At the weekend I went to Coll for the half marathon. For those not familiar with the geography of the Scottish islands, Coll is part of the Inner Hebrides, and is about a 3 hour boat journey from Oban. Unfortunately only one boat a day goes there and on a Saturday it leaves Oban at 7am, which meant I had to leave the house at 4.20am. I picked Phil T up on route and we arrived in Oban with plenty of time to spare. At the terminal we met Peter Duggan, his aunt and his cousin, all of whom had family connections with Coll. We ended up spending a lot of time with them over the weekend and very much enjoyed their company.
As Coll has a population of 180 and only one hotel with 6 rooms, we had little choice but to camp in a field behind the church. And it was windy. Very windy. I hadn't felt wind like that since I was on Lewis in May for the Stornoway marathon. It must be an island thing. At least it was dry when we were putting up the tents, although that was to change later.
The half marathon started at 3pm and followed a circular route round the island's only real road. I felt good for the first 6 miles or so and was tucked in just behind Phil, wondering when I was going to make my move. At 7 miles the road disappeared and we ran across a sandy path for a couple of miles, before joining another road back to the village. It was at that point the wheels fell off in terms of my run. Within the space of a few minutes I had to stop to go to the toilet in the sand dunes (never a good experience), the rain had started, and my legs had begun to feel like lead. The rain got heavier and heavier, and was right into my face for the last 4 miles. I just got slower and slower, eventually finishing in my 2nd worst half marathon time ever of 1.35. (The worst was in 1990, just after I had started running, and was also 1.35, so Saturday was very close to a Personal Worst). Phil was stronger and passed a few people to finish in an excellent 3rd place, in just over 1.30.
It was a half mile walk in the pouring rain back to the hotel for a shower, and by the time I got there I was absolutely frozen. The rain continued to get heavier and the wind just got worse and worse. It was a relief to see our tents still standing, although 2 girls beside us were not so fortunate: their tent blew away and they ended up sleeping in the church. At night we got another soaking heading up to the village hall for the ceilidh, then soaked yet again on our way back to the tent. All in all it was pretty miserable.
Eventually the rain stopped and the wind died down allowing me to get some sleep, albeit not of the highest quality. Sunday was a lot better weatherwise and we enjoyed a very pleasant breakfast in the local cafe and a walk along the shore, before heading back on the 2.20pm boat. I finally made it home by about 7.30pm.
On reflection it was a long way to go for a half marathon, particularly as I didn't run well. It was really interesting to see Coll, a place I had not visited before, but we were just unlucky with the weather - definitely not ideal for wild camping, and we would have been much better off staying in the hotel or a B&B. I would certainly go back to Coll again at some point, although perhaps I will leave it for a few years, and I would make sure that I spent more time beforehand checking the forecast :)