I knew from my running friends of Instagram that the Pentland Hills were beautiful, but I’d barely explored them for myself and I had never run in them. So when Cancer Research UK offered me a place at a race in their Tough 10 series, the Pentlands ‘Toughest’ 10 felt like the perfect opportunity to head East and put a toe in the water.

Getting to the start line was my first challenge. As a mum to two young kids, getting anywhere at all can be a challenge at the best of times – but that weekend my eldest was suffering with the first of the series of winter bugs that have haunted us ever since. So instead of the planned day out ‘en famille’, I got up early to feed baby Rosa as much milk as she could drink before breakfast, and jumped into the car on my own.

Runners gather for the race
Excitement builds as runners gather for the race

You know the feeling you have as a teenager when you go out for the first time without your parents? Even though you may be behaving yourself impeccably and doing only what you said you would, there’s a certain frisson of illicit adventure at being in the wide wide world all on your own – and that’s how it felt driving to Edinburgh that morning, child-free. Solo road trip!? Bring it on.

It was a glorious crispy autumn morning in Glasgow, but clouds were gathering as I drove east and it was cold and grey when I reached the Pentlands. I’d dressed for the weather I left behind me, so I felt shivery and underdressed as I waited for the race to start, clinging to my puffa coat until the last possible minute before handing it over at the bag drop.

Nearly 400 runners toed the line when the time came – including a few friends from TrailFest with whom I enjoyed a catch up – and plenty of Pentland locals who were happy to share their knowledge and experiences of the route. For the first time in far too long, I experienced that special race-day excitement that comes from running as part of a crowd.

And were off! Tough 10 runners head for the hills
Loving it! Grinning ear-to-ear as I head for the hills

Not knowing the route or the terrain, but knowing all too well my own levels of fitness (or rather, my lack of it – I’d been convalescing all week with a fever and was not on peak form) I’d allowed myself 1h 15 to get round. I put no pressure on myself, but set off at a pace that felt sustainable: the only rule I imposed was ‘No Walking’: no matter how steep the terrain proved to be, this was no VK and (I told myself) there could be no excuse.

I astonished myself with how much I LOVED the course. Maybe it was the sheer runnability of it: I had no trouble sticking to my No Walking rule, and ran round comfortably. It may also have been the reassuring achievability of the distance: over the past few years, I’ve tended to enter races where I’ve felt genuinely unsure whether I’ll make it to the end at all, so running with confidence was a pleasant novelty.

Final flight to the finish
Final flight to the finish

The route was undulating, the terrain was fun, and when I realised at the four-mile point that I had only been running for 40 minutes, I gave myself a new target of finishing in under an hour. I managed it with a minute to spare: my finish time was 58:46, and I tore down the final mile feeling every inch the light-footed mountain goat. (Admittedly, the race photos tell a different story …)

I finished 38th overall and 8th female; a result that I was more than happy with in the circumstances. I finished feeling strong, full of enthusiasm and raring to go after a fun and fabulous morning out. Time to start building the race diary for 2017!

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Onward and upward! Ready for the next challenge …

A huge thank you to Cancer Research for my place at the Pentlands Tough 10. My place in the race was free, but my enthusiasm is real: it’s a great race for a great cause, which you can support here. I have no hesitation in recommending the Tough 10 series to everyone.

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