I awoke in the Travelodge having slept well – just like Lenny Henry promised. Wait, he’s Premier Inn isn’t he? Pfft, he should try a Travelodge for a change. Although I’m fairly certain the contractual obligations that came with the huge bag of money he received for promoting Premier Inn prevents him from spending a casual night in a Travelodge. Hmm, would Lenny Henry still command a fee that could fill an entire bag full of money in 2015? Maybe if it was in coins? I’m just raising more questions than answers here.
Up and presentable, Jones and I headed down to breakfast at 7:30am as last night’s drunken and hastily cobbled together timetable decreed. As we stood by the ‘please wait here to be seated’ thingy, we noted it was quiet. Some would say too quiet. Plus, the cling film was still over the cornflakes (a phrase which should, I feel, be utilised at every opportunity for euphemistic hilarity) and the toasting machine was unplugged. Could it be that we had arrived before breakfast was ready to be served? A glance at the dining information on the wall revealed we had. Breakfast was from 8am. Now we were set the challenge of sneaking back to our room unseen by the staff at reception who would undoubtedly declare ‘What are you doing laaaads? Breakfast’s at 8am?! WAAAAAAANKERS!’
Half an hour later we returned to the breakfasting area where we spoke not of our earlier misplaced enthusiasm. Being something of a fan of the eat-as-much-as-you-can breakfast buffet, I showed considerable restraint owing to the fear of a full fry-up ‘coming back to haunt me at mile 7’. Fed and packed, we checked out of the hotel and headed back to the railway station. It was a glorious day.
At the station, two tickets to Musselburgh were duly purchased and we clambered aboard a train filled with runners. ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if we got to Musselburgh and, despite the train being full of runners all obviously going to the same run as us, we were the only ones to get off?’ said Jones as the train departed. We laughed heartily. Minutes later, we got to Musselburgh. And despite the train being full of runners all obviously going to the same run as us, we were the only ones to get off. When the hysteria died down, a glance at the race information indicated that the next stop down the line was pretty much right by the start. Getting off here, we’d given ourselves an unnecessary 1.5 mile walk and a 25 minute bus journey. Ah well. Couldn’t be helped. Well, obviously it could’ve been helped, if we weren’t disorganised bufoons, but still. Plenty of time. And the walk could count as a warm-up.
We made our way to Musselburgh Racecourse – where the race would finish – and found the queue for the shuttle bus that would take us to the start. It was a sizeable queue. Indeed, it reminded as to the fable of The Lambton Worm, and specifically the part that describes the worm as being so long it could wrap its tail around Penshaw Hill 7 times:
“An’ when he’d eaten aall he cud
An’ he had had he’s fill,
He craaled away an’ lapped he’s tail
Seven times roond Pensher Hill”
Time was getting on, too. And I needed to utilise the pre-race latrines with increasing urgency. Plus I was quite thirsty. Clearly I was going to die of dehydration on an overcrowded shuttle bus in a puddle of my own urine. But amazingly, that didn’t happen and after a clammy if tolerable bus ride we rocked up to the start area with ample time to spare. Before taking our places in the starting pens, there was time to check out the ‘positivity pyramid’. This was an inflatable structure with words and phrases like ‘Achieve!’ and ‘You can do it!’ and ‘Believe!’ and ‘Wasn’t it nice of Keith Harris to lie to Orville the duck by telling him he could fly when he clearly couldn’t?’ written on it. But what would be inside such an optimistic-looking structure? A motivational speaker? Performance-enhancing drugs? Jesus? It was quite the let-down, I can tell you: it was empty. Well, except for one small girl who was playing with a Buzz Lightyear. And she soon scarpered when we blundered into the Positively Pathetic Pyramid. It got me thinking that in the interest of fairness there should have been a competing inflatable structure called the ‘negativity nonagon’ or similar. It could be adorned with words and phrases like ‘You’re going to fail!’ and ‘Shite!’ and ‘Don’t even bother!’ and ‘He couldn’t possibly have flown owing to an unfavourable wingspan-to-mass ratio and being just a stupid puppet!’
The start of the race was delayed due to ‘last minute checks of the course’ (all of it?) which I think might actually have meant ‘because there’s still 47 million people queuing for a shuttle bus at Musselburgh’. But eventually we got away. It was not the most auspicious start, as the first couple of hundred metres were over a crumbling car-park where what quickly transpired was a mass-participation game of ‘dodge the potholes’. But we were soon on the road and away.
I hadn’t given much thought to race tactics or whatever, but I did want to go faster than I had done at the Great North Run as I wasn’t dressed as Superman. Plus the course was downhill. It was, however, an unseasonably warm day. When I clocked my first mile as being around 7 mins 24 seconds, I made the decision to try and keep the pace at sub-7:30 miles for as long as I could, hoping I could keep that up until maybe mile 7 or 8. As it turned out, much to my disbelief, my first mile was one of my slowest.
The course included numerous picturesque stints alongside the Firth of Forth and through small villages. As ever, people amazed me with their support and generosity (whilst running a half marathon is the only time you should take a Jelly Baby from a stranger, kids) and before I knew it I was on the final push. I’d paced myself superbly and managed to sprint (well, kinda) home in 1 hour 35 minutes and 34 seconds, shaving a massive 3 minutes off my personal best. I really must drink 3 pints of beer the night before every race, it seems. Although it’s fortunate I wasn’t picked for a post-race urine test, where I would have undoubtedly tested positive for ‘tomato sauce served from a small jam-jar’. Surely on the list of IAAF banned substances.
Someone on high in the world of mass-participation running events has obviously concluded that it would be a nice touch if each runner had their finisher’s medal placed over their head at the finish like they’d just won Olympic gold, as this was the second time in a week where this happened to me. I wasn’t complaining though. And as for the medal – dear Lord, it’s as big as a bin lid and depicts a rampaging Scottish lion. When it comes to the formula that most folk use to rate a race, clearly the organisers of the Scottish Half Marathon had picked up on the fact that the figure is heavily weighted in favour of ‘the horghghghhghgh-ness of the medal’.
Weighed down with 30 kilos of congratulatory metal, it was time to locate my baggage and get changed. At this point, my body (and one specific area of it in particular) reminded me that I’d forgotten to apply the pre-race Vaseline. A schoolboy error. Now, I once knew a man who had his foot run over. The attending medical personnel concluded that ‘leaving his boot on until he got to hospital as it was holding everything together’ was the correct course of action. I made a similar discovery here, as any interference with the intimate, un-Vas’d area was…unwise. But I overcame this with minimal cursing and only resorting to crying a little bit, before it was time to head back in the direction of the train station.
On the way back, it was time to indulge in a little post-race treat. Statistics decree that you’re never more than 4-feet away from an Irn-Bru in Scotland, so it was time to take advantage of that truth and pick up a bottle of the orange stuff. And who can complain when you get purchase 750ml of vibrant, sugary deliciousness for a mere £1?! Well, perhaps parents concerned that the Sunset Yellow and Ponceau 4R colourings ‘may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children’. But never mind them. They hadn’t just run a new half-marathon PB. Plus the drink came in a retro glass bottle which brought back fond childhood memories of handing back deposit bottles whilst on holiday in Whitby, and keeping the resultant 10p piece to use on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game later.
We spent the rest of the afternoon dining, browsing the shops and having coffee. Which makes us sound rather like The real Housewives of New Jersey. I finally got to have my haggis, and it was delectable. I may have fallen asleep in Costa Coffee if not for the searing post-race discomfort in my crotch and a twitchy Jones, insistent that we were about to be locked in as they were closing and thus we’d be forced to live on biscotti crumbs and paper napkins until the authorities found our withered corpses. The train was on time and during the journey home we even managed to complete a crossword (non-cryptic, I must stress) with no cheating. Well, minimal cheating…
All in all, a top weekend. Great race, fine weather, top haggis, good beer, pleasing mountain film on a ginormous screen, new PB, lovely city and not being shivved by an angry, drunken Anglophobe . It’s all a man can ask.