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The Road to the Isles Half Marathon

So, training for the half marathon continued for the Eigg Run Club with lots of trails and lots of laughter.  As we got to the later stages of our training and were completing long runs of 10 or more miles, we explored more and more of the Isle of Eigg.  One particular route involved running the length of the island along the road, then at the road's end going off track up and over a hideously steep hill at the north end of the island.  Once into the 'empty quarter' of the island, we followed sheep tracks along the coast and under the seldom visited north and west cliffs.  It was a stunningly beautiful route and one that very few people take when visiting Eigg.  

These adventure runs were my favourites; not following a route, clambering over giant boulders, drinking from streams coming down from the cliffs, taking frequent stops to take in the breath taking scenery and just enjoying each other's company, this is what made training with the Eigg Run Club so much fun.  

Our plans for race weekend involved wild camping on the mainland on Friday and Saturday nights, made whilst enjoying all the spring sunshine the Highlands and Islands were experiencing during April and May.  Plans were thrown into array, however, when we woke up three days before the race to six inches of snow. At the end of May. Crazy.

After an amazing day playing in the snow and discussing with fellow Eigg residents exactly how long it had been since this amount of snow had been seen on the island (estimates varied from five to 20 years), normality resumed.  Temperatures rose and by Friday you'd have never known that the island had been buried under the white stuff at all.

Further chaos ensued whilst packing to leave when I realised the bag containing my comfortable three man tent actually held my husband's stinky rugby kit.  The tent was, in fact, 500 miles away in my mother in law's loft in Owain's rugby bag.  To date, no one has taken responsibility for switching the bags...

An emergency two man tent was procured, under the assumption that three short women would fit into it, we loaded our kit onto the ferry and the Eigg Run Club were on their way!

Friday evening's wild camp took place in the dunes above the white sands of Morar, where we enjoyed fish and chips and watched a spectacular sunset over Eigg and Rum. Giggles ensued later as we realised that the emergency two man tent was exactly that, and that it was going to be a cosy night!

After a cramped and squashed night, we crawled from the tent to see blue skies and sunshine – perfect for a half marathon – and made our way to Mallaig to drop the car off and take the train with 47 fellow half marathon runners to a tiny station called Beasdale. 

Sadly, the blue skies and sunshine of earlier had given way to heavy rain and 50 soggy runners lined up on the road as the race director promised us the sun was just waiting for us to get started...

3, 2, 1 and we were off.  The first mile was downhill and despite running fast (for me), I was at the back of the pack before I knew it.  I wasn't too surprised, so just settled in a steady rhythm determined to enjoy myself even if I was last.  

Before I'd even completed the first mile, the race director's prediction came true and the sun came out blazing.  I quickly shed my extra layers and handed them over to the marshal driving past, collecting waterproofs from overheating runners – this is why I like small local races!

As the race continued I realised all those hills I'd slogged up and down on Eigg were really starting to pay off; I started to overtake people – on the ascents!  

As I approached mile six I couldn't keep the smile from my face; the scenery was stunning, with the Isle of Eigg on the horizon, I wasn't going to be last and I was running far faster than I thought I could, and I hadn't had to walk any of the hills – yet.  

I took advantage of my unexpected speed and made sure I hammered the downhills; my quads had developed more strength than I realised and coped well with my speedy descents. I ran the flats at a slightly faster than comfortable pace, and just put my head down and slogged up the uphills – of which there were many!  This course is the epitome of 'undulating'.

Passing mile nine, my legs started to make themselves known and I decided to start power walking the ascents.  My overall pace had slowed but I was still massively enjoying myself and continued to do so right to the end where Team Eigg (the speedier members) were waiting to run to the finish line with me.  

I finished in 2 hours, 29 minutes and 50 seconds.  7 minutes off my personal best (set on a spectacularly flat course) and way under my initial goal of three hours, and even just sneaking under my 'hope for the best' goal of two and a half hours.

With these times, I'm never going to set the running world alight, but I have no intention of ever feeling less of a runner than those who run a sub 90 minute marathon.  I run for the sheer fun of it all; the adventure runs, the mud runs, the runs in the rain, and even the utterly disgusting snot rocket dodging that occurs when the Eigg Run Club girls are running together!

The race was just a small part of an amazing weekend of wild camping and friendship, but what a special race it was.  Mallaig is a tiny port town and having 50 half marathon runners and 20 10k runners walking around in bright orange race t-shirts made for a fantastic atmosphere. The marshals were wonderful, and the spread of homemade soup, sandwiches and cakes that was laid on the end was far superior to any large race that ends with a bottle of water and a banana.

Post-race, after a quick swim and sauna (free entry from the race organisers!), we headed immediately for the nearest pub for a quick shandy.  We weren't the only runners to have this idea and we spent a happy couple of hours making new friends and talking all things running, Scotland and island life.

This was followed by a drive to the nearby picturesque village of Arisaig which happens to have a very nice pub called The Arisaig Hotel, serving a very nice chicken curry.  The tent was quickly pitched on a scrubby patch of grass overlooking the marina before we hotfooted to the pub for curry and beer.

At 2am we realised we had perhaps not picked the ideal pitch as the wind picked up, torrential rain fell and we discovered that not only did the tent leak but we had pitched on such an angle that Sadie and I were squashing Katrin into a corner that was slowly filling with rain water...

Happily we survived the night, to the astonishment of the villagers walking their dogs at 6am the next morning who spotted us crawling from our tent. “You're hardy girls” was a phrase repeated often.

The tent was packed away, coffee and bacon sandwiches were hunted down, and we made our triumphant return to Eigg full of smiles and happy memories of a wonderful weekend.


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