Monday, 20 August 2012

If Carlsberg did half marathons.....

It would be the Coll Half Marathon. Why else would a crack team of 11 runners and supporters from Dumfries Harriers, make the epic 400 mile drive and 3 hour ferry trip to the remote Scottish island of Coll for the second time?
From the moment we arrived in Oban on Friday evening through to our bleary eyed and foot sore return to Dumfries late on Sunday, it was a fantastic weekend, great company, magical venue, brilliant weather, epic ceilidh, hilarious non-stop banter and superb fun.

Arriving in Oban we checked into our accomodation at the Backpackers plus hostel, well laid plans for a pre-race carb loading meal quickly went out the window, tempted by the mouth watering smell from Norie's fish and chip shop, we succumbed to fish suppers whilst overlooking the harbour. Our plans for "just one drink", early to bed and a good nights restful sleep were similarly torpedoed as we rolled and giggled our Guiness fueled way into the hostel close to midnight, settled into the spartan but bizarely high bunk beds and one of our company (you know who you are) managed to lose their underwear between the downstairs bathroom and our top floor room. With the 5:45 phone alarm, pipped by the 3:00 bladder alarm we enjoyed probably about the worst pre-race preparation you could have....................and enjoyed every minute of it.

Harriers pre-race relaxation
Along with around 400 fellow travellers 7am Saturday found us on the ferry bound the magical inner hebridean island of Coll, meeting up with some familiar faces from last year and settling down to a runners breakfast of porridge full Scottish fry up. The journey flew by and we were soon disembarked and eagerly marching through the islands "capital" Arinagour to the brand new community centre where the majority of runners would be enjoying the free camping included in your entry fee. The 2pm race start allows ample time to pitch tents, register, relax and get your race-head on.

With the afternoon warming up, the wind swirling and photographic duties entrusted to Steve, Eileen and Jystina, Andrew Amos and 84 runners in the 10K race headed off to their start point, the 155 starters for the half headed down to the Calmac ferry pier for their start. After my usual 4 pre-race toilet stops and a quick briefing we were off!
Harriers at the front of the field
This race is optimistically described as undulating, add to this a headwind for the first 5 miles, it's no Sunday afternoon stroll. By mile 1, the eventual winner, Ciaran Doughertey from Bellahouston Road Runners had already established a commanding lead and the front pack was spreading out, lead harrier Steve Carroll, in his first ever half marathon was powering along and my long-suffering training buddy Andy Beattie seemed to be running a well paced start, ahead of me.

Settling into my own planned race pace (7:20 - 7:25min/miles), and passing the old Coll community centre there is a 2 mile uphill run into a persistant headwind, about halfway up this stretch I was aware that some-one was drafting behind me, so being the sporting gent I am I started to zig-zag, to allow him to pass ....... of course. When he eventually took the hint I noticed it was a tall and tanned chap who had been performing some very ostentatious stretches before the start, either a serious runner or a poseur methinks. I paid him back in kind by trying to draft him, but his 7:08 pace was too ambitious for me and rapidly he pulled clear.
By the first water station at the top of the hill, it was obvious it was going to be a very hot run, so the first cup went over my head as I've never have mastered the art of drinking from a cup whilst running, perhaps some relief from the wind? No, in fact as you crest the slope, the wind if anything, gets even stronger!
Despite a population of only 200, virtually the whole island supports the races, with water stations manned enthusiastically by locals in fancy dress sprinkled liberally along the course. Feeling pretty smug that I was mostly passing other runners, rather than being passed, I made the right turn after the airfield and a- somebody turned off the wind b - somebody   turned on the heat and c- another sodding hill, another reminder if I needed it that this is a challenging half!

Me - almost looking like a runner
 Coll is a pretty small island and shortly after this you run out of road and cover a couple of undulating (yes its that word again) miles along a sandy track behind the dunes, I'd been picking runners off one by one and about half-way through the dunes I saw my next target, Oh deep joy it was Mr Stretchy Poseur, he must have heard me closing him down, not difficult as my breathing was doing a creditable impression of the Big Bad Wolf blowing down the house made of bricks! A quick spurt of effort and I was past him and pulling out ahead. Dodging some deeply dis-interested cows on the route, you leave the sand behind and hit the tarmac again. My next target was a chap wearing a brightly coloured buff round his neck who'd passed me in the first half mile, he ran into the next "special" water station about 100 metres ahead of me and I noticed he was walking out of the far side, as I maintained my pace and passed him, I asked him if he was OK and he cheerfully waved the can of lager he was gulping down at me, another one down. My next target was friend and training mate Andy Beattie around 300 metres ahead, easily spotted with our distinctive "Where's Wally?" red and white striped harriers race top. Andy is a consistently strong runner and his training for Iron Man Wales in 5 weeks time means he's in cracking form right now, but cresting another small hill the gap was down to 200m, was I really running that well?
Well no I wasn't, the reason soon revealed itself as Andy stopped up ahead, doubled over and promptly decorated the grass verge with his lunch, although he quickly got running again, the gap closed rapidly and I passed him. I could feel him trying to close me down, but was able to hold him off and open up a gap. With this milestone, my challenges now multipied, I still had 5 miles to run, the next runner ahead was so far away that realistically I wasn't going to catch him unless he was hit by a bus (unlilely on an island almost devoid of traffic), despite now running in the opposite direction the headwind was back and the undulations had returned.
With a water station strategy that involved one cup over my head and a second lobbed in the general direction of my mouth in the vain hope that I might swallow some, I thrashed along like a big grey haired drowned chicken
Me - not looking like David Rudisha
With my brain broiling gently in the afternoon heat, my mental calculations, which are never quick at the best of times told me I was in line to beat my time of last year and get a pb!, on Coll!, in this heat!, with these undulations! steady now Keith. So running to my Garmin pace and giving myself a mental prod every time I slipped back, the steeple of Arinagour church eventually broke the skyline. I knew from last years run, that I now only had about half a mile to go and the last 300m was all down hill.
Over the hill, round the corner, finish in sight, my inner mental picture is one of Mo Farah or David Rudisha, sadly the camera doesn't lie.

Not praying - just knackered
I crossed the line in 1:37:03, 19th overall, 3 minutes quicker that last year and a PB by over a minute, to say I was chuffed would be an  understatement, to say I was tired would be a down-right lie, I was truly, completely, overwhelmingly and spectacularly knackered, and again there is no hiding from the camera lens!
Steve had put in a blistering run finishing 12th overall in 1:32:26 and was standing on the line looking disgustingly fresh.
I stumbled up the banking to join the cheerleading team of Eileen and Justyna, just in time to cheer Andy through in a gutsy 1:39:37 and to find out that Andrew Amos had won the 10K race, well done Andrew.
The harriers pair of Ian Anderson and Neil Jeffrey sandwiched Lochaber AC's and WHW runner Peter Duggan over the line with Neil Jeffrey completing the harriers male line up.
Lesley Gilchrist "chicked" Eileen's brother Donald on the home straight with Hazel Smyth completing the girls line up in 1:50:42, but the stand out run of the day was honorary harrier Zoe Newsam from Troon who knocked a full 13 minutes off her 2011 time, setting her up well for the Loch Ness Marathon in 6 weeks time.

With the racing now over, it was time for some rehydration and post match analysis, or alternativly we could lie in the sun (even the wind showed its support by disappearing) doing some proper rehydration and gorging on local hand dived scallops, any guesses which way we went?

I was originally planning to include all the gory details of the prize giving ceremony and the epic post race Celidh, but with this post assuming War & Peace proportions, I think I'll give it the space it deserves in a post all for itself.


1 comment:

  1. Brilliant! That sounds like my kind of weekend, I've never been to Coll before, now I've got the perfect excuse!