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Celtman – The Race

After months of training and anticipation the Celtman finally landed on Saturday. Although it actually felt like it started on Wednesday, when two of my supporters (mum and Andy) arrived and I had the stress of kit checking and packing. Kate turned up on Thursday looking remarkably bright, given she had left home at about 5am!

It was a long drive north, but we took the scenic route and got to Torridon just in time to register. There were lots of people I knew milling around, which was comforting.

We headed back to the B&B which had awesome views of Loch Shieldaig and was very comfortably appointed. Andy decided to test the water temperature in his underpants and stayed in all of about 10 seconds. Not very encouraging!

At breakfast on Friday we bumped into Izzy, who was staying the night before moving to a cottage with some other people form the club. Upstairs from us there was a French family – the dad Eric was also racing. We had booked a dinner from our obliging hosts and when we wandered in we found yet more people we knew doing the race already happily munching! I wonder whether there was anyone staying in the villages who wasn’t a Celtman racer or supporter that weekend?!

A ‘quick trip’ round to Applecross for lunch on Friday was probably a mistake as it tired the drivers out, though I was happily admiring the views :-). We ended up racing to the briefing, arriving 1 minute before it started! The only thing my mum noted down was the name of the nearest hospital …

More kit checking and logistics back at the B&B and by then it was all getting a bit much. I was glad to get into bed, but I felt bloated and like I had eaten too much. During the night I imagined my feet were hurting, my head was thumping and I was coming down with a dreadful lurgy. At 3am the alarm went off and I leapt up. Somehow I got my contact lenses in and ate some muesli before venturing out to sign on, rack the bike and get on the coaches to the start.

I sat next to a friendly Norwegian who mused about how bad the ‘midgets’ were and how cold the water might be. There was a long wait at the beach but it passed quickly, chatting to people I knew and being interviewed by the Adventure Show crew. By the time I got to the water it was minutes from the start time and I hardly made the line before the klaxon went off! The swim was shortened to about 3.2km due to the cold, so we struck straight out for the other side.

First shock of the day – the sea was full of jellyfish! I have a bit of a thing about jellyfish, and squealed a few times when I hit one with my feet or they floated up near my face. As usual I started at the back, and spent the whole time moving up the field. Every time I tried to draft someone I would overtake, be drafted for a bit, then move on to the next person. That is, when I wasn’t veering wide to get a nice clear view of where I was going!

My day-long tummy problems started halfway over when that muesli nearly came back up – and every time I swallowed a mouthful of salty water I nearly gagged. Still, it was a race so I kept going. I was 22nd out of the swim, which was pretty good.

After the transition my supporters went to relax over some brekkie for a bit, whilst I set about cycling 202km. I felt really nauseous for at least 20 minutes and was convinced this had never happened to me before. Then I remembered it has happened at least twice before on a swim to bike transition! After a while I settled down, probably too much, as I covered the first 60km at 30km/h.

 

By this point I was running low on fluids and desperate for my support crew to arrive. When they did I was so relieved! This gave me a temporary boost, until I started getting terrible stomach cramps. I also really needed to pee, and had to stop. This pattern continued for the next 5 hours! The cramps were like nothing I’ve experienced before – I was doubled over whilst still trying to pedal and I still have sore tummy muscles 3 days later! Still, I got into a more sustainable pace and really enjoyed the longer climbs and descents in the second half of the course. I was also lucky to be playing leapfrog with Izzy as it kept me motivated and meant I had her supporters cheering as well as mine :-).

At T2 it was chaos. People were shouting, a car reversed into our boot lid which was up in the air, I chucked a sock onto a burning midge candle in the back of the car and midges landed in their hordes! I was glad to get away, and even more glad of the portaloo. That job done and standing upright again at last and my stomach felt a hundred times better. I set off running up the hill, swigging a Frijj and with Andy on his mountain bike. It was great to have company and someone to natter to again 😀 .

The scenery was lovely, and I cheered Izzy on as she passed on the downhill, thinking that was the last I would see her. The last 5km along a tarmac section was tough going, and when I arrived at T2A I was very glad to switch to walking. The first section had been 18km, which is about the furthest I’ve run in one go in recent times – and that’s only been in adventure races!

Now Kate joined me and we set up off the hill, me with my walking poles and a new companion to chat to. It was fun hearing tales of the supporters’ day in the car and some of their crazy overtaking and reversing antics! Kate asked me if I was eating and my answer must have sounded highly unconvincing as from then on she kept taking food off me and giving it back to me in bite size morsels at regular intervals – often directly into my mouth, so I had no excuse!

We passed the people from the Adventure Show again and I did another interview, this time on the move. I tried to think of something intelligent to say, other than ‘it’s amazing, fantastic’! Kate said I was too articulate to be working hard enough and kept the pace up afterwards! It was just after this we passed Izzy again. I was surprised, but I think ups are my forte, and maybe my adventure racing experience was good for me here.

The tops and the ridge were covered in dense fog. As I kept telling anyone who would listen, Kate is a top mountain marathoner, and knows what she’s doing when it comes to mountains and route finding! We negotiated the elusive sheeptrack to cut a little uphill corner, got straight to the peak, down the scree and across the boulder fields. At this point we had a little trail of people following us; I think we all knew we were onto a good thing! It was also fun to have new company and it spurred me on to keep the pace up a little bit. When I checked the gps it was 17km to go. My heart fell that it was so far – but then I thought about the fact that was still less than the first leg, and I felt better.

 

As the road neared we could hear cheering and it was very exciting. Andy was there with a group of others, who had apparently been hanging around for hours! I threw my bag to him as I didn’t need to carry it any more, but ignored him yelling at me to give up my poles as well. I can be Nordic and ‘European’ as Kate put it … we set off plodding and the endless view down the road depressed me. Then Andy reappeared and said Izzy was just 4 minutes behind. This had a magic effect on me as I’ll always put up a fight at the end of a race :-).

Kate ran in front of me so I could draft in the headwind, whilst I shouted things like “Faster! No, not that fast! You’re dropping me! Now, faster again!” I also whacked her with my poles as I drifted off my line (I was tired) and kicked her heels with my toes when the pace wasn’t quite right. She endured all this without a word of complaint as we blasted back into Torridon. Eric at breakfast the next day was very proud of his 40 minute final run, until I told him I had done it in 36! Mind you, he did finish 1h40m ahead of me :D.

Amazingly, I think I finished 52nd on the run, compared to 60th on the bike, which just goes to show maybe I’m not so bad at running any more, at least, when it involves mountains and comes at the end of a very long day ;-).

Overall, I was 2nd female (54th overall out of 128 starters) and finished in 16 hours and 23 seconds. I was over the moon, as this was way beyond my expectations going into the race. Izzy was 3rd female, and it was great to have another clubmate in the top 3. I think we probably spurred each other on. Elizabeth was the last person to make the high mountain cut off (with a minute to spare), but stormed over the hill overtaking more than 20 people! All nine girls finished and it was great to all get a mention and applause at the ceremony on Sunday. Full results.

The overall winners were Alex Glasgow (12:09:48) and Susanne Buckenlei (13:55:33 – what a machine!).

I can’t thank my supporters enough. For what they put up with on a very long day, with all their driving, pandering to my every need (I don’t get this sort of pampering on an adventure race), accompanying me on various legs and cheering loudly! My mum presented me with a gold chocolate medal and a signed certificate, which was a lovely touch. Also to my coach for getting me through the training and everyone who was there from ERC, racing and supporting, plus various other people I have only met in the last few weeks who were so friendly and welcoming.

Lastly to the organisers, including Stuart McInnes and Paul McGreal, for putting on a great race!

Epilogue: After driving hundreds of kilometres over the weekend, the car broke down 3km from home. My mum was driving, we called out the AA on Kate’s policy, it was my mate’s car … but he was in Croatia. Andy said it was nothing to do with him. The AA man took all this in his stride and told us we needed to find the towing eye somewhere under the mountain of luggage in the boot. Amazingly, we succeeded. But as I sat up front in the big yellow van, and Kate steered the Doblo behind, she realised that yet again she was finishing a race being towed around like a medium dog …..

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