|Place (Race 153)
David said : I had been aware of the Seven Hills race for a few years now but always thought it was for super fit hill runners. At the start of this year I thought I might give it a go but after struggling at Heaven and Hell I was resigned to waiting another year (at least). However, with about a month to go and upon discovering that a few other ERN runners were going to do it I decided to give it a shot and enter the Challenge. Apart from a climb up Arthur’s Seat one evening and one run over four of the hills a couple of weeks beforehand I hadn’t really done any training geared towards the event. With this in mind I didn’t set any target times and just planned to enjoy the day and make sure I finished.
It was a very wet, soggy morning for the start on Calton Hill and my feet were soaked before I had even begun due to the long grass. I set off with Russell at a nice gentle pace and it didn’t take long to reach the first checkpoint at the Castle esplanade. We then went steeply down the side of the Castle into Princes Street Gardens only to be met by a locked gate which meant a pretty dangerous (wet and slippy) climb over a sharply spiked railing to get out onto Princes Street. After that it was the first chance to get some momentum going all the way along to Murrayfield golf club and then it was off-road (just as my feet were starting to dry out I was forced through a deep puddle) up to the second checkpoint at Corstorphine hill.
We ran down off Corstorphine hill and then had quite a long section of running on the road all the way to Craiglockhart, the highlight of which was Russell running along in front of me and suddenly hurdling a large bollard just for fun. Russell and I had discussed whether we go straight up Craiglockhart hill or go the long way and we had been favouring the long way idea but when we got there everybody in front was going straight on so we just decided to join them. It was muddy, it was slippy and I’ve no idea if it was any quicker but it was certainly more entertaining trying to haul myself up the hill by my fingernails and holding onto tree roots. Once up the steep muddy slope there was still a bit more hill running to do before reaching the 3rd checkpoint at the top.
Coming down from Craiglockhart hill I briefly took a wrong turning but luckily another runner alerted me to my mistake. However I was soon to make another. I followed Russell through Braidburn Valley park but while he went up the correct street to Braid Road I decided to take the next one along on the left and quickly realised my mistake as I had to go up steps, through a large puddle and double back on myself to get up to Braid Road. After that I never saw Russell again until the finish which I was disappointed about as he was proving to be a good pacemaker. Anyway, I turned off-road again for the climb up to the top of Braid hill and the fourth checkpoint.
It was then a steep downhill grassy section, across Braid Hills golf course and down through some shrubbery on a narrow muddy path where the female runner in front of me fell two or three times but bounced straight back to her feet. I headed down Lang Linn path towards the Hermitage but was slightly taken aback to find fallen trees blocking my path. Other runners went off to the right but I went left, scrambled through some bushes then zig-zagged my way down and up the other side of the Hermitage completely on my own before heading across a grass field to the foot of Blackford hill and join up with the other runners again. The climb up uneven steps and then through some nettles to the top of Blackford hill was pretty slow and hard going on my legs but I was spurred on by the sound of a piper playing at the top beside the fifth checkpoint.
I headed down past the Observatory, through the allotments and out onto West Saville Terrace where the first of the racers went flying past me. My pace had slowed considerably by now but I knew I still had the big one to do. After the final water stop I cut through Pollock Halls and then Arthur’s Seat loomed large in front of me. I could see people heading off in various directions to start the climb but I decided to stick with the route I had done before, which although probably not the shortest, it didn’t involve any rock climbing. The never ending steps almost had me on my knees a few times but I eventually emerged near the top to find thick fog obscuring the final route to the summit. I had no option but to follow behind some other runners and soon found myself in a steep, rocky, v-shaped gorge where I really struggled to climb up the rocks. Finally, I emerged at the summit and the sixth checkpoint with a huge sigh of relief knowing that I didn’t have much further to go now.
However, I was maybe guilty of celebrating a little too early as due to the fog it was hard to tell which direction to head back down. I had planned a slightly longer but safer route down but I just followed some other runners clambering down the wet, slippy rocks and then a narrow muddy trail. I was just taking it nice and gently to avoid falling when disaster struck. I was suddenly hit by a severe bout of cramp in my calf. Great timing! Lying down on the side of Arthur’s Seat squealing in pain was not how I had envisaged finishing the race so I was very grateful to the fellow runner (thank you if you’re reading this!) who stopped to assist me and help stretch out my leg. I managed to get back to my feet and continue on down but I was very wary, taking gentle steps as I was still feeling twinges in my calf every few steps. It was with great relief that I made it to the bottom in one piece and now I was just hoping that I could make it to the finish.
I crossed through Holyrood park and skirted round the back of Holyrood Palace and up through Regent Road park. I knew the finish was within touching distance but it would require one more climb up Calton hill. Although not as steep as most of the others, on tired legs it still proved quite difficult but I made it up the steps and across the grass to the finish cheered on by the crowd. I was pretty exhausted but I was delighted to have ran further, longer and higher than I had ever managed before.
Now I know that the Seven Hills isn’t just suitable for super fit hill runners (although that would probably help!) I’ll definitely be putting it in my diary for the future. A bit more targeted training and route planning might be a good idea though. Overall I really enjoyed the run as it’s completely different to anything I’ve done before. There can’t be many places or races where you get such an interesting mix of road, trail and hill running all within a capital city. A must do race for any true Edinburgh runners.