The 26.2 miles of the Edinburgh Marathon Festival
Edinburgh Marathon Festival. An IAAF Bronze Label European road marathon. Maybe a bit less known if comparing it to other marathons, but I guess it's one you should add to your bucket list after all. Maybe I even liked to run this marathon the most of the marathons I ran so far.
Scotland is an awesome country with an impressive culture, landscape and history. And the Scottish people are one of the best crowds you can wish for. Open, warmhearted, friendly and outspoken.
After the marathon in Paris, the Edinburgh Marathon Festival was my second full marathon in a mere seven weeks time. Is it healthy? Running two times a full marathon in a row? Maybe not. Is it worth it? Absolutely.
Forty-eight days before Edinburgh, I ran the Paris marathon under hot conditions. Great for ambiance with the crowds cheering, not so great for a good race pace. What will Scotland bring further up North? The same heat! :D The conditions in Edinburgh were a bit the same as they were in Paris; warm weather, sunshine. The air felt humid and this time, as a bonus, we could feel a consistent strong wind from the sea. Also, an important aspect to bear in mind; the start of the Edinburgh marathon is downtown, but you will leave the city to return later that day by bus while wearing your (very cool!) finisher t-shirt and medal.
In this race, you run over a half-marathon away from Edinburgh to the East along the coast and through villages. At the far end of the way, you will turn into an old park of a manor house. In this sector, you better be prepared: despite the fact that you are running in an IAAF Bronze Label road race, there is in that park also a section to run on gravel. It's not really a dirt road, neither a tarmac road, but something in between. But gravel for sure it is.
You will finish in the town of Musselburgh. In this aspect, the marathon of Edinburgh can be very well labeled as a coastal run too, instead of a city run.
Nevertheless, it's a very enjoyable marathon and the Scottish people are the best! I can't recall ever having given so many high fives to the children who were standing along the road to give away some sweets. Heartwarming!
Regarding the elevation, the tracks of Paris and Edinburgh are quite similar: both reasonably flat (after London, Edinburgh is the 2nd fastest track in the UK on paper), but still a lot of false flats and some short slopes to run to an identical elevation gain, like Paris (of around +240m).
So, regarding the climbs, the Edinburgh marathon was quite similar to the Paris marathon, which is why I gave it a go to start on the same time schedule as I did in Paris. With the tactics to run the first 10 KM just a slightly bit more modest to see how things would go. Just a few seconds off my pace in Paris.
Within a few miles, I felt that I was feeling fit but that the legs were lacking sufficient carbs in the muscles for the 42.195 KM distance. They felt a bit fatigued, probably due to too much strolls the day before in the magnificent historical city and also, of course, due to the fact that I was still not fully recuperated from the marathon in Paris the month before.
I already ran two marathons with nice encounters over 5 and 12 kms with the notorious marathon wall and was quite sure that the man with the hammer would wait for me that day as well. You could say I have become an expert already on how to deal with 'the wall'... ;-) So, I decided to drop another few seconds off my pace to save the energy I would surely need in the last part of the race.
Also, the sun, in combination with the air humidity, made it tough. So I immediately started to pour water to avoid hyperthermia. Due to the wind, it's harder to sense that your body can be heating up too much while running a long distance under a burning sun. You also have to bear in mind that the marathon starts at 10 AM (in Paris around 8 AM). Running in wet clothes is a bit heavier, perhaps, but I prefer to keep my head cool instead of dropping down unconscious ;-)
Despite all precautions, already at the 19 KM mark the first signs of a lack of carbs in the muscles appeared. I saw already a pace drop on my watch of 14 seconds while still running with the same effort. The man with the hammer was coming very soon that day. I immediately started to eat an extra gel and an energy bar I had stocked in my pockets before heading to the next water point.
These tactics worked and with extra nutrition, I could go back to the same pace for another 7 kms. As a marathoner you never take anything for granted, so I had four energy bars myself in my pockets. I needed them.
Till the 29 KM mark I was succeeding at my damage control efforts and was still running on a nice schedule. But then, somewhere in that park, the juice this time was really gone. Maybe also psychologically, due to running a mile on gravel and also because in that park there was hardly any crowd to give some encouragement.
At the 31 KM mark I saw on my watch that, despite my efforts, I was now running a slower pace than the one I ran at the Amsterdam marathon. That was the point I realized I probably had to let go of my goal to break the time I ran in Paris.
I decided to wait and see when the track changed back to tarmac again. But back on the road it felt even warmer than before... A nice aspect, though, is that you run in the opposite direction of the same track, so you see all the other runners.
It was also here where I encountered my cousin Richard in the opposite direction. While he was running his first marathon, he was still in good shape and enjoying himself. We gave each other a high five and I shouted "I will wait at the finish line with a medal, a finisher t-shirt and cold drinks for the both of us!".
Back on the tarmac road I succeeded at getting back to the pace I ran before for some kilometers; but at the 35K mark, near the village of Prestonpans, with consistent false flats... (and between buildings it was even more hotter!) Tough!
Two times I managed to strike back at the Marathon man by taking extra nutrition; his third hit was a right upper cut. "3rd strike! And... You're out!"
In the next 5 KM I lost minutes to my schedule. The last mile or 2 KM the crowds along the road gave an enormous boost to the finish line. I managed to get back to the same pace I ran at the start of the marathon and the last KM I even got back to my 10K race pace, low in the 4mins/km. All thanks to the crowd!
The Edinburgh Marathon Festival is one to add to your bucket list. A bit different if we compare it to other official labeled international marathon events, maybe, but that is what I liked about it.
There wasn't any big commercial expo, for instance, because the organization will send you your Bib by Royal Mail to your home.
Instead, there is a Square where you can all gather. It's around the starting line of the other events of that weekend, to enjoy the ambiance of the Saturday races (10K, 5K, kids' run etc.).
Sunday is the exclusive race day for the Half-marathon, with its start at 8 AM and the full Marathon (and Marathon Relay) at 10 AM. there are two different starting lines: depending on your wave, you will start downtown on Regent Street, or on London Street for the faster waves.
At the water points along the track, I couldn't discover any bananas. Instead, the organization will provide energy gels with apple flavor on several spots. They weren't that bad and were also fresh in taste.
Water is provided in the same size of bottles as the one they use in the Paris marathon.
This is also the only marathon where you might hear bagpipes playing when you cross the starting line. Quite impressive and a big Like.
Friendly people, friendly organisation. Amazing sceneries and nature. Amazing history and architecture in Edinburgh. And a very good marathon as well.
The Finish Line is not in Edinburgh but in the town of Musselburgh on a large sports complex from a school.
They have created a nice finisher village with sufficient facilities for foods, drinks, toilets... oh, and haggis, of course! Do you dare to try to eat that?
Because you have to take a bus back to the city, everybody tends to stay around the Finish Line to enjoy the afternoon, which indeed really gives the idea of a festival. One tip regarding this bus-shuttle: the local bus enterprise probably refuses competition in its area, so the Marathon Shuttle Buses are quite a walk from the Finish Line. Instead, the local bus company has lined up all of its arsenal of double-deck buses right next to the Festival Area to bring you back downtown Edinburgh (for around £2.80).
I'm now 16 months a runner with three marathons under the belt (Amsterdam 10/16, Paris 4/17 and Edinburgh 5/17).
You can't compare one marathon with another, every marathon and city is unique. But maybe I liked this one so far the most.
Oh, and my time? Slower than Paris (3:46:29) but faster than Amsterdam (4:00:31). With 3:53:12, ranking 1391th overall, 198th in my category. Two marathons in 7 weeks... Two times where the weather conditions didn't help me break through 3:30.
Let's see, for this Autumn, if I can run another marathon or two.. as you can run every week a nice marathon in Europe ;-)