Kenny Macpherson sends us this report from his latest outing to Mallaig where he and Leodhais Macpherson were to compete in the Morar and Mallaig Highland Games.
The first recorded Highland Games were said to have taken place near Braemar in the 11th Century. King Malcolm III of Scotland summoned contestants to a foot race to the summit of Craig Choinnich (overlooking Braemar).King Malcolm created this foot race in order to find the fastest runner in the land to be his royal messenger. The good King is now buried within Tynemouth Priory near to our beach training area.
It was not until the Victorian era that the Highland games that we know today came to fruition after the ravages of the Clearances and the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden in 1746 which resulted in Highlanders being displaced by their own Clan Chiefs to America, Australia and New Zealand.
Most villages and towns in the North Of Scotland boast a Highland Games and my local is the Mallaig and Morar Highland Games. This area is home to the Clan MacDonald and before the advent of the West Highland Railway Extension to Mallaig in 1901 this area was nothing more than a hamlet.
This all changed when people from Eyemouth, Burnmouth, Peterhead, Fraserburgh and the North Isles converged on Mallaig en masse to reach the previous unchartered fishing grounds of the North West Coast of Scotland. My Maternal Grandfathers family moved to Mallaig in this era from Burnmouth in the Scottish Borders and most “locals in the village” can trace some of their their ancestry via Eyemouth and Burnmouth.
The Mallaig Railway line has now found a resurgence in passenger numbers and popularity thanks to two Steam Trains a day in the Summer and several conventional trains bringing people “over the sea to Skye”. It was also the line where excerpts of the Harry Potter Films were made including the scene where Ron Weasley is “flying” a Ford Anglia over the Glenfinnan Viaduct getting chased by the Steam Train.
Other Hollywood Blockbusters made near Mallaig were Highlander with the iconic Queen Music, Rob Roy with Liam Neeson and Braveheart with Mel Gibson. There is also a less well known film called ” Breaking the Waves” by Lars Von Trier that a certain Kenneth Ross Macpherson played a small part!!!
Well back to the Highland Games and it was in 2008, having drunk a couple of cans of beers, that I was persuaded to run the 200 metres at the Mallaig Games. So with trouser legs rolled up and running bare footed I came probably second last and felt as if my chest was about to explode. This was the single most reason why I probably got back into running and vowed to return the following year to do myself justice.
2009 was the year that I began running properly having joined Wallsend Harriers in the February of this year and in this year went back to Mallaig and kept my promise of competing as an Athlete. I think this was also the first year that Leodhais ran in the Games as well.
This year, 2011, we left Newcastle on Wednesday night and drove up to Mallaig, to give you an indication of distance, it takes over 5 hours from GLASGOW to get to Mallaig by train!!!. A few pre race training sessions and day off on Saturday heralded the games morning. Waking up the weather was shocking, driving rain was the order of the day.
Leodhais got the proceedings off and won the 100 metres in style but complained that he had pulled his calf slightly. Next it was the 400 metres for me, two laps off the grass field. About ten hardy souls warmed up for the race and eyeing up the opposition, they were all younger and looked the part. The startling dynamic with this type of racing is that you generally don’t know the opposition as the amount of different visitors and subsequent Athletes changes on a yearly basis and ” Peter from Preston” or ” Brian from Bournemouth” could turn up and be a first class athlete. After this race you get the chance to assess the athletes and change your future race plans accordingly. The gun goes and I am off, I know from experience if you lead the first corner and hold your ground the other athletes are going to work hard to overtake you. I could hear the rhythmic breathing of the other runners behind me but nobody seemed close and I ran to the tape as victor. It was early in the race calendar and field events like the hammer and the iconic tossing the caber were taking place as well as Highland Dancing and Piping.
I knew that Stewart Orr from my Scottish Club Cambuslang was racing at the Games and as Stewart is a 1.53 800 metre runner and a 3.56 1500 metres that I would have to settle for 2nd place in the track events. Stewart duly appeared and beat me into 2nd place in the 1500 metres and 200 metres and I had an abject run in the 100 metres, coming 5th.
It was now Leodhais’ turn again in the hill race but he wasn’t feeling right. I led the kids out of the field and onto the hill like the Pied Piper and Leodhais went over his ankle and limped home in 4th place. He wasn’t happy with his performance and did not run again. It was at this point that I put my arm around him and said to him ” you learn more in defeat than you do in victory” and I think this will spur him on to do himself justice next year as the ankle/calf injury was initially caused by him doing zany tricks on his scooter.
Then it was the big boys hill race and young Stewart was warming up for it and amongst the buzz of runners, descending from the mist was Colin Donnelly of Cambuslang/Lochaber. Colin is one of the top hill running vets in the Country having come 5th in the Scottish Master in 2010 as well as winning the vets prize in most of the hill races he competes in.
Off we went, along a gravel path then it was through two gates and the sheer climb up heather and bracken to the first checkpoint. Climbing the hill I was not far from Colin and Stewart. We then had a sojourn through some soaking bog with the aforementioned swapping pole position. In my heart of hearts I knew that 3rd place was my destiny and did not go so crazy on the descent. Hitting sea level I felt strong again and powered through to the Games field where we had to do a 3/4 lap to finish. Stopping my watch it was 16.04 which was 25 seconds faster than my 2010 time. The distance measured 1.94 miles and my splits were 9.33 and 6.31 compared to 10.22 and 6.06 the previous year.
A good day despite the weather and God Willing we will go back next year to do it all again. I might actually not do so much track races and concentrate on getting sub 16 on the hill race.