This weekend I completed the 2015 Rat Race Coast to Coast challenge in Scotland. Several people have asked me ‘how was it’? This is where I come unstuck as I simply don’t think I can put into words what it was like, but I will give it a go!
It was by far the toughest event/ race I have ever done but it was by far the best I have ever done!
We set off from Cheshire at 11am on Thursday and, after an overnight stop in Dumblane (Thank you auntie Elaine and uncle Mike) we headed for Nairn. As we got into the highlands it dawned on me that the ‘hills’ I had trained on were no where near what I would face over the weekend. After registration at 2pm we racked the bike in Transition at Cawdor and headed for the hotel in Inverness. A short 2km run was followed by the biggest bowl of pasta and chicken I had ever seen at Little Italy in Inverness (I would highly recommend the restaurant). Then it was back to the hotel to try and get some sleep!
Saturday morning arrived and after forcing down some porridge in my hotel room we arrived at Nairn for 6:45am, just in time to see the experts set off. After struggling to eat half a bagel I went down to the beach to get a shot of me with my hand in the water. As it neared the 7:30am start time the nerves grew and so did the queue for the toilet! We entered the starting pen and had our race brief and after what seemed like the longest 10 minutes of my life the starter pistol went and we were off! Running along the river and through the woods we got a first glimpse of the scenery we could expect, we were pretty much single file for the whole run which felt slow at just over an hour for 11km (i didnt want to peak too soon). As we got to the transition in Cawdor it was the most relaxed transition area I had ever seen, we gathered our thoughts and I took on some food and water before heading out onto the first bike stage. I felt fast on the road and was immediately glad I had chosen to buy a cyclocross bike as this made it much easier than a mountain bike would have been.
The scenery was excellent as we made our way along to Fort Augustus and I was feeling strong until I got to what would turn out to be the most brutal climb I had ever come across. the wind picked up and it became a case of getting the bike in the lowest gear I could, gritting my teeth and trying to power through. At the top of the climb several of us had to stop, partly for a well earned breather, but also as the wind literally blew a couple of people off their bikes. The descent into Fort Augustus was steep and fast and the time that was lost on the climb was more than made up for. After racking my bike in transition I ran to the loch to complete the kayak, myself and ‘Mike from Rochdale’ were paired up and set about the 1km out and back before heading back to transition to end the days racing. I joked that day 1 was probably a mere warm up for day 2, I didnt know how right I was.
After pitching the tent, a massage and shower I invested in the best sausage stew I had ever eaten and we followed this up with lunch at a cafe near by. Thankfully my mum and dad were with me and I was able to have a sleep at their hotel followed by a cracking evening meal. After they dropped me back at the campsite I was able to get a good night sleep in my tent and woke on Sunday feeling surprisingly optimistic (I would say I camped under the stars, but it was cloudy). I had some porridge and a bagel for breakfast before collecting my gear and heading to the starting pen with my bike.
Day two started on the bike, a short blast along the canal was followed by 1 hour of tough offroad, at this point I would have given anything for a mountain bike. Soul destroyingly, we came out of the woods 150m up the road from where we went in! I looked at my Garmin and we had covered around 12km in that hour. The next 15km took another hour along some tracks, the scenery along which was stunning. We followed this with a quick blast of just over an hour to Fort William where we were given a ‘time out’ to collect ourselves before the final push to the Isles of Glencoe.
I started the ‘run’ over the first mountain by trying to run for 800m and walk for 200m, this went out the window roughly 5km in when the mountain didnt seem to stop and so I resolved to walk the up bits and run the down bits.
The weather started to turn an hour or so in and Im glad I put my waterproof on when I did! I had heard rumours of a ‘big hill’ coming up and as we ran down into the valley I was feeling relatively comfortable. At the 15km mark we met a surprisingly jolly marshall who pointed to the ‘big hill’ (proper mountain) and wished us luck. As we trudged up the mountain which seemed to keep growing the rain and wind kept coming and I wondered what I was doing. As we got near the top I turned around and looked back down the glen from where I had come and was simply in awe of nature. That view was topped a little while later when I reached the top of the hill and looked down on the loch, town and across to the other mountains. the view took my breath away and I had to stop for a couple of minutes as I realised just how insignificant we really are when compared to nature. An attempt at running down the mountain was curtailed when I realised how steep it was and we had to walk down (my knees were in pieces by the bottom). A 2km hobble/ run along the road lead to the final kayak stage across the loch. We were again given a time out to allow us to get kit together for the paddle.
I was paired with a chap from Glasgow who was doing the race for the 2nd time and we set off for the finish. On the loch I got my first experience of kayaking over waves and I have to say I panicked abit! As we got towards the shore we raised our paddles and received a cheer from the waiting crowd in return. As we came to the end of the kayak I could see the finish gantry and had visions of sprinting across thew finish line… these thoughts evaporated when both sets of quadriceps cramped as I stepped out of the kayak. After taking a few seconds to compose myself I jogged down the finish straight and received my medal, water and mars bar!
After the race I had soup and a roll followed by a massage, shower and change of clothes. We then headed back to Dumblane for the night and on to Cheshire on Monday.
As I noted earlier, this was the toughest event I have ever completed but it was by far and away the best. The camaraderie was excellent, everybody encouraged and helped where they could. The marshals were always brilliant even when the weather wasn’t! And the scenery, I cannot put into words how amazing it was. My dad has had several calenders with scenes from the highlands and I feel that every time I looked around it was like looking at those calenders. It reminded me of how small I am but also of what the body can achieve if we push ourselves.
I cannot wait to take part again in next years event!
I have a couple of thank you’s I need to say, firstly a huge thank you to Elite Health in Knutsford for providing me with two brand new tri suits. Secondly, a big thank you to 305 Sport for the print job on those suits, thirdly a big thank you to EB Leisure and their continued support through the APA programme. forthly thank you to the Rat Race crew for organising a stunning event. Fifthly, I would like to thank the Northwich Guardian for writing a great article and raising awareness of my chosen charity. Finally and most importantly I need to thank my parents and family for the support before, during and after the event, without you I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.