I’ve been in Scotland for the past three or so days (we landed in Edinburgh Thursday morning), so I figured I’d spend my first weekend in the land of the Scots by going out and winning an easy 10k in the local Musselburgh. You’ll take home the gold, I thought to myself, knowing that the race would be good training for the upcoming Spartan Races I have not this weekend, but the next. It’ll be easy, a piece of cake. You’ll win by a country mile.
…boy was I wrong.
I woke up around 8:00am and got myself ready, throwing on some running shorts and some warm up pants after a quick shower, downing a Beet Elite as my parents and I headed out the door and made the twenty-minute drive over to Musselburgh for the Musselburgh Festival 10k, set to start at a whopping 10:30am (compared to the usual 7:00am starting time of races back in the States). I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before—but hey, what’s new?—so I was feeling a bit sluggish as we got out of the car and made our way to the race venue, but in no time I began to feel a bit more prepared as the cool breeze (correction: strong gusts of wind) whipped against my body and helped energize me a bit. We arrived at the site at around 9:30am, and as we walked up to the registration table to pick up my bib, I began to realize what I had actually gotten myself into:
The first thing I noticed was that everybody in the room was fit, a surprise given the hefty number of overweight people I had noticed when exploring Edinburgh over the two previous days.
The second thing I noticed was that yeah, it was really windy. Like…30-40 miles per hour. Crazy stuff. For the first time in my life, my hair gel actually succumbed to the wind’s pressure, allowing a few pieces to move out of place. It was a travesty.
The third thing I noticed was that everybody was wearing shirts. Apparently no one had gotten my worldwide memo of the #LessShirtMorePower movement, because they all had shirts on. I was taken aback. By this time—an hour until the race—back in Texas, half of the men’s field would be running around shirtless while the women warmed up in their sports bras. But no, not in Scotland. *Gasp*
Anyways, I’m rambling. I soon learned that racing with shirts was actually a requirement, which meant that I too, like the rest of the racers around me, would have to wear a shirt while racing—for those of you who know me, this is unheard of. I honestly can’t even remember the last time I went on a training run with a shirt on, much less a race! Nevertheless, I played by their rules. After warming up and stretching, I found myself standing at the starting line with just under 500 other runners, all of our torsos shield from the beautiful rays of the sun. The announcer came up, said “One, two, three, GO,” and we were off.
Yeah, just like that. No set up, not huge build up, no nothing. “Hey, have a good race everyone! One, two, three, GO!” That’s about how it went. Very quick and very different than the races I was used to.
But that’s not the only thing that was quick. Everybody darted out of the boxes, darting across the smooth grass as we wound our way through various practice fields, swerving through one another as we tried to make some space and set a pace. My initially-planned 6-minute pace turned quickly into a 5:30, which I found myself maintaining in order to merely keep up with the top twenty people. Everybody was hauling butt, and it was crazy! Here I’d expected an easy run, yet I found myself gasping for breath after the first mile! These Scots weren’t kidding around. As is the case with most races, I found myself changing my game plan mid-run.
As I ran, I took notice of the fact that despite everyone’s gaspingly quick pace, many of them had awkward and somewhat horrible running form; to top it all off, some were running with clunkers for shoes, one pair of which I momentarily mistook for a pair of steel-toed boots like the ones my dad wears to work each morning. This has absolutely nothing to do with the outcome of the race, but is just something I noticed. Anyway, moving on.
After winding through the practice fields, we turned off into some trees which then poured us out into some neighborhoods, which soon opened up onto a trail that ran along the coast for some time, so that we were now actually running on hard asphalt, allowing me to more properly set a pace (I’m much better on solid ground). Within the first mile I was already struggling, having not prepared to go so fast, but I found in myself a newfound determination, deciding that there was no way that I would allow myself to slow down without a fight. That 30-40mph wind blasted straight against our faces, but we pressed on. By the first mile and a half, I realized that I was already pushing myself harder than I had ever pushed myself before during a race, and I was loving it. I wanted to see how far I could go.
Not too long into the race I found a guy to pace with, so I stayed with him for a good 3.5 miles, with him drafting off me and pushing me harder and then me subsequently drafting off him, which ensured that I’d keep pace with him to enjoy the benefits of taking off some wind pressure. My quads felt heavy but they felt strong (a result of all those #UnicornClub lunges), so I was getting ready to push the pace. The terrain went from grass to asphalt to mud to dirt to rocks to trails to grass again, and it was scenic the whole way. Even though I was dying on the inside, I was having the time of my life. The wind slowed us down to about a 5:50 pace, but I knew that I would be able to push it later on; I was feeling good. We were in about 10th place, whereas the 1st place guy was managing to hold roughly a 5:00 pace despite the wind (he ended up finishing somewhere around 31:00).
Yellow-vested course marshals were placed strategically throughout the course to cheer us on and direct us along the correct path (something American races should take note of), which made the course that much more awesome as we constantly had someone cheering for us and excitedly telling us where to go (and stopping us from getting lost!). We ran along the coast and through outskirts of the town, a truly beautiful run that I managed to enjoy despite the pain I was putting myself through.
After running through some sea grass, my pacing buddy and curved through some woods for a bit, allowing me some relief from the wind. But—of course—just when I thought the wind would be gone forever, we made a sharp turn and found ourselves running directly against that 30-40mph wind for over three-quarters of a mile, slowing me down to a 6:45 pace and causing me to lose track of my running buddy who, being a Scot, treated the wind like it was but a bump in the road. At this time, a few others passed me.
We soon ran along the perimeter of the oldest golf course in the world (Musselburgh Links) and then at last entered the last mile where, finally free of most of the wind, I managed to pick my pace back up to the low 6’s and head for the finish. I soon found myself running through the same neighborhoods as before and crossing into the same practice fields, where we ran in the reverse of how we had started and aimed for the finish line, which was located, once again, at the same place where the race had begun. A battle was destined to be fought in that finishing straight, where one Scotsman pushed me harder than I had ever been pushed, making me sprint harder than I had ever sprinted before as we warred to the finish. Of course, he cut me off at the last minute so that I could no longer pass him, so I suffered defeat at his hands (DANG BRITS!).
As I caught my breath on the other side of the finish line, I looked to my left and saw a baby crying and wailing out in total agony, so I waved at him and smiled; immediately he smiled back and waved, and all memories of the unsuccessful battle slipped from my mind. I shook some peoples’ hands in congratulations and went to find my parents.
Overall, my time was 37:19 (a 5:59 pace), and while it was most definitely not a PR, I personally consider it my best performance to date, purely because those winds slowed me down pretty significantly and I can honestly say I believe I pushed myself harder than I ever have before (and obviously being forced to wear a shirt slowed my pace down a full minute per mile). But the course was flat the competition was crazy, and the lack of humidity was nice, so it was overall a great, great day. The race was definitely more formal than American events typically are—on top of the shirt requirement, it was also mentioned that after 1 year of racing in the UK, you are required to run as part of a running club—but the race really was amazing.
(…such a great experience, in fact, that I decided to sign up for a 5-mile race tomorrow! YIPEE!!!)
But yeah, this race really was unique, so I’m interested to see if all events in the UK are held this way. The course, the competition, the terrain, the race itself, the accents…they’re all awesome! And to top it off, over 90% of the people finished ahead of a 10-minute pace, compared to the roughly 25-50% of Americans that would do the same at any random 10k back home. These people are dedicated, and it felt like being in a cross country course again, a feeling I was unsure I would ever get to experience again after high school.
It was a fun course with great scenery and great competition, and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who is in Scotland around July. I felt good during the race, and though I didn’t have that easy win I expected, I left feeling pretty optimistic: my lungs, cardio, and legs felt good, so now it’s time to improve off that! Time to see what else this island has in store.