Sometimes we wake up on a beautiful day and can’t wait to run; sometimes we wake up on a horrible day and are glad not to have a run scheduled; and sometimes we wake up on days when the weather is foul, we have a race to run and we realise that running has turned us into complete lunatics. Today was one of those days.
With storm-force winds battering much of Scotland over the last couple of days, bitterly cold temperatures that seem to chill to the bone and even a forecast of sleet and snow, conditions were hardly ideal for running this morning, let alone running on an exposed, hilly route. And yet that is exactly what I was setting out to do as today I had my first race of the year: The Great Winter Run which took place alongside the International Cross Country at Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park today. The weather may not have been ideal, but there was no way I was going to back out so I assembled some appropriate kit, an extensive selection of post-run layers and made sure my (wo)man suit was firmly zipped all the way to the top…
Since Steve was working, I was flying solo for this one but was very kindly offered a lift through with a friend’s husband and their son, a talented runner who was taking part in the Inter-Districts U17 cross country race. I gratefully accepted as it meant not having to worry about driving and parking in the city on a Saturday. My race was at 10:35am so the 8:45am pick-up meant I didn’t have too early a start.
I was dropped off as close to the park as possible and headed straight for the loo while the queues were short. I then had a rather chilly wait until it was time to join my start pen. I had opted for my favourite 2XU compression tights, Under Armour base layer with my Macmillan tech T-shirt on top, my Adidas Climaheat gloves, fleece headband and my trusty Brooks Ghost shoes. Although the cross country events would be on a very muddy course, I was running on the road around Arthur’s Seat so there was no need for anything other than road shoes. While I waited I also had on a thick hoody and my thickest windproof running jacket, but the wind was bitter and I was desperate to get running.
Eventually, I relinquished the hoody and left my kit with the others (who had rejoined me after parking the car) but decided to keep my jacket with me and tie it around my waist before I started running. This meant that I would have an extra layer while I waited in the start pen (a disposable poncho REALLY wasn’t going to do it this time!) and would be able to put it right back on at the end of the race (there was a space blanket in the finishers’ pack, but I suspected that it might turn into a cape and I’d finally get my wish to fly like Superman!).
I was in the white start which was right behind the “fast-paced” runners. Being so near the front always makes me question what I put as my predicted finish time, but this event attracts a lot of first timers which probably accounts for it. I think I might have put something like 28 minutes as my predicted time, but with the unfavourable conditions I had no intention of chasing a time and was simply aiming not to blow away!
For once, I was actually open to the idea of the mass warm-up and was even standing within sight of the platform it was being conducted from, but everyone was standing so tightly packed together for warmth that there was no chance of doing anything other than bouncing up and down a bit for a few minutes. Still, it got us all moving and did help to keep the chill at bay a little.
Almost as soon as the warm up finished, we began moving forward to start. I reached the start line, started my watch and set off, trying to settle into my pace in the crowds. Although this was the first time I had taken part in this race, the route itself was familiar from the EMF 5k so I knew that the first half would be mainly uphill, with a steeper downhill section to the finish.
Initially, the wind was behind me but sadly it couldn’t stay that way. There is a pond on the right not far from the start and I noticed the swans all huddled together in a corner being battered by the wind and rather than the wind rippling the water, it made it look like there were waves! Shortly after that, the route veered to the right to begin the climb.
Steve had advised me to try running up the hill using the form learned from the cadence drills I have been working on since October. In my head I was doing this, but in reality I think I was just battling against the wind. Some sections were sheltered, but every so often there would be a strong gust that would blow us back. I had opted not to wear my iPod today as I figured I wouldn’t be able to hear the music over the wind whistling in my ear, so I was really aware of the heavy breathing of those around me as we made our way uphill.
Approaching the summit, the wind was back in full force delivering a powerful cross wind. Most people were trying to hug the inside of the course where it was less exposed, but finding running room there was tricky. Others were tucking in behind other runners, but since the route had levelled out a little, I was picking up speed and seemed to be passing people so this didn’t work either. I simply had to get my head down and plough on. I was so focused on running that I didn’t really take in much of the scenery, although I did notice THAT power station off to the left!
There was another brief incline to climb but then it was time for the descent back down the other side of the hill, and in all honesty I was more than ready to stop climbing by this point. Time to let go, pick up the pace and get to the finish as quickly as possible.
There had been a few stray snowflakes at the top of the hill and as I ran down and past the Commonwealth pool this turned to sleet, but by the time I was into the last half mile, I found myself running in what seemed like a blizzard. For some reason this made me smile – probably because the whole race had been so insane. I’d not really been looking at my watch other than to check the distance (the organisers hadn’t put all of their signage out since it would more than likely blow away) so wasn’t really aware of how long I had been running for, but I did know that I had run down the hill pretty quickly. As I reached the flat and the home straight, my legs maintained this quick turnover. It was much harder work, but I was so close to finishing that I wanted to try and hang on as I was passing people and suddenly wanted to see how quickly I could do this. I could feel a grunt/groan building up inside me and knew it would be the first sound I made as soon as I stopped, but I could see the finish and knew I didn’t have to put in that effort for much longer. Thanks to all the cadence drills, I hung on.
I crossed the line, grunted loudly (knew it!) and stopped my watch. 27:XX. Faster than my 28 minute prediction and certainly faster than I had expected on such a foul day. I collected my finishers’ pack then headed off to find the others and get my bag so I could go and put my warm layers on.
The snow had changed once more to stinging hail so I was glad to have my jacket as I made my way over to the baggage tent to find some shelter and warmth to put my other clothes on. I also changed into my trail shoes as I would be spending the next hour or so on the mud watching the cross country race. By the time I emerged, the sun was shining and it looked much more spring-like. It was still very cold, but I felt better for my layers.
Due to the weather, I didn’t actually inspect my finishers’ pack or take a photo with my medal until I got home:
The pack was pretty good with a long-sleeved top (cotton rather than tech, but for once this was fine as it gave me an extra layer to wear after the race), a decent medal, water, Lucozade, space blanket, some food (including a giant chocolate bar!), samples and some leaflets which I chucked away. Not too bad for a 5k! I felt like an icicle and was desperate for a warm shower, but I was overjoyed at how well I had performed in tough conditions. My official time? 27:12 and 646th out of 2080 finishers. I’m definitely pleased with that!
Despite the “interesting” weather, I enjoyed the race. There’s a kind of “blitz spirit” when the conditions are awful and everyone is in it together, supporting each other. Huge thanks are due to the marshals who stood out in that weather for so long and to the spectators who were dotted around the route calling out encouragement. The only negative moment was seeing a girl collapsed at the side of the road not far from the finish. She was being attended to by medics and I hope that she recovered quickly.
Overall this is a well-organised race and although perhaps little more expensive for a 5k, it’s a massive event which runs like clockwork and runners are rewarded with a pretty impressive goody bag. The weather, of course, will always be a gamble – this is, after all, Scotland and it’s a winter run in early January – but I would still recommend this one and would be happy to take part again. Perhaps with a little less wind next time!