Seven Hills of Edinburgh 2014

Time: 3:15:56

Medal: No, although we all got a commemorative coaster


In my haze of fury after news broke of the Rock ‘n’ Roll being canceled, I wasted no time in looking for a replacement race in Edinburgh. Ultimately, I settled on the Seven Hills of Edinburgh, sensibly opting for the ‘Challenge’ as opposed to the ‘Race’. Ronnie also signed up, and while I vaguely remember something about ‘bringing your own map’, and being ‘knowledgeable about Edinburgh’, and it being a ‘challenging course’, I chose to push these things from my mind and forget this event existed for the following 6 weeks or so.

May quickly flew by, and before I knew it, the Seven Hills Challenge was upon us. Ian drove us down to Edinburgh on the Saturday morning, and we caught up with friends, and then spent some time with his sister’s family, before turning in at a semi-reasonable hour.

Roughly 18 seconds later, my alarm went off, and I awoke with ‘beer mouth’, realizing that instead of my usual daily 15 litres of water, I had on Saturday consumed a small glass or orange juice and three beers. I quickly drank a glass of water, and reassured myself that I was now fully hydrated. Ian had been roused, and offered me a lift to the start if it meant an extra 50 minutes sleep, and I gratefully accepted the ‘more sleep’ option, setting about 10 alarms, just in case.

At a slightly more reasonable hour, Ian and I got up and had breakfast before heading towards Calton Hill, where the race starts and finishes. Ronnie had driven up at the ass crack of dawn, and had arrive about an hour early, so I was expecting to see him when I got dropped off, but he had decided to enjoy a Starbucks with a friend instead of sitting by himself on top of a hill. Weirdo. I did get to meet, amongst others, Mock Jogger, and we can be seen (luminous turquoise tights on the right) chatting about the course, and, seemingly, pointing at hills in the distance.


"That hill over there?  Oh, that's a piece of cake!"

“That hill over there? Oh, that’s a piece of cake!”

About ten minutes before the start, Ronnie turned up, and we made our way to the grassy start line with the other ‘Challengers’. When there was a show of hands for first-timers, I was relieved to see we were in the majority! There was a countdown, and then hundreds of runners were jostling through long grass downhill, onto the paved path, down steps, and into the wild streets of Edinburgh.

A few things I should explain about this ‘race’. Firstly, there is no set route. Runners can choose their own way to the hills, but you need to reach the summits in a particular order, stamp your bib, and then head off to the next one. Some of the serious runners (those who enter the ‘Race’) have been known to launch themselves through people’s back gardens as a shortcut, and we were warned/reminded at the start about how painful golf balls are when travelling at high speed (yes, we ran through a golf course). All Ronnie and I knew was that we would be running roughly 14 miles and that there would be roughly 2200 feet of ascent/descent. Our ‘game plan’ was to take it steadily, and follow the person ahead.

The game plan fell apart roughly 17 feet from the start line when Ronnie bounded enthusiastically ahead, as usual. He remained about 5 paces ahead of me, as usual, for a large portion of the first, oh, let’s say 10 miles. This always happens. Always. ARE YOU READING THIS RONNIE?

Ronnie getting carried away.

Ronnie getting carried away.

Anyway, we followed the stampede of runners through side streets before a steady incline to the first hill, The Castle. If you happened to be completely unfamiliar with Edinburgh, you could be forgiven for thinking, based on this first hill, that you were in for an easy ride. This feeling would pass.

Launching ourselves across busy roads and frantically trying to keep an eye on the runners ahead was a decent distraction from the undulating streets that took us towards our second obstacle of the day, Corstorphine Hill, which reduced pretty much everyone around us to a power walk uphill towards the checkpoint.

From the top, it was a steep-ish trail downhill. It was fun seeing random runners pop out of nowhere onto the path you were using having obviously taken a slightly different route.

The distance between Corstorphine Hill and the next hill, Craiglockhart (East), was probably the longest stretch of running on roads/sidewalk. This is where we started to get overtaken by the ‘racers’, who had started 30 minutes behind us. I think this is where we followed runners to a very steep wall of dirt that we had to scramble up using tree roots and rocks, eventually hitting a path leading to the summit.

Photo: Ronnie

Photo: Ronnie

After another descent, we set off towards Braid hill before a particularly enjoyable frolic across a golf course, down a hill, across a burn, and then back up a hill, with varying degrees of success in remaining upright. Before we knew it, we were hauling heavy legs up Blackford Hill for our penultimate check point, and a pretty decent view of our biggest ascent, Arthur’s Seat, looming in the distance.

Knowing we were close to the finish, Ronnie and I pulled slightly ahead of ‘Orange Guy’, who we had been using as a guide for the last few miles, and headed towards Holyrood Park.


Arthur's Seat

Arthur’s Seat (the knobbly bit on the left)

There are numerous paths that take you to the summit of Arthur’s Seat, and Ronnie selected the shittiest one. There were huge steps to clomp up to begin with, followed by scrambling on rock and up muddy paths until we reached what we hoped was the top, but what we realized was not actually Arthur’s Seat. Luckily, it wasn’t too much extra to get to the final checkpoint, where we took a moment to admire the view, and I took a moment to text Ian to let him know we were heading to the finish.

We bombed down Arthur’s Seat, dodging tourists and trying to keep our legs moving quickly enough underneath us to avoid face planting the ground, and spotted ‘Orange Guy’ descending on a slightly different path at considerable speed. While he shot off across the grass at the bottom, Ronnie and I followed a woman in black who was heading for the Parliament Buildings. We eventually caught up with her, and she gave us directions to the finish, which, predictably, included the word ‘uphill’ a few times.

Before we knew it, Calton Hill was nearly conquered, and finishers walking home assured us it wasn’t far to the finish line. They didn’t lie, and moments after, “Less than 100 meters to go!” was called out, we were running up the grassy chute to various shouts of encouragement towards the end. I never noticed a camera, and I have no idea what was so hilarious, but here we are, moments from finishing:

14484527175_eee9557b3f_bWe collected our coaster, and as my race number ended in a ‘4’, I won a spot prize – 3 cornea-busting white socks. Ian, his sister, and his niece found us shortly afterwards, and we chatted for a while, admiring the view, before heading back to his sister’s house for lunch, a shower, and some relaxation in the garden.

Underwear: a versatile fashion accessory.

Underwear: a versatile fashion accessory.

Spot prize: comfy, yet blinding.

Spot prize: comfy, yet blinding.

Ian: Master of bounce.

Ian: Master of bounce.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed this challenge, I’d love to be able to come back with a better knowledge of the streets and paths, as I relied, pretty much completely, on following others. It was probably not the smartest way to ‘taper’ for this Saturday’s hilly trail marathon, but whatever, you guys are used to my dumb decisions.

7 hills elevation profile

14 thoughts on “Seven Hills of Edinburgh 2014

  1. That finishing photograph may, or may not, have co-incided with someone in the crowd shouting out “Go Medalsl … err I mean Rachel!” 😉

  2. Hmm, two races in a row now without a medal? Hopefully this weekend’s trail marathon comes with its own bling, since “Coaster Slut” or “Spot Prize Slut” (or even “Homemade Medal Slut”) just don’t have the same dulcet ring to them.

    I can relate to your “who needs to know the course profile ahead of time?” mindset… for some reason that’s usually the last thing I think to check before I show up at the start line. Maybe it’s a trail running mindset, or maybe it’s a lesion in the lobe of my brain that processes those details, but too often I end up learning about courses the hard way – live and in person.

    That hands-on-knees hill photo swept me back to the Orcas Island 25K I ran in January 2013, where one of the hills was the muddiest, steepest, most pull-yourself-up-by-the-roots-and-branches sumabitch I’ve ever encountered. Most runners ended up swallowing their pride and tackling it sideways, actually.

    Congrats on adding another hard-earned notch to your racing belt! And besides, we all know tapers are overrated anyway…

    • By the time we were climbing up near-vertical slopes, some of the ‘race’ runners had started overtaking us, so they became ‘those who were followed’. This meant we ended up taking the shorter, but not necessarily easier options along the course. Apparently there was a more gentle, but longer, path we could have chosen, but I quite enjoyed the scrambling/slipping/frantically grabbing at roots approach!

      Next weekend does indeed award medals to all finishers, and the design is what cemented the deal to run with a friend. It’s quite fabulous.

      And you’re right, tapers are overrated. As is any previous knowledge of course profiles. Especially for this Saturday… 🙂

  3. I had no idea that a country the size of Scotland would have so many unique races from which to choose. This actually sounds pretty amazing. Can you imagine if all races were this way? We don’t care how you get there, just make sure you log 26.2 miles! And, I mean, how can you beat a commemorative coaster!

    • Well, a medal, perhaps, but to each their own. 🙂 Scotland has a whole host of races of all lengths – running is pretty big here, possibly because there is never the danger of overheating!

  4. Well done! This race is still on my to-do list after I fell while training for it last year. The scramble up craiglockhart (east) is brutal! Good luck for Saturday!

  5. That’s an interesting race format. We have a local ulta which is timed. You either run 12 hours or 24 hours. Who ever gets in the most 3.1 mile loops around the lake wins.
    It must be hilarious seeing people jumping fences and running through people’s back yards.

    • I would imagine less so if you were in your backyard relaxing and a horde of neon runners launched themselves into your personal space….

      We have timed ultras as well. There’s one in September called the Glenmore 24, and you have the option of either the 24 hour or the 12 hour race. I’ve opted for the 12. I think it’s roughly a 4 mile trail loop, so my goal is ten laps!

  6. Hills are a runner’s friends!
    What brand of running pack were your wearing? I’m looking to find one for some upcoming trail runs.

    • Well, then I’m in for a friendly weekend! 🙂

      I was wearing my Camelbak Octane. I bought it because it came in a pretty colour, but it’s very comfy and doesn’t bounce around.

  7. Pingback: Giants Head marathon 2014 | Medal Slut

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