By Alasdair Wilson Craw
Grabbing an opportunity to run the most northern Half in Britain
When Dorothy and I were settling in to the overnight ferry journey to Lerwick at the start of a mainly-cycling holiday around Shetland, the on-board magazine seemed required reading. In amongst the lovely pictures and the copy extolling the amazing wildlife, landscape and history was a what’s-on section. Tucked down at the bottom for June was the sparse notice that the Simmer Dim half marathon was being run on our final Sunday in Shetland. This sowed the seed of an idea that I might just have enough energy to run it after many days cycling. However, lacking much contact with phones and internet (blessed relief!) I didn’t find out whether I could actually enter until 2 days before the event.
Ten days and lots of cycling, weather, exceptional food, and several new birds and plants on my tick list later the idea of running the half became real. I could enter on the day and just needed to turn up at Cunningsburgh community hall at 10am. This wasn’t far from our B&B but was I going to be OK after cycling 40odd miles in the wind and rain the night before?
My mind was made up when I woke on the Sunday to a misty, chilly but dry morning and an offer of a lift to the start by our kind B&B host. Maybe the forecast of a strong northerly and lots of rain was wrong.
Duly registering at the hall (a modest £14 entry), I joined 70 or so entrants of various ages in some trepidation about the weather as the clouds darkened above the start line. The course runs south first on little roads with flower-filled fields and the odd ruined croft or modern bungalow on either side before returning after 3 miles to the main A970 and heading north all the way to the outskirts of Lerwick. The description is “fairly flat”.
The nice thing about a small field is that you get into your running quickly. For me probably too quickly. Although all that cycling seemed to have left my legs loose and strong, 6.17 for the first mile, not far behind the leaders and getting a bit hot, I began to wonder whether my choice of cycling longs, lifa top, shower jacket and woolly hat was the right one. But as we hit the main road the weather changed to rain and a strong north wind kicked in so I began to be thankful for the protection. My early pace didn’t help me deal with the wind and the now climbing road and a couple of runners passed me quite easily. A mile or two later another guy overhauled me. Drafting behind him lasted a while but at the next climb he left me. (“fairly flat”? Think Allendale 8, only longer climbs.) Luckily the mist came down despite the wind – probably low cloud in fact – so you couldn’t see how long the climbs were, at times I couldn’t even see the runner in front only 50m ahead, hard to see the sea views too. Having got used to cycling up similar hills at least I was well-prepared on the persistence front.
The organisers patrolled the route by car slowing the general traffic as the visibility worsened, and the four drinks stations were manned by cheery volunteers keeping up our spirits. At 11 miles the route leaves behind its last hill as we started to descend towards Lerwick broch and Clickimin Loch reaching a residential area and Tescos in contrast to the moorland and sheep pastures. I didn’t do well down the steepish descent being caught at the turn to the Loch but with only a mile to go I was pleased to be able to pull away and got well clear over the last stretch, which was a lap and a half of a super tartan track – flat too, to finish in good form and looking forward to drying off in the well-appointed Sports Centre.
I must say Shetland Athletics Club do a good post-run spread – lots of home-baked iced buns, cakes and flapjacks, free tea and coffee and use of the Centre bar. Almost everyone stayed for the prizegiving, even those of us from as far south as Reading and London, there was even a woman who’d only the previous week run the Great Wall of China half marathon. And certainly half the field got class or team medals on top of a decent goody bag courtesy of Intersport including a technical T-shirt and engraved finishers medal. The event was clearly a big thing for the community and local runners came from all over Shetland and were of all abilities.
The senior men winner, Bobby Bristow, ran a remarkable 1-18 -13 given the very tough conditions, only 7 secs off the course record, and the fastest woman, F35 Charlotte Black, ran 1-32-07 in 5th. My time was 20 minutes longer than the winner, enough on the day to win the M55 class and 11th place. Unfortunately it turns out that the man who won M50 had actually just a few days before became an M55 so strictly I was 2nd M55 however I do still have the gold medal. Not bad for a grabbed opportunity anyway.
In summary this is a race to be recommended. Free massage pre and post race, very friendly people, a testing course and a fantastic place to come for a holiday – and in 2014 the weather is sure to be sunny with a following wind!