Mull of Kintyre Half Marathon race report – by Vik Lomax

I’ve not run a half marathon in over five years, had no real intention of doing one this year either and I’m not a huge fan of long car journeys. But picking up Runners World at the start of the year, the Mull of Kintyre Half Marathon had a great write up and was voted one of the top races. And if the high rating and thought of racing on the beach and over sand dunes wasn’t enough to sway me, the mention of a ceilidh afterwards did the trick and there I was getting my application in and roping along Garry to join me.

On the drive down to Campbeltown the day before the race, we pretty much had every type of weather going and it didn’t look as though the strong winds and showers were going to die down anytime soon.  As we got up for breakfast the next day, nearly every local we met apologised for the state of the weather despite the fact that we were wearing Edinburgh AC tops and it was quite obvious we were in fact quite used to running in the wind and rain, whether we liked it or not. It was quite sweet though.

After salivating over Dermot’s full cooked breakfast while we nibbled on a bit of toast, we went to register, then sheltered for a little longer than planned under the registration tent hoping it didn’t blow away. After much persuasion, Garry joined me for a very brief warm up which was just enough for us to bravely shed a few layers before the race. We then took our positions up near the front by an imaginary start line and hoped that we’d spot the half marathon turning and not get carried away and follow the 10k runners who were lined up with us.

Globe-trotter Rosie Swale Pope enthusiastically set us all on our way and we were off up the high street before heading out of town and over to the other side to Macrahanish beach before making our way back. Despite someone on the start line pointing out that I’d need to turn right as the race split in two, the half marathon turning was the one on the left but having Garry in front of me, there was no chance of getting lost.

Even better, having Garry in front of me made quite a good wind break as we headed out of town and into a strong head wind. I tucked in and wished that Garry had eaten more cakes to bulk up a bit as the wind was still battering me but it was a psychological help at least. I even had to give some cheeky imp a bit of a nudge when he took a liking to my spot just behind Garry’s back and made a bee line for it.

After the first mile we were already in the top 25 of the race and we were steadily picking our way through the field like two pied pipers as everyone we caught then latched onto the back of us for a bit of shelter until we had quite a good group of us running together. Fortunately for me, they were all male and after a bit of chat, it was established that nobody had seen any other women up ahead. Excellent stuff, the pot hunting was on.

Despite turning left after a few miles, the headwind bizarrely continued and Garry was doing a valiant job at taking the lead of the group as nobody else seemed keen to volunteer! As we could see the leaders up ahead, I asked Garry if he fancied going for a podium spot rather than sticking with me but he was quite happy where he was (that was the answer I was secretly hoping for!).

As we got to the other coast though, he urged me to go for it and push on. I latched onto a local club runner who, after a bit of chat, convinced me that there must be trouble ahead as he assured me it wasn’t really a sub 1:30 course and therefore that my target might not be totally realistic. Oh well, let’s just hope there are no women up ahead.

We headed down a dirt track before the route turned into more of a cross country race for the middle couple of miles over the golf course and sand dunes and finally onto the beach. In better weather, it would have been idyllic as there was white sand for miles and what would have been turquoise sea if it wasn’t for all the white foam and waves being kicked up by the wind.

As the leaders passed the turning point and headed back, this was my chance to make sure there were no other women up ahead and to see exactly where I was in the field. I was 13th at the half way point and leading female – the highest positions I’d ever been in: hurrah!

The next few miles were by far the best of the race as we passed the rest of the field and I milked the cheers and shouts of ‘go first lady’ from the other runners. My head must have grown a few sizes and I was grinning like a Cheshire cat and felt like I was flying as I moved into 11th place.

Then all of a sudden, the last runner had gone past, the support dwindled down and, as we passed mile 9, I got a terrible stitch: I’d gone from a total race high to feeling pretty awful in just a few minutes and was panicking that I’d thrown a race win away. I knew the second female was quite a distance behind so I slowed a bit and took some deep breaths. By mile ten, a few people had gone past me but the stitch was clearing and I’d got some company from a really nice bloke in a triathlon race top. He had also been wanting to get under 1:30 but, looking at our watches, we realised we were going to be off that but not a million miles off it if we worked together and  pegged it back into town.

Before long we finally turned out of the side wind and into a tailwind and downhill stretch for the last few miles. I was feeling good again and my new running buddy was shouting support at me and encouraging me to relax for the last few miles as we stuck together and pushed it down the hill. I felt like I was flying with the wind on my back and then, when I thought things were pretty good and couldn’t get any better, the lead car pulled alongside me and let me know that it was going to lead me in.

I’ve NEVER had a lead car to follow and it rocked (After the race I did ask Dermot if he’d drive around with a clock on the top of our car when we got home and let me run behind it but it’s not happened yet unfortunately). Despite my head having now expanded a good few more sizes, I found another gear and overtook the car at one point as we came into town for the last mile.

Lots of people were out on the streets and cheering me on and I felt like I was flying for the last few hundred metres to the finish line. Then Dermot came into view near the end, tried to take a photograph but instead fell over the kerb and landed on his backside. He did take a good photo of the road though as he fell.

I clocked 1:31.34 and was chuffed to bits as I leapt over the line, while the lure of the finish line Danish pastries caused Garry to put in a last minute surge and finish just behind me.

After the windiest, coldest podium photographs where I look like a bizarre yeti with hair in my face, I became the proud owner of a glass thingamybob, some gorgeous flowers and a nice trophy that I now have to work out how to get all the way back to Campbeltown for next year’s race (although there’s always the option of coming back to race it next year!).

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