This is my first race report for the Brechin Road Runners, about my first ever running race!
As someone who only started running outside in February 2019, it was a major goal for me to set a self- imposed high achievement target. (Yes, I love putting myself under enormous pressure! Lol) As such, and after some research, I decided in March that I would set myself the challenge of trying to complete the 13.1 mile Edinburgh Half Marathon at this year’s EMF. This is currently the biggest Scottish based marathon with approx 11,000 people running the half distance. At the time my longest ever run outside had been 5 miles…
I originally entered with a target time of 2:00 hours. As I discovered later, the estimated target time on your entry form allows the organisers to designate your starting ‘pen’ to allow you to run with people of similar ability. I later went back on and altered my estimate to 1:50, but in hindsight this was also too slow and ultimately I believe cost me a few minutes on my target times. The joys of being a newbie at marathon races! I had a current PB of just under 1:47 and was planning on hitting my target of 1:45 at an average speed of 4:59/km.
As the race was due to start early at 08:00 with the ‘proper’ marathon runners starting 2 hours later, we decided that my support crew, official photographer, bag holder and confidence booster (otherwise known as Charlie, my wife!) and I would travel down the night before and stay outside Edinburgh (especially as the hotel room prices trebled on the race day!) After an easy tram trip in and an absurdly early start (and no, race crew wasn’t impressed with this at all!) we found ourselves at Potterow, the start area at 07:00 standing in torrential rain and wearing a plastic bag… hmmm welcome to racing Ian! The weather report wasn’t great: it was scheduled to rain hard for the next few hours, with blustery, strong winds adding to the fun as well. At least I rocked the plastic bin bag look well!
The start was divided into different coloured pens and was very clearly marked with large pop-up flags marking the separate areas. There were also a lot of huge billboards with maps of the start zone, lots of helpful ‘information’ people, and generally a feeling of an extremely busy, but well-organised event. Being a bloke I found the toilet rush no problem, however it appeared to be a different story for the women with huge queues reported at every toilet!
07:50, tasteful and fashionable bin bag carefully disposed of, I was ready for the big start! Unfortunately I was so far back in my orange pen that I couldn’t even see the start line or hear if there was an actual ‘bang’ of the start gun, but I like to think there was! An orderly shuffle then started as we edged closer to the actual start line. I was amazed at just how far back from the front I was starting and also just how many people 11,000 looked like in one street! A little intimidating, but there was a generally good atmosphere around me, with lots of different accents, languages and outfits – including a team of blokes wearing fluffy pink tutu’s all adding to the spectacle!
Start line reached! Watch started! And I was off on my first ever race! Except there were so many people around me I barely managed to get up to jogging speed for the first kilometre! I soon learnt the art of ‘get oot ma way’ in running form etiquette and started to work my way through the mass of other runners. Unfortunately this turned out to be the case for almost all the race: I had to constantly work my way through people, weave on and off pavements, create gaps to get through, and generally ‘politely encourage’ other runners to let me through. It was a few kilometres in that I realised my mistake in being too pessimistic in my estimated time had put me in with a lot of significantly slower people which was definitely costing me time. My race plan had me doing the first 5km at 4:50 pace, but I struggled to hit 5:10 / km pace! Next time I’ll estimate a considerably quicker time and start with some of the quicker runners, especially as I came across people from the same pen as myself who had to start walking after 4km! This is where my lack of race experience showed unfortunately: still it was all a learning curve!
The first 5km went quickly, and I managed to work my way through people to get a few faster splits in, but I was still over 10 seconds a km above target time, and to be honest I was starting to get a little frustrated as I knew I could go faster! The rain had also increased and there were large areas of the roads flooded with giant puddles with caused more congestion (and wet shoes, feet and socks!).
The city area of the race was mostly on roads, cordoned off from the traffic, lots of slippery cobbles and potholes so not ideal running ground, but with some amazing buildings and architecture around me such as The Royal Mile, Scottish parliament buildings, and of course Edinburgh Castle. It was a great place to be. We soon managed to work our way out of the built-up part of the city centre and onto Arthurs Seat and some green parkland for a change. The rain held off for a few minutes here and although the path narrowed quite a bit I started to get better at overtaking other runners and managed to pull back some time on my splits with a few 4:45/km times. The support in the city areas had been great, with almost every inch of the course lined with people waving, shouting, banging saucepans, holding out ‘power’ signs drawn by the kids all encouraging us to keep going. It was simply amazing to think I was actually running in this event!
The next section was along the coastal sea front and again was quite narrow and congested, with a lot of large puddles. I started following a lady from two pens in front of mine as she was going at a similar pace to me, and obviously had more experience in how to progress through heavy traffic. I discovered sticking behind her helped me get through the crowds, and also helped with the game of ‘ dodge the bollard’ as they came up with surprising regularity and were difficult to see until the last minute – and I certainly didn’t want to become a eunuch YouTube star on my first race!
The water stops were often and quick, with energy gels for those who wanted them: this was something I hadn’t practiced too much before so I tried to manage as best I could and get some water and gels in me. I had planned for my first energy gel at 40 minutes, and another at 1:20, and I stuck to this plan without any issues – although I probably looked like an idiot trying to swallow gel whilst avoiding falling over from lack of coordination! Who knew that what your arms do made such a difference to what your legs do! Lol.
The last section of the race led away from the beach front, into Musselburgh and back onto some wider roads, and finally it had started to thin a bit – just in time for another super heavy bout of rain and the start of a headwind! Arrgh! I had one incident with a fellow runner suddenly collapsing about 8ft in front of me, and going down like a sack of potatoes! Both myself and the lady I was using as a pacer stopped to help, but fortunately a bicycled-up First Aider happened to be almost right in front of us and he was there almost instantly, so we left the fallen runner in his capable hands. The next section was tough because of the weather, and I realised from my splits that I was actually slowing down following my chosen pacer lady, so another overtake was in order! After this point I simply ran to target and heart rate, but deep down I knew that the first ¾ of the race had killed my chances of a 1:45, and whatever energy I had left was fast being used fighting the weather. Still, I was determined to do the best I could and pushed as much as possible to the end. The last stretch follows a road down to a roundabout and then returns back up, so you run watching the other runners going the other way which was a bit demoralising. But the crowd was great and encouraged everybody all the way back up again! The last push was almost dry with a hint of some glorious sunshine to tease you as to what it could have been! Then it rained heavily again! Great!
I finished the race without any pauses for walking or stops, with an average pace of 5:02/km and a time of 1:46 – so just outside my target. Initially I was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t hit the 1:45 mark as I knew full well that I could have done. Then I realised that I had just run my first Half Marathon, my first race, and Strava was telling me I had 4 new PBs – including Half Marathon, 10 mile, 20km and 15km times! I had finished 2012th out of 11,000 participants, so in the top 18% of all runners.
My race crew gave me a great big hug and my kids both sent messages of how proud they were that I’d managed to do this, and after that I realised that it wasn’t a fail, it was a huge personal success and a massive achievement for a new runner in his first race. The medal and pictures will be on my mantle for a long time to come, and although this is definitely my first race, it is no way going to be my last!