It’s thanks to online running site Fetch Everyone that I saw a message offering a free place in the Edinburgh 10k. The same site that introduced me to my great friend Lesley who hosted me for the evening, got me to the start and looked after my bag. And it’s thanks to Fetch that I got hugs and smiles and a local’s low down on the route from the fabulous JaneyM and my old pal Scotty.
I have lot to thank Fetch for, but running this amazing route with views out over one of my favourite cities in the world is definitely among the highlights. I’d go back and run that route in a heartbeat, even with the hills.
I’d taken a half day off work on Friday, rattled through what I needed to do, desperate to get out of the door and on the road north. It pelted it down with rain. I grabbed a sandwich on the go and tried to dissolve the feeling of stress that sits in my chest when the pressure’s on and I feel like I have no time to think and reflect.
The skies had cleared, but were still grey and chilly when I arrived at Lesley’s place, still wired and tired from rushing through my day to get there. She said ‘You’re on holiday now,’ and I was.
We talked ten to the dozen, went for a bit of a drive, ate cake, and hung out. Stress gone. Later I met Danni, a crazy bundle of enthusiastic energy, also taking advantage of Lesley’s hospitality before a mental sounding mountain bike race. Fuelled up for our exploits, it was an early night for all before alarms were set for racing.
I really had no expectations for this 10k. I kept saying I just wanted to go and enjoy it, and I meant it, but sometimes the best made plans get lost in the heat of the moment, chasing for a time. But really I had no excuse not to be relaxed. Lesley drove us up to Edinburgh, knew exactly where to park for a short walk into Holyrood Park.
Walking in was wonderful, getting a close up view of the crags of Arthur’s seat and the yellow gorse on the hills. Did I draw strength from the volcanic rocks, the tough organic heart of this majestic city? Or from my friends, the amazing Janey fresh from ultra marathon glory, or Scotty who fooled around and made me laugh before the start? A bit of both, I’d say.
I felt bouncy and fresh as I warmed up. It was overcast and cool, but not windy – perfect running conditions. So when our time came, I bounded off picking through the crowds trying to find space, heading out much too fast for the hill that was to come.
Scotty came through past me as I started to bring my enthusiasm into check just before the 1km marker and the turn to mark the start of the climb. His local knowledge and talking me through the course really helped as I reckon that’s the longest uphill drag I’ve ever run. I knew there was a false top, and then another steep bit and then that would be it as good as over.
I dropped my pace, but tried to keep up the effort. Small steps, breathing easy, not looking too far ahead, just keeping moving, not pushing too hard. There were people walking already. I told myself I was a long way off that and kept going. The steeper section almost got me, but I took some deep breaths and kept on moving, determined to run every step of this one if I could.
The blessed relief of an enthusiastic cheering point at the top and then a good stretch of downhill where I let go and picked off runners by the dozen as I descended, trusting to my feet and my core muscles to keep me upright.
And the views? What views! Even on a grey day, to see the city laid out beneath you, climbing the crags, feeling like you can touch the sky, gave me a very special sense of being connected to the elements of rock, earth, water and air. It was well worth the effort of climbing. As I ran there, I sensed this would be a place I’ll return to in my dreams.
I was running to feel, enjoying the cool air on my skin, pushing on when I felt good, easing back and giving myself space to breathe when it got harder. At 5k I glanced to see 30 minutes on my watch and felt that was fair, given the terrain.
I had a dip in energy levels just after that, feeling the effort in my legs and for a few seconds trying to force more pace from them as a crowd of runners surged past. But then I let it go and just cruised until the feeling came back again and I felt free to run, stretch out and enjoy. Along the flat path of the innocent railway shaded by the trees, I began to play reel them in, latching onto the back of one runner and drawing myself past them, then spotting another and going again.
At the end of this stretch was another tough rise, steep and unforgiving on tired legs. I started well, controlling the effort, shortening my stride, but it became a shuffle. As others walked I hunkered down, used my arms and determined not to walk a step, even if I was moving at barely more than walking pace.
My calves were tight. I got a twinge in my knee. And I swear I could have accurately placed the tibialis posterior on my right leg. I could feel it spiralling all the way up from the inside of my foot to my knee. If I’d felt like I’d been holding back a little on the run before, I was glad of it now.
At Raby Castle 10k last week, I’d talked myself up a stiff climb, then struggled at the top and found myself walking on the flat which was irritating. My legs had more strength or my mind had more staying power this time and I kept on moving, gathering my breath, ready for the much anticipated downhill sweep that would bring me back round towards the finish.
Swooping down and round, overtaking runners as I descended into the last kilometre, feeling my legs flying free and trying to carry that speed into the final straight. Still I was holding on, reminding myself that the finish was further on that the start line, not wanting to blow up completely before the end. Picking a spot to sprint from and going a little early, but powering on as others around me kicked for the finish. Oh how I do love a last minute sprint!
Over the line and stopped the watch. You could tell I hadn’t glanced at it since 5k. My time – 1:00:06. Six seconds over the hour.
And there’s the real test of how much I enjoyed this run. There was a milli-second of annoyance, so close but not under the hour. And then a laugh at myself, because this was never about time, it was about the experience.
The experience of testing legs, heart, lungs and brain over ancient rocks and trails. The experience of running in one of my favourite places in the world with some of the best people I know. The experience of being a runner, being able to do this, being alive and well and conscious of every amazing sensation. I’ll take six more seconds of that any day.