Monday, 15 April 2013

Race Report - Rock n Roll Edinburgh Half Marathon 2013

The problem with racing – and writing about racing – is that sometimes the thing which colours your experience and memory of the event is something entirely out of the organisers’ control. This year’s Rock n Roll Edinburgh Half Marathon was one of those events, and the thing was weather.

When I ran the Mokrun back in 2011 more or less the entire field of a few hundred hardy souls huddled for shelter in a flimsy marquee mere minutes before the off, sheltering from the howling wind and torrential rain that were relentlessly buffeting the small town.  Miraculously, at the last possible minute the rain stopped and the wind dropped just enough to lift our spirits and set an optimistic tone. It was a wonderful moment.

I thought the same was about to happen in Edinburgh yesterday when a rainbow formed above Holyrood Park, a beacon of hope inside a thrashing storm of bullet rain and monstrous wind. For the last hour the circle of vendors’ marquees that formed the event village had become a parade of shelters for runners desperately hoping for some respite from the grim weather, but as the announcer gamely insisted that the weather was cheering up a bit and that the race would start in mere minutes, we put on our brave faces and headed for our pens.

When I registered for this race, I hadn’t really considered that it was a week out from the VLM and that therefore it would be ridiculous to chase a fast time. I had madly stuck myself in pen two, aiming for sub 1:40. This would have put me just behind the elites, and a couple of pens ahead of Neil ‘4:33’ Gray who was racing his first half marathon. Realising the absurdity of this plan and its potential impact on my pacing duties at VLM, I decided it would be better for my mental and physical well-being to stick with the pacer running the equivalent of my VLM target – i.e. a 2:15 HM. My self-imposed relegation involved an awfully long walk down Queen’s Drive from pen two to pen nine.

The rain continued.

Staggered pen starts – mildly delayed by the weather, apparently – sensibly got the race off to a well-moderated tempo. My pacer carried an enormous blue helium balloon, which flailed around wildly in the huge wind and repeatedly bopped runners within a 4ft radius until he shortened its string to just a couple of inches. The rain hammered loudly on its surface and the wind swung it back and forward. We exchanged conciliatory words at the absurdity of it all.

My knees started bothering me almost immediately, and the pain in one or both would be a constant feature of the race. But the gentle pace and cheery company at this end of the field made for an otherwise good experience physically – in fact I was feeling incredibly fit and well, restrained only by the foul mess I’ve somehow made of my knees. My silent mantras became increasingly profane.

The route of this event should be a major draw for everyone – it is probably the best running race ever designed in Edinburgh. The first few miles loosely copy the Edinburgh marathon: through Holyrood, around Meadowbank and then out towards Portobello prom. But whereas the Edinburgh marathon then winds its way through tediously distant parts of East Lothian, the RnR half does justice to its location and folds back into the city, via Duddingston and then into the city centre – Cowgate, Grassmarket, Meadows, George IV bridge, the Mound, Market Street and the Royal Mile. Regrettably this does create an unfortunate moment where, after 8 miles, you can see the finish line but are cruelly directed uphill and away from it, but otherwise is the kind of ambitious and impressive course that the city deserves.

The rain continued.

The RnR brand is about mixing music and running, but in Edinburgh this year it was about mixing music and running and weather. The bands playing to us throughout the route – perhaps five live acts and two or three DJs – did their best to rock out despite the conditions, but those unlucky enough to be playing on stages facing the horizontal rain seemed understandably lacking in vigour. Nonetheless, the turnout of runners included some impressive facial hair, a plethora of Elvis and Freddie Mercury tributes, and a full wardrobe of tatty band T-shirts. Some of them were even pretty decent runners, too…

I hauled myself around the course, stubbornly keeping level or slightly ahead of my friend with the blue balloon, who did a fantastic job of maintaining his pace even up significant gradients and down promising descents. He also offered cheery advice to the nervous newbies around us, and I think I learnt a thing or two from him that I’ll be applying at the VLM. For a few brief moments I even forgot how much my knees hurt.

Great medals (2012 top, 2013 bottom)
I lumbered across the finish with 2:11 on my watch, slightly ahead of my 2:15 goal – the result of doggedly following the pacer who sped up a fair bit in the last two miles. As I slowed to a walk my right knee immediately locked and I wrenched off the tubigrip that was holding it, which luckily did the trick and let me walk normally again. A huge medal, water, banana, haribo and crisps were gratefully received, but I heard over the tannoy that there were some issues with bag check.

The rain continued, and the wind picked up.

I wandered into the event village, gawping at the enormous queues stretched in every direction. Neil, in the middle of one of them, called me over, a note of confused desperation in his voice. He had finished 30 minutes before me and was not even halfway to the front of the line to retrieve our bags. A similarly massive queue stretched to the tent containing goody-bags and T-shirts. Many runners huddled in foil wraps but I couldn’t find anyone distributing them, so I shivered in my wet gear and bare legs. The queue inched forwards.

After eighteen months of queueing (or thereabouts) we reached the front and some Scouts cheerfully took our numbers and gamely maintained their beaming Scoutly expressions as they fetched our bags. We threw on some clothes to protect us from the force 9 hurricane that was tearing through the village, and decided not to bother with the 40-mile tailback queue for T-shirts. In the classic post-race hobble, we gingerly walked back to the car, stopping only to chat to fellow runners who were incredulous or angry about the bag/T-shirt situations. Eventually we folded ourselves into Neil’s car and set the heaters for ‘surface of the sun’.

Unbelievably, the rain stopped.

Overall, this is a great event that was badly damaged by the weather and the organisers’ reaction to it. The finish area management was not up to scratch, perhaps because contingencies had to be enacted to deal with the high winds or due to a lack of staff. Either way, it was a sad end to a positive experience. No bands were playing on the main stage in the event village as Neil and I scurried back into the city, perhaps because the rain was lashing a lot of electrical equipment, and one side of the stage was flapping wildly in the wind.

I mean there’s Rock n Roll, and there’s downright unpleasant.

Happy running,


P.S. Oh go on then, as if I wouldn’t mention it. Neil ran a cracking debut half-marathon in 1:44:44, which is much more representative of his general athletic ability than that marathon debut of his which I definitely won’t mention again.

P.P.S. It was 4:33.

2013 to date: miles run - 389.04, races: 2, parkruns: 1, miles biked: 18, metres swum: 500

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