Barrathon Half Marathon Race Report

One flight, 2 and a half hours in a car and just under six hours on a ferry. The Barra half marathon in the outer Hebrides is not a local race by any stretch of the imagination. The tiny island of Barra has a population of just over one thousand people and despite its small size, it has a big community feel.

Myself and Kirsty along with two friends, Dom and Chris set off early last Friday morning to start the long travel to the distant start line. We had heard about this race though friends of Kirsty’s and we were sold on it challenging course, friendly atmosphere and the chance to experience one of the British Isles best-kept secrets.

As the ferry gently rolled into Castle Bay, Barra we were greeted with glorious sunshine and the scene laid out before us was spectacular. A Rolling and jagged shoreline, broken by the interspersing white sandy beaches. The lush green landscape was broken by the grey and black rocks leaving a harsh yet beautiful setting for the upcoming race. The coastline was not densely populated and had only small clusters of houses, many in isolation and exposed to the extremes of the weather that must roll across this tiny island year round.

The islands main road is a 13 mile loop (very conveniently) and takes in many of the rolling hills, open locks, wildlife, and countless breath-taking views. The start list was less than 300 runners, the clear majority who had traveled to the island specifically for this race. The weather on race morning couldn’t be more contrasting to the night before. Wind, rain and low visibility greeted us as we assembled on the spray painted START line. In most races, the weather might have dampened spirits but this was Barra and part of the draw and challenge lies in conquering not just the islands rolling course but also the frequently changing weather.

The long claxon sounded and the runners set off and dug in for the first climb of the day. By the first mile the weather had eased considerably and it was time to ditch the extra layers. Running and chatting with other competitors while taking in the scenery quickly made the first four or five miles fly by. The terrain is rolling and undulating, it certainly isn’t a PB course. One runner best described it as an “island time” rather than a half marathon time.

Heading into the seconds half of the race the weather had taken a significant turn for the worst and the wind was now blowing hard. This was soon followed by a severe downpour which soaked everything to the bone. No point in piling on the layers now it was time to knuckle down and keep pushing forward. Luckily the worst of the rain eased after a couple of miles which then set the scene for the main event, the hill!
As I have said Barra is rolling and undulating, it also has a beast of a hill. This hill starts off fairly gradual and then begins to kick hard as you get into the climb. The climb itself is quite long and has several false summits causing you to dig down once more and push on after the disappointment of not reaching the top just yet. Once you do reach the top you are treated to a long run downhill and back into town for the finish. This proved to be harder than the climb for me as my hamstrings were desperate to cramp and spasm at this point. Many had walked the last section of the hill and I had chosen to push on and get to the top in one go. While I don’t regret this decision it defiantly hit my legs hard for the decent and caused a rapid drop in pace for the next half mile. As the course flattened out back into town re-found my stride, just in time to take on the last two bumps before the finish line.

At this point it’s important to say this race was one of the best marshalled I have been to. Plenty of aid stations, locals out with jelly babies and bananas for the runners, and all in less than ideal conditions. The finish was well supported and the community spirit was out in full force.

There are many more things I could say about this island, its scenery and the unforgettable weekend we all shared. However, I could never really do them justice in a blog like this. Instead I want to finish with an important observation and a question you should all be asking yourselves.

What do you really want from your health and fitness?

Running, triathlon and endurance sports have taken me to some amazing places with some of the best people you could hope to meet. Clients often talk about losing weight, feeling better and enjoying time with the family. But, if you take a moment to step outside of these accepted goals, statements and preconceptions, what do you really want from your health and fitness?

Being healthy and fit has enabled me to run and race across the world, see places I would never have traveled to and experienced things that have shaped me as a person. I don’t view my health and fitness as a number on the scales but instead, measure it by its ability to allow me to take on the challenges I want to experience in my life. This might not be running in faraway places for yourself, but your health and fitness does need to work for you.

I am writing this on board the ferry back to Oban and staring out of the window, I can see the many beautiful islands and coastlines of the Scottish Highlands. I came back with another medal for the rack this weekend, but it is the time spent on this tiny far away island that will stay with me forever.

To me this what it really means to be fit and healthy and not what a lowly set of scales has to say bout it.

Andy Strong
Barrathon Race Report 2017.