Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Heb 3

Route comparison – Skye V Harris V Barra

Elevation gain (according to Louise’s garmin)
Skye – 1115ft
Barra - 1207ft
Harris -1010ft
Skye half marathon
So Barra is the hilliest? Well, who knew? Apologies, this is incredibly geeky but it has been a topic for debate ever since I first started doing the Heb 3 and I decided to find out once and for all (unless, of course, anybody else's Garmin stats say differently?)


After starting my Heb 3 campaign at Skye it was off to Barra a couple of weeks later. Barra, the party island of the Hebrides - at least thats how it feels. A fantastic race and celidh, curry at the Kisimul cafe, the Castlebay bar, the Vatersay Boys, sun, sea beautiful beaches, sitting outside with a chilled glass of wine on a patio overlooking the castle... What more could you want? I should think everyone who visits Barra is bewitched by this magical little island and its stunning approach past the castle. 
I wonder how many photos of this castle i now have...

Unusually the summit of Heaval was clear of clag and mist so it had to be done. As I reached the summit the magnificent sight of the little green islands sat in a shimmering sea rolled out in front of me, remonstrating with me that despite many visits here there is still so much that I have not seen.

Is it possible one or two of us overdid the partying given the number of no shows at Breakfast time eh Bert?...eh Wilson?....eh Simon? It was some party, the Castlebay bar was jumping, with people dancing on chairs and on the pool table. The floor was literally awash with beer.
My Heb Half Nemesis

A great way to recover from the race (and the post race party) is by taking a dip in the ocean. Simon had invested in a go-pro camera so he could film his swim in the sea, it would be memorable on such a stunning day in such a stunning location, but somehow he seemed to forget about the camera as he spent most of his time floating on his back resulting in approx 20 mins footage of the sky. Donut. However on the return voyage to Oban he managed to capture on film a large pod of dolphins that followed the boat, an incredible sight.
Simon emerging from the depths..
I was less than a mile into the half marathon when i happened to glance into a garden at the side of the road and spotted an Ostrich. Yes, really. Well that kept my mind occupied for a fair amount of the race as did battling with Abby who gave me a good run for my money but I felt pretty good and ran strongly to the end. Despite photographic evidence to the contrary, I did actually enjoy the race, Barra is most definitely my favourite Heb half. Geoff and Karen are well into marathon and ultra marathon training and so i said i would join them for a wee run after the race to bump up the miles. I didn’t last very long though and soon slunk back to Castlebay to enjoy a nice swim and sauna before the buffet was served and the post race festivities started in earnest.

Post race chillin'
 Despite the race and the party I couldn’t help my mind going back to the ostrich that I had seen. Worryingly no one else had. Even more worryingly people were starting to walk backwards away from me when I mentioned it. The next day I was on an ostrich hunt with Simon in tow. We walked a little way out of Castlebay and sure enough in a pen at the side of the road there they were, although neither of us could good agree on what they were, personally I thought that they were baby ostrichs but I was later informed by Bert and John that they were indeed emu’s. Clearly Bert and John had also been curious to see if I was in fact going insane and had gone on an ostrich hunt of their own.  
Simon finishing (C Barrathon website)

Champions! (C Barrathon website)

Me finishing (C Barrathon website)
Ostrich!!! Well, Ok, an Emu.

All too soon it was over. Leaving Barra is always a sad moment. We got back to Oban and had fresh seafood sat outside the little seafood shack near the ferry terminal in glorious sunshine desperate to extend the weekend out just that little bit longer...

Leaving Barra



Skye sunset, en route to Harris
Everyone said that it was going to be a tail wind. Everyone lied. It was a hot windy day which when added to the hills on the route made for a tougher than usual day out with most of the runners in agreement that their times were slower than anticipated. I tried to “zone out” by taking in the magnificent views across the golden beaches over to Taransay and watching the runners up ahead as I was feeling ever so slightly lethargic something I put down to the heat and a late night before the race.
Dont you just hate it when someone else turns up wearing the same outfit?
 Maybe I should have taken Andy McMahon’s advice as John did and eat Jelly worms during the race, maybe Jelly worms are the new carbo shots although I think carbo shots and gels survive a race in the heat in better condition than do jelly worms – the one that Andy still had pinned to his vest after the race certainly looked a little past its best. My Jelly worm didn’t even make it to the start line as I scoffed it on the bus on the way to the start!
Jelly worm anyone?
 Simon had zoomed off at the start and then fell back behind me before overtaking me and disappearing into the distance along the long ribbon of smooth tarmac winding its way in front of us over the boulder strewn landscape. 

I was enjoying the peace and quiet until some numpty tried to start up a conversation with me, his opening gambit being “you don’t like the hills do you?” Eh? WTF?  How do I attract them? What am I doing wrong? Maybe I should wear an ipod when running as a deterrent? Shame, because I like to hear what’s going on around me especially in places like the western isles but being cornered on the run by these idiots is actually starting to get me down. 
Anyway once I got shot of him I could relax back into the run and pick up the familiar landmarks on the way into Tarbet such as the pond full of hebridean white lilies, the still pools of water glistening in the sunlight. (The photos below were taken last year - i didn't stop during the race to take them!)

From the top of the hill it was an enjoyable steady plod down into Tarbert and I was amazed to see YP trot effortlessly past me, “Hmmm" thought I, YP might be giving some people a run for the age group prize in the Heb 3 next year! Watch this space...

There is always a bit of a buzz before this race, the last in the Hebridean half marathon series with people keenly watching the results from the preceding races to see if all could be lost or gained in this one race. Ok, by that I mean that pot hunter extraordinaire Bert had spent weeks analysing the results, his and mine, and had worked out what I had to do to win a prize. As far as I could work out all I had to do was run as fast as I could. This strategy did prove successful although I was not to find this out until returning from St Kilda a week later. Bert’s strategy, whatever that turned out to be, also proved to be successful as he won a prize too. Geoff had decided that a brown t-shirt was not a big enough incentive to complete his 3rd Heb race (how could he think this?!) and chose to stay home to do a long run and prepare properly for his forthcoming marathon. In the Bert V Geoff competition, Bert had the upper hand – a full year on since breaking his foot during the Skye half marathon race…while still beating Geoff…but we don’t mention that…it’s a sore point…
Heb 3 Trophy
The Harris half marathon always features a good bit of post race alcohol induced relaxation but this year we had to forgo the festivities in order to drive up to Miavaig to start our St Kilda adventure. Even when getting on the ferry at the start of the day I was just about bubbling over with excitement especially once i saw the kayaks being loaded on the ferry. Better still, Kayak coach and trip organiser Gordon had assured me that the weather over the next few days was going to be great and that there was a good chance of us getting out to St Kilda. Unlike Geoff who is focusing on his marathon training I chose to do the half marathon then spend the week in a kayak and do another hill race the following weekend...I guess I’m really going to suffer during this marathon next week!!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Clisham Hill Race

It started as a light drizzle as we left the Isle of Lewis. By the time we got to Harris it was chucking it down and windy but I was in the Hebrides and this race was on and it would have been rude not to do it.
A light Hebridean drizzle
 I don’t think I have ever seen the summit of An Cliseam (The Clisham 800m/2620ft) as it  always seems to be shrouded in mist and today was to be no different....except that the mist was working its way lower down the slopes. From the warmth and dry of the car I watched the race marshals head off up the slopes of the mountain and carefully studied the line that they took whilst hoping that there would be somebody to follow. As I watched only 7 other runners gathered at the start line and I quickly concluded that following somebody may not be an option and as a precautionary measure I put my compass into the pocket of my waterproof rather that my bumbag so as to allow for easy access as this was looking like the sort of day where navigation may be required. 
8 intrepid runners
  After a race briefing (mainly for my benefit as I was a mainland runner who didn’t know the route) the tiny field of 8 runners were set off into the gloom. A week of kayaking had done nothing for my running and I felt decidedly weary and achy as I plodded out across the bog behind everyone else.  Actually if the truth be told at some points the entire mountain seemed to be swaying as I hadn’t quite got my land legs back!. I contented myself admiring the pretty little flowers growing there in the bog as a form of distraction. Ordinarily I like the fluffy white tufts of bog grass that are such a recognisable part of the Lewis landscape but today I decided I was going right off them as another patch meant another sinking into the dark peaty mud under my feet. I kept reminding myself that peat is good – it gives whisky its flavour...
off across the bog
It didn’t seem too long before we reached the rocky bit and the marshal loomed out of the mist to guide us. (I googled An Cliseam and apparently it means “rocky hill”. Very apt)  I was glad of the red and white marker tape on the route as most of the other runners had disappeared into the mist but at one point I lost the track and had to double back after a fellow competitor kindly waved me in the right direction. I was moving far slower than I would have liked and by the time I had reached the summit cairn it was fair to say I was soaked through and getting really quite chilled.  

By now there were only 7 runners still in the race as one had dropped out on the way up saying that he felt he was getting dangerously chilled. I enquired if he felt he needed any assistance in getting back down the hill but by offer was declined (damn!)

At the summit the marshal stuck his head over the cairn, took a photo of me, said “well done”, and then dived for cover from the elements. I peered over the cairn to where the marshal was sheltering and enviously eyed his cozy looking jacket, then telling myself to “man up” as I had hung around at the cairn for far too long, I about turned and started to descend the rocky slope. I basically slipped and slid and skidded my way over the rocks and bogs – not a lot of running went on and I seemed to develop a sort of bog related tourettes syndrome – until the swirling mist had cleared and the car park became visible in the distance. Eventually I picked up a track, splashed through the stream and finally squelched over the finish line firmly consolidating my position in last place. I had taken so long Simon confessed that he was actually getting worried about me! (I’m not sure if he was as much worried about me rather than worried about potentially having to go out in the rain to find me). Happily though the route was for the most part pretty obvious and the compass stayed in my pocket unused. Simon had ventured out of the car armed with waterproofs and an umbrella to watch my progress and he was almost as wet as I was by then end of the race. He seemed delighted by the afternoon’s entertainment, yes, really he did...
A tad soggy...
 The very talented Peigi MacKellor won the race outright, I think Murdo from Westies was third, full results to be confirmed, and I was surprised to be awarded with a prize for my less than impressive efforts.
Some bedraggled finishers
Actually the prize was intended for a runner from the mainland who had run the Harris half marathon the previous week and who had expressed an interest in coming back across for the Clisham race. The race organiser planned to recognise his efforts but for whatever reason the runner didn’t show up (he probably took a look at the weather) and so I, as a mainland runner who had also completed the Harris half marathon the previous Saturday, was the recipient of the rather lovely picture of the Isle of Lewis ferry undertaking a very stormy crossing.
The prize was definitely not for winning!
Thanks very much to Stuart and his team of Marshals for all their efforts in putting on a great wee race for such a tiny field of runners.
For a short race it really did feel like an adventure!

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Feet in the Clouds

The Bob Graham Round - we went anti clockwise

In 1932 a chap by the name of Bob Graham ran a route over 42 Lake District peaks covering a distance of 72 miles and climbing approximately the height of Mount Everest, a feat which many of the country’s top hill runners have attempted to emulate over the years including Billy Bland whose record breaking round has given him legend status amongst hill runners. The list of runners who have completed the Bob graham round reads like a “who’s who” of British hill running and now the fame of the Bob Graham round seems to have spread over seas with 7 times western states 100 mile and Ultra tour de Mont Blanc winner Scott Jurek becoming the latest “big name” to complete the round. Scott finished with a mere 16 minutes to spare which only goes to show just how technically challenging the route is. Billy’s record is an eye wateringly fast 13 hours and 53 minutes and the ladies record is held by Nicky Spinks and stands at 18hr and 12min. The number of people who have completed the Bob Graham Round in under 24 hours remains at less than 2000 which goes to show just how tricky an undertaking it is.
 The history of the round and its characters is fully documented on both the website and in Richard Askwith’s book “Feet in the clouds” if this is sparking anybody’s interest….
Now Billy Bland has opened up the challenge to teams of runners which enables runners to tackle the route in bite size chunks although the team has to finish within 24 hours same as the individual runners. This is an ideal excursion for those of us who lack either the ability or the inclination (or both) to go for a full solo round.
Team dinner
Race HQ
 Lou had first planted the seeds of this in my mind back in January and I quickly signed up for the team challenge with the only problems from my perspective being the 12 hour round trip from Aberdeen which meant that numerous recce weekends just were not feasible and also fitting this in around coursework for my degree as the challenge was planned to coincide with the longest day to maximise the hours of daylight but this also coincided with the last day week of term. Very inconvenient, still I was determined that I was going to be a part of it.
My lack of route recces meant that I was put on the first leg (usually this would have been the last leg but we had decided to run the round anti clockwise in contrast to the traditional clockwise direction). This was the leg where minimum navigation issues were predicted and where basically myself and Julia, who I was paired with and who was a last minute recruit to the team, could do the least damage. Bob Graham round completer Bill had been appointed as our support runner and so we were able to breathe a sigh of relief - it would have been very embarrassing to mess things up within an hour or two of starting!. 

And so I found myself on the start line – the steps of the Moot Hall in Keswick - with Julia at 7am on the Saturday morning ready to run. It was a glorious morning and already warm as people bustled around us setting up the market stalls in the high street. I suspect Keswick is the only place in the country where what we were doing is considered to be perfectly normal behaviour. In fact only the previous evening Steve Birkenshaw had run into Keswick to rapturous applause to complete his incredible round of the 214 Wainright Hills and over 500km (clearly the BG round is not enough of a challenge for some folk!)

Just after 7am Julia and I ran out of Keswick guided by Caroline and made our way on to the little lanes taking us towards the fells. Caroline jogged back to get ready for her leg and we were left to tackle the very undulating country lanes. Running comfortably we made reasonable time. We met Bill at Newlands Church and from there headed into the hills, first of all climbing up the steep flank of the ridge taking us on to Robinson (2418ft) and then along the ridge and it seemed like no time at all before we were on the summit taking our summit photo and recording our time. Next it was a gentle descent and then another climb on to Hindscarth (2385ft) all of it on nice tracks and grassy slopes. It was such a beautiful morning and I marvelled at why the hills weren’t full of people until Bill pointed out that it wasn’t yet 9am in the morning. I should have kept my mouth shut though because as soon as we reached the summit of Dalehead (2470ft) there were people EVERYWHERE, all taking part in a “ten peaks in ten hours” challenge.  From the summit of Dalehead the entire lake district opened up before us under beautiful blue skies but there was little time to admire the view as we turned to the long descent to Honister. Looking down from Dalehead there was a light swirling mist below us in the valley and just lightly touching the ridge that we had run along moments before - it really was a case of running with your feet in the clouds!

We had set ourselves the time of 2 ½ hours although we did have 3 hours in which to get round so I was pleased that our quad burning descent took us to the change over point in 2 hours and 35 mins and we sent Louise and Caroline on their way.
It’s at this point my story stops – I had to hot foot it back to Aberdeen leaving the team to run on through the rest of the afternoon and into the night. I’ve attached a link here to Julia’s fantastic blog which describes the rest of the event and whether or not we completed the Bob Graham round…

I was very disappointed to have to leave but I had a great time running the section of the round with Bill and Julia -what can be better than running in the footsteps of Bob and Billy? It was a magical experience and thanks to the amazing team, Lou, Julia, Cathy, Caroline, Moira, Liz, Ally, Charlotte and Anita and thanks to our helpers, Bill, Graham and Adrian for making it such a great event and great experience. It was wonderful to be a part of it. The smiles on everyone's faces in the photo below say it all!

Leg 1 course profile