Anyone who has had to push themselves up the merciless sandy incline again and again will attest that Murder Hill on Gullane beach has been appropriately named.
Such moments of mental and physical torture make a mockery of the claim that a footballer’s life is a perpetually easy one as players scale the dunes of the East Lothian coast in a quest to build up the stamina needed to see them through a season in the Scottish top flight.
“It is hard,” states Hearts new boy Craig Halkett, conceding that the current gruelling schedule at the club’s Riccarton training centre has already been as tough as any pre-seasons he has faced in his career. “I went home after the first couple of days and my girlfriend would see me walking in the door and struggling. That’s when they realise it’s not all plain sailing and kicking footballs!”
But if the first few days have been testing, the former Livingston captain has been warned that it is only going to get tougher, with the notoriously hellish trip to Gullane Sands pencilled in for today.
“I’ve been hearing about it every day since I came in, so I don’t know if I’m looking forward to it or not!” he said.
“The boys have been winding me up about it, aye, and they’ve all warned me what a tough day it’s going to be. It’s just one of those things that need to be done.
“They’ve told me wee bits and bobs about last year at Gullane, what to expect. I’m trying not to think about it, to be honest. And the weather is supposed to be good, too… brilliant!
“The worst stories were about a couple of boys being sick, that kind of thing.”
But having known he was Hearts-bound for several months, after signing a pre-contract, the 24-year-old defender, who turned down advances from other Scottish clubs as well as down south and abroad to join the capital outfit, has had time to mentally steel himself for what lies ahead,
“I had heard all about the Craig Levein pre-season, long ago, so I’ve had plenty of time to prepare myself for it,” he said. “Pre-season just needs to be done. You need to show mental toughness to get through it because you know the benefits you get throughout the season once you have built up a good core fitness.”
That mental strength is one of the things that appealed to his new boss, Levein, who was impressed by his resolve as he bounced back from rejection at boyhood club Rangers and not only regrouped but rebuilt his reputation at Livingston where he was a key player in the ascent through the divisions.
Thrilled to be getting the opportunity to now push for silverware and European competition, Halkett says any groundwork put in now will be worth it if they can replicate last season’s runs to the latter stages of both domestic cup competitions and hopefully surpass those feats by clinching a trophy and moving further up the Premiership standings.
“It’s not like pre-season was easy at Livingston. It’s never easy at any club. But this has been the toughest one, so far, in my career,” he added.
“Every club and manager has their own wee twist on it. At Livingston last year we went on a 5k run to a park and then we went up and down stairs – and then ran the 5k back again. How many stairs was it? Too many! It was a tough day, probably the hardest we had.
“I think at every club there’s a wee story about a manager looking to do something outwith the football side.” For Halkett, though, it serves as an opportunity to prove himself to his new gaffer and his new team-mates as the west coast lad gets his head around the size of the Gorgie club and the sizeable ambitions.
“I was one of those boys who was guilty of underestimating them” he admits. “Growing up in Glasgow, through there it is all about the Old Firm, but when I signed there were people through in Edinburgh told me I would only really realise how big Hearts are when I got through and got involved.
“They were right, Rangers and Celtic in Glasgow are just the same as Hearts and Hibs in Edinburgh. So it is brilliant to be a part of it.”
Even if days likes today prove to be sheer murder.