Monday, 26 May 2008

I have absolutely no right to complain....

......but I ache all over. I spent yesterday volunteering at the Edinburgh Marathon and to look at me you would think I had run 26 miles! I had a wonderful time and am so glad I decided to do it - for all of you (sane) people out there who run a bit but never want to run a marathon, this is the best way to get involved without all those pesky 20 mile training runs. This is going to be a long post to help me remember the day, so if you don't want to hear about the minutiae of unpacking medals, feel free to skip. I won't be offended, honest.

I was assigned to the finish area so had to make my way to Musselburgh in the morning (for non-Scots, Musselburgh is a town about 5 miles or so east of Edinburgh). I decided to show solidarity by walking the brisk half hour or so down into town to catch a bus that would take me there. I don't really know Musselburgh so managed to get off at the wrong bus stop and added another 15 minute walk to the tally. I arrived at Musselburgh Racecourse in what can only be described as unpromising weather: blustery, low grey threatening clouds, cold. The precise military level of organisation I was expecting was noticeably absent so those of us who had arrived at 9am just waded in. We were however issued with our exceptionally groovy purple volunteer t-shirts, with the Hairy Haggis on them (the relay part of the marathon is called Hairy Haggis. Don't know why). Very cool.

We had boxes and boxes and BOXES of medals to open. Inside the boxes were smaller boxes, inside those boxes were bags and inside those bags were hundreds of individually plastic-bagged medals which we had to unwrap and lay out for distribution. I found myself on the relay finish funnel where the runner of the last of the four legs would come through, so for each person we got coming past us, we would have to hand out 4 medals. That's a lot of medals. In fact every time we thought we had finished, people on the other lanes found more boxes of relay medals which they cheerfully dumped on us. We got there eventually though. We even took a photo of the table when we finished. We were so proud of ourselves we had to commemorate the moment. I may even post it if I can find the lead for the camera. Underneath the table there were more boxes of medals still in their wee plastic bags waiting to be handed out. (We reckoned the runners of the earlier legs would be sufficiently recovered by the end to peel off the sellotape and get into their own bagged medal)

Fortunately, there were great people on the crew: Ann from Belfast whose husband was running his 46th marathon and hoping to get a qualifying time for Boston; Richard, a student from the Philippines who had not managed to enter in time to run the race this year and Rebecca, who had the misfortune when she arrived to be assigned to banana duty (unpacking the enormous boxes of bananas for the runners) and who plaintively said when she was finished that she never wanted to see another banana so long as she lived. Most of us took the opportunity at some point to go over and run across the finish line, just so we could say we had. All you Edinburgh Marathoners? I crossed the finish line before you! (Don't hit me)

We also took a break to watch the winner cross the line - the advantage of a volunteer t-shirt being that we could be in the restricted area right by the finish line. Ann and I jumped up and down and cheered like loons before returning to our stations and...continuing to jump up and down (it was cold). The PA system was also churning out some excellent crowd-rousing music so we danced around a fair bit too. Richard was particularly impressive doing "YMCA". I think it was just the buzz and the adrenaline. We couldn't run anywhere and we couldn't stand still, so dancing it was.

And then at about the three hour mark, the relay runners started to arrive. I was on de-chipping duty, removing the velcro bands around the runners' ankles and depositing them in fetching black buckets still bearing their "2 for £1" stickers. Runners were surprised and extraordinarily grateful that we were happy to remove their bands for them if they stuck their foot up on a bench - seemed the least we could do, frankly! Some of them were wobbly enough that bending down might have finished them off! And it's amazing how adept you become at detaching velcro from socks and laces and leg hair after a while. I also had a bag of jelly babies on the go, which made me very popular.

By this time, the weather had completely changed. It was still a bit windy but the clouds had cleared, the sun had come out and the temperature had risen significantly. People were hot. Very hot. Sun cream was passed round (I missed my right hand and a strip at the base of my throat. I look slightly odd today). Runners were sweaty, unsteady and trembly when they got to us. Lots of people needing a wee sit down. I cheered and applauded all the relay guys as they came in and congratulated them on finishing. Nearly every one of them replied with a variation on "I don't feel like I deserve that, compared to those guys" nodding over at the lanes where the full marathon runners were coming through. I made a point of telling them off for this, pointing out that they had run a minimum of 4 miles, some of them 8 miles, in the heat on a Sunday morning when most of the population was in bed with the Sunday papers and a cup of tea. Most of them were also raising funds for charity. They all deserved congratulation. Especially the guy in the full Womble costume.

Unfortunately I was so busy I didn't get to see any of the people from the running website I had hoped to meet come over the finish line. I was supposed to finish at noon but it was pretty full-on and the second shift were fully allocated, so I stayed on. I did meet Ailsa of "Star of Venus" who kindly came up and introduced herself (I was wearing a badge with the logo from the running site to identify myself) and said nice things about my blog. Hi Ailsa! I also managed to have an exchange of texts with another "virtual" friend, Goughie, who had finished in a stonkingly good time and was then physically dragged off to the hotel swimming pool by his kids.

I held out until about the 5 hour 50 point when, frankly, the urgent need for toilet facilities became impossible to ignore (I had been on duty since before 9am and it was now almost 3pm) and I had to retreat. I bumped into a friend of mine from work who I knew was running and she had finished but said it was horrible at points and a real struggle. The weather was just bad - gusty wind in your face for much of the route.

Then my phone went and it was TISM. TISM is a living legend in our little running community, a real ambassador for the sport (and he'll kill me for calling him that!). If you have a moment to spare, pop over to his website and be uplifted and encouraged. You won't regret it. Anyway, TISM had finished and was still on site. I headed off to meet him and found him relaxing at a table in the sunshine NOT looking like a man who had just finished his second marathon in 2 months (he ran the Flora London Marathon too!) It was brilliant to meet him in person - I have passed the URL for his website to many people I know and everyone has been singularly impressed. I produced the jelly babies I had faithfully promised him (yes, I have to bribe people to meet me, I'm not proud) and we had a blether in the sunshine. We discussed curry restaurants we know and love, running (of course) and Ferrero Rocher (the ambassador thing again....).

Then I had to head home on the bus. I caught one bus back into Edinburgh and then, because I could not face the walk uphill to get to my house, caught another one to take me to my door. About two minutes after I sat down on the bus, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see two ladies of a certain age, wearing marathon medals. They said they just wanted to say thank you to me for volunteering, because the volunteers had all been so good and the event was so well run. Well, that just crowned the day for me. I had a nice chat with them about their run and told them to go off and get a bottle of wine and a big bar of chocolate tonight before I got off and headed home.

And today I feel like I ran the flipping race myself! I have an enormous blister on my little toe, my legs and back ache (all that bending and sitting and standing and bouncing around and dancing - should have worn my HRM!) and I am hobbling around like an invalid. I ache in places I forgot I had but I would not have missed a second of yesterday. Well done to everyone who ran, whether in the full race or the relay - you were all stars.


  1. Oh yes, I am definitely hirpling about today! I can hardly move! You did a lot so don't be down on yourself! After all you did an awful lot.

  2. Thanks for your encouraging words of support on my blog, Loth.

    Very interesting blog post of yours about the Edinburgh Marathon -- I've never given too much thought to all the people who help out.

    I do have a very dormant, latent ambition to run the London Marathon -- at the moment is a bit of a pipe dream at my current 300+ lb weight but I am hoping to make slow but steady progress in reducing the weight, and increasing walking, and then who knows, possibly even slow jogging.

    I have heard of The Incredible Shrinking Man and have already got him on my Blogroll.

    Best wishes,

  3. i ran yesterday and just wanted to say "thanks" to you and the rest of the volunteers - you did fabulous job! - alan

  4. Aching in a good cause.

    I considered volunteering myself, and now rather wish I had (odd, considering your debilitated state!) Maybe next year.

  5. Wow Loth that sounds a wonderful day!

    I wonder whether the Womble was the same one that overtook my brother in London? And if so wonder if he beat him again? hehe!

    You've made me want to go to a marathon now just to soak up the atmosphere. Not to run. I'm *never* going to try to run 26 miles. Nuh uh!

  6. well i think you DID run that race....what a great day.

  7. Gosh, you are a saint. I thought about the marathon on Sunday and found that quite exhausting enough.

    I'm marking Higher English at the moment; my own kind of marathon but one that leads to comfort-eating, not weight loss...

  8. I'm jealous.

    Jealous of your enthusiasm, altruism, good humour, energy, kindness, creativity . . . all these things are worth a lot more to the world than the ability to run 26-and-a-bit miles and pretend to like it.

  9. Bravo you! And that's lovely, the "ladies of a certain age" giving you their thanks. That must have made it all worth it, hmm?

  10. It's hard work watching people run! :-)

    Seriously, those type of things can't happen without people like you! I know all the runners appreciate it.

  11. Great job! It sounds like a lot of fun!
    I watched my Mom run a marathon once- it was horrible!

  12. Hi Loth,

    In reply to your comment on my blog ...

    Not sure about sticking the list on my fridge -- there is very little food in my fridge and what is there is healthy.

    I think the place I need to keep the list is outside the local fish and chip shop and convenience store!

    Do you think that would be a bit public if I paid them the 50p a week (or whatever it is) to display a local advert in their window ... but my local advert is reminding myself NOT to shop there? !!!


  13. Good for you for being out there and helping out even though you didn't run! Showing your support meant a lot I'm sure!

    I would love to run a marathon myself but it's all I can do to stick to my newfound exercise routine much less find the discipline to do anything like that!

  14. Hi Loth,

    Just wanted to let you know that I have just quoted you in my latest blog, basically quoting some of the best comments from my readers.

    I hope you don't mind but I was especially bowled over by readers such as yourself who made reference to my writing skills.

    Your comment of 26 May now appears in my latest blog today:

    If you object to me using your comment in this self-publicising way, just let me know, either in a comment or e-mail and I will remove yours and leave the others.

    Thanks + best wishes,