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!