Friday, 27 May 2011

When I grow up I want to be...

...a race director. It would be my perfect job.

I came to this conclusion on Sunday afternoon, after supporting the Edinburgh Marathon and later reading comments that runners had left in various places – on the facebook page, on the Runners’ World website and in The Scotsman, all of which highlight basic errors made by marathon organisers who really should know better. This was the 9th running of the Edinburgh Marathon in its present form, under the same corporate for-profit leadership, and to my mind it’s getting worse.

The many complaints highlight the fact that runners expect a product that is high-quality overall and supported by top-notch attention to detail. The Edinburgh race used to get away with its weird course, (of which 80% is nowhere near Edinburgh and large portions are exposed to the seafront), by virtue of a high-quality experience for the runner elsewhere. This year it was the overlooked details which damaged its appeal. Runners’ comments focussed on:
  • Small or missing mile markers. An inexcusable mistake in a road race. I read a comment which simply said ‘Not enough mile markers. The optimum number is 26.’
  • A course which includes a loose gravel surface, large sections through industrial areas, very little association to the City of Edinburgh and a frustrating finger-loop right at the end of the race- these are annual problems, usually forgiven, but this year thrown into sharp relief asdisgruntled customers seek to increase their lists of grievances...
  • Large sections with no crowd support at all. Hardly surprising given the course layout, and again an annual problem.
  • An uninspiring finish. The race used to finish at Musselburgh Racecourse in front of a grandstand, this year it was diverted to a featureless residential street near the racecourse for reasons unclear.
  • Poor post-race support and facilities. No spectators were allowed in the final few hundred metres of the race, creating a strange and slightly deflated finish-line environment. The reunion areas and shuttle buses were a hefty distance from the finish, and access to those areas was insufficient and potentially dangerous given the crowd size.
  • Wrong medals and T-shirts. When you finish a marathon effort, the last thing you want is someone handing you a half-marathon T-shirt, or a generic medal that doesn’t properly commemorate your achievement.
  • A big screen in the reunion area, purportedly placed to show the finish line action to the displaced spectators, was instead showing footage from last year’s T in the Park. With the sound off.
  • Inefficient, slow and not enough shuttle buses. Imagine you’ve just finished a marathon, then walked two miles on blistered feet to find a bus, only to wait in a lengthy queue for a slow, old vehicle where no-one checks the ticket you’ve paid for before taking you on a 45-minute journey to somewhere not terribly near the city centre. Misery.

All this for just £45! I read these comments open-mouthed.

Marathoners deserve better. Whether Edinburgh was their first or fiftieth 26.2, the race’s practical shortcomings will probably have tarnished many runners’ experience. It looked like a race organised by a bank, not a group of dedicated and inspired pavement pounders. I couldn’t help but think that I could organise a better race than this with my eyes closed.

So I’m going to. Watch this space.

Happy running.


P.S. I'm off to the Mull of Kintyre tomorrow to cover the half marathon and festival of running over the weekend for an article. More details to follow.

2011 to date - miles: 518.31, parkruns: 6, races: 2, miles biked: 47.44, metres swum: 675


  1. If you organise it - I'll run it. Deal?

  2. Know exactly what you mean Mr Haines. I do the same thing with Archery Tournaments. Having had a hand in running BUCS, it's not quite as easy as you hope, but it still goes a lot smoother than when other people, er, 'organise' it! In short, go for it, but good luck.

  3. Hi Marc, I'm sure you're right. Allowing myself delusional optimism for a few days before allowing realism to invade... Should probably have made clear, I'm not proposing a hostile takeover of the Edinburgh Marathon (thought that might be fun), rather a whole new event elsewhere.