The following is a copy of my club report for The Celtman Extreme Scottish Triathlon - their name not mine - which I did last weekend. The race was supposed to be a 3.8km swim followed by a 202km bike ride, followed by a 75% off-road marathon which cimbed up & down 2 Munros. On the day the swim was cut short to 3km due to the temp of the water, otherwise we did it. Anyway..............
You may be getting heartily sick of hearing about The Celtman by now, but if you could just indulge me a little longer it’ll soon be out of my system.
First of all it’s a long way to get to the race centres of Shieldaig & Torridon, it’s about 500 miles. Paris is closer & with some of the roads around the Highlands, Paris is certainly easier to get to. However, Paris does not have the breathtaking scenery, crystal clear air & warm, welcoming sense of community that wrapped itself around us for the 4 days we stayed there.
Thursday was mostly spent travelling, but we managed to get up in time to register & I even managed to meet up with some Tri-Talkers for a quick dip. The plan was to circle the wee island that our swim course would take in. This proved pretty undesirable to do. Due to the temperature of the water & the chop which left me feeling physically assaulted I was happy to get out after 20 mins. Happy, but not very encouraged.
On the Friday we drove the bike course to check out where I could be fed & look at the various transition areas. I had planned to be fed at 30, 60 & 90 miles & this wasn’t going to be a problem. There were plenty of places to collect bottles without killing too much bike speed. The big problem was looking like being the wind. At a constant 20mph & gusts of 30mph buffeting the car I was getting a bit apprehensive. I’m not a power cyclist like some of the larger units at the club & would struggle to keep my wheels on the road, never mind make progress into a head wind.
Back at the bunkhouse it was time for a big pasta lunch, lots of faffing about with kit before heading down to Torridon for the race briefing. Back to the bunkhouse, more faffing, pizza & early to bed.
It was up at 2.00am the following morning to get some malt loaf, rice pudding & coffee down before driving to Shieldaig. We made good time, only slowing down to allow stags to cross as they disdainfully glanced at us for being on their road.
At Shieldaig I had my dibber attached to my wrist & set about racking up my bike. T1 was a weirdly ethereal affair, with only around 130 competitors – at least 20 never got to the start line - & none of the typical IM euro-pop blasting out. My abiding memry of T1 will be athletes half dressed in wetsuits wandering about with midge nets over their heads. A beautiful coastal community had been transformed into a Hammeresque village of the damned.
At 4:15am we boarded one of the 3 buses & were taken to the swim start. It was here that we were told that due to “parts” of the swim course being less than 14degC the swim would be cut short & we wouldn’t be swimming around the first island & instead we would be swimming directly to Shieldaig. Frankly, having swam on the Thursday I couldn’t believe that any water other than that coming out of a tap was anywhere near 14degC. I don’t think that anyone felt cheated by this development, not even the proper cheating swimmers.
The swim was fairly uneventful. Yeah it was cold, I saw waaaaay too many jellyfish & I had a couple of nasty bouts of leg cramp, but everyone was very polite. My only disappointment was that with most of the other competitors wearing booties I couldn’t find a nice clear pair of white feet to follow. I was out in 56ish minutes – pretty much mid-pack - & mincing my way up the stony jetty to T1.
My T1 felt quick, but even with Huw to help me I took 8 mins to get my hrm belt, ss thermal top, club tri-top, bib shorts, arm/knee warmers, windproof ss jersey, socks, shoes, sunnies & helmet on….what a faffer.
The first 19 miles out of Shieldaig & Torridon towards Kinlochewe were a mad winding, single-lane roller-coaster of a ride, with that added excitement of being overtaken by the support cars as they cleared T1 & made their way along the road to catch up with their athletes. When I made it to the main road I tried to rein things in a bit & start being a bit cannier with my effort & pacing as I made my way to my first refuel at 30 miles.
Although planning to take it easy & stop for every bottle change, this went out the window now that I had my race head on. As I approached my parents car I started yelling at them for drinks & gels while getting rid of my windproof top & empty bottles. I was then off, probably without thanking them or wishing them a good morning. They’d been waiting in the midges for me since 7.00am that morning. I’m a shamefully bad son…..sorry guys.
While this was taking place, Nicola & Huw had cleared my T1 stuff – even rinsed out my wetsuit - & leapfrogged me to get a full cooked breakfast at Gairloch. I was to meet them at 60 miles for more gels & drink. This 30 miles from just before Gairloch to Badcaul is arguably the most beautiful section of the bike course as the road dropped in & out of picture postcard villages tucked between the mountains on one side & stunning coastal scenery on the other. Completely epic.
It was after picking up gels & drinks at the 60 mile point that I went through a bit of a low patch. I found the road surface a bit rough, I’d just lost my practically full bottle & I felt quite lonely. I had a strong word with myself, reasoned that I was ahead of my fuelling strategy – I had planned for an 8 hour ride - & started working on the Destitution Road climb out of Dundonnel. I was back in the game, but a hug would’ve been nice.
By the time I’d taken on my 90 mile feed I was no longer taking in the views. I was more interested in the strengthening wind & darkening clouds. The day had been remarkably calm until now. I passed my parents cheering me on at Achnasheen, kept focussed & worked hard trying to finish before the storm hit.
I almost outrode the rain, but not quite. My arrival into slightly chaotic T2 coincided with a downpour of biblical proportions. Despite this Nicola & Huw took my bike, gave me my trail shoes, rucksack & I was on my way. Never had I been so happy to start running. At 126 miles I’d never cycled so far & my biffins bridge had just about had enough. I’d caned the bike route to the best of my ability & taken 6hrs 46 minutes with an average heart rate of 146bpm…..perhaps I’d put in too much effort.
As I set out of T2 through the steep forestry section the rain eased off & I climbed the 250mtrs to the top of the Coulin Pass which would take me the 11 miles to T2A & the start of the mountain section. This was a really enjoyable section, my running felt smooth, the clouds had lifted & I was passing people, including the 2 times lady winner of Norseman, Susanne Buckenlei – whom I would trade places with throughout the rest of the race. I carried out my nutrition plan, topped up my water & arrived at T2A with a smile on my face.
Nicola & Huw had once again driven round to meet me here to give me my fell shoes & more compulsory kit in my rucksac. Huw was now to accompany me for the mountain section. My plan was to burn this section up.
Well, for the first section we did & then I hit the 3000ft railway embankment that is Benn Eighe. It soon became apparent that this would be a slog interspersed with rests. It was no good just stopping to rest, doing this my quads still throbbed. I needed to sit down. The climb was remorseless, but through the clouds I started to hear snatches of bagpipes playing & I hoped this would be from the summit of Spidean Coire nan-Clach. It was, thank God now I should be able to get some running done as we descended. Wrong! There was to be no fast descending, my quads were shot, my knees didn’t work & there was no path to descend on, just stones & boulders.....lots of them. The only silver lining was that with the cloud around us I couldn’t see the precipitous drop to the right hand side of the ridge as we made our way along to Ruadh Stac Mor
After summiting Ruadh Stac Mor we had to negotiate the scree shoot that dropped us about 300mtrs altitude in 2 mins. This was a hoot & we picked of some of the more tentative runners that had been passing us for a short while. I was now hoping that the path around Loch Coire & to T2B would finally give me some good running. Once again I was wrong. The path was more distinct, but still not runnable. Well maybe it would’ve been on any other day, but I was getting pretty knackered, had a sore stomach & I’d been throwing particularly nasty air biscuits at poor Huw for the last hour. I remedied the gastric issues by taking a minutes contemplation behind one of the many boulders & thereafter I ran what I could & bumbled when I couldn’t. Susanne finally pulled away here.
(Most of the mountain section) http://connect.garmin.com/activity/192412267
Apparently coming into T2B I didn’t look as fresh as I had entering T2A. No shit, why was that? Anyway, it was off with the hated rucksack, on with road shoes & the final 7km road section to the finish in Torridon. I was fairly determined at this point that no-one else would pass me & I would like to break 14hrs, but there were a couple of runners not too far behind. Huw said something along the lines of “You may well get caught, but there’s nothing you can do about it now.” For that I made him work an extra shift as I sheltered behind him as he ploughed through the head wind to the finish. We didn’t get passed, but I missed the 14hr target by 8 seconds. I’m sure Paul started the race early.
The organisation & locals were brilliant. Some aspects of the race may have been a bit chaotic, but that was part of the charm & bonding process that we all went through over the weekend. The only aspect of the race that I might change would be the awarding of the Blue shirts. I feel that either the cut-off should be a bit tighter or that only the first 2/3rds of the field get the chance to do the mountain section. I appreciate that Paul & Andy are probably much warmer & inclusive people than I am, but it’s a race & at the moment when everyone is made to feel special, no-one is special. Or maybe I’m just a bit of an arse.
I’ve got to thank my crew. Without them I could never have contemplated doing this race. Nicola, Huw & my Mum & Dad were there whenever I needed them & they provided me with everything I needed despite me being a spoilt wretch for large sections of the weekend. Other people may think they had the best crew. They are wrong. Team Doonhamer rocked.
I’ve also got to thank the many, many friends who have donated to Cyclists Fighting Cancer. We will get close to £700 & when we add on the gift tax this takes the total closer to £1000. My Mum & I are gobsmacked at people’s generosity. You are good, good people