Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Edinburgh Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon - TeamREFUEL Goes To Scotland!

Sunday April 14th I ran the Edinburgh Rock 'n' Roll HalfMarathon, without exaggeration; the toughest road race I’ve ever run. The race was the culmination of an amazing trip to Scotland provided by GotChocolateMilk.com TeamREFUEL. I apologize in advance for the lengthy blog post, but considering I got to fly across the Atlantic to run a race; I didn't want to leave anything out.


HOW IT HAPPENED: Last spring I won sponsorship from TeamREFUEL. Team members were also eligible for 3 grand prizes after the 2012 season and one was a trip to Edinburgh Scotland to run the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon, complete with flight, lodging, free race entry and spending money. Janice and I agreed that Edinburgh would be a cool place to visit and last July I somewhat jokingly said, “Honey, we’re going to Edinburgh”. She of course said, “Yeah right, we’re not going anywhere”. After an active 2012 running season, completing 12 events flying the TeamREFUEL colors, I received the email congratulating me and announcing that I was selected to go to Edinburgh. I couldn’t believe it, but that’s how it happened.


GETTING THERE:  I can’t report on this race without mentioning the travel to Scotland. We decided to take our teenage sons Cody and Nathan with us. We got our passports in order, bought the boys' plane tickets, packed their skateboards and with our dogs Mojo and Molly happy at the kennel we were all set to go. The afternoon of departure I looked at The British Airways App and saw that the first leg of our trip (the flight to Chicago) was canceled due to weather. I called the airline and we found a replacement flight to London through Philadelphia. Good to go, right? Nope, they called back to tell us our commuter flight to Philly got delayed and there would be no way we’d make the connection to London. We went to Plan C which was hopping an Amtrak train to Philadelphia. A kind neighbor/friend gave us a lift to the train platform, bought tickets from the conductor and we were off to 30th Street Station to catch the SEPTA line to the airport. Phew! Yep, we made it and everything was OK, right? As we waited at the gate I noticed that the severe thunderstorm was now bearing down on Philadelphia. We boarded the plane, but it was too late. The driving wind and rain shook the jet and we sat on the runway for more than 2 hours. I’ll spare you the part about us now needing to be re-booked out of London to Edinburgh, but ironically we were now late enough to use the original connection we would have used had we flown from Chicago. Thankfully Janice worked in the airline industry for 16 years and I traveled way too much in a previous career. Rookie travelers would have ended up in a Motel 6 outside of La Guardia, eating bad takeout and left wondering how to get to Scotland.

One Last Hop To Edinburgh


BEING TOURISTS: As soon as we hopped on the double-decker bus at the Edinburgh Airport, we were in full-on tourist mode. I think we all said in unison, “The cars are on the wrong side of the road!” We wound through neighborhoods, past small shops and beautiful cathedrals and then the Edinburgh Castle came into view for the first time. Perched high on a hill, it was an amazing sight. Just past the Scot Monument we got off the bus and we were on foot for the first time in Edinburgh, dragging our bags to the lovely ApexWaterloo Place Hotel. “On foot” would become key to the next days. I’ve read guidance to not get caught up in touring while traveling to an exotic place to run a race. Everything we wanted to see and do in Edinburgh was in walking distance. Sure I kept an eye on leg fatigue, but I’m not one to taper for a race, so off we went. I enlisted the advice of on an old friend from Scotland who provided an aggressive itinerary of things we needed to experience while on his home turf. We visited the Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, Grassmarket, The Royal Mile, The Canongate, Cowgate, Calton Hill and Old Calton Cemetary, The Dynamic Earth Science Centre, walked up the Crags, learned the story of Greyfriar’s Bobby, made it in time for the One O'clock Gun, ate Fish n’ Chips at The World’s EndPub, descended Jacob's Ladder wandered in an out of Edinburgh’s countless “closes” and “wynds” and I’m surely forgetting a bunch of stuff. To say I rested my legs for the race would be an out and out lie. We got in some serious mileage; I should have worn my Garmin and logged it. To sum it up, we saw as much of Edinburgh as we could and we had an absolute blast doing it! (I have to mention that because the cars travel on the other side of the road, we found ourselves looking the wrong way when crossing streets. I was nearly whacked by a cab while out for a run and I lost count of the times I yanked Janice from the path of doom.)

Cody, Nathan & William Wallace

Janice & Cody High Above The City At Edinburgh Castle

"All done at the castle, let's go get my race packet"




EDINBURGH WEATHER: It was spring time in Scotland, a time to shed winter’s layers and admire blooming daffodils, right? This year however the Scots were experiencing one of their coldest wettest springs in quite a while. We arrived on a chilly grey day and that was pretty much the theme of the next day too, with temperatures in the low 40’s and a bit of drizzly rain added in. Listening to the weather forecasts in the UK only made it worse, 5° Celsius sure does make 40°F sound extremely cold.  Amazingly the Saturday before the race the sun came out and other than a building wind, with the temperatures in the upper 50’s it was quite a nice day. Those winds that came to visit on Saturday stayed for Sunday and they invited their friends “Howling” and “Hurricane Force” to join them. That leads me to my real race report.

Packet Pickup At Run4It on Lothian Road


ROCK N ROLL SURVIVAL: Race day was finally here. During breakfast I stepped outside to see how hard it was raining. It really was only a drizzle at that hour, but the wind was not to be ignored as it ripped the hotel door from my hand and I watched a cabby chasing his hat down the sidewalk. Janice and I took the 1 mile walk to the start line village as the winds picked up. The winds swirled and subsided and rains poured down just before brilliant sun would then burst through the clouds. I knew it was a bad omen when I saw porta-loos (porta-johns) blown on their sides and smashed. Race crew was scampering. Thanks to the weather, things obviously weren’t going as planned. I looked at the wind-ravaged main stage and I wondered if the event would survive. Janice had to hoof it back to the hotel to retrieve a forgotten memory card for her camera (yes, she made the trip twice) and I sought refuge at the VIP tent. The pouring rain and screaming wind was constant now, but oddly every now and then it would take a break and the sun and a beautiful rainbow would appear. After a brief respite, it would be back to near hurricane conditions. Janice made it back to the VIP tent telling me she had re-instructed Nathan and Cody about where the bands would be playing and what time they needed to be at the finish line. I wondered if they would actually leave the security of the hotel.

Porta-Loos In A Bad Way


The MC with the brilliant Scottish accent called for all runners to get to their starting pens (corrals). Janice found a vantage point at the base of Arthur’s Seat and I found my way to corral #3. The weather had created an environment of semi-panic. Runners were streaming into the start at the front and trying to make their way to their corrals through corrals already filled with runners. You’re assigned to a corral based on your forecasted finishing time and your bib number. My number was 3434 and I watched as runners with numbers as high as 8,000, 10,000 and 12,000 hopped over barricades and lined up in the front corrals. I assumed they wanted to get to their race started in hopes of getting out of the driving rain sooner. With all this dire wind and rain, at 50°F it was at least somewhat warm. I wore my TeamREFUEL short sleeved jersey with a sleeveless base layer, arm warmers and shorts. As I waited there hopping from foot to foot to a booming mashup dance mix of local favorite sons TheProclaimers “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”, I had a fun memory of old buddy Adrian explaining their lyric about “havering” (Scottish for talking foolishly or babbling). I was watching Janice juggle cameras and take on the wind and pelting rain on the hill without the aid of a few thousand runners around her and I hoped our boys stayed in bed. We all laughed as a dozen young guys ran up the grassy hill to pee and avoid the scary porta-loos. Just as I was enjoying these rain soaked day dreams, that strong Scottish voice came over the PA system and announced that he had some bad news for us and then he paused. I thought, “oh no, here it comes, the race is canceled due to the conditions, we came all this way…”. Moments after his pregnant pause he went on stating that due to the deteriorating weather, some things needed to be “sorted” on the race course and our start would be delayed. Now I’ve never been delayed by a race director, but I have been delayed by airlines and we all know how that turns out. After about 5 minutes (this guy clearly never worked for an airline), we were told the countdown to start the elite runners was imminent.
Never Did Find The Pot 'O Gold - Perhaps It Blew Away



"Hi Honey!"


In short order, my corral was at the line and we were off. I knew the opening miles were flat/downhill so I went out quick to get out of the corral crowd and get warmed up. We wound through neighborhoods heading toward Leith, passed by 2 bands rocking on in spite of the conditions and we then came to the water front. We were now exposed to the real winds for the first time as we ran along the Firth of Forth. There was a DJ along there and he was encouraging the runners, but then he decided to announce that sustained winds were 60kph and gusts were maxing out at 110kph. I was running next to a couple wearing Canada shirts and the man converted those numbers to MPH, I didn’t need to hear that, I knew those wind speeds sounded immense. My pace was increasing and slowing based on the winds. I knew now that any strategy of maintaining a steady pace was gone. I changed plans to drop my mile time anywhere the wind allowed and just gut it out in the head wind sections. I knew I was putting out the effort for an 8 minute mile in places, but my watch showed 8:30 or slower. Cross winds were no friend either, I saw smaller runners stumble and fall and twice my right foot was blown into my left mid-stride. Managing my pace based on the winds also meant running the hills differently. Did I forget to mention the hills? Yep, while the first few miles were flat and fast much of the rest of the course snaked through the old city and over the hills it’s built on. Instead of cruising the climbs I was going to need to push up them when the wind allowed. There

was also that downhill on the back side of Arthur’s Seat that many talked about later. There was such a crazy tailwind, you couldn’t slow down. I saw 6:03 on my watch and wondered if I’d have much left after sprinting down this thing. It was nuts, runners were actually leaning backwards trying to slow their pace.
It was very cool to run through historic Edinburgh, but the coolest was to finally arrive at that last downhill which was even somewhat protected from the wind and find Cody, Janice and Nathan around the last turns at the finish line. In fact in the last few hundred meters, Nathan and Cody chased along after me with their iPods filming my last steps between The Scottish Parliament Building and Holyrood Palace towards the finish*. There’s just nothing better than having the one’s you love waiting at a finish line.

Soaked To The Bone & Stopping My Watch at 1:47:24



It was unfortunate that the winds caused such mayhem at the race expo at Holyrood Park, so much so that the headline band wasn't able to perform for concerns for their safety.
*With all my whining about the weather, I was able to manage a 1:47:24 finishing time, just slightly more than 2:24 off my 1:45 projected time. (I secretly told myself I’d be happy with a 1:50 while climbing one of those cobbled hills, so I’m elated with my time.)


BOSTON: Normally it doesn’t take me a week to post a race report, but this one has special circumstances. It’s been difficult to write about something so special to me during such an upsetting time in the US and the running community. We arrived at O’Hare on the way home to see televisions plastered with a bomb blast. All we saw was smoke, international flags blowing and crowd mayhem. While overseas, the UK was a buzz about the millions of pounds being spent on Margaret Thatcher’s funeral and we wondered if a protest had gone wrong. We soon found out about the tragic event in Boston that continued to unfold into the week. It was shocking to know that just the day before we were all at a finish line together and I was incredibly thankful we were all safe and ok. 


CHOCOLATE MILK ACROSS THE ATLANTIC: Yes I refuel with low fat chocolate milk. It’s been my recovery drink of choice for quite a while now. It is truly “MyAfter” and I recommend it to all. Janice was surprised when I told her it was not likely that there would be any chocolate milk at the finish line in Edinburgh. Accepting that challenge, she promptly froze a container of low fat chocolate milk and packed it safely in her checked bag. While they had all sorts of goodies at the Rock 'n' Roll finish line and VIP tent, chocolate milk was missing, but I had mine thanks to Janice! My TeamREFUEL attire didn’t go unnoticed, even in Scotland. Every race in the US, someone calls me the "Chocolate Milk Guy" or asks if I have any so it wasn’t a surprise that the accents of people commenting in Edinburgh sounded to be more from New Jersey or Ohio. One young Scottish fellow did tell me I was his rabbit and he chased my chocolate milk jersey down off the Mound to the finish. That was cool!

You Can Count The Rock N  Roll Marathon Folks For The Coolest Medals



This was an amazing experience and I can’t thank the kind people at GotChocolateMilk TeamREFUEL and The Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series enough for getting us there, hosting our visit and providing me the opportunity to run a race around such a cool city!

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Posted By Blogger to Perry's Trails at 4/23/2013 06:51:00 AM

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