Sunday, 17 October 2010

How I accidentally ran 18 miles.

I found myself, yesterday morning, with absolutely nothing to do. This hasn't happened to me in a long time, and I was at a bit of a loss - the flat was empty, no-one was free to meet up, and there wasn't much going on in town. So I decided to go for a run. I was most certainly not planning to run more than two-thirds of a marathon, but inexplicably that is exactly what happened.

I had a rough idea that I wanted to run a section of the path along the Water of Leith - an excellent and well-maintained footpath that runs for 12-13 miles from Balerno to the Port of Leith, passing through a series of attractive villages, parks, woodland and very close to the city centre before flowing into the Forth at Leith. I use this path to train on relatively frequently, but usually only the 3-4 miles or so in either direction from my flat - which means that I had at least 5 miles of it left to explore. The problem was that those 5 miles were 4 miles from my flat...

I packed up my rucksack with some energy gel, a banana, water, phone, cash, iPod, camera, keys and a spare T-shirt. Packing such an extensive kit list should have been a subconscious clue that I was in for the long haul. Heading out towards Balerno, I had the pleasure of running past such distracting places as the Dean Gallery, Murrayfield Stadium, a skate park in Saughton, some incredible bridges and on to the Water of Leith visitor centre, stopping to take photos and enjoy the scenery.
One of the 6 Anthony Gormley sculptures in the Water of Leith
Eventually, after running not many miles in quite a lot of minutes I reached the visitor's centre in Slateford, and stopped to answer my phone. Looking around when I finished the call, I noticed that the centre had signposts citing the distances to various towns, and there it was: Balerno 5 miles. The end of the road. Who could resist? I repacked my bag and cheerfully set off towards the end goal. (I resisted temptation to do some basic arithmetic: I ran 4.5 miles to get here, it's about 5 miles to Balerno, and when I get there I'll have to run all the way back this really a good idea?)

I would never have met this giant wooden...thing...if I hadn't been running all day!
So on through woodlands, past industrial estates, huge houses, beautiful parks, endless allotments and countless other nuances of Scottish suburbia. My knee started to complain, and before long my hips and ankles were getting a little tetchy too. I got lost a couple of times and once nearly ran straight into a surprising horse, but reached the end of the path without too much drama, running along a gloriously flat old railway path for much of the last few miles. I stopped to eat my banana, gulp some water and put on the spare T-shirt, as I was starting get a little cool. There isn't a great deal there to congratulate you on reaching the end:

I was lucky to get this photo, as I had just dropped my camera and had to coax it back to life.
Well now I've got a problem. I'm nearly 10 miles from home and starting to hurt quite a lot, with barely any water and no food left. Churchill once probably didn't say: "If you're going through hell, keep going", so I turned up the volume on my iPod, turned around and started for home. It was tough going, but things didn't start to really fall apart until around 15 miles, just as I got back to the visitor centre. I popped in to buy a copy of the footpath map which includes some of the history of the area, and the very sweet old lady who sold it to me insisted on refilling my empty water bottle. When I went back outside, I sat down on a bench to retie my shoelace, and from there onwards I was in trouble. Never sit down during a long run, Dave! For God's sake, man, have you never done this before!? Exit, pursued by a cramp.

So I managed the next 5 miles by running with walking breaks, which then turned to walking with running breaks, which then turned to plain old walking. Still overtaking the hikers, but walking nonetheless. I was reminded of Dean Karnazes's maxim "Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must, just never give up."

Finally I made it home, and after a recovery shake, half a kilo of pasta, four pints of water, a bath, a small pile of painkillers and a gin & tonic, I felt a little more human. 18 miles of running and a couple more of walking can really take it out of you, so if you're thinking of spending most of your Saturday running, please make a slightly more thorough plan than I did... Here's a map of my mad out-and-back adventure:

I had planned to meet a friend for a quick run this morning, but after the unexpected very long run yesterday I texted him to cancel, expecting the worst of post-run pain. The bizarre thing was, I actually felt ridiculously fresh this morning, almost ready to go out and do it all again. The 12-hour sleep probably helped, but I think my incredibly leisurely pace, at around 10 minutes/mile (which is hugely light compared to my usual 7:45m/m ground pounding) is what preserved my much-punished muscles. I thought about going out for a quick jog today, but just to be on the safe side, I went to the pub instead.

Jog on!


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