Portobello Promathon Race History

The Beginning

The idea for a New Year’s Day race in Portobello can be traced back to the office of journalists Sandy Sutherland and Roddy MacKenzie in 1985. However it was not until just before the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games of 1986 that the planning for the race solidified with the help of Robin Morris and the backing and help of the Portobello Basketball Club.

The 1st race took place 1/1/1987. In the early years the field was small enough to gather afterwards at the Sutherland’s house for refreshments prepared by Sandy’s wife Liz, a GB 400m hurdle Internationalist. The 4 mile race itself was remarkable with a sub 20 time for the winner Adrian Weatherhead of Edinburgh AC in 19:31. More remarkable was the winning time of 19:59 for the 1986 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Yvonne Murray. Since then no woman has come within a minute of that record.

The race route of 4 miles started and finished at the Cat and Dog home turning at Joppa.

57 athletes completed the course with Sandy finishing in 48th. There was also a 2 mile junior race with 12 athletes finishing. In 1988 116 finished.

Officials from that day included Robin Morris, Bill Gentleman and Adrian Stott
From small acorns …!

In 1993 roadworks on the Prom before Joppa shortened course that was run.

The Second Phase

The Jackson family took over the organisation of the event in 1998. In 2001 with ice on the first and last sections of the prom the start/finish were on the beach where thankfully there was a low tide. Ice was a bigger problem in 2010 as the race had to be cancelled for the only time so far.

From its inception the race had been entries on the day only taken usually from 2 vehicles, often Ian Hislop's taxi, which prompted the below from James Ruskin of Edinburgh AC who in 2011 was running the race for the first time.

“The short queue for registration didn’t lead to a sports hall, a school, or even the nearby cat and dog home, but to the back of a strategically parked black cab. It really was like something out of Monty Python – if John Cleese had popped his head out of the window I wouldn’t have been at all surprised. Any tourists walking past might have wondered if they’d stumbled across a secret society. This part of Seafield is a bit bleak at the best of times, and the wind off the Forth was pretty cold, so I guess it wasn’t really the day for registration al fresco. After a few minutes I reached the front of the queue, gave my name and club, and handed £3 through the window and into the half-darkness. Head of operations, who was occupying the rear-facing seat, handed me my number. A quick check that I hadn’t just joined the local lodge of the Freemasons and I was on my way back to the car. “

In 2012 a record field of 384 meant registration was stretched and the race start had to be delayed. This meant a re-think for future years, the Cat and Dog Home traditional start had no toilets available which had always been an issue and an indoor registration with toilets was needed to secure the race’s future.

The Indoor Bowling Centre (now Tumbles) agreed to open up solely for the race registration and toilets on 1st January. The race went to pre-entries only by Entry Central with a race limit of 400. The race route was the same but instead of being an out and back 4 miles from Cat and Dog home it was started and finished at Tumbles with 2 turns, first one at the old start at the Cat and Dog home second one at Joppa.

After the 2020 race 3 men had won the race a record 3 times: Brian Kirkwood (ESPC AC, RC Edinburgh and Leslie Deans RC): Andrew Douglas (Inverclyde AC) and Grant Sheldon (Cambuslang H). 4 women have won the race twice: Zara Hyde Peters (Leeds/Woking); Trudi Thomson (Pitreavie AC); Hayley Ovens (Edinburgh Southern) and Nicola Duncan (Portobello RC). The most consistent athlete of recent years is Andrew Douglas who has 3 wins, 3 runners up and 2 third place finishes up to 2020.

The men’s course record holder is Ian Archibald (Edinburgh AC) 18.27 at the 1989 event. Ian is the father of Katy Archibald the racing cyclist who was a member of the Great Britain 2016 Olympic champion team in women’s team pursuit. Grant Sheldon has got close to Ian's record in recent years with 18.43 in 2017, 18.35 in 2020 and a 18.46 in 2020.

The women's course record is held by Yvonne Murray (Edinburgh AC) also in 1987 at 19.59 No female has got within a minute of that record, closest is Freya Murray (Chester Le Street) with 21.05 in 2008.

In 2020 George Black (Fife AC) ran a world best of 30.10 for an M80 athlete on a 4 miles road course.

No person has run all 33 years that the race has taken place. However Bill Gentleman has attended all 33 years most of them officiating as the Timekeeper.

Since its inception all surplus income from the race has been donated to charity.