“Can I have one passenger return please ?”
“When for ? “
“Now. The 10:40”
“Sorry, there’s no space, it’s fully booked”
I’ve never had to get a ferry to get to the start of a race before, and it looked like that wasn’t going to change and that I wasn’t going to be doing the Round Rousay Lap Half Marathon afterall. The race entry form had advised to book the 10:40 ferry and I did try and ring up in advance but couldn’t get through, so thought I would chance turning up on the day, thinking (quite wrongly) that not many folk would be doing it. Now in its 8th year, the name of the race does exactly what it says on the tin – one complete lap of the island of Rousay is exactly 13.1 miles and you can run, walk or cycle it.
The lady in the ticket office advised me to stand at the jetty and wait until everyone who had booked had boarded and if there was any space left, then I’d be let on. I wasn’t the only one anxiously loitering.
Once the seemingly never end of stream of bikes had loaded, the ferry man who had been clicking a counter as everyone boarded, uttered the joyous words “I’ve space for 20 more”. I was on board! To my eyes there still seemed like plenty of space as there was only one car going across, but I guess the number of lifeboats is the real limiting factor, because lets face it, if the boat does down, no one wants to be Leonardo DiCaprio do they?
The journey across took 25 minutes and was a pleasant and smooth crossing.
Registration was in the Rousay Heritage Centre and the sheer numbers of entries (a record turnout of 122) seemed to take the organisers by surprise and they had soon run out of safety pins. The race set of at 12 noon with the cyclists departing first. I would say there were probably 80-90 cyclists on a wide spectrum of bikes from your MAMIL’s on their 4 figure mid life crisis carbon fibre machines, via mountain bikes, hybrids, a sit up and beg (complete with wicker shopping basket on the front), a BMX and even a couple of recumbant cycles. On a health and safety note, I noted that not everyone was wearing a helmet. Fools. It was an uphill start so there was a fair bit of wobbling around on quite a narrow road, but everyone got off safely and then once they had all cleared, the runners and walkers set off.
The course this year was going anticlockwise round the island – I think they may alternate direction every year – and the first 500m is a gradual climb up from the harbour to join the main road that circumvents the island. Even after such a short distance some cyclists (using the term in the loosest possible sense) had already got off their bikes and were pushing. YOU HAVE GEARS PEOPLE, USE THEM!!!!
The first three miles were on gently undulating roads with a good view south towards the island of Wyre. One thing that is always mentioned when talking about Orkney, is that is it always windy. Not for those first 3 miles it wasn’t. The air was dead still and it was uncomfortably close. And I was wearing all black. I had passed a group of men running and I heard one of them saying that he was ‘saving himself’ for the hill. What could he mean? Another myth trotted out by the Orkney Tourist board is that Orkney are low lying islands. Mile 4 of the Rousay Lap blew that into the water. Shades of Jeffrey Hill at the Longridge 7, but you approach it head on and it is all you can see stretching out in front of you. One and a quarter miles of running/walking later I am at the top and rewarded with a nice cooling breeze at last and stunning views across to the islands of Westray and Eday, the sky and sea so bright a shade of blue you’d swear it had been Photoshopped.
Mercifully and logically there was then nearly 2 miles downhill, which my quads didn’t like one bit. Just before another short climb at 6.5 miles, there was a bit of drama, as a young girl had apparently fainted and come off her bike. They was a flurry of activity as someone went back to a nearby farm and the fellow there set off in his van to get help. There had been an ambulance driving around earlier but sod’s law it was nowhere to be seen when it is most needed. The girl’s mother was with her and as there were enough people already helping I carried on.
The second half of the race was mostly downhill/very gently undulating but I was struggling a bit, through not having done many good quality long runs of late. At about mile 11, the faint girls mother whizzed past on her bike and then shortly after the ambulance went past, presumably summoned from wherever it had been hiding on the island, with hopefully faint girl inside it. The weather had clouded over a bit and both the South and West side of the island seemed to be more sheltered and less exposed than the North and East sides – it would have been super tough if the sun had continued as there was no shade.
The finish was a welcome sight and I crossed the line in a time of 2:06:45. The finish line seems to be in midge city and as I am waiting to get my certificate, my arms and legs are covered in dozens of the irritating little so and so’s. A disgusting, itchy end end to a cracking race. It would be interesting to run it in the opposite direction, just to see which way is quicker. No medals or t-shirt but you did get a lovely beanie hat, perfect for a sunny August day. But, as those early nineties philisophers Janet Jackson and Luther Vandross told us, the best things in life are free. Yes, dear reader, the event had free entry, though there were collection buckets in aid of the RNLI at registration. I was more than happy to stick a tenner in but I suspect lots of runners won’t have given anything, with it being, you know, free. Personally I think the organisers are missing a trick by not charging – if they only nominally charged a fiver, well you can do the maths yourself as to how much they would raise if they get 100+ people entering.
Once I had de-midged myself, I had about 40 minutes to wait for the boat back. I am accosted by a man in his late fifties who I vaguely remember passing at about mile 11 when he was walking. He asks me what time I did and he seems satisfied that I was 7 minutes in front of him. I listen patiently to him moaning how at water station 3, he had to bend down and pick up a cup rather than have it handed to him. Bring your butler next time then. He asks me could I have gone faster (yes I could but I wasn’t bothered about racing) and also what my PB is, not relevant but I tell him anyway. I then watch him join some others who are taking a post race dip in the sea. Most of them have kept their clothes on, but not him. I watch in horror/fascination as he strips down to his underpants and goes for a swim and then does the whole “getting changed under his towel thing”. It’s an enduring final image that not even Photoshop could remove from my retinas.