Ben Kenneth Hill race is an absolute scream; it is only 6km and 230m approx of a climb, is miles away from anywhere but well worth the effort to have a go at. I arrived at Lochboisdale by bicycle at 3pm on the Sunday and stopped in the café for tea and cake, well in time for the 7:30pm start. Afterwards, I wandered down to the Calmac Pier, where there was a display of a few old cars, the local fire brigade letting children take a look around the fire engine and loads of people about, which gave the place a right gala day feel to it. The race poster in the office window proclaimed that an added attraction to the event was a safety boat, in the same way you would advertise a goody bag at a 10K.
Wandering around I met Graham Arthur and family and he said he was doing the race, so we set off to survey the route and in particular, the swim. He was in two minds as to swim or take the longer route. I was only ever going to swim.
Next thing on my agenda was a plan for which kit to wear/take. I really like having my glasses so I can have half an idea where I am going when running and I have a false front tooth and did not want to lose it in the event of barfing up in the sea, hence I took a wee bum bag to carry this stuff in. The only other two considerations were not wearing my watch, it is not that waterproof, and tying tightly the draw string of my shorts, in case they end up at my ankles as I got out of the water.
Standing at the ferry office to register, I was greeted by a “hello” from Gus and Jean Bowman. It was really nice to have them for company for the race as well. They had done it before and were both going to swim. Your race number is on a waterproof swimband around your wrist. Then it is out to the start, the whole town is there to watch and cheer you on. The craziness of the whole thing continued when the starter turns up with a double-barrel shot gun.
We are off, down the street, down past the road to the café and over a small causeway, skipping over a bit of rough ground to the sea crossing, At this point, I was in the middle of the pack. Valuables stowed in my bum bag, I slithered and waded over some rocks and pools to the swim; you are so fired up that this actually seems like the right thing to do. I tried a mixture of breast stroke and crawl, depending upon the amount of seaweed, to get to the other side, which was probably about 40m of swimming in total. High tide was at 6:30. I stumble over the rocks again getting out the other side towards the hill. After this it is a normal hill race, Gus was ahead of me coming out of the water but I soon caught him despite having to retie my shoelace. As you are climbing, a good number of the locals start flagging, with gasps of “this is really hard work” or words to that effect. I was doing well and managed to make good progress to the top. I picked up another position or two on the descent back to the sea crossing, however, a local lad past me during the swim, or rather he chose a better route in and out of the water. At one point I got tangled up in seaweed. I thought I was close enough to the shore to stand up, I wasn’t, so I had to start swimming again, whilst trying to kick off a mass of seaweed slime. Back on to dry ground and I charged off back to the pier. As you come into the town all the locals are cheering you on and sounding their cars’ horns, I felt like a million dollars by the time I reached the finish.
Iain MacCorquadale won the race and the first lady was Lorna MacLeod. I was home in 10th, Gus 14th, Graham 22nd and Jean was 2nd lady. I can recommend wholeheartedly the race and cycling on the Outer Hebrides; they are both magic.