Monday, 27 May 2013

Race Report - Edinburgh Marathon Relay 2013

It has been one year since Steven Sims passed away. If you’re not up to speed on his story please go back and read this, then read that. Then come back here. Sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.

Team Simsply the Best – Neil, Alex, Ben and myself - was put together to do something challenging and positive and awesome to remember Steven, as well as a team-building exercise for our Wall Run assault. The goal was to absolutely fly round the Edinburgh marathon’s Hairy Haggis Relay – a four man relay over 26.2 miles run concurrently with the main marathon. I’ve done the relay event three times before, twice for Team Clan McLion alongside Steven’s sister Nic as charity runs, and once for Team TOAD on a whim. But Simsply the Best was about speed.

The race was the pinnacle of the team’s elite training weekend, which started in a pub in Pitlochry on Friday night (minus Neil who had a better offer). Some time and a few cold drinks later we played an intense game of Scrabble and passed out in the wee hours, only to wake up at the crack of half eight for a trail run along the loch. Then four tonnes of pork products for breakfast, and a distillery tour. Quite the training weekend indeed and it was only noon on Saturday.

We motored back down to Linlithgow, had another pint, then settled in for a disproportionately massive carb-loading session with Neil (who was by now well behind on the in-jokes), Adam, who was preparing for his debut full marathon, and their respective crews Karlie and Holly. The Crew Chief made ninety kilos of pasta and worried about logistics. Business as usual, then.

The following morning Ben ran the first leg – 8.4 miles from the city centre to just beyond Portobello prom. The ginger arrow flew down the relay chute at a thousand miles an hour, slowing just enough to pass me the red bracelet that played a poor substitute for a relay baton. I sprinted out of the changeover, eager for Ben to notice how fast I was running whilst I was still in his sights, but I never really got as far as slowing down for a rest. A stitch crept up on me, the result of idly eating flapjacks for something to do during the last two hours of waiting around, but there was no way I was easing off. Steven’s maxim stuck with me: No excuses, play like a champion. Too much of my running has been caveated by excuses. Not today.

I was nearing internal combustion, still overtaking dozens of full-marathon and relay runners, when I dashed over the halfway line that signalled that my leg was nearly done. I lifted my knees and picked up the pace, determined to look strong and fast at the changeover, 5.6 miles complete. I spotted Neil waiting at the gate – he was chomping at the bit to get going and hared off into the distance for his 7.8 miles of gently but persistently rolling hills. I had a little sit down while my lungs reinflated and my normal human faculties returned.

Karlie and Linds had rocked up at this part of the course to crack on with their expert American-style supporting, and Alex was already in place waiting to sprint the last leg when Neil finished his out-and-back loop. Just as I had caught my breath Adam tore past – over halfway into his race and shifting like a steam train. I sprinted to catch up with him and exchanged a few words as he barrelled along looking fresh and strong. I left him to it.

The team looking totally normal.
The flow of runners gradually switched to the other side of the out-and-back, at a point just before the 22 mile mark, and business was brisk in the Haribo-dispensing trade. Supporting races, I’ve decided, is much easier, cheaper and in many ways more rewarding than actually running the blasted things. While we were there Neil piled into the changeover point and Alex burst onto the course like a skinny-legged gazelle. Neil took a few moments to try to remember his own name and then joined us in dispensing Haribo. Just a few minutes later Adam came past again, looking tired but still moving unbelievably quickly. He was on for an incredible time, no doubt about that.

Once the sweets were all gone and we had run out of amusing words of encouragement we began the tedious public transport conundrum to get us back to the finish line. I say this every year but here goes again – this race needs some better transport solutions, or possibly a total course redesign. But you almost definitely know that already. After a walk, a bus and then a very long walk we made it to Pinkie Park and met up with Ben, Alex, Adam and Holly for photos and war stories. Adam clocked 3:32 – a truly monumental debut run. He looked like he’d just jogged for a bus. Our team effort seemed a bit weak by comparison, but our 3:16:51 was good enough for 30th place overall out of almost 1000 relay teams. We missed our 3:10 target but could hardly complain; everyone gave their all and Stevie might at least have got a laugh out of our team name.

Alex, Ben and I faced further transport shenanigans – a very long walk, a very long bus, then a very very long walk to finally back to the car. We nipped off for burritos before drawing the elite training weekend to a close with an innuendo-laden goodbye at Edinburgh Waverley. I will see them again in a very small number of weeks.

Well after ten p.m. in these northern latitudes the sun set on the 365th day since Steven Sims passed away. A new tree was planted for him with a plaque bearing his motto:

“No excuses, play like a champion.”

Happy running


P.S. Donations to ITP Support Association and The Wooden Spoon, in Steven’s memory, can be made via the Steven Sims Cavaliers here: 

2013 to date: miles run - 483.14, races: 3 and a bit, parkruns: 1, miles biked: 23, metres swum: 1000

Friday, 10 May 2013

Simsply the best

Almost one year ago, an impossible tragedy shook us to the core.

On a balmy Edinburgh night in May, Steven Sims passed away very suddenly. He had been diagnosed with idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) – an illness that wiped out all the platelets in his blood – no treatment could have saved him. He had complained of feeling unwell on the Tuesday, and died on the Saturday night. He was 23.

The following morning, I ran an arduous PW at the Edinburgh marathon. A couple of friends ran their debuts. We spent the day thinking of Steve and getting sunburnt. You may have read about it already.

The next few days and weeks dragged by, sustained by an enormous outpouring of love for Steven coming from all corners. Tributes came in their hundreds, if not thousands, from every facet of Steven’s life. A statement of condolence from the Scottish Rugby Union came on the same day as a card from a sandwich shop in St Andrews. His funeral was attended by over 600 people, including his enormous family, legions of friends, his two rugby clubs, school, university, and his pipe band. The highlight was a video that captured everything Steven was about: rugby, jokes, music, banter. Being a good guy. Watch it now:

The last year has not been easy for Steven’s family or his friends. But ‘wonderboy’ continues to motivate people – his friends running marathons and starting rugby clubs in his name to raise money for the ITP Support Association and Wooden Spoon, the rugby charity. People are giving him the kind of legacy he deserves. Doing the kind of things he would be impressed by.

So where do I fit into this? And what of Neil and Alex, the two men who summoned the strength to run their first marathons with such horrific news sitting raw and heavily on their shoulders?

We’re going back to the Edinburgh marathon, of course.

This year we are running the marathon relay, our team name – Simsply the best - inspired by Steve’s affection for atrocious puns and a nifty summary of the man himself. Joined by Ben, our Wall Run team mate, we will be busting out the most lung-wrenching, eyeballs-out race we can manage, as a tribute to Steven and a positive means of marking the anniversary of that atrocious day. We might raise a little awareness about ITP, or a few pounds for the charities he has become associated with. It’s not much, but it’s what we do best.

In full flow representing the finest University RFC in the world
It is a cliché to idolise those who die young, but in Steven Sims the terms are justified. Very few people’s memories generate so much positivity out of such devastating tragedy. One friend put it: “Steve has done in passing what he was famous for in life- inspiring everyone around him to be and do better.”

Simsply the best indeed.

Happy running,


P.S. If you feel compelled and enthused to donate some cash in Steven's memory, go for it via the Steven Sims Cavaliers page:

2013 to date: miles run - 425.77, races: 2 and a bit, parkruns: 1, miles biked: 23, metres swum: 1000