“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can”… my chest is thumping, my breathing loud as I drive my legs like pistons, hard into the hill. I pump my arms, and stare grimly at the path ahead. “I think I can”. I silently repeat my new mantra, over and over in time with the rhythmic thud of my trainers on the tarmac. My aching legs urge me to stop, but are overruled by my stubborn brain. “I think I can”. Past the bench, past the bin, past the lamppost, I slowly reel in each new target. I chug my determined little engine onwards.
Finally, I spot Dunsapie Loch at the top of the route. As the path levels off I allow myself to slow to a walk, a brief pause to turn and admire the expansive view back across the north of the city, past Abbeyhill and the green and white of Easter Road stadium, all the way down to the cranes of the Leith shore and out to the cold blue waters of the Firth of Forth. Looking back, the route is pleasingly steep. I know that my reward now will be a long, sweeping downhill that – after the effort of the uphill struggle – will feel not like running but like flying.
But first a short breather. Once my legs have recovered, and my breath has steadied I continue past the small carpark filled, as ever on a sunny summer’s evening, with visitors sauntering the final few metres up the grassy path to the top of Arthur’s Seat, or enjoying the view from their own roadside summit.
As I press on, the route hugs the side of the hill, a small stone dyke all that separates it from the steep slope to the left. I have an irrational fear that I will somehow trip over my feet, over the edge and go tumbling helplessly down the bank. The pavement is wide and the wall is thigh-height, so this is unlikely, but I stick to the middle just in case.
There is a tiny rise almost infinitesimal but I’m acutely aware of every rise and fall. And then the Salisbury Crags loom, brooding, into view. The route continues round the jut of the Crags, with sweeping views down to the left across the city and many miles out to the ski slope at Hillend.
At last, the reward of the swooping descent. I remember to keep one eye on the path in front of me as my gaze is drawn to the majesty of the city laid out below: the Old Town, the castle, Calton Hill with its odd Grecian monuments. I pick up the pace, embracing the ease of the run now that momentum and gravity are on my side. My runner’s high spreads a grin across my face. I feel like I could run forever; the uphill is already forgotten. I speed along the final straight, past the Scottish Parliament building and large Holyrood car park. I am sorely tempted by the ice-cream van parked opposite, but I don’t want to pause my Garmin so I keep going.
The last stretch is a level half mile that ends at another loch, St Margaret’s. Done. Dodging the swans and the geese, I stop by the trees and stretch. A perfect 5km.
Total distance: 5km
Start and end point: St Margaret’s Loch, Queen’s Drive. From the loch carpark turn left uphill following Queen’s Drive in one big loop past Dunsapie Loch, the Scottish Parliament, and back to the start.
Getting there: there is large carpark just after the Holyrood Palace entrance to the park, and a smaller carpark by St Margaret’s Loch, and numerous frequent buses from Canongate and London Road.
Post-run brunch: try the ‘edamame bean, pea and mint smash’ at Hemma on Holyrood Road.