This race is so good that most of Holland's top runners come over for it! Alan, the organiser, kindly invited myself and Mary along to last night's pasta party but we declined because will power is not my forte and I knew that Stewart Whitlie wasn't running. (I would be unable to resist the call of STRONG DRINK and might easily jeapardise a chance at the male vet50 trophy.)
Which is not to say I didn't have any drink last night. There was last week's winning's from Traprain whistling and giving me come hither eyes, though I managed to resist the remnants and got to bed before midnight. Training of late has been a mixed bag of recreational scenic running with a few short sharp sessions like Willie's group on Wednesday and Friday evening when coach Hunter suggested laps of Inverleith Park. We drove there, then while she ran 3 laps I did 4, and perhaps just a change of scene and the bone dry perimeter paths inspired a decent effort (each lap faster than the last, no recovery in between.)
Last year, for the 7 Hills I was out the game and so filmed the experience, travelling the route by bike. Unfortunately it was the only year ever dogged by rain and low cloud. This year we were back to traditional sunshine, which makes the organisation around Calton Hill considerably easier and more friendly as people sit around in the sun exchanging tales and chewing the fat.
Graham had a great run.
There were a couple of en route hazards: Princes St Gardens were closed so we were diverted down Johnston Terrace from the Castle. And the Race for Life was ongoing in Holyrood Park; a 5 and 10k take-your-time event for pink-wigged curvaceous ladies.
One of the treats today (and there were many) was that Neil S was running in the challenge. Friends at school and art school, we haven't shaken hands in 30 years. With last year's video coming to Neil's attention, he got in touch and we made plans to meet today. I scanned the crowds (huge entry of more than 500) before the challenge kicked off but no sign of Neil. I mingled with the Challengers on the start line, but still no sign of him and I wondered if he had perhaps not turned up. I stood near the monument for the Challengers coming past and sure enough there was Neil, a quick hello and I'll see you later!
OK good and that box ticked – next was the team entry. As I was trying to guess the future I saw Kathy had 4 girls in her team. I told her the 7 Hills doesn't do a womens' team thing although they should. Knowing Kathy is no shrinking violet I told her to noise up Alan about it and it's about time to install a ladies team prize. Especially as herself and the Henderson (running) sisters Mel and Amanda stood a jolly good chance of it.
Mel lost blood but not sense of humour.
Then down the start line via the free sunblock and vaseline table (courteous or what?) to gloop and lube. Some chat from Alan, then we're off and the usual canter to Princes St and up the Bridges. I noticed that Gabriele who was third last week at Traprain didn't take the arcade and subsequent side street up to the High St as I did myself, and noticed it cost him no distance. Interesting! Michael G was standing with a Golf Sale sign directing folk left to the clippers at the steps and Jim H (Carnethy) was at the bottom saying encouraging things. I wasn't disappointed to trade the Gardens for Johnston Terrace as the Terrace was a good fast belt down non-slippy pavement with a good return for your altitude whereas in the Gardens you lose all your height before half way along the road and you drop to a point that requires a climb back up to the West End.
I heard that Graeme Ackland, previous winner and hot tip for the male vet trophy maybe took the other route to Corstorphine. (Haymarket way I think (not the bus)). But I might be wrong. I was disappointed Adrian and crew weren't standing in the R&B door high fiving us (with Vibram 5 Fingers on their hands) as we sped past. I was feeling pretty chipper and enjoying the sunshine, although a bit alarmed that I was in a pack of three with Alex and Chris of Corstorphine. I thought I might be dropped at the art gallery hills but we were all in a similar part of the race till the first checkpoint where over excited by the prospect of being ahead of Dave W, I led a couple of folk (including Mr Wright) into a deep shrubby undergrowth with no good path out. Quality! I caught them on the descent to the main road and apologised. Almost all the road crossings today were nicely timed with no mad death dashes necessary, or 10 second stands waiting while the caffeine drink dares one to try and run the wee gap between speeding motors.
I knew Craiglockhart would be the test for the Rapa Nuis. And they were spot on. Even though I have sanded down the prime nubbins to near flat, due to road miles. I think the wide soft soles swarm over stuff and grip that way. Anyway it was the legs and not the shoes that were the weakest link. I remember I was still with my Corstorphine entourage here: they noticed the Garmin asking if I'd gone indoors or sat down for a ciggy, such was the slow forward progress I was making. I was glad to get out the trees but there's still a bit more climbing on grass up to the summit circus (past Mike taking photos) where I had a cup of water and clipped my number.
Craiglockhart - photo Mike Lynch
I like the descent off that hill, and fast trails through the trees popping out at Craiglea Place. One of my clients lives in a beautiful house here and I've a long overdue appointment to paint her kitchen. I had visions of running past, miming I'll call you next week if they were in the garden.
It may well have been on the way to Braids Hill that I lost touch with my Corstorphine outriders. Now that I was basting in my own sweat I was considering how to avoid the attendant cramps. Speaking to folk afterwards, traditionally the cramps make themselves known as the descent from Arthur's Seat levels off on that tarmac pavement down to Holyrood. Several agreed. This can throw a spanner in the works as there is still about a k to limp. So as the long drag up to the water-station at the Braids opened out in front (and Alex Jackson's surprised congratulations still ringing in my ears and warming my heart) I eased down in a bid not to reach the cramping zone with legs in tatters. I was now in amongst all the Challengers and of course there is a need to get ahead before the path narrows then narrows again all the way to the top of the hill. Then a chatty voice behind and it's Jenny, first lady, who is romping freshly up the hill. She reached the top before me but went round to the right to find a less vertiginous descent. I sneaked down the steeper slope and stayed ahead for the the next bit expecting her to come past for the rest of the run. She can beat me at all distances on flat stuff currently.
Then a runner ahead I recognised. After shouting a threat, I slapped Mary's bum as I passed and I could tell from her chipper attitude and sprint across the fairway, she was having a good run. It inspired me to forget myself and leg the next bit down to the Hermitage at such a pace I nearly jumped clear over a Carnethy runner, taking some steps 2 or more at a time. A brief sighting up ahead of Corstorphine Chris going right (to, I assumed, the vertical death wall) and Corstorphine Alex going left. I was thinking maybe straight through the river this year till Mary reminded me it's too easy to get bruck down your shoe on the death slide and there's still a lot of running etc. So I followed and overtook Alex on the left hand switchback down to the river (possibly fuelled by the caffeine gel I had squelched down at the Braids water-table,) then powered up the muddy hill after the bridge. This was the last I saw of Alex. But Chris I saw as I crossed the field towards that awful climb: he came in from the right, implying he had taken the long tamer route over the river. He retained the lead he had. Those big steps up the sleepers to Observatory Hill are killers. My baked brain got ideas that a nearby Carnethy looked like an mv50 but later when I saw him he looked barely out his 20s so I think I was just wildly hallucinating at this point.
Blackford Hill - photo Mary Lye
Some cheers from the hilltop – I thought maybe PRCers but Mary says there was an HBT crew there. Mary (Carnethy) was taking photos. A quick cup-o-water, fumble at the clipping device and off down the hill. I passed Aileen but changed the slap for a verbal well done.
Another photo by Mary Lye showing the distance to the final hill
- not sure why Cat is running in the wrong direction.
In the past I have tried to re-invent this part of the route by diverting to the duck pond then into Grange Loan and along to the Halls. Although shorter on paper, it is not a preferable option as the longer route is faster: it pays out the descent over more ground. Over Minto St and along to Pollock Halls. Its definitely a quicker line through here to the famous turnstile (welded shut), although Alan wasn't recommending it at the start briefing as the line (from the turnstile) crosses the Walk for Life routes more times than the road does. I nipped ahead of 2 Challengers to limbo through the bent teeth of the turnstile then tried to pick up the pace for the last big hill. I overtook Rachel B then began the horrible prospect of the big sleeper steps up the haunch of the beast. I must check out the Gutted Haddie route some time as I saw Chris heading that way and while I think it may be more direct I suspect on tired legs the usual option is safer. Alex O has a fast route also – its difficult to know whether it is very different from the one I follow, although he does spend a lot of time running that hill. (He had a great run today despite his traditional spate of misfortunes – running into a dog walker and long-lead-dog, then losing his card and keys.)
Alex hiding his keys in the long grass.
After a long sweat up that hill I was pleased to clip my number then launch into the downhill. There was someone just behind gave me points for a slide and partial drop with one-handed recovery, then they followed me for a fair bit of the descent. This encouraged a pace greater than the one I had in mind and I did wonder about the chances of inducing cramp. I could feel snakes of cramp swirling around the backs of my calves at crampy central, but managed to avoid a full blown episode by reducing pace and running with short Donald Duck strides trying to point my toes up in my shoes, all the time shouting COMING THROUGH at the Race for Pink plodders who now formed (with their spectators) a crowd of about 500 around the bit of road I was trying to get through. I could see Gabriele (still third from last week) up ahead, who was also a bit Donald Ducked. I overtook (purely in case he didn't know the way) and ran along the road to the steps that go up to Regents Road. (Shery gave me a good cheer around the Parliament Building.) I could see Corstorphine Chris doing a mixed walk/run up the steps but he looked too steady to make a move on. Sure enough he kept the pace going and we stayed in that order over the line.
I heard Alan Lawson say first over fifty as I finished. Lucky day! My Garmin distance was 14.3 and apart from an extra few yards bushwacking on Corstorphine Hill I think that today was a close-to-optimum route choice – nearly identical to the archived photo report Scott, Graham and I did in 2008. [Mary upon reading this reminded me I have the Garmin on auto pause and the time was 1.50 suggesting 4 minutes of distance unrecorded either standing at clipping checkpoints or walking up steep hills unrecorded. This would point to the course being slightly longer than the 14.3 recorded miles. Mary recorded 14.6m]
Ross - first
Jenny - first
Jenny MacLean finished first lady and surprisingly never caught me. (She didn't risk the Pollock Halls maze.) Amanda was second lady. Kathy was second in her age group and with Mel they won the newly installed Ladies Team Prize! Ross Houston was over 4 minutes ahead of number 2. Corstorphine won the Men's Team prize with Sporty Porty a creditable fifth, George S and Graham H both having good runs, Graham doing a pb and well under the 2 hrs.
Ladies Team Prize
Male vet prize
It's that Bill Gauld again
Kathy - second f45
I got the first 50 trophy (there is no m40 award because so many of the top runners are in this age group) and was pleased to see Willie J's name from a couple of years ago on it. It was my second fastest 7 Hills although the conditions and route were near perfect. I enjoyed it even more than I remembered and it was already one of the best runs in the calendar. Big thanks to Alan Lawson who carries most of the monster organisation on his own shoulders and was still looking relaxed at kick off. Despite the blood, the injuries, getting lost on the unmarked course and the sunstroke, I didn't hear any complaints. Just loads of cheerful runners.
And afterwards I had a quick chat with Neil (from the old days!) and look forwards going for a run with him down near Peebles in his neck of the woods. Happy days!
Results and website here
Results and website here
Not so much Race for Life as run for your life.