Monday, 11 June 2012

Edinbra Moonwalk 2012 - playing hard to get

It is a little-known fact that the Crew Chief became a marathoner before I did.

In spring 2008 Linds completed the Edinburgh Moonwalk with a motley crew of about twenty others. Wearing their decorated bras and reflective hi-viz caps they walked a marathon around the streets of the capital, starting at midnight and ploughing on until dawn broke and they finally completed their 26.2 miles. That same night I was in Oxford at the Christ Church Commemoration Ball with my brother, enjoying a 12 hour dusk-til-dawn white tie festival of extravagance and gluttony. I joked at the time that I had completed my own endurance event while Linds was power-walking around freezing cold and largely empty parts of Edinburgh, and was of the opinion that covering nearly 30 miles on foot, at any speed, was utter nonsense. After Paris, Brighton, SF, Loch Ness and Edinburgh, I’m still of the same opinion.

Our shared involvement with the Moonwalk has plodded alongside my obsession with marathon running, and Linds has since completed the ‘half moon’ part of the event in 2010 in a much-diminished team of just two. That night I crewed for her and Louise, running ahead of them to source a good supporting/photo spot and ready to dispense the requested warm clothes and spare food. I ran all over the city until around 2.30am, when I decided it was high time for my bed.

But this year I set upon the idea of leaving my nice warm bed in the early hours, then going out to find the loneliest, the emptiest, the most miserable and forlorn part of the route I could find, and bringing some cheer and banter to the poor souls still out there. Among my  very few premeditated altruistic gestures, I reckoned that this was a pretty good one. But then I came across a problem. A problem which led me to discover other problems. Fascinating problems.

The Moonwalk is a quality event, and achieves a great deal both in terms of promoting fitness and fundraising for its charity. Let us be in no doubt that I am in favour of fighting breast cancer. But I think the event has a tiny bit of an attitude problem. In trying to plan my early-morning solo cheer station, I wanted to check the route and work out roughly where I should go. But there’s no map. It’s deliberately withheld, apparently ‘for health and safety reasons’ – unlike any other event of its kind that I’ve ever heard of. Instead I found a vague description of the areas it covers, which isn’t what I needed. I needed street names and mile markers, so I could work out where the majority of people would be at a given time. I needed this because I wanted to go and support people I’ve never met, who are out walking in my home city in the middle of the night. Clearly I must be a health and safety risk.

In scouring the FAQs and other material on the Moonwalk website, I consistently come across the same overly-protective and sometimes haughty tone. No, you can’t wear your decorated bra over a T-shirt (they did). No, you can’t use walking poles (they did). No, we haven’t shut the roads, you should walk on the pavement (they didn’t). No, your family can’t come to the event village. No, you can’t run. No, there’s no recognition for being first or having your time recorded (but there are timing clocks, for some reason). No, you can’t raise money for other charities. No No No No No.

I can sort-of see why the organisers have done most of these things, perhaps in protecting their brand, fears of overcrowding or other quasi-legitimate concerns, but I can’t help but feel that as a non-participant  I was unwelcome. This is the opposite of what I adore about big city marathons – that buzzy, community, happy atmosphere that includes everyone. Races that have webpages devoted to helping spectators plan their cheering. Events that encourage people to be involved at all levels and in all ways. Finish line areas that are more like wonderfully chaotic festivals. The Moonwalk felt more like a private function. Maybe they're playing hard to get?

But despite the organisers more or less actively discouraging spectators, I decided that the walkers deserved support nonetheless and was out of the door shortly after 6am. I took a stab at a likely direction, and headed east on my trusty bike to find one of the further outreaches of the course. I snaked my way through the city, piecing together a rough idea of the route from mile markers and glimpses of walkers. 20 minutes later I parked the bike and set up shop on a grey, concrete and otherwise abandoned part of the seafront, with the rear of a bus depot as my backdrop.

As the buses idled their filthy engines, puttering diesel fumes towards the walkers, and with spray from the sea occasionally harassing them from the other side, I cheered like an American. I handed out sweets, engaged in banter and generally tried to raise a smile from the poor unfortunates who had only covered 19 ½ miles since the official start seven hours ago. They would be on their feet for at least another two. The crazy-awesome-women-together-Dunkirk-spirit had ebbed a bit, replaced by a grim determination to get the job done. No more decorated bras and jolly fairy lights. I was cheering for women bundled up in fleeces, cardigans, ponchos, jackets, hoodies, scarves and plenty of other very sensible things to be wearing on exposed seafront in the drizzle. A couple were sheepishly scoffing on a takeaway McDonalds. One was carrying a Lidl shopping bag. I stayed there until I could see the very last walker, offering her a cheery ‘good morning’. She was, quite reasonably, not cheery.

Mile 26, in Inverleith park
On the way home I stopped in Inverleith park to congratulate some finishers, and contemplated bartering access to the event village – a sprawling city of enormous marquees, noise, light and cheery excitement, occupying a quarter of the park. But on seeing the fences and security drones in place, at that very moment turning away the bleary-eyed husband and children of a recent finisher, I thought better of it and headed for home a little deflated. Linds stayed in bed. Just saying.

I am suggesting very little in the way of change:
  • Publicise a route map, like every other event. I will use it to plan my cheering and promise not to be a health or safety risk. 
  • Remove some of the 'No's from the website and be a bit more flexible.
  • Provide an event village which supporters can share in, particularly if you're going to take over a large part of a public park.

Edinburgh may be a capital city, but it's really just a small community, which rallies behind events like this. Please don't shut us out.

Happy walking


2012 to date: miles run - 221.95, miles biked - 69.2, metres swum - 2350, races - 3