Running the hills of Holyrood Park

Not a bad view.

Not a bad view.

I’ve often said that hill running builds character. If you’re a runner in Scotland, you probably have a lot of character. Hill running is your only option.

This past weekend, I visited my parents in Edinburgh. Naturally, we had to spend an afternoon climbing the infamous Arthur’s Seat, the main peak in Holyrood Park. It’s a good, windy climb to the top but you’re rewarded with some pretty stunning views of the city. It’s a great tourist attraction and fun afternoon activity for local families. Despite the fact that I hate hill training, I was inspired by the number of runners hustling up the steep terrain. So the next day, my husband and I decided we’d give it a try.

The paved loop around Holyrood Park is about 7K. The first bit would be tough: about 3K of non-stop uphill. But the other side would be a long, luxurious downhill. How bad could it be?

Answer: really effing tough. From my parents flat to the beginning of the paved path around the park is only about 700 meters, but we needed a short break after that just to catch our breath. Once we got it together, we powered on for the long stretch of uphill. The steep incline coupled with a brutal headwind made the first 15 minutes of this run pretty harsh. I tried to focus on the beautiful views and the pretty yellow plants covering the hills, but it was a struggle.

But as soon as we rounded the corner, the wind went away and we were on our way to a beautiful stretch of downhill.

By the time we got to the next incline, we were ready. We powered on for about 500 meters, until we realized we’d gone too far and missed our turn back to the flat! But at least the way back was downhill!

I can definitely see the allure of running in this park. Its varied terrain makes the kilometres fly by and you would be a seriously strong and badass runner if you did this regularly. I have huge respect for any regulars who run here, and frankly, anyone that runs hills on a regular basis.

Running hills gives you power which translates into longer, faster running strides. Some studies have also shown that runners who train on hills regularly have higher concentrations of aerobic enzymes in their quad muscles versus runners who do all their running on flat terrain. These enzymes allow your muscles to function at high intensity for longer periods of time without getting tired.  Basically, this translates into increased speed.

I’m hoping our Holyrood Park run gives me power for our first 10K race in the UK, coming up this Sunday in Corsham. There are some hills in this race so I have absolutely no aspirations of a PB – just the hopeful and realistic goal of completing the distance in 55 minutes. And whether or not I succeed in this goal, it will be followed by a glorious and totally deserved Sunday roast. Nomnom.

Race recap to follow…

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