40 for 40 event 2: Ups and downs in Edinburgh

I’d almost forgotten. It had been a little while since my last sizeable road race and the feeling you get – not to mention everything that goes with toeing the start line among thousands of others – really had almost slipped my mind.

However, when I stepped out of my hotel on to the Royal Mile and immediately saw expectant runners starting to emerge from what seemed like almost every crevice of Edinburgh’s old streets, heading down the famous hill, a very familiar and welcome sense of anticipation began to make its presence felt.byfb90481

The direction in which we were all headed was towards Holyrood Park and the Simplyhealth Great Edinburgh Winter Run. The event was to prove an ideal starter to a feast of running in and around Arthur’s Seat, which culminated in some of the finest athletes on the planet well and truly strutting their cross country stuff in international competition.

I was really looking forward to the next event I had selected for my 40 for 40 list. I haven’t taken part in many 5km events and have always found the distance a tricky one to judge and to get right when it comes to pacing.

I had been lucky enough to be trackside as Laura Muir gave a masterclass on how to do just that at Glasgow’s Emirates Arena just a few days previously when she broke the British indoor record for 5000m. Now I’m not pretending for a second to claim that my pace or performance was ever going to be on comparable with hers, but it still whetted my appetite to find out where my own fitness lay.

Judging this race was, indeed, going to be difficult. The route along Queen’s Drive, which loops around Arthur’s Seat, seemed simple enough. However it involved a chunk of climbing, a stretch which flattened out and then a chunk of downhill running to the finish.

There was a small downhill for the opening few hundred metres, too, which explains why the field shot off so fast at the start. It did mean an early rhythm was possible, however, which proved to be a very good way of settling the nerves. I had, in fact, been quite surprised by how nervous I had felt before the starting hooter went. Like I said, it had been a while.

As we began to climb and the field began to string out a little, I made sure not to do anything silly, to try and hold on to that rhythm as much as possible. The good (and bad) thing about the route is that you can see it all unfolding way ahead of you – there is plenty of advance warning about what’s coming and just how much hard, uphill work you have to do in the opening half.

So it came as something of a relief then when the incline levelled out and I could lengthen my stride again. There was further reason for the spirits to be lifted around the 3km mark, too.

Rounding the back of Arthur’s Seat – the rocky summit which towers over Edinburgh – a spectacular panorama of the city opened out further with every step. Throw in the fact there was a piper on hand at the side of the road providing an atmospheric skirl, there was no mistaking the Scottishness of the occasion.

It was, literally, all downhill from there. I’ve never properly perfected the art of descending quickly but there was plenty of road to get some good practice in and I felt good as I passed the second piper at the 4km mark.

I felt like there was still plenty in the tank as the finishing straight appeared and there was a spring in the step as I passed the cheering Team Crumley (my sons were taking part in the Junior Run later in the day) and hit the line.

I had worked hard – my finishing time around 45 seconds outside my PB – but I had a lingering feeling that I could have given that little bit more. Later in the day, watching the senior men’s International Cross Country race unfold in Holyrood Park, Callum Hawkins showed just what giving it everything really looks like.

With 38 events still to go, there will be plenty more chances for me to really test myself. For now, it’s a solid start and a very good reminder of just why I love pinning on a race number and seeing what might happen.

  • I have challenged myself to complete 40 events – involving running, swimming and triathlon – in the year I turn 40. I am raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. You can find my JustGiving page here. Thank you

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