Rock ‘n’ Roll Edinburgh Half Marathon 2012
Official Time: 2hrs 01min 50secs
Overall placing: 1835 out of 3748 finishers
Gender: 607 out of 1922
Age group: 382 out of 1193
The much-hyped Competitor Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series rolled into Europe for the first time last weekend on the 14th and 15th of April, for the first stop on their ‘European Tour’ in Edinburgh. This race replaced the former ADT Edinburgh Half Marathon and a complete race overhaul had been promised, replacing this well known event with a new type of racing experience for the UK. The Rock ‘n’ Roll races have been going strong in hundreds of locations throughout the United States for the last 15 years; promising a big Race Expo the day before, live music at every mile on the course, plentiful food and refreshments during and after the race and a finish-line concert and festival atmosphere.
Having been an avid reader of many American running blogs for several years now, I was familiar with the Rock ‘n’ Roll series and keen to see how they would develop a race in the UK. When it turned out that their first step outside of the US would be more-or-less on my doorstep, I jumped at the chance to give the race a go and signed up on the day registration opened at a heavily discounted rate. I can’t recall exactly how much I paid and have no email receipt of payment; but I think it was either £20 or £22. That is a fair contrast to the £39 standard entry up until the 8th April, and £42 being charged for late entry at the expo. However, you get what you pay for, so I was really hoping that the quality of the event would match the steep prices.
I took the train down on Saturday morning with Naomi, and after checking into our hotels we headed over to the Expo which was held in Holyrood Park alongside the start and finish. The Race had followed the American model of insisting that runners pick up their race packet and ‘swag bag’ the day before, or else pay £5 to have it mailed out to you if you booked this well in advance. I suppose there are arguments on both sides for this – the race gets to draw in thousands of extra visitors to a city for a weekend and can entice many sports vendors to trade at the expo with the promise of lots of foot traffic. However if you live outside of Edinburgh but within commuting distance for the race, then having to make two trips over two days may not be to everyone’s taste. I think the extortionate charge just to get your packet mailed to you left a bad taste in quite a few people’s mouths before the race had even begun due to blatant profiteering, however the Competitor Group is a moneymaking business and therefore such things ought to be expected.
The race expo itself was quieter than I imagined. When we arrived there was a large stage set up with the Red Hot Chilli Pipers performing, and a circle of tents of varying sizes punctuated by groups of port-a-loos. We quickly received our race packets without any queuing at all, and were directed to another tent where we could select the size of our souvenir race t-shirt. They even had Women specific sizing – what a treat!
After a brief wander around the stalls, we stopped to watch the rest of the concert. Standing listening to the people around me I was surprised by the amount of American voices I was hearing – I learned later that many hundreds of Americans had taken the opportunity to skip across the pond for this and the press stated that 43 US states were represented. Many runners were wearing apparel from other Rock n Roll races and I spotted a few wearers of the infamous Boston Marathon jackets as well. I suppose by earning a place and finishing the Boston Marathon you earn a certain amount of bragging rights, but my inner cynic can’t quite stop raising a somewhat judgey eyebrow at the reasoning behind stalking around a fun race expo in such an item. I guess in a crowd of runners some will always have the need to define themselves as different from the rest. For the record I was wearing a Brewdog Punk IPA shirt 😉
After we’d had our fill of amplified bagpipes I headed back to my hotel room to sort out my things and have a snooze. It was regrettable to be in the Capital and having to take it easy but I was pretty tired and wanted to rest up rather than go exploring. I took the time to lay out my kit, double check the procedure for race morning and make sure I had absolutely everything I needed.
Race gear – black long sleeve under Fetch top and Nike running skirt, paired with gloves and 2XU calf sleeves. The weather forecast had been a bit unstable but the one thing we knew was that it was going to be chilly first thing.
Breakfast supplies – I knew that I’d be too early for breakfast at my hotel and would be receiving a breakfast tray outside my door. I wanted to make sure I had the bare minimum required to get me around the course in one piece just in case the breakfast tray was substandard.
At 6pm I headed back out to meet Naomi for dinner and we decided, for all the magnificent eateries that Edinburgh has, to stick with a trip to the Filling Station as we knew we’d be able to get what we wanted to eat there. The Filling Station is a banal American-style diner chain which serves bog-standard American food at mildly inflated prices. Normally the kind of place I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole but it was within 5 minutes walk of our hotels and had exactly the food we needed.
Chicago-style deep dish margarita pizza with a side of coleslaw. Doughy, cheesy, delicious.
I was back in my hotel room by 8pm and was actually looking forward to a quiet night in for the first time in a while, even if it wasn’t in my own house. I was planning on watching some terrible TV, drinking lots of water, speaking to some friends on the phone and getting my head in the game for a good race.
Honestly, by that time in the evening I still didn’t know what I wanted from myself for the race. I knew I was comparatively under-trained, but that I was still more than capable of the distance. Since I hadn’t been running much since the D33 Ultra a month before I had grounds for reasonable doubts in myself, and unfortunately negativity began to creep in. Was I going to hurt myself? Could I keep a good pace? Did I want to try and PB or should I just cruise around and enjoy it? What if I fell to bits and had to walk? Was it worth my trying hard or was I just going to embarrass myself? Something someone had said to me the night before whilst drunk in the pub about my lack of training was playing on my mind as well – it was said in jest without any harm, but what if he had a point?
Sitting alone in a shabby hotel room by oneself can be quite a catalyst for snowballing thoughts and I quickly managed to completely freak myself out. Thank heavens for smart phones and my lovely family of twitter runners who quickly offered kind and encouraging words of support. I chattered away with my friends around the country and wondered how many others were doing the same thing; sitting alone in a hotel room in a strange city on race eve, going over their race plan, questioning themselves and their ability, trying to stay positive and to keep the faith in themselves. Suddenly I really didn’t feel so isolated at all and reminded myself of how much I had to be grateful for – grateful that I’m fit enough to casually knock out a half marathon, grateful that I’m financially stable enough to indulge my selfish hobby by travelling to different cities to race, and grateful that of all the things in life I had to worry about – doing well in a race was currently at the top of my list.
Anxiety satiated, I turned off the light and went to sleep.
Sunday morning dawned bright and dry and I was pleased to see the sun peaking through the blinds as I woke up, well rested after a surprisingly good night’s sleep. I snuck my head around my door to see if the promised breakfast tray had arrived and found myself presented with this:
Fruit, cereal bars, rock solid ‘pastries’ and scones with condiments and a greasy muffin. I was glad to have made sure I had my own supplies! I ate the fruit with my sachet of almond butter and got to work on the instant coffee and the muffin. I couldn’t bring myself to try the odd looking pain au chocolat or croissant, and the scone was so hard it could have broken a window so I left those behind.
At 07:15 I headed off to Naomi’s hotel to leave my bags and we walked the mile or so to the start area. There were a steady stream of runners wrapped up in outer layers and bin liners all heading in the same direction – whilst the sun was out there was a bitter light breeze and as soon as you were in the shade it was very cold.
Instructions had asked us to be at the starting area by 8, but we needn’t have been there that early at all. However that did give me the chance to meet up with some twitter runners for the first time and chat away our pre-race nerves. A few blog readers also came up and said hello – it was lovely to meet you all, and I hope you had wonderful races!
Naomi was wearing Fetch colours at a big race for the first time and standing together the two of us attracted the of attention from fellow Fetchies and Fetch supporters. We were able to meet lots of other Fetchies who were running including several of the Aberdeen crowd.
The race photographers were all over the place and we got our picture taken many times. I love this one but at £30 for a digital download…I won’t be taking advantage of marathonfoto.com’s ‘great deals’…
Before long we were being directed to the starting corrals by the perky American compere girl. I realised at this point that I was under the impression that this race was going to feel a lot larger – there were ~4000 runners on the day which in fact is around the same size as the Aberdeen Baker Hughes 10k. The biggest race I have done so far is the Great Scottish Run last September which had 8500 Half Marathon finishers, in addition to around 10,000 10k runners – the atmosphere at that event was HUGE. The start was completely electric and the organisers had done an excellent job of creating a party atmosphere with booming music, circus performers and stilt walkers, and obviously; thousands of people. This was an aspect in which I found that the Rock N Roll Half fell slightly short of expectations; the start lacked the crucial electric excitement which can be created in large groups of people and it just seemed like everyone was hanging around shivering in bin liners, desperate to get started. The music wasn’t very loud and only appeared to be playing at the very start of the corrals, there was an absolutely horrendous rendition of ‘Flower Of Scotland’ performed by an Edinburgh’s Got Talent contestant and our compere’s attempts to rouse cheers seemed to fail slightly due to typical Scottish blanket lack of enthusiasm about anything. I’m not sure exactly what went wrong or how best they could improve it for next year, but I think a decent sound system and banging tunes are a pretty good place to start for a self-proclaimed ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ race.
The corrals were assigned by predicted race time, I was in corral 4 which was for 1hr 55m runners. This was the time which I had guessed when I signed up last September, which that morning I considered to be a little over ambitious so I slipped right to the back of the corral to be by the 2:00 pace group. The corrals were set off every three minutes after 9am so to ease congestion on the course. I was really, really cold by now and wanted more than anything to finally get running as I sadly cast aside my bin liner and shuffled to the start with my corral. A countdown of 5-4-3-2-1 by the comperes and we were finally off…
I had decided that my goal was to run around an easy 9:30ish pace for the first half, deal with the big hills which came up around 6-10 miles and then blast the last 3 miles to the finish. As I held my 9:30ish runners were flying past me and for the entire first 5k, every three minutes where would be a rush of runners speed past as yet another corral was released and people got carried away and started fast. As ever I reassured myself that I was running my own race and that I’d be passing all of these runners later on as they blew up on the course for starting too fast.
There was, as promised, a band playing at the first mile – even though it was ~9:15am in a residential area! There were quite a lot of residents out sitting on their walls or hanging out of their windows though, which was a pleasant surprise. The first 5k had us making our way East towards Leith and the Firth of Forth. This was by far the most uninteresting part of the race in terms of scenery, but when we burst on to the Promenade at Leith in the sunshine that more than made up for it.
Mile 1 – 9:34
Mile 2 – 9:18
Mile 3 – 9:26
After coasting along the flat Promenade we were greeted by big signs saying ‘Welcome to Portobello!’ and the course support grew in numbers. Running back through Portobello was very beautiful including some awkward cobbled parts and a church with its bells peeling loudly. The first of the long slow climbs took us out of Portobello back towards Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park and I was pleased to find my legs responding well to the hills and barely registering them in terms of my pace.
Mile 4 – 9:23
Mile 5 – 9:25 (gel taken at 5.5mi)
Mile 6 – 9:46
I passed the 10k point at around 57 minutes by my watch, but the timing map has me at 1hr 05min. I had had a few wobbly moments in the first few miles where negative thoughts crept in, but by the time I reached 10k comfortably I began to relax. The weather was perfect – sunny but with a sharp cooling breeze which prevented any overheating. I had taken water at one stop and powerade at another and taken my first of two gels after about 50 minutes of running. They were serving GU gels on the course at around 6.5 miles but I had decided not to take any. Despite free things usually appealing to my tight Aberdonian nature, I really can’t stomach GU and find it far too thick for my tastes. I stuck as usual with my High5 caffeinated raspberry gels, which I still maintain taste exactly like jam.
I was excited to feel the course turn back towards the city centre. As we crested the hill in Holyrood park we enjoyed a speedy downhill section between 7.5 and 8.5 miles which brought us very close to the finish line at Holyrood where the race had already been won by Portuguese lady, Leonar Carniero in 1hr 16mins 14secs.
Mile 7 – 9:46
Mile 8 – 9:29
Mile 9 – 9:40
I was mentally ready for another long slog – all the way up the Cowgate and the Grassmarket, which would be the last big climb of the race. Again I was able to keep my pace steady as others stopped to walk or were panting and wheezing up the hills. It occurred to me that I could probably be working a lot harder – how much faster could I get my half marathon time if I had my foot on the gas, so to speak, for the entire race duration? I felt a bit guilty and lazy again for not having worked hard for this race…
Running through the City Centre was fantastic. Even though it was still relatively early in the day there were many tourists and supporters about. It was particularly fun running up the Cowgate and having people shout down at you from the high bridge above. I was enjoying the bands too, but they weren’t a stand out feature of the race sadly as we really only heard them for 10 – 20 seconds at best as we passed them.
At 10 miles the course made its way back in to a residential area before curving around and through the Meadows. Here I was snapped with a big smile on my face by Fetchie EllenM!
I’m not sure who or what I was smiling about, but possibly it was because I’d realised I’d passed 10 miles in 1:34. All I needed to do to get a new PB was do a 30 minute 5k and I’d be laughing…it was time to put the foot down and go!
I loved the last three miles – running past the University, over the George the VI bridge, over the Royal Mile and flying down the Mound towards Princes Street Gardens. There were lots of crowds now and people were cheering “Go Fetchie!” and calling out my name as I passed. As I predicted earlier in the race, as I picked up my pace I was passing people left right and centre who were shuffling along looking uncomfortable. My legs were feeling great, my stomach was feeling great and I knew exactly where the course was going so I could mentally picture the finish and how to pace my exertions.
The last two miles are mainly a blur, but I remember a man from Real Radio bellowing at us as we went along Market Street, telling us it was all down hill from here. A fair point to make, but at that precise location we were running UP HILL – I wonder how many times he was told that in the morning?! At the bottom of the Cannongate we arrived at Holyrood Palace and the barriers with the Rock ‘n’ Roll logos lined the street. This was it – the last 0.25 – puke threshold until I crossed that damned finishline! I knew I had a big PB in the bag but didn’t allow myself to look at my garmin and just pumped my arms and legs for all they were worth.
The crowds were in great form here and I loved having people shout out my name telling me to finish strong. I was dying inside and mentally going through the usual bargaining with myself along the lines of “30 seconds to go, you can do anything for 30 seconds…”, “Just cross that finish line and you never need to run another step again – you can quite in 30 seconds and you’ll never feel pain like this again…!”
Mile 10 – 9:06 (gel taken)
Mile 11 – 8:42
Mile 12 – 7:40
Mile 13.1 – 1:00
Upon finishing I immediately pulled over to the side until the urge to vomit subsided. A quick look at my watch showed 2:01:52 – unofficially 6 minutes off my personal best! Half grimacing, half grinning I staggered forward to be presented with my medal and shook my head in disbelief, what the hell happened there then?!
I collected an assortment of crisps, fruit, water and powerade and stumbled through the finishing chute. I was happily lost in my own world when someone tapped me on the shoulder and I realised I was standing next to Marko and Rhalou! Two runners who I have been tweeting with for at least the last year, who have the sweetest running love story in the world. After meeting on twitter, they met in person at the Great Scottish Run last year and crossed the finish line hand in hand and then lived happily ever after.
I met up with Naomi in our pre-arranged meeting spot and found that she had smashed her goal of achieving a sub-2 hour time – she was absolutely delighted!
I was especially pleased that this race issued foil blankets, or as I like to call them, VICTORY CAPES!
After we had eaten our post-race snacks we left the finish area quite quickly as we were getting cold. A quick shower at Naomi’s hotel and we were ready to get seriously refueled.
We were both on a huge post-race high and talked about our individual races non-stop until it was time for me to get my train at 5pm.
All in all the race was a great event and a day out well worth the race fee if you sign up as early as possible. I can see this race getting bigger and bigger in the years to come and I expect any teething issues experienced will be dealt with swiftly. A lot of runners appear to not have had their time registered which is causing a lot of frustration, and there were many people who experienced issues with the delivery of their paid-for race packets. Thankfully my personal experience was a good one, which delivered with a stonking new PB makes for a very positive review of this race. I’m not sure if I will do it next year – I am hoping for a big Spring Marathon instead – but I would definitely recommend it, particularly for first timers.
On Monday I was pretty sore – the hills had taken their toll on my glutes and calves but it felt good to be achey again. I have almost finished my 5 weeks to sub-50 10k plan and hope to share it with you by the weekend.