Lewis claim Battle of the Isles running title

Mark MacDonald (front left) leads the Skye competitors off during last Saturday’s Battle of the Isles competition.

Lewis defeated Skye for a second year in a row in the Battle of the Isles running event held across the islands on Saturday.

The title went to Lewis as it attracted the greatest number of participants by drawing a field of 39 runners to Skye’s complement of 22 competitors on the day.

The event comprised 10k and 5k runs.

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Jonathan Fairgrieve of Lewis recorded the fastest overall time in the 10k by completing the distance in 35 minutes and 19 seconds, while Skye’s Mark MacDonald came home next in 35:42 to take the runner-up spot, while Skye’s Ian Silvester finished in the top 10 among a strong field of Lewis runners.

Muriel MacLeod’s time of 41:23 saw her finish fastest lady and ninth overall. Fellow Leodhasach Martha Hamilton ensured her island’s side earned a 1-2 in the women’s’ stakes, while Stephanie Tinney (48:19), and Eve Bisset (51:02) finished as the fastest two Skye women and 12th and 15th overall, respectively.

A total of 36 people took part in the 10k run, while 25 runners competed in the 5k. The fastest overall was 17-year-old Murray MacDonald from Lewis who conquered the distance in 17:40, while Charlie Morrison, also Lewis, finished as the runner-up in 19:10.

Anne Smith (25:16) and Eve MacIver (25:33), both from Lewis, were the fastest two women, and 10th and 11th, respectively. For Skye, 14-year-old Cailean Dunkel was the fastest overall and 12th in total in 25:39, and Vicki Dunkel also impressed for the Sgitheanaich by coming in as the fastest Skye woman in 28:08 and 16th fastest overall.

A spring in their step: two youngsters bound up the hill on the Skye course as they take the race in their stride.

In the fun run, which was only held in Skye and did not factor in overall competition between the islands, 11-year-old Aodhan Stephenson and five-year-old Eve Baillie bounded over the line as the first boy and first girl.

Sam Crowe, of race organiser Skye Events, said: “Although there were individual prizes for those who were the fastest on the day, we decided to base the overall team winner on the number of participants from each island, as we wanted to make it more about being part of the event than who was the fastest.

“It is inclusive, it wasn’t just about great runners. We (Skye) have struggled slightly – because Lewis is the bigger island, but you never know we might make it someday.

“It was really popular as a virtual event last year, so I was expecting greater numbers this year. We struggled a bit for marshals due to Covid, and I don’t know whether the low number of runners was also because of that or down to people not wanting to mix at the moment.

“It was a bit of a shame that we didn’t get the numbers we had hoped for, but it still felt like a really good day. We received a few messages from people who did take part that they had a really good time.

“Mark (MacDonald) did a training programme for us – and it was a surprise there weren’t that many experienced runners who signed up for that. It was all newbies, and everyone made it to the start line who had done Mark’s plan.”

She added: “There was a more diverse mix of people that you get for the winter series runs. We had quite a few people who were doing a 10k or a 5k for the first time. It was nice that we offered a format where people felt comfortable trying something for the first time.

“We struggle to get the youth numbers, but in Lewis there are really young 5k runners who are fantastic and have been training for those slightly shorter distances.

“There was a 12-year-old Lewis kid – (Ruairidh Smith) who ran the 5k in 20 minutes and 45 seconds. They had some phenomenal times for the 5k.

“They have a really good coaching team and good facilities. I know, though, Mark (MacDonald) is quite keen to work with the youngsters here, so it is good we have these contacts now.”

A family affair: As well as the competitive element, the Battle of Isles proved to be a fun day for people and families across the area.

Neil Barker, who was part of Lewis’ winning team, told the Free Press: “The Battle of the Isles is a fantastic event, it unites the runners of Lewis with one common aim, to beat the auld enemy of Skye!

“Seriously, though, it took both Islands to make it a true battle so well done both teams – Battle of the Isles is a great event and I look forward to 2023.

“It’s a shame we can’t all race the same course and get back the same day. But the Stornoway Running and Athletics Club and Skye and Lochalsh Running and Athletics Club did both islands and Scotland proud making it happen!”

He finished by quipping: “Will there be an open top bus tour of Lewis!”

Participants had the chance to donate on entry to Skye Events’ partner charities. Sam told the Free Press that around £200 had been raised through Battle of the Isles, which will go to Skye Cancer Care and Skye and Lochalsh Citizens Advice Bureau.

Article by Adam Gordon, images by Willie Urquhart.