“It’s the biggest hen party in the world.”
The incredulous shout from the young Irish guy summed up the whole event as the MoonWalk 2012 finally hit the streets of Edinburgh.
Okay, it was after midnight and it’s a fair assumption he had probably had spent several hours in one or more of the New Town’s watering holes.
But the sight of several thousand women walking apace as they made their way across George Street and down Hanover Street was enough to leave anyone who wasn’t in the know more than a little perplexed.
That and the fact there were all these females and not one stopped to window shop!
For these were women on a mission – and at this stage I have to point out that there were male participants. But everyone was united for one cause, to raise much-needed money for cancer charities and, in particular, improve treatment facilities for breast cancer sufferers.
Even the men were sporting the MoonWalk ‘uniform’ – a brightly decorated bra. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the weather that this year’s theme was Midnight at the Oasis and from 9 p.m. onwards on Saturday there was a deluge which turned the starting point at Inverleith Park into a quagmire. It also saw everyone enveloped in clear plastic ponchos and although some brave souls only had on their bras underneath, the majority were also wrapped up in t-shirts and sweat tops.
Despite having over 8000 walkers and unseasonal weather, the logistical operation of getting everyone into the tented village, their bags stored, feeding them energy-boosting pasta or rice, entertainment from musicians and belly dancers, then warming them up to stretch their muscles before they hit the road, ran incredibly smoothly.
The power walkers went off in three waves – the first at 11.30 p.m., the next 15 minutes later and the final group at midnight.
Thankfully, the rain had eased as we made our way to the start but tramping through mud and puddles meant socks and shoes were wet. Not a good omen. However, once on the road everyone made their way through the residential area before hitting the heart of the New Town and heading to Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat.
By then we had already passed the three-mile marker – those yellow signs definitely kept you going, but one person from the west noted they must be ‘Edinburgh miles’ as they seemed to be so far apart. However, the rain had returned and was driving into everyone as they ploughed their way up and round the capital landmark.
But once navigated it was already the six-mile mark and making our way up the Royal Mile wedding guests stood outside a hotel cheering everyone on. And for anyone who has ever complained that walking in high heels is difficult on Edinburgh’s cobbled streets, I can confirm that even in trainers it’s not the easiest thing to do.
Winding our way past the streets dug up for the controversial tram project and back into the New Town some were already beginning to struggle. However, there were always plenty of people to cheer you on.
Back in the residential areas there were even drinks of water left out and people with big bowls of sweets, as well as encouraging messages for the walkers. In Ravelston Dykes, there were two cute little boys in front of a sign saying ‘Go mum, go’, bearing a tray with fruit juice.
Eventually the route branched for those doing the Half Moon, a more reasonable 13.1 miles, to head back to ‘MoonWalk City’, while the Full Mooners carried on. However, the army of volunteers, who were always on hand to offer water and words of support, kept everyone to the right track.
I told myself if I reached the halfway point at the beach at Silverknowes it would be a psychological boost. However, despite the long-anticipated chocolate bar I’d promised myself, for some reason the next mile felt as though I was walking on jelly.
I plodded on through Granton, Leith and headed for Portobello. Although it never really seemed to get that dark, by now it was daylight and the 20-mile marker was beckoning. That was supposed to be another key point yet the next mile seemed to go on for ever – but that was because, like many others, I never saw the 21-mile sign and the next marker was 22 miles which seemed to signify the end was in site.
By now it was a steady climb up London Road. The queues for the toilets were no longer as long, but apart from an aversion to Portaloos, I decided it was better not to stop in the belief that, if I did, I’d never get started again. The same thought went through my head every time I saw people sitting down and taking their shoes off to inspect blisters and sore feet.
Along Queen’s Drive and for the third time the Scottish Parliament building comes in to view.
The route now takes us up Abbeymount and I totally agreed with the comment it was “a stupid place to put a hill” but, thankfully, it was then downhill almost all the rest of the way.
It was now after 5.30 a.m. and while the majority of residents slept there were still many who turned out to cheer. One woman standing with her dog and a youngster handing out sweets said “thank you from people like me”.
That was the moment that really brought home what it was all about and as I got closer to that elusive finishing line, emotions were running high, making it difficult not to turn into a blubbering wreck.
But, with the park in sight, it finally seemed achievable and, at 6.12 a.m., six hours and 27 minutes after starting, I could finally say that I’d done it – and I’ve got a medal to prove it.