Monday, 21 May 2012

Redemption and Urban Zebras

After the dress rehearsal disasters which plagued my mind and feet last weekend, I was a little apprehensive about scheduling another run with my partner-in-suffering Neil Gray. But fortune favours the brave and so we valiantly planned to meet in South Gyle, just to the west of Edinburgh, aiming to run 13 miles. Or 9, or maybe 8, or maybe just for an hour...

The sun blazed overhead as we met in the car park. Neil’s better half Karlie and Karlie’s better half Nic were also there to greet me, and Karlie immediately grassed Neil up: 'HE’S BEEN DRINKING, YOU KNOW!!' she declared with a small amount of incredulous glee. I admitted that I too, had had a few beers and maybe a whisky the night before and only made it to bed around 1am. Neil looked at his shoes and mumbled that he’d only got to sleep at 5. So once again we started a run on the back foot, bemoaning our pathetic inability to stick to a plan.

But after last week’s excessive hype and subsequent deflation, we had abandoned all preconceptions and aspirations about this run. We were just going to go out for a few good miles and to rebuild our shattered running confidence. Heading out of South Gyle at a comfortable trot, we took in old Corstorphine before following the main road towards the city. I had a notion of climbing Corstorphine hill, but had missed my planned turn-off and ended up careering around residential areas before schlepping up the longest, most gradual ascent to the peak.

Neil silently cursed my route planning and I remarked on how my hill-climbing skills had all but vanished since my fitness peak for SF and Loch Ness. The brilliant blue sky and warm sun set a stunning backdrop to our long, slow slog, and the heat sapped our energy just as it had last weekend. In the final few feet before the top Neil managed to slip off the trail and earn himself a few nettle stings, and when we did finally reach the highest point of the hill we found our view blocked by trees. Neil attempted to – er – undo some of the effects of the previous night’s drinking, providing an incongruous soundtrack for our obscured view. We were in danger of not enjoying ourselves again.

But then we rounded a corner. And our fortunes changed.

All of Edinburgh spread out before us. The entire route of next weekend’s marathon stretched out along the stunning Forth coast all the way to Bass rock and beyond, flanked by the Castle, Scott Monument, Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill, the broad streets of the New Town and everything else about my favourite city in the world, all of it lit up by brilliant sunshine on a cloudless day. The struggle and strife melted away as the rewards for our toil came into glorious, sharp focus. We looked at the view for a while.

After some time of gazing at the incredible vista, I explained to Neil that there were several ways down – I suggested either a route I knew would take us back to a main road on the other side of the hill, or another which I had never tried but guessed was more direct. Enthused and excited, we chose the road less travelled and launched into the unknown.

And then there were zebras.

Neil's photo from his iPhone. Not Attenborough, but proof nonetheless.

Yes, zebras. Just a few feet from the incredible view, we found ourselves on the perimeter fence of Edinburgh zoo, staring at a herd of zebras. The day could surely not get any better. We watched in quiet awe as the animals calmly grazed near where we stood, separated from us by a couple of fences. What luck that we had come this way. What good fortune we were running at all. How lucky that we didn't crawl back to bed and cancel this run, that we didn't choose a flat easy route somewhere else. How lucky that we took up running in the first place. How much better life is when we take the chances the universe has to offer. What an incredible amount of joy that running offers us, and what little it asks in return.

Eventually, we remembered that we had gone out for a run and not a safari, and launched ourselves through the ancient wood that borders the zoo. We could easily have been in the gorilla enclosure for all we knew, such was the solitude and rugged landscape of the place. We ran, hopped and leaped down the steep path as it wound through clusters of trees, under an ancient stone arch and generally through a beautiful piece of wild countryside, deep in the heart of the city.

As the path spat us back out onto the main road and we gleefully trotted back to South Gyle, we remarked that we had no idea what our pace was, no clue how far we had run and no cares about either. We had enjoyed a brilliant run, in glorious weather, and remembered why we bother in the first place. Redemption.

Haven't had one of these in a while: I run because of urban zebras.

6 days to 26.2, and I cannot bloody wait.

Very happy running.


2012 to date: miles run - 185.02, miles biked - 52.2, metres swum - 1150, races - 2

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