If you had a panic attack during a race, you’d think that that would be the most important memory of the run, wouldn’t you? But no, in Edinburgh Half Marathon the views along the coast at Portobello, and the crowds along the route, and the pleasing feeling of running alongside mum in our first race together in over a year are the things that really stand out. The panic attack was way down the list.
Since my wedding in April, I’ve not quite found the time to get back into training – I’ve been on a couple of 8 mile runs, and one 10 mile run a few weeks ago, along with one or two shorter runs a week. This was also Mum’s first road race back after being completely felled by sciatica last year. We arrived at the race knowing it wasn’t going to be a speedy one, and whenever anyone asked me about what I hoped for the race I just said “Not to be sick this time and have some fun”. Which is not exactly a stretching target, but one that felt about right for my level of readiness.
Somewhere between the wedding, Japan and any one of the several work trips away I take each month, I have managed to lose my TomTom watch charger, and so from necessity I was to run the race blind. We managed to bring everything else we needed with us to Scotland, which is a vast improvement from the time I forgot my trainers and had to do Manchester Marathon half and half relay in Mum’s half-a-size-smaller shoes…
8am start time meant a 5.50am alarm set and absolute chaos as we tried to leave our friend’s house in time for our bus. We were like the Chuckle Brothers, getting bagels stuck in the toaster and setting fire to them; getting a contact lens lost; putting my trainers on before my trousers. We’re not really 5.50am kind of people. After much prodding, we eventually discovered the lens round the back of Mum’s eye, replaced it, and nicked some bread that our friend was planning to feed to his children for jam sandwiches to eat on the bus. (Sorry Tom and Georgia…)
The organisation at the race start was an absolute dream. We’re total portaloo ninjas, and managed to find some loos off the beaten track that no one else had noticed for our last wees and then again for our “no really THIS is the last wees”. I had brought a jumper to wear and leave at the start line, but when I put it on on the bus, Mum and I completely fell in love with it again, and I left it in my bag to be checked. I stood freezing on the start line in vest and shorts, jealous of Mum wearing her rubbish jumper that she’d been strong enough to stay indifferent to.
From our start point on London road, we headed sharply downhill through the city. And straight out of it. As Laura Fountain notes in her marathon race report, you quickly leave the town in the race – “We left the city in the first few miles and would spend most of the race running out and back on a stretch of the coast.” Remembering how we’d headed out fast last time, and I had paid the price, I held us both back from galloping down towards the coast, instead looking up at architectural marvels and waving hi to sleepy people on their doorsteps.
These were the most beautiful miles of the race for me. The coastline along Portobello is absolutely stunning, and I love the community feel of the area. Our friends had apparently forgiven us for eating all of their bread, because they came and waved us on at the seafront, which was a very pleasing distraction. Mum and I ran and we chatted and we chatted and ran. We hadn’t noticed on the course map that there would be no water stations between miles 5 and 9, which felt like a bit of a long stretch. We were both desperate to have an energy gel by about mile 7, but didn’t dare try without water, remembering the lofty ‘don’t be sick’ ambition set at the beginning.
From the looks of the Strava profile from my phone, once the water station did arrive, Mum and I essentially used it as a bar, standing having a drink and a natter. There were dozens of massive bins lining the street after the station, all with their lids shut, while runners threw their empty bottles at them, so I headed down opening them as I went. (My day job involves continuous improvement and inefficient processes give me the heebiejeebies). Time on the clock, what time on the clock? I wasn’t even wearing a watch, remember. Ergo, time didn’t exist.
The out-and-back portion of the race really ground me down mentally. The turnaround was much, much further than I was expecting, and every time I rounded a corner or came over the brow of a hill, I felt crushed that it still wasn’t in sight. Some really nasty thought gremlins started grabbing at my brain – “you’ll never make all the way back there”, “you’re running downhill now, you won’t be able to manage so far uphill” and I felt pretty hopeless all of a sudden. My breath caught in my chest, and I felt my airways tighten up until each breath was a little ragged squeak. I stood on the grass verge, yelping my breaths in and tears pouring for a little minute while mum talked me through each breath, gradually slowing them down from little puffs to full, deep breaths. I put both hands on my head and focussed on expanding my whole ribcage, and like a stormcloud passing through the sky, the feeling was gone and I jogged back on.
The turnaround was literally two hundred metres away round a little corner and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. All that trouble could have been avoided if I had kept it together another 90 seconds. God bless the people who were doing the full marathon, who had 14 miles of out-and-back to do. I don’t think I’ll be competing with people like Susie Chan on the endurance stakes any time soon.
The return leg of the out and back was nowhere near as uphill as I had decided it was on the way out. In fact, knowing that every step took us closer to the finish line made it feel as easy as the first five miles of the race. We chatted to runners from Ireland and Canada on our way back, and gave encouragement to those who were still on their way out at mile ten (I could empathise with their struggle big time.)
We gave another push for the final mile, with the route absolutely packed with cheering spectators. We were both absolutely thrilled to be back on a finish line together. Mum’s sciatica was so tricksy that there never was a “you’ll be able to run again in X weeks” prognosis, and so at some points last year, we were worried that it might never happen again. We cried on each other’s shoulders as we did our hamstring stretches, our grins from ear to ear.
Overall, Edinburgh Half Marathon was just a lovely experience with my mum, and I’m so glad she can run beside me again. Not just for her impressive tactics at slowing down hyperventilation, but also her company and her grit and her wonderful sense of humour.
I can’t wait for our next big race together – Loch Ness Marathon in September. I’ve already ordered a new charger for my watch, and am going to, you know, actually train for it. Bring it on, Scotland!
Have you run either Edinburgh Half Marathon or Loch Ness Marathon? How did you find it?