Edinburgh Marathon Hairy Haggis Relay 2006

I found myself in Edinburgh this June - one of my favourite cities - working at the Marathon "expo" on a frantically busy Run and Become stand. This was great fun - the atmosphere in the build up to the race was all enthusiasm and energy so meeting all the runners at the stand was excellent. And I got to meet one of Britains all time greatest marathon runners, Ron Hill, who dropped by the stand to answer questions. I asked him about the press article that mentioned he had run the fastest marathon ever recorded in Scotland without drinking a drop during the race. "It's true" he said "But I wish they hadn't printed that". Ron is a very down to earth guy and came across as very humble for someone who had been at the very top of the marathon running world. He went on to explain that in those days he had done all his drinking before the race - a litre orange squash and a spoonful of salt - so that he could get through the race without having to take on more fluids. There had been downsides though - he took a long time to recover and felt acute sensitivity all over his body so that it hurt if anyone so much as touched him. And he had to tape his rings to his fingers or they would fall off during the race as dehydration shrunk his digits. Man, those guys used to go through it to achieve their awesome marathon times.

Anyhow, none of us was keen to run the full 26.2 after such a hectic work schedule in the days before the marathon, and we were all training for other events with schedules that wouldn't really accomodate such a long, hard run. So, we opted for the rather strangely named "Hairy Haggis Relay" of five unequal stages adding up to 26.2 miles, with myself going first on the longest (8 miles ish) leg, the three girls from Edinburgh Run and Become to follow then Amelia from London on the anchor leg to the finish in Holyrood Park.

The day dawned with a "haar" (that's what they call the lingering mist that takes a while to burn off) obscuring the sun, but it was obviously going to be a warm one. I met Tarit at Run and Become to get my shoes then jogged to Princes Street for the mass start. I'd heard the relay runners would go off 15 minutes after the main marathon, which sounded odd - wouldn't there be lots of fast runners jostling for space trying to pass the slower marathoners? Oh well......I know how hard it is to organise a two miler in a park so I won't preach to those who try to organise marathons.

The start was in a great spot - the parks around the Scott Memorial were filled with runners - several thousand had turned out though organisers said a significant number stayed away because of the heat. Really? Well, I suppose it could be true. As the start drew nearer I went off to a secluded spot to warm up and meditate under the trees. The announcers were doing the usual stuff over a loud PA - playing rock anthems to fire everyone up punctuated by lots of "let's see your hands in the air, Edinburgh!" and all that stuff which I have to say leaves me cold. After recent races all being small gatherings in beautiful & remote valleys in the Welsh Mountains, this start suddenly had all the atmoshpere of a drunken karaoke night in a town centre pub, and I was wondering what on earth I was doing there.

At last, the start came and the marathon runners began to head off. I noticed some relay runners going off too, so I got in the crowd and began to walk forward with the masses. Soon an official spotted the relay runners going off too early so he stopped them and allowed the marathoners through. After a while he relented and let us through. Some relay runners hung back, having heard that there was to be a 15 minute gap before they were supposed to start. All in all it was chaos, with a "rolling start" over a 15 minute period, or perhaps longer, for the relay runners. I imagine there had been an announcement to the relay runners that they simply hadn't heard, or something like that. This all added to my uneasiness so I was very happy to be moving once I got across the line, starting my watch as I did so to get a genuine time for my relay leg.

The expected battle for space on the roads didn't really happen - sure there were hundreds of slower marathon runners setting out on their epic journey, but the relay runners going off at more like 10k or 10 mile pace had no trouble weaving between them on the wide course. And what a great course! Edinburgh is a beautiful and glorious city, and the winding roads led between grand old stone buildings and under ancient bridges lined with cheering spectators. My mile times were wildly varying, so it was obvious these were wrongly placed. A one-mile PB of under 5 minutes? I don't think so! Still, I was doing fine under the blazing sun, running steadily and enjoying every step. At first I went off at around 10k pace, then remembered this was 8 miles rather than 6 and slackened off just a touch. There were plenty of other relay runners to dual with, so we passed and repassed each other, swapped lanes looking for the shortest course and weaved constantly between the back markers in the marathon. The heat was getting fierce, but the course was lovely and the race was truly exhilarating.

The course wound up and down over small hills, cobbled streets and wide avenues, tight street corners, roundabouts and long sections of main road. There was lots of support too - thin but constant crowds lining the roadside. The sun seemed to be blazing ever more brightly as each mile passed, and I was finding the effort of keeping my foot on the gas steadily rising (just as it should) as I approached the changeover. Here there was no repeat (from my point of view at least) of the chaos of the start - a marshal was reeling off our numbers into a walkie talkie as we enterd Victoria Park, and I had no trouble spotting Bhauliya at the end of a long line of restless second-leg runners. She held out my PB Bumbag which I grabbed with a rather breathless cry of "Good Luck" and she was off at top speed as I staggered off the track and walked the usual post-race walk (panting loudly, hands on hips, sweat pouring).

It had been a great race for me, exciting and enjoyable, a chance to enjoy a bit of speed (well, by my standards) after all those tough climbs and slow going over heather and tussock on the fells. The eight mile leg took me around 50:46 and our Sri Chinmoy AC team came 18th. A rather strange start to the day, but a very nice finish :)


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