A few weeks ago, I swapped my hiking boots for running shoes to take part in the Edinburgh Marathon. After dashing around the city’s iconic landmarks, and beating out miles along the coast, I can confirm this marathon is as ‘fast and flat’ as the organisers promise.
My Own Marathon Experience
Like countless other runners, I had entered the ballot for the London Marathon year after year, and failed. As a milestone birthday approached, I wanted to challenge myself with a ‘big’ physical challenge, harder than anything else I had accomplished. Inevitably I failed in the London Marathon ballot again (sixth year running); undeterred, I spent ages scrawling through running magazines, blogs, Facebook groups, etc, until I reached my decision: I would run the Edinburgh Marathon.
As a newbie to marathon running, the course promised to be fast and flat, and equally beautiful. This all sounded good to me, but the added appeal for the Edinburgh Marathon for me was the charity spots. Part of my plan was to raise money for a charity close to my heart, and with London charity affiliates asking for a minimum sponsorship of £1200+, I worried I would struggle to meet that fundraising threshold. For the Edinburgh Marathon, charity affiliate spots asked for minimum sponsorship of around £500, and still offered the same support for the event as they did for other races. Eventually I chose Marie Curie.
So with my running spot booked, I focused on the next stage: training.
My Training Plan
Finding the right training plan took a lot of searching. Many plans required six days a week of running and gym training, and realistically, I didn’t have that time to give. Moreover, I travel a lot, so I needed a plan that could be flexible with my schedule.
The Nike+ running app turned out to be an ideal fit. It created a six-month training plan with three exercises a week, that I could complete whenever, wherever. Each week the plan consisted of speed interval sessions, a long-distance run, benchmark runs and recovery runs. I found the balance ideal and the additional challenges the app set motivating towards helping me maintain my training schedule.
The Marathon Route
The route starts near the University of Edinburgh, where there’s plenty of opportunities to sneak in a strategic toilet break before hitting the starting line. The route then snakes past several of the city’s iconic monuments, including the Scottish National Gallery and the Scott Monument, before veering back onto the Royal Mile and gliding past Scottish Parliament and Arthur’s Seat. For runners that have never visited Edinburgh, the marathon route can act as an opportunity to squeeze in some sightseeing.
Most of the route follows the coast; the scenery is pleasant, but it can be quiet. For runners that need motivation from a crowd, this might be the hardest section of the marathon. Not only that, but the route turns around at Gosford House and follows the coast back towards Musselburgh – having fast runners pass you, or facing the prospect of having to run back from whence you came can be a mental minefield for runners!
In my experience, I found hitting the 13-mile mark the most difficult, as all I could think about was that I had to complete that distance again. Luckily some other runners felt the same, and we distracted ourselves by chit-chatting together. Before I knew it mile 19 arrived, and all I could think was ‘Only seven (six, five, four, etc) miles to go!’ Funnily enough, other marathon runners found this section the most difficult; in their minds all they could think was ‘I’ve got another hour of running to complete’. It just shows how running is equally an exercise in mental stamina as physical ability, and how different people can react.
If Hogmanay and the Fringe are anything to go by, Edinburgh loves any excuse for a party. The support from the locals made the Edinburgh marathon particularly special. Whether it was the imaginative (and often belly-laughter-inducing) signs they waved, turning their houses into giant sound systems, or even the kids handing out sweets and cheering, having the support of the local crowds was hugely motivating towards reaching the finishing line. Which brings me to my next point…
The Finishing Line Celebrations
The final mile of the Edinburgh Marathon has it all; lots of cheering crowds, upbeat music, and runners motivating each other to keep going. Seeing that finishing line and realising that the past six months of training had not been for nothing, well, it was an overwhelming feeling.
Edinburgh Marathon organisers have turned the finishing line into a military-precision process. As soon as you cross the threshold there are rows with teams of people ready to hand out bags with your medal, an emergency blanket, snacks and water. Beyond that is the charity village (with lots of food and beer), the meet-up point, and lots of toilets and more water stations.
Marie Curie invited all of its runners to pay a visit to their tent at the end of the race; the scene when I arrived can only be described as total bliss. Lots of salt-loaded snacks, chilled water, free massages and friendly staff on hand to chat and help you with whatever you need.
There was a festive atmosphere in the rest of the village, with lots of toasts and celebrations. After hours of eating sickly-sweet energy gels and Haribo I was craving an ice-cold pint, but the queue was enormous. We decided to head back into Edinburgh’s centre, and continue the celebrations there.
Top Tips from my Marathon Experience
The Edinburgh Marathon is a fun, well-organised race and I would heartily recommend anyone thinking of joining it to sign right up. I would take the following points into consideration though:
Book accommodation and transport well in advance. Edinburgh is popular year-round with lots of different types of tourists. Accommodation isn’t cheap in the city, and as availability decreases the prices sky-rocket.
Arrive a day or two before the race. The trains to Edinburgh are crammed with people the day before the marathon. Consider arriving a day early and avoid the crowds; plus you have the chance to pick up any last-minute items you might have forgotten at home.
Bring some back-up gels. The Edinburgh Marathon organisers supply energy gels to runners throughout the event. Yet if certain flavours make you want to toss your cookies (lemon and lime flavour gets me every time) then consider bringing some back-ups just in case.
Organise ‘support spots’ and meet-up points ahead of the race. The only downside to the Edinburgh Marathon is that it doesn’t provide tracking information on runners for supporters; instead, they recommend using a Strava feature you have to pay for. Instead I set my pace and organised with my awesome supporters around what time I would plan to arrive at particular spots along the race. I also sent a location pinpoint through WhatsApp periodically to keep them updated on my progress along the route.
Plan some form of celebration afterwards. Edinburgh is filled with cosy bars and restaurants featuring some of the best fare Scotland has to offer, and with thousands of extra people in the city, tables and seats get booked up fast. Make sure you book your bum a spot somewhere nice at least a week in advance, otherwise you might end up crashing in your hotel room – but perhaps that might be what you want to do anyway?