Edinburgh Marathon boss tells of his journey to the big day

SOMETIME late on Sunday, many hours after the first runners have set off and the early crowds have seeped away, one man at least will still be standing at the finish line of the Edinburgh Marathon at Musselburgh Racecourse.

However late the final stragglers are, Geoff Sims, the man in charge of the city's 26.2 mile race, always ensures that someone is there to cheer their efforts – especially as he knows those that are limping on in agony are often raising vital cash for charities close to their hearts.

"People who are doing it to get a personal best, if they get a pain and it's going to slow them down, well, they might call it a day. But if someone's doing it to raise money for charity . . ." he gives a little shrug.

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"It can be phenomenally emotional. You see people giving more than 100 per cent. I've had to hold back the tears. My staff have had to hold back the tears."

Hankies will have to be at the ready on Sunday then as at least 3,000 of the 17,273 runners signed up to take part in the event – officially the Albert Bartlett Edinburgh Marathon – are being sponsored for good causes. The coffers of charities both local and national are expected be swelled by more than 3.5 million, thanks to their efforts – just a fraction of an amazing 10m-plus which the marathon has raised for charities since it began in 2003.

When it comes to phenomenal figures, though, the Edinburgh Marathon is full of them – Sunday's 26.2 mile race will see 12,000 bananas consumed, 100,000 bottles of water and 50,000 Lucozade sport pouches drunk and the use of 100 portable toilets required. And as chief executive of Edinburgh Marathon Ltd, it is Geoff Sims' responsibility to make sure all is in place and that everyone is happy. It's a monumental task – the 45-year-old is the first to admit there have been plenty of hurdles over the years for the UK's second biggest marathon. Perhaps the biggest was in 2006, when the marathon had to be saved from a last-minute cancellation by a council bail-out of 140,000 of taxpayers' cash.

"It's interesting how it's perceived," Geoff muses. "I have to be careful because the council have been great, we have had a lot of support from them but that year things got a bit sticky. It was a learning curve."

In return for funding, the council and partner Event Scotland wanted TV coverage and big-name competitors, which sent costs soaring. TV production costs have to be paid for by marathon organisers, as have the elite competitors' travel and accommodation, he explains.

"A lot of these requirements weren't in our short-term plan. Our plan was to build up slowly. We actually overstretched ourselves trying to reach these requirements.

"It was just unfortunate that then the council restructured their traffic management and the costs just went through the roof."

The council's traffic management bill shot up from 54,000 to 159,000. The bail-out was the council waiving the increase and dropping their funding for the following year. The deal at an end, Geoff and his team – he started with three full-time staff, now there's eight – brought in their own traffic management company, and ditched the more grandiose ideas.

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"The runners aren't that concerned about television coverage and it costs an enormous amount of money. And we question the value of getting these people (international runners]."

The leaner, trimmer marathon saw entrant numbers dip in 2007 but: "That was the first year that we actually made a profit." And the event has been in profit ever since.

The first five years, however, it made a loss.

Geoff shrugs: "It's my company. I have had to make the money. It's a start-up business, that's what you have to expect.

"I've always had the belief and the knowledge that the event was worth it."

Born in Derbyshire, Geoff's first career was working in youth and homelessness charities. His forte was fundraising, which led to consultancy and auditing – explaining to charities where they could make more cash. The lack of a marathon as a money-raising option here was always a footnote in reports to Scottish charities. "A kind of 'what a shame'," he says.

The chance to change that came when he moved to North Berwick ten years ago for the "lifestyle", where he still lives, although he is now separated from his wife. His older son, Michael – he has three children – was about to turn 11 and it was a now or never choice before he settled in at high school.

The last Edinburgh People's Marathon took place in 1986 with just over 3000 runners. A 26-miler from Dunfermline to Edinburgh in 1999 failed to became an annual event.

But Geoff felt a marathon bolstered with charity runners could be a success – and so took the plunge.

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"It was one of those decisions that three months into it I thought: 'You idiot, why are you doing this? You know nothing'," he laughs. "But there were other people out there who did and my knowledge of charities was useful."

His research was exhaustive. "I made sure I visited as many running events as possible. I'd rather learn from other people's mistakes." Even so, there were hiccups. "There are so many logistics. The size of the clear-up the first few years took us by surprise. We knew we'd get discarded bottles, but this was 26 miles of discarded bottles."

And he's made changes over the years – like cutting Arthur's Seat from the route when he realised the steep climb was putting many people off. This year, as in the previous two, the route will start in the city but then head out to East Lothian, ending at Musselburgh Racecourse.

Last year, the company's own survey put the economic benefit to the area – from runners and their supporters' hotel and other spending while here – at 2.7m.

The company now also runs 14 5k races throughout the UK, from Milton Keynes to Aberdeen. And next year, they will launch four 26.2km (16 mile) road races, called Kilomathons, in the four home nations, including one in Edinburgh in October which will take in the Forth Road Bridge.

Next year might even see Geoff pull on a pair of trainers and run his own marathon for the first time.

"I would love to do it in less than four and a half hours," he says. "But I have to get fit first. And it does help if you are not carrying an extra stone," he sighs, patting a slightly less than svelte stomach.

He's only ever run one marathon himself – in New York a couple of years ago. He refuses to reveal his finishing time: "I'm not telling you that!" he laughs. "The first half was great but then I got injured – I finished it with a purple foot which was a bit painful."

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He does believe the Capital's race will go from strength. "We still have a long way to go. Almost every international marathon in the western world has been going longer than ours. But we are catching up.

This year his aim is to have a bigger number of finishers than Dublin's marathon. And for the future, in ten, 20 years? "I see no reason for us not to be biting on the heels of London."


A total of 17,273 runners, from 50 countries, are entered for the seventh Edinburgh Marathon this year – with 4,172 of those running as members of one of the 1,043 relay teams. Last year there were 13,558 runners.

• The 2009 marathon route will start from Regent Road – moved from Princes Street because of the tramworks. Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill will officially start the race.

• The race sponsor Albert Bartlett and Edinburgh Marathon have commissioned a male and female winners trophy for this year's marathon, adorned with more than 2,500 Swarovski crystals.

• Up to 1,000 volunteers are needed over the weekend of the marathon, from marshals to stewards to start/finish crew.

• Stewarts Brewery has created a limited-edition beer called EMA (Edinburgh Marathon Ale) for the event. Free samples from the city brewery will be given to every marathon finisher. EMA will also be available across 14 real ale pubs in Edinburgh and at The Levenhall Arms in Musselburgh.

• Unusually attired runners will include Stephen Gregory and Billy Wait from Blue Watch Bathgate in their firefighter gear, an Elvis and an ostrich. David Hellard will be trying to break the world record for the fastest marathon dressed as a superheroine, wearing a Supergirl outfit.

• The world record for the slowest marathon time ever – six days and six hours – was set by Lloyd Scott, pictured above, at the 2003 event. He completed the course dressed in a deep-sea diving suit.