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OVER THE MOONWALK; Thousands put breast foot forward in night-time charity marathon around Edinburgh.

Byline: By Fiona Russell

THOUSANDS of bra-clad charity walkers yesterday marched a night-time marathon through the streets of Edinburgh to raise funds for breast cancer research.

Some 10,000 walkers - including 1000 men - refused to be put off by rain and trekked for up to 12 hours, starting at midnight on Saturday, to complete the Edinburgh Moonwalk challenge.

Seven thousand competitors managed the 26.2-mile Full Moon, the fastest in five hours, while 3000 power-walked their way through the 13.1-mile Half Moon.

Last year's inaugural event raised pounds 1.7million for Scottish breast cancer charities.

This year the target for the Edinburgh Moonwalk, which included celebrity walkers Lorraine Kelly and Michelle McManus, is pounds 2.5m.

Mum of one Fiona Russell, 39, from Glasgow, donned trainers - and a brightly coloured bra - to take part in the gruelling Full Moon walk with her best friends and found women really are made of sterner stuff. Here's how Fiona, right, got on...

STRIDING out at midnight from the Meadows, I should have felt a little silly publicly displaying my crazy customised bra. Perhaps I should also have been daunted by the prospect of eight hours of non-stop plodding.

And it might have been realistic to worry about the rain forecast.

But I couldn't have cared less. I was part of the famous Edinburgh Moonwalk, I had two of my favourite friends to chat to all night and, since I'm a woman, I was confident I'd cope with any physical hardship. I knew I was going to make it to the finish line.

And so the first rainy few miles through Holyrood Park and up Arthur's Seat seemed to fly by in a blur of expectant excitement.

Then suddenly we saw mile marker four. By this time we'd reached the High Street and were no longer alone.

As thousands of marchers were doing our bit for charity, hundreds of drunk revellers were spilling out of pubs on to the streets. Surely we were going to be heckled. No doubt they would tease us for walking instead of drinking, and wearing bras that shone in the dark.

But no, they mostly cheered us and clapped as we trundled in a long snake along Princes Street and on to London Road.

By now my friends, Ellen Lowry, 40, and Sally Arnison, 35, had settled onamoderate pace - and the rain was only a light drizzle.

Clocking almost exactly 20 minutes for every mile, we'd spent the last 140 minutes (two hours, 20 minutes) talking almost non-stop.

We'd discussed our children, our partners, our friend's new extension, the state of my vegetable patch, the SNP's stance on health care and where we dream of retiring to.

I'd also overheard several other groups of women having similarly wide-ranging conversations.

As people passed, snippets of chat bounced around us: "I was saying to my mother the other day that the curtains weren't the right colour...", "He just went totally mental when I told him I'd joined a gym for pounds 100 a month...", "Did anyone see Big Brother last night?" While every walker was intent on making it to the end, it was clear the 9000 women were just as keen to catch up with friends.

"I never realised how much I had to say to my gang of five," said TV presenter Lorraine Kelly later.

"I guess we all have such busy lives but doing the Moonwalk has given us a rare opportunity to blether for hours and hours.

"How brilliant to be doing our bit for such vital charities, keeping fit, while also chatting with pals."

In fact, the Moonwalk - which was first conceived by Nina Barough while power-walking the New York Marathon in her bra 10 years ago to raise funds for breast cancer research - provided ample opportunities to exchange a few words with amiable strangers too.

Despite being such a gruelling event, the atmosphere was cheerful. Not once did I hear a whinge or a moan. No one talked about throwing in the towel.

"That is the one thing I'm really impressed by," agreed Martin Anderson, one of the 1000 men who walked the Full Moon.

"The overall atmosphere is one of dogged determination. Yes it is hurting a lot of people, and many will never have walked this far before, but we're all getting on with it because it's for a good cause."

Like so many walkers Martin, of Alva, Clackmannanshire, who was the "pacemaker" among a big group of Moonwalking friends, has had his life affected by cancer.

"My brother's wife was lucky to survive breast cancer during the last few years, but it was something that affected my whole family," he said.

"I wanted to help raise further funds for such vital charities."

As Ellen, Sally and I reached the half way mark at 4am and turned to walk along the edge of the Firth of Forth, the morning sun suddenly came out, lifting our spirits.

We still had a long way to go and each of us was nursing aches and pains. Ellen's hips were seizing up, Sally had an "all-over undefined pain" and I could feel a huge blister forming on the sole of my left foot.

The lack of sleep was also making us feel giddy and giggly. As if reading my mind, Fiona Fraser, a Moonwalker from Perth, suddenly overtook me and said: "We're all off our heads, aren't we? But we're still going to do it."

Fiona, marching on with friend Sheila Reid, was taking part in memory of her close friend who died of breast cancer a few years ago. She was in her early forties, with two kids aged eight and 10.

Fiona said: "It was devastating not only for her family but because it brought the illness home to me.

"I have children of a similar age and these things make you think.

"After that I felt I wanted to help breast cancer charities. I could have just given money but that would have been too easy. I started doing 5k Race For Life events and now the Moonwalk. This sure does hurt."

In the final tortuous six miles, many competitors were hobbling and the number of casualties increased sharply.

I saw a few women forced to quit just an hour from the end, while many people were singing songs to keep their minds off the pain.

My friends and I played silly word games. And every few minutes a bag of sweets came out of nowhere.

"I would so love to be taxied the last few miles," said a laughing Lorraine Hughes, who had travelled to the event with cousin Shayil Evans from North Wales.

"It's been such a tough night, but we can't give up now. Ever since we first did a 5k Race For Life event a few years ago we've had our sights set on this. We will getour medals."

And so they did. As Ellen, Sally and I hobbled the last 500 metres, returning to the Meadows after seven hours, 50 minutes of fun and pain, I saw Lorraine and Shayril hugging tearfully, pink-ribboned medals round their necks.

"That was the worst and the best thing I've ever done," Lorraine said.

"I know, but we'll probably do it again," added Shayil.

In total, the Moonwalkers trekked 221,000 miles for charity, the equivalent of almost nine times around the world. Now that was worth putting my bra on show for.

'Not once did I hear a moan or a whinge. No one talked about throwing in the towel'

For more info about the Edinburgh Moonwalk 2007 and Walk the Walk fundraising, see www.walkthewalk.org

CAPTION(S):

BRA-VO: Moonwalkers including TV presenter Lorraine Kelly, pictured above centre, did their bit for charity
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 18, 2007
Words:1293
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