Last Sunday (21.10.18), we took part in the Ultra Tour of Edinburgh - a 35 mile run in and around the city of Edinburgh. While Adrian had previously run long distances up to 30 miles, this was my first try at anything over a marathon and would be the furthest both of us had ever attempted to run in a day.
The idea started back in March when Adrian noticed some friends had signed up and suggested we join them. With 3,000 ft of elevation the route looked tough but equally beautiful taking in Arthur’s Seat, some iconic Edinburgh landmarks as well as the stunning Pentland Hills which promised spectacular views.
I was born in Edinburgh and both my grandparents and parents lived there, so the idea of returning to run in this event really appealed. We signed up with six months to go, confident we had plenty of time to train. Well we did, but we also had other events to focus on first so our actual training for the Ultra did not really start until around July.
We built our running distance up slowly, picking hilly routes to try and replicate what was in store for us and the training went well until I picked up a calf strain at the end of August. I rested it and recovered it, but the consequence was my long run mileage was really a bit low. Adrian’s training was going better than mine, he was cracking out 20 miles and looking relatively fresh when he finished. As I was worried I might not finish the event Adrian suggested I do back to back run days so that I would cover 20 miles over two days as opposed to one, get used to running on tired legs but without putting too much stress on my legs at one time. We also invested a lot of time indoors on the bike turbo, choosing sessions aimed at strengthening but not weight loading the injury and we continued to cross train in the pool. This is not unusual for us to train this way because that is what we normally do for triathlon but still it was not what you would call a conventional ultra-marathon training plan.
We flew to Edinburgh from Bristol the day before the race. Registered, fuelled and got an early night in. Arriving at the start at 6.45am on the Royal Mile in the dark was interesting, it was chilly and windy and I got my waterproof and buff on to keep me warm while we waited for the briefing. Before we knew it the countdown was on, the race was started and we all set off in a big group to the bottom of the cobbled Royal Mile where we turned right and headed along towards Arthur’s Seat.
The fast runners seemed to clear off quickly and we found ourselves towards the back of the field as we ascended Arthur’s Seat. Adrian was in good spirits, taking pictures and grinning from ear to ear like the cat that got the cream and I started to settle down too having been awfully nervous the day before. At the top of the hill we said goodbye to each other and Adrian ran off, he is a much faster runner than me and both of us are happier running separately and just concentrating on our own race plan.
There were a lot of people running in small groups and everyone was really friendly, I picked my pace up a bit and started to pass a few people while also telling myself to just go easy and pace myself. My race plan was to walk the steep hills, always run the downhills and flats and eventually probably have a walk run strategy to get all the way round. The first 10 miles covered a fair bit of climbing, winding our way through the suburbs, parks and hills. It was bright but overcast and I took my waterproof off as it was too warm to run in settling for arm warmers and my short-sleeved top.
By the first pit stop, I realised my water bladder must be leaking as the back of my top and shorts were soaked and it was empty. I fiddled with the attachment to try and make sure it was all secure and refilled it. The next part of the race took you up and over the Pentland hills. I headed off from the pitstop and soon realised this part was going to be a hike. The first hill was steep, made harder by the slippy and wet conditions. I just got over the brow of the hill when the most torrential rain started. I quickly grabbed my waterproof out my pack and pulled my buff over my head and chin. Setting off again, the rain and wind felt like it was strengthening and the visibility was getting poor. The next few hills with sheeting rain and little opportunity to run meant I fought hard to keep my sense of humour!
By the time I started my descent I was soaked but the rain was easing and the mist parted giving a lovely view of a lake and across to Fife. As I pushed on to pitstop 2 it was obvious everyone was feeling the same, the conditions had been brutal at the top of the Pentlands but we had survived and our spirits were lifting.
After a quick pitstop, where I shoved a banana in and had a coffee, I headed off again rounding the back of Murrayfield Stadium where there was a bunch of school age kids playing rugby. It was at that point I thought I might be in danger of hitting the wall. I was only at around 20 miles and I was seriously flagging. Thankfully, a marshal at Roseburn gave me a bit of a pep talk while I waited for the traffic lights to change, telling me I was well inside the cut offs and to just take it all a mile a time which was good advice. I stuffed an energy gel in and I left feeling considerably more positive than when I arrived. Up another hill and then a long flat (thank goodness) which followed an old railway track winding us all the way down to Lower Granton and the water of Leith. I did a little jump for joy when I saw the water as I knew I was near the final pit stop which would mark the last 8 miles. The sun came out and while it was windy at the waters edge the 40k marker was a great boost for me, as was the need to put my sunglasses on! My shorts were still soaked through and I could not bring myself to take off my waterproof which was keeping the wind off me but the sun was shining and I was feeling better.
At the pitstop there were quite a few people sitting down having a rest but I decided to stay on my feet and push on. I quickly sorted my pack out, used the loo, stuffed a flapjack in and then I was off again. I seemed to find some pace again and the next 5k I somehow got a reasonable rhythm going and tapped it out. Another runner behind me told me he was grateful for my pace, he had been following my feet from the pitstop all the way to the Dean Village. From here on it seemed that there was a Marshal waving, smiling and encouraging me at every turn which was fantastic and really kept me going.
The 50k marker was up and two runners had stopped to have a picture, we chatted as we climbed the steps up to the next flat section. Everyone on the course seemed to be in good spirit even those who were a bit broken and walking. At this point I only had around 5k to go and while I was walk running, I was still doing well and running more than walking.
Fountainbridge and The Kings Theatre were my next landmarks and I know that area well having lived around there when I was a student. As I passed the theatre, someone shouted “Go on lassie” and I smiled to myself hearing that Scottish voice of encouragement. Once I crossed the lights at the Meadows my aim was to keep running all the way to the finish, not least because my legs were cramping each time I stopped. I was doing well when my mum popped up out of nowhere to take a picture and insisted I stopped so she could do so. It was a funny moment as she ran ahead of me to get a picture, I found that hilarious I was being out run by my 70 year old mother!
I was so close and yet still so far and the last 1.5k seemed to take forever, a tunnel and yet another flipping hill before I closed in on the finish line at the Commonwealth Pool. Adrian, who had finished 2 hours previously was there waiting to welcome me in and I was ecstatic to cross the line.
The Ultra Tour of Edinburgh is a fantastic event. It is well organised, good value for money and the marshals were second to none. Hot showers, a big bowl of chilli and massage (if you could face it) all topped off a long but unforgettable day. It was hard going, mentally and physically but we did it.
Will we do another ultra-marathon? I think the answer to that is probably a big fat yes!