Close to 700 participants completed the Skye Half Marathon course in warm summer sunshine last Saturday, with Aberdeen AAC athlete William MacKay claiming victory.
Mackay, winner of the 2018 Stornoway Half Marathon and currently ranked 52nd in the UK over 10,000 metres, finished in one hour, 11 minutes and 37 seconds – 37 seconds ahead of Skye and Lochalsh Running and Athletics Club competitor Hugh Campbell who came home in 1:12:14 to take the runners-up spot.
Cameron Strachan of Metro Aberdeen RRC was hot on the heels of the home favourite as finished 38 seconds behind Campbell to secure third place in 1:12:52.
Jill Smylie received high-fives from the crowd on her way to the finishing line as the fastest lady, in 16th place overall, with a time of 1:26:12. The Giffnock North AAC athlete who is currently ranked as second in the UK over 10,000 metres was followed by local runner Dean MacLeod (1:26:32) and then by Emily Harris from Manchester, New Hampshire, who completed her first-ever half marathon as the second-fastest lady in 1:27:04 and in 18th place overall.
Serpentine RC runner, Catherine Harris (no relation to Emily) crossed the line in 1:27:16 to complete the ladies’ top three and secure 19th place overall. And Stornoway Running and Athletic Club runner Norman Ferguson finished in the top 20 with a time of 1:27:19.
The Free Press were kindly invited to ride along with HM Coastguard’s lead vehicle to gain a front-row seat as the 36th edition of the island’s biggest sporting event unfolded.
Mackay’s victory started and ended with a close battle with Hugh Campbell. After initially leading the race, Campbell was pegged back by Mackay whose “long strides” – as Campbell later remarked – helped him eventually break free of the home favourite after the first few miles.
The Aberdeen-based runner extended his lead over his nearest competitors to a minute and a half as the race progressed past Macdiarmid Primary School, where young helpers handed out water bottles and the sound of the Black Eyed Peas’ ‘I Gotta Feeling’ boomed out from the newly-established music zone.
Indeed Will.i.am’s sentiment of ‘tonight’s gonna be a good night’ must have rung true for Mackay as the likelihood of his victory increased by the minute, with Campbell and Strachan becoming ever more distant behind him as they jostled for second place.
However, with just a couple of miles remaining, Mackay’s lead was cut as Campbell threatened a dramatic comeback. As Mackay passed the 11-mile mark near the Ace Targets Sport centre along the undulating section of the course on the Struan Road, his lead was down to just a minute.
Campbell, a five-times winner of the race, looked to have hit his stride at the perfect time with his opponent conversely appearing to wane as the race approached its conclusion.
In the end, though, Mackay was not found wanting and his determination, experience, and drive enabled him to push on to claim a well-deserved victory.
Although she described the conditions as “horrible”, Skye and Lochalsh club runner Sarah Attwood completed the race as the fastest local lady with a time of 1:30:20. The Skye and Lochalsh winter series women’s champion finished as the fourth-fastest lady in 29th position overall.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie was perhaps one of the most recognisable faces within the mass of competitors on Saturday. The MSP for North East Fife, who is a keen runner with PH running club, claimed a 22nd-place finish in 1:27:36.
The women’s team prize went to Skye and Lochalsh Running Club’s Sarah Attwood, Tina Schuman (1:43:12) and Lesley Campbell (1:58:13), while the Skye and Lochalsh men’s team comprising Hugh Campbell, Paul Parker (1:33:23) and Alex Turner (1:42:22) came second in the team category.
Meanwhile, local runners, Sandy Laing (1:22:02) and Jennifer Shaw (2:15:30) received prizes in the under-21s category.
Speaking to the Free Press, David Atkin of Westerlands Cross Country Club described the race as “emotional”. He maintained his record of having run in every one of the races in the Skye Half Marathon’s 36-year history – this year in a time of 1:36:14. He is one of only three runners to have finished every race.
Atkin was presented with a special quaich introduced last year in memory of the late John Mackay, who had competed in the race for 34 years.
The other ever-presents, James Wright of Hunters Bog Trotters and Team Angus’s Stewart MacAskill, finished the race in 2:53:09 and 2:53:51, respectively.
Octogenarian runner Angus Nicholson from North Uist, who has now taken part in more than 500 competitions since he began running in his 50s, continued his incredible record by adding yet another race to his list with a finishing time of 3:30:59.
The event was sponsored for the third year by the Scottish Salmon Company and organised by Skye Events.
Article by Adam Gordon and all images by Willie Urquhart unless stated.