What a glorious bundle of enjoyment! This marathon was never about me, it was all about helping Sye get to the finish line. I had almost forgotten that I would even be running it! Given my knee injuries from falling off the bike twice, and Sye’s own knee issues, we knew it could be a slow one – but I was actually quite happy about that! I saw the run as an opportunity to just have an incredible time and ensure that Sye and I got as many cheers as we possibly could.
We stayed in Leith near Edinburgh, which I had chosen partly because it was close to the marathon course. Of course though, this meant that the streets around were blocked off for runners, and we couldn’t catch any of the busses which would take us to the start. Thankfully we figured this out the night before (over a pint of Ben&Jerry’s ?) and decided to walk the 35mins to the start instead. We left with plenty of time and it was certainly a much less stressful experience than navigating the Edinburgh bus system. Lesson learned for future events though…
Arriving at the start over an hour before the race meant that we could take plenty of pictures with the ‘Start’ signs before walking up the hill to drop off our bags. We were in the Regent’s Road start, which afforded a gorgeous view of Arthur’s Seat and the rooftops of Edinburgh. Its stunning visuals symbolised much of how the next 42.2km would also be.
Sye had been assigned to the black start, one section behind my pink group, so I snuck back into his area with my leftover London Marathon foil blanked covering my bib in case anyone was going to tell me off. No-one did, and we were fine to set off on the marathon. I couldn’t contain my excitement and we were both ready to go. 3-2-1-YAY!
The Edinburgh Marathon route is billed as being one of the flattest in the UK. Given that Edinburgh is known for its hills, this is accomplished by taking the course out of the city centre almost immediately. The first 5 miles is downhill, before it flattens out through Musselburgh and beyond. The very start is on a downhill slope which Sye was loving, but I was a bit wary that we might be going out too fast.
A few kilometres in I heard the distinctive voice of Budi, who I first met after Florence marathon & had since seen at several other events including the Cambridge Boundary Run. He was running near another Londoner Jon, who I met at Southwark parkrun when running with Dorota from Sydney a few weeks ago. Such a small world!
Shortly after this an American guy ran up alongside and started chatting to us about marathons (duh!). Edinburgh was the first outing of my new orange ‘Julia’ shirt which now reads ‘Running 26.2 marathons by age 26.2’ on the back, which sparked a few conversations during the run. As it turned out, this guy was running his 160th marathon that day ? Our conversation took us through the first water stop just past 5km, and it felt like the first section had passed in the blink of an eye.
Our pace was hovering at ~5:40/km, which I was slightly concerned about given that I was expecting ~6:20/km splits. However, Sye seemed happy at that pace and wanted to keep pushing, so we did.
The first quick gel-stop came at 10km, but we were right back at it after a few moments. Surprisingly, I hadn’t been chatting nearly as much as I had threatened Sye I would be. He even made a comment that “you don’t need to be so quiet” – and yet I simply couldn’t think of anything to say! Strange.
Sye was running really well, and our pace was still under 6:00/km. In addition to the marathon, the Edinburgh Marathon Festival also offered half-marathon, 10km, 5km and mile distances, as well as a marathon relay in a team of four. We started speaking to an Austrian lady who was taking on the first leg from her team, and I even got in a few sentences of German before we ran off ahead.
At 14km though I heard Sye go “ooh”. This was not a good “ooh” like the ones I had been exclaiming whenever we turned a corner to see the sea, or when Portobello Beach appeared up ahead, or when we entered a green patch of forest. This was a “something’s up” kind of “ooh. Despite strapping it with Rocktape and giving it a few weeks of rest before the race, his knee had twinged for the first time, and he was worried.
We slowed the pace down but kept on running, and took a longer walk-break at the next water station to assess the damage. Thankfully it wasn’t a constant pain and didn’t hurt while walking as the original injury had done, so after taking on water and dumping some on our heads & wrists, Sye decided it would be ok to keep going.
It was hot, certainly for Edinburgh. Later in the race it did cool down again, but in the early kilometres the sun was beating down on high. Reports later said it was 20degrees, meaning it was cooler than at Paris Marathon, yet I still ended up quite sunburnt afterwards.
This knee issue was starting to weigh on Sye’s mind, so at 15km I tried to make him forget about it by playing a little game. The crowds along the sides of the road had been great so far, and wearing an orange shirt and yellow tutu I had managed to get a lot of shout-outs. Now though, I wanted Sye to try and get his own cheers (as opposed to me making the spectators cheer for him). I set him a goal of 6 ‘Sye’ cheers by 20km. At first he wasn’t at all keen to play, but almost immediately afterwards we ran through a busy patch and he got 3 then and there. A fourth came soon after – now he was happy to play! By the time we reached 20km he had collected more than the goal 6, and it spurred him on to keep moving until the halfway mark which we crossed in just under 2:08.
Once you’ve passed through Musselburgh, the marathon course becomes an out-and-back route with a little loop at the turnaround point at 17 miles. The leaders had passed us when we came through ~18km, but there were still big gaps behind the front few. After our halfway, the returning runners started to become more frequent, and I had an opportunity for some more fun.
Sye had started struggling after the halfway mark, and our pace dropped markedly as we headed towards the turnaround point. He was in no mood for my chit-chat so instead I focussed my attentions on the shirts of returning runners. Everyone who passed and had their name written on their shirt (DO IT!) became a target for me to yell at them – preferably using an alliteration such as “Rock it, Rob!” or “Awesome, Alex!”. There weren’t many spectators along this section so I did the cheering myself – and got a few back in return as well!
I was almost sad when we reached the turnaround loop because it meant that we were splitting off from the returning runners and I had no-one left to cheer. We were getting closer and closer to 30km, but Sye was finding it more and more difficult to keep going. His knee pain had moved into his ITB, and despite having done several 30km+ long runs, his feet were hurting worse than he had previously experienced. Mine were aching a bit too. We decided to keep pushing until 30km, and then have a stretch-out break.
While Sye collapsed on the floor for a little while & then went to the bathroom, I kept watching the runners and taking photos. This was certainly a very different marathon experience to any other I’d had, and it was making me appreciate just how much people go through to get that medal. Sure, I’ve had some not-so-great runs, but the pain Sye was going through was on a whole other level. I wanted to help, but didn’t really know how. As we set off again for the last 12km I offered random stories, but he just wanted quiet. That was fine – I would try and support just by being there.
It was getting worse. We had reached a stage where we could only run/jog for a mile or so before stopping to walk. The miles then became kilometres, even though time-wise they felt just as long. I think Sye was on the verge of tears – he later said that he’s never been in so much pain. This is why I’m such a strong believer in not aiming for a time in your first marathon. It didn’t matter if we had to walk the last 5 miles, we were still going to make it to the end well under the 6:30 cut-off. So we walked, and I smiled and chatted to the crowds and tried to be so enthusiastic that it counted for both Sye and myself.
During London Marathon I had noticed that many people were drinking beer on the sidelines, and had really wanted one for myself. Now, at mile 21 of Edinburgh there was a goddess-angel of a lady giving out cups of the golden stuff. Hallelulia! It tasted sooooo good (even if it wasn’t cold), and hit the spot perfectly. Then, two miles down the road I saw a group of young guys cheering and drinking, with several extra cans of beer at their feet. I yelled over asking if they really needed them all, and one absolute legend gave me his cold beer. AHHH YES!! It was heaven. Next to me, Sye commented that I was a) mad, and b) probably going to get arrested for drinking on the streets, so half a can later I bid the beer farewell and left it by a traffic light. Farewell, friend, you were awesome.
Having walked most of Mile 23, Sye started slowly jogging again as the Mile 24 marker drew closer. He could sense that the end was near, and I could sense his determination to keep pushing forwards. Slowly but surely Mile 24 drifted away, then Mile 25. I had started playing music out loud (yes, Taylor Swift, I will shake it off!), but we didn’t even need it any more. The finish was close, and Sye and his dodgy knee were going to make it.
The crowd in the final stretch were incredible. Being further down the field there were less people around us, which meant that we got a lot of attention. And I milked it! Coming down the last few hundred metres I raised my arms up in the air and waved like we were royalty. Then there was the blue carpet, and the finish line was in sight. Even Sye was grinning – this was his moment, and it was so so special.
We crossed the line hand-in-hand and I nearly started crying out of pride and love for my amazing boyfriend. He fought so hard and did so well, it was incredible to have experienced. I feel so lucky to have been able to share that journey with him.
As for me, I had such a fabulous time! It was a party from start to finish, and a confirmation of why I love marathon running so much. It was a personal worst time, but one I will forever hold close to my heart.
Edinburgh Marathon is great, and I know that I want to go back and run it for myself some other time. The course was utterly stunning – I had to pick my jaw up off the floor so often seeing the beautiful coastline and woodlands. The support was great, and although the water stations didn’t have any electrolyte drink, they had enough gels to give out that you’d hardly need to bring your own. The t-shirt and the medal are fabulous, and there was lots of space to chill out at the end – and plenty of food-stalls for re-fuelling! It is a long walk to the bus back to Edinburgh city though, so make sure you’ve had a rest before going home.
That was my 10th marathon, and I’m super happy I could share it with Sye. He’s even speaking of doing another one, so it must have been fun! It was incredible to see all the people around me battling their demons and pushing through to the end. Slow or fast, everyone covers the same 42.2km. We are all marathoners.