2 days, one route, two challenges: The Seven Hills of Edinburgh

Trying to decide what to do with the remainder of the long Easter weekend, I stumbled across the Seven Hills of Edinburgh Race in June. Quite interestingly the discovery fitted well with my plans to progress my running a bit further again, as I need something to entertain and keep me fit while on events with Scottish Swimming, and also to add another lunch time activity at work (racing fellow colleagues). Hooked from the very first moment I read about the hills, the plan was clear. I needed to try them out. More than 14 miles hill running with only a few runs in my belly seemed quite a challenge, but I had been up and around Arthur’s Seat the night before, so things couldn’t be so difficult. At least that’s what I thought.

The run fitted well into the rest of the Easter weekend, entirely spent in Edinburgh this time. I usually tend to spend my weekends out of the city, but from experience it is a nightmare to find any places to stay on the Easter weekend, and the weather didn’t really invite me to camp either. That combined with a certain laziness and the desire to catch up with friends after long weeks made me stay here and explore the city. It was a great move. Having moved to Edinburgh from Wellington in NZ, I also find more and more similarities between the two cities and in my attitude towards them (I simply love both). Both are built on hills, surrounded by beaches, and with a chain of mountains at around 500m right at the doorstep. Both are ideal for mountain biking, especially if you get yourself to explore the hidden delights, and there are plenty of them. With Wellington still ranking no.1 as my spiritual home, exploring the hidden delights of Edinburgh and discovering the similarities makes life easy. So maybe you can imagine how happy the discoveries on the weekend made me.

Back to the seven hills and conquering them without fancy help. I did the running first yesterday, starting from my front door on Union Street heading up Calton Hill, the easiest of them all. From there I continued up to Castle Hill, swamped with tourists this time of the year already. Down the steps the route continued in the West End past the galleries, and then up Costorphine Hill. If you are interested in a more detailed route description have a look here. Down Costorphine Hill I passed Slateford station to get a wee bit lost before making it up Craiglockhart Hill for the first time. After enjoying the magnificent views I continued up the Braid Hills, again getting slightly lost before finding a path up there. As I was in no rush, those little sidetrack options made it even more interesting, I hadn’t been to any of areas beforehand. Descending from the Braid Hills over a golf course (is there any hill in Edinburgh other than Arthur’s Seat that doesn’t host a golf course?) I joined the Howe Dean Path, this time taking the steps down the valley to climb up steeply to reach Blackford Hill on the other side. I was lucky enough carrying my own water in my Camelbak, as the run hardly passes any supermarkets, although going right through Edinburgh. I chose the next best shop to get some energy in form of a whole chocolate (oh yes!) and chocolate milk, and the shop owner showed mercy by letting me pay for £2.29 by card. From here I was back on roads passing the Commonwealth Pool (another great landmark, maybe I sneak a swim in next time) and then heading through Holyrood park and up Arthur’s Seat, the final hill to tick off. Running up the steepest path is a challenge in itself, but doing so with hardly any training and six hills in my legs wasn’t a piece of cake. Somehow I was so enthusiastic that I got up there in a good pace without walking and the odd scramble to the top. Like Castle Hill and Calton Hill it was simply packed with people on the top, so I quickly made it down again, and I could really feel my legs by now. Giving up so close to the finish was no solution, so I carried on until I finally reached Union Street again, pretty tired, but having completed quite a run. Cycling to the cinema in the evening, I could feel almost every muscle in my body and hardly walk up the steps.

As I had planned to squeeze some cycling in the next day, as my legs were not up for running again, I first couldn’t convince myself to do the same route again. After the second coffee I was convinced enough to do it this time on two wheels, and one gear. The conditions were pretty much the same as the day before, a chance of some rain, some wind and no sunshine. The idea was simple. I had run the hills the day before, and now I was up for the challenge to conquer them with the singlespeed mountain bike, trying to cycle as much as possible. Again, I only really had my legs and no external help in form of fancy gears as help. I knew that some stuff I had run up the day before was out of bounds on one gear (to steep or too many walkers), but some of the downhills were just magnificent and would make up for the pain (and I really had a ball down some of the stuff). I was amazed how well my legs coped with the cycle, running and cycling use totally different muscles in the legs, so complement each other pretty well. The running makes it even better riding singlespeed, as I simply have to run up some stuff in order to race this summer.

What I discovered were some amazing tracks to take the bike out on those long summer evenings, technical downhills and magnificent views. There might not be quite as much stuff on my doorstep as in Wellington, but enough to be happy. In between there is the kick of some urban racing, which adds to the fun. I could ride most of the stuff on one gear, only the ascent up Arthur’s Seat is totally out of bounds, but I packed it in to do the whole lot. Possibly Easter Monday wasn’t the greatest choice to go down there, but I still had great fun (and promise not to step on the holy land with fat tyres again). Finishing with about 38km on the computer, I had an amazing afternoon and loads of ideas which areas to check out closer. Sometimes it is wise to stay in the place where you live, there is so much to discover, if only you seek!

All pictures from the ride/run are on my Flickr Photostream here
And to compare, here are some pictures from Wellington Rides