SIPR 2011 - Tales from the Front Line
Sam Hesling

There is something strangely addictive about this event. Despite the hardship and suffering endured on previous outings, notwithstanding last years sunbathing epic, the boat race has sat in the calender as an epic spring-to-summer transition for me since this time last year. Why the allure? What does this event have which others don't? Hopefully some of this will become clear...

Last year I jumped at the opportunity for a place on Blue Chip, a 28ft Tri, which I ran with David Riach. We had an awesome time under cloudless skies, but unfortunately the race came to a premature end for us when we were forced to abandon before the Mull of Kintyre due to a distinct lack of wind, and a requirement for us all to be at work on the Monday morning. I was invited back onto Blue Chip for this years race and given the opportunity to choose a running partner. Given my total lack of navigational confidence I cast around a few folks who had previously competed and who's navigational knowledge I knew would see us round, but to no avail. Then one day it occurred to me that a prospective running partner was staring me in the face, quite literally while on the train heading to Inverness to reccy the Strathpuffer course, and after a bit of banter Tom and I decided to hook up for the SIPR adventure...

Winter 2010-2011 was defined by a big step up in training for me in preparation for the Strathpuffer and the 2011 running season. Post 'puffer I had my eyes set on three milestones. First the Highlander Mountain Marathon with Andy - which was an amazing event and one to savor forever. Second came the Yorkshire Three Peaks - an experience which was pretty much ruined by an ITB flare up reducing the descents to misery and forcing a walk down from the last hill and on to the finish. Third was the Boat Race, that strangely addictive event that crams in 60 miles of running over four courses, and a massive adventure out on the open waves between each.

After the customary mad dash kit scramble everything was set. The train from Glasgow to Oban was stowed out with runners and duffel bags full of running gear and seasickness pills. We were met by the Blue Chip crew in Oban, and after a swift drink (strictly soft drinks for the runners!) it was time to get some kip in the B&B.

Friday morning dawned to sunshine and showers. And what looked like quite a lot of wind. We quickly dispatched with the kit check, dumped our stuff on the boat and headed to Tesco (along with everyone else who was competing!) for supplies. After clearing the shelves of malt loaf and just about every sugary snack bar imaginable it was time to head back to the boat house and get set for run number 1, a mad dash of about 5 miles around the southern edge of Oban. And we were off !! Joe and Jethro shot into the lead and Tom and I tucked in behind in second. Everything went well until we reached the gully which takes runners from the woods and back out onto the road. In my previous two boat race outings I had always overshot this and gone straight over the style before being called back so I was ready for it this time. "We go left here" I shouted to Tom who was a couple of paces in front, but for some reason there was a ticker tape marker on the style and one beyond it too, so we carried on only to catch Joe and Jethro who were about 20 yards ahead and also looking confused... So without further waiting we jumped the fence and made a mad scramble down a steep bank before rejoining the race route and almost colliding with Don and Dan. The six of us practically crossed the line together and we headed for the slip - life jackets on - and were rowed out to the waiting Blue Chip.

We were blown at a fantastic speed up to Salen, with the crew battling to hang on to Obedient the "Big Cat" (catamaran) which was better suited to the windy conditions. We ended up about 10 or 15 mins behind and after a row to shore and kit check Tom and I sped off. We dispatched the tarmac and track at a heady "trans alp" pace set by Tom and we were soon over the burn and climbing. I took over in front and lead us up and around the scree, up the ridge and on to the top of the hill. We had glimpsed Don Naylor and Dan Gay and had timed them to be around 9 mins ahead close to the summit of Ben More. Checkpoint 3 was dispatched in quick time and we romped around the coire headwall to cp4 before heading straight down the grassy slope to the valley below.

I looked over to my right and thought he was a goner. Tom had flown head first into a burn and my first thoughts were that of summoning an air ambulance. No sooner had the thought hit the grey matter than he sprang up and we were on our way again, saved by a water bottle which took the full force of the fall. I had my own "rather uncomfortable" moment when my right leg disappeared into a bog, an action which must have passed by my calf muscle by as it fired under no load and sent quivers of agony down my leg and into my foot. Luckily this receded quickly and we found ourselves running back out along the track. It was awesome seeing other runners coming towards us and getting fleeting banter, most of which was "they (Don and Dan) are only a minute ahead!". We finally caught a glimpse of them on the track and a couple of times on the public road and finished up pretty close behind them back in Salen.

" What is the fastest time you think you can do this in Sam" the Blue Chip crew had asked ... "3 hours 40 mins - no quicker" I had replied. In actual fact we had done 3.29 and my miscalculation meant that our boat was still on the other side of the bay. They were soon over to the slip though and we were picked up and whisked off towards Jura.

SIPR lesson number 1: As soon as you finish one run get your bag packed for the next (courtesy of Chris Upson). Do it, no matter how tired you are after your effort this one action is worth it's weight in gold as everything is an order of magnitude more difficult after you have been sailing for a long time, no matter how effective the sea sickness pills are.

Sea sickness pills are amazing. While they don't eliminate all of the discomfort they make spending time hunkered down on a rocking and rolling boat more bearable. The sail down to Jura was passed with eyes closed trying in vain to doze off. My head was swimming with "how on earth do I navigate Jura in the dark" thoughts, I was really quite nervous, my navigation has let me down in the past and I didn't want to let the crew or Tom down. I tried visualising the route and reminded myself to stay calm.

SIPR lesson number 2: when on Jura in the dark stay calm, very calm...

I was already panicking. My nav had lead us into dense gorse by the cemetery which I pretty much had to tear a path through to get out onto the hill. Several miles and deep breaths later, despite the driving rain and sodden ground, I'd kept my cool and had us bang on track for the first Pap. Just as we were getting to the top it was getting light and the cloud cleared for a moment allowing me to memorise a bearing back off the top and off to the left to reach the checkpoint between Paps 1 and 2. The slippery rocks were slow going on the descent but we made it down in good time, through the checkpoint and onto Pap 2. Again the nav worked and before I knew it we were crawling on hands and knees in winds which threatened to pick us up and hurl us off Pap 3. Through the CP on top and down the scree, down, down, down, down, all the way to the stepping stones.


I was burnt out with spent nervous energy and so Tom took the lead and dragged me down the road section back to Craighouse, I was redlining the whole way and was utterly shot by the time we reached the slipway where the dinghy was waiting...

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... I had thought I imagined glimpsing a pair of runners heading down the slipway and being rowed out when we were about half a mile from Craighouse. When we got closer we could see that Obedient was still in the bay and we had pretty much caught Don and Dan. Blue Chip was back in the race.

Our boat sped off after the Big Cat and from what I could gather we were pretty much neck and neck. This party of the journey was rough and we were being battered pretty hard down below as the boat challenge the heaving sea. With an almighty lurch the Tri started going over, Tom looked terrified, there was stuff flying everywhere down below, Steven (the skipper) made a dive across the deck and released a sail, wow that was close ... ... ... the next few hours passed in an eyes closed daze. When I came too it was apparent that a sail had ripped and we had lost time on Obedient going round The Mull. We were still, however, surfing the waves nicely towards Arran making awesome speed.



We knew we couldn't catch them. The friendly faces in Lamlash informed us that Don and Dan were some 1 hour 45 in front. Determined to get another good run time in we sped off. I was shot to bits by now and Tom took the lead for the whole run. Only by breaking down each section was I able to tick off milestones one at a time. Only halfway up Goatfell did some energy return and I was able to kick back in and climb at a decent pace. Hill checkpoints were ticked off and we flew back down the hill and onto the golf course. Another semi-bonk from me had Tom shouting words of encouragement and I wound up for the run home.

SIPR lesson number 3: Always shout words of encouragement to your racing partner when they look like they are toasted.


Further shouts of encouragement from Willie and the all rounders winners helped, as did high fives with Kate and Craig. The top of the final hill, at last, and a cruise back down through the fields to Lamlash. Finished, in more ways than one.

I'd love to have known what happened on the sail to Troon but after downing a yoghurt and half a bowl of pasta I passed out in my sleeping bag. The next thing I knew Steven was trying to wake me up, apparently I'd been talking away quite happily about my Dad in my sleep and hadn't realised that we had landed in Troon. Our race was over.

Although it sometimes felt like an eternity at times the race was all over in the ridiculous time of about 34 1/2 hours. Steven's wife Lindsay kindly picked us up and we went back to Stevens place just outside Glasgow and were home about 1am ish. WOW - breakfast was awesome - bacon, sausage, egg, pancakes, black pudding, haggis and toast, orange juice and tea, mushrooms, beans, potato scones, tomatoes.


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