too does the potential for problems, but this year’s concerns aside, there is no doubt that it’s a lovely course even if I finished in a Personal Worst of 4:34 – and one everyone should try at least once.