The Isle of Coll half marathon was the last of three races in the Tri-Island Hebridean Challenge, in only its second year.  The earlier races taking place in Tiree (May) and Mull.

Coll’s a small island in the Inner Hebrides, with less than 200 residents with a primary school with 7 pupils, where the kids have to go to the mainland – nearly three hours on a boat – to go to secondary school. Very few places to stay, so we (I’d travelled over with Andy and his younger brother, Aaron) were camping right outside An Cridhe Community Centre in Arinagour, where the weekend’s activities would be based.  An Cridhe means “The Heart”.

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Home for the night

Said three hour boat trip to the island left Oban at 6:15am; we’d stayed in Connel , 5 miles away the night before, after having some of the most delicious food imaginable in the Glenorchy Lodge Hotel at Dalmally. Honestly…that was my second visit. Amazing.

Ahem.

Having doubled the island’s population for 24 hours, there is a brilliant community feel to it. Weather helped; it was mainly dry, little wind (unusually, I suspect) and with the slightest effort, you can find yourself making a lot of friends in a very short space of time! I met club mates and runners from the earlier races, and plenty besides.

To give an idea of the friendliness on show; Aaron couldn’t run, and was twice in ten minutes offered the use of a bike so he could get out and around the course. Brilliant.  He took up one of the offers.

There was also a ceilidh at night – great fun, even if you don’t know what you’re doing. We got Thibaud, our French friend we made after the race, to dance just once…and it went on until 1.15am!

Shout out to the band, who were boozing on the boat before we even boarded in the morning, and could be found in the hotel bar while we were running. And to the hilarious New Zealander on MC duties for the prize-giving and raffle. Roy Walker would have been proud.

Getting ahead of myself.  Right, the race.

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The start line, 5 hours before the actual start

We started at 2pm out by the ferry ‘terminal’. No one wanted to take it out, so I got to lead with my club mate for a hundred metres, which was fun. Eventually I settled into sixth as the lead five slowly moved away from me, and I knew chasing them would ruin my race.

My goals were a little different; the Challenge saw the male and female with the lowest cumulative time crowned ‘Lord’ and ‘Lady’ of the Isles (and bonus medal for doing all three, of course), and I was leading slightly going into this.

The five in front did not include my nearest rival!

There’s a fair bit of Up in the early going, and my training hasn’t exactly been consistent. Little speed work, little distance. I tried to find a rhythm I felt I could maintain, though even 4 miles in, my breathing was a bit rubbish. There was more Up than I’d bargained for on a low-lying island.  Was good to see Aaron about a mile and a half in, though.  Got a high five for my trouble.

By mile 6 I was 8th. One of the guys that passed was 7 minutes behind me in the challenge, so not too worried. Then a guy strode up next and he started chatting…he made it all seem effortless! I urged him to carry on and not let me hold him back, and off he went.

Then sand. Nice, compacted sand. Everyone afterward said this section was their favourite and lifted their spirits. Gentle undulations only.  I went through the 10k start during this section, and started to pass the walkers who had started the half an hour before us.  This included Charlie, a dog Andy and Aaron had befriended on the boat.  And no, we didn’t get the owner’s name, because we’re bad people.

Then: whisky! A quick wash down with some water and off I went. I think I was the first one to sample it!  Yes, there was an actual whisky stop on this run.  Fantastic.

Things were getting tough. I passed the 5k start with relief; I’d been making use of the plentiful water stops by pouring it over my head – it wasn’t particularly hot, but I was overheating – and felt awful despite making back up those two lost places.

Particular highlight was a guy on a high rock shouting praise at me. Had no idea anyone was there!

Oh, or the guys dressed as knights who blocked the path over a cattle grid at a water stop. I thought I’d have to say a password!

At the last water stop I was told I was being beaten by a girl. I knew this. I could only reply “I know – she’s fast” before trotting on. I also dropped the jellybean I picked up, and this hurt more than I could tell you.

A final steep up at mile 12.5 was followed with a steeper descent with the finish in sight. No heroics, I just got myself over that line to finish 5th male, 6th overall.

And your 2018 Lord of the Isles!

I finished in 1:30:10, my fastest of the three.  That surprised me; it felt slower than Mull and the course was definitely more difficult.  Which, thinking about it, probably explains why it felt slower.

The trophy – I got a trophy! – is in memorial to Murray Flett, the son of the creator of the series. I was talking to her afterwards when she told me this; the series was the push I needed to get me there and told her so. It’s a great way to encourage tourism.  The shame was we could only stay one day.

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CAAC success! Third placed/1st vet for Dean, and third for Gillian as well!
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Our podium! Will of Tiree Fitness fame, surrounded by Thibaud and Dean
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Aaron and Andy, the stars of the weekend

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Medals for Tiree, Mull, The Challenge & Coll, with lovely trophy as centre-piece. I have to give it back.