Tiree, Irene and Me

 

Settting off at 3.00 am  to catch the 7.00am Tiree ferry, I felt particularly awake. My Tesco £7 Ryanair friendly suitcase was suitably overpacked for it’s one night stay on the distant island.

The weather forecast was not good and had been deteriorating by the minute over the last three days, initially living up to it’s well-known title as the Hawaii of the north to it’s other well known title –A place you widnae put a tree oot in, when it’s pishin.

I had managed to get a room booked in the Scarinish Hotel and threw caution to the wind along with my camping reservation. The Scarinish was not highly rated on Trip Advisor, referring to the lady in charge as nippy and sullen, well, that would make two of us I reckoned.

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Of course it doesn’t take long to suddenly realise why I am heading of to Tiree to run in it’s half–marathon event, and as I drive down the spectacular west coastline, listening to the twilight radio, playing music of the recent past, it is easy to become melancholy and wishing my inspiration for doing it, was for any other reason.

At that time of the morning the nocturnal activity of the rabbits, hares, badgers and deer is disturbed by me in my car as I confidently drive on the centre of the road listening to Gary Numan singing about my Seat Toledo and I have the windows down so those animals can hear me coming.

I arrive in Oban in plenty of time, parking at the Atlantis Leisure Centre, this also advised by Trip Advisor.

The sun is up and the sky looked dull as it lightened and at the ferry I seek out other people who look as if they run. I find them.

It is quite a set up now at Oban, with the new terminal, like an airport, except the cattle at this departure point are mooing in a lorry.

I get a good seat and am joined by other sleep hungry folks.

No matter what running event, runners are going to, the night before they never sleep., most will tell you that, so expecting to somehow to catch a sleep on the ferry as was the intention, was not do-able, especially as people on the boat have dogs and kids. Dogs and Kids, ridiculous, don’t they know we are runners and we need sleep and have to have full access to all toilets at all times….?

….Travelling by boat is the way to go though, plenty leg room, big cafeteria, lounges, games room, shop, toilets, and sitting on the deck, what happened to boats, boats are good.

The bad forecast was not wrong , most of the way, although approaching Tiree, the wall to wall sky was suddenly blue.

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The Scarinish Hotel was  fine, it wasn’t pretending to be something other than it was, a run down establishment, battered badly by years of a North Atlantic onslaught. It was clean and healthy, it had some issues, then again, don’t we all, but I liked it’s honesty.

By the time I got changed and set out running the 5 miles from the hotel to the race event, the air was cooler and a wind had got up. On the horizon cloud was gathering.

I never ran long before a native ex-serviceman, who had been in the tank regiment for 22 years stopped and ordered me into his van. He was a plasterer now, and had been in action in Iraq and Afghanistan, before he recently returned home to Tiree with his family. He reckoned me running to the start line was too much to do as well as the half-marathon.  He was doing the 10k and I took his advice.

I arrived at An Talla Community Hall which was also, seemingly, a Baptist Chuch, to register, too early and now with over two hours to kill.

I was on my own and somewhat aware of it, but fellow runners didn’t take long to surround me and kick off with the usual injury conversations over a coffee and healthy two-inch thick flapjack, which once devoured, resulted in one  more jobbie check being required.

Eventually we all headed to the start line, and after sitting in the comfort of the hall, stepping outside into a newly mustered strong wind, the blue sky, now replaced with a thunderous looking horizon, it was cold.

The gun was fired and setting off on a spectacular white sanded beach was quite a buzz to be in amongst.

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Running into the wind was sore at first, and soon it was secondary to the impressive route along the Tiree coast. The island is seven miles long and three miles wide, so there was a bit out and back before the half marathon hardcore were directed out into the desolation of the heart of the island. Mostly flat, the wind was now behind us, and given my apprehension of how tired I felt at the start, I was now running , and feeling strong, helped, I reckoned, by the push of the Atlantic gusts.

Disaster struck, half way round as my music died on me due to over use of my iphone, from checking facebook for likes on the journey over.  No matter, I soldiered on.

Since I started this challenge, of which everything up to now has been a precursor, for what is the first of my 5 Scottish Island half marathons, I do tune in to the catalyst for this, my sister Irene, and I can get quite emotional and cry a bit, which is ok,  no one notices, as usually there is snot and sweat flying off my face anyway.

I think of her, though, and I home in, as best as I can, to how she was, to who she was, in her last days and in her life. I tap into that strength, that courage, that love and it is not just the wind that lifts me, I like to think, it is her.

I think too her of her work, and what she was in amongst and how she brought love and grace to many awful situations, I only know of this, because the women she worked with and grew to love, told me more about that. So it’s for my sister Irene, I do this, in memory of all that was wonderful about her and I do it for me too.

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Eventually the rain came on heavy as promised, but the run was more than half done, so it actually was quite refreshing to feel the cool downpour.

The finish involved running back onto the soft shifting sand of the shore and as I ran to the line, a couple that I had shared the facts of  my challenge with over that earlier flapjack, were cheering me on, shouting Go Irene, Go Irene.

I received my Mars bar and water, with special Tiree Half Marathon T-shirt, and headed back to the hall for a de-briefing with the throng.

After I headed back to the hotel and settled in for the night at the bar with the locals, (fishermen and craftswomen) discussing things of a Tiree relevance over a few drinks.

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All in all, a very enjoyable wee adventure.

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