Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Don’t Panic! It’s the Callanish Stones Marathon!

The Callanish Stones (C Stornoway Gazette)

So what do you do when two potentially once in a lifetime opportunities come along at once? Particularly when they are not necessarily compatible?
One was the Callanish Stones Marathon. Last held 6 years ago the route went from the standing stones at Callanish, one of the, if not THE, star visitor attraction on the isle of Lewis along the desolate windswept Pentland Road finishing in Stornoway. That year I was not fit enough to do the race and I have regretted it ever since so when Jim Bruce announced that Stornoway Athletic Club were going to organise another Callanish marathon in 2014 I quickly signed up. THAT T-Shirt and THAT medal were gonna be mine no matter what.
T Shirt and Medal

The other was a kayaking trip to St Kilda. Now spending a week on board a boat with a total of one half marathon and two short hill runs in the month preceding a marathon is not text book marathon preparation but the St Kilda trip was also something I did not intend to miss out on. So it looked like I was committed to both events but I suspected that I was going to pay dearly and most painfully for my poor marathon preparation but, as Dean would say, “Don’t Panic!” In fact this was to become the mantra for the weekend.
Was this a lucky omen?

Simon and I joined a wee group of 12 runners staying at a Blackhouse at the impossibly quaint Gearrannan Blackhouse village, which conveniently turned out to be at just about the half way point of the race. It was actually two Blackhouses that had been knocked together to form one lovely cozy, well equipped hostel. A perfect base for the weekend in a perfect scenic location. Thanks very much to Nick for suggesting this and for organizing our accommodation for the weekend.
Gearannan Blackhouse Village

It was a cozy hostel

Lewis is covered in archaeological sites and the race route took in many of these attractions including the Broch at Carloway. Our race packs had included a leaflet outlining many of the archaeological sites on the route and it did occur to me maybe I should just take my time and jog round with a guide book and a camera… 
Checking the weather...
Nervous grins at the start
I was concerned about the weather which I hoped wasn’t going to be typical Lewis weather involving running 26 miles with it blowing a hooley along with a side serving of horizontal rain (“Don’t Panic!”) However the day of the race dawned bright and fair as the field of approx 100 runners set off from Breasclete hall and headed up the steep wee climb past the Callanish stones. It did occur to me that it was slightly cruel to have the runners going past the finish line during the first mile of the race but at least you then knew about the climb that awaited you in the last mile as you retraced the route to the finish line. From the stones the route then headed south on the main road and soon turned back to pass Breasclete again at the 6 mile mark. Concerned about my level of fitness I was making a very conscious effort to hold back which at this stage was actually quite difficult but at the turn I could see the Ruairidh Campbell was pushing the pace in the lead, Ivor was looking comfortable despite his back injury, Nick managed a wave, Geoff and Susan were both looking focused and Susan was right out in the lead of the women’s race. I seemed to be in about 6th place not too far behind Nick, and Hamish, my Heb Half nemesis, was worryingly close to me as was Jim Bruce.



The next point at which I was able to see more of the race than just the 3 or 4 runners on the road ahead of me was at the turn off to the Blackhouse village which was to my left and the underpass leading to the Pentland Road which was beneath my feet. Ruairidh, still at the front, had already gone under the underpass and was heading towards the 16 mile mark and as I headed to the “out and back” section of the course through the Blackhouse village. I could see that Susan was still in the lead and that I was still in 6th place. The field was now very strung out and I was running alone. Ivor looked remarkably cheerful as did Nick. Geoff didn’t. Hamish, I suspect, wanted to murder me at this point as I had persuaded him to sign up for this, yet another one of my hare brained ideas…will he ever learn just to ignore me when I have another “great idea”?

Hamish heading towards halfway

Geoff looking focused

There is a vicious wee rumour going about that at this point the course was extended ever so slightly to a fraction longer than the marathon distance (26.3 miles) as the race organizers thought the runners should run right past the Blackhouses and enjoy the view of the sea….I wonder how many “enjoyed” the view at this point? Oh well, at least it gave me a chance to dig out the piece of fruit cake that I had buried in the wall of the Blackhouse hostel. It did occur to me that my race nutrition strategy appeared a little old fashioned compared to the array of potions and liquids carried by runners these days but it’s all basically sugar, carbs and salt…..isn’t it? Admittedly though a pack of gel is slightly less inclined to disintegrate back down to its constituent parts in quite the same way that fruit cake does during a run so maybe my nutrition strategy could be a little less, well, messy. I was still picking crumbs out of my hair at the 16 mile mark.
The course marked out through the Blackhouses
By the 16 mile point of the race we were on the Pentland Road, the most exposed part of the course, with a stark bleak beauty all of its own and one which I loved running though. Although it did not feel as hilly as the early part of the race (the course elevation print out from my garmin challenges this analysis) the head wind made it a bit of an effort. Other than that we were ridiculously lucky with the weather. Simon hadn’t bothered with the sun block before going out all day cycling and closely resembled a lobster by the end of the day.
The Pentland Road
 Between the 16 mile point and the 21 mile point it started to become obvious who had paced the race well and who hadn’t. I went into 5th place and tried to close the gap on 4th and over took some runners who were walking as well as some who had been in the early start that was set off two hours before the main race start. I believe it was this part of the race that Ruairidh came to grief hanging on bravely to take 4th place and the vets prize.
At about 20 miles
Simon was supporting me and zipped about the course on his bike disappearing and then appearing again armed with camera and useful information, mainly related to who was catching me up and that I really should get my finger out. It was only now that I glanced at my watch and came to the conclusion that he was probably right….(”Don’t Panic!”)
Simon tries to figure out how to work the camera...
I was looking forward to the turn at 21 miles which took us back towards Breasclete and Callanish as I had been told that it was downhill and the wind would be behind me. By mile 22 all these advantages were completely negated by my lack of long training runs. The wheels came off and 3 people went past pushing me back into 8th place. (Don’t Panic!”) My fears about my fitness were justified and I was just glad I had taken it a bit easy in the early stages of the race otherwise I may have well been walking the last 4 miles rather than the zero-knee-lift-shuffle that I maintained to the finish. I even managed to overtake someone in the last 2 miles to drag myself into 7th place. To be honest “overtake” is an overstatement, they had actually stopped and sat down for a rest. I was feeling happy that I had managed to keep some semblance to a run going and that although I was achy and sore I really didn’t suffer as much as I deserved to.
At 21 miles...just before it all went oh so wrong...
Finally it was into the last mile and back up that stiff wee climb towards Callanish stones. Now that is some finish to a race, a place with real atmosphere although today it wasn’t the usual mythological back-in-the –mists-of-time sort of atmosphere, today it was a party atmosphere and my finish was heralded by Michael Jacksons “Beat it” blaring out of a tannoy!
The finish itself was actually a little confusing especially to a weary body and mind as it was hidden in amongst the stones and lots of flags and people milling about (although I suspect in any other circumstances though it would have been perfectly obvious) Bom got caught out, collapsing on his knees just short of the finish line and as he was unable to get back up Susan tippy - toed delicately past him. Eventually he had to be manhandled through the finish.
The finish
Hamish approaching the finish (its the house thats for sale, not Hamish)
I could see the race clock at the top of the hill in amongst the stones and it was ticking ominously quickly towards the four hour mark (“Permission to Panic?!”)  Somehow, I will never know how exactly, I managed to persuade my legs into attempting a sprint finish…uphill…over rough ground…and launched myself at the clock which, fortunately for me, was at the finish line just managing to dip in under 4 hours. Sad but true.
What i hoped i looked like sprinting for the line
What i know i looked like sprinting for the line!
I then made the mistake of sitting down on the grass and promptly found that I couldn’t get back up although my spirits and body did recover swiftly at the discovery of a black pudding in the race goody bag. Now that is a quality gift worth doing a marathon for.
Nom nom nom...
After the soup and buffet we headed back to the Blackhouse for a wash, more food….and some beer. The only downside about staying at the Blackhouse was that the post race celidh and prize giving was back in Stornoway which initially resulted in a lot of head scratching and schemes involving cars, buses and taxis. Somebody had even suggested bikes but I’ll put that down to post marathon mental fatigue.
“Don’t Panic!” -  A savior presented himself in the form of Stornoway RC legend Jim Bruce who kindly hired a minibus “the party bus” and very kindly chauffeured us all to and from the celidh as well as his own guests, Gerald and the Austrian branch of Stornoway RC.
Lets get this party started!!!

All aboard the party bus!
Stocking up

Fueling up!
Corstorphine AAC dominated the prize list with Scott and Gillian winning the 10k and Susan winning the marathon. Ivor, as winner of the first ever Callanish marathon 5 years ago had been issued with race number 1 and was guest of honour presenting the prizes. And Hamish refrained from killing me – always a bonus.
As previous winner Ivor was guest of honour

Susan - 1st in the marathon

Gillian - 1st in the 10k

Paula Radcliffe can keep her ice baths, we Heb runners know the real secret to recovery – It’s amazing how a black pudding supper, beer and celidh dancing helps your legs to recover from a marathon and your mind recover from any disappointment. People who had resembled dead bodies at the finish line only hours early seemed to have taken a new lease of life and by kicking out time looked as though they could run another marathon.
 It was a fantastically well organised event and well worth the trip over to Lewis. I hope they hold a similar race again sometime in the future but I appreciate the amount of effort that went into organizing it. Personally I think holding it every few years over a slightly different course each time will keep the event fresh and exciting but I think the Callanish Stones may always have to feature in it somehow.

The stats….
The 10k
Scott – 1st Overall – 36.03
Dean – 6th Overall – 41.20
Gillian – 7th Overall 1st F – 43.01
Jackie – 59th Overall 27th F – 66.19
84 Finishers (48 female
The Marathon
Ruairidh – 4th Overall, 1stMV40 – 3.05.25
Ivor- 6th Overall 3rd MV40 – 3.17.48
Susan - 13th Overall 1st F- 3.30.32
Bom - 14th Overall – 3.30.53
Nick -19th Overall – 3.41.50
Geoff - 20th Overall – 3.44.16
Louise -37th Overall 7th F- 3.59.57
Hamish - 56th Overall - 4.20.41
Jim – 71st Overall – 4.31.26
126 finishers (58 female)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Louise,

    Love the write up and glad you enjoyed it. Hope you don't mind me adding a link to this from the Callanish Stones Marathon website.