Taking a break from de-commissioning Dounreay and helping the SAS, Allan Comrie tells us why he’s coming back for his fifth challenge..
Tell us a bit about yourself
I live in Thurso, Caithness. I’m a chemical engineer, currently working on the decommissioning of the Dounreay Nuclear facility (and no, I don’t glow in the dark!) I enjoy running obviously, hillwalking, cross-country skiing (when we get enough snow up here), reading and travelling when time allows. I also volunteer as a Community First Responder for the Scottish Ambulance Service (always sounds good when you say you help the SAS!)
Tell us a bit your running history. What kind of running do you enjoy best?
Been running since Uni. Originally it was just to keep hill fit for weekends hill walking, but since moving up to Thurso (1991), I got involved in running with like-minded folks, taking part in local 10Ks such as Golspie and Brora, Inverness and Aviemore half marathons. Really enjoy trail running and hill running – it’s great to get out for a run at Broubster Forest after work, especially in the spring, or shelter in Dunnet Forest on an easy Sunday morning run in the winter.
How many times have you been to CWC?
I think I’ve done four Challenges - not sure! Maybe Frances could enlighten us!
What made you come to CWC for the first time?
On my first visit, I was helping my cousin Shona to fill a five person relay team. Won’t forget that weekend! My mate, Tony Chalmers, came to run in a three man team and we camped at Sango Sands campsite (the most exposed campsite in Scotland?) Well, it was very wet and windy and we were disappointed to find the weather had forced the run to be moved to the mainland (that’s only happened once again, last year!) But it was incredibly well organised, and very friendly, so the weather didn’t really matter. That’s when we both decided we’d like to come back the next year to do the full Challenge - once we’d found out there was a bunkhouse we could stay in for the week (Thank you Fiona Mackay!)
What makes the event special to you? What makes you come back?
It’s the friendly challenge! The event is very well organised, but relaxed at the same time. Runners of all abilities are welcome, which is a big boost for ‘back of the pack’ runners like me! Never elitist, there is always plenty of encouragement just when you need it, and everyone in the village gets involved. Great to see the kids joining in on the beach run. It’s just a beautiful place to run! You can experience four seasons in one day - last year was a great example. The sea, beaches and mountains make you realise how lucky we are to be able to enjoy such wild places.
What is your favourite race or run at Durness?
Probably the Cape-side to Lighthouse section of the team run - the anticipation of the run, travelling in the minibus to the slipway, then the transfer across the Kyle in the inflatable rib is like no other pre-race routine!! The hill run is good too - I like that kind of off-road running!
What is your favourite part of the week, or favourite thing to do in the area?
Hard to say really, there are so many highlights! The ceilidh is amazing! Thanks to all those who help produce such a brilliant buffet. The pub quiz on Monday night is a great laugh, but there are some serious players out there! And the week wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Cocoa Mountain and a serious hot chocolate!
What are you most looking forward to when you return?
Meeting all the friends I’ve made over the Challenges and making new friends!
Describe Cape Wrath Challenge week in three words...
Friendly, fun, scenic.
Tell us about your all-time favourite run (that's not in Durness!)
Difficult one that. The 13 mile route at the Great Wilderness Challenge in Gairloch is a great run through the mountains of Wester Ross, but the off-road half marathon on the Cyprus 4 Day International Challenge has some superb views high up on the mountain ridges.
Anything else you want to tell the CWC Community?
The soup and sandwiches at the end of each run are superb. Thanks to the ladies for providing such great lunches.
Self-confessed geek, dog-sledder and part-Scotsman, Don Kiely, travelled from Alaska for his first Cape Wrath Challenge in 2015. He tells us why he's coming back ...
Tell us a bit about yourself
I’ve lived in Fairbanks, Alaska, over 20 years, after growing up in California and living in a few other places in the Lower 48 States. I am a geek by trade, a software developer and technical writer, and spend alot of time developing training materials for new technologies. I used to travel alot, speaking at software conferences world-wide, including UK, mostly London, but haven't done that much recently. Now, I mostly travel for running.
Tell us about your other hobbies
I stay active year-round: whitewater kayaking, canoeing, hiking, showshoeing and Nordic skiing. Carol and I have sleddogs and used to mush, skijor and race but we're now down to 14 dogs from 31 and most of the dogs are older. It's wonderful living with so many dogs, so it was fun staying with Martin and Mary Mackay at Glengolly, with their Border Collies. We're also involved with Second Chance League, a nonprofit sleddog rescue organization.
How did you become a runner?
I’ve run off and on most of my life to stay in shape, but only "seriously" for six years. It never really took hold in my life before. But in 2004 and 2005, Carol and I walked the Equinox Marathon in Fairbanks, which introduced me to our strong, supportive running community.
I never dreamt I’d ever run ANY marathon, much less Equinox, which is tough and mostly trail, but I’ve caught the running bug! Marathons and shorter ultramarathons are my favorites. I've done Boston three times. I was in Boylston Street when the 2013 bombs exploded and saw them, thankfully safe, from a couple of blocks away well after I had finished. I love trail-running best and mostly run trail events, including local winter races.
What brought you to the Cape Wrath Challenge for the first time?
I found Cape Wrath looking for a UK race to do in 2014 and loved the idea of a week-long event on the north coast. Part of my bloodline comes from the Macleans of Duart and I'd been to Scotland several times, including the Clan Gathering on Mull, but never further north than Inverness. I ended up doing the Ennerdale Trail 50K that year, but got to Durness in 2015.
What makes the event special?
Everything! I loved the area and people. The community is inspiring – the hours they put in making the runners and volunteers comfortable and happy. The evening events are wonderful. I can't believe how much fun they were (including learning to dance as an avowed non-dancer!). I loved exploring Sutherland and I plan to do more this year.
And the little touches matter! I didn't drink the Scotch a couple of miles from the marathon finish - I was shocked (the good kind) to be offered it and couldn't decide whether it would help or worsen my pain! This year, I'll certainly take some!
What was your favourite run?
How do I pick just one favourite? That's what really makes Cape Wrath special - each race is unique, with its own charms. The half goes through amazing north-coast country around Loch Eriboll; the hill run explores south of the village; and the Round Durness run was great for seeing the surroundings (but I really need to divert to see the puffins!). The beach run was amazing, with the fancy-dress and camaraderie. The marathon was one of the hardest I've ever done with the weather, but highly satisfying and still beautiful.
What was your favourite part of the week?
Well, really the running. But the social events were great; I've never laughed so much! It was wonderful meeting so many interesting, fun people. But what really blew me away was the ceilidh. The buffet table was overwhelming, particularly knowing how the community came together to make such an amazing variety of food (with lots of options for me as a pescatarian). I had more fun dancing than any person has a right to! It was hard saying farewell that evening.
Tell us about your favourite run, aside from Durness?
I’m going to give you two! Boston Marathon 2014 and the Equinox Marathon (any year!) I only intended to do Boston once, since it's not really my kind of marathon. It's road (give me trails any day); in a big city (I'm a small-town Alaska boy), with thousands of runners (I prefer small races), but it was amazing to be part of something with such history. I had to go back after the bombings to show we wouldn't be put down by violence, to "take back the finish line" as Bostonians said. It was an experience that still sends chills up my spine – an outpouring of love and support in an amazing community.
I've done Equinox seven times – it’s a wonderful community event and the high point of my running year. I see friends the whole way, running, working at aid-stations, supporting and spectating. The course is challenging, climbing over Ester Dome and looping on some of my favourite trails. The obstacles people overcome to finish are inspiring. The weather is never as challenging as last year’s Cape Wrath, but we can have rain, snow and beautiful sunshine.
What are you looking forward to most, when you return to Durness?
Seeing new friends again; the runs; social events; eating the Mackay's special oatmeal; doing better on quiz night so I don't embarrass my team; doing better with my fancy dress, despite the challenge of bringing something from Alaska and DOING THE MARATHON OUT TO CAPE WRATH!!!! (Weather gods: take notice!)
Describe Cape Wrath Challenge in 3 words
Insanely Fun Challenge
Anything else you want to tell the Cape Wrath Challenge Community?
Thanks so much for such a wonderful experience! You all helped create some amazing experiences and memories and for that I am eternally grateful. I can't wait to be back!