A mixed weather forecast for Edinburgh this weekend means that 10K/5K runners on Saturday are likely to have to contend with heavy rain while participants in Sunday's feature marathon and half-marathon have the more attractive prospect of sunny intervals on a cloudy day.
Whatever the weather more than 27,000 runners will take part in the biggest ever Edinburgh Marathon Festival, hosted over two days for the first time (May 21/22). Saturday sees the introduction of three new events, a 5k, 10k and a junior race while the marathon itself takes place on Sunday along with the popular Hairy Haggis Team Relay and the half marathon.
Deemed a world class city marathon, this is the ninth running of the event in Scotland's capital and it has once again drawn a record entry, while the overall quality of the Festival is demonstrated by the inclusion in the half marathon field of Scottish international Hayley Haining, who had a top 10 finish in the Commonwealth Games Marathon in Melbourne in 2006.
Race Director Neil Kilgour commented, "The running festival weekend will provide something for everyone with new races added and nearly all of those events sold out. Our marathon route is now fully IAAF compliant and is one of the fastest marathon routes in the world and a great opportunity for those aiming for a personal best, whether that is for Olympic qualification, running a club record or the maximum return for runners training for what might be their only marathon."
Edinburgh boasts one of the fastest growing marathons in the world since it was founded back in 2003 when it attracted 3,000 entrants to the inaugural race.
Former champion Martin Williams will start Sunday's Edinburgh Marathon as the favourite to re-claim the title but he expects to be challenged every step of the way. The 33-year-old Scottish and British international took the title in 2009 and opted only to run in the half marathon last year, finishing runner-up as he tailored his preparations for the Commonwealth Games.
However this season, as he targets a place in Team GB for the London 2012 Olympics, he is back in the main event and believes the field is stronger than ever. "There is greater depth at Edinburgh this year. That is good because you can use those people to work off to press on towards a decent time," said Williams. I plan to run my own race and I want to be among the front-runners at the 18 mile marker. That's when everyone starts getting really tested."
Williams is aiming for a sub 2 hours 20 marathon time and the main domestic challenge is expected to come from fellow Scot Ross Houston (Central Athletics), who recently secured back to back wins in the Kilomathon Scotland. He brings great form into the race after his third place finish in the inaugural Scottish 5km Road Race Championships earlier this month, which followed his victory the weekend before in the 20 mile Edinburgh to North Berwick race.
However Blackburn's Ben Fish, Holmfirth's Matthew Pierson and Welshman Ian Williams are all aiming to deny the Scots a win on home soil, while the favourite has identified a dark horse in his Tipton Harriers clubmate and training partner Phil Nicholls, a 27-year-old who is stepping up to full marathon distance after winning the Stafford half marathon in March.
"Phil has such a lot of potential and has serious aspirations. He is a real contender for the title if he can maintain his form over the longer distance and he is certainly showing all the signs," said Williams.
Further information about the Edinburgh Marathon Festival is available from the event website.