The first question I had to face from friends – ‘Did I enjoy myself?’ For once this was a tough one, I was and still am, in that phase of, ‘ehhhhhh, yes of course’. I know I did enjoy myself, most physical challenges I face I do enjoy, even if it takes me a while to realise it. Rising to the challenge, personal, is what it is all about! Even a week later, I hesitate when asked this question. But I am not slow to talk of the fantastic moments along way as well as the traumatic ones . . . . . yes you will find them out also!
I did not have the best preparation in the days leading up to the race, I wasn’t mentally prepared, I hadn’t had the best physical preparation after being drop-kicked by a cold – flu bug at the end of my 100 Mile run. So on many levels I wasnt happy with myself going into this race, I allowed other things in my life to distract me. Yes, I make the same mistakes everyone does, its a learning curve and I am only human. No super hero powers . . . . . yet!Quite obviously, this is not me but Im a fan of thundercats 😉 Hmm what would I look like as a super hero. Anyway, I digress!
I was taking part in this event with my best buddy Karen, she has been training ferociously to achieve her goal of completing this event. Karen chose this event, why? wait for it . . . its brilliant – there were sections of kayaking. I wouldn’t recommend selecting your events in this way. However, unique to Karen hahaha!
Analysing the route, the kit lists, the final emails was all over. Karen and I headed up on the Friday. easy drive taking it nice and easy with plenty of stops to stretch the legs. It was a fantastic day. We arrived in Nairn, full of wonder at what we were getting ourselves into. I was full of trepidation, I was woefully unprepared, or at least felt like I was. We kept seeing the word ‘Expert’ everywhere and the burst our laughing hysterically. ‘Expert – hahahaha’, ‘OMG expert – hahahaha’, followed by ‘maybe we should tunr up at the start line and just say we were given the wrong category’. It was suddenly very REAL!
Registration was a very quick affair, but no kit checks. I was suprised as this was heavily enforced leading up to the event. It was beautiful weather and was forecast to continue over the event weekend which would place less on ??????
Once our bikes were dropped off at Cawdor Castle, literally 5 – 10 min drive away, seeing the countryside, it was going to be amazing. We should have been in bed early for our early rise but it just wasn’t happening, we were wide awake.
The morning arrived quickly, well it would when you are getting up at 430am. This was like a normal work day for Karen, I was hoping I wouldn’t get a crash in the afternoon, which would be well into the event. This was relatively unknown territory for both of us.
The start line was down at the sea, set just back on the grassy area, fantastic place to start. There was an air of excitement as everyone milled around and waited for the start talk. We headed down to the beach to get a quick pic before starting.
Then we were off with a roar, straight toward the sea with a sharp right turn. We had a short run through the town to get to the trail section. I was feeling like I was adrift of the main front group but I actually made reasonable time here, making my way up the group and finally to the point where I felt like I wasnt too far away. Underfoot it was fairly slippy with the dew of the previous night still obvious on the ground. Tree roots and large stones meant you had to be aware of where you were placing your feet otherwise you were sent stumbling, slipping and sliding, I very nearly went over my ankle but managed a hop, skip and jump to save myself. A bit early in the day for that! Concentrating on trying to stay relaxed and find my rhythm, it was going well. People were passing one gentleman who was not happy about this, ‘dont know what you are all in a rush for, we’ve still got a hundred odd miles to go’ was his statement. I simply said no-one was commenting on his pace/speed. ultimately, we each have to find our own pace, otherwise the runs doesnt feel like our own and can be more detrimental. But he wasn’t bothered about being ‘chicked’, I wasnt sure whether that was a positive statement or not.
We quickly reached the Cawdor Castle transition area with the morning mist still hanging in the air. We had a fleeting site of Cawdor Castle as we ran past, I have borrowed my mates Karen’s photos as I was saving my phone to track my progress, with no garmin 😦
My timing here was 1 hour and 1 min so actually quite happy with that, it was an absolutely melting 7 miles, very close and very warm. I took on board my first gel walking through the transition point to my bike. I took my time here to get organised and make sure everything was where I wanted it. I would say the only thing I hadn’t thought of was all the mildew overnight making everything wet. Thank god it never rained!
I was hooked up, hydration pack that is, unhooking my bike from the rails, my only thought was here we go. Well, alongside thinking about Karen, I wondered where she was for most of the day. It was walking between the bikes that I was traumatised, yes you saw it – traumatised – I mean, you really shouldn’t see these things, not this early in the morning and not at an event. I was exposed to a ‘willy/ tadger/ johnson’ – it was just THERE!! Nae shame, hinging oot! Averting my eyes I shuttled past as if it was going jump out, well you know, I was traumatised haha! I swear I kept having flashbacks throughout my race, for those that dont know me this wont have much significance but those who do, well what can I say.
Onto my first cycle section, I should have known from my attempt to get started that this wasn’t going to be my best part of the journey. Out the gate and I had to stop with kit issues, my bike bag was rubbing on the wheel. This hadn’t happened on any of my training runs, tried tightening it up and hoped that was all it was. Ensured all my suspension was locked out so ensure I could use my bike as best I could. Especially given it is a dual suspension mountain bike. I had had slimmer tyres put on the bike to help but it has to be said I felt like an elephant on a bike:
After repeated stops to try to sort my bike bag, I was frustrated but started to look around and take in the surroundings. It was on this section that I had many of my ‘WOW’ moments, all related to the stunning scenery we were passing. Actually, I was the one everyone was passing, my bike was heavy in comparison. Suprisingly, alot of folks on road bikes but simply with larger tyres, many had done the reverse to myself. No wonder they were flying past me, any time I had gained on the run, I lost on the first cycle. It was truly torture, my quads were burning, then they were on fire, the same thing you might say – I am no longer sure. Then my knee was sore, my hamstrings grew tight, I lost the feeling in my toes, although this happens often in my right leg. I tried to take in my surroundings and keep moving forwards, many guys, would check in that I was all good, chatting as they passed. Occasionally some banter would develop if you got a back and forth moment, the guys had to and could easily stop for the toilet breaks. It was fairly hilly and the pedals just never seemed light enough churning around, I mean I could walk faster but I chanted to myself ‘I WILL not walk, I will NOT walk’. So I kept driving down through my legs, one after the other, concentrating on moving forward and upward little by little. This was one looooong, big ass hill. I think alot of folks stopped at the top to ease of the legs, I was literally quivering in my shoes hahaha, never before has this happened. Over the top and on the other side was a fantastic downhill section, we passed by a beautiful loch, in the distance I spotted orange ‘thing’, I thought ‘oh, oh can this be the next transition point’, my eyes were deceiving me. I thought Rat Race had changed the colours of there signage but I could see it, I mean what else could it be?! Great big trucks/ cranes – ‘Noooooooooo’. That was a sheer moment of torture!
A lovely gentleman passing me let me know we only had about another 5-6 miles left, ‘I could do this, I can do 5 – 6 miles.’ We climbed more hills and came to another downhill section toward the transition point in Fort Augustus. I had let a wee camper van pass me going down this big hill, mistakenly thinking they would leave me well behind but, and this sickens me, I had to keep braking going downhill! Can you believe that!! Braking on a downhill section!
Boom I was already in Leg 3 with a short run and a wee kayak! Funnily enough my legs felt fine trying to run to the kayak. I had noticed as I parked my bike at the transition point that lots of folks were eating and taking their time getting organised heading back off on the bike for the second leg of the bike or to look at it another way Leg 4. The kayak was quite nice actually and I just waited for a lass to come along and join me in the kayak. Together we got round the buoys, albeit with alot of left, left, left, right, right, right . . . ahhhh shite we need to go right again. Hahahaha!
At this point my head was down and I was concentrating on keeping moving. Then I heard Karen shouting my name – amazing moment! I now knew she was doing great, such a relief. Headin gof on Leg 4 my spirits were lifted and I had just shouted to Karen, ‘Catch me up’. I was looking forward to that. My legs were much lighter, I am not sure how but I suddenly felt real good. I had eaten at the checkpoint but surely that wasn’t it?!
From here we were on alot of trail based sections, my holiday in Turkey, had fully prepped me for this type of off-road. Dry, stony underfoot. The fire was back in my belly, we cycled past amazing sites and simply beautiful areas. It really was stunning and I was faced with sections that I really had to dig deep and not allow myself to take the easy option . . . walking . . . alot of the guys who had roadbased bikes were indeed walking. No longer jesting my bike – aha! I droppped my gears and slipped into a high peddle turnover to get myself up them thar hills, loved it. The I would fire along the top flatter section full of achievement as it was one more section I had made. My pace was up, my legs were firing round and round and felt like they were finally flying – as G man would say ‘AMAZEBALLS’ – I loved it. A few fellows were sitting at the roadside eating and giving me encouragement as I drove up the hills where others couldn’t get traction, I made it, cheesing moment, hell yeah. Now I havent even mentioned the best bit, duh, duh, daaaaa! Hahaha, okay I am getting excited bare with me.
The downhills, for me anyway were fantastic, right, then left, then right again with minimal room for manoeuvering , I was getting veeeery close to the bushes and I hadnt worked out if there was solid ground right under them. Right, left, I had frequent moments of worry about Karen on this section. I really hoped she was okay! I was literally fleeing down these sections, wind in my hair, I loved it!
Finally we came out onto the road and I slowed again, very disappointing and my head went down for a bit but I laughed to myself as I recognised where I was. This was the section that Karen and I had driven to check out the route and got lost, It was here we learnt the true menaing of passing places and single route roads hahaha.
We came into Fort William, passing amazing scenery to have to deal with the traffic – ahhhhh – it wasnt great. I had completed Leg 4, amazing. I felt reasonably good I had to say but was tired and a sarcaastic comment let me know I wasnt hiding it well from a fellow racer. At this transition point, the timer went off, we were allowed 30 minutes or less. This allowed us to ensure our bike went to the correct point for collection post-race. You could also go to the toilet, essential for the ladies. Glad that I was consuming enough fluids, eat and drop off anything you didnt want to run with in your bag. I decided to run with my cycle bottle as I could fill it with a carb mix and keep the fluid in my hydration pack as plain water. Massive thanks to the guys at Run 4 It Dundee for their advice in using these mixes in my endurance events. I really think consuming this regularly had made a difference to the day as it had been hot all day and I was sweating, alot!
I got myself organised, chatted with some of the other racers. Then I headed off, I was in Leg 5, give me a big ‘Hell Yeah!’ Running along the West Highland Way (WHW), it was tough, I decided my strategy had to be walk the hills, run the downhills and flats. Underfoot was tough with rocks hurting my feet and making it really difficult to get going. I really enjoyed this section nevertheless, I had gotten some energy back again and made what seemed like good progress. I had decided to let the competitor in me come out to encourage me to push onto the next person I saw. This was good as it would have been easy to just settle into a walk. Many guys were walking either because they were tired or sore, I passed many and kept going. One foot in front of the other, the 8 mile marker was a welcome site and spurred me on even more. We turned off the WHW at a specific point and it was one tough climb to the point where we would see the loch at Glencoe, it was right there but so far away. The climb up to this point didn’t really look like much but it kept on going. Then cam ethe final downhill, I knew this was coming and I cam into my own. Downhill is where I can really open up the throttle and let go. Letting my body fly downhill, leaning into the hill, we could hear the loudspeaker of the event but I was never getting closer to it. It was a long downhill and I was surprised to feel my legs flag. The undergrowth kept pulling at my feet and ankles, then we would reach flat slate-like stones which were slippy. Other sections on the path were boggy and suctioned your feet in.
I reached the final Leg – kayak across the loch – at the same time as a gentleman called Alan. We hopped into the kayak to head across the absolutely stunning loch. The sun was glittering across the water, words are simply not enough to describe it. It took us a while to get across with both of us having issues with our hip flexors at various points. But we made it and crossed the finish line! Amazing feeling I have to say, I was greeted with ‘ You are the freshest looking racer Ive seen crossing the line.’ Not bad, bad I was not able to relax yet, where was Karen. I went for my bag which by the way seemed miles away and headed back to wait for Karen. I was never so relieved to see her appear in a kayak and complete one of the most epic events ever.
Simply amazing! I will be back to improve. A massive thanks has to go to Heal Physiotherapy (http://www.healphysiotherapy.co.uk/) for helping to ensure I was physically fit and able to complete this event.