Isle of Islay, Scotland – The weather was chilly and windy but a warm fire burned in the heart of 36-year-old Jan Thomsen as he outlasted 25-year-old Adam McLean of Scotland in Islay’s Single Malt Marathon. The victory was the first marathon win for Thomsen and it came at the expense of a young runner’s admitted “tactical error.” McLean confessed that he went out too fast, leading the older Scandinavian for the first 14 miles. As the route turned hilly on Islay’s “high road,” the experience of Thomsen paid off: he overtook the Scot at mile 24, finishing in 2:55:56, only two minutes ahead of McLean’s 2:58:04. Both runners were pleased that they broke the three-hour barrier.
Scot Karen Wallace of Balloch won the women’s division, finishing in fifth place overall with a fine 3:42:17. Ecstatic with her first marathon win, she shared her joy with her husband Cameron, who grew up on Islay. Her two sons, one aptly named William Wallace, joined in the post-marathon celebration inside the warm Ramsay Hall, adjacent to the finish line.
At 7:30 on Sunday morning, April 13, 19 brave souls began running in Islay’s first marathon, aptly named The Single Malt Marathon. Runners started at Portnahaven village hall and hugged the coastline road, affording brilliant views of Loch Indaal, moved through whitewashed seaside villages, and proceeded through moorland with glimpses of Islay’s mountains and its sea.
Mother Nature cooperated. Sort of. The force four wind came mostly on runners’ backs and the rain, infrequent as it was, failed to dampen anyone’s spirits. No one complained about the temperatures never climbing out of the 40s, ideal for running the 26.2 mile test. In fact, runners couldn’t say enough good things about the support: volunteers handing out water, gels, and sport drink. A hearty pasta dinner and plenty of good food at the finish. Many said that it was the best supported marathon they had been in.
Ivan Fields from East Kilbride, running in his 294th marathon, said it was one of the most beautiful marathons he had run. Race director Bob Kroeger, himself a veteran of over 60 marathons, called the Single Malt Marathon every bit as scenic as Maine’s Mount Desert Island Marathon, rated as America’s most scenic by ESPN magazine. How often must runners share the road with sheep and cattle?
Islay’s own Stephen Harrison, the assistant race director, running in his first marathon, finished third with a PR of 3:23:39. Frenchwoman Karine Saline finished second in the women’s division in 3:55:38 and Australian Suzanna Richards, also a first-timer, finished as third lady in 4:10:45.
Athletes from Sweden, Norway, England, Latvia, Australia, France and the USA joined many Scots to make this truly an international competition. The Islay high school students and their parents provided a fantastic pre-race pasta dinner and an equally wonderful post-marathon ceilidh. Gaelic singers, bagpipers, and highland dancers entertained, displaying their heritage proudly. Runners will cherish memories for a lifetime – all promised to share the experience with their running clubs back home.
The Lord of the Isles Challenge, the dual event combining a golf tournament and the marathon, appeared to fall on deaf ears, signaling that golfers prefer to stick to their golf and marathoners their running. The challenge drew only two contestants – both from the USA. And two senior citizens at that, proving that both sports can be combined. Bob Kroeger took first place and Les Lubitz took second. Without a doubt the conflict with Sunday’s London marathon and Augusta’s Masters kept the elites from joining us.
But it was all in good fun and for a worthy cause. The weekend raised £1000 for the high school students’ expedition to Peru and provided an estimated £4000 for Islay’s economy.