David Hope continued his race travels with a trip to the beautiful coastline of the Western Highlands, and the road to the isles, for a half marathon. This annual event helps raise funds for the Mallaig swimming pool, where the race finish is sited, and from David’s report, this is an event which is well worth supporting and deserves to grow. Sounds like an ideal ERN road trip event for the future. Well done David, and thanks for another excellent report!
David said : I saw the Road to the Isles half marathon in the Scottish Running Guide earlier this year and was immediately tempted. Despite not being able to find anybody else interested in entering I decided to go it alone. There was a half marathon, a half marathon relay and a half marathon walk and the event was organised by Mallaig and District Swimming Pool as a way of raising some money.
I drove up the day before, checking out the route and realised straight away that I had slightly underestimated just how up and down the route was going to be. On the plus side the sun was shining and I managed to get a round of golf at Traigh golf course, (“probably the most beautifully sited nine hole golf course in the world”), in the afternoon, although it was very windy. I then went to register at the swimming pool and enquired about how many people were running. I thought I had misheard when I was told that there were only 5 runners! There were 3 teams doing the relay but people could enter on the day so maybe numbers would increase a little bit.
Despite the forecast I woke on race day to find blue sky, sunshine and light winds. I really should have packed some sun screen. I parked at the swimming pool where the run ended and made my way down to Mallaig train station where myself and a handful of runners/walkers caught the train to Beasdale where the race was to start. The walkers (29 I think) set off first and then the runners were given their race numbers. It turned out there were 18 runners and 3 teams so my chances of a top 5 placing had diminished slightly.
The race started on the main road linking Fort William to Mallaig right outside Beasdale train station. The first 300 yards were on the road and then we moved onto a nice smooth pavement. The first mile was slightly downhill but the second mile was all uphill to the highest point on the route before dropping down over the next couple of miles to Arisaig (location of the most westerly train station in the UK) where we turned off the main road and onto the old Road to the Isles. This was where the route became very humply indeed. The hills were mainly short and sharp but at least I knew that at the top of every rise I would be greeted with a breathtaking view across the sea to Rhum, Eigg and Skye.
About half way we ran past Traigh golf course beside the beach (see picture) at the lowest point of the route. At about 9 miles we ran past Morar sands (see picture) and then went through an underpass beneath the main road taking us towards the village of Morar. First we ran past the Falls of Morar then looped round past the edge of Loch Morar (see picture – the deepest Loch in the UK and apparently home to a monster) before heading up into Morar village.
On departure from Morar we were back onto the cycle path at the side of the main road for a long punishing climb before levelling out and dropping down again towards Mallaig. Just at the entrance to Mallaig we turned off the main road and onto a really steep twisting road which went on for about half a mile and just about finished me off. Talk about a sting in the tail! At the top of the hill the swimming pool was in sight and a gentle downhill to the finish. Due to my tiredness I almost didn’t see the cattle grid in front of me at the entrance to the swimming pool. A twisted ankle with 50 yards to go would not have been a good finish! After a slight detour I happily crossed the finish line to much applause, handshakes and back slapping from the small crowd.
I collected my race t-shirt and basked in the sunshine for a little while then went inside to find some much needed soup, sandwiches, cakes and drinks. I was very impressed with the selection considering the small number of people taking part. After a quick shower I spent the rest of the afternoon walking and relaxing on some of the fine beaches I had passed on the run, making the most of the sunny weather.
The race was well organised, there were marshalls directing at all junctions, there were(I think) 6 water stops along the way, the route was pretty challenging, the scenery was stunning and the weather was beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so much on a run before. I’m surprised that the race isn’t a bit more popular but maybe the small turnout just adds to the charm of the event. I would highly recommend it and hope to be back again next year. A run that everybody should do before they die. A hidden gem.