NVA Speed of Light, Edinburgh

Distance: Just under 5 miles

Medal: No.  But we did get a goody bag with a nice long-sleeved tech shirt!

This is the event that I signed up to after having a few drinks to drown my sorrow at having not been allocated a space in the 2012 London Marathon after the ballot.  And then forgot about.  So when I received an e-mail a couple of months later thanking me for signing up, it took a little bit of digging through my inbox and searching online to confirm what exactly I had signed up for.

Speed of Light is part of Edinburgh’s International Festival, and is seen as, among other things, a fusion of performance and endurance.  It involves runners (a whole bunch of them) suiting up in LED light suits and running around Arthur’s Seat in the dark for an audience.  It started on Thursday, and will be running until the beginning of September, so plenty of time to catch a (late-ish) show if you’re in Edinburgh.

On Saturday afternoon (after a day of walking around Edinburgh in the sun), I headed to Holyrood Park, aiming to arrive at the tents at 6pm.  We had already been through the park on Saturday, so I knew where to go, which always makes things less stressful, but it’s pretty hard to miss!  There were a number of runners milling about waiting to be let through the gates, all clad in black lycra.

Approaching Arthur’s Seat

Speed of Light tents

After a short wait, the security guys called for all the runners to go through.  I was one of the first to get to the registration tent, and after giving my name and telling them I was in the early group, I had two wrist bands put on; one to say I was part of the event, the other allocating me to the yellow group.

NVA wristbands

I headed through to the runners tent, where there were sets of tables for the different groups, found myself a spot, and watched other runners trickling in.  It was quite good fun spotting people wearing event t-shirts from throughout the year, and I spotted quite a few that I own!  There was a guy wearing a Perth Kilt Run shirt, an emf half marathon finisher, and a Tough Mudder shirt.

Eventually, some other early session yellow folk appeared, and we got to talking.  I met a fellow American called Leah, and her friend Morag.  We spoke of GPS, running, food, and what we were expecting from the night.  Before I knew it, the organizer was getting our attention to go through a few safety instructions, give us some information about what we were doing, and thank us for taking part.  Then it was time to get on the hill and go through some basics!

Our run leaders were Cat and Gordon, and after being introduced we set off to learn some of the arm signals we’d be using later on some of the trails we’d be running.  Each movement had been given a name, and some their own arm signal.  Names of the moves included: sparkle, heartbeat, lighthouse, and firefly.  All suitably ridiculous when not wearing a light suit and standing in broad daylight with a group of near strangers on a hill.

Cat, our enthusiastic run leader!

After the orientation, we were set free until about 9.  Leah, Morag, and I hit the cafe, Urban Angels, for some energy to carry us through the night.  I had a brownie (delicious) and some elderflower juice.  It cost me £4.50, so if you’re planning on filling up, bring notes, not coins.  The tables in the cafe were all adorned with tablecloths that had quotes printed on them.  Turns out the quotes were responses to ‘Why do you run?’ that everyone had a chance to fill in when they signed up!


By 9pm, we had already made our way back to the runners’ tent, where a small group was huddled around a television showing live Olympic athletics events.  I managed to watch Jamaica beat the U.S.A (and set a new world record!) just before the yellow group got called away to get into our light suits!  The colours were pretty amazing, and they were less cumbersome than I had imagined them to be.

Hanging light suits!

We all helped each other get into the suits and then posed for a last minute group photo.  Unfortunately my camera was on the wrong setting, so a lot of my photos turned out blurry.  This is why the group photo below looks like a point of view shot from someone who had hit the Christmas brandy a little too early.  And a little too hard:

I know I’m in the front row….. somewhere…

Ian texted at about this point to let me know we was somewhere on the hill, and to look out for his phone light flashing when I left the tent.  It was twilight, so I saw his silhouette as soon as we started heading up the hill, and I started covering and uncovering my head torch to try and catch his attention, but he told me afterwards that he couldn’t see me.  Oh well.

The yellow group positioned ourselves in a line, keeping about 10 meters apart, and were told that from the start, we just had to stay still for the first couple of minutes.  I took the opportunity to snap a photo of Edinburgh at twilight from a pretty decent vantage point:

Edinburgh at about 9:30 pm

Once it started, everything was kind of a blue – albeit a very colourful one.  We were going up, we were going down, we were sparkling, we were lighthousing, we were turning around, going past other runners, going through the audience, inhaling flying beasties, navigating rocks and bogs – there was a lot of concentration required!  There were a few moments here and there when we had the opportunity to look across at some of the other runners and saw shapes and patterns being created out of lights on the hill.  It did look pretty impressive, but then it was time to move again!

There were also occasional surprises when your head torch suddenly illuminated a camera man/woman perched in the dark filming you (the BBC were filming that night), and there were one or two members of the public, at various stages of sober, along the trails as well.  If you want to have a look at some of the photos that were taken on the night, there’s a really nice set here.  There is also a short video and some more information about the event here.  Aaaaaand BBC In Pictures.

When we were finished, the late yellow group met us on the hill and we swapped our light suits for their high-viz vests and waited until the path was clear before heading down the hill to the tent.  Once back down, we had goodie bags hanging on the hooks where we had found our light suits, which we grabbed, before getting our personal belongings from the runners’ tent, and saying our goobyes/goodnights.

Ian was waiting for me outside the tent, and we wearily walked back to his sister’s, where I had a quick shower and then enjoyed the comfort of a warm bed.  I didn’t expect him to have stayed up the hill for the whole time I was out running – he must have been freezing!

I’m glad I signed up to this, as it was a one-off experience, and a pretty cool thing to be a part of.  It was also good to get some hill work in, since it has been pretty much non-existent so far (oops).  For anyone in Edinburgh, there are spots for reserve runners, since things happen and people can’t make it, so I’d definitely recommend going along.  I’m also looking forward to seeing the BBC footage, which I heard will be on BBC 2 on August 30th.

4 thoughts on “NVA Speed of Light, Edinburgh

    • Yeah, it appears my phone’s camera was set to ‘macro’. I was probably taking another close up photo of my foot, and forgot to switch it back to auto focus.

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