I can’t believe it has been eight months since I last put on my running shoes. It isn’t something I’m proud of, but I think I out-ran myself last year. What with the London Marathon and then the Edinburgh Half Marathon less than a month later, and all the training and prep that went with them, I was all out of love for running. It was also getting increasingly busy on the work front, and I was not in a good routine, so those evening training runs required to keep up my fitness level were lost on the wind of parenting and working.
I’m keen to get back in to some regular exercise again, as I know how beneficial it is for my physical and mental health, and by way of encouragement to myself, I thought writing about my last race would help. Part of my problem with running is I only seem to get out there when I have a race to train for, but then I overbook myself in to every race going and become disillusioned with running. It’s a bit of a Catch-22 and I ALWAYS lose the joy. So, somewhat predictably, after I completed the Edinburgh Half on the 28th May 2017 and with no future races booked, I decided to hang up my running shoes for a bit. Take a break and take a bit of the pressure off. Except there is now no impetus, and I’m doing nothing. And it’s EIGHT months later. However, I should point out this is not because I don’t want to be running, nor is it any reflection on my last race experience. In fact, the Edinburgh Half was one of the most positive races I’ve taken part in! Without further ado, please let me share my one and only half marathon experience (in the hope it encourages me to enter another at some point) …
As a way of keeping our fitness levels up after the London Marathon training, and as an additional fundraising opportunity to top up our charity pot for the marathon, my mum and I decided to do the Edinburgh Half. The Edinburgh Half is part of the Edinburgh Marathon Festival weekend, with several races of a variety of distances taking place. We have previously run in the 10K race at the festival, and enjoyed the route. It was a loop of Arthur’s Seat and the surrounding Duddingston area, which afforded wonderful views across the city – I would highly recommend it. Don’t be put off by Arthur’s Seat, as once you get past the first major incline, it evens out and it really is the most beautiful place to run. All the races take place over a weekend at the end of May, with the shorter distances and junior races on the Saturday, and the longer distance events on the Sunday with a staggered start.
It is fair to say that we didn’t really train as we should have for the Edinburgh Half, instead flying by the seat of our London Marathon pants. So, it was with the merest hint of apprehension that we made our way to the start line at a hideously early time on a Sunday morning. I should say, if you are travelling from out with Edinburgh, definitely make use of the shuttle services or stay over in the city, as it is travel chaos over the course of the marathon festival weekend. It is relatively organised chaos though, and the event organisers try their best to minimise local disruption.
The start was a bit more subdued than London, but I was pleased to discover it was also a lot more relaxed (for us, anyway). The half marathon sets off about an hour and a half ahead of the marathon. This meant I was continually concerned about marathon runners catching me up during the race. It was not out-with the realms of possibility. But I was certainly feeling a lot more relaxed about this race. Maybe it was the familiar surroundings, or maybe it was the lack of pressure around finishing, but I felt it was almost a fun run for me. I had my new running vest on, proudly displaying my intention to ‘Jeff’ the course, and I had my interval timer all ready to help me do it. Gone were the worries about my phone running out of battery long before the finish, which is what happened during the London Marathon. I was confident in my walk/run ratios and that I had the equipment to pull it off.
Before I go further, let me explain that ‘Jeffing’ is a running term for using run/walk/run ratios throughout a race or during training. It is named after the fabulous Jeff Galloway, an American Olympian, who came up with the Run Walk Run Method. This method helps you find and use your ideal run/walk ratios, so you can run without injury or fatigue. For me, it is a far more pleasant way of running, and I find it helps me mentally. I think knowing I have specific walk breaks programmed in to my plan means I am psychologically more able to complete a challenge. I wouldn’t look back now, and don’t have any desire to run non-stop. Jeffing gets me out, and keeps me moving, and that suits me just fine.
We were planning to Jeff the London Marathon, however not only did my interval timer fail as it was via an app on my phone which helpfully ran out of battery, but my physical state during the race left me unable to do much more than walk for a lengthy period (see my blog post about it here). So, my top tips for successfully Jeffing a long-distance event include purchase a separate interval timer (I thoroughly recommend a GymBoss), fuel appropriately, and mark yourself out as a Jeffer. In most races, there is an etiquette regarding walking on the course. You should move to the side of the road/track designated as the slower area, and ensure you slow down to walking pace in a safe manner – e.g. check no-one is going to trip over by keeping an eye on what others are doing, and don’t stop abruptly. I went a step further and ordered a custom-printed running vest for the Edinburgh Half. This was in an attempt to deter other runners, not to mention spectators, from trying to cajole me on whilst I was on a walk ratio. It’s part of the plan, people!
As we lined up at the start, I felt quite relieved I had already completed a marathon distance. Plenty of people around me were very nervous at the prospect of completing the imminent 13.1 miles, but I had the comfort blanket of being a marathon finisher. It’s obviously not a given that it will help you in a half marathon distance, but it sure was nice to know I could do double that if required – but didn’t need to just now! The sun was shining, the views from the Regent Road start area were fabulous, and I was feeling good. We had already decided to run our own race, so I didn’t have to worry about holding my mum back. I could just do my own thing, and try to enjoy it.
I tried not to make the same mistake as the London Marathon, so deliberately started off more slowly than I would usually. I tried to let go of thoughts about being last, and just move at a comfortable pace. I was listening to a cracking playlist I had made up, which was based on the music used in Peter Kay’s Car Share. How awesome are the tunes in that show?! Classics such as One Step Further by Bardo and Gloria by Laura Branigan were making me smile to myself as I traversed the first part of the course. There is something about listening to a cheesy or emotive song whilst running a big race, and knowing that no one around you knows what you are listening to but it is giving you a boost to hear it. I smile knowingly to myself, I’ve caught myself doing that!
The first part of the course goes briefly through Holyrood Park and past the majesty of Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood. It then crosses town towards Leith Links. I was feeling comfortable at this point – of course, it was only a few miles in, so I would have been worried if I wasn’t feeling ok. I knew I was probably quite far to the back of the half marathon runners, but it was coming up to the first water station and it was close to where my friends Liezel and Rob stay. She had said they would watch out for me and give me a cheer. As the race was taking place early on a Sunday morning, I wouldn’t have blamed them if they had preferred to have a longer lie, but much to my delight they were standing in their garden as I rounded the corner. It is always so nice to have familiar faces cheer you on at different points on a race route, and it was lovely to catch up with them then – even if I was a little jealous of their coffee cups.
I didn’t stop to chat long, and kept moving to the next stage, a mile or so of industrial roads at Seafield, before coming to Portobello Promenade. This bit is lovely and either downhill or flat, so it gets my vote. There is also a good crowd here to cheer you on, which is welcome after the quieter industrial area. People line the prom, enjoy breakfast at the cafes, whilst dogs are walked and children play on the beach. It’s quite funny to run through people’s Sunday morning rituals like that! And I’ve no doubt it’s very pleasant to watch everyone run by as you tuck in to a coffee and pastry or full Scottish.
This was probably around mile 6, and I have to say I was feeling really good. I didn’t want to jinx myself, but I felt I was definitely going to do this and with energy to spare. What was even more surprising, especially given my marathon experience, is I hadn’t needed a toilet stop. And they are what tend to add time on to your race finish goals. Especially if you have OCD and are trying to use a portaloo – it’s not easy, I tell you. It involves a lot of trying not to touch anything with anything, and then covering everything in alcohol gel. So, it was good that I didn’t need to make this little detour until after mile 8. I couldn’t believe I only had 5 miles to go! What a brilliant feeling…
But when you stop, you inevitably have to start again, and my pace was noticeably slower after my loo break. By this point, I was approaching Musselburgh Race Course and nearing mile 10. I was caught between feeling elated there were only three miles to go, and irritated that there were still three miles to go. You pass the turn off for those finishing, and all the runners nearly at the end are running towards you on the other side of the road. I tried to encourage myself this was a good sign, as it meant there wasn’t long to go. I would soon be where they were! Well maybe not soon, but all I had to do was keep going and I’d get there.
Three miles is roughly the distance of a Park Run, and I always try to use that comparison as encouragement that there’s not far to go. Which is great in theory, but I am so physically and mentally exhausted by the time I try this strategy that I usually cannot effectively gauge distance. So metres feel like miles, and minutes are like hours. There was a strong crowd presence, not to mention a DJ and roadshow set up to play music and motivate you through the final miles. I was also gazing desperately at the oncoming runners, looking for my mum who had been elusively ahead of me for the whole race. I finally saw her at around 10.5 miles and she said there wasn’t far to go – LIES!!!
The last 2.1 miles were fairly torturous. I also got a bit of a fright to see marathon runners tailing me. I had an almost two-hour head start on them! It took me several minutes to realise that they wouldn’t finish before me because they had a further fifteen miles to do. At least I hoped they wouldn’t finish before me! I walked a lot of the last mile and a half. I did little running ratios within that, but it tended to be from lamppost to lamppost. It was quite thrilling to see the 13-mile marker alongside the marathon marker of 26 miles. I was so pleased to be nearly finished and not having to complete the same distance again. In fact, I have literally no idea how I managed to do 26 miles the month before.
The finish was nice, though obviously not on the scale of London. But just being the finish meant I held it in high regard, as I could finally stop moving. It had been a lovely race, with beautiful views along the course and fine, sunny weather. But I was so tired, and was pleased to know I had completed my last race for a while. I had a lovely goody bag, with one of the most attractive medals I’ve ever received in it. And my time was not terrible. I finished in 02:55:38. Which, considering I had taken around 10 minutes or so for a toilet break, I was fairly happy with. I was able to enjoy my chips and Coke content in the knowledge I had run a decent race there. Or should I say, had Jeffed a decent race. I’m convinced it was the Run/Walk/Run approach which got me round without feeling I was definitely going to expire.
I’ve not entered the Edinburgh Half this year, but I would definitely consider doing it again in the future. It is a flat and beautiful course, taking in both the city and the countryside, so you get the best of both worlds. I believe the route has changed slightly to take in some of the Old Town, which I think is a lovely addition. The only slight downside of our race experience was the shuttle buses after the event weren’t very well organised, so my advice is not to linger at the end and instead hotfoot it (yeah, right) to the departure point as it’s further than you think! But, at least once you are on the shuttle bus back to the centre of town, you are sitting down. And that is a very nice feeling after 13.1 miles.
Have you completed the Edinburgh Half? What is your favourite half-marathon race? Do you have any mental strategies you employ successfully for those last few miles? Let me know below!