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!

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