I sit here almost a week after the event and am struggling to put into words an accurate representation of the race but, I must try so here goes….
All the training was done, months of preparing our bodies and almost as long spent getting the logistics of packing the car with the mountains of kit that would be required (my fiancé doesn’t exactly travel light)! (joking). After she had finished work, me, her, my mum and dad piled into the car and made our way north from Cheshire. Our first stop was in Dollar, Central Scotland on Thursday night where our family friends Judith and Alistair had kindly agreed to let us stop over. After a hearty breakfast on the Friday morning we continued our trip and, as last year, the enormity of our task began to dawn on us as the hills only got bigger (I knew I should have done more hill training). A quick pit stop at Bothy Bikes in Avimore to replace a forgotten helmet for my dad and we headed for Nairn. We arrived in good time and joined the small but growing que to register. Unlike last year the Rat Race crew opened registration early as the line started to grow which was a great help and made the process much quicker and easier. After picking up our race info we headed to Cawdor Castle to rack the bikes and get set up. A growing number of people arrived and we all helped each other with little jobs to get the bikes race ready. After locking my bike up for the night we headed for the hotel in Inverness and after a short 2km run with dad we rested up for the rest of the evening.
I slept unusually well for a pre-race night and the alarm sounded at 5:30am, the nerves grew as I forced down some porridge and we headed back to Nairn to begin the race. After the obligatory picture of the hands in the water I ate a bagel and made final preparations. Once again my nerves grew almost as fast as the que of people waiting for the toilets! At around 7:25 we started to make our way into the starting pen with the first wave and after a short race brief, handshake off my dad and good luck hug from Katie we were off! The morning was cool but dry and the run along the river to Cawdor was brilliant, as I entered T1 nearly 5 minutes faster than last year I was on top of the world but thought this was surely too good to be true… transition was very relaxed as people got set for the first bike leg, taking on fuel and sorting clothes/ helmets out. I set off on the bike and for the first kilometre or so I was happy with how things were going and then I went around the corner and the wind hit me like a brick! The rest of the ride was a slow, tough ride into a brutal headwind, at least on my cyclocross bike I could keep up a slightly better pace and my heart truly went out to the guys on mountain bikes who had to deal with the wind as well as bigger tyres. After about 15km of lone riding a group of 3 lads passed me and told me to hang on! 15-20km followed of small group riding, taking it in turns on the front to get some rest bite from the wind, mercifully it wasn’t raining but the progress was tough and slow. A long hill was followed by a cracking decent into Fort Augustus and T2 was a welcome sight. A short run was followed by a nice kayak on Loch Ness where I was partnered with Terry, originally from Yorkshire but now living down south, another short run back to transition and my first day was done. I waited for my dad to come into transition with a group supporting a lady called Steph and somehow managed to miss him! Luckily I spotted him on his way back out and ran with him to the kayak and watched as he powered around on his own! All through the day, as with the rest of the race other competitors were absolutely brilliant, encouraging each other along and checking to make sure all was well if they saw people at the side of the road. After my dad finished for the day we headed back to the car and then onto a café for dinner followed by our overnight accommodation at Invergarry. It was great and very relaxing to have Katie along this year, your support crew are very important and it was great to go for a short walk to see some of the scenery. After an evening meal in the bar we got an early night ready for day two.
Another good sleep was followed by a 5:30 alarm and after some porridge we headed back to Fort Augustus to begin the next leg. As we got into the pen and got on our bikes, we had a mandatory kit check, incredibly important however some were frustrated as this took longer than anticipated, not a major issue though, we were also told that due to the weather forecast the final kayak was cancelled, I wasn’t looking forward to what mother nature had in store for us further up the road. I didn’t feel very fresh at all and was struggling to be my normal chipper self however, as we went through the timing gate we were off along the lock/ canal towards the forest. The off-road section wasn’t any easier than last year and was very technical in bits, at one point it looked like the heavens would open again but thankfully it was only a few spots. Somehow I was able to make it through that 20-mile section with no mechanical issues (my luck will certainly run out next year) and the weather improved as we smashed out the 13-mile blast to Fort William. Day 2 T1 was at the FW shinty club and was again relaxed as people prepared themselves for what was about to come. RR did a brilliant job here of providing nutrition, plenty of cliff bars etc. were on offer and I stocked up ready for the run/ trek over to Glencoe. I took advantage of the time out for 10 mins or so and gathered myself before setting off on the run. A short flat start filled me with more confidence (too much as I was going far too fast for the first couple of Km’s). as we hit the first mountain I tried my tactic of run for 800m, walk for 200m, once again this didn’t last long and I decided to walk the ups and run the downs. As before, the team spirit was great as everybody I passed or that passed me always had words of encouragement. We made our way down the glen and, instead of heading over the second mountain from last year we headed further down the west highland way. It stayed dry but at times the wind picked up and began to bite. Eventually we made it towards the end and another technical decent with excellent views was followed by a short run to the finish line at an outdoor centre. A short wait and I was able to see my dad coming down the road and cheer him into the finish line, this was an incredibly proud and emotional moment. A short wait and we were bused back to Glencoe to collect our medals and have finishing pictures taken.
All through the race the scenery was once again absolutely spectacular and I would go as far as to say that this is now one of my favourite places in the world. When the weather is kind the scenery is unbelievably beautiful and I continue to be in awe of nature. The weather on Sunday was as close to perfection as you could hope for and provided simply stunning views all along the route. For me this is one of the elements which makes this event so special, another is the fantastic team of marshals who always greet you with a smile and encouragement, I cannot tell you how much this helps when the wind has been smashing you in the face for 50km and you just want to stop, cry and have your own private pity party. The final element which makes this event so special are of course the other competitors, the banter, support and camaraderie en route is by far the best on any event or race I have ever done. Riding/ walking/ running alongside people you can take the time to get to know them a bit, people came from all over the place and it really was great to see. The group of people supporting Steph that I stood with on the Saturday waiting for my dad were a brilliant bunch, whenever I saw them they would give me an update on when they had seen my dad coming in/ out of transition and how he was getting on and at the end, they were about to leave the carpark when my dad came down the road, they all dived out of the van and cheered him in with me this again was a special moment and my thanks goes to them and I hope to see them again next year.
In summary, this was again the toughest but best race I have ever taken part in, the Saturday was the most brutally tough day due to the unrelenting wind but Sunday more than made up for it. If you are considering taking part next year all I can say is please please please DO IT, you will not regret it! There were times for me, as last year when I thought to myself ‘who’s idea was this’? and there were even times where I was unsure if I wanted to carry on but I am so glad I did carry on. Remember that by even getting to the start line you have done what many others haven’t and if you can start and finish with a smile on your face that is the main thing and a great achievement.
One final note before the thank you’s, my dad, at age 63 and racing for the first time not only completed the race, he WON his category, how cool is that?!
Finally then the thank you’s, there are way too many to mention here however a select few are as follows: thank you to Judith and Alistair for putting us up for the night on Thursday, thank you to Rat Race for another top event, thank you to my fellow rat racers and their support crews for all the words of encouragement, thank you to my friends, family and everyone else for their constant support and thank you to everyone who donated to my charity efforts for Genetic Disorders UK. Finally, thank you to my Mum Judith and fiancé Katie for being an absolutely outstanding support crew, putting up with me as I got stressed and following us across Scotland in the name of adventure, without your support I really wouldn’t be able to do what I do.
Well, that just about covers it. Thank you for reading, as always, if you have any questions just give me a shout, see you next year!
The hills getting bigger as we head north