Medal: No. But we did get an engraved shot glass, a Talisker miniature, a canvas bag (from Skye Batiks), a cotton t-shirt, a mars bar, and a tray bake from a local company!
I had originally signed up to this race because Ian has told me several times that we need to go to the Isle of Skye together because it is one of the prettiest places in Scotland (and has a fair number of munros to climb!). Grand plans unfolded about what we would do, where we would stay, when to leave, but all of them failed to materialize, as last Wednesday, Ian was anticipating his staff BBQ on the Friday afternoon when I was planning to have left for Skye.
Thankfully, Ronnie had also signed up to this race after some gentle persuasion, and had managed to get a half day at work. When the bell sounded the end of the school day, I hauled my stuff out of a cupboard in my classroom and dumped it into Ronnie’s awaiting chariot. And thus began a near 5 hour journey through the Scottish countryside in the glorious sun!
Sidenote: the sun makes me extremely happy.
Through twisty, single lane roads that cut through trees, we came to an opening and saw the impressive mountains on Skye beyond the also impressive bridge to the island. Any excuse to stretch our legs again:
As we had left it a bit late, Ronnie and I had managed to book a bed each at a hostel in Broadford, about 30 minutes drive away from the half marathon start in Portree, and we arrived at the hostel just before 9, quickly going to our respective rooms to make our beds and dump our belongings before descending upon the self-catered kitchen where I whipped up some delicious pesto pasta (and Ronnie cremated a garlic bread). As usual, I overestimated my hunger, and made way too much, though Ronnie fought the good fight and put away three helpings. And two donuts. Ridiculous.
After dinner, we decided to take advantage of the board games, and settled down to a game of Scrabble. After the game was under way, Ronnie realized he was playing an English teacher, and I proceeded to kick his ass. While midges dined on any exposed flesh. For those not familiar with midges, imagine mosquitoes that are the size of a few grains of sand, but just as hungry and annoying.
Sidenote: ‘pee’ is one of Ronnie’s words.
The game ended around midnight, so we thought it would probably be a good idea to go to bed. I tried to get into bed as quietly as possible for the benefit of the sleeping women in my room, but navigating onto a creaky top bunk with no ladder did not endear me to them, I would imagine. Nevertheless, I eventually got settled, and fell asleep pretty quickly.
I feel it is important to mention at this point that there is a hospital to the rear of the hostel. With a helipad.
I felt my phone vibrate, and since I am so in tune with my alarm going off, since I have an unnatural fear of being late for work, I was up. But the room was still dark. I looked at my phone to discover it was 3:14am, and the vibration was a message from Ronnie saying, simply:
Which mirrored my thoughts exactly. Why was Ronnie messaging me this at ridiculous o’ clock? He continued to explain that there was a Sea King helicopter and an ambulance outside his window, and did I not hear the ungodly noise outside? Well I did now, and I also noticed the curtains billowing in what I imagine was the draft of some monster propellers, but I found it a bit galling that I was sleeping peacefully through that until my phone vibrated twice. I made this clear to Ronnie later in the day, but he was amazed I’d managed to sleep through the noise and the fact that the hostel was practically shaking. Twice. Apparently another chopper landed and took off a couple of hours later. I have zero recollection.
At a more civilized hour (6:50), I got up for a shower, got dressed, stripped my bedding, and took everything downstairs for breakfast. Ronnie joined me later and we set off for Portree. I was unenthusiastic about the low, hanging cloud that obscured the summits of the mountains we had seen as we drove in last night. Thankfully, as we neared Portree, the cloud began to give way to blue sky and beautiful views like this:
Once at the community center, we registered and picked up our t-shirt before heading to where we had parked to get ready. I was horrified when I realized what my race number was – I was obviously extremely keen when entries opened…
Just before the start at 10:30, the runners were assembled and piped to the start line. The rare Scottish sun was actually creating quite a pleasant heat, which delighted me, but apparently nobody else. Ronnie and I had bumped into David and Lesley earlier, and we all started together.
Ronnie and I had decided to run the race together, since he is still getting his speed back. David ran alongside us, waiting for some of the runners to spread out before shooting off (he is considerably faster than me), and we told him we’d see him at the finish. However, from an already uphill start, we took a sharp left turn to be faced with a very steep incline. David looked down at his watch and declared, “.13 miles in and I no longer care about time.” Looks like we would have company.
Ronnie, who had pretty much memorized the course elevation, told us what to expect every step of the way, much to our horror. David and I were both firmly in the ‘I don’t want to know’ camp when it came to upcoming inclines. Lesley, David’s other half, caught up to us as we walked through the first water station. As David’s revised goal was to ‘finish ahead of Lesley’, we took off again over the rolling roads in the sunshine. Lesley passed us as we walked through the second water stop at mile 5, and we ran with her for about half a mile before pulling away again. That was the last time we saw her until the finish.
The third water stop was at mile 7, and we took a right turn marking our journey towards the finish line as well as the beginning of a significantly long climb. After nearly a mile, David and I had started to pull away from Ronnie, but I was feeling uncharacteristically strong, especially for having covered such a hilly 8 miles, and David said that despite our leisurely run so far, it was not entirely unseasonable to think we could finish in under two hours.
“Well, if Ronnie is right,” I said, “then we have another 3 miles of this hill to go before starting our descent into Portree.”
“Nah,” said David, “that can’t be right.”
“It is,” came a woman’s voice up ahead. “It is.”
We charged on, becoming slightly more aggressive with our pace, and every time we reached what looked like the top of the hill, higher hills loomed on the horizon. Finally, we reached the top, and a very enthusiastic woman had parked her car at the side of the road to blare out bagpipe music, and we were greeted with a spectacular view of the Cuillin Mountains poking above one of the few clouds in the sky. And the arguably more spectacular view of two miles of downhill towards Portree!
David, who had by this point starting referring to himself as my new pacer, started picking up the pace, and I tried my best to stick to his luminous shirt. We had been passing quite a few people in the last few miles, and we continued to pick off runners as we flew downhill (I saw 7:07 as my pace at one point) passing mile 12. As I saw the 13 mile marker up ahead, David shot off, and I started pulling highly humorous faces I’m sure, as I made it my goal to pass the three people ahead before the finish line. I was only deterred by the very enthusiastic kids lining the final 200 meters wanting high fives, before pushing up the final uphill section over the finish line.
I came in 18 seconds over the 2 hour mark, but considering this is touted as one of Scotland’s toughest half marathons, I’m pretty pleased with that. Ronnie came in a couple of minutes after I did, followed by Lesley a couple of minutes later.
Ronnie and I grabbed our stuff from the car and took advantage of the showers at the center (because a 5 hour journey back to Aberdeen would not have been pleasant in our current state), and then made a donation for a 10 minute sports massage, where I learned that we had been exceptionally lucky with the weather.
Cleaned, pummelled, and happy, we set off for Aberdeen, where we stumbled upon Eilean Donan castle (which was used in the film ‘Highlander’), and an RAF Mountain Rescue chopper (of a similar size to the beast that woke up everyone but me a mere 12 hours earlier, Ronnie tells me) getting ready to take off:
Overall, the Skye half marathon was excellent value for money, everyone was friendly, the weather was fantastic (for me, David and Ronnie did not seem so keen on the heat), the views were stunning, and I obviously have to come back next year to break 2 hours. This was easily one of my favourite Scottish races.