Two weeks ago I took part in an annual event – the Moonwalk – to raise money for breast cancer causes. Entrants can choose to take part in either the full-marathon or the half-marathon, and there’s a choice between doing the walk in London or Edinburgh.
What’s the difference between this and any other marathon? It’s done at night, and the majority of the participants are walking in highly decorated bras (including the men). The youngest walker was 12 and the eldest was celebrating her 80th birthday at midnight.
My team and I, very sensibly, decided to book a hotel for when we’d finished the walk; so after arriving in Edinburgh mid-afternoon on the Saturday, we dropped off our gear and headed for the nearest Starbucks – which, coincidentally, was on the top floor of a Waterstone’s bookshop. It was a fluke, I swear! Well fortified with caffeine and toasted fruit bread we headed back to the hotel to change, and then walked for about a mile to get to The Meadows, which was going to be our starting point.
We entered through the pink balloon decorated gates and were immediately blasted with music from the huge marquee. The area was full of people taking photos of their teams, making last minute adjustments to their bras or costumes, and just generally having a great time gearing up for the event.
There was live music, a massage area, and a temporary tattoo parlour, as well as the food stands where we picked up our pasta and a flapjack to keep us going.
With it being Scotland we did, naturally, have bagpipes as part of the live music. Playing Queen no less. And everyone sang We will rock you with gusto before heading off into the cold, dark Edinburgh night. (I’ll come back to the bit about it being cold.)
We were in the third group, which meant that we had the joy of starting off last – at midnight. We’d had three warmups by this stage and condensation was beginning to form on the inside of my stylish, clear plastic, poncho-like raincoat. Keeps the rain out but, when worn with a bum-bag locked around the waist it also acts like a greenhouse! Keeping heat and moisture in didn’t, strangely, mean we stayed warm. Did I mention that it was cold?
We yelled the countdown and set off, our power-walking techniques hampered by the sheer number of people. It was like a bizarre form of ‘catch-up’, with groups overtaking each other and then being overtaken in turn; spectators cheering encouragement from the sidelines. (The embarrasing point was around mile ten when a teenaged lad whizzed past us, pushing his grandmother in a wheelchair at high speed while we soldiered doggedly on. He looked as if he could do another ten miles at the same speed, no problem).
We did the half-marathon (13.1 miles) and so our route took us from the Meadows, around Holyrood Park (which included walking up and around a large, unlit tump); down Queens Drive and up the Royal Mile, bra lights flashing and space blankets rustling as we strode. Princes Street to Regent Road to Queen Street – a fair few were flagging by this point; sitting at the side of the road with their trainers off, packets of blister plasters in their hands.
The temperature had dropped even further and all exposed flesh turned rosy with the cold. We sped up, but it only warmed our legs – chests and arms and backs still felt the chill, so around 03:30 we gave in, wrapped our space blankets round our backs, and carried on rustling along the streets. *Tip: get someone to meet you at mile nine or ten with a hot drink*
We saw many a kilted chap on the walk. Edinburgh truly seemed to be a city that never slept; even at 04:30 there were crowds of people staggering along the streets after a night on the town. Some stared at us in bemusement; many cheered us on. And, it has to be said, being cheered on by a braw, brawny man in a kilt does give you a bit of a second or third wind!
We parted ways with the full-marathon walkers just before the ten-mile marker. They carried on to Queensferry Road while we directed our weary selves towards West Coates and the Haymarket. Finally, we were on the last stretch. Which paradoxically felt like the longest leg of the walk. Half a mile from the Meadows, where we’d started, we began to meet people who’d already finished; their medals draped proudly round their necks. This spurred us on to pick up the pace (getting our medals also meant we would be able to go back to the hotel and sleep for 2 hours) and it wasn’t long before the finish was in sight.
We passed through the finish line with a sense of relief that now we could get dressed and warm up. We accepted our medals, glad that we were done but, having been up now for 24 hours straight, we wanted nothing more than to head off to bed.
We would admire our medals, and the fact that we’d done a half-marathon in the doldrums of the night, later.
A shower, two hours of sleep, followed by a cooked breakfast, and we were fighting fit and ready to head back to the station for the journey home to Derbyshire. It was a wonderful, rewarding, tiring, cold experience and definitely something we’d do again.
Just, maybe not next year.