Myself and Claire headed north last week for the Cape Wrath Challenge. This involves a week of races finishing with a marathon distance race from Durness to Cape Wrath lighthouse and back. (It’s the marathon with the boat ride in the middle).
We drove up all day Sunday, stopping in Inverness to go for a short cycle. Upon arriving we got the tent pitched, choosing the most sheltered spot on the campsite rather than a spot with a nice view, as there was a lot of wind and rain due in the next few days, and settled in for the night.
Bright and early the next morning we got up and headed to the start of the first race, a 10k for me and a half marathon for Claire. The weather was very windy but the sun was out and thankfully the wind would be with us for “most” of the route. I ran well in the 10k and certainly felt the benefit of the strong tail wind in the first 6k. Covering the distance in a little under 21 min. However after that the hills started coming think and fast and we turned into the wind. My pace slowed a lot but still finished in 38 min. Two minutes ahead of 2nd. Claire really enjoyed her half marathon and finished mid pack in well under 2hrs. Not long after she finished the rain came on… and didn’t stop for nearly 24hrs. Thankfully we found a nice hot chocolate shop and pub which were warm and dry.
The tent took a battering that night and we woke up with everything damp and felling a bit sorry for ourselves. However, there was a hill race to run and that certainly cheered me up :-) It wasn’t that hilly for a hill race but did have some nice trail and muddy bits. I went off really hard up the hill and was then on my own for the whole race. Finishing the 9km route in about 40 min. Again winning by about 2 minutes. Claire found the very rough surface tough but again managed a mid pack finish. Things got a little brighter in the afternoon and we visited Smoo cave. It was very impressive because the water was so high in the river. After that it was off to the hot chocolate shop and pub again before another wet and windy night in the tent.
The next morning we woke to considerably less tents in the campsite. The wind had been really strong all night and some of the larger tents in exposed areas were destroyed. We were quite glad of our small tent in a sheltered location. The race for today was the round Durness run. A choice of 10km or 10 miles. Both of us chose the shorter option. For the first 3k I ran with the guy I had beaten in the hill race the day before. It was nice to not be on my own. Unfortunately after 3km the short and long routes divided and I was back to running on my own. I took it quite handy, saving legs for the marathon, and finished in about 40 min. Claire was again mid pack and seemed to really enjoy the run. That afternoon we took it easy, taking a stroll on the beach up to a puffin viewing point. Unfortunately they haven’t arrived yet due to the cold spring. That night was spent making pirate costumes for the fancy dress run the next morning.
After our first dry night we woke up feeling refreshed and ready for the beach run. It was 5km along a beautiful beach and the weather was finally playing ball. In full pirate style I sprinted off the start line, waving my sword like a lunatic. I loved running along the sand and felt really fast so just keep going. At the turn around point I had a huge lead so figured I should just keep going. Finishing in about 18 min. Claire got a little lost on the run, at one point we had to cut through some big sand dunes, so was a little disappointed. But after a swim in the ocean and some nice soup for lunch we cheered up and went to visit the local clearance villages.
For the rest day we the weather was again playing ball and we headed to Handa Island. Well worth a visit for any Westies finding themselves in the North West Highlands. It’s a bird sanctuary but also has some stunning cliffs and sea stacks. After Handa we had an early night to be ready for the next day’s early start.
The day of the marathon was back to rain and wind. We were started based on an estimated time. Which meant Claire was off at 8:30 with me not starting till 9:40. For the race you are first bussed to a ferry and taken Capeside. Your card is then marked and you’re sent on your way to the lighthouse and back. The first few km were up hill and I knew the group I was with were going to fast so settled into a much slower rhythm. The surface was very rough (for a road) and you had the choice of smooth but in a river or rough but dry, I got my feet wet. Along the way you got a few brief glimpses of the view before it was again shrouded by mist and rain. After about 13km I met Claire coming the other way, we stopped for a quick photo op and then continued our separate ways. After 17km we got our first view of the lighthouse and had the leaders running the other direction. From that I could see I was in 12th from my start but reckoned that I would easy catch 5 of the people up ahead. The way back was tough as we were now into the wind but I felt quite strong and was picking quite a few people of both from my start and earlier starts. One of the most unique things about this marathon is after 35km you have to get a boat… Your time is stopped while you’re on the boat but its something some people love and others hate. I came to the boat dying for a pee, so the first thing I did after being timed out was find a tree. Then I ate some chocolate and watched the boat coming over for me. Getting going again was quite easy and my food had gone done well and didn’t sit in my stomach. I enjoyed the last 7km and passed Claire again with about 6km to go. She was in good form and glad to be back on a smooth road surface. I finished in 5th, in a time of 3hr23 so was very happy with that. That night we spent it in the pub toasting to our survival camping and running and planning our next trip… Jura