| Inspirational Races in Beautiful Places
Sun Jul 08, 2012 9:44 pm la marquise
As soon as PaulMcG posted his idea of a Norseman-inspired event in Scotland I knew that Spike would want to race it at the first opportunity. It took Spike a little longer to realise, but once he did it was all systems go.
We were delighted to hear that a good friend, Iain, also of Ipswich Tri, was keen to race hard in his homeland, not least, because I would get to play with his partner, Julia - a wonderful friend and brilliant company.
Now to arrange transport, accommodation, a support athlete, food, general fussing.
I realised that accommodation would be tricky: 150 athletes each with at least 1 support crew over a limited area. I managed to secure a 5-bed room in Torridon Youth Hostel. We would have preferred a 3 and a 2, but they had all been snapped up.
The Youth Hostel turned out to be an excellent choice as it was only a few yards from race HQ and the finish line, and had all the facilities we needed. The manager, Matt, was a gem. He was as accommodating as possible to us ‘special needs’ guests, letting us sleep in, not kicking us out during the day, allowing use of the washing machine in the morning (usually for hostel use only), and was a generally friendly chap.
Next we had to find a support athlete… As with Norseman, you need a pal to accompany you on the final climb of the day: 18km up and down 2 Munros. Let’s face it: I’m not up to the job and would have held Spike back by hours. So we contacted our pal Chris (aka DividedAlien of this parish), who indicated that whilst several of his COLT club mates were racing, none had solicited his services as a support athlete… yet. We have known Chris for several years, always meeting up at Helwith Bridge Duathlon, where he usually finishes close to Dave in the results list. So we snapped him up, which turned out to be an excellent decision as, not only is Chris built compactly, and thus doesn’t take up much room in the car, but it transpires that he is an experienced hill walker, a very desirable companion when you’re up a mountain in the cloud.
After due (but perhaps not sufficient) deliberation, we decided to drive to the race. This decision was based mainly on the amount of kit we had to transport.
Now it’s a fair old way from Ipswich to Torridon, so some planning was required. We were keen to catch up with Mr and Mrs NewarkTricky in their new home, so invited ourselves over to stay the night. This had several good points:
1. We got to play with our friends who provided a first class meal and wonderful hospitality
2. It got the car packed and us a couple of hours into the journey.
Spike can prevaricate for Britain when given the slightest opportunity, so getting him on the road on the Wednesday afternoon would save me much frustration the next morning.
On Thursday the Trickies, of course, had to earn their respective daily crusts, so we set off reasonably early and drove to Inverness station. Blow me down with a feather if Chris wasn’t there waiting for us.
We drove on another few miles to a wonderful B&B just outside The Muir of Ord. I chose this location for 2 reasons:
1. It sounds a bit like the Ood from Dr Who (but I stress that our hosts bore little resemblance)
2. It had a humungous Temple of Satan (Tesco) nearby.
On Friday morning we stocked up at said den of iniquity with food and petrol and tootled off to Torridon, via Achnasheen to check out T2.
We soon met up with a multitude of friends including a selection of Ladyboys and all the other Xtreme Triathlon suspects who came out of the woodwork on hearing of a new race. Much of the day was spent working out where we had all met: at which Norseman – or was it O till O, or Coniston, or Wensleydale…?
There was no doubt that the vibe was warm and the camaraderie plentiful.
The key information provided at the Race Briefing was that nudity was permitted in transition. Hurrah!
We did a reccie down to Shieldaig to check out the T1 location and design,
and to spend a lot of time oohing and aahing at the stunning scenery.
Julia was excited to spot a seal, but this seal was wearing a swim hat and wet suit
On Friday evening we tucked into a massive spag bol to set us up for the next day’s travails. Then an early night was required.
Oh the joy of the 2:30 am alarm. Tea was made. Porridge was shovelled in and we were soon in a long line of cars heading for Shieldaig. Spike registered and I helped faff about T1.
Kisses goodbye and the boys hopped on the bus. Wandering along the loch shore an older man in a wet suit asked where he could find registration. It was only our pal, Milos, who we met at Spike’s first Norseman. I helped him along and he was reassured by race organisers that he’d get to the start ok, and to stop panicking.
Then it all went quiet. Time for a cuppa. We strolled into a bar that had evidently not closed that night. The barmaid was wired on caffeine. A couple of regulars were taking advantage of the unusual opening hours. A Norwegian support team was bemused. The midges were getting an unexpected feed.
It was a beautiful morning which was a relief after the rain and drizzle of previous days.
A little before 6 am some swimmers were visible. I knew that Iain would be in the top 10 out of the swim. We don’t call him ‘Aquaboy’ for nothing. But how tricky is it to recognize people in wet suits? I have trouble enough recognizing Spike and I’ve been looking out for him for more than several years now. 6th out of the water looked familiar.
I yelled out “Is that Iain?”.
“Yes” he replied.
Julia was nowhere to be seen, so I ran forward, grabbed his hand and led him to his T1 spot. I told him I had no idea where Julia was, and then there was a familiar laugh: “I’m behind you taking photos”.
“Err you’re supposed to be Iain’s support helping him take off his wetsuit”.
Julia got big-time payback on me a couple of hours later…
Halfway down the field the gorgeous Spike emerged from the deep.
I had seen that the athletes had to run on sharpish stones to get up to T1, so I brought him down some shoes to slip on as he came out of the water. Not quite Keith’s bowl of warm water to thaw the delicate toes of ladyboys, but I definitely got some brownie points for that.
Spike was shivering so when trying to choose what to wear I got him to remove his cold wet tri-shorts and put on his over-knee cycle shorts. As soon has he had dry clothes on, he cheered up. It saved him from being frozen for the first few miles.
Chris and I collected up the wetsuit, stuffed it in a bag and headed off with a mission. The logistics for getting out of Shieldaig were good, as the car route was not the race route going up the sharp hill. We were keen to pass as many cyclists as possible on the road to Torridon as it was a 2-lane road, and therefore relatively safe. From Torridon to Kinlochewe the route is single track with passing places, and it became a little jammed.
We headed straight to Gairloch and located the Old Inn. Proffering our buffet breakfast tickets we tucked into to a full Scottish. Nom nom nom.
We met up with Julia, who soon left as Iain ‘Flipper’ Downie was considerably ahead of Spike, and with Iain’s sister and partner, who had come from Edinburgh to cheer him on. With full tums, Chris and I decided we should look out for Spike as he’d be along soon. Another supported told us that she’d seen Spike just behind her athlete and he’d be along any minute.
I willed each helmet that appeared in the distance to be red and white. But it wasn’t.
Chatting with a Norwegian support crew I mused that this was rather like Norway. “No” he replied “It’s like Norway, but with beautiful old pubs and reasonably priced beer. And midges.”
Then I got a text from Julia saying that Spike had already passed her and she’d given him a banana and energy drink. So we had missed him while stuffing our faces. Oops. Thanks, Julia. I felt suitably chastised.
We didn’t hang about getting back in the car and along the race route.
We saw black and red Ipswich colours ahead. There he is! Yay! Caught him. Oops no. That was Iain. The inevitable catch had already happened. We gave Iain a cheer, hopped back in the car and went Spike a-chasing.
Once we reached him we got into a good rhythm of driving 10 or so miles, stopping, asking what Spike needed next, getting it ready, going another couple of miles and handing it over.
Requirements can be energy drink, water, gels, bars, salty fish, ham in tortilla wraps, cashews, clothes, jelly babies, coffee…
This worked pretty well. Of course, we were getting to know the support crews of the athletes near Spike in the race. We all cheered on each other’s athletes and shared stories and jokes. That’s part of the joy of being part of an active support crew.
The route had plenty of good, safe stopping places, which made supporting relatively straightforward. I also remembered to take plenty of photos. It is easy to be so totally focussed on supporting your athlete, that at the end of the day you have only taken 3 pics, and 2 of them are of dawn at T1.
As we approached the final stages of the bike leg we had to plan our approach to T2. To say that T2 was compact with limited parking was an understatement, so we didn’t want to arrive too soon, blocking the way for faster athletes. I realised later that we were very lucky to be allowed to park actually in T2, not along the road. It was raining here all day – localised rain that got each and every athlete. Spike did not seem sorry to get off his bike. While he changed into running gear I rolled on DEET midge repellent. It was Midge City here. There was more than a trifle of wincing when I accidentally got some repellent on his wet suit rash on the neck. I call it character building.
Over the years I have learnt something about race nutrition, and that Spike sometimes doesn’t know what he needs. I got Chris to peel him a tangerine (well he had the choice of that or help Spike with his shorts). Spike wasn’t too sure about citrus, but I informed him that he really wanted it and put it in his hand. The orange seems to kick-start his stomach (in a good way) and help him accept more food. Sometimes mild mid-race bullying is appropriate.
The Celtman marathon is split into 3 sections:
1. 17km from T2 to T2a along forest track over the Coulin Pass (that’s a pretty big hill for normal people). This section had a couple of aid stations as support crews could not access that route – unless running with the athlete. But a support athlete on this stretch could not be the same person as for section 2.
2. 18km from T2a to the car park, aka T2b, up and down the big bastard mountains. For this you had to have a support athlete to accompany you
3. 7km from T2b to Torridon along the road to glory, soup, pasta and beer.
Spike got his appetite going and set off for the Coulin Pass. Chris and I packed away the bike and got out of T2 as quickly as possible, to make space for the next support crew.
We knew that we had about 1.5 hours to cover the short drive to T2a and that parking at that transition was limited. So we went back to the Achnasheen roundabout and cheered on cyclists. We were hoping to see Iain, but we had evidently missed him, approaching T2 . Grrr. Anyway, hopefully we helped to spread some joy through the field.
We parked up along the road at T2a. Chris got himself sorted for running with his mandatory kit, while I got Spike’s T2a stuff ready. The organisation was impressive. They had a gazebo and everything. Support athletes had their kit checked before the athlete arrived.
Soon young Spike came bouncing along the road looking jolly chirpy.
He had his kit checked and off they went up into the clouds.
Now this section doesn’t show me in the best light.
I hadn’t thought it through thoroughly. I thought “well, 17km took about 1.5 hours, so 18km with a bit of uphill will take a couple of hours, and I don’t want to be late to meet them at T2b to take the mountain pack off Spike.” So I zipped back to Torridon, cleared out the car, washed out sticky water bottles, put the wetsuit and soggy shoes from T1 out to dry on the car. I wasn’t hanging about as I pulled on my cycle kit and got my trusty steed out of the bike shed. I nipped along to the Finish line to check on progress, where I was told they were waiting for the winner to arrive.
Now, had I engaged brain before pedalling off to T2b, I could have thought
“Hmmm. Winner not in yet. Spike is likely to be at least 2 hours after the winner. Perhaps I should spend a bit more time preparing myself, getting some warm gear for me and some possible nutrition for my athlete.”
But no, off I pedalled in the warm summer afternoon.
I cheered wildly, whooping each of the teams as they ran along the road towards the finish. About half a dozen athletes had descended the mountain by the time I reached T2b, where I joined the supporters party. Everyone coming down the mountain got plenty of cheers from us all.
It was a thrill to see Matt The Cat doing phenomenally well. It started to get a bit chilly, and all I had was my lightweight showerproof jacket, so that went on. A lovely French supporter, who I had met several times through the day, couldn’t stand to see me in cycle shorts a moment longer and insisted I sit in her car awhile. She then rummaged in the boot and presented me with a jacket and sports leggings – her husband’s clothes. I was very grateful and returned to front line cheering with the gang. Soon Eric Abecassis from Poissy appeared. He didn’t seem at all surprised that I was wearing his clothes.
Three hours after I had cheered the race leader along the road, Spike and Chris came down the mountain.
I took the mountain pack. Spike wanted peanuts or cashews – but numpT me had brought nothing. A kind lady from Edinburgh RC gave Spike peanuts. Thank you.
I cycled back to the Youth Hostel, reckoning that I had a good 30 minutes on Spike and Chris, to get myself sorted. I put my bike away, had a quick shower, put on clean clothes, grabbed some warm layers for Spike and Chris, packed up the French clothes in a bag with a bottle of St Peter’s Ruby Red (definitely a warming brew) and dashed to the Finish line – only to find I had missed the big moment by a couple of minutes. Oops.
Spike was desperate to brush his teeth and get cleaned up, so he and Chris returned to the YH for ablutions, while I chatted away with whoever would let me near them (mainly Matt the Cat, who was too knackered to escape).
The clean boys appeared. We drank soup and ate pasta. We drank beer. By this time it was dark. We then took a finish line re-enactment photo.
There was lots of chatting, each time a new Celtman appeared through the Community Centre door. I cheered some people in to the Finish. We were getting pretty sleepy, but couldn’t go home yet. At 11:15pm Iain and Julia loomed out of the dark. Yay! Iain was a Celtman. Their descent of the mountain had been considerably delayed by another support athlete suffering from vertigo. Iain and Julia assisted the athlete in handholding his friend down the mountain.
Soup and beer were applied, but they couldn’t deal with pasta.
We all toddled back to the YH for some deep snoozing.
Unfortunately the wet suit and shoes were still out on the car and it rained quite heavily overnight. Damn. If I had stopped to think, when I had loads of time after T2a, I could have put those things in the YH drying room. That’s a lesson for next time…
At the t-shirt ceremony the room was full of smiles and satisfaction. New friends had been made, old acquaintance rekindled. There was also an amount of returning borrowed kit to rightful owners. The camaraderie at these events is what makes them great. Someone needs help, and you give whatever you are able.
It was great to see Milos safe and sound. He hadn’t got in till well past midnight. I had felt guilty not waiting for his arrival, but my body protested too much.
That afternoon Team Ipswich split up for relaxing walks (Oh, and Spike rode up to Diabaig and back for good measure). Then we all met up for a celebration meal at the YH. Good friends, good food, good wine followed by good sleep.
On Monday morning Team Spike set off, we dropped Chris at Strathcarron station, and headed to near Plockton, where our friends, Roger and Iris awaited our arrival at their holiday rental cottage. Roger and Iris are very good friends to visit for post iron-distance recovery. Food is central to every part of the day and we did our level best to accommodate this Over the next couple of days we indulged in walks and cycle rides, and Spike met a seal when swimming off the coast of Skye.
When we got home the cat slept close to me all night. Only the first night, mind. He pretty much ignores me, as usual, now.
~ Last edited by la marquise on Mon Jul 09, 2012 12:51 pm; edited 1 time in total
Mon Jul 09, 2012 7:10 am KP nut
This is a GREAT blog. Love it! Like your choice of races too. I enjoy 'different' and low key and love my few and brief forays into ultras. But then I also like BIG and razzmatazzy too. I'm easy to please
"It always seems impossible, until it's done" (Nelson Mandela)
My Outlaw Race Report: http://www.tritalk.co.uk/forums/viewtopic.php?t=80246
Mon Jul 09, 2012 7:45 am barnetrose
A very entertaining read, and some great pics. Well done to Spike and well done to you
Useful stuff about the nutrition and sometimes knowing what your athlete wants more than they do. I guess that comes with time. We've already worked out that Andy giving me food orders at the previous checkpoint works well.
I'm also realising how important it is to select the right support runners for the WHW race next year and how easily they can turn into more of a hindrance than a help!