12 years ago, I ran my first half marathon, venturing across the border to Edinburgh. It wasn’t pretty and I didn’t have a Scooby Doo what I was doing, but I got around. That evening, we went out for a celebratory meal, discussing whether or not I’d ever do another one. Consensus at the time was ‘probably unlikely’. We laughed even harder at the suggestion that maybe one day, Mum would lace up her trainers and start running. If only we had the ability to see into the future..
The Edinburgh marathon ‘festival’ is a regular feature in the Spraggins/Lysons diary. I’ve now done the marathon twice (2008, 2016) and the half three times (2007, 2017, 2019). The city is absolutely one of our favourites, with plenty of great restaurants, bars, green spaces and culture (apparently).
We took the train up on the Friday night, complete with pre-bought picnic and plenty of entertainment. I’d downloaded the last couple of episodes of Game of Thrones onto my phone, enabling me to deny Katie any kind of attention whatsoever. There were a few other Chasers on the train, so the running chat flowed and time passed quickly.
Saturday morning dawned with the obligatory parkrun on the agenda. There’s 2 to choose from in Edinburgh, with Portobello definitely providing the nicer option, so we headed there. With my life-threatening bout of man flu refusing to p*ss off, I’d already made the somewhat sensible decision not to race the half marathon the following day. This did free up the option of blowing away the cobwebs at parkrun without worrying about knackering myself out.
With Chaser speedsters Ed Rees and Andrew Wallace concentrating on the half, surely this opened up the door for me to nick the coveted ‘first Chaser’ position. Ed even assured me, under no circumstances would he go past me, opting for a more ‘controlled’ effort.
We kicked off, and for the opening mile, the Chasers proudly led the race, 3 abreast, wondering where all the real runners were. Turns out they were behind us, and after the first of 3 laps was completed, people started to make their moves. After an over-enthusiastic 5:35 first mile, I was heading backwards in a hurry.
As always, as soon as a race materialises, all bets are off; as are Andrew and Ed – up the road chasing the leader. Who needs a good performance in the half when 1st finisher at Portobello parkrun is up for grabs, right? It pains me to inform you, that after ruthlessly stabbing me in the back, they ended up 3rd and 4th, a mere 6 seconds behind the leader. Shame.
I ended up 9th in 18:08 – not my finest but a solid enough effort. Chaser bobble hats were out in force, with most taking the sensible option of a more conservative effort ahead of the big day tomorrow. Katie was even fairly restrained for once.
By this time the elite athlete bus had rolled into town, depositing both my mother (paired with Dave the Lion as a one man support crew) and running celebrity Tom Fairbrother – a lad I’m rather proud to call my friend. The 5 of us headed for a bite to eat, sharing some nervous running chat before an early night.
With the half starting at 8am, we were up before 6, fuelling up (or not in Mum’s case – rookie error) before jumping in a taxi to the start. Whilst you can pretty much guarantee a brilliantly organised race in Edinburgh, one thing you definitely cannot rely on is the weather. It was absolutely miserable – heavy ran and a decent breeze blowing.
Thankfully, race HQ was based around the university, and there were plenty of buildings to shelter in, with ample toilets, avoiding the dreaded portaloo’s – winner. With 15 minutes to go, we stripped off, dropped bags and parted ways with Mum to go and get a quick warm up in. For some reason, she had decided to wear this utterly ridiculous fishing hat.
I’m saying we at this point – Katie was in the unfortunate position of being stuck with me for the morning. It had been ‘agreed’ that I would run with her, nobly sacrificing my own race for my wonderful partner. Absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I was still moaning about being ill, and therefore there was no way I could actually pull my finger out and race myself.
The only rule was that I had to run alongside her, instead of 2 meters ahead of her, which I appreciate is probably incredibly annoying. No problems though, easily achievable.
The first mile is mostly downhill, which offers a chance to bank some ‘free speed’. We just about negotiated this, before the first argument started. Something about me running 2 meters ahead of her.
We made up on the fly, and things settled down as I started to behave myself. I had a couple of brief conversations with people I knew, and shouted out to a few club mates on the opening out-and-back section in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat. From here, ‘racing’ mode was engaged and Katie was all business.
Being one of the most modest people I know (opposites attract apparently), she’d been coy in the build up regarding what kind of time she wanted to run, but I knew a PB could be on the cards if things went well. In the early stages, this seemed in doubt, with us falling slightly behind pace. Still – a long way to go.
Through 5km in a little under 21 minutes, we turned onto the seafront down in Portobello. The field had spread out by now, and we were caught by the Flying Friz, Luke Frizoni, who’s on a steep upward improvement curve at the moment. He charged by, and I may or may not have said to Katie that we’ll catch him at mile 9.
Battling through the wind and rain, 10km passed in 41:05 and she seemed to be getting stronger by the minute. There was a notable increase in pace, and we started to move through the field nicely. Rather embarrassingly, instead of letting her past, a fair few chaps let their ego’s get the better of them, surging when she tried to overtake. This lasted for all of 7 seconds, before they folded, realising that this train wasn’t one they’d be boarding today.
At around mile 9, you pass the finishing area in Musselburgh, heading for a 2 mile stretch along the coast before turning around and heading home. Mystic Spragg had called it correctly, as we pulled alongside the Friz on schedule. Thankfully, Luke had purchased his ticket in advance, and he boarded – not that he was given much choice in the matter with muggins here stamping the tickets.
There are a couple of hills en route to the turnaround point, and I told them to save some beans to attack these before recovering down the other side. To be fair to them both, they absolutely savaged themselves up the first one, passing loads of people and really turning the screw. At one point I thought we’d also picked up Darth Vader, before realising it was Katie trying to heave some air into her lungs.
As we approached the turnaround point, I was counting the females coming the other way, noting that Katie was well inside the top 20. Game on. We turned with 2 miles to go, into a pretty stiff headwind. Time to throw the kitchen sink at it, with whatever you’ve got left. Every time I looked at either one of them, agony was etched on their faces.
The last mile seemed to go on forever, with the final turn into the finish hidden from view. I knew a good time was up for grabs, it was just a case of eeking out each and every second. ‘No point throwing it away now’, is one of my favourite one-liners. We hit the finishing straight, with the only thing up for debate now being whether or not Luke was going to do the gentlemanly thing and let Katie cross the line first.
He did what every runner would do in this situation – turned on the after-burners and showed us a clean pair of heels. Not that Katie even knew where he was at this point – she admitted to me afterwards that she didn’t have a clue where anything was, other than the finish line.
After we finished, they both deposited themselves in crumpled heaps by the barriers; the sign of any well executed race. Finishing time – 1:26:34. Beat her PB by over a minute. 16th female. Smashed it. It was so good to see after months of setbacks and injury.
No time to hang around after finishing. The real athlete was still out on the course. Dave the Lion had reported a sighting of her passing mile 9, so we eagerly lined up by the barriers, awaiting her arrival.
At this point, I have to admit to being quite concerned – if anything happened to her I’d never be able to forgive myself.. Thankfully, we soon spotted her making her way towards us – slightly damp, tired, but still smiling. At that moment I don’t think their was a prouder person in the whole of Edinburgh.
It’s incredible to think how far Mum has come. She’s gone from doing absolutely nothing, to conquering a half marathon, making it look like a relative walk in the park in the process. A perfect example of how capable we are of doing things that seem impossible at the time, but just require a determined attitude and a nice dollop of hard graft.
We’ll scoot over the fact that I think it took longer to reach the car than it did Mum to run the race, with a near total loss of leg function on her part. I was tempted to pick her up and carry her most of the way, but I was feeling pretty knackered myself by this point.
After getting back and freshening up, we met up with Tom, who’d absolutely nailed the marathon, running 2:36 in proper testing conditions. It had been suggested we might train together for upcoming autumn races. If ‘traning with’ means running a few minutes behind him, I could be on board with that.
Not content with only running a half/marathon, we managed to drag him up Arthurs Seat, complete with a massive backpack with all his weekend gear on his back. A nice little ‘recovery’ walk.
So, Katie continues to reel me in. I look forward to a day in the near future when it’ll be her pacing me, dragging me along towards the finish. Maybe she’ll even wear a flat cap.