Running by the Sea – The Tiree Ultra Marathon – Mark Hartree

This is another story by Mark Hartree a friend from  my days in RAF Mountain Rescue – He then had a nickname 2ba in the team  (small but as he says perfectly formed)

I am doing the 7 Ultra’s for madness charity SMA Support UK who are supporting Molly, a friend and X RAF MRT troops daughter who has the condition.  Please sponsor him if you can at:

The wee man Mark Hartree has been at it again this time it is Tiree I will leave him to tell the tale 

Where?  – Tiree is the most westerly island of the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland as you can see on the map below. To the northwest are the Outer Hebrides / Western Isles but due west, across the Atlantic, there is no more land until you reach North America!

Tiree Map

Tiree Map

Tiree a is flat and low lying island with only a few hills. The island is approximately 20km long and 10km at its widest point. This is one of the sunniest places in the British Isles but Tiree’s flat exposed form also makes its weather generally windy. The Gulf Stream ensures that hard frost and snow are rare.

Mark Hartree in action

Mark Hartree in action

Puff, puff, puff, puff, puff…it’s 0400 and for the third time I reflate my thermarest. It is tooearly to pack up my tent and head for the 0700 ferry to Tiree and if the air leaks as slowly as before, I should just about be comfortable till 0520 when I was planning to get up anyway.

The Tiree Ultra Marathon should be one of the easier in my summer series but the logistics are somewhat complicated – or at least time consuming, requiring bikes, slow trains and ferries. While the scenery along the way is stunning – the speed of travel gives you plenty of time to look at it. Having travelled in Switzerland in the summer, the Scottish West Coast travel system could do with an upgrade.

For hill walkers, Tiree offers little of interest with three wee bump rising to less than 150m, each adorned with either radar stations or telecom masts to allow the locals to stay connected and order things on the interweb. These will take days to get there still but at least they can order the quickly. Sitting alongside its partner Coll, Tiree sits as one of the Inner Hebrides and the thing to say about it is the coast line is amazing, and it gets and huge 5 stars if wind and sea based sports are your thing, but there are few redeeming features in the middle. 40 folk completed this 35 mile race last year. This year, nearly 200 had registered as single, doubles or quad relay teams largely due to Pete Buchanan’s write-up on his last year. His stunning photos of empty beaches and green trails (are better than my shots) had wetted appetites and saying the Tiree Ultra is “Possibly the best race I’ve ever done” was bound to attract suitors – well it got me hook, line and sinker and would make a good recovery run after the Glencoe Skyline two weeks before.

The ferry terminal on Saturday morning was buzzing with sleepy racers with about 120 bikes loaded and the boat restaurant working double time to serve full Scottish, then a long chug between Mull and Ardnamurchan and the chance of a morning slumber. We docked and folk then dispersed to their various accommodations on the island ready for a 0800 start on Sunday. We all gathered on a glorious beach pointing West with the sea to our left, a line drawn on the sand and the basic route was to keep the sea to our side and with a few detours here and there, run for 35 miles until you get back to where you started. Simple!

As for the race: brilliant, beautiful, flat, fast in places, tricky in others with some bondoo bashing, hopping cow hoof potholes in the mud, a bit wet and boggy here-and-there to mess you up and fill your shoes with gloop, a tiny hill, firm sand apart from the soft bits, plenty of sea water to wash-off in, and repeat….It would make a stunning walk over a few days with many choices for some great wild camping, swimming and fishing, but expect a breeze. The weather for the race behaved with not too much wind overall but colder on the West side of the island until you turned East and had it on your back with some nice cooling drizzle. All the way were things of interest – the white remote spotless beaches and coves with blue waters, the green trails through ancient sand dunes, the black houses and old crofts, interested cows, scared sheep and friendly locals cheering us on. The odd bit of tarmac seemed to help the road runners but wasn’t my favourite, but soon gave way to more remote trails and trods and more stunning coastal scenery. Apparently, there was an ancient grass covered broche but I seemed to miss seeing it chasing after Phil Humphries. With a few detours to visit the best beaches or to miss out the un-runnable ground the route and was split into 4 sections to give some CPs and places for relay handovers to happen. Each was about the same distance apart and by half way I was in the unusual position of being 6th overall. As the 6th Ultra this year for SMA Support UK I seemed to have improved a bit. At CP2 I took time for a good feed and enjoy my baby potato and rice combo and letPhil H plus a couple of others overtake me. Then Dave Hanna and Madeline Robinson nipped past and disappeared into the distance. I then chased Phil for 18 miles getting one or two people back. At a rock on the second last beach I timed him as 3.5 mins ahead of me and upped my pace to see it I could get him in the last 8km. He clocked me and kept his speed enough to come it about 2mins ahead. Great food and catering after the race and a dip in the sea set me up for a nice cold shower in the hostel as all the water was used by the relay team! A memorable trip with a fantastic ceilidh band in the evening enabling some enthusiastic dancing to get the lactic acid out of my legs. I met some great people and in the randomness of hill races, met people who knew mutual friends in the MR world – naturally Heavy but also Dave Booth out in Canada. The winner was Tom Smith from Lochaber Athletics club would lead the whole way. He won last year but improved his time coming in in 4hrs:42 (CR).

I came in 9th in 5hrs:18 a few minutes behind my club mates Dave and Phil. Maddy came 5th As a nod to Catherine Destaville who solo’d the Eiger when 6 months pregnant, Jenny Rogers, who was the tail ender in over 12hrs, arrived to great applause as we started the ceilidh and is due her baby on 1st Dec!

Full results here at some point:

After 23hrs of travelling, I made it home with a new thermarest on my shopping list. If taking the train from Glasgow to Oban and back – book your bike on the train!. Others travelled for longer – hence book yer bike on the train.

Tiree 1


About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Charity, Enviroment, Family, Friends, Gear, Hill running and huge days!, Mountain rescue, Weather, Wildlife. Bookmark the permalink.

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