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Itera Scotland 2019 – part 3

Foot stage:

24.7km trek / 8h55 / finish time 15:55 Thursday

A bit of a false start to this stage as we set off down the road the wrong way – transition wasn’t marked on the map in quite the right place!! That’s our story anyway, and we’re sticking to it.

We finally set off up the right path, with me still munching my breakfast and Chloe managing a lot of ankle pain. At transition we had been given information that teams were taking 3h to get to the rafting from the start of the kayak. Andrea and Jon had calculated that if we could just motor this trek, taking opportunities to jog the flats and downhills, we had a chance of making it after all.

The first part of the final trek had some incredible views, including this waterfall

We got into a rhythm, being smoother and helping each other with snacks and drinks and kit adjustments to minimise stopping time. Although this was the stage we had targeted for doing the long course over the Five Sisters of Kintail, we were again short course, but the route here did not lack spectacular views. The path was easy going and we made good time.

As we had to head off-piste it got harder, but I was on fire. I powered up past the waterfall with Andrea and was springing ahead on the downhill to find the best path for Chloe and Jon, whose ankle was also now sore. I thought we might make the rafting after all, and expected the second half to be easier.

As we crossed the road past the Cluanie Inn it felt we passed into a different stage. Andrea and Chloe were able to speed walk whilst Jon lagged behind and me somewhere in between. I tried everything I thought I could to get us back together and moving at a better pace. Near the first ‘top’ Chloe needed to stop and change her socks before she got blisters from the accumulating grit inside. She wanted us to go ahead and she would catch us, but we refused.

I was hopping about on the inside, worrying about the time and sensing it just slipping through our fingers. But I did not want to snap or stress anyone out. Andrea took some of Jon’s kit and we got moving again. But now we had to either go the long way up a bit more hill and further on a path, or cut across.

We followed a team taking the direct line, through peat hags and rough ground, down to a river that proved too deep to wade. As we walked along a bit we were about to decide to stuff it and swim, when the other team found a spot to wade only up to mid thigh level 🙂

The path when we re-joined it was good. The weather had turned glorious. I wanted to run down the other side but could not cajole this out of everyone. As we got to the road, we walked when we needed to run. Chloe’s partner appeared on his motorbike to say hello. It was emotional for her.

It was just before 16:00. The guy in transition told us people were making it to the rafting from kayak put-in in about 3.5h and we might just do it. We got out fairly quickly, though not as fast as the team that arrived with us. We walked down to the river when we perhaps could have jogged. We faffed about getting in and setting off.

Trying to get ready fast at final transition to kayak

Kayak stage:

2.8km total portage / 1h35
6.2km walk / 2h15
26.5km total kayak / 5h / finish 04:20 Friday

Although we were going down a river now, this part wasn’t straightforward either. There were some mini rapids – we nearly came out on the first set but got a lot better at coordinating and steering through the second! Unfortunately there was some more portage where Andrea and I were working our hardest to get through whilst the tendons in my wrist complained loudly and Jon and Chloe struggled.

Back on the water I was asking Andrea “where is the urgency in the other boat?”. She had no answer. We decided to offer a tow, but it was refused; ‘we are keeping up fine’. On the roller coaster of emotions I was now dejected as I knew we would not make it, our speed was just not there. We soft paddled and kept together as we made our way along Loch Garry, with Chloe and Jon falling asleep and hitting each other with their paddles.

As we neared the end of the loch everyone was hallucinating as it got gloomy. The trees formed strange animals and carvings and it was hard to keep our eyes open. I’m not sure we had warned Chloe enough about this!!

Jon suddenly came alive saying we might just make it, but we couldn’t. We arrived at 20:26 – 26 minutes too late.

Later, on the way home, I spoke to Chloe about this. It turned out she wasn’t aware of the urgency – she thought we were home and dry and there was no rush. She also believed they were keeping up, not realising we were waiting. Clearly something had gone wrong with communications and I went over this a thousand times after the race. I take responsibility for not getting us there in time. You could lose 26 minutes anywhere – the nav error on the bike for one. But I also felt I should have understood what was happening better and either found a way to keep everyone motivated and focused or established a shared agreement to give up on it. Learn and move on!

Missing the rafting prompted a slight hypothermic meltdown in Chloe. This was caused by a combination of being wet, tired, not moving, the disappointment of missing the rafting and then being told we had to walk 5km and wait until 90 minutes were up before we could continue. It was all too much and she ended up inside the bivvy bag with Jon, putting on every item of dry clothing she had. Whilst Jon and Andrea looked after Chloe, I shivered and got the kayaks ready for transport. Thanks to the marshals here for helping, and the team who provided some hot water.

Finally we set off, trudging into the dark in search of food in Invergarry. Unfortunately, Invergarry is not a hot bed of food options and by the time we arrived just after 22:00 and stumbled into the pub, we were greeted by a barman who declared he could give us tea and crisps, but he was shutting up in 20 minutes just in case we thought we might fall asleep in the corner. A team arriving after us were given equally short thrift as they had takeaway teas shoved in their hands and were told to leave.

We made the most of what we had, then decided we had to sleep. As luck would have it, we found a road bridge over the path where it was dry with a smoothish surface. We got into pairs into two bivvy bags, set the alarms for 20 minutes (or not) and went to sleep.

As I spooned Chloe I was violently shaking with cold. I was still in my shorty wetsuit, still damp. I became aware of Jon and Andrea talking about it being time to get up. This was just about my worst moment of the race. I really had no notion of whether I was asleep or awake, and kept looking at my watch, unable to decipher what it was telling me. I got my bag back together and trailed behind in a daze as we made our way back to the water.

It turned out later that Andrea’s watch had misted up so she couldn’t see it properly setting the alarm, and I had managed to set the timer for 20h instead of 20 minutes 😮 . We had slept for an hour and a half.

The rest of the kayak was an uneventful paddle down to and along the Caledonian Canal. Chloe taught us some crazy round involving fish and chips and vinegar, dustbins and bottles of beer, which we executed very badly. After a couple of ‘easy’ exits and portage round the locks, we arrived in Fort Augustus and gladly abandoned the kayaks for the last time!

In transition we had a nice corner spot. I found my second of three ticks of the race attached near my eye … and we assembled our bikes ready to go. It was late in the race and despite any rules, people seemed to be sleeping where they fell on the paths outside the door.

Episode 4 – Official Film

Bike stage:

61.7km / biking / 6h25 / finish 13:50 Thursday

Despite faffing with lights, the darkness had lifted by the time we got away. This stage was actually the best mountain biking we had done all race and one of my favourite legs.

I was keeping an eye on navigation in the woods as we followed the ‘Great Glen Way’. At some point we ended up on the high walker’s route, which added a climb and some technicality. On a normal day it would be my preferred option, but I’m not sure it was what we needed at that moment!

I think at this point we were all a bit tired and fractious and were not riding harmoniously. We stopped for 30 minutes of kip somewhere, and again for our first café 30km from the end. The wasps were out in force and we did not hang around, thanks to some speedy service.

The final descent was one to savour, swooping down from high ground it went on and on and was a delight to ride. It landed us in the centre of Inverness, where we negotiated the crowds through the final few hundred metres on a section we had checked out before we left. I’m glad we did as we could weave our way directly to the finish line.

We were greeted by race directors with medals and miniature whisky from Glenmorangie. Jonny was there to do some facebook live videos and make sure we got some pictures! We all made our way over to eat pizza and relax over a meal for the first time in five days…

Episode 5 – Official Film


On reflection, this race was not as straightforward ‘fun’ as the one I did in Wales. The rafting deadline loomed large all race and we were under pressure to make the short course, with no room to correct for any miscalculations. It was so disappointing to miss it anyway after all that focus! To play to my own strengths and favoured sports I’d have loved more mountain biking and less portaging 😉

Team dynamics were also very different, with somewhat more conflict and less cohesion. However, racing with that little sleep under such difficult conditions isn’t exactly conducive to harmonious socialising. Everyone laboured under different hardships ranging from sore throats, diarrhoea all race (!), swollen ankles, blistered mouths and feet and who knows what else.

Having said all that, we resolved any issues and made it to the finish line together. We did really well, finishing 12th overall thanks in large part to our early strategic decisions. I learnt a lot and we achieved a lot, though it is still hard to take it all in! Some of the places on the trek stages were incredible and it is amazing to think how crazy some of the race was and what we went through with those kayaks. An unforgettable experience!

For my own part I was delighted to escape with ‘normal’ 5 day race swelling, a single blister and sore tendons in one wrist. All subsided quickly. Worse, was picking up a probable flu virus a week after finishing, which I still haven’t been able to completely shake! The race reminded me how much I do like adventure racing after several years of swimrun focus. Maybe I should look for another one to do … 😉

Many thanks to John Ovenden and support from Lochland Runner, to our live social media updaters Andy and Jonny, everyone who sent us motivational trail mail, the race organisers under Open Adventure banner James, Tom and Paul plus a special one from me to my physio Graham who over the last 10 months somehow helped me rehab my hamstring tendon sufficiently to take part with no pain.

Finally, thanks to my teammates Jon, Andrea and Chloe for being up for going on such an epic journey!

If you like numbers, this is how our race shaped up in totals – distances, times – yes, there is a spreadsheet! You can see our route here, just select our team on the right.

Finish line photo

If you missed part 1 – it’s here! And part 2 – here!

Photo credits to Chloe (team photographer!), Rob Howard from Sleepmonsters and Photogractif. Team videos by Jonny Collins.

Itera Scotland 2019 – part 2

Foot stage:

13km trek / 8h45
2h sleep
26km trek / 10h36 / finish stage 16:50 Wednesday

And so we set off up our first big mountain. Everyone was tackling An Teallach. I haven’t been there before, but it turns out it is big, scrambly and has vertiginously steep sides! We were keen to make the most of remaining daylight. As we ascended it got windier and colder. Soon I was wearing all of my clothes save one emergency thermal jacket, including my waterproof trousers. I also had my first ‘moment’ as I felt woozy and incapable of climbing a mountain. This time handing over some kit to packhorse Andrea and taking a couple of gels worked wonders.

It got dark and then Chloe had her ‘moment’, finding the exposure bringing back some difficult memories. We pulled together and made slow but steady progress until we were onto the boulder field, clambering down to the track to the bothy everyone had spotted on the map earlier. We hadn’t slept for about 45h by this point and tempers frayed a bit as we all badly needed some rest. I was worried we would find the place full, but there was only one way to find out.

It was indeed busy, but we found space on the wooden floor and crashed out for 2h, with Chloe opting to brave any midges in the more spacious outside quarters 😀 .

Up we got and we decided to go for at least one of the long course controls. It wasn’t significant extra distance, though it was significant extra climb. It was also intriguingly named ‘tennis court’ and I am a sucker for funny place names.

We were all somewhat muted to start. I was slow as we ascended and also stopped to put protective gaffer tape on hot spots developing on my feet. I wasn’t up for blisters like those I experienced during UTS… There was some ‘debate’ about which way to get to the top, slightly confused by some hints we got at a briefing. In the end, Andrea took off up a gully, with Jon chasing after to check it out and Chloe and I gingerly bringing up the rear. I was afraid of scree or scrambling at the top, and as it was we were holding onto grass as we climbed. Not the most secure, but it was OK in the end.

As you will see later, going for this control was possibly a strategic mistake in terms of race position. However, it was also one of the most memorable and amazing parts of the course that we did – so this time I am happy that we got to experience this regardless. The ridge walk was incredible, and the ‘tennis court’ itself looked like someone had just come and sliced the top off the mountain.

One of my favourite pictures – on the ridge with tennis court second blob along in front of us

On the descent I came alive a bit and even ran. Or maybe jogged. Further down the views of the river cutting through Gleann Bianasdail creating swirling rock formations with waterfalls and pools looked very inviting. I’d like to go back to that and explore. The beauty was only marred as my ‘usual blister’ underneath my little toe burst causing every step to be agony for a while.

After negotiating ‘paths not on the map’ and a slightly sarcastic comment to another team about my ability to identify a graveyard (sorry), we finally arrived in Kinlochewe.

Rachel doing a grand job at midge central, checking we were all in the tent for the required time

This was the first time we had access to our tent at a vaguely sensible time for sleeping, and we had to put it up and stay in it for 20 minutes anyway. We got ourselves ready for the next stage then all clambered in for a couple of hours kip. I wondered if we should have more, or less? But it was too complicated to think. As the rain hammered on the roof, and a French team swore at the midges outside, we drifted off. Not the best sleep, but we needed it.

Stones on the beach as we rejoin a path

Episode 2 – Official Film

Bike stage:

69.3km / biking / 7h40 / finish 05:10 Thursday

We set off just after 21:30 in the dark. It was now obligatory for us to short course this stage. Before we started we had hoped to do more than this here, sketching out a couple of different options. But course changes and our slow speed meant it wouldn’t have been sensible anyway.

After leaving all the map reading to Chloe and Jon on the foot stage, it was my turn again. I confidently took the first turning, with Andrea stopping to check the map. As we waited for her to catch back up she appeared, a bit shaken from a fall as she had tried to adjust her lights. We were all tired.

Peering at the map, I had in mind ‘just follow the double track alongside the loch for about 5km’. I was trying to prove myself by navigating swiftly and keep us moving. Mistake. We passed a junction and hesitated. ‘It says cycle trails this way’ someone said … and I pushed on as that was just a footpath and we wanted the track, right? We were going up and up in a forest and it didn’t feel right. But I stubbornly carried on, not wanting to faff about. As the distance came up, we emerged from the forest. I looked properly at the map and immediately realised my error. We should have taken the path ARGH.

Jon went to investigate a possible joining path and we dithered, eventually turning back on ourselves. I thought it would be quicker just to descend at high speed to the junction, but the team were lagging behind. My adrenaline and drive to fix this was not matched! As I agitated I was annoyed with myself – not a mistake I’d have made in the daylight, and quite costly, maybe half an hour.

It was slow going along the path and I was now doubting myself about where to look for the right turn. Then there came a horrible noise from my bike. Clank! Clank! I stopped, turned the pedals. Clank! Clank! I spun the wheel without the pedals. Clank! Clank! It seemed to come from my bottom bracket but the wheel was the only bit turning. Chloe and Jon came to help – concluding it must be a disaster with my hub. Then we suddenly spotted an extremely large nail embedded in my tyre and hitting the chainstay on every revolution …

We got it out, and Chloe put her thumb on the hissing hole. By the time Jon produced a magic bung gun it had sealed, but we whopped it in anyway. With much relief we were on our way.

Nav was tricky and now I was very careful. There were many paths not marked on the map but once we got onto the Coulin Pass it was straightforward and easy going. I had run this in the opposite direction many years ago on Celtman! But remembered little!

At some point it started raining. And then it was like riding under a shower head. We were on a road by now, and my new coat did an admirable job of keeping me dry, but it was still a bit epic. Near Strathcarron we happened upon a pub with umbrellas outside. We stopped to get extra layers on, but the lady who ran it waved us inside. She had already closed and hadn’t heard about the race before a team stopped to talk to her, but was encouraging us all to make use of the toilets and the back room to warm up and change. What a lovely lady!

Shortly, we were back ascending on a fire road before going over a high point on a rough track. I was feeling optimistic because it was all downhill back to a road from here, and despite being rocky and muddy it was mostly rideable. We went in pairs; Jon and I going ahead a bit, then watching the lights of Chloe and Andrea catching us before we set off again.

The riding came to an abrupt end however, as the path got narrower and harder going. We were forced to walk again, tripping and stumbling as we pushed our bikes on through the dark.

We had made a calculation of how much time we needed from the end of the next trek to get to the rafting on time. We thought a generous 5-6h, and by calculating backwards as we stood on that dark wet hillside, I knew we needed to be starting the next trek right about now…

When we emerged on the road all somewhat the worse for wear, we felt the need for a team hug before we could get moving again. About 10 seconds later Chloe’s light went flat (she was having a nightmare with batteries all race!) but we swapped things around to get us all legal and going again.

Second castle of the race, looking splendid

More road, pausing at Eilean Donan castle and quickly locating the control by looking closely at the map and reading the description instead of heading straight to the castle (we had seen a team searching there for a long time…)

Next transition was difficult. It was now light, but raining, and we weren’t allowed indoors with our kit bags. We dismantled the bikes outside first. I found a seat clamp on the floor and asked the team if it was one of ours. “No!” said everyone. I wasn’t so sure. Jon and I checked – it fitted Chloe’s bike perfectly, it was next to her box … we quietly put it back on and headed indoors.

Teams were getting crotchety with each other as bags were moved and they rummaged around in them. I had to go back and forth for things I forgot first time, and despite instructions I am sure some people were using the showers in the toilets as I queued for an age just to relieve myself.

Before long though, we were ready to set off again on foot for the final trek.

If you want to go straight to part 3 – it’s here! If you missed part 1 – it’s here!

Photo credits to Chloe (team photographer!), Rob Howard from Sleepmonsters and Photogractif

Episode 3 – official film

Itera Scotland 2019 – part 1

It has taken me a while to start this report – to let the race sink in and to get over the dreaded lurgy sufficiently to have energy to write!

We were number 26, Team Lochland Runner – Andrea, Chloe, Jon and myself. We started the week well by managing to arrive in Inverness only 5 minutes apart. I had come up with Chloe and we had chatted the whole way, making wild guesses about what the course might hold in store.

The weekend was spent registering, getting maps, going to briefings, planning, sorting out kit and most importantly – eating! Pizza! Tensions did rise a bit as we fully grasped the scale of the kayaking element relative to everything else (though we had been warned) and there was a bit of drama when all our buoyancy aids failed the ‘test’. Luckily, we were 4 of many and plans were put in place to hire some out to us.

As we pored over the maps and route book a couple of key things became apparent. There were time cut offs for both a canyoning stage on Tuesday afternoon and a rafting stage at 8pm on Thursday. Both carried significant time penalties and we wanted to make them both. The rest of the race was planned around this, using the information given about likely leg times and our own experience to estimate what we thought we could do. Our plan was always to short course, but we did hope to do some of the long course options such as extra biking near Applecross and the Five Sisters trek.

After an early alarm on Monday morning, we all found ourselves on coaches heading for Dunrobin castle. It was a slightly midgey and cool wait with some confusion over the actual start time. Oh, just me? OK then!!

Episode 0 – official film

Run and kayak stage:

5.1km run / 35 minutes / finish 09:05 Monday
19.4km paddle / 3h25 / finish 12:45 Monday

The 5km run through beautiful woods and a gorge got us nicely warmed up before we jumped in the kayaks for our first taste of the sea – this time on the east coast. We were headed for Glenmorangie Distillery. The journey was fairly uneventful, apart from our first experiences with the right-veering kayaks. I developed some sort of combination of right sweep strokes and missing left strokes to keep us vaguely on course.

Bike stage:

77.7km / 4h35 / finish 18:10 Monday

We had decided right from the beginning to do all of this leg short course. The only temptation to go longer was the fact that this would mean we were riding on roads most of the way to the next transition. Pleasant, quiet, low traffic roads; but tarmac all the same. Our rationale was that we needed time in hand to get through the next kayak stage and make it to the canyoning before the cut off.

We shot off like hares, and Chloe had to get us back on track at a more sensible pace.

Transition was a bit chaotic as we had arrived earlier than expected and the marshals hadn’t quite got a system sorted. We had beaten the first long course team in, but they were gone before you could say ‘that was fast’. As it was, I got a shock to the system as Andrea whipped us all into transition shape and we were in and out a lot faster than I had experienced in similar races. She’s raced with some top teams though, and deemed us too slow! We had a lot of information to take in before we could leave, with course changes to the kayaking adding in more distance and extra portage in order to keep us nearer the mainland in forecast strong winds.

Kayak stage:

18km total portage / 9h
46.1km total kayak / 11h10 / finish 15:55 Tuesday

We paddled off on a loch heading west into a glorious sunset. The scenery was magnificent. Although adventure racing novice Chloe was pondering whether she liked ‘AR’ yet due to the lack of adventurous biking so far, she did have to admit that as we stopped for the first portage in the dark and rain, that this wasn’t an experience she’d have had otherwise…

The changes meant this leg was going to take longer than planned. There was an optional run up Suilven which we had originally considered, but we decided now it was best to press on and make use of any time saved later in the race. Doing this plus the short course bike turned out to be a kayak-leg saver, though we didn’t know it at the time.

Snack and water bottle refills in the dark and rain on the delightful road portage, somewhere on the west coast

The first portage was only a taster of what was to come. A we inched towards the coast, we lugged a pair of 30kg kayaks, plus portage trolleys and kit over rough rocky ground in the dark and rain. We were being careful not to drag them. At times we were ferrying the kit separately in relay, with all four of us coming back to carry each boat the next section and trying not to twist our ankles on boulders or to disappear thigh deep in bog as we staggered blindly forward. When we could, we used leashes attached to the front, Andrea and I pulling our boat like shire horses over the heather. As some of the long course teams overtook us we took note of their technique …

When we reached the road it was bliss to put the kayaks on their trolleys and roll them along. In no time it seemed we were getting back in. We had half hoped for a sleep but we were wet and the two of us without dry suits got cold very quickly as soon as we stopped moving (and this was despite me wearing a shorty wetsuit). We got back in, quite literally for me as I lost my footing and was dunked, seeing my paddle nearly disappear down the river.

Finally we were back on the sea, now all the way across the country and on the west coast. This was near the Summer Isles; apparently a mecca for paddlers, but we couldn’t see anything except the dark hulks of land mass and the occasional shooting star.

Taking the risk of heading to the spot where the strobe light of a team in front had disappeared, we landed safely at the next headland, only to be greeted by a new form of portage hell. We couldn’t make progress over the bushes, so opted for the river. As it we ascended it progressed from merely rocky to mini rapids that I wouldn’t want to walk up, even without a kayak in tow. We had to anchor ourselves on rocks and haul them up in stages. We eventually gave up, clambered out on the other side and were lucky to find a path where the going was ‘easier’ before hitting the road at Achnahaird, scene of some of my childhood holidays.

It was not over yet though!

Another long sea crossing awaited. Although we could now see the various islands, we were being battered by the wind and waves. The boast continuously turned right, which was getting tedious. Our instructions were to head to within 100m of Isle Martin where a boat might indicate the turning point. I was facing a mutiny as the team got cold and fed up seeing us paddle past the place we were heading to on the other shore before we could turn and go back up.

AJ and I haul a kayak up a hill with no path. This was the portage that broke the camel’s (or our) back!

Crossing the ferry line at our best estimate of a right angle, we neared the far shore and turned straight into the wind and tide. I was only focused on our landing spot when Andrea announced we weren’t moving anywhere. “It’s just perspective”, I said. I was wrong. We decided after another 15 minutes of fruitless paddling to head straight into the shore and see if we could walk along. Even getting there took an humongous effort and I started to panic. When we arrived we were faced with large unwalkable boulders. We considered taking a penalty if needed and getting the boats straight onto the bottom of the track marked on the map. We were desperate. But the wind suddenly dropped, the white horses disappeared and we leapt back in to paddle round the shoreline and say hello to some waiting cows.

Jon demonstrates solo portage style. See how far away the sea is?

Only to face even worse portage hell!! We must have only been in purgatory before! Where did they find this stuff? This time there were rocks, it was steep and it took all 4 of us to climb the first section. Then it was heather and uneven ground up a hill, as we dragged and swore. I practically threw ours over the fence at the top. Well, ‘threw’ is an exaggeration. We bumped down the other side for what should have been an easy downwind paddle to transition, but was a race against time to get to the new canyoning cut off (though it had subsequently been extended). It didn’t feel easy. And I still couldn’t steer us in a straight line.

After some face pulling and head shaking at Paul, a hug from James stopped some close tears from me and we were so glad to abandon those boats…

Many of the following teams got stuck close to where we did and were transported by coach from Ullapool incurring a hefty time penalty. Our choice to short course early and get through the kayaking combined with a bit of weather luck had bumped us up the standings.


We all wriggled into full wetsuits and headed up the hill for a fun interlude of canyoning, including a jump which had preyed on Andrea’s mind, an abseil down a waterfall and another where we dropped into a pool off the bottom of a rope and something I forget the name of but involved not quite whizzing down a wire and having to pull yourself over with the danger of getting your hands munched! I battered myself here and there on the way down but it was refreshing.

Me abseiling the waterfall. Quite cool.

The transition was the best of the whole race – a great big barn with loads of space and places to sit 🙂

We had to be out before the time cut off if we wanted to consider any of the long course. As it turned out it might have been better race-wise if we had had this choice imposed on us, but we didn’t and I am not renowned for my cautiousness!

And so we set off on foot into the dying embers of day 2 (Tuesday).

If you want to go straight to part 2 – it’s here!

Photo credits to Chloe (team photographer!), Rob Howard from Sleepmonsters and Photogractif

Episode 1 – official film


Team Lochland Runner – Itera Top Tips

Team Lochland Runner all got together for a training weekend recently. Included on the itinerary were sharing our top tips for expedition adventure racing and planning our strategy! Chloe is new to expedition events, but we have all been in different types of races and can always learn from each other.

I thought I’d share these in case you’re interested in the kinds of things we’re thinking about, or are looking for inspiration! Let us know if you have any questions or other top tips you would share 🙂


This is one we talked about many times! I for one like to know where the next meal is coming from and don’t go anywhere without snacks. However, in an expedition race you have to think about what will keep well in your kit bag for a week and make sure there are savoury items on the menu. We may also need to take opportunities that present themselves on the way. We’re just concerned about how well-endowed the race route will be with handy cafes! Since finding hidden cafe gems is one of my special skills, I will have to make sure I don’t spend the pre-race weekend researching detours …

With me being vegetarian and Chloe vegan, it is an extra challenge to think of good ideas and this is still a work in progress. Knowing that hot water is usually available in transition, some of our savoury ideas so far are:

Instant noodles, instant mashed potato, cup a soup, couscous, rice cakes, oatcakes with peanut butter, meals from Tentmeals, Firepot and Summit to Eat (I can vouch for at least one of these being very edible…), German rye bread, flavoured cooked rice pouches…

Sweet things are easier as we can use gels and bars and energy drinks in moderation. Lochland Runner are also helping us out here with Born products. Variety will be key!


… or more specifically, blister prevention!! Everyone has their own theories on this. Our consensus seemed to be:

  • Get shoes and socks off feet quickly in transition to let them air
  • Have crocs or similar to wear in transition
  • Either talc them or moisturise them
  • Treat hotspots quickly en route with either Compeed or gaffer tape
  • Avoid woolly socks (I find tight fitting, quick drying compression socks work well)
  • Stay hydrated
  • Have a spare pair of running shoes to change pressure points
  • Take sterilised scalpel blades and wipes to burst any big blisters that do appear…

Jon gets his feet up and has a power nap – an essential adventure racing skill


Our discussion about this was more general, as we have to use what we are comfortable in and have tested well. Ideas we shared were:

  • Take shoes for paddling, especially if there is any portage or walking involved (which we now know there will be!)
  • Take two different pairs of shoes for running. If one pair are a bit bigger it can help with swollen feet later in the race
  • Expect to be cold … colder than you expect! The effects of tiredness, night time and low food intake will all affect how warm we feel. I am still surprised how many of the photos from the race in Wales feature trousers and waterproofs …
  • Have spare brake pads for your specific brakes
  • Have enough battery power for your lights
  • Pre-pack food into bags that will last about one stage so you can just take one out in transition
  • Have a heavy duty waterproof bag to shove your backpack in and strap down on paddling stages
  • Pre pack clothing into clear, labelled bags like short sleeves, long sleeves, shorts, trousers
  • Pack as much as you need in transition bag, but no more! The more you have to rummage through or choose between, the longer transitions will take
  • A tick remover per team is essential – they just love the damp Scottish heather and bracken. You need to keep checking and get them out within 24h to minimise risk of Lyme’s disease
  • Caffeine tablets of some kind might come in handy as you pull your fourth all-nighter in a row!
  • Take lip balm, you will not regret it


Well … I obviously can’t reveal too much here, it’s top secret 😀

However, my advice is to definitely discuss this and make sure everyone has the same idea about what you’re trying to achieve. You also need to be realistic about your collective abilities and what to expect from the course so that you can make smart decisions. Although you can’t predict what will happen, having a basic fall back plan and common goals will help make decision making easier.

I’d say things to think about include:

  • Any aims for finishing position in the field
  • Long course / short course
  • How much sleep to expect, when and where
  • Pacing and degree of ambition for different stages
  • Towing and kit distribution
  • Navigators (lead / back up and in different disciplines)
  • Transition process (what order to change, eat, sleep), including ‘checkout’
  • Team roles

Finally, always keep an eye on the details and don’t forget about your hairdo – no washing for a week with plenty of rain, sweat and river or sea water mixed in! I always go super short – I’d better go and get booked in for a cut 🙂

Itera 2019 Team Introduction

This year my main race will be Itera Expedition race in Scotland in early August. It’s for a team of 4 and we’ll be on the move for 5 days, trekking, mountain biking, kayaking and possible other modes of transport or activity that have yet to be revealed! Here’s a wee introduction to our team and our thoughts about the race.

Team Name: Team Lochland Runner

Team Members: Rosemary Byde, Jon Ellis, Andrea Davison, Chloe Rafferty

Team Information:

We are supported by Lochland Runner, who supply innovative brands for sports like trail running, swimrun, OCR, and orienteeering.

I raced with Jon in Itera Wales – but one of our team members was Paul McGreal who is otherwise occupied this time round (he’s one of the organisers)! Andrea is an Open Adventure regular, has expedition race experience and is making her comeback. Chloe is our secret weapon … she runs events company LoveSwimRun, lives in North Wales and can often be seen out in the mountains biking, climbing, running or swimming.

The most important thing in forming our team was making sure we had similar goals and expectations and that we all have a similar ethos and approach to working together. We’ll be putting that to the test with a training weekend later in June 🙂

Special team skills include engineering, mountain leading, sewing, an obsession with detail, a love of maps and more than one person trained in optimising solutions to problems! As the race goes on, I am sure we will discover many more talents amongst us.

Personalised team map buffs! Can’t think of anything much cooler than that.

Why did we choose to do this and what are our expectations of the race / Scotland?

The Scottish highlands are a wild and beautiful place and we all want to experience more of it. We know we are going to the perfect location for an epic adventure that Paul, Tom, James and the team are sure to deliver.  The anticipation and excitement are already growing.

Whilst the rest of us have done similar races before, this is Chloe’s first time. She’s alternately terrified and excited and can’t wait to race as part of a team. Although the effects of sleep deprivation and how to stay fuelled as a vegan are on her mind, she has been primed for special ‘visual effects’ (sleepmonsters) and someone has promised to carry emergency flapjack supplies 😉

Even though it is the first week of the new school year, Andrea is making her expedition race comeback before she gets ‘too old’! Sleep is on her mind too, as she doesn’t want to miss out on the memories.

However, Jon and I clearly remember the fun, camaraderie and amazing landscapes we moved through last time and nothing was going to stop us entering again …

We’re all relishing the challenge and anticipating the sense of achievement we’ll get from doing the event. We’re going to be pushing ourselves and it has been the motivation for some of us to increase our training, pick up new skills or reacquaint ourselves with old ones. I for one know that whilst I still soldier on with hamstring rehab for running, my mountain bike is seeing significantly more action than recent swimrun years have afforded!

Our expectations are that we will finish mid pack. The most important things are for us to work hard, help each other, make the most of our collective abilities and never stop trying until we get to the finish line!

Finally, one person has already mentioned the dreaded ‘M’ word … we’re all hoping that we’ll be moving too fast for any midges to catch us for breakfast!

Testing out buff and making sure it was one of ‘mine’!

Itera 2014 Part 5: Friday

Day 5 Schematic

Day 5 schematic

You can read about previous days here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4
The overall view of our race is here.

Stage 9: Trek (Talybont-on-Usk to Ponteneddfechan)

Great views

Great views

All our best stages came in a row. This was one we unanimously voted for as a favourite. We started at 2:30 am and even though we were climbing, we were soon feeling cold. We stopped to put on an extra layer. Ten minutes later, we stopped to put on lots of extra layers! We were moving really well though.

Reaching the ridgeline, we could make out the dark looming shapes of the Brecon Beacons.  I recognised it from an old black and white aerial photograph that hung in our house when I was a child. As the sun rose, everything was slowly revealed. There were mists swirling around us, which made the whole scene even more atmospheric.

On the descents, my feet were getting sore but were still manageable. I think Jon was towing me a bit, but I only remember this from looking at the photos! We almost missed a control by accident when we turned the map over, as the tops all look very similar (on the map and in real life). Seeing two sets of teams in front of us going different ways made us double check. It turned out that the team who initially finished third did actually this mistake – meaning they were relegated to 7th.

We were excited to meet the crazy Swede with his helicopter camera, swooping around as we walked. We even gave the event photographer (James) the chance for some good shots as we went the wrong way up a ridge! I was then on the tow behind Sam, who declared herself ‘full of beans’. We raced down to a road, where I was extremely grateful for a toilet and teams were congregating at a burger van. This was a descent I actually enjoyed. Despite sore toes and heels, being behind Sam as we barrelled down was a load of laughs!

We just had one more hill between us and the final run into the transition.

Unfortunately this section was more arduous than we had expected. By now the sun was really hot, and we had to strip off all those extra clothes and carry them instead. Paul was having ‘a moment’ rather like mine in the woods on the second trek. We stopped for a while for him to gather himself, as he was feeling dizzy and tired. We switched Sam’s tow from me to Paul and made better progress, though now I had trouble keeping up!

Off the hills, and we had a watery walk through a cave system. Sam was unimpressed because it was too easy! But I liked the little break in proceedings and Paul enjoyed the effect welly boots full of icy cold water had on his feet. Afterwards, I felt pretty rough; my legs and feet were complaining.

As we plodded on we got to some woods where there were two controls to find. The path to the first one was initially unclear. Jon ran ahead and I had a grump standing waiting for what felt like forever for him to come back (it had been a long day!). However, he did ascertain that it was definitely the right way, which was a good thing, as we had to pick our way over rocks on a steep downhill and I wouldn’t want to have done that for nothing. I felt (and probably looked) decrepit! The final trek control was behind a waterfall that I used to visit as a child. It was not as I remember though, now teeming with tourists enjoying the spectacle.

The last part of the trek seemed to go on and on and on. There were lots of teams around for quick chats though, which broke up the monotony. Finally in transition, I saw Andy again but was feeling weary and unenthusiastic. I unwrapped the last slice of banana bread I had made exactly a week before. It had lasted well, but this piece had cobwebby mould growing all over it. Eurgggh!! I had eaten a slice just a few hours before in the dark, when I couldn’t see such delights. Makes me feel a bit queasy, though there were no ill effects 😀 .

We were all now pleased that we just had ‘one easy bike stage’ to go ….

Stage 9: Trek (Ponteneddfechan to Cardiff)

Finish line!

Finish line!

There had been some last minute route changes to the start of this stage, which we were given in transition. They involved a long draggy road climb, then a bridleway which deteriorated in quality as it went up, so that we ended up pushing. I could tell I was getting increasingly incompetent. ‘Just riding a bike’ is very easy to do, but now normally simple things became hard – like starting off, and riding in a straight line!

At the first point we had to stop, I realised I would need to burst the blisters on the outsides of my heels. The action of unclipping pushed on them perfectly! Jon’s skills came to the fore again, as he produced sterile scalpel blades, wipes and sticky plasters. I was given a lesson in how to do it, and when we got moving again it was many times more comfortable. I was profusely grateful and expressed my surprise.  But he just said ‘well, we all have to get to the end’ … I am sure he was quietly prepared for many an eventuality, had we needed it.

After the difficult bits we were onto some speedy forest roads. But the light was fading fast and we still needed to keep an eye on the navigation. I knew when we reached the start of the Taff Trail it ought to be consistently downhill, but we had to get there first.

This was taking longer and was harder than we had all imagined. Morale was dipping. After all the fun of the last few days, this felt like a bit of an anti-climax. I think as with other stages, how you found it depended on when you got there and how you were feeling at the time. Lucy from the 2nd placed team (Haglofs-Silva) were racing for position in daylight when they did it. She told me it was actually rather pleasant.

I concentrated on making sure we went the right way whilst keeping chatting and looking for the positives. Once on the Taff Trail it was ‘just’ a case of following the Sustrans route 8 signs and not missing the castle.

However, in some ways this was one of the scariest parts of the race. By the time we finished, we had gone the last 42 hours with just a 40 minute sleep break. Paul was getting strange swirling visual effects and Jon was swerving as he almost nodded off. We all imagined we had a 5th team member – who or where they were, no-one knew. On the long tarmaced off-road sections, with my light illuminating a tunnel in front of me, and the trees seeming to close in overhead, I felt like I was going into a trance. Never have I been so grateful for trail obstructions like gates and bars, as they kept us awake! I also deliberately let myself get slightly too cold for comfort – another good staying awake strategy.

Sam had entertained us with her singing all week. I am not a good singer at all, but felt free to join in 🙂 . We attempted to get Jon and Paul to ask for jukebox requests, but didn’t get very far. Hmm, I wonder why not? Instead, we used Sam’s great conversation skills to wake Jon back up again.

Getting through Pontypridd was a bit of a nightmare. Music blared from somewhere and seemed to follow us around from every angle. We looked out for the little 8s and twisted and turned through the streets. Eventually we saw the signs the other side of a large fence – but how to get there? Just follow the signs away, round the pavement on a roundabout, and on to who-knows-where, but we still had the 8s. We went past teenagers who yelled at us and offered beers. We think.

Getting to the castle was exciting, though it needed Sam and Jon to point out the control that Paul and I walked straight past. Now the end felt close … more route sign spotting (hey, I’m good at this!) and we were in Cardiff. Hurrah! We just had to do an extra 10km back round the loop of the prologue before we could finish.

At the start of the day, we had aimed for an 8-9pm end and it was now nearly 2am. The ride down had been slower than I felt it should / could have been under normal circumstances, but it was a success for us just to make it all there together and in one piece. Another team rushed past as we finished (the first we had seen since very near the start of the stage), so we slowed to let them go ahead.

Finally, there was the finish line! We parked our bikes and ran, I mean, walked, across together. It was all a bit strange as we weren’t on an adrenaline high, just exhausted. We ordered Dominos pizza and waited for the shuttle mini bus. Back in our accommodation at the university, I literally feel asleep as my head hit the pillow. Sweet dreams!




We got on brilliantly as a team and were generally well matched for speed. We discussed our options and agreed our strategy, even if on reflection it might not have been perfect (it never is!). With a little more ambition earlier on, we could perhaps have done a bit more. Our transitions would make a top team wince and we spent rather too long in some café stops. The results show our first half the race was off the pace, but that we finished very strongly (which had been our plan, after all). We were 20th short course team over the first half of the race but 9th over the second half (6 more teams were on long course). We finished 12th short course team, making us 18th overall. Our goal was to be in the top 20, so we achieved that!

I would also say that we had a lot of fun. We were never going to make the long course and, although we wanted to do ourselves justice, we also allowed ourselves time to enjoy the journey.

From a personal perspective there were a few things I was really pleased about. I was much better on the foot stages than two years ago. The onset of severe discomfort was very much delayed! I am still not a great descender, but there have been definite improvements. I am good at paying attention to (and remembering) detail, which helped in all the briefings, when we went through the maps and for various updates throughout the race. I also felt I brought something useful to the team when I led us through some of the night stages on the bike, keeping alert to where we were going and helping to make sure the team supported each other and stayed safe and positive.

I had never met Sam before, but she was fantastic to have in the team, always cheerful, positive and full of energy. Paul held a consistent pace, navigated on the run and curbed any of my over-ambitious tendencies! Jon was ‘back-up’ navigator throughout the whole race, but was often doing the job full time. He fixed up bikes and us when needed and could still run at the end. We loved getting all your trail mail – so thanks for sending it in! Thanks also to all the organisers (especially James and Tom), photographers (James Kirby, Andy Kirkland, Eddie Winthorpe) and volunteers for making it such a great race!


Itera 2014 Part 4: Thursday

Day 4 Schematic

Day 4 schematic

If you missed the previous stages, you can read about them here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.
The overall view of our race is here.

Stage 7: Paddle (Glasbury to Bredwardine via Hay-on-Wye)

It's like poetry in motion

It’s like poetry in motion

This was actually a fairly uneventful stage for us. We negotiated the slightly tricky bits with only a minor incident – Paul and I got grounded on some rocks! After he got out and pushed the boat around a bit we were able to set off again, without leaving him behind … In Hay-on-Wye (book town, and just before the border of our English sojourn) we said hello to Andy again and used a very old map to collect control points. We stopped at a promising looking café, dripping wet. Luckily Sam and I had kept our buoyancy aids on for warmth. Paul hadn’t though, and was getting very cold. We don’t seem to pick cafés well, as this one took an age to serve our food, much to our impatience (especially Sam’s).

Then we paddled and paddled until we got to the final optimistic ‘get out’. This one was so unlikely we needed ropes to help haul the boats out.

Jon has a reputation for being good at fixing stuff up. I didn’t realise this also extended to people. He was the only one in the group who had thought to bring lip balm, and by this stage we were all stealing it off him at every opportunity. I am not sure how, but here I seemed to get almost half a stick on my face and was left wondering how I could save a chunk for later 😀

We were all pretty cheerful and the marshals commented on what a good state we were in, which only made us feel even better!

Stage 8: Bike (Bredwardine to Talybont-on-Usk)

We had some spectacular riding round these hills

We had some spectacular riding round these hills

After persuading the naturally-conservative Paul that we were going for some more extra bike controls we set off up a steep road hill. From day 1 there had been evidence of the ‘arrow club’. Paul and I were definitely in. Jon was definitely out and Sam hovered on the sidelines. The arrow club applies on road climbs of a certain grade … but if I told you how to get in, it would be breaking the rules.

What followed was another of my favourite parts of the race. First there was good fortune. As we finished the road climb towards a mast, we saw the man with the TV camera. And just at that point, a double rainbow appeared! What luck, and a reward for the rain shower! As we rode past he got a few good shots – and if that doesn’t make the opening credits, nothing will.

A little further on Sam had a mechanical issue which I thought would scupper us. Her front brakes made a terrible noise. Now, Jon the fixer was immediately inspecting it, and he found that her brake pads had worn out. Sam was fuming, as she had asked the bike shop to put new ones in while she was away (she had only been back in the country a few days before the race). We rode on with Sam on back brake only and us shouting out when we slowed for bends. To her credit, she did the rest of this stage and all of the final one with only one brake, and you’d hardly have been able to tell the difference.

Paul took advantage of the pause in proceedings to invent a new bike clothing accessory. A T-shirt was folded and stuffed down his shorts to act as an extra cushion for his bruised derrière. Apparently it worked; at least, he was happy!

We rode over a grassy field that turned into some lovely tracks crossing the border just as the sun was low and golden in the sky. As we got to control number 52, the views were breathtaking. I certainly felt a tear in my eye, I was so happy and taken in by it all. It was magical. Paul and Sam felt similarly. We asked Jon, surely you feel something? He replied “well, I suppose it is quite a nice view” !! So, with three of us on a high, we trundled around collecting all the controls that were still in play for this stage. I wondered if some extra up and down on the roads would have been faster, but we were having fun on the bridleways. We came across a box marked ‘cold drinks, donations to mountain rescue’. Some of us tucked in!

Again we finished in the dark, but came into transition buzzing. James (event director) seemed a bit bemused as we raved on about what an amazing stage it had been.

The end seemed almost in sight now. At least, we could comprehend what we had left: a trek and a bike.

We popped the tent back up but limited ourselves to 40 minutes sleep. None of us wanted to wake up after that, but we did and were soon setting out into the cold night air.

Itera Build Up

Rosemary, Paul, Sam, Jon

Rosemary, Paul, Sam, Jon

As regular readers of my blog might have noticed, I have been getting ready to do my biggest race of the year; the Itera. This is a 5 day adventure race going from top to bottom of Wales in a team of 4. We’ll be kayaking, “running” (more likely, trekking!), mountain biking and probably a few other exciting things along the way. Maximum total distance is 660km with 18,000m of ascent. There are short course options though, which we’re likely to end up taking one or two of. We are called ‘team tentel’. Tentel are a new start up telecommunications company run by cool people who like adventure racing! They sponsored us to get some matching kit, for which we also got a discount from Outside Edge  in Oban.

In the winter, the race seemed a long way away. I found, and wholeheartedly adopted, a great method of taking my mind of what was coming up. This was to enter lots of other races, as I can only concentrate on the next thing coming up and not much further! Some people have asked me if I have done anything different with my training. Well, I changed the type of races I entered (almost no short, fast stuff) and did less interval work and more longer distance things. But I also distracted myself with longer triathlons and the open water swim a couple of weeks ago. If you’re busy thinking ‘when and where can I swim outside again next?’ then you don’t worry so much about ‘how will I last more than 24 hours, let alone 5 days?’.

April and May were good months for mountain biking, when I deliberately entered events such as the Selkirk MTB marathon and three of us got together for an overnight mountain bike / bivvy ride. In the last few months I have panicked slightly about my lack of time spent on foot in the hills. But over June and July I did get out for 5 longer sessions (3 were races!). I don’t normally spend any time kayaking. This isn’t because I don’t like it, but for more practical reasons. Like, where would I keep a kayak? And how would I get it anywhere? I like to tell myself that doing plenty of swimming is good substitute training, as it’s sort of the same arm action … who knows if this is true, but I have a good time all the same! And I have generally done remarkably well on kayak sections in races. All things considered.

My team mates for this race are Paul McGreal, Jon Ellis and Sam Rose. I raced with Paul in a similar event (the Terrex) two years ago. We were still talking to each other at the end of it and he enjoyed himself enough to want to do it again. With a team of two we set about persuading Jon that he really wanted to race with us. I have competed with Jon a couple of times before, but many years ago when we didn’t really know each other. We’ve kept in touch and met up quite a few times since then though. He has loads of expedition event experience and did very well at the Terrex last year with his ‘last minute’ team. When he finally gave in to our pestering, we were three and only needed one more.

Luck would have it that at this point Sam emailed Jon asking if he knew any teams she could join. With a mutual friend’s endorsement (thanks Elizabeth!) we thought she’d be a good match. As soon as we said ‘join us’, she hesitated! Having spent 8 months off work travelling the world, she seemed unsure of her fitness. However, having heard tales such as these, I am feeling confident of her ability and suitability for our team. In fact, she may well be the one waiting for all of us!

“I raced for two days on a broken ankle last time”

“We hunted out Koh Si Chang Island’s only kayak yesterday, which was a 100 year old sit on top and paddled it round the bay for a couple of hours until it sunk”

“I’ve spent the day being kicked to condition my muscles and crawling down steep stone steps head first on hands and feet”

“This week was three days kayaking in the Marlborough sounds and yesterday I biked the queen Charlotte track”

“I’m currently cycling back from Italy to try and get miles in my legs”

Emails are all I’ve had to get to know Sam, as we won’t meet until Friday evening before the race begins. However, this hasn’t been my biggest concern at all! In fact, much more stressful has been trying to organise and coordinate kit requirements, social media and logistics. All made much more difficult by the fact that I lost internet access at a critical time and have been offline for over a week! Many thanks to the various friends who have let me squat at their houses using their facilities (Robert, Hayley, Vicky, Glen). Apart from all that, this week’s training has mostly revolved around getting plenty of sleep and eating good food – kale pizza saved for my last night at home!

I am confident that once we start, I will enjoy it. Before that we have a prologue to do on Saturday (10km run round Cardiff bay, with a white water boating thing in the middle) and much planning and kit re-packing and organising once we get the route maps at registration. Then we will be ‘whisked’ up to Caernarfon on Sunday for an 8am start on Saturday. When I say whisked, I mean we will crawl up north on a 5 hour coach journey with the promise of selected DVDs to entertain us. Hmm!

My dad lives just 20 minutes drive from the start, but won’t be there to wave us off! (he’s away for the weekend). However, it does mean I’m relatively familiar with the area I expect we’ll be in for the first couple of days. We’ve been given an idea of how many stages there are and their length and height gain, but no other clues as to where we’re going. I love to play ‘guess the route’, even if it is only speculation and probably a waste of energy. For me though, it’s part of the fun! I have something in mind for the first 5 ½ stages, but then my knowledge of Wales gets a bit too hazy! One of the pictures in the montage gives you an idea just for the record, but only if I’m right. If I’m wrong, then it’s just a pretty picture. I have made sure to maximise the number of castles en route, so it’s a good one even if it’s not the right one 🙂 .

What seems fairly certain is that we will spend some time paddling round the north coast of Wales, go on a big mountain trek in Snowdonia, paddle again and do a long bike ride across the middle of Wales to get us back down south for some fun on the Brecon Beacons. I might spend half the week saying ‘oh, I’ve been here before’ as we cross and join either the routes from the Trans Wales event I did a few years ago, or my Cardiff-Holyhead Sustrans cycle tour from even further back.

I expect to be providing some blog updates as the race progresses. They won’t be posted here, but on the live race website here. This is also the place where you can track our progress against other teams or leave messages of support. If you’re on facebook you can also like our public team page here. We’re hoping to be able to publish a few updates about how we are. Since we are not allowed access to things like phones, these will come from our supporters interpreting the maps and reading between the blog lines for you, and from my boyfriend, who is working as a volunteer / marshal for the week.

The field for the race is truly international. This is fantastic. It does mean we don’t really have a clue how well we might do. Out of 36 teams I have estimated that top 20 would be an achievement, anything higher a bonus. Before that though, even finishing together still smiling and full of tall tales of derring-do and adventure will make it all worthwhile.

See you all on the other side!

Let's play "guess the route"!

Let’s play “guess the route”!

Selkirk mountain bike weekend: Part 2 = SMBO 3h score orienteering

After 6 hours of hilly, off road riding on Saturday, I woke up from a good sleep on Sunday morning. The sun was shining and I was ready for more!

What I had in store was a 3 hour MTB score orienteering event. As I had been ‘staying with the organisers’ I knew they had worked hard to make sure the control checkpoints were accurately placed and marked on the map, and they had done a lot of pre-riding. I was looking forward to a good event.

Home, sweet home for the weekend (my palace is the yellow one)

Home, sweet home for the weekend (my palace is the yellow one)

I was joining forces with Jon, who is one of my teammates for the 5 day expedition race in August, called Itera. We haven’t raced together for 3 years though we’ve shared a few long car journeys since then! The map was printed on A3 paper, which is quite large and means you need to refold once or twice during the race. This was because it was on a 1:25k scale. This is a bit unusual for MTB events, but definitely necessary for navigating the intricate maze of tracks on the Bowhill estate.

As usual (for me), we set off at the latest possible time. 200m later we made a slight mistake, but hoped that would be our only navigation error for the day! It was soon righted, and we find ourselves riding along a fun trail through the trees alongside the river. The controls came quickly enough as we skirted round the edge of Bowhill, picking out a route that was easiest to follow.

Navigate this!

Navigate this!

My legs were complaining a bit from the day before, and I gratefully tucked in behind Jon as we rode into a headwind. I knew I could carry on like this if we didn’t go any faster, of if my legs didn’t get any worse, but I was slightly worried I might not keep up 🙂 .

After about an hour, we paused to consider our options. Time was passing faster than we had hoped and it was quickly becoming obvious we wouldn’t be able to get everything. In the end we stuck to the plan, looping round to the back of a big hill with controls worth lots of points at the top. Our alternative route still had all the climb in it, so it seemed best to carry on via the most number of controls.

In retrospect, this took a bit longer than expected, but was definitely worth it for the views! Up by a gigantic cairn, we could see for miles and miles all around. The route up had all been entirely rideable and was quite rewarding. From there, we passed a milestone with a control attached to it and started a fabulous fast descent back to the forest. We got straight to the highest scoring control of the day, in a small quarry in the middle of all the criss-crossing tracks. Getting out was a little bit trickier, but we escaped without incident!

One of the views from the cairn.  Copyright Jim Barton, from

One of the views from the cairn.
Copyright Jim Barton, from

As we turned onto a minor road, we realised we had only half an hour left and were heading in the wrong direction for home. An about-turn saw us considerably shorten the route, dropping more 25-point controls than we really wanted to. My legs got a new lease of life as well – and suddenly it was Jon who was working hard to keep up instead of the other way around! Unfortunately, the final kilometre along the Borders Abbeys Way was not nice easy double track as suggested by the map. Instead, it was grassy, slidy, bumpy and punctuated with numerous stiles. Progress was much too slow! We skidded back to the finish nearly 9 minutes late.

It was enough to win the mixed pairs, but only just! Marc and Ewan planned a very good event, with some challenging decisions to make about where to go, great riding (and not just a repeat of yesterday’s routes) and awesome homemade cake to finish off with. I was happy 😀 .

Selkirk mountain bike weekend: Part 1 = MTB marathon

On Wednesday the week before the Selkirk MTB marathon I fell into a metaphorical hole. My ride to work felt laboured and the easy lunchtime run might as well have been a hard race. Thursday was no better; I missed out the end of our running intervals session and wrote ‘felt bad’ in my training log – two things that never normally happen!

I took emergency measures. I went to bed early on Thursday night, took Friday off work and spent the morning packing for the weekend, cooking up snacks and generally getting on top of a few things. Marc and Ewan picked me up at lunchtime and we headed down.

Although we didn’t need to arrive so early, it meant we got our pick of the camping spots and I had a wonderfully relaxed lead in to the event.  30 seconds of high speed racing on the rollers against Paul (organiser and Itera teammate) straight after I had eaten probably wasn’t wise, but I got over it!

I think I might be sick!

I think I might be sick!

The Selkirk MTB marathon incorporates the British MTB championships, as well as offering a sportive version of the full course and two shorter options as well. I had only entered the sportive, as I didn’t want to pay extra to upgrade my British Cycling membership and buy a race licence just for this one event. However, I was keen to get into a good position at the front of the rest of the riders as we rolled out of the town centre. The ‘racers’ get a short headstart and were already out of sight as we turned into Bowhill estate, off the roads and onto the first climb.

The route for this is course is amazing and I really recommend it! Almost all of it is off road, there are 4.5 big climbs and there is a mix of fire roads, moorland paths, built singletrack and muddy natural stuff. 75km of riding, 2100m of ascent. I dibbed in and out for the timed enduro sections, but I’m not sure why as I really didn’t enjoy them and fell off on the first one, quite badly bruising my inner thigh and knocking my confidence a bit. On the second one I decided it was quicker and safer just of get off and run down!

Caroline and I trying to push in at the front ...

Caroline and I trying to push in at the front …

After 35km and two climbs I was beginning to feel a bit weary. Goodness me – we weren’t even halfway! Luckily, I caught up with my friend Caroline here and we rode along chatting for a bit. She needed to stop and stretch, but just after that I hit a singetrack switchback climb through the forests, which I really enjoyed.

During the ride / race my plan was to work at a hard but sustainable effort throughout and to play it smart. This meant out of the 4 feed stations I only stopped at the third (to refill my empty Camelbak bladder, eat a banana and reorganise my remaining snacks). That took 7 minutes and my gps showed I was stationary for 15 in total. My guess is some of those were when I was reduced to pushing up one of the steepest hills too slowly, or when I was busy falling off! I overtook a lot of people at the first two feed stations, most of whom didn’t catch me back up.

I was also testing out some more feedzone portables. For the whole race I only ate these and a banana and drunk water. I think it was a successful combination! This weekend’s portables were: banana and walnut almond milk pastry mini pies (slightly under-done, but tasted good nonetheless), spinach and courgette frittatas (a well-tested favourite) and peanut butter and raspberry jam sandwiched between layers of sticky rice. These last were new to me and I was unconvinced at first. However, during the race they were fantastic! Salty and sweet, sticky and easy to eat. The also didn’t need an oven to cook, so were quick to prepare.

Just finished - tired or happy?

Just finished – tired or happy?

Although my descending is passable (compared, say, to a roadie ha ha!), it is by no means up to the standard of most of the girls there. This meant I caught people on the climbs and was passed on the downhills. By the time we got to Innerleithen at the bottom of the last big climb, we had done 51km and I was beginning to feel a revival.

As I’ve said before in this blog, the climb up to the top of Minch Moor is one of my favourites. I started with a few other people and as we powered up I lost all but one of them, and caught a couple of others. They paused to take in the views at the top (and they are worth taking in), but I was on a mission.

My legs were feeling good now and with the incentive not to get caught, I sped along the Southern Upland Way until the final descent, which I’m sure I took faster than I normally would! Zooming under the finishing arch in top gear, I was all smiles 🙂 .

Definitely smiling now!

Definitely smiling now!

This event wasn’t one of my targets and was more of a test / training run for Itera in August. After the way I felt Weds and Thurs I was actually pretty pleased with how I rode and how the eating plan went. Out of a combined total of about 30 girls who did the long course (race or sportive) I was firmly middle of the field with the winner nearly 2 hours quicker than me! A reminder that there’s always plenty of faster people.

One final note. Marc and Ewan were the best support crew ever. They were there to organise the SMBO event on Sunday. As well as driving me down on Friday, they: adjusted my suspension forks (rebound and sag), helped check my brake pads, let me sit in the van while it rained, gave wise advice on clothing choices (short sleeve jersey and gilet, despite the forecast rain), lent me a big down jacket to ride up to the start in and throw back at them just before we left, were there as a welcoming party at the finish to say well done and take photos and, finally, stood in the slow moving queue to get my bike washed whilst I showered and changed. Awesome!

After an early dinner it was off to sleep ready for the next event – 3 hours of mountain bike score orienteering.

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