It was a weekend of sunshine, singing, and Pentecost gloriousness.
And for me, it started at 5.30am on Saturday morning when I dragged myself out of bed and onto a train bound for Edinburgh.
This was to be my first road race since January 2011, when I did something spectacularly painful to my left knee in the last half mile of the BUPA Great Winter Run. By the time that had healed enough for me to walk the right way around down a flight of stairs, I was off to the Borders and then to Tanzania, still running, on and off, but never really training for anything, and then back to Scotland and headfirst into fifth year. The EMF 10K, which I registered for on a lunch break when I desperately needed to think for five minutes about anything but finals revision, seemed to be at a perfect time for me to slowly ease back into distance running after not emerging from behind my desk for the better part of five months. My secondary motivation was that I’d got a ballot place in the Great North Run for this September — and the last thing I wanted was for that to be my first road race in what by then would have been nearly two years.
So, my only goals for Saturday were to finish and to finish without walking.
You may have heard that Scotland has been having a heatwave.
On Wednesday, I had struggled to get through three miles, and I had been thankful that Edinburgh was three hours earlier and forecast to be eight degrees cooler.
We started behind the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood Park, and the first 4K took us most of the way around Queen’s Drive — a long uphill slog to the top of Arthur’s Seat. I’d done this part of the route before, albeit in the middle of Scottish winters, and when I crossed the start line I was quite happy to be passed by almost everyone who had started out in the corral behind me, knowing full well that I would regret it if I went out too fast. My plan was to stick as close as I could to a 12 minute/mile pace, and I reached 1 mile in 12:48. By this time, I was one of the few people in my part of the pack still running and I was struggling. I was also bobbing and weaving all over the road, making a hopeless attempt to find some shade. I made a deal with myself that if we were still going uphill at 15 minutes, I could take a three minute walk break. One thing about Queen’s Drive is that the uphill never ends, so I took my three minute walk break and my legs were exceedingly glad. At 18 minutes, we were still going uphill, but I could finally see Dunsapie Loch up ahead, where the road flattens out for a bit, and I broke back into a slow run.
It was hot and the hills were ridiculous, but this is an absolutely beautiful course and it was a beautiful day to be running it. I reached 2 miles at 27:02, which I think was just as we got our first downhill and were rewarded with this view out over Edinburgh (image by Google Earth):
As we approached the bottom of that downhill and back towards the start line, we passed the front-of-the-pack runners coming up their last mile. I was about to go off the part of the course that I knew and into an unfamiliar second half, so I was… well, happy is perhaps not the right word, to see that there was a long steep hill to conquer close to the finish, but I was glad to have the warning.
I reached 3 miles in 39:04, pleased that I had recovered my pace on the downhill. A minute or so later, at the 5K chip mat, one of the stewards shouted at me that there would be water about 400m ahead. I cheered and so did the woman next to me, and we chatted briefly — I had suspected that the race commentator, who had announced a water station between five and six miles, had got his units mixed up, and by that time I was ecstatic to be right. The water was at the top of another uphill section and I was tempted to walk many times on my way up it, but I chose to walk the water station instead. After the water station, we left Holyrood Park altogether for a mile along the cobbles of Old Church Lane and around the side of the park. I reached 4 miles in 51:38 and briefly wondered if I had a 1:15 finish in me, but then we turned back into the park and onto a trail, blessedly shaded but a whole mile of gentle incline, and I decided that I probably didn’t. I was steadily passing people on the trail — as a runner, I am, as you have probably gathered by now, slow as all get out, and the only person I’m really racing in a race is myself, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like passing people. My main entertainment was one guy who would walk along quite happily until I passed him, and then break into a fast run, and then slow down again once he was past me. He kept this up for the better part of the last five miles, and I was amused by the way he didn’t seem to like being passed by a girl.
When my Garmin bleeped at the 5 mile mark, at 1:04, I waved and cheered and told everyone around me that we only had a mile to go. A mile? You can do anything for a mile! I walked, a walk break that I had planned for ever since I’d seen the incline of the hill that the front-of-the-packers came up as they emerged back onto Queen’s Drive, and then started to run again. At the bottom of what I hoped was the very last hill, the crowd support quadrupled and I was urged up it by people with whistles and cheers. At the top, a group of Macmillan fundraisers shouted at me that it was all downhill from here. I nearly kissed them. I also sped up, very aware that the last time I’d done that at almost exactly this point on Queen’s Drive, my IT band had gone twang and I’d nearly had to stop to vomit, but my knee held out.
I had enough left to do the last quarter mile at a 9:43 pace, faster than I’d run anything all day, and staggered across what I wasn’t entirely certain was a finish line until a steward grabbed me.
Garmin Time: 1:20:02
Chip Time: 1:20:01 (the second is important!)
Many thanks to the gentleman at the baggage tent who found himself being presented with a Blackberry and asked to take a photograph. I travel alone to races; accosting random strangers is the only way I get pictures of these things.
A quick baby wipe shower and a much-needed bottle of water later, and I was back on the train to continue with my incredibly overbooked Saturday. This was my first time at an international race with multiple events, a well-organised Expo, and glorious sunshine, and I’d have loved to have stuck around Dynamic Earth for a bit and visited the exhibitors and watched the 5K runners come in, but… I must schedule better, next time.
I had an enormous amount of fun with this, even when I thought I might die. My mile splits were all over the place (ranging from 12:02 to 14:14, and hardly surprising) and I was nowhere near my 10K PB (and had never been going to be), but I felt like I ran strongly. I was thrilled to have pulled that pace out of the bag at the very end; I’ve never been able to do the ‘fast finish’ thing before and it felt fantastic to cross the line like that. And most importantly, what a gorgeous course and a great buzz, and how fantastic it was to be running through Edinburgh on a weekend like that.