Hell’s Hop 2016: A weaterh to remember

Mark Cohen is sharing with us his experience at the first edition of Hell’s Hop, a swimrun in the Hebrides off the north west coast of Scotland.

I registered for Hell’s Hop, then told my mate Alan Kennedy I had signed us up! The prospect of racing in Eriskay and Uist was very exciting. It’s wild and remote.

We realised how wild and remote as soon as we left Glasgow airport. The plane to Barra, lands on the beach, if the weather’s ok! We then caught the last ferry to Eriskay before the ferries were cancelled for the rest of the day due to the crazy wind and rain. Some competitors never made it to the start line as they couldn’t get to the island. Some arrived just in the nick of time on the morning of the race.

JumpingAs we sat in the pub the day before the race, the 100 km an hour winds and rain battered the place. We were slightly sceptical if there would actually be a race.

Race day and the weather had dried up, but there were still 30-40 mile an hour winds. We were due to start the race by jumping off an old tall sailing ship. The giant swell as we left the harbour was mental. There were more than a few people feeling queasy!

We jumped into the water. Epic waves and swell. This was wild swimming not for the faint hearted. Without the safety blanket of some fast ribs and kayakers, you would never have entertained swimming. Several people puked in the water …

Mark CohenI was buzzing, totally in my element. The swimmers scattered in the water immediately. Al and I swam together at a good pace and never lost sight of each other despite not being attached by a bungee cord.

We made it to the shore totally excited with huge grins on our faces. There were still teams in the water…. We weren’t last!

There were some tough runs on beaches , rocky hills, trails, roads. We had amazing views of a very barren landscape. We only went off piste once, losing about 20-30 minutes! We both decked it a few times in the giant bogs we ran through.

Hell's Hop beach runThe other sea swims were as crazy as the first. Giant swells and big waves. The local fishermen later told us they never went out  in their boats as the swell was ‘fucking mental’ and couldn’t believe we were swimming. Cal Mac kindly delayed the ferry to Eriskay by half an hour to accommodate the race.

We eventually finished in a time of just over 8 hours. A long time for Al to put up with my pish chat. The fact we finished was even more remarkable considering Al had cracked some ribs at Rockman. Also given the quality of the field, with Celtman, Norseman, Ötillö and Rockman finishers, we weren’t even last!

Hell's Hop 2016Hats off to Paul McGreal and Dirty Events who organised this. It took real balls given the weather to even start the race. This was real adventure.

If you choose to do Hell’s Hop next year, my biggest tip is you need to practice swimming in the sea. It’ll make a huge difference. We’ll go back to Hell’s Hop next year to defend our ‘over 40’s cafe owner’s title’ 😉

Text: Mark Cohen