I guess I’m not one for doing things the easy way and if this had been any other race, I might have been tempted to DNS as three months with no training following a calf injury meant that I was less than prepared for it. However, Tiree holds a special place in my heart, the destination of the sort of boyhood holidays where it never rained, the miles of clear blue ocean and golden sands were deserted and there was rocks aplenty to climb. I’d wanted to go back for years and had been toying with going to run round the island when I discovered Tiree Fitness and the Ultra Marathon.
As I said, I never like to do things the easy way, so despite my distinct lack of training, I worked till 2am on Saturday morning, then drove overnight to Oban, stopping for a couple of catnaps on route, to catch the early (only) ferry of the day. Arriving at Tiree, I proceeded to run, fully laden, the 6 miles to the campsite, before pitching my tent and heading off for some much needed coffee and cake. The following morning saw an early rise and a jog down to the start line, some three miles away. The start line must be one of the most beautiful of any race and I’m afraid the picture doesn’t do it justice.
Will Wright, the Race Director, had designed a course that showcased the beauty of the island and was technically challenging. 7 water/refreshment stations were spaced round the course, nicely sub diving it into roughly 4 mile sections. The first section round to Hynish included the first two beaches, including Balephuil Beach, one of the endless golden beaches from my youth,
before a technical fell section round the base of Ben Hynish and the reward of Happy Valley. The water station at Hynish marked the longest road section with three miles along the road through the hamlets of Mannel and Balemartine, before joining the beach at Balinoe for the last mile before the refreshment station at An Talla.
From An Talla, it was a mix of beach and road towards Scarnish, this is where my lack of training and the miles in my legs caught up with me and I hit the wall, way to early in a short ultra. The relatively firm beach felt like I was wading through treacle and the hills on the road section, whilst little more than undulations seemed mountainous. After Scarnish and a short road section, the course dropped onto the longest beach on the island, over 2 miles of thankfully hard packed sand. This is where the navigational trick of following the footsteps was used as I sought to get the shortest possible line over the curved beach without missing the exit point. Leaving the beach we hit a technical mile or so following the coast to the halfway point. I had opted not to leave a drop bag here, a decision I regretted as it would have been nice to get some chocolate milk or some variation from water/Hi5 zero that I had been drinking.
The next section was mainly off road and started with a few technical miles round the eastern art of the island and looking across to neighbouring Coll. Dropping down onto the inevitable beaches, I caught another runner, Archie, who was struggling with cramp and we ‘ran’ together for the next 10 or 12 miles. The following section took us up to a stone age broch at Dun Mor and then onto the Ringing Stone. This section was almost all off road and clearly marked. After the next refreshment point, it was pointed out that the tide was beating us and we may have to go over the rocky outcrops rather than on the beach in front of them. After Balephetrish Bay, we climbed some steps up to the road and then some long miles along the road, the route then took what seemed a long detour, which Will had promised was well worth it, to a hidden beach. It was indeed a gem. As we left the beach, I decided to push on and feeling reinvigorated ran over the machair and dunes to the last two beaches. These were hard going as the tide was in and pushing us onto the softer sand along the top, however the finish was in sight and as I climbed up from the last beach I could see the finish line ahead. A short burst took me to the finish outside Will’s house and then onto the neighbouring pub where hot pizza and coke provided the necessary finish line fuel whilst the barmaid sorted out a goodie bag and T-Shirt. I loved this race, the opportunity to run round such a gorgeous island and the amazing support from the whole community was fantastic. (Images below (c) Rhoda Meek)
Distance: 34.77 miles
Ascent: 1082 feet
- Three months of injury enforced rest is not good preparation.
- The additional miles commuting didn’t help, next time I’ll take my bike.
- Working and then commuting through the night doesn’t work well either
- Use the drop bags, it provides a motivating goal and reward.
I’ll be back next year, a sub 7 hour race is easily achievable.
Entries closed for the Dragon’s Back Race on the 8th September. I had intended to make my entry as complete as possible over the summer however injury meant that I didn’t get the multi-day events in as intended. I now have the long wait until places are released on the 30th September to see if I’ve achieved a place. Fingers and all other bits of me are crossed. I have a couple of plan Bs up my sleeve.