This week Archie and I covered more than 20 trail miles, and are starting feel like proper trail runners. We’ve both completely fallen for the charms of long runs over hills, beaches and forests and away from roads and traffic. Archie has, of course, always preferred the call of the wild to the city streets (since he’s a dog) but for me the love of trail has come as a bit of a revelation over the last year. And it’s nowhere near as tough or intimidating as it looks.
As a runner, I’ve always been a road runner. I’ve observed hardcore trail runners with awe and admiration, but never thought I could join them. Surely they were a special breed of super tough uber-runners, with unfathomable robustness and quads of steel?
My friend Kristen and ran our first, accidental, trail marathon a few years back (accidental in that we hadn’t somehow quite realised that it was off-road). It turned out to be a very gentle introduction, with pretty flat, wide paths, but I remember two things from that first trail experience – one, being taken aback about how much slower I was than on a road half, and two, loving how friendly and fun the whole race atmosphere was. There was lots of friendly chat while we tackled tree roots and mud, and much less grim-faced pounding while staring at watches. I wanted to do more, but living in London at the time the trails weren’t that easy to get to, and most of the running routes and races I was familiar with were all in town.
Fast-forward to moving to Edinburgh two years ago, and I discovered the unbridled joy that is canicross. Before I googled ‘running club, Edinburgh’ and came across Canisports Edinburgh I’d never even heard of canicross, but as soon as I learned that it was running with your dog, I knew I was going to love it. Archie absolutely loves it too, and its so much fun doing something we both love together.
This summer I also joined the Foxy trail runners club for monthly summer runs to introduce us newbies to trail running, and then somewhat rashly signed up for the Foxtrail Winter Running series run by Foxlake Adventures.
Some of the my canicross club mates meet up for non-club runs at the weekends, and I’d always wanted to go along, but been a bit intimidated by the distances. Archie and I had mostly just done the short 2.7 mile Saturday club run (not even the full 3.5 mile route, since we couldn’t find the the second loop…) so 11 miles in the Pentland hills was a bit scary. But after some shorter 6 mile group runs, and surviving the Foxtrail 10km and 13km routes we decided to give it a go. It was the best Sunday morning I’ve had in ages, with great company and incredible views. And cake afterwards. Archie had no problem at all with the distance, and wasn’t even that tired afterwards. A two-hour nap after we got home and he was raring to go out again. Unlike me! It was a really friendly introduction to longer distances, with lots of stops to regroup, and walking the steeper uphills, which is definitely the best way to get used to the new challenges of trail running if you’re a hill-avoiding road runner like me.
Yesterday, we raced our longest trail distance, 16km (just under 10 miles), at Foxlake HQ in Dunbar. I loved the course, and was surprised to find it easier than I expected. No doubt having Archie pull me along was a big help, especially on the little hills where he always put on an extra spurt to pull me up. I was surprised that even the energy-sapping 3.5km of beach wasn’t too tough; luckily there was no wind and the sand was fairly hard. His enthusiasm was a great motivator too. He just loves to run.
We both clearly worked harder than in the Pentlands, he was absolutely exhausted for the rest of the day and slept solidly all afternoon and evening.
My favourite places to go trail running in Edinburgh
We’re so lucky in Edinburgh to have so many trails right on our doorstep. Here are a few of my favourites, but there are loads more that I can’t wait to explore:
Right in the city centre Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat have lots of mixed tarmac and trail routes up to the summit of Arthur’s Seat or around its base. All the routes I’ve found so far have a lot of steep up, but would love to hear any suggestions for flatter sections.
The Pentland Hills are just 20 minutes drive from the south of the city, and offer gorgeous undulating hills, with plenty of long flat sections as well as hills including Castlelaw hill, Black hill and Carnethy Hill. There are lots of sheep, so dogs need to be on leads or very well under control – no problem for canicross where they’re in harnesses and on running lines. I normally drive to the Flotterstone carpark, where there’s a lovely dog and runner/walker/cyclist friendly pub (The Flotterstone Inn) and a cafe (Pentland Hills Cafe) with brilliant cakes for a post-run treat, as well as the starting point for lots of different trails.
I’ve done quite a few runs now at Foxlake Adventures near Dunbar. The routes incorporate parts of the John Muir trail and include forest trails and beaches, with the opportunity spot wild deer (we saw two on Saturday), ostriches and llamas at East Links farm, and cross the infamous ‘bridge to nowhere’. As well as the all important cafe at the end.
Where’s your favourite Edinburgh trail?