900The Longest Day

The Longest Day

MR8-30MR gets up with the lark to see what life is like on race day for the men and women who make the whole thing happen.

words: Iain Clark

The night before the race, and all is calm. For runners, it is usually about putting your feet up, cramming in a few more servings of carbohydrate, checking your kit and getting a good night’s kip. What about the people on the other side of the fence?A text message comes in from Mike James, the race director of the ADT Edinburgh Half- Marathon. It says: “See you at 7.30am for the hell that is race day. Bring a jacket because it always rains.” The following 24 hours will prove James both right and wrong. The rain, which has been a feature at the race for the past few years, makes way for blistering sunshine and blue skies over the Scottish capital. Race day, however, is definitely manic.


James’s alarm goes off in his hotel room close to Meadowbank Stadium. He stretches and stifles a yawn and is straight out of the room, his first job of the day is to drive the course, making sure the traffic management guys are closing the roads correctly and in the right direction.


James arrives at Meadowbank Stadium, the venue for the start of the race, to meet the administration team. He’s also meeting with his health and safety officer at the stadium to ensure that everything is in check for a 9.00am start to the race.


Time for a meeting with the Meadowbank duty manager who hands over the stadium to James. He also catches up with the event sponsors, collects radios and makes contact with the control centre to ensure that everyone who should have a radio has one.


The first of the runners begin streaming in to the stadium, queues for the loos start to take shape. Mike meets scouts and briefs them on their role loading and unloading runners’ bags onto the baggage trucks.


Two and a half hours into his day and still an hour and a half before the start time and it seems that everyone we walk past has a question for Mike. To his credit, he stops to answer each inquiry or pass it on to another member of his team.


Mike is at the stadium entrance to greet the race referee when he arrives.


Mike’s phone remains plastered to his ear as questions come in, problems arise and problem solving begins. He hangs up a call, begins walking and then pauses. “That’s kind of how these days work, you start going somewhere and forget where it is you’re meant to be going,” he laughs.


Mike receives a phone call from a member of his team who is driving the route by car. Apparently some of the cones being used to close off the roads have been moved. Mike acknowledges the problem and contacts another member of his team who can take action to solve it.


Mike takes us out to the track where the race will begin. The atmosphere builds around us as the runners warm-up and start going through their stretches 30 minutes ahead of the start.


The Blackberry rings and it’s bad news. The luggage truck cannot leave the venue due to a car being parked in the way. Mike’s face tells the full story. Immediately he’s in touch with the race commentator who makes an announcement in a bid to find the car’s owner and get it moved.


Two representatives from a local gym take to the stage in front of all the runners to take them through a warm-up routine. James walks up into the stand overlooking the runners warming up on the football pitch below. As the sun beats down, James says: “That’s bloody good mate. The amount of work it’s taken to get to this stage is incredible, it’s emotional.”


The next 20 minutes are less hectic. Everything is set up for the start of the race and as runners make their final preparations, Mike waits patiently for a call from his team on the course for the race to begin.


Mike receives confirmation that the roads on the route are all ready and the runners begin to leave their starter pens and make their way to the start line.


“Five...four...three...two...one!” and the race is off. “Seven minutes behind schedule, it’s not bad really, and the sun’s shining!” says James. Does the heat come off a little now that the race has started? “No chance, if anything it gets worse,” Mike replies, as we start running out of the stadium to a car waiting to take us to the finish line.


“Noooo.. no no no!!” En route to the finish line, Mike encounters another problem with traffic cones. The gap between them is too narrow to fit the lead car through. Before we can protest we find ourselves running along the road with James, widening the cones as we go…


We arrive at Musselburgh Racecourse, the venue for the finish, and immediately check everything is in shape for the lead runners coming through the finish line. Water, goodie bags, T-shirts and medals are all where they need to be.


Mike receives the news that one of the buses that was supposed to be transporting marshals and scouts to the finish line has broken down. A quick call to the bus company and a replacement bus is sent out. Problem solved.


For the next hour and a half, runners begin to stream through the finish line and pick up all their post-race paraphernalia. The majority of the runners hang around in the sunshine, warming down, purchasing running goods from the merchandise tent and chatting with friends and family. “What an atmosphere,” says James. “There must be about 8,000 people out here now, it’s phenomenal.”


Once the last runner has passed through the finish, Mike sits down with sponsors and VIPs with a pint of beer and some sandwiches for an event debrief. “But that’s not the end of it, we need to de-rig everything on the course, pick up all the cones, diversions, etc. We’ll still be on the go until about 5.00pm.” There are some reports that the first water station had problems with supplies, and that after a slight miscalculation at one of the turning points, runners may have gone a little further than the distance. James is big enough to admit that in this game, it’s all about learning and improving from one year to the next.“We had record numbers with over 3,100 on the start line,” says Mike. “It was a glorious day, very hot, which threw up some challenges for the organisers, but overall it was a huge success.”After a long year’s planning and a challenging day of problem solving, the ADT Edinburgh Half-Marathon is complete. Until the next morning, when planning for next year begins.

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