The last outing in the Heb 3 series was the Half Marathon, Tarbert, Isle of Harris. Find out more about the Heb 3 from the Stornoway Running Club website. In 2011, I completed Benbecula, Skye and Harris and got this lovely scoop for my efforts. The main issue (apart from hills, wind, 13.1 miles….) is that the travel requires some pre-organising and commitment, especially the wee country roads drive across to and through Skye, which we did a couple of times for these and the Uist Hill Races. Plenty ferry’s from Uig to Tarbert, Harris and to Lochmaddy, North Uist for the commute across causeways to Benbecula and there’s transport laid on to take you to and from the races, although camping and B&Bs/hotels are viable options (look out for runner’s discounted rooms/meals).
Sadly in 2012, I only made the Benbecula and Harris races due to injury and road blockages on the morning of the Skye half. But 2 out of 3 ain’t bad, apparently.
Did I mention that the Outer Hebrides are thee most beautiful places in the world 😉 There’s no home-land bias here, I’m an ‘Eastie Beastie’ myself being from Easter Ross, but wow! I waiver between telling anyone who’ll listen about the islands to keeping complete schtum for fear of over-crowding. The scenery can be tear-evoking and certainly removes some of the sting from the wind, the rain, the gradients……..
This particular half marathon is a hilly route with high chance of a head-wind and no shelter what-so-ever.
2012 was no exception – about 100 of us were bussed out passed Skeabost and I was lucky enough to be distracted from my travel-sickness through chatting to a gent about this years Cape Wrath Challenge (thanks Mr). We huddled at the start and eased into an uphill struggle against the wind. Not just any wind, a Galeforce 7 which would see many of the hills unrunnable as we struggled to make our trainers meet the ground before they were whipped away.
My running style, such as it is, became bent over as I leaned into the wind to balance myself. This was actually a neat trick until my back started to complain about the S-shape curve it was holding in the very open sections.
I’ll admit, I echoed a mad-man’s cackle at the sheer stupidity of trying to make haste against the elements. I pushed and pushed, sometimes with very little forward momentum and the overall effort was literally unsurpassed in any previous race. I literally had nothing left at the end and had to just let gravity take me for the steep descent into the ferry terminal.
This was all further compounded by the fact that I’d beaten last years time(!) AND everyone else was about 10 minutes off their normal time (which means this was likely a best performance for me). I hated parts of it (because I was under-trained and it was hard) but I also loved the route’s scenery, the camaraderie that you get during the Hebridean series; like a really exclusive gang, respectful of each other regardless of ability, conjoined in our love for the islands and individually touched by how special the Outer Hebrides are. I’d consider everyone a friend when you’re out there and you don’t compete per se, you encourage and commiserate and you get invited for a ceilidh, porridge and offered a nights kip from people you have literally known for 2 hours during a race. Hell yeah! Don’t mention the drinking at the Hebridean Hotel which continues all the way back on the late night ferry!
Then there’s the ever present Jim Bruce from SRAC, notable by his grey pony-tail (see below gallery) and the super sub-set of exclusive Heb 5 individuals, who have completed all 5 races in one year- Barra, Benbecula, Stornoway, Skye and Harris (not necessarily in that order!) and get a special gaelic mention on their series tee-shirt “rinn mise na coig” meaning, I did the five. There are other island halfs if you can’t get to these ones which take place May through July; Isle of Coll, Mull, Berneray to Lochmaddy “two islands” half and there are rumours of an Isle of Lewis Marathon coming soon 🙂
Take it from someone who has made the pilgrimage for two consecutive years- it’s worth it and you won’t regret anything about the experience, so bring your best camera and prepare to eat a lot of cake and sandwiches.