A Jura triathlon

We spent last Friday and Saturday on the wonderful island of Jura — one of our very favourite places. The island was as beautiful and warmly-welcoming as ever (though we were very sad to note the closure of the beautiful gardens at Ardfin after their recent purchase by an absentee hedge fund manager). Our pricipal reason for visiting at this time of year is that Tom likes to run the Jura Fell Race (you can read earlier accounts of this race here and here)

To those of you who aren’t hill runners, this event will probably seem pretty bonkers. It involves seven hills, eight thousand feet of ascent, and sixteen miles over some really challenging terrain – bog, boulder fields and rough quartzite scree. But if you have been to Jura, you’ll see why Tom and so many other runners return year after year: the Paps are truly fabulous hills – the sort that demand you to get out and about in them (I climbed them once myself 6 or 7 years ago, but they would definitely be too much for me in my present circumstances). They dominate the landscape of this part of the Hebrides to the extent that it is hard to take a photograph without them looming large and pap-like somewhere on the horizon.

Here they are from Port Charlotte:

From Finlaggan

And from below on the Sound of Jura, where you can really get a sense of how these giant quartzite cones seem to rise spontaneously out of the water.

Like many other places in the UK, the Hebrides have recently been enjoying some glorious weather. At 9am on race day, it was already extremely warm. Warnings about dehydration and heatstroke were added to the usual comforting remarks about the dangers of the race.

And then they were OFF!

While Tom was away facing the Paps, I had my own (small) challenge to complete. For the past month or so, I have been practising my tricycling with the aim of being strong (and safe) enough to pootle on the road up to Three-Arch Bridge to see Tom come down from the hills toward the end of the race, and then cycle back with him to the finish line at Craighouse. This is a round trip of six and a half miles on three wheels – nothing in comparison to the task Tom was engaged upon, but certainly an undertaking for someone whose wonky left side is still suffering the after-effects of a stroke and hemiplegia.

I practised my ride the day before the race and reckoned I’d be fine.

On race day, I timed my tricycling to Tom’s predicted finishing time, and happily made it to the bridge just a few minutes before he appeared off the last hill. You’ll have to take my word for it that the tiny dot in the centre of the picture is Tom (the slightly larger figure to the left is a race marshall).

And here he is coming over the stile just before the bridge.

Obviously there are no pictures of our joint journey back into Craighouse, as we were both otherwise engaged (he on foot, me on wheels). The race was really tough in the heat, but Tom completed it in 4 hours 28 minutes – his best time yet! I was also very happy to complete my own mini-challenge, and happily without attendant bog-water, blood, and bruises.

The third element of our Jura triathlon was, of course . . . swimming! It is not often that one gets a chance to do this in the sea off the Hebrides, and for me it was an opportunity not to be missed, even without a proper costume.

This was the first time I’d swum in the sea since my stroke.

And it was my first time ever swimming with a dog.

The water was clean and clear and cold and full of fish. It was really pretty amazing.

To anyone who has survived a stroke, can I say: though we may never be able to undertake a feat of endurance anything like the Jura Fell Race, small physical goals that make our wonky bodies work just a little bit harder are just as important and certainly as satisfying. Try riding a trike! Swim in the sea! I know that I feel a joy at being able to complete these physical challenges that is more intense than any sense of accomplishment I felt before my stroke. These small things — like being able to take to the water, or accompany one’s partner in the final stage of an epic race — remind me just how grateful I am to still be alive.

73 responses

  1. Gorgeous stuff as always! Every one of your posts on the Islands and Highlands push them further to the top of my holiday list. Especially in weather like that! I hope the tourist board know how much you do for them! :D

  2. This post was a total joy to read, I love the photos of you splashing about in the sea and have been enjoying all the trike pictures lately!

    I especially love the pride and pleasure you are taking in physical exercise, and I am so happy you have the tricycle, and the sea, and the dog and THE MAN to accompany you in your life and on the road to wellness.

    Huzzah for all the steps you have taken with your recovery. You always describe them as being small steps, but I think that they are MASSIVE in terms of the emotional work they involve.

    I also am glad for the articulate and generous way that you present your experiences of post-stroke self-hood here. I wonder how many others are helped by your candid, clear and inspiring account of your journey?

    Onwards and upwards, amazing Kate and thank you for writing this. x

    • This post made me so glad for you! I would venture a guess that you are way healthier than most of us! You are awesome :)

  3. Congrats on your joint venture ! You have a wonderful outlook. Did you know we ate doing a kal of rams and ewes over in three bags full test group ? Pop in and say hi.

  4. I just can say: wow! I really like this post! It really makes me feel good. (I was swimming in the Baltic sea the day before yesterday and it was great, too!!) You are some kind of hero, I do believe.

    • ..and I must – MUST – visit the Hebrides soon. You should get paid for your travel recommendations: VisitScotland is nothing compared to you :-)

  5. not such small challenges Kate-I think they are rather large-congrats to you (and Tom, of course) and again the beautiful pictures!

  6. Oh I am so in love with Jura. Well done! A cycle to the three arch bridge is no mean feat. I was in the water at inverlussa in April and my hands went blue. Brilliant! This post has cheered me right up :-))

  7. Hooray! I am so glad for you that you’ve come so far. Let me say that I cannot accomplish a six mile ride right now, and that’s without having to recover from a stroke. Three miles does me in most days, if that. Congratulations to Tom on his achievement, and congratulations to you on regaining a little more power over your own body.

    Seriously, my own physical difficulties are relatively small in comparison to recovery from a stroke, and yet I struggle on a regular basis to become more of a physical person, to better occupy my body, better learn to manage it. I fail so often. Your physical achievements are hopeful and inspiring. And not that you are obligated to be hopeful and inspiring either – I fear making your achievements something for other people – but it’s so wonderful to see. Thank you for the generosity of sharing.

  8. I got misty eyed as well, and am so happy for you. I’ve never gone swimming with a dog either, I’m sure Bruce thought it was a blast to have you in the water.

  9. Congratulations to both of you on your achievements! And kudos to Bruce for being such a great companion.

  10. Bet Bruce loved the company! That water looked delicious. Great post. I Love Love Love Islay and Jura. Jura is a special place. Very sad to hear the gardens are closed, when I went there I was in heaven. They had an honesty box there which I hadn’t seen since I was a kid, I took a pic of it I was so excited! I’m from NZ originally and they had amazing antipodean plants there, I note the bloke that bought the place is from Australia originally, let’s hope he re-opens it!

  11. I also am so glad you are alive, and conquering new challenges every day! Your posts are really inspiring!

  12. Oh Kate, yes. Yes. That last bit of your post is so true. So much of what you write in terms of recovering from your stroke resonates with me, since I had a brain tumor and now have all sorts of balance, vertigo, endurance, coordination, pain issues. I cannot ride a trike or go swimming – such are beyond me. I do sorely miss being physically active and out in the world. But there is still so much to be grateful for – raising my children chief amongst them; I am blessed to yet be living this amazing life.

  13. Way to go, Tom. And you, too, Kate, for the triking and the swimming.

    Must say, I think Bruce (Finlaggin the formal, if you will), in that 5th photo down, was looking over the wall for his race number. I am sure he would have loved the run, but at least he got a swim in.

  14. Hooray for you, Kate. I have a body damaged by RA and can no longer ride a bike. I, too, have a lovely trike and enjoy it, like you. Isn’t it great to just be out there doing stuff. Another Horray for those of us still in the game!! You go, Girl!

    • I too suffer with the ravages of RA and have two knee replacements.Problems with my hands now has me worried about my love of knitting. I was just wondering about getting a bike the other day but didn’t think I’d be able to ride . A trike sounds like a good idea,

      Wonderful, wonderful post Kate! Love the story and the pictures. Oh to swim in the beautiful ocean again!

      Wonderful
      oh and congrats to Tom too!

  15. love your stories. I am from scotland but now live in the U.S. My grandmother is from Islay and my mothers aunt was a teacher in Port Ellen Spent many happyholidays there.

  16. This post is so inspiring. You do more as a post-stroke person then some I know who have perfectly operating bodies and do nothing with them to enjoy life. Kate, your remind me in your blog to have tenacity and courage and to embrace life.

    You are plucky, just to jump into that cold water.

  17. AMEN Kate. Yes, it sucks to not be able to do what you may have done before your stroke but, maybe it gave you new vision to your life! Maybe you have more time to design? More time to cherish life. I’m sorry that your body let you down, yet somehow it became a gift to all of us that read and share in your journey. I’m so glad that you’re getting stronger everyday and take joy in the gifts that you do have. You’re a gift to my husband and I….we quickly text call or yell to each other as soon as a post comes on. So thank you for sharing and giving and I pray that the people that read your blog and delight in your amazing gifts of patterns etc. will give you strength to face your new challenge. We are with you Kate!

  18. Kate, your are a brave lass and I admire your determination and grit as they used to say in the old West. You challenge me with your knitting creativity and love of life. Congratulations to both you and Tom for completing your own parts of the race.

  19. I can only say, I happily share the depth of your joy, at achieving your goals. It is a real accomlishment that one can more easily understand the depth of, if you have overcome a physical ailment…I crushed my wrist in a car accident (and was told I would be lucky to just dress myself because of the severity of the injury)and have enjoyed with the greatest sense of accomplishment every hurdle I have overcome; that was pre-accident done with such ease. I told every Dr. that didn’t think I would improve, I would prove them all wrong as I had more knitting to do and knitting is like breathing; one cannot survive life without it. Every day I do something that took me so much work to achieve, brings with it such absolute happiness. And FYI Kate, the ‘joie de vivre’ never diminishes. Every day is a fresh one to create more joyful experiences for yourself & your Tom.

    May you have many more days/achievements to enjoy & celebrate! Well done you!!!

  20. Beautiful post Kate – you are such an inspiration, with your love for life and shining spirit…. I’m so glad you got to have that dip with Bruce and to see Tom back from the race – amazing experiences for you on that amazing isle…. thank you for the reminder that life is precious, as long as you LIVE it! xx

  21. Your courage and your positive attitude are what keep me coming back to read your blog. I think sometimes that you have such a beautiful and peaceful life and reading about it reminds me how much I’d benefit by slowing down and enjoying all that’s given to me, as you do.

  22. Congratulations to you both on your feats of physical prowess! I have long told people that I want to go to the Hebrides since a National Geographic magazine article I read as a kid; your beautiful photography gives me the arsenal I need to make my point. Thanks for that as well as for the inspiration to appreciate the value of challenging oneself.

  23. Amazing as to your push on life. I would have been scared in the water, but you have Bruce so all is good, he is a great one. Congrats to Tom as well, you both are a great source of strength and inspiration. Small Strides? I think not Kate, you are amazing…… A tower of strength and an amazing inspiration……:-)

  24. Thank you so much for your inspiration and congratulations to you and Tom. I’ll bet that Bruce would have been your flotation device if you should have needed it. I really enjoy your writings.

  25. What a life you have carved out for yourself, Tom and Bruce! So wonderful from what I imagine you saw ahead of you just two years ago. Kudos to you for all the things you have done in the face of many obstacles!

  26. Just one more person adding to the long list of folks whom you inspire. I have been recovering from a much more mild illness but it’s taking way longer than I expected, like most of a year, and I often get impatient about the things I cannot do yet. To hear you talk about your experiences, plus and minus, with such honesty touches my heart deeply. It inspires me that no matter what happens to us, there is always a way to move forward and find the beautiful things in life. Thank you thank you.

  27. Congrats and many more, you are definitely moving ahead, what an accomplishment. Love what you are doing and the blog from the dogs point of view.

  28. You guys are just so amazing. And that last picture makes me want to dive in the sea with you and Bruce! Looks incredibly refreshing.

  29. What a lovely weekend you had. Thanks for sharing. I am always amazed with the vigour you pursue your life Kate, pre- and post-stroke. And Jura is such a wonderful place. I spent a lovely, sunny afternoon wandering the Jura House Gardens with my mum two and a half years ago. It was so peaceful. My mum grew up on Islay and had never been, so it was wonderful to share that with her. Keep up the adventuring!

  30. What a great weekend, and how fabulous to be swimming in the sea – life-affirming in every way, if chilly – but who cares about that? Congratulations!

    (I’ve done the swimming with a dog thing, only the dog in question spent her time running up and down in the shallows and barking, then went to sit with some complete strangers and their picnic. Does Bruce give lessons in how to be a proper swimming companion?)

  31. I just love reading your posts, especially the ones with such wonderful scenery and details of Tom’s latest exploits. After running quite a few trail races, I have just started to progress and have a go at a few fell races … they are quite daunting..so I have great admiration for Tom. I also have great admiration for you …the way you continue to progress physically .. you are an inspiration to us all.

    Fleur xx

  32. Oh, what a wonderful post today…. so moving to read…. I used to love swimming with my previous dog, Rupert, he wouldn’t stop though and just kept on swimming out to sea! I bet you all slept a very contented sleep that night too…..

  33. As always a great post, wonderful photos and great words. You seem to put it all into perspective and encourage us all stroke or no stroke to get out the door!

  34. What a truly uplifting and inspiring post! I have an autistic son and whilst he hasn’t had a stroke, he does struggle with his physical body. Sometimes “it just won’t do what I want Mum” is heard and then I know it’s time to head for the pool!!! Swimming is such a relief for him – being weightless, being buoyant and not having to support himself. I’ve always loved the water but when I see him floating about in it, I know that it’s one of our planet’s most magical elements. Enjoy …… xxx

  35. Joy in life Kate is the best medicine, beyond what we have been given by the scientific community. Congrats to you Tom and Bruce, personal bests rule!

  36. Hi, I also ride a trike, but haven’t been able to take it travelling, does yours fold? If so can you manage this or does Tom do the heavy stuff? Everyone else has made all the happy comments so I say ditto! Life is great even when we have been ill. D

  37. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your posts of the stunning Hebrides, and the great Jura Fell Race ! I can’t even grasp running up 8K elevation feet. Nope, my brain smokes everytime I go beyond 2K which is where I live, and use to merely cycle up, thinking that was a big deal. Apparently not !!!! Your posting more on your days here and there, not-necessarily-to-do-with-knitting days, like your former posts, are just a joy to read.

  38. Ah, those paps! I tore the a*se out of my trousers coming down one of those a few years ago. Jura is a great place – especially when the weather is fabulous. I remember that my husband also swam in the sea on that trip – at the end of April. Great to hear you enjoyed your dip!

  39. Ohhh you write so beautifully, your pictures are just so wonderful and the story is even better. I have enjoyed your post tremendously and also the one about Bruce and I always love reading you. Congratulations on your biking, swiming and enjoying your life. You are special!!!

  40. I really look forward to your blog posts and love the photos you post… i checked out the Jura race and would love to participate myself someday….. maybe ,,,who knows… Thank you! Karen

  41. You are amazing! Please keep blogging as you constantly remind me of what can be achieved with determination & a creative mind.
    Thanks Jo

  42. Swimming in the sea is just one of the most amazing and delightful things in the world. I am very happy for you that you had this opportunity and were able to do this.
    Your post also made me a little homesick – I usually spend a week or so in the Hebrides around this time of the year (or a bit later in June, around midsummer), but I’m not sure I’ll make it this year, due to a lack of free time and money. I had tried to convince myself that it was not a big deal, that I can always go another time, but now I’m hearing the waves and the wind and the corncrakes in my head… my own favourite island is Tiree, but I also like Jura and Islay a lot. Now you have inspired me to try and find a way to go there this summer after all.

  43. I completely agree that it is not the chllenge that you undertake that matters but that you undertake it with enthusiasm and good grace. I am hoping to run the whole of the Race for Life 5km in a couple of weeks which will be the furthest I have ever run. I face no particular difficulties other than 3-pregnancy induced lack of fitness and a pathalogical loathing of running. If I succeed I will be over the moon!

  44. What a beautiful post. Like so many other leaving comments, I teared up reading about your victorious trike ride and the post-ride swim. You are utterly inspirational, Kate. Thanks so much for sharing.

  45. HEY KATE – so great to see you out and about in SCOTLAND’S outdoors that you love , and with TOM – he is totally a ‘mad runner ‘ LOL’- pretty amazing what he does , what pleasure it must give him

  46. YaY Kate! Thank you for sharing your journey with all of us. I’m among those who got misty-eyed from your post. Sometimes the trying and difficult- especially overcoming them-help us realize just how amazing and beautiful the simple things in life are. Keep on trikin’ (a play on the American saying “keep on truckin'” in case you weren’t familiar with it).

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