Discovering the new Ultra Tour of Edinburgh
Pretty riverside paths that offer delightfully tranquil countryside-style routes so close to the city’s streets.
Canal towpaths that are popular with dog walkers, runners, cyclists and office commuters.
Off-road trails to hilltops with superb views just a hop and a skip from the hustle and bustle of a vibrant Scottish capital.
Rolling countryside boasting challenging summits, reservoirs popular with open water swimmers and a fantastic get-away-from-it-all atmosphere.
A city maze of secret back roads, steep-stepped alleyways, mysterious tunnels, cobbled streets and dedicated walking and cycle paths.
Myriad iconic attractions including castles, a parliament, a palace, an observatory and famous museums and galleries.
All this – and so much more – I discover on an early summer’s day in and around Edinburgh as I explore some of the route of the new Ultra Tour of Edinburgh event.
Launching in Sunday October 22, the Ultra Tour of Edinburgh (UTE) offers an exciting opportunity to run a unique urban-based ultra race.
What is the Ultra Tour of Edinburgh?
The new UTE route extends to 50km (30 miles) and takes in a mix of terrain, including tarmac, cobbles and trails via a maze of streets, alleyways, tunnels, riverside paths, canal towpaths, parkland and the coast.
The race includes more than 3,000ft of ascent and descent and passes many iconic capital attractions, such as the Scottish Parliament, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Royal Observatory and Edinburgh Zoo.
The ultra journeys from high points such as Arthur’s Seat, Blackford Hill and three summits in the Pentland Hills Regional Park, to the coast at Newhaven and Leith.
It will be a fully waymarked ultra run with three pit-stop food stations.
Who is behind the UTE?
The UTE is the brainchild of Rat Race Adventure Sports, which already organises a host of exciting events. In fact, the company’s first ever event was based in Edinburgh, the original Rat Race, in 2004.
These days the portfolio of events extends to numerous adventure races.
Now they are organising the UTE as a unique city-based endurance running race.
Rat Race Adventure Sports founder, Jim Mee, says: “The UTE is meant to be a very ‘doable’ ultra distance run and also with the aim of taking runners on a special guided tour of the city. Unlike other city-based runs, the UTE starts and finishes in the city.
“The route will showcase the rich urban heritage of the city centre together with the stunning countryside of the outlying area.”
The Ultra Tour of Edinburgh route
Runners will set off at 7.30am from St Giles Cathedral with a Braveheart-style charge down the capital’s famous Royal Mile.
The route heads into Holyrood Park and then on to Radical Road, passing the Commonwealth Pool and then to the Innocent Railway Tunnel.
Next up is Craigmillar Castle Park, then Blackford Hill and the Royal Observatory before reaching the Pentland Hills and three hills of Caerketton, Allermuir and Capelaw Hill.
The route travels to the Water of Leith next, then passes Edinburgh Zoo and goes on to Corstorphine Hill before dropping to the coast at Granton and Newhaven.
Runners pass Ocean Terminal and head on to Leith then they join the Water of Leith trail again heading into New Town, Stockbridge and Dean Village.
The finish is pitch-side at the BT Murrayfield Stadium, which is the home of Scottish Rugby.
Participants have 10 hours to complete the event.
Jim said: “Edinburgh is one of the few cities where an event of this nature could take place. It is a major capital city but in scale it is not huge and doesn’t feel too urban. It has a lot of historical landmarks, places of interest and tourist attractions.
“It also offers a great mix of urban areas with lots of parks dotted around and a good network of footpaths and cycleways, which means you can get around many parts of the city without being on public roads
“Another plus point is the undulating terrain, so it’s possible to ‘rise above’ the city at several points and get some fantastic views, as well as challenging runners with hills.
“And, added to all this, the council is very receptive to events and new ideas.”
My thoughts on the UTE route
I confess I cycled much of the route rather than running (I am not yet able to run 50km!).
During a recce tour, led by one of the race planners Stewart Caithness, I am frequently surprised and delighted by the route, which rarely joins busy roads and brilliantly stays behind the scenes of such a busy capital city.
Yet, cleverly, the route planners have managed to link together many famous Edinburgh attractions.
I think it would be really amazing to run a race where you pass world famous and iconic buildings and landmarks, such as the Scottish Parliament and Holyrood Palace (especially if you do not know Edinburgh very well) and up on to Arthur’sSeat at 251m
There are many other sites I had never seen, too, such as Blackford Castle and the Royal Observatory. (How have I missed these before?!).
As well as offering a tour of the city, runners are led into nearby countryside, such as in the picturesque Pentlands Regional Park.
I confess I had no idea how close this huge expanse of countryside is to Edinburgh.
The route hits the highest in the Pentlands and then descends to the coast at Newhaven and goes on to Leith.
It uses canal towpaths, riverside paths, off-road walking trails and is never dull.
My only worry as a runner would be what type of trainers to wear. I think you would need something cushioned but also with a bit of grip, depending on the weather. Some people might be put off by the miles of tarmac but I found the route was surprisingly off-road with paths, tracks and hills making up much of the 50kms. However, there is a lot less off-road trail than many of Scotland’s other ultras so it’s important to consider this when training.
This event, as is usual from the Rat Race team, offers something very different and I expect it will be popular.
Maybe one day I’ll venture into the world of ultra-running and if I did I would be keen to do this race.
How to enter the UTE
The UTE is an open participatory event and an achievable step up from a marathon into ultra-running territory. However, Edinburgh is not flat so it’s important that runners put in the training, especially on hills.
The event is also a great opportunity for spectators and supporters to follow friends and family as they run, while visiting a number of capital attractions. too.
Cost: Entry is from £109 for a solo entry and £104 for a team of five to the full prices of £135 and £130 respectively. (This is not cheap but it does include a lot of route planning and organisation, I guess.)
The event has partnered with the charity Children with Cancer UK.
Rat Race aims to raise £1 million for the charity over three years and is already over half way to their target.