Living in the middle of nowhere keeps two inspirational women runners fit and has even turned them into winners. Sean McFarlane reports on running in the Hebrides
What do you do if you live in one of the most remote and far flung parts of the British Isles? At the mercy of the elements like nowhere else and with other like-minded people, well in fact just other people, hard to find, maybe a life indoors is the only answer. Well for Gemma Beaton and Amy MacDonald, born, bred and firmly resident in the Outer Hebrides, they get out and immerse themselves in this most special of landscapes with a vigour and energy that can inspire us all.
On a recent visit I caught up with them, fresh from their impressive victory in the female pairs’ category of the Heb Adventure Race. Local knowledge may have helped a bit but as I struggled to get my breath back after a lunchtime beach run with them. It was clear these two are properly fit, Hebridean fit. When my heart rate eventually levelled out, I picked their brains about how they keep up such fitness levels in such a place.
OF – I’m always hearing about how young people tend to leave these types of areas, but you haven’t. Why?
Gemma – well people do often leave when they are younger, but they usually come back! I left for a while but the pull of home is strong. I love it here and always will.
Amy – I’ve been here all my life! Sure, it has its down sides but doesn’t everywhere? And there are lots and lots of positives, especially if you love outdoor exercise!
OF – ah yes, tell me more about that. We’ve just done a 20-minute beach run and apart from the ridiculous pace you were both setting, the other noticeable thing was the wind! I get the feeling it’s often like that! How do you cope with the elements?
Gemma – what elements?! I guess you do very much get used to them. Being an island there are plenty opportunities to find sheltered spots if need be. OK it can be windy, but I’ve been to plenty other parts of the UK that get snow and ice which cause chaos. We seldom get any real snow and can train all year round, which a lot of people from elsewhere don’t appreciate. Having just come out of winter, I certainly don’t feel like I’ve had to back off in training much during it. Also, the weather makes the landscape, which is just so unique here. On top of all that, things are constantly changing, and the rain never lasts long.
OF– I see you two were last year’s winners of the female pairs’ category at the Heb adventure race. That’s seriously impressive. How do you train for that? Do you have a group you train with?
Amy – well the course is our backyard, so it’s easy! But seriously, we get out when we can and just run and bike. There are several other people around who like to do the same. You’d be surprised. Just here on the island of Benbecula, they have recently set up a regular 5k run every Saturday. The first one got over 75 runners!
OF – 75?! Are there 75 people on the whole of Benbecula? That’s incredible.
Gemma – if you live here and don’t embrace the land, you can’t really survive. So many people work the land, to some extent. Even those who work in tourism – those tourists mainly come here because of the landscape so, for people here, land forms a large part of their lives. And that comes through in their desire to get out and raise their heart rates. I do have a group I run with. It’s a 30 mile drive to meet them one way, but that’s fine.
OF – 30 mile drive, one way? I have a weekly run group who meet outside my house! That’s very admirable commitment.
Gemma – maybe but many others commute far more each day. Each to their own. I think you have it too easy Sean!
OF– yes, very possibly! So, what’s the plan for this year?
Amy – there is a really nice series of half marathons in the Outer Hebrides over the summer so we’re in the middle of them. (more info here – https://www.entrycentral.com/heb3). If you do three of the five you get a special t shirt! If you do all five, you get a t-shirt with “’rinn mise na coig” on it which means “I did the five” in Gaelic! I’m hoping to do 3 this year like I did last year.
Gemma – I’m aiming for the “I did the 5” t-shirt!
OF – that’s a lot of running in a pretty short space of time! Hmm, I might come to cheer you on!
Amy – and we’re also very excited about the Harris marathon, the only marathon in the Hebrides, Outer or Inner! That’s in August. Then the Heb race is three weeks after.
OF – wow! That’s a seriously impressive race calendar you have there! Great stuff. Any tips for us soft mainlanders to get out more?
Amy – come and visit! I do think that those who run and bike and all that here are very positive and that energy is infectious. I often read about the benefits of surrounding ourselves with positive people. Well that’s never a problem here. It’s a great place and environment in general.