I’ve been really good over the last few years at using running to justify my jaunts to foreign lands [see Luxembourg, Chicago and Niagara Falls to pick out a few]. Where I’ve not been poorer, is in exploring more of my own country.
And here we are!
Tiree is the outer-most island of the Inner Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland. It’s a small, low-lying island with a population of less than 700 and the highest peak at less than 150m. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, prone to be rather windy!
My mate Andy & I set off on Thursday evening for Taynult before moving on to Oban for the 6.45am ferry crossing, arriving after a hearty full breakfast, a couple of cups of tea and a fairly smooth passage into Scarinish around 10.30. We’d brought our bikes over (no extra fee – road bikes are fine I’d say) so after scooting round to our Airbnb, we went off for a cycle around the island for a bit of sight-seeing.
A lunch at The Cobbled Cow – next to the airport – and dinner at The Lodge, handily walkable from our Airbnb in Vaul, and we were set for a reasonably early night. We may have had a few pints, for good measure…
Saturday was race day. A 2pm start meant a relaxed morning before the six mile cycle over to Crossapol and An Talla, the village hall housing the registration, cafe & ceilidh.
That six mile cycle was straight into a headwind! Not quite the warm-up we had in mind.
The run started to bagpipes (obviously) on the nearby beach with a first kilometre that was, today, also straight into the wind. It was going to be a tough day!
(I recorded lots during the run, but between the wind and a heavy bout of ‘shaky cam syndrome’ I won’t subject you to it. Must improve that situation)
The sand was hard-packed at least, so it was only a struggle trying to leave it. By this point, I was around 19th as far as I could tell. We then headed on a 4-mile out-and-back section to Hynish in the south of the island, undulating its way through Ballemartine and Mannal on the way to the end of the small pier serving as the turning point.
The sun made a brief appearance at this point, and the views onto the beaches and of the sea were spectacular. The water has a colour to it here you just don’t get anywhere else in Britain.
During that stint, the wind-breaker I started with became prohibitively hot and lead to a test of my dexterity; remove pins, keep hold of said pins, remove wind-breaker, pin race number to t-shirt, all while continuing to run…somehow, mission accomplished!
I got a wee boost out of seeing Andy on the way back, and also saw one of the Core Team from Portobello parkrun wearing their orange t-shirts. She looked a bit confused by the shout out! As I got to the turn to go west toward Heylipol, I got a shout-out for my Loch Leven t-shirt – I’m pretty sure the same person gave the same shout as I approached the finish much later on, too! Brought a smile to the face.
Less pleasing was the wind that accompanied the change of direction! By this stage – over four miles in – I was up to around 12th, I thought. I’d counted runners going by me on my way to Hynish, and then remembered the 10k started at the same time as the half. I had no idea how many runners belonged to which race.
I hadn’t passed or been passed by anyone since before reaching the pier, but noticed one runner heading the ’10k way’, so that was something. I finally did see another human at close quarters at mile 6; we had a quick chat, lamenting the windy conditions and the haste with which we’d started. He also let me know one more 10k runner had been in front of him – I’d said that must mean we were fighting over tenth, and he couldn’t let me pass him! That said, I wanted top ten so off I went, doing my best to maintain a consistent effort, if not a consistent pace.
Miles 8 – 10 were okay. I was gradually catching someone who’d dropped off the back of a group of three, so I had something to focus on. We went through Sandaig on the west of the island past a couple handing out water while blasting out some music, through Kilkenneth towards the north where I could hear feet behind me for the first time in miles (something else to focus on) and turning east just before the foot of Ben Hough.
And I passed someone else! On a tricky uphill section. I say tricky only because I was struggling a bit, and it was up…for a low-lying place, there’s still plenty of bumps!
The footsteps behind gradually got quieter, and just as well. Mile 11 was again into the wind and threatened to sap the last of my strength. Added to this, my left knee had started to twinge in a rather unpleasant way.
Stubbornly, I carried on. Last water stop was behind me by now, and I was on the long road back to the beach with the wind finally at my back. Coming down to the finish for what would normally be a heroic sprint finish (!) deteriorated into a battle against the elements, and I imagine looked fairly pathetic. Still, I smiled and thanked those madly waiting at the finish for their loved ones as they cheered everyone in, and crossed the line!
It was over. Phew.
I turned up massively under-prepared. I’d ran 24 miles in the 9 weeks before this due a mix of shin splints and hamstring issues that hadn’t cleared up fully. Nothing more than 5 miles in one go. Being realistic, I’d reckoned this might be my slowest half marathon time. That top ten place clearly helped keep me going:
Very happy with that! Comfortably in the middle of my range, and when the official results were published, I was indeed tenth (out of 108, but ssshh!).
My splits weren’t too far apart, either:
5k – 22:46
10k – 22:00
15k – 22:35
20k – 22:25
Fin – 5:02
After a tea and two slices of cake it was a steady cycle home, get cleaned up, and scrounged a lift from our very kind Airbnb hosts to the ceilidh at night. Yes, they put on a ceilidh for us tired runners, and it was a brilliant night!
My calves were so tight after this. I swear it was worse than after most of the marathons I’ve run! I don’t know if it was the dancing or what came before it…
On reflection, this was so much fun. While a few people only stayed the one night, three was well worth our time and we didn’t even get to do everything we wanted to. We didn’t quite get the weather we wanted but that didn’t spoil our impression of the island, the really welcoming people and the delicious food we had everywhere!
Final thing: Last year they started the Hebrides Tri-Island Challenge, involving the neighbouring islands of Coll and Mull. Run a HM (or 10k) on each, and receive a bonus medal! I knew about it beforehand, but it was only after experiencing Tiree that I came home and entered the other two races. I can’t wait!