Last weekend was my first dalliance with adventure racing, it should have been a group of 4 of us - Me, Quiz, Steve and Andy all drunkenly entered this race last Christmas as a challenge to train for. We entered ourselves as "Team Cock" (we were drunk, it seemed logical)
The event we found was called Scotland Coast to Coast - the idea was to cross from one side of Scotland to the other on foot, bike and boat in either a day or two days - we of course went for the one day option - it wouldn't be a challenge otherwise right? The event was starting at Nairn with a 7km trail run, followed by a 48 mile road ride, then a 2mile Kayak/Run, a 33 mile bike (with 16 miles off road), then a 14 mile Trek/run and finally a 1 mile kayak.
Trouble was, none of us trained for it. Well not specifically. Mark has been injured, moving house and other stuff. Andy has been training for half ironman distance triathlon (so has no excuse) Steve has been off the radar and I have just been pissing about on my mountain bike all summer. But it wasn't going to be a serious event and it was bound to be a great piss up.
One of my bestest friends, Penny had organised us to stay in a friends cottage for a couple of nights before the race and booked a hotel for the night after the race to have a big ol' piss up so it was all sorted and we just needed to get up there. Mark wasn't going to race now as his old man knees weren't going to be up to it but was still up for the piss up. The others half heartily said they'd still be doing it.
I'd decided some time ago that I would borrow a cross bike from Swindon Road club as there was a long section of off road which would be too much for my lovely carbon road bike, but there was also a LOT of road work,which I didn't think would be much fun on a mountain bike. So a cx bike seemed like a good compromise. I picked this up from Andy just over a week before and we went out for a long ride on the Ridgeway, which I thoroughly enjoyed - except I felt like I was cheating on my mountain bike riding along the route I take that on. A bit like cheating on your boyfriend and going to your favourite restaurant....
The guys and I kept talking about trying out kayaking as this was part of the race, but the months kept passing by. I had a friend of a friend who offered to take me out on Bristol docks but still time passed by, other things came and went and before we knew it the race was a week away.
I contacted the guys and found out none of them were up for doing the event anymore, I still wanted to do it but wasn't sure about doing it on my own. I still hadn't tried kayaking, I had barely done any running, I'd been drinking and smoking heavily but Penny was still up for it if I was and some other friends said I should still do it, and plus I wanted to prove something now to them stitching fuckers! ;-)
The Sunday before I did a 10 mile run with a friend plus a mile to his house, a mile home, then 4 miles to my folks, so I felt a bit better then that I had a few miles in my legs, albeit none of them off road and all of them flat (the route profile is pretty mental and 95% off road) Monday I finally got in a kayak - in the Bristol docks in the tail end of a hurricane! I basically spent an hour either spinning around or fighting the current back to the docks followed by days of sore arms. Tuesday I went to Ashton Court on my MTB for a hammer around and then finally decided that I'd definitely go to Scotland. I had nothing better to do and Pen had gone to all the trouble of sorting out accommodation.
So Wednesday, I went to stay with Penny and Davut and my future husband (Robbie - or George, whichever will have me) had dinner, drank lots of wine, then Thursday Penny and I drove up to Scotland. It was a loooong way. We stopped off in Stirling to meet Sam for lunch, then he took us to his local bike shop as I realised I had no spare inner tube for this borrowed bike, he had heard of the race and thought me mad, he suggested riding the cross bike on full tyre pressure and whacked 65 psi in for me. We then carried on the long but stunning drive up to the cottage on Loch Dromer. It was so pretty, the view from the cottage was gorgeous and the views all the way up were amazing, I was like a kid in a zoo "Oohh look! A waterfall!"
I'd been on twatter that day and tweeted about my lack of trail shoes and thought I'd be fine. The response was "beg, borrow steal some trail shoes, it's steep and slippery!" Hmmm.... I did some more (too late) research and it seemed to be the general consensus - what a dickhead.
At the cottage I cooked some dinner for me n Pen - this is a first except for breakfasts because Penny is the best cook I've ever known, she said it tasted OK, so she's either a very good friend or was very hungry. We drank a couple of bottles of wine, and went to bed. Friday we got up, had breakfast and Penny informed me my tyre had deflated. So I investigated said tyre and found a colossal thorn stuck in the tyre, which had obviously when pumped to a firmer pressure pushed into the inner tube, which was much better to happen the day before than on the race! I changed the tube, but had trouble getting the tyre back on the rim, it seemed to be the wrong inner tube.
We headed off to Inverness to get me some trail shoes (always do a race on new shoes) and pop to a bike shop for another spare tube and to get them to put the tyre on my rim - which even the mechanic had trouble with! then on to Nairn to register and stick my bike in transition.
I had no idea of what I was meant to do really and there wasn't a great deal of guidance from the people at registration. I guess having read the briefing many times now I sort of understood.
Pick up race pack, drive the 8 or so miles to cawdor castle to rack bike. I also changed over my pedals and was going to swap my saddle to my own as the one on there was hideous, decided I couldn't be bothered, bunged my bike in my transition area.
Everyone else had left their transition bags on their bikes already, but I'd planned on dumping mine off in the morning. Did they know something I didn't?
After racking we went to get some dinner from the pub (and a couple of glasses of red) then drove home timing how long we needed in the morning (about an hour). On the way back we stopped off at this beautiful gorge, I used this opportunity of walking a mile or so to break in my new shoes. They felt pretty good, and more importantly looked ace!
We went back to the cottage, had some more wine whilst getting things sorted for the next day (laying out kit, nutrition, spares) The weather looked like it was going to be a bit shit so I left exactly which clothes I was going to take til the last minute in the morning - you had to carry all your stuff with you, including fuel as it was totally self sufficient in that respect so space was limited to just my camelbak rucksack thing. We were going to have to leave at 5 in order to get to cawdor castle to drop off my transition kit then to the start for 6.30 so a good nights sleep would have been useful.
I could barely sleep, all day I'd been feeling so nervous and sick. Perhaps I needed more wine. I hadn't felt like this for a long time, I rarely get nervous before races but this was something totally outside my comfort zone. A friend sent me a text saying "it's just riding, running and playing, you like all that stuff" which was dead right and cheered me up.
In the end I got about 3 hours sleep and was up at 3.45 making my porridge, peering out the window into the pouring rain! Fantastic. It didn't show signs of stopping when I woke Penny up.
For the run I was wearing skins, with some flappy shorts to try in vain to disguise my colossal arse, a tshirt, baselayer and my funky new trail shoes.
Into my transition bag went the following: cycling shoes, bib shorts, 2 x waterproof jackets, gloves, change of leggings and top for the 2nd run and my camelbak.
We loaded up the car and set out in the pissing rain, feeling sick once more, but also a bit excited, we were cutting it a bit fine as we got to cawdor transition at 6.10. I ran my stuff in, used the portaloo back in the car and onto Nairn. It was nearly 6:25 - eek! We parked up right next to the start line as people were activating their timing bands, I ran over and did mine, and queued up with the masses. I suddenly realised I didn't have on my race belt, and shouted Pen to grab it for me, she ran off to get it, ran back and came skidding on her bum back with it! Well there's one way of getting some attention from the boys!
Before I knew it, the race had started.The rain had slowed to a drizzle. I had planned on keeping it steady, but my new shoes and the adrenaline made me go bounding off across the field. I was passing by people, I checked the garmin, and I was doing 7:30s, this would be fine if it wasn't for the fact that it was going to be a long day or not if I kept that up. I pulled it back a little and settled into a more sensible pace. After about half a mile of pavement we took off onto a gorgeous piece of single track trail through woods and along rivers. I was thoroughly enjoying myself - why hadn't I tried trail running before now? The pace was being dictated by the person in front as there wasn't really any place to overtake, so we were pottering along comfortably. As soon as we hit the single track I was glad of my trail shoes. I'd have for sure been on my ass in my road shoes. Ducking under low branches, hopping over tree stumps, I was in my element. I man in front of me hit the deck, I jumped over him before I landed on him. Stopped to help him up, made sure he was OK then we set off again.
I was already looking forward to the run later on in the day. I couldn't stop grinning. It felt so good, I've not enjoyed running for ages and finally I was again quite unexpectedly. The rain was still drizzling down but refreshingly, as the daylight started to get brighter. There was a small section of road up into transition which I hated, I wanted to be on the sticky trails.
I tagged my wristband on the timing device and set about the ridiculously slow transition which was to come!
Trying not to get my feet wet or dry kit wet was a task.
Trail shoes off,
bib shorts on over skins
(woah! who's that gorgeous bloke!?)
waterproof jacket on
gloves, helmet and bike shoes on
then to ram everything else into my bag and tie my running shoes to it.
Despite being in the mid to front runners back, people who came in long after me, got out on their bikes before me. (including a solo girl I'd noticed - I should probably keep an eye on her)
Bah! who cares. I've got all day. (Or until 4pm to reach the final cut off in order to complete the race)
I finally got out on the bike, the rain was a bit harder again as I set off. At first I felt quite good, and smug on the cx bike with loads of people on their mountain bikes.
Penny was waiting just round the corner and gave me a big yell and wave and told me to get a fucking move on!
The next 48 miles all I wanted to do was get off that fucking bike and onto the last run.
The route was fantastic, the most beautiful scenery I'd ever seen (so far), lovely roads, some big climb, the rain had stopped and the sun was shining brightly. All that was missing was my lovely road bike.
The cross bike was like riding through treacle. The knobbly tyres rolling about as fast as a brick. The saddle causing much soreness to my undercarriage, and the miles ticking by so slowly I wanted to cry. I'm certain everyone passed me on that first bike stage. There were sections when I'd feel good, but mostly I wanted to cry. I resented the bike, I wished I'd brought my hardtail, at least I'd have been comfortable and probably gone faster.
I saw the girl from the transition area, and made it my duty to overtake her - luckily she was shite at climbing so I left her behind on the monster climb near the end of the bike leg and I pleasantly said hello and asked if she was enjoying herself and she just made this strange grunt. Only to be overtaken by her on the even bigger descent. Once more I hated the bike, I'd really been working on my descending on my road bike over the summer but now I had no confidence, the brakes weren't reliable enough on the drops, so I had to use the ones on the tops of the bars, which were narrow. So I just braked all the way down trying not to slip on the wet road. The descent went all the way from about 1200m down to the valley floor to the kayak area at Loch Ness, a bit of meandering through and we were directed into the next transition area.
Bike hung up, untie shoes from bag, swap waterproof for dry, windstopper, trail shoes back on, dump stuff in a pile and off for a kilometer mile run to the kayak lake along a really pretty cobbled street, along a canal and past some pirates (I missed them but Pen showed me some pics later). I was dying for a slash when I got there but the toilets were locked. A guy said I could go behind his van so I did, when I pulled my shorts down I discovered that I hadn't taken off my flappy-hide-the-colossus shorts! No wonder I was in so much pain!
Life jacket on, and down to the shore. I was offered someone to pair up with, but I said "No, I wanna do it under my own steam"
"Yes, I'm nails" ha what a cock
the kayaks were different to the one I'd tried out earlier that week, they were sit on instead of in, they were much easier, the lack of wind and current helped too and before I knew it I had paddled half way across the lake route.
This wasn't so bad. Round the corner I could see the shore again, and paddled myself over, clambered out with some help from the marshals, ditched the life jacket and ran back round the lake and for another kilometer or so back to transition
Filled up my camel bak, changed shoes again, had a flapjack bite or two which were being offered and pocketed a few jelly babies for later (my friend Sally Pinegar (nutritionist) of Fit Naturally fame had given me a nutrition plan for the event and I'd been fuelling on gels until now, I'd packed a sarnie which I should have had by now but couldn't be bothered earlier to get it out of my bag.)
I was looking forward to this much more than the previous bike, off road is where I'm happiest on a bike these days but again I resented the cross bike. It had ruined the nice bits of road riding and now it would ruin the fun bits of off road. I'm being a bit hard on it, as when it was on track or fire road it went like shit off a shovel, and I found myself really enjoying the single track and descents. I was passing people who were pushing the full sus mountain bikes down things. What was that about!?
A group of about 6 of us kept yo-yoing past each other and we begun bantering a bit. Some of them really weren't enjoying themselves, despite what I said about the bike, I was actually having a brilliant time. But still I was looking forward to that run!
I joked to one of the guys who was complaining "ah but we have a half marathon to look forward to in a bit!"
After about 20 miles off road climbing and descending, praying the big rocks wouldn't perish the tyre, the bike route went back on road and with some more climbing and some incredible views, just 10 miles to go to Fort William.
Once more I saw the girl from transition, once more I took her on the hill, once more she made that weird grunting noise as I whistled by cheerily asking how she was doing.
It couldn't be far now, as we rode through the town centre and lo there was a sign saying "time off" which meant the timer stopped and we could go and get a cuppa, change our clothes and stuff before the final run. Also there was Penny! It was so good to see a friendly face, she must be bored shitless. I got off and walked with her through to transition and chatted for a bit.
Once in the transition area, there was a snack bar, and all I wanted was a snickers. Really craving it. So I got one, nommed that then went to get changed. I took my time once more, washed my face of salt, full dry kit went for a wee, and whilst in there I heard someone come in, and they evidently looked at my stuff, saw it was me and there it was - the weird grunting noise. Now I was pretty sure it was a grunt of annoyance that I was ahead of her.
But she was in and out of transition mega quick! I packed up my wet kit, put what I'd need for the run back in my camelbak (a few gels and some water) took my kit bag and bike to the transport lorry and had a little chat with a couple of guys there.
I felt great now, the run was here! I'd come in well before the run cut off, My legs felt good, my mood was still high so I set off at a jog. People were walking, I thought it was a run? I overtook a couple of guys who were umming and ah'ing whether to run yet or not, I joked with them to get on with it, and bounded across the field and they commented back about being "chicked" then started jogging too.
Through a gate at the end was Penny again, taking snapshots of me at my worst. I said I'd see her in a few hours, thinking I was being generous with my time.
Round the corner I realised why the run was actually penned as a Run/Trek. The route went straight up Ben Nevis!! I had a stitch from the snickers bar.
I didn't actually mind though, I climbed on up, varying between trotting, jogging, walking, scrambling. I bounced past one guy who said "you're going to run it!?" - "I'm going to try"
I overtook lots of walkers, recreational and racers. It was pretty mental but I still loved it. Up big rock steps, then we took a right and came back down it, this was harder than the up. I had to really concentrate on the technical descent. Being careful not to misjudge the big boulders.
A short bit of road then back onto the trail, below me I saw the "grunter" again, and made an effort to catch her. She was walking. The track turned into a fire road climb, I jogged on past, then past a couple of the lads I'd been riding with earlier. I jogged on up, then gave up for a bit as it got steep and marched on up. I didn't want the grunter to catch me, I was feeling competitive now.
For the rest of the route, there was very little place to actually run, the route was technical and tough and more suited to hiking, but still I was absolutely in love with it. I just wished I had someone there to enjoy it with, I felt a bit sad about that. If the guys had been there, we'd have been having such a laugh.
clambering up steep rocky steps, trying not to fall back down the other side, tottering along rocky river beds, splashing through streams.
I was running quite low on water in my camelbak so I started to drink from the streams running off the mountains, I felt like Bear Grylls! I kept stopping to take in the awesome views, kicking myself for not taking a camera.
I was still overtaking people who were struggling. One man was in a particularly bad way as I came bouncing along saying "It's only another 10k!" I stopped to make sure he was OK, I asked if he was drinking plenty and to have some thing to eat, offered him a gel, but he said he couldn't keep anything down. I offered to walk him to the finish, but he said no to carry on. To be honest I'm not sure he would have finished at the pace he was walking.
A little way down the track was a marshal with some water, I told him there was a guy struggling back there who might want some help.
I carried on trekking, I could see two people in front, who I seemed to be catching, but then I'd round a corner and they'd be a bit further away again. So I made it my mission to catch them and did a bit more jogging where I could. My legs still felt brilliant, but the terrain just wouldn't allow it.
I finally caught them and slowed to a walk and chatted to them for a while, discussed how fucking awesome the day was. We all stopped to admire the valley we were traversing. We looked across the other side and we could see what looked like lemmings, traipsing up the most enormous climb I've ever seen. The guys informed me that we had to go a mile down there to them their rubble, then a 2 and a half mile climb to the summit (gaining 1500m) before only a mile descent to the road then onto the kayak.
The dots on the other side of the valley looked to be barely moving.
We all trotted on a little, crossed the river and started making away up the long long ascent. It was pretty boggy in place,my foot disappearing into wet peat, climbing up natural springs. Again stopping to take in the views.
We were making slow progress, but chatting along all the while, one of the guys went pretty quiet like the way I get when I'm on the brink of bonking. I offered him a gel, but then they stopped to have some solid food. I waited with them, and took some pics for them. There was no rush to get back now, we'd make the final cut off easily.
The climbing went on and on, just when you thought you were going to reach the summit, it went up some more. Was it me, or was the air getting thinner? No, it's me, take on some more fuel. it's still a few miles plus a mile kayak. We climbed up further until we were in the clouds, "scotch mist" Penny calls this. Finally we reached the top and with a "wooohooo!" i jumped about a bit, and then looking down to see the most spectacular view of the day. The sun shining down on the valley, rain drizzling down on our heads, the coast in the background and the huge dramatic mountains surrounding.
The next mile was probably the hardest bit yet, a steep descent down wet, slippery marshland. My legs were trying to run away with me, so I had to trot and walk in places. About half way down I heard some scampering behind me, I already knew what it was. I tried to quicken my pace but I stumbled and scared myself and with "ooh, take it steady" grunter pissed past me! Shit.
There was no way I was going to catch her on this scary descent, every time I tried to pick up speed I stumbled so I decided to get down safely and let her take it.
I was so annoyed though!
Eventually the marshland turned back into a rocky track, then it skipped out onto the road (which again I immediately hated)
About a kilometer on road round the lake and onto the final section of the race! I overtook a guy struggling and tried to gee him up to no avail.
When I got to the kayak transition there were no other runners there, but I was tired and didn't think I would cope paddling alone so I waited for the guy I'd overtaken and asked if he wanted to share a kayak.
He did, so I chose a pink kayak and asked if he wanted the front or back - he took it from behind.
Sitting down was hard on my quads.
Paddle paddle paddle.....The guy at the back started whinging.
"Oh, ow ow ow! My back! oh my back hurts!! I have to stop!"
so we stopped, he shimmied about, paddle paddle paddle then "ow ow ow! my baaaaack!"
oh for fucks sake. This happened a few more times before I said "look, I'm tired too and the sooner we get back the sooner we're finished. you rest if you want, but I'm going to keep paddling"
So I did.
We got a little way across the lake and the current was really pulling us the wrong way, which made it even harder and made him even whinier! I was pulling hard on the right side of the kayak to keep straight.
He was moaning. Eventually he got comfortable (which was in a reclining position) and started helping me. But I was getting tired and crabby too, the current was being a bastard. The coast guard yelled at us to go round the buoy - man it was miles to go still and yet the current was still tugging us the wrong way. No one else seemed to be having this problem as a couple of kayaks sped past.
He stopped again, I kept paddling, it was fucking hard work, and the dickhead had the cheek to start making small talk
"where are you from?"
"NO! SwinDON!" I snapped. "Look, lets just paddle and get back."
We had about 100 yards to go and the current finally let us go, and we pulled into the shore. I felt so relieved as I made some "nnnneeeeeeeeeaaaarrrruuuuummmm!" noises to the cute Marshall pulling us into the rocks.
Whingy man apologised for "not performing" I assured him that it wasn't the first time I've have that problem with a bloke. Grateful to have my sense of humour back I bounded up the bank and ran across the finish line into the arms of Penny.
Photo, medal, tshirt. Was tempted to leave the bike behind for them to eBay but since it's not mine I thought better of it. Hobble to the car and back to the hotel, shower, and wine time!
Fantastic event and by far the most enjoyable race I've ever done, and I think I'm going to try a proper adventure race next year if I can find anyone mad enough to do it with me.
I owe Penny a huge thank you too as I'd not have done it without her amazing support xxx