We started together and, hand in hand, we crossed the finish line.
The inaugural Ultra Tour of Edinburgh 2017.
An honest reflection of our race, which then and now was a tale of two very distinct halves – a gluten-free (Steph), vegan (me) sandwich with a deliciously juicy jaunt to the Pentland Hills in the middle.
The iconic start from St Giles cathedral on Edinburgh’s famous Royal Mile wasn’t all that. In reality, we were in Starbucks sharing a cup of tea and using the toilet just five minutes before the 7.30am start. It was warming to see friends – some running their first ultra – on the start line though and charge through the eerily quiet, cobbled streets of the city before most had woken on Sunday morning, just as the light was beginning to dance around our first climb of the Crags of Arthur’s Seat.
We said goodbye to Arthur and Holyrood Park as quickly as we’d wished it a Good Morning however, off down a dark tunnel along the Innocent Railway towards Craigmillar and its’ castle. Yes we ran through the delights of the Craigmillar housing estate, with pyjama-cosy, sleepy children peeping and cheering from their living room windows. The derelict castle didn’t do much to lift our spirits as we hopped from pavement to grassy trail, noticing the number of photographers out on route to capture the day unfolding.
Instead of taking in the trails of Inch Park we were treated to a tour of another housing estate, but at this point we were oblivious to the grey scenery, instead counting down the kilometres until we met Sophie – our number one supporter for the day – who was waiting for us at Braid Burn.
This section was lovely, along the river and then climbing towards the Observatory and Blackford Hill – for what I hoped would be one of the best views of the city from the top. Unfortunately we didn’t make it to the summit, as we were directed down before reaching the top, back through the Hermitage of Braid. From here we ran along a little path between Oxgangs and Fairmilehead before crossing the City Bypass and reaching our first aid station at Swanston.
From Swanston we headed into the hills and I finally felt like I was running at home, with climbs of the Pentland Skyline ahead of us. As we climbed behind the ski slopes at Hillend the runners around us slowed to a walk and for the first time we chatted and got to know our fellow rat race-ers taking on this challenge. Steph – not quite feeling as at home on the hills – demonstrated an epic mud slide as we climbed Caerketton and reminded us all that although road shoes had been best up until now, they weren’t the best choice for this multi-terrain event.
The wind and slight rain drizzle picked up as we climbed, with little visibility to the South from the tops but spectacular views North to the city we’d just left and across the Firth of Forth to Fife. At the top of Allermuir I joked to Steph that the hills were behind us and I think she got a little excited on the descent, again falling spectacularly over her long limbs and tumbling to the ground. Nothing gets in the way of this girl though and she dusted herself off, got her dried banana treats out and we ploughed on up to the top of Capelaw before finally descending towards Bonaly on the 7 Reservoirs race route.
Finally on flatter ground, we found the Water of Leith and wound our way around Colinton before joining the Union Canal for a short time ahead of the second aid station at Saughton sports centre. We were both glad to see Sophie again, this time on her bike, and we both used the portaloos and stocked up on peanuts and bananas before running off towards Costorphine Hill. Again I was a little disappointed we didn’t reach the summit of the hill, but edged around the fences of Edinburgh Zoo, through Murrayfield golf course and down the long road of Ravelston Dykes in a reverse Edinburgh Seven Hills race route.
From here things get a little hazy – both about the route and my mindset during this section of the race – as we kept our heads down on the greyest and most unappealing paths through Pilton, Granton and Newhaven, with only the hope of the final aid station in Leith keeping us going. There was nothing that could brighten this section of the race and it didn’t help that the aid station we thought was at 42km was actually at 46km and so followed a slow slog of 4km trying to pick up our feet while we were taken on a once in a lifetime (read, never again) trip through Granton Harbour Estate, Newhaven Harbour and the joys of Asda and Ocean Terminal shopping centre.
The last aid station brought relief, Coca Cola – which we’d messaged Sophie to buy in our time of need! – and only 9km left to go, not even two parkruns! I also knew that we would be back on a much nicer part of the route on the Water of Leith through Warriston and Stockbridge, and it was all that was needed to lift our spirits and carry us to the finish.
Chief supporter Sophie popped up again in the lovely Dean Village, just before we climbed the final hill towards the Modern Art Galleries and took a turn into the gallery gardens, through Wester Coates and Roseburn and onto Costorphine Road, where Murrayfield Stadium was in sight! Steph and I both checked our watches as we ran around Roseburn Park outside the stadium, towards the Ice Rink where we’d parked for race registration the night before and into the stadium grounds. Still a kilometre to go we expected a lap of honour, but all too quickly we were funneled into an empty stadium with the race finish ahead of us.
I reached out my hand to Steph as the commentators called our names and together, hand in hand, we crossed the finish line of the inaugural Ultra Tour of Edinburgh.
Almost 55km and 1000m of ascent in over 6 hours with one incredible supporter – Sophie Kirk – two epic falls – with no postcards but scrapes and bruises to prove it – and three pit stops, all done on just four feet, together, side by side, in perfect sync.
Thank you Edinburgh. You are the best.