Unbelievably, Crispin and I (and a couple of friends) made it back to the far North-West of Scotland again for part of this fantastic running week in a gloriously unspoilt part of Sutherland.
An Easy Jet flight from Bristol to Inverness and a 2.5 hour car journey got us to Durness just in time for the Sunday evening briefing with cheese and wine! We felt like old-timers as we greeted lots of familiar faces from last year. Yes, there was Thornbury RC en masse; the charming Frenchman, Phillipe, with his dog and the two Dutch girls (both conveniently called Esther!) along with some of their countrymen.
Monday: Loch Eriboll Half Marathon
This year, the sun was shining and the Loch sparkled as about 50 of us were dropped off at the end of it to run back along the single track road to Durness village hall. (Another 40 or so opted for the shorter 10k starting later). I had merrily told our friends that it was a pretty flat route until the last three miles but realised the moment I started running, that the wind was in the wrong direction this year, so it felt like uphill all the way. I did struggle to maintain my pace, distracting myself with the lovely views, but it felt hard throughout. I was pleased, however, to knock a couple of minutes off last year’s time finishing 3rd woman (out of 16) in 1:44:53 and with the most amazing blister (ouch!). Crispin took the walk/run approach after his recent injury finishing in a sensible 2:08:08. The first runner home, was Sam Neill from Imperial College, who could have done with a bit more competition, finishing well ahead of the next runner in 1:20:25.
Tuesday: Long Hill Run (5.5 miles)
More of a cross-country than a hill run, as they’d had to change the course last minute due to nesting eagles being sighted, this was still a great way to ease out tired legs as it was a much flatter start than last year’s initial climb. In the pouring rain, we cut out on a stony track through heather and moorland before scrambling up a limestone outcrop and back onto the road for the finish and a welcoming bowl of hot soup!
Wednesday: 10 mile around Durness multi-terrain run
This was a great run for me. I loved it last year and enjoyed it even more this time with the brighter and drier conditions! The views are spectacular as the run starts you climbing towards the mountains through the peat and heather moorland and then switches you back down towards the harbour and loch. You then have a long, tiring section through the undulating golf course and over the sand dunes, through the village square (with the cheering school children – who have been allowed out for the morning!) and then a final steep climb back to the village hall. My distance training obviously paid off in this as I managed to overhaul three of the women who had beaten me the day before, gaining 2nd place (although admittedly, 4 minutes behind the leading woman!). Crispin wisely decided to rest his legs and marshalled instead.
Sadly, we had to come home at this point, missing the fancy dress beach run on the Thursday and the Cape Wrath Marathon on the Saturday . This was won by Sam Neill who set a new course record after 14 years, of 2:50:12 over this tough course with a climb of over 2,400 feet running out and back over MOD land to the Cape Wrath Lighthouse at the end of Britain! What’s more, we missed the Ceilidh and seafood feast on the Saturday night. Must try harder for next year …!