Last week I spent 5 days ‘holiday’ competing in a team of 4 at the Adidas Terrex Sting in Stirling. This is a non-stop 5 day adventure race. You can read all about it here.
During the race we had to do mandatory blogs … Well, we were told they were mandatory but not every team did them, and we almost missed one or two because we didn’t know when we were supposed to write! But I was very keen to fulfil my allotted role as team blogger, even when we were grumpy, ready to go, and had to wait 5 minutes for a computer to be turned on for us! I don’t know how the team let me get away with that one – thanks guys :-).
Our team were ‘AVT Asset Management’. Here’s our profile, some photos and links to our reports from the race. I don’t know how long this page will be up for though, so I have copied the content here too, for safe keeping :D. There’s also a few extra pictures in the reports – many thanks to James Kirby and Open Adventure.
Reflections on the race to follow!
The very fact that it’s been 3.5 weeks of silence since my Celtman race report tells you something about the aftermath of this race!
Of course, to start with I was a bit tired, but also very happy! Then came the post-race ‘down’ feeling. Both coach and Andy had warned me about this, but I still didn’t like it. After months of having just one main focus, suddenly it was gone from my life! And it almost didn’t feel real that it was me that had gone all that way and done all that racing.
I had a couple of days off all exercise, but getting back onto the bike to ride to work the Wednesday after the race actually felt fantastic.
To beat the blues I was told to “do summat different”. To start with I entered the SMBO (Scottish Mountain Bike Orienteering) Leadhills event. This local-ish series has a low-key friendly feel, and as I’ve only made it to the first one so far this year (when I raced with wee Iain) it was good to go and support them again.
I scrambled a last minute lift from a very kind man from Fife – thanks Craig! This was my first time on the mountain bike in TWO WHOLE MONTHS! That’s what triathlon training does to you. Luckily almost everything still worked, apart from a near disaster with a lost cleat bolt at registration – again kind people came to my rescue to help me fix it (Gary, Andy and Andy’s wife :D).
I didn’t take the race too seriously, which meant I was relatively calm as I made some map blunders (soooo out of practice) and pootled around in the drizzle. It was a 3h race and about 1h from the end I sort of woke up as I whizzed up the hill at Wanlockhead to the radar station, caught some fantastic views and raced back down again! This event had a twist – certain controls had bits of grid reference and clues on and when they were all put together we had the location of the ‘golden control’. There was just time to get that before a little race back to the finish. I won a bottle of beer (for Andy) and an Alpine Bikes gift voucher.
After a week of feeling very average and quite tired, I headed up onto the Pentlands for a day of “running” (I use the term very loosely) on what was possibly the wettest day in a set of very wet days. The hills are normally popular and busy at the weekend, but I only saw two other people all day. I covered 19km in 5h whilst doing a bit of course planning for the Open 5 in November. I nearly lost a shoe in a knee deep bog, missed two of my own planned control locations (it was foggy, OK?!), got so cold I had to put a thermal top on and dripped all the way home on the bus :D. It felt like quite a crazy wild adventure given I was on my doorstep in June!
Still more pottering followed, when I also managed to lose a bike, which the police recovered 3 days later (amazing), twist my dodgy ankle on a 30 min run in the woods (now armed with many physio exercises) and swim outdoors in 3 different places (Coldingham – fantastic fun waves, Threipmuir – damp and midgy, Salford Quays – really warm, flat and rectangular). By last weekend I was feeling much perkier and did two fantastic fun technical rides on the bridleways near Andy’s house in the Peak District.
Finally, a first. Sunday was the SkyRide Manchester event. On impulse I agreed that Andy could sign me up for a ‘track taster’ session at the velodrome. The thought of being on the track has always scared me a bit, and when I was finally in the arena, next to the banking, it was even worse. Honestly, it’s much steeper than it looks on TV. And because the bikes have only one gear, no brakes and you can’t free-wheel, I had serious concerns about ever stopping. I had visions of being stuck there going round and round and round until Andy could catch me :-D.
The people already riding were making it look easy, but my first couple of tentative laps were so frightening! I pulled many faces and was a bit wibbly wobbly from nerves. We were clearly instructed that the faster we went, the safer it was and that we must also accelerate into the bends. I took this seriously and got progressively quicker and quicker – to the extent that I was too scared to go any slower! The first time I had to overtake I nearly had kittens. Then everyone else stopped for a rest and I took off on my own. I got braver and braver and was soon pedalling round as fast as I possibly could right at the top of the banking!! How awesome is that? I even started trying a bit of swooping down from high to low for extra speed.
When our time was up, my legs were burning but I was on a real high from the exhilaration of it. It was so simple and the track so predictable – all you had to think about was pedalling smoothly and going fast. Andy said I didn’t look too bad, but even so, I couldn’t imagine being out there in a jostling bunch. Not yet, anyway :-).
Now I’m feeling back to normal and ready to take on new challenges ….
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 …..
This race won’t be the longest I’ve ever done. I expect it to take about 18 hours, though I’m still finding it hard to judge my bike pace. This compares to four 24 hour races I’ve done in the past. The difference with this one is the fixed distances and strict time cutoffs! I won’t be able to rest between laps or miss a few checkpoints and still be able to finish.
The race is also unusual for me because I’ve invested more time and effort into it than anything else I’ve done before. I’m not sure why – except that my Ironman-finisher friends got me scared way back in November and made me feel like I had better put in some really hard work!
It’s been fun though. I‘ve got used to swimming (rather than just squawking and playing!) in waves and finding out what it’s like to swim to a distant point that never appears to get any closer.
On my final big training weekend I celebrated the Queen’s jubilee by making the most of the amazing place I live.
I did a delightful 165km loop over the Lammermuirs. This is the view up Redstone Rigg, which I have only discovered this summer.
And later I persuaded Chris (a car-owner!) to take me further north to some inviting Munros. I did 5 of the summits on the Ben Lawers ridge. I set off a bit scared about tackling such big looking mountains by myself in insubstantial running gear and carrying my small pack containing the mandatory race kit list.
Here’s the ridge:
It was much colder up at the top than down at the bottom and I was glad of my woolly hat and gloves, even in June ;-). The route I took was from MunroMagic and was a good one – not too many crowds except for the stretch between Ben Lawers itself and Beinn Ghlas. One of the best feelings about this day was being fit enough to enjoy such an adventure so easily.
After helping some girls with a photo, I took off down a tussocky grassy spur with no path. Even with my poles I managed to nearly twist my ankles several times before making it to the bottom in time for a quick dip in Loch Tay to cool off!
Several stiff days followed, so I am under no illusions as to how long my legs might hurt post-race!
And now I am into ‘tapering’. I was warned I might feel rubbish in these two weeks and it’s true. I get paranoid when I meet an ill person, I freak out every time a car drives too close to me, I imagine I am coming down with ‘something’ every other day and my body is throwing in aches and pains pretty much everywhere!
I am trying to stay calm and get plenty of sleep. This weekend I had fun swimming up at Thriepmuir Reservoir in the rain with some fellow racers and then getting totally lost running on Arthur’s Seat. People who know Arthur’s Seat will realise this was a bit ridiculous – but the fog was right down, I couldn’t see any of the usual landmarks and I lost all sense of direction! Luckily in the race, Kate will look after me on the mountain should a similar situation arise :D.
And so with 5 days to go I am into final preparations: buying my favourite foods, making lists and waiting expectantly for my supporters to arrive. Hurrah!
One of the best things about going to stay with Andy is that he lives on the edge of the Peak District in a little village called Broadbottom. There are lots of opportunities for interesting runs (even the short ones) and big walks, right on his doorstep. After Christmas I sat down to amuse myself with Andy’s truly enormous 1:25k waterproof map of the area. I call it “Andy’s” rather loosely, as I always seem to find it just where I left it on the previous visit 😀
I came up with the following route, which was perfectly executed.
Catch a train to Glossop, as early as you can. This involved me getting out of bed, so we set off just before 10am. Walk up “Doctor’s Gate” assessing it for mountain biking suitability on a later date. It’s a bridleway but I fear there would be rather too much pushing for my liking, in both directions! Stop out of the wind for a pleasant first sandwich and piece of homemade fudge brownie.
At the top, where this Roman Road joins the modern Snake Pass, turn left and follow the Pennine Way through a peat bog. You go from a rocky little climb to an engineered walking highway, which still has its charms as the path literally bounces, you splash through rivers and stare down into dark little pools.
At Bleaklow Head, bear left into a biting westerly headwind. Stop to put on spare jumper, even if it means taking off two other layers first. Get to where two rivers meet and the path crosses them in a little gorge. Take shelter and eat second sandwich and brownie as quickly as possible. Stop every 10 minutes for the next hour to re-tie shoelaces, because hands are too cold to properly carry out a task requiring such fine motor control!
Locate the left turn-off from The Pennine Way, which starts with an exceedingly deep boggy bit – let someone else find that out first! 😀 The map gives clues to the terrain … all those spidery blue lines on a flat moor! It is wet, but the path is punctuated by helpful wooden bridges and walkways.
Cue your best Billy Goats Gruff impressions; “Trip trap, trip trap! Who’s that trip-trapping over my bridge?!” Try not to jump too far out of your shoes when someone sneaks up behind and says “Boo”!
Descend back towards Glossop on a double-track, taking a shortcut to Swineshaw reservoir that gets you stuck at the top of a small quarry. Really, either the ground did not match up with the map here, or I was too fuddled to figure it all out. Allow Andy to take one last photo – this time of a pig. Get back into town just before dark and grab a sweet hot drink and emergency third sandwich in the café before heading home to tea and curry*.
* I had made a tasty shepherd’s pie but confused the paprika and chilli powder – oops! Second mealtime around with all the (non-spicy potato) gone, it went well with chickpeas, a tin of coconut milk and plenty of rice!