Having never done the race before and entering slightly on a whim, I was nervous before the start. The premise goes like this…start at Calton Hill, and make your way to the top of the other hills in Edinburgh before returning to the start. There is an specified order (Edinburgh Castle, Corstorphine, Craiglockhart, Braids, Blackford, Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill) but no specified route so it is up to participants to decide this themselves. Roughly a sensible route would be around 15 miles and 2000 ft of ascent, and you can go along roads, as well as cross-country to get to where you want to be. Very fast runners could start in the “Race” whilst those less speedy entered the “Challenge”, doing the same course, just setting off 30 minutes earlier.
The race has a long history and sold out quickly (within 48 hours) when entry opened on 1st March. There was a really strong showing from all the of the Edinburgh and Lothian running clubs evident as everyone gathered at the start and a relaxed, informal, atmosphere with no big sponsors or commercialism but still very well run.
As well as the long history, part of the charm of the 7 hills is definitely the lack of specific route. Firstly this means that clambering up a wooded hillside on all fours is quite common and acceptable as well as whooshing down through the gorse, so there is an element of kid like fun about it (weeeeeeee!). However if you want to keep a bit cleaner and stick to a path that is fine too, which is nice as there is no pressure to be all kamakazee! It also means that there are no big signposts, barriers or flags around the course, so you and a few hundred others often pass by unsuspecting locals and tourists wondering what is going on! It is like a secret mission, a hidden race in plain sight. And finally I also really liked how because the best route was higgledy piggledy, weaving through town, interspersed with the hills, and wasn’t signposted, it meant that you had to concentrate hard on not getting lost or falling over in the off road sections. There wasn’t much space for having your eyes glued to your garmin and your pace or how many miles you had done so it was much more interesting and intuitive running. It was nice not to have to be so focused on numbers and more concentrating on listening to your body to pace yourself to get round and keep track of where you were going. There also seemed to be a nice feeling from local Edinburgh residents in the know – near Blackford hill the allotments were opened up so you could take a short cut through and on the Observatory Road a nice man had his hosepipe (no innuendo!) set up like a shower so you could cool down when you ran past!
There was water and sweets or sultanas near all the hills, which was a great help especially with the weather being hot. I was so excited to see the gummy bears at the top of Craiglockhart that I shoved a big handful into my mouth – not the best when you then have to run down hill and breathe, must remember that for next time! Arthurs seat is the highest hill and 2nd to last so it was horrible. Lots of tourists of course up it too so that was a bit tricky to negotiate though I think the state of the runners by that time did help clear some space. I finished in 3 hours 2 mins which I was very pleased with, lots of eating, good pacing and a liking for running down hill slightly unhinged obviously helped.
At the finish you got a seven hills coaster, a piece of quiche and/or apple pie which was nice and there were t shirts to buy if you wanted. As entry was only £10 it seemed a good deal for professional nature in which the event was run. Would I do it again? I don’t know about next year but certainly I would hope to do it again sometime. It was long and hard work and needed quite a lot of preparation but I loved the randomness of it, the challenge of racing without an obvious route, the clambering off piste and the whooshing down the hills especially! Hope this report has been useful (despite the ramblings) and inspires some people to do it next year!
Photos courtesy of Aimee Kerr.