We went to Coll, it was wet and windy, we ran a tough half marathon, we went to a ceilidh, it was a very long journey back home, it was great fun!
The Official Version
The Epic Version5:30am in the dark at Oban ferry terminal, it must be time for our annual Dumfries Harriers trip to the Coll half marathon.
For this, our 3rd trip some of us had decided to head out one day early to explore the inner Hebridean island of Coll, previous trips having been something of a blitz of travelling, tent pitching, racing, drinking, dancing and then travelling home. Our early start meant that by 12 noon, we’d arrived, pitched tents got ourselves settled and in my case hired a mountain bike to allow me to join Ian and Dawn on a planned cycle tour of the island. Our group had been adopted by stereotypical American tourist (big camera, bum belt and slightly “in your face”) Tim from Baltimore, USA who we’d met on the ferry and who invited
|Choppy sleeping like a log|
|Dawn's new necklace|
With a blustery wind blowing in our faces we all stopped after 3 miles to shed a layer, Tim tying his tweed jacket round his waste with the help of a length of rope found on the roadside. Passing the airport we turned off the half marathon route towards Crossapol beach. Pausing briefly for a paddle and for Dawn to experiment with a new natural seaweed scarf we cycled the full length of the beach, the clapped out £10 bikes proving more suited for this stretch than Dawn and Ian’s tourers. Regretting the offer of Eileen’s OS map we managed to convince ourselves we were heading back to (relative) civilisation. Our theory of “look if there’s a house at the end of the beach, there must be a road” proving both optimistic and incorrect as beach track, briefly became tractor track then petered out entirely into a field. Choppy bravely volunteering to lead us through the gate with a prominent “Beware of the Bulls” sign sporting his bright red Dumfries Harriers top, what a guy!
Backtracking, we eventually re-joined the undulating half marathon route, through the dunes, past the golf course and the welcome sight of Coll’s main town Arinagour. I reckon we cycled 20 miles. Far from a gentle pre-race bimble it was our usual less than ideal prep for what we knew would be a tough race.
Duly showered we headed to the Coll Hotel bar for re-hydration and to watch Mo Farah win World Championship gold in the 5,000m as likeminded fellow committed athletes we should have partaken in a light meal and headed for an early night, but back in the real world we had 4 pints each, ate a huge seafood meal had a couple more pints to wash it all down and then rolled into our respective tents.
The weather gods were not kind to us and the wind duly howled and the rain hammered down, I could hear a few “goddams!” from Tim next door in his tiny tent, but he quietened down about 5am, he’d apparently given up on his tent and spent the night sitting in the gents bog.
With the ferry due in with the rest of our party and the rain still bouncing off the ground, we opted for a civilised breakfast in the Coll Hotel, chatting to a couple from Cornwall camping with 4 young kids, whose tent had collapsed during the night and who were feeding and drying themselves before trying to repair the sodden remnants of their tent. Duly fuelled and fed we returned to the now bustling campsite to help our fellow Harriers erect tents in yet another deluge.
The campsite progressively emptied as runners for the 5K and 10K events headed off for their starts and everyone congregated in the fabulous new An Crighe community centre, sporting the usual pre-race mix of club tops, bin liners and apprehensive faces. With a good 10 minute walk to the race start on the pier and what had to be the weekends worst dump of rain hammering down, I decided I needed my waterproof hat and gloves. I sprinted through the rain towards my tent, athletically leapt over tent guys and duly fell flat on my arse full length in a in a puddle, not a good start!
I PB’d the course last year but after a 6 week layoff due to post WHW race injuries and only two weeks of semi-serious running this was going to be my longest run in 8 weeks, I wasn’t expecting miracles.
With experience of the previous two years I knew this was not a course to set off too quickly on, although the highest point on the entire route is less than 200ft, it feels like you’re constantly going up or down and with a vicious strong headwind for the first 5 miles it’s not a race for fun runners.
I’d decided to stick between 7:30 and 8:00 minute miles throughout; I felt this was both achievable and sensible without killing me. At around the 3 mile mark I overtook 2 young guys, one of whom dropped behind, the other caught me up, we got chatting, Rob had just graduated from Exeter uni and was heading off to Sandhurst in a couple of months, he’d done the race last year squeezing under 2 hours and was keen to do better this year, checking my Garmin I told him our current pace would put us 1:42 – 1:44, so he jovially announced “OK you can pace me round then” proper officer material there I think.
As the road petered out and we headed through the sandy track, we could see 4 guys doing the half marathon walk, wearing ladies summer dresses, it turned out they were Rob’s Army officer brother and his mates, one a Naval officer the other Marines. As we ran past they offered us a drink from a bottle of Jack Daniels and then encouraged us along, by running behind shouting “run faster or I’ll stick this bottle up your arse”. As by this stage I was breathing through my hoop, I was happy when we left them behind, apart from being passed by a topless Johnny Fling at mile 11, it was a pretty uneventful race for me. At mile 12 Rob pulled ahead but I had nothing left in the tank. The race has a horrid sting in the tail with a climb about half a mile from the finish, its only 60 feet but it felt like the North face of the Eiger to me. I’d overtaken one chap just before this and was neck and neck with another but completely failed to muster my customary sprint finish to pass him on the final downhill to the finish, clocking a course worst for me of 1:41:26. In truth since I’ve only run 60 miles or so in the last 8 weeks, with 6 weeks of no running I’m pretty chuffed with my time. If anyone asks why I was 4 minutes slower than last year I’ll blame it on the heavy hat and gloves I was wearing, as with perverse irony, the sun had decided to shine throughout the race.
I think the rest of our party were happy with their runs. Steve C knocked a minute off last years’ time, Rebecca won the ladies race and Andy clocked a 6 minute PB, Lesley continued her excellent season by chicking me and husband Neil (who PB’d), running 6 minutes quicker than last year and getting 3rd lady and 1st vet trophies. Peter Duggan broke his Coll hoodoo clocking under 1:40, Steve H and Hazel run a disciplined race saving themselves for their upcoming Reykjavik marathon, Ian A was happy with his first race since last year’s Berlin marathon, Dawn clocked under 2 hours and Anne was happy with her first half marathon in 5 years. Of Tim there was no sign, I felt a twinge of guilt that our cycling efforts the day before may not have helped him. The only down side to the race was the organisers bizarre decision to award the team prize to a running club who didn’t even have a team in for the half, we were robbed!
As we were changing for the party, a chorus of “goddams” erupted from Tim’s tiny tent, “goddam tent, goddam bee, how can there be a goddam bee in my goddam tent”, closely followed by various garments (and presumably the bee) being thrown from the tiny tent at near supersonic speed. I suspect Tim’s idyllic thoughts about camping and racing on a Scottish island were wearing very thin.
Whilst the race is tough it’s just a necessary evil to get you to the post-race party, comprising Loch Fyne Ales, local food and an epic ceilidh.
I managed to avoid the rookie error of drinking on an empty stomach this year but despite dancing most of the night I still drank too much. Every time I finished a dance a glass of red wine magically appeared in my hand and it would have been rude to refuse. Unlike past years where I didn’t make it past 10 o’clock, I made it all the way to 1am before staggering in the dark to my tent and collapsing into sleep.I was woken up at 6:40 not by my bladder alarm clock as excepted but by more “goddams” from Tim, whose tent had finally given up the ghost and collapsed. As I gratefully allowed the tendrils of sleep to overtake me again, I was disturbed by the sound of manic slashing and another chorus of “goddams”, “now that’s how you take down a goddam tent”. Tim now being so fed up with the world’s smallest and crappest tent that he’s found a knife and slashed it to pieces in frustration and fury, I suspect we won’t see him on Coll next year!
After all the activity and bustle of the previous 48 hours, Sunday is a curious limbo time. The ferry back to Oban is at 2pm and following breakfast in the community centre the race day euphoria having worn off and the hangover having kicked in, there isn’t really enough time (or energy) to explore, just lots of laughs and reflections on the weekend and laying the foundations for next years trip.In memory of Steve C’s interrupted race last year Neil & Lesley had produced a memorial golf towel, which was awarded this year to Hazel for a similarly lavatorial tale, I’m too much of a gentleman to divulge the details, if you want to know you’ll just have to come to Coll next year.
There are two ferries which take it in turns to service the Coll route, so having arrived on a deserted large ferry, the return trip was courtesy of the smaller Lord of The Isles. It was packed but we managed to secure two tables in the café, impossible to sleep on, but at least we had a seat and enjoyed a decent meal and loads of post-race banter.New friend Roy spent the journey justifiably fuming that he’d been robbed of his V40 prize, when he’s challenged the organisers they admitted they’d given the prize to the wrong guy and suggested he find him and ask him to hand it over! Alex had lost his wallet so I volunteered to give him, Eileen and Roy a lift to Glasgow Queen Street; it was good to have company on the journey down Loch Lomond side.
So that’s Coll over for another year, if you’re looking for a fast flat PB course give it a miss, if you want a race weekend that is packed full of laughs and character and great fun I’ll see you next year.Entries open for next year’s events on 1st October, http://www.collhalfmarathon.co.uk/enter.php see you there.