Report by John Liddle
Race Date: Saturday – 19th August 2023
As a few previous run reports may have indicated, I have a preference for visiting the west coast & islands of Scotland (I hear that other coasts are equally interesting but haven’t completed all this side yet !) so as a destination for a family holiday this year, chose the islands of Coll & Tiree.
Whilst Tiree hold their half marathon early in the year, we timed this visit so as to take in the Coll half marathon which I had read to be tough. Not only in getting to but as the island is small with just over 100 people living there and just the one hotel, accommodation is a challenge. I booked one of the 8 rooms available in the hotel on the hope that the weekend I had booked would coincide with the half looking at the dates from previous years. I was lucky and soon camping was the only option for those seeking to enter.
Having arrived a couple of days in advance, a few drives around the route indicated that despite the relative flatness of the island overall, the road the route took was forever changing….it wasn’t going to be a gentle smooth run.
My main concern however was the weather; whilst of course the sun always shines on the Scottish islands, this year the rain was persistent in the days before with the wind increasing. Having checked in to race HQ on the morning (the island community centre) to collect my t-shirt, which they award you before the race starts, they mentioned that the timer & chipped vests were on the morning ferry over from Oban and given the 50mph winds, were not yet sure they would be able to dock. They began to consider other timing options for those who were already on the island but at c.11:30am, reports were confirmed that the ferry had docked, evidenced by dozens of cyclists and walkers making their way from the ferry port to the community centre.
The race is a real island running & walking ‘festival’ with a 5k & 10k race taking place at the same time at appropriate points from the same finish line with a walking half marathon starting an hour earlier than the race start time.
The half marathon start is at the ferry port and eager runners participated in the warm up which brought smiles to everyone’s faces. This was required as the wind remained fierce and whilst the rain had mainly abated, the occasional squall was sufficient to drench everyone when the skies opened.
‘321 GO !’ was shouted at 1:30pm and we made our way up the incline to the main centre ( one hotel, one coffee shop and c.12 houses ) of Arinagour, roughly a mile away. From here we turned left and took a clockwise direction around single track roads within the western portion of the island. For the next 5 miles the road was continuously undulating as well as contending with running into the teeth of the wind. With few high points on either side to create any shelter, there was no option other than to plough on. I thought straight away, that any hopes of a 1:45 were gone and to just keep pushing….each runner who overtook me offered well wishes with a few kindly enquiring where Steel City Striders are from.
We then turned right and a new experience for me in my half marathon races, ran on sand for the next c.2 miles. I had been told to expect sand dunes ( fortunately it was not as bad as that ) and the morning rain had compacted to a degree the sand trail. The route continued undulating and even though the final few miles were slightly downhill ( on Strava anyway ! ) the strong wind negated any real benefit. On a personal note, I was pleased to overtake 3-4 runners who had passed me earlier on in the race as possibly those not used to hills, found it tough going.
The finish took place at the community centre and a small gathering of locals and runners’ families and friends welcomed the finishers in. I was genuinely delighted to cross the finish in 1:51:40 – as for running conditions, it was I think the toughest race I have run in so far.
Friendly and very smiley local volunteers manned regular water stations every 3 miles throughout the route as well as being located where there were cattle grids to either place a board over part of them or opening an adjacent gate.
A small medal was awarded to all finishers as well as a goody bag. Plentiful food was available from the centre as a fund raising effort which most runners appear to have contributed towards ( including me ! ). The prizes were awarded around 4:45pm when all finishers from the various events had returned and in typical island fashion, in the evening there was a ceilidh in the same centre to entertain those who had made the effort which carried on until the early hours !
Another Scottish island bagged, another new half for me and another great experience ! Yes, it’s a long way but if you do ever want to visit this part of the UK for a race, I can assure you, you’re not going to be disappointed.
First place male was Ruairidh MacLean from the Isle of Barra in 1:18:32
First place female was Clea Turvill from London in 1:35:52
Sole Strider – John Liddle ( 50th position ) in 1:51:40
119 runners took part.
Full results can be found here.