Cape Wrath Marathon, Durness, Sutherland, Saturday, May 19, 2012


Shaun Roberts

Keen readers of these columns may remember my having a go at this one last year, as part of the Cape Wrath Challenge week, but being thwarted (good word, that) by fifty mile-an-hour winds that forced the race to be run on an out-and-back road course, rather than actually to the Cape Wrath lighthouse. So I had to go back and do the real thing, and luckily the weather was more accommodating, if not actually helpful. The organisers did me a favour and sent me off in the last of the groups from Durness … everyone had to predict a time, and we set off in minibusfuls to the ‘ferry’ across the Kyle of Durness in vaguely reverse finish order. A stiff breeze made it very cool indeed crossing in what is just a shallow motorboat, holding about eight, so as we got set for the sharp initial climb from the gangway, I left my running jacket on, over a vest and Helly, thinking they could both come off if the sun warmed things up during the race.

Well, it didn’t take long to warm up. I tried to keep up with the very good MV50 guy who’d won last year’s category prize, and managed it for a while, but at the top of the first climb it was off with both the jacket and the Helly – chucked this at the marshal at the first drinks station, but luckily kept the jacket in my bumbag. Then yer man failed to follow my lead in slowing down for the next long, long drag uphill, and that was the last I saw of him! Trogging up this hill, which seemed to take ages, I started to have second thoughts about how fast this race was likely to be. A bit late in the day, it occured to me that running this one “Swaledale-stylee” might be more appropriate than for, say, Sunderland! These hills just kept coming … 2,500′ of climb, in total … and the going underfoot, on a surface that used to be a road, but which has been endlessly patched, and was very hard and stony, was turning out to be hard work. Nonetheless, I was pleased to get to the actual lighthouse in 1h28, 11 miles out, which I thought was ok. We got to run round this, then headed back, and that stiff breeze I mentioned started to make itself felt. The sun went in, and it all greyed over and cooled down. Adding in the hills we had to get over, plus strangely-aching quads and utterly flattened balls of the feet – despite very cushioned road shoes – and I was starting to struggle a bit, and so walked increasingly often up the hills.

Waiting for the ferry at mile-marker 22.

Back to the ferry, this time taking 1h45, so 3h13 so far. The chatty marshal recorded the times (“just seen an otter over there … and there was a seal at the end of that jetty a minute ago”), handed out Mars Bars … and what I thought would happen did happen: my temperature dropped like a stone. Into the boat, which wasn’t long in coming, and I started to feel really cold, so on with that jacket (helpfully still in my bumbag), hat, gloves. Didn’t worry about what others were talking about, which was incipient cramp, sitting in the boat after 22 miles running.

Wierdly, getting cold here was a blessing in disguise, as I really wanted to get warm. When we were all ready to go – and I’d been the slowest in this boat-load – I legged it towards Durness, and despite two more hills on the way, managed to keep running the whole way, now, at what felt like a good speed, and left the group behind. It wasn’t in reality very fast – but it got me warm, and much, much more importantly by now, got me to the finish. Got round in an unspectacular 3h48m … but that was 18th place of 77, so can’t complain.

Top-left corner of Scotland.

A very hard, hilly, windy race. Collapsed for a while before a splendid feast in the evening in the village hall, washed down with some excellent Orcadian beers, with lots of familiar faces from last year. The Ceilidh? Err, no.

This is a great event – as I said last time, really sociable, and as challenging, or not, as you want, in a great location – and I strongly recommend it if you get the chance to make the trip.

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