Saturday was a gorgeous day in that Edinburgh. The sun was out, the sky was blue, and there was a brisk cooling breeze on the streets. I popped down to where I would be starting the Great Edinburgh Run the next morning, and it looked like the above. Almost perfect running weather. I booked into my hotel full of optimism.
When I woke up on Sunday it was grey. And cold. And I had a sore foot for no reason I can think of other than that magic space Jesus must hate me. Porridge was eaten. Emergency pain relief was sought. I got dressed, wondered what had possessed me in leaving my gloves and running jacket at home*, and set off for the train station.
I resisted the temptation to get on a train back to Glasgow through the cunning trick of leaving all my cash and cards back at my hotel. Through such slights of hand, I compensate for having no willpower whatsoever. Instead I met Ben, who tricked me into doing this particular race in the first place, probably by using some sort of weird mind control power. You’ll know Ben. He has a rubbish beard, like some sort of ageing hipster, even though he’s getting married soon and really should know better. When I went to India in 2009 nobody had beards because they’re rubbish. Now beards are everywhere, like there’s been a devastating beard plague while I was away. A beardpocalyse. It doesn’t matter where you hide. Beards will get you.
I shall from this point on, and for the rest of my life, refer to Ben only as The Beard. Even if he shaves it off. That’ll learn him.
We trudged down the steep Royal Mile towards the starting zone outside the Scottish Parliament, avoiding having to consider running back up later by talking rubbish and catching up. To get out of the cold for a bit we ducked into a Starbucks to prolong the nattering. This was a schoolboy error, which would soon come back to haunt us.
We dropped The Beard’s rucksack in the baggage tent and joined the pink wave of runners. Based on his estimated finish time The Beard could have joined the white wave where he’d been placed, but by accompanying me in the slow zone he gave himself a built in excuse for a disastrous finish**. An enthusiastic personal trainer made the crowd jump about a bit to warm up (I did a sort of embarrassed shuffle instead, not wishing to seem aloof but also not wishing to batter everybody around me with the uncoordinated flailing that has been known to happen when I try to ‘warm up’). Then she stopped. Then everybody cooled all the way back down again for ten minutes while the faster waves set off.
Then we were off!
Then Starbucks took its immediate revenge and we had to peel off after only a mile at a bank of portaloos!
Then we were off again!
Then the pipers emerged!
Bagpipers are the natural predator of runners. This is definitely true even though there is no evidence whatsoever to support it. Anytime there is a major running event in Scotland, the bagpipers emerge. They like to ambush us, usually every mile or so along the route. Just as you start to find yourself in The Zone, pounding up the hills in a zen-like fusion of mind and muscle, they pounce. Nothing snaps you out of The Zone quite so effectively as the weaponised ‘music’ that is bagpipes, and once out of The Zone it’s a slippery slope back to remembering how much pain you’re in. That’s what they want, the bagpipers, because then we weaken and they can feast.
I’ve never seen a bagpiper feasting, and I never want to. I imagine that it’s a gruesome, despicable thing to behold. That’s definitely what happens though. It’s the only possible reason for there being so many ambulances around the route.
The only reason.
I mean, what were you even thinking Scotch people? I’ve done some odd things to sate my curiosity in my time, I’ll admit it. Left alone in a room, yes, it’s entirely possible that I might place a tea cosy upon my head just to see whether it would make a serviceable hat. But you Scotch people? Left alone in a room? You did not place a knitted drinks warmer upon your brow did you? No. You picked up the rotting bowels of an animal, a dead actual animal, wrapped your lips that you put actual food into around one end, and blew into it to see what sort of noise it makes. You did that, Scotland. You didn’t even look around to check whether you really were still alone. You just went for it.
And when the noise that came out when you blew into the innards of a dead animal was the exact sound of a dead animal doing a post-mortem fart, were you surprised Scotland? Were you startled or confused? I like to hope that you were confused, because that would at least explain why you based an entire musical tradition on the enforced post-mortem farts of the dead.
“Why did you base an entire musical tradition on the enforced post-mortem farts of the dead, Scotland?”
“Dunno. We were a bit confused.”
“Yes Scotland, that is the only acceptable answer to that question, thank you.”
This time the bagpipers hid behind their young. Even an enraged runner will not punch a bagpiper in the mouth if it is a child. We’re an essentially decent tribe, we runners. Not like the bagpipers. You wouldn’t catch us sending our offspring out to run ten miles on our behalf, because that would be child abuse. Does it trouble the bagpipers though? Not for a second.
Steep hills happened. They weren’t unexpected, but they were hard going. I tried to attack them a bit, but they were hills and barely noticed.
Rain happened. It tasted of despair.
We ran through or past almost all of the major locations of my novel The Flesh Market, but I was too shy to point this out to the people running with us even though I’m sure they would have been very interested.
Although we didn’t really plan it that way, The Beard and I kept company almost all the way around the ten mile route. I’ve never run a race alongside someone before – usually everyone starts together and then does their own thing. This time it so happened that we were both comfortable at the same sort of pace, so just hung on in there. I confess to thinking about dropping back a couple of times, but I’ve heard that the bagpipers will leave you alone if you group together, and instead try to bring down easier meat. Children, or old people. That sort of thing.
There were photographers placed all of the way around the route, and I’ve seen some of the pictures they took. The Beard looks magnificent and sportsy, striding boldly forth like only an alpha sportser can. I, on the other hand, look like I’m coming for your braaaaaiiiiinssss. I shall spare both you and I the horror of those images.
For the last couple of miles we were stalked by what sounded like an enormous goose. It was right behind us, and neither The Beard nor I dared to look around to confirm our suspicions. The last thing you want to discover during a ten mile race is that you are being chased around the course by an enraged goose the size of a man. It honked like a goose, possibly a dying goose, which might have been why it was so angry.
The last mile was a downhill bit, and we both picked up speed and left gooseman behind. The Beard had more in the tank for the final sprint and dashed ahead.
And then it was done.
When I signed up for the Great Edinburgh Run I gave them 1:45 as my estimated time. I secretly hoped I might pull it off in 1:40 based on my average ten minute mile pace over the half marathon in Glasgow last year.
My official finish time was 1:30 (and 35 seconds – about half a minute behind The Beard). According to my watch, my average pace over the course was a mile every 8:52 minutes, and I did the very last mile in 7:34.
Looking back on every single run I’ve done in Scotland since I got back from India, none of them have been anywhere near that sort of pace. I’m a bit surprised, and very pleased. I don’t run these things for a Time, at all. It’s just the challenge of it, and the immense satisfaction that follows. On the other hand… a full ten minutes faster than my most optimistic guess?
Yes, I am smugly pleased. Thank you for asking.
I have learned two valuable lessons from this run. Firstly, guzzling Starbucks before a ten mile race will not end well (were it not for the mix of caffeine and our aging bladders then The Beard and I might have been under the hour and a half mark).
Secondly, always take a beard running when practicable. It doesn’t even need to be your own. Beards make you go faster.
I should totally have a beard.
And that was The Great Edinburgh Run 2015. I don’t specifically remember enjoying any individual bit of that run, but overall I still somehow enjoyed it immensely. A great, tough route, and great company. What’s not to like?
OH! Before I go, best of luck to the marathoners tapering off ahead of London this coming weekend. I’m thinking of Steph and Natalie mostly, but I hear there might be 35,000 or so other people there too. If you’re any of them, then have a great race!
*magic space jesus, probably
**waves are arranged so that the fastest runners start further forward, and don’t have to spend most of the race trying to dodge around the sweating carcasses of we less fleet of foot.