On Saturday morning (5am!), Angela Mudge and I lined-up at the start of the Celtman Extreme Scottish Triathlon 2018. Well, along with 177 other hopefuls, it wasn’t just us two. The race is similar to an iron-distance triathlon, some legs a little shorter or longer, and takes in the fabulous landscape around Torridon. The following description from their website provides a good taste of what’s involved:
SWIM 3.4K in cold, deep and jellyfish infested Atlantic waters
BIKE 202K on incredible scenic (and often very windy) Highland roads
RUN 42K through an ancient drover’s pass and over the Beinn Eighe mountain range
ASCEND over 4000 Metres during this epic day
PUSH YOURSELF 100% and win the coveted Blue T-shirt
Some pretty photos, here. All the photos seem to be copyrighted, so not many in this post I’m afraid.
The race is akin to the famous “Norseman”, and is now part of a XTRI series with the Norseman and Swissman and…em…something else. It’s famously tough, so it’s a great achievement just to finish the race at all, but within the race there’s a smaller race for that blue t-shirt. If you make good time and arrive at the foot of Beinn Eighe within 11hours, you get to complete the final run section over Munro summits and be rewarded with a lovely blue shirt. If you don’t arrive before 11 hours then you get a white t-shirt and go a different route. The white t-shirt route is over an old drove pass instead, which is a bit lower and a bit safer, but still technical and great fun. The white t-shirt route is also the one used if conditions get too bad, like last year. While everyone is grateful to finish, people want that blue t-shirt!
Angela and I were joined by pal of the club, Jean Bowman of Lomies. She’s a hill running hero, and regular marshal at the Scottish Islands Peaks Race. She’s great! I’ve been following her training on Strava with great interest, and I’ve been feeling a bit inadequate. She’s been putting-in the miles, turning the pedals, and swimming the lengths. My training has been a little rubbish, a bit fractured and unstructured, but she’s been positive and supportive about it whenever we met. It’s probably due to her that I started the race at all. Cheers, Jean!
For me, this triathlon has a 4th element: the support crew. My preparation for the Celtman wasn’t great, and I only started looking for support the week before the event. I’d left it very late indeed. That said, I was very grateful that John Busby and John Ryan offered to help. What I lacked in specific training, I made up for with an outstanding couple of guys behind me.
The race itself proved more fun than I imagined. I started comfortably in the swim, even though the water was quite cold and loaded with jellyfish. Previously Mike Lynch and Mark Hartree prepared me for the cold water with their open water swims in “spring” (late winter), and I felt warm enough in just a wetsuit and tri-suit. I managed to dodge the jellyfish, thankfully, and also outswim hypothermia, and left the water fairly fresh compared to some others. John Busby dragged me through transition and onto the bike in quick time. Out on the open road, the Johns knew it was best to let me get settled for the next while, so went for breakfast while I smashed through the early miles. I had enough food and water, and I’d just consumed gallons of electrolyte (seawater), so I was in good shape without them. Also, I doubt they’ve fixed a puncture in their life, so I think the role of support mechanic was down to me regardless.
The early miles flew by, leading to the middle miles. No sign of the support crew. I turned to look at each passing car, but no sign of them and I was beginning to get a bit concerned. Just as I finished my last jelly baby, and just I was about to start eating my spare inner tubes, they appeared! Hurrah! Perfect timing! I slowed to climb a steep hill, they ran alongside replacing everything, swapping bottles, and jamming chocolate bars into my mouth. Ideal! This continued for the following 75 miles – around 20mins of cycling on my own, then they’d appear with more food, bottle replacements and solid encouragement. My feet didn’t leave the pedals throughout their support sections, I didn’t need to stop and lose time, they positioned themselves on slow climbs where they could do everything whilst jogging along. Amazing support!
Into the cycle-run transition (T2), where John Busby was getting ready to run with me to T2A – aka, the blue t-shirt cutoff. Unfortunately for John Ryan this meant he had to hold-up a towel while I got changed. Not a pretty sight. To stop them getting bored, I’d left a colouring book (Rare Orchids of the Southern Regions) and coloured pencils for them in the car for between support stations, so hopefully John Ryan could use that as post-trauma therapy after his ordeal of seeing me in the scud. Bless his heart.
John Busby lead me along the tracks and woods of the first section to T2A. Progress was smooth, walking uphills and jogging the rest. The route had changed since last year, and the new tracks, trails and trods are a lot more fun and a great improvement. It was good! I was passing loads of runners, and the weather was nice. However, ahead of us the skies were darkening and clag started gathering on the summits. Last year everyone was diverted along the “low route” as the weather was just too unsafe, but if you made the cutoff you still got the blue t-shirt. Back to this year, up ahead there were runners allowed up the “high route”, but with the worsening weather the marshals had called from the summits to say that people need to be diverted. John Busby carried me into T2A well within the cutoff, but the high route was closed (only by a few mins though). I would get a blue t-shirt, if I finished, but the final run-in would be different to what I was expecting. No matter, looking at both routes, I think the low route was a bit more fun and had a bit less tarmac. John Busby swapped with John Ryan for the final run section.
Behind me, Angela was fast approaching. I assumed she was already ahead of me somewhere, but it looks like she had a tough swim, so I got ahead in the swim and cycle. Angela is a quality runner so it was only a matter of time before she would catch me. Despite my pretty solid run for the first section, Angela was faster – she would be 6th fastest in the entire field for those 12miles. She arrived around 15min behind me, also making the blue cutoff and also being directed along the lower route.
Leaving T2A there were some guys in front (maybe about 6 teams), and slowly we caught them. I was running ok, just chit-chatting with John, and the miles started tumbling by. A marshal said we were the first to pass him, so that meant we were at the front of the low route runners. The route was along a nice trod, weaving along a high valley, jumping over streams, over rocks, steps, puddles. I wasn’t deliberately pushing, I was just trying to move steadily whilst taking a bit of care and enjoying it all, and making rude jokes with John to pass the time. Looking behind us up the valley, we’d made good progress and it seemed unlikely that we’d be caught, and I wasn’t particularly fussed if we were. Ahead…well, there was nobody to catch. The weather had improved, and the route seemed to get better and better. We jogged down to the road, met John Busby and we jogged home together. I’d made it!
I met Adam Ward afterwards, and he said that Angela caught a bit of cramp in the final section and that slowed her down. A great shame, as I’m sure she would’ve thumped past me. Hopefully she had a good time though. As for Jean, she set a solid pace throughout and finished in great time! I had to head home early the next day so didn’t get a chance to catch up with either, I guess that’ll be for another day!
If I can attribute me starting the race to Jean, then I’d have to say finishing the race was entirely down to John Ryan and John Busby. Their support was awesome, and utterly invaluable. Without them I wouldn’t have finished, that’s for sure. I had no fuelling plan, or any real support plan, and they just handled it all and got me through. Additionally, they kept my anxious wife updated via text, which helped my life massively! I feel very grateful that they gave up their weekend to help, and I’m truly indebted to them.
Angela in action.
Jean in action.
Jim and John taking it seriously.