Another year, another 7 hills of Edinburgh. I wasn't going to do this again this year. Normally the impetus is Peter who LOVES this race. I like it too but I've run it 7 times already - well now I've run it 8 times. I had a look about to see if there were any other races on this weekend. There was Durisdeer yesterday but it was a SHR championship counter which is Scottish Hill Racing percentage death and also Peter can't run in the hills. (With his foot y'understand.) If I could have found a nice trail run somewhere that would definitely have been my preference. But there wasn't one. Its a PRC championship race this year which finally swung it for me, so I set out to get my greedy little hands on another 10 points if possible, although this was by no means a certainty. Aileen is being a good sport about this championship. I don't think she's bothered and so is generous about me nipping in just ahead of her.
Its been uniformly pissing down for the last 2 days and today it was meant to dry up. All the weather forecasts said so. But nobody told the sky and it pissed down again today. I was afraid it might get cold and stuck a t-shirt on under my vest, but I needn't have worried. I was soon too warm and had to perform the tricky procedure of taking off my vest and t-shirt and putting my vest back on as I ran along beside the stately homes of Ravelston. I'm sure I put a few wealthy folk off their morning coffee, but it was a necessity. If it gets too warm its important to get your pits out. I thought about throwing my t-shirt away but it was my Highland Fling t-shirt and couldn't quite bear to part with the fruits of running (okay walking and running) 53 miles so I just ran with it in my hand and hoped I might see a Porty spectating along the way.
Thinking about strategy before the race I had a kind of a plan. Since I usually try to run half marathon pace at the start of the race for the 1st 4 miles and I can never run at this pace towards the end of the race, "How's about" I thought to myself, "going off a bit more comfortably?" Ah sweet reason. As soon as I had suggested it to myself it seemed to make sense. I usually take a bottle of Lucozade or sports drink with me too, so this year I thought I might take advantage of the support on route - if I wasn't running so hard then I could maybe stomach the jelly babies and raisins they usually have at the water tables, and I could run kitless and free.
I was a little disheartened then to get to the 1st couple of tables and find only a wee drop of raisins left and no jelly babies. The economic downturn is ruining everything. It wasn't a major problem anyway. I wasn't very hungry.
Things really started to get more interesting at Craiglockhart. Happily Gordon the coach was there and he was willing to take my t-shirt off my hands, which was good, because I was soon needing my hands. The muddy bank, for the "super-heroes" route was the consistency of a thick chocolate icing and though less delicious was as supportive. I was soon clawing my way up the slope, desperate and scared, and grateful for little roots and strings of ivy to cling onto for dear life while gravity tried to take me back down the slide. From the shrieks around me other people were making a worse job of it, which was heartening, in a heartless kind of way. I was hyperventilating - just the adrenaline kick I guess - which took a wee while to subside. And then afterwards I had that kind of intense sleepiness that you get after an adrenaline rush. But there was to be no resting! Half way up the hill I tried to get some of the mud off my hands by wiping them on the soaking grass. I had convinced myself there was going to be Jelly Babies at the table at the top and I was needing them. But it was not to be. I know how ungrateful this sounds and I'm sorry. Raisins it was then. I chewed them thoughtfully as I took off down the hill again.
The little lane tricks and Fly Walk and all that went alright for the next bit. Nice going up and over the Braids. Very few golfers out so I took a more direct route than usual to where I wanted to go. The path down the other side to the road was alarming. Just a crazy mud slide with gorse to hang onto. I was catching up with more and more challengers now and I was grateful to be "held up" a bit as otherwise I would have had to try and go a bit faster and I didn't really want to.
I hadn't worried much about what the slope out of the Hermitage would be like as I remembered it as shorter and easier than the slope at Craiglockhart, but as it turned out I saw several versions of my untimely demise flashing before my eyes on the way up, as just as I got far enough up the bank so I was going to hurt myself if I fell back down I ran out of all hand holds and I did that fatal thing which is stop. A little below me were three nasty metal spikes ready to slice a bit off as I accelerated over them. The worst thing you can do if you're going wrong on a climb is stop and freeze in terror,so I forced myself to get going again. I used a knee to augment the minimal grip provided by my toes and my clawed hands and I was ready to start using my elbows too, as a kind of ice axe, until finally I managed to grovel and wallow my way into a tree's root system and gratefully hugged a tree.
So I was pretty muddy by the time I topped out at Blackford Hill.
Last year we had a clever plan for a new route off B-ford Hill, but I messed it up by going the wrong way and adding maybe 2 minutes to my time. This year I thought I might give it another go. Part of it was the feeling that it would be nice to get away from anyone I might have to race with. Of all parts of the race, the run to Arthur's Seat from Blackford Hill is my least favourite.
"Our route" is a series of left and right turns through Morningside and the Grange. There were no other runners around and the few citizens that were about on this rainy Sunday morning were too polite to stare as I plugged past, covered in mud. I had the usual feeling that I was going in completely the wrong direction but it all came out right - although I was slow and my legs were feeling crampy. Pretty soon I was at Pollock Halls, and then messed this up by having to run around the back for a while until I found where the turnstile is. Some delightful person has crow-barred one of the bars further open on this so for the first time ever I risked limbo-ing though the gate instead of climbing over the wall. That made life a good bit better. Then there was only Arthur's Seat to tackle, and I usually quite like this bit. I have plodded my way up Arthur's Seat so many times over the years I can pretty much do it without thinking about it. People were avoiding the airy scramble which is on the most direct route but I forced myself to do it. More out of pride that I'd survived the two terrifying mud slopes than anything else. I didn't want to let myself down now.
And then a bit of a run through the Race for Lifers, and up the last hill, and having to go round a clump of big burly challenger blokes who were WALKING and CHATTING on the steps on the final run to the finish ( and then decided to come with me "for fun") and I was at last in and finished.
No records were broken, in fact it was my 3rd worst time, which must be my 5th best time. Immaterial really. I didn't care...except...Aileen was doing the Challenge which sets off 30 minutes ahead of the race and she was standing chatting having been finished for a while. I decided to just be direct and ask her what time she had run. Slower than me. Hurrah. Another 10 points for my over 45 campaign on the Portobello Championships. I believe that'll be 50 points then! "Job Done" as the rather unlikeable Gordon Ramsay says. Did I ever mention he was born the day after me, but in Glasgow, not Ednburgh? The slight difference in our planetary line-ups must account for his dreadful skin. But there are similarities.
So anyway. 7 Hills 2012. Another year, another coaster. As a fellow runner remarked at the end, "I've got a house full of these coasters and I've never used them all because I never have that many friends to my house." The hall-mark of a runner. Unless you're an HBT.