Tiree Ultramarathon – 9.11.18

Race Report by Lisa Jay

It was always going to be an adventure, due to it’s remote location everyone who runs the 35 mile circumference of Tiree spends at least 2 nights on there due to logistics (it’s a 5 hour ferry or one hour flight from the mainland).

We arrived delayed due to ice clouds on Saturday afternoon, the weather was absolutely glorious, my partner in crime Lou is like a kid a Christmas squealing with excitement of croft-strewn landscapes, tiny roads, stunning beaches and clear water.   We head out for a little run along Gott Bay just to check how easy the sand is to run on as there will be a LOT of that on Sunday.

We then head to the Community Hall for the briefing and Expo (!), aside from picking up our numbers and goodie bags (with coaster, haribo and a wristband) – you have a chance to buy a bobble hat and/or a hoodie – I opt for both as they are fine garments to show off in whilst volunteering at parkrun in the autumn season.

It’s the time for the briefing from the Will the Race Director, it’s clear he is truly passionate about this event being a success for every runner as well as the small community of Tiree and gives lots of good advice on the course etc.     Although the race has only been going 5 years it attracts a huge following from the ultra running community.  Also despite being 479 miles from Coventry and it being one of the remote places in the UK our Massey hoodies attract someone who knows and loves Dave Phillips (Dave if you are reading this Bob from Kenilworth Rugby Club sends his regards).

Raceday itself comes, and the weather is grim (measured scientifically by how much the bush next to the gate is blowing), our landlady warns us to be through CK3 by 3pm as the weather will turn then!   We leave our half way bag at the hall at head for the beach, full wet weather kit on as well as carrying food and water, the race is started by a traditional pipe band (this was seriously cool) and we are off!   First mile is along the beach (1 of 14 we run on), then the races snakes its way around the island clockwise.

It’s ticking along quite nicely until the first vertical climb (Island is not as flat as I thought) at 4 ish miles – proper scrambling and grabbing rocks, jumping bogs and rocky paths – it’s quite fun and views are to die for but does slow the running pace right down.   We plod along through hilly fields, tracks and along beach sections into gusty headwinds, through 1st checkpoint and onwards to half way point.  The wind makes the beaches tough to walk on let alone run on but we keep going making good progress especially as rain clears up and waterproofs get packed away.

Half way point involves a shoe change for me and some lovely cake – our pace slows over some of the more technical trail where there is climbing and bog jumping but course is well marked and stunning, the wind is in our favour now and running along deserted the beaches feels like a privilege – I can’t describe just how wicked it is.

We are 7 hours in and at 25 mile and the dreaded 3pm, the rain and winds start to kick up and we crack on to CK3  the views are certainly getting cloudier and it’s raining.   At Mile 29 (ish) we head onto Gott Bay – us slower runners have a longer distance as the tide is coming in.  There are six women including us spread out along the 2 mile beach, and no matter what words I write only we will know just how bad it was – dark clouds, driving rain, gusty wind in our face – my thighs bruised by the rain hitting them, just moving forward was a real challenge – all I can do is stare at a yellow house in the distance….. it’s just like a horror film!

Off the beach we then run/walk into Scarinish the last village before the finish, relieved we keep going on tarmac and locals braving the weather are wishing us well, 2 miles from home we have a climb up, then a bottom-slide down onto the final beach.  It’s grim, tide is coming right in so our shoes are getting soaked I swear a lot at the waves and just put my head down – it’s the toughest last mile ever, we get off the beach and up the hill to a little road by the hall where the finish is.   We’re just on the cut off of 10 hours but still lots of people about, I hold hands with Lou and Will puts the medal around my neck ….. I am just so relieved, 35 miles done and I have drawn best Strava pic ever!

We head to the hall it’s lovely and warm, we change out of wet clothes and eat (they have a café serving hot food and more cake then any WI sale).   Like a lot of distance runs, I’m elated to finish but always a bit spaced out too, I think that’s because I mentally block out how just tough last few miles are until I’m finished and it hits me like a stone (or wave it this case).

There is a free Ceilidh afterwards and the plan was to go but Lou and I were drained and lulled back to the B&B but the landlady’s promise of a lit open fire – so we chilled on sofa in our hoodies wearing our medals…. Rock and Roll!

There is no mistaking this is a great event, it is tough but the support is fantastic.   However logistically it’s a bit of a nightmare (we had to spend an unplanned night in Glasgow due to late flights and missed connections), but this is an experience that no other race can give you, and I am so glad I did it.