Green. Ancient. Hilly. Harry Potter. Scotland the Brave.
An hour and five minutes northwest from Amsterdam on EasyJet last weekend plunked us down on the outskirts of Edinburgh, Scotland, where we aimed to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Edinburgh Half Marathon and have fun storming the castle. Despite being a wee bit nippier than Amsterdam (bring out the winter coats…again!), Edinburgh was overwhelmingly green. There is green in the heart of the city where the airport bus dropped us off; there are rolling green hills on the (vaguely uphill) walk to our B&B; and there is the wide green mound of Arthur’s Seat rising up from Holyrood Park.
If you are such a person as enjoys drinking games, I’d suggest one on all variations of “hill” or “up.”
I loved the feeling, even walking the Royal Mile, of the natural landscape making itself known. From any elevated point we could see the sea, or the hilly countryside sprawling away.
It wasn’t hard to imagine this spot as a desirable, defensible position for a settlement—which it has been since the Bronze Age. The Romans trekked in and found Celtic tribes in residence; the castle (more on that later) existed by the 11th century. It was slightly hard to imagine it as the place I was about to run 13.1 miles.
On Sunday morning we made our way to the start (at Holyrood), creating the “Eddie Bauer Hobo” look by throwing extra clothes over our running gear (until we went to the corrals). Being in the tenth corral, I had a lot of time to jump up and down and think about being cold. And running. And hoping I’d used the Porta-Potty recently enough to make it through the course.
I’d seen the elevation chart, but I’m sufficiently immune to graphs that I wasn’t overly upset. I just knew we started slightly downhill (don’t try and go fast; it’ll get you later on), and then went uphill, a lot; and then really uphill at around mile 8. In retrospect, if I’d really understood the elevation graph, I might have been too intimidated to sign up for this race (and it’s a good thing I wasn’t—because then I wouldn’t have totally done it!).
This race never approached the atmosphere I loved about the Philadelphia Half. The course was infinitely more scenic, nature-wise, but utterly devoid of fans. Miles 1-6-ish took us through residential neighborhoods where here and there a family with coffee mugs would stare at us as we passed. I could smell bacon. Throughout the course, the only real cheers I felt came from the friendly cops manning the intersections.
Beyond the dead-zone feeling, this race’s other downer appeared at the first water stop: not little paper cups, but full, plastic water bottles. What?! For shame, Rock ‘n’ Roll. No runner wants a full bottle of water every 2 miles! You take a sip, maybe 2, and chuck the cup. The roadside was covered with a thousand bottles, a waste of plastic and water—and at the first stop, the volunteers weren’t even unscrewing the caps. My eco-indignation got me through a good solid mile as I planned my post-race note (sent).
But nothing disguised the fact that we were running up. And upper. All around me people were walking, and I was just telling myself to plug onward, no walking. The mile markers kept on coming and soon I was around 7-8, where I knew the biggest hill came. Sure enough, a stretch appeared that was so, so steep. I couldn’t believe it. All I could do was make myself keep running: get it over with! I tried to track with two different other runners at this point: a man in little shorts and a red-and-white striped tank—I thought of him as “old-fashioned bather man”—and a UK Coast Guard guy. I stuck with them until we cleared the hill, and then I ate some honey before I passed out.
I had told myself that it was “all downhill” from there, but it really wasn’t. Small hills kept creeping up, and even as the announcer at mile 12 yelled, “You’re almost there and it’s all downhill!” I nearly had to yell back, “Shut up and stop lying!” because we were running uphill at that exact moment. Ugh!
I have to encourage myself as I run, so I made sure to shout “Harry Potter!” as we ran by The Elephant House, the cafe where J.K. Rowling would sit and work on the early Harry Potter books. We’d been there the day before for coffee and found it a bit of a tourist trap now (all the staff wearing “Birthplace of Harry Potter” t-shirts, waiters cramming you in to shared tables to max out capacity) but for an hour, it was a worthwhile pilgrimage. We sat at a table with a view to Edinburgh Castle (looking very Hogwartsy) and enjoyed the HP-themed graffiti blanketing the restrooms.
I finished the race, even managing to improve on my time at Philly (a much flatter course!). Our legs survived to spend two days after touring the city and its main sight, the castle (below). Come back to the blog soon for more on that, and in the meantime:
If you’re hazy on your UK-Britain-Scotland, here are two informative (and humorous, and short) videos: