Hebridean Triathlon 2019 (Andrew)

The Hebridean Triathlon is the remotest triathlon in the UK. It was started by the Western Isles Triathlon Club as a trial event for 15 people three years ago and has gradually increased the number of people to almost 40 this year. With a small band of volunteers it’s a small but enthusiastic race.

The race starts and end at Shawbost School and set up and registration is informal and thoughtful – with rain forecasted, the organisers provided everyone with clear plastic bags to store their kit at transition so it would be dry despite conditions.

My legs were still heavy three weeks after Roth but I thought I would still be okay to take part.

Swim

The swim leg takes place in a loch about 2km from Shawbost School. A mini-bus takes competitors while bikes are transported to transition. It’s a simple system and easy to manage. Even easier if, like one woman, you don’t even wear a wetsuit.

“Are you not wearing a wetsuit?” someone asked her.

“There’s not much point,” she said.

“Aye,” said the other, “I forgot, you’ve swung the English Channel!”

Which is a bit like Jasmin Paris turning up for 10k. Or Ronaldo appearing at fives. However, as it turned out, the English Channel may have been good preparation as the course felt longer than 1500m. I thought it was closer to 1800m, and even longer for me as I managed to follow the wrong feet almost to the opposite bank to where we were meant to be going!

The water was warm, almost 19 degrees, but very dark, heavy with peat. One of the bouys had blown away but the organisers had roped in (no pun intended) a replacement at short notice. The original bouy was found a kilometre down the road having lept three fences and numerous crofts. Luckily, there wasn’t any breeze for the race and the water was flat calm. Unluckily, no wind meant midges were out in force turning this triathlon in to a quadrathalon – swim, bike, run & scratch, scratch, scratch!

Bike

Normally on an out and back course you have a ride of two halves. One fast, into the wind. One slow, as you battle it. However, with no wind, their was only the numerous hills to battle.

The thing you have to know about roads on the Isle of Lewis is that they are lumpier than school custard, including one short sharp 15% at the turning point. Thankfully, the turning point is also the Callanish Stones so you have a cracking view as you make your way back to transistion 2.

Given it was only a few weeks since Challenge Roth, the bike leg felt short. But then, after 112 miles, anything feels short.

Run

I’d misread the run route. I thought it too was out and back. While the first five kilometres are generally uphill, as there’s no flats on the run route either, I thought the second half would be easier as we’d be coming back the same way. The only doubt I had was that I hadn’t seen anyone running back to the start. That should have been a big clue.

Instead of doubling back the route takes a left turn and returns through a single track road surrounded by croft houses.

By the 5km point a few drops of rain had become a downpour and, while warm, it was good to see the finish and, finally, a downhill sprint to the line.

Overall

A cracking race that deserves support as it expands. As the remotest triathlon in the UK you do get a real sense of being on the edge of the world as the bike course takes you through crofting towns, views of the Atlantic, and the Callanish Stones.

Plus you get a fantastic buffet at the end!

And with a small field you have a good chance of making the top 10 – or, worse, as in my case, you can be fourth fastest male AKA the fastest loser!

A Triathlete’s Travel Guide – Automobiles (Andrew)

Whenever you enter a race you will need to travel. Unless you live by the ocean or a loch with enough space for a transition area then you’re going to plane, train our automobile it. Previously, I looked at planes – don’t fly! – and trains – don’t catch them! – and this week, the worst of them all… automobiles!

Some people may think a bike is the most important vehicle you need for a triathlon. But those people have, clearly, never tried to get a bike box into a hire car with umpteen suitcases and a boot that’s guaranteed to be one centimetre short of the length of your bike box – and the boot door won’t shut no matter how hard you press it down!!!

I collected one hire car from Geneva airpor. On the way to the rental car park, I had to get a minibus. Three other men were on it. Two friends from England, who were excitedly talking about all the Cols they were about to cycle, and Sir Clive Woodward, the former English World Cup winning manager.

The two guys got very excited when they spotted Sir Clive. They started asking him about the World Cup and then, once they ran out of stories about how they watched the final, they asked him for tips for improving their cycling. What could Sir Clive teach them about a winning mentality?

I didn’t ask anything. I have no interest in rugby so, apart from knowing vaguely who he was, I couldn’t think of anything to say to Sir Clive except “is a rugby ball just a squashed football or is it more complicated than that?!”

Once we left the mini-bus I thought I wouldn’t see the guys again but, as I collected my car, they were collecting their car in the next parking bay. Unfortunately, Sir Clive wasn’t there to help them as they hadn’t asked him the most important question of all about winning: how do you get two bike boxes into a tiny Renault Clio? Clearly, neither had thought to compare the bike box with the very small car they’d hired.

I thought of them again in Norway last year. We’d hired an estate for Norseman. Unfortunately, we also had three people to fit in the car too – and hadn’t thought to check how the third person would sit in the car if the back seat had to come down to fit the bike box.

A game of vehicular Tetris developed as we tried umpteen different angles to try and rotate and fit a bike box, three suitcases, three bags and three people into the estate while still keeping one seat up so that we didn’t have to crouch in the boot for a five hour drive to Eidfjord from Oslo.

In Roth, we came up with a better idea: we’d dismantle the bikes, as we tried to fit two bikes and four people into an SUV. This worked well until, after the race, we came back to the car and then had to spend the next hour on a dark street, using mobile phone torches for light, to pull together an impromptu workshop. It worked, everything fitted, but if you want to avoid any travel problems there’s really only one answer – always race at home!

So, I did.

Next week, the Hebridean Triathlon!

Devil O’ The Highlands – Part 4 (Iain)

The Chinese philosopher Confucius wrote: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

The approximate distance from Tyndrum To Fort William is 42 miles. The journey started with a single step but it didn’t finish until step 77,000!

Kinlochleven (CP3) to Somewhere in the middle of nowhere (CP4)

I changed my clothes and shoes at CP3. It’s amazing what a difference a fresh pair of socks makes. My wife joined me as a support runner/walker. She had been due to race but had to drop out due to injury.

It was good to have company although I’m not the most talkative or appreciative person in events. I switch to a “just get it done” mode that I struggle to shake until an event is over. It’s a mental strength which helps with endurance races but probaly doesn’t help my marriage! Thankfully, she would forgive me afterwards… I hoped!

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I slathered on sun tan lotion and then we headed out. I put a bottle of Lucozade and a can of coke in my backpack so I could treat myself later. The climb out of CP3 to CP4 is the longest climb of the day. It’s not hard but in the heat it was a slog.

I decided it was too hot too run so I fast walked this section…and the next section 🙂 – in fact I didn’t run again until 100m from the finish.

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It was probably the most beautiful part of the course. It was very peaceful walking through the valleys. Occasionaly we would pass  a runner or walker but mostly it was just the two of us plodding along.

The check point seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. It might have been near civilization but it was very difficult to tell. I refilled my water bottle and had a celebratory coke. Only 10K to go

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere (CP4) to Fort William (Finish)

I felt good leaving CP4 and was confident of finishing. The route was undulating for a few miles. Some single track roads in which it would be easy to trip over rough terrain. As one man discovered when he jogged past and then tripped over a tree root 20m later. He jumped up unhurt but he looked a bit embarrassed.

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A lot of this section was spent staring at Ben Nevis. It seemed so close but despite walking on and on it felt we’d never get there.

I’ve climbed it a couple of times but I’ve never been seen it on a day as clear as this.

One man asked me “is that the hill we have to go up at the end?”. He’d heard there was a hill right at the finish. I said yes, even though it wasn’t the hill. He looked really scared and ran off. I shouted I was only joking but I’m not sure he heard me.

As we reached the finish line. I decided to jog a little just so the finish photo would look like I had ran it all.

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I crossed the finish line in 9hr 40min-ish. My aim had been sub 9 hours so I was pleased to not be too far off it. The hot day meant it was an achievement just to finish!

I picked up some tasty hot food and sat down for the first time time since 5am. When the car came to collect me it was a struggle to get back up.

Devil O’ The Highlands – Part 3 (Iain)

67577532_2583083361736825_5999390484340932608_nThe number 666 is commonly associated with the Devil but did you know the number 33 is associated with God?

The reason why is because:

  • AMEN in numeric form is 1+13+5+14=33.33 degrees latitude and 33 degrees longitude is where angels are supposed to have fallen to earth. and 33 Celsius was the temperature on Saturday that caused me to shout “OH MY GOD! It is so hot!” 

This year The Devil O’The Highlands was aptly named because it was hot as hell.

Glencoe (CP3) to Kinlochleven (CP4)

Up until CP3 the the conditions were warm but bearable but as soon as I left Glencoe the clouds parted and the sun broke through. It got hotter and hotter as I approached the Devils Staircase. There was no wind to cool me down which made the climb tougher than usual.  At the top I was greeted there was a Devil handing out Jelly Babies. I took one. I may have sold my soul in the process. I’m not sure. I didn’t have a chance to check the terms and conditions for taking a sweetie. 67503001_2582997831745378_4241893929856794624_nFrom the top it was mostly downhill to Kinlcohleven. I enjoyed this section as the views were great and the running was easy although towards the end of the run I felt a slight pain in my left leg. I ignored it and hoped it would clear up once I was on flatter terrain. Just before the finish I heard someone sing “Woah, we’re half way there!” which worried me as i was sure we were two thirds of the way there. They than sang “Woah, livin’ on a prayer!”. Thankfully it wasn’t a runner proclaiming the distance but a walker playing Bon Jovi very loudly from a stereo strapped to his rucksack. He was walking with a few other folk who I hope all loved Bon Jovi too. 67922300_10156299200341196_6121587084210733056_nI reached Kinlchleven about twenty minutes slower than planned but I was happy to have got this far in good time.Only 15 miles to go! 

A Triathlete’s Travel Guide – Trains (Andrew)

Whenever you enter a race you will need to travel. Unless you live by the ocean or a loch with enough space for a transition area then you’re going to plane, train our automobile it. Last week, I looked at planes – don’t fly! – and this week, I look at what you need to know about catching the train…

The problem with traveling by train is that the train has other people. Adults talking; babies squalling; lads drinking; mobile phones blaring; laptops glaring. It doesn’t matter what carriage you get, or how long you travel, there is one thing guaranteed: you will always be sat near a knob – and it’s time we told them to shut the hell up!

But we have a problem. We may want to tell the dick on the train* that they are being a dick, but we are  scared that if we tell them to shut up we will ourselves become… the dick on the train.

Psychologically, you have become victim of a ‘double dicking’ i.e. by telling a knob to shut up you become twice as big a knob.

Double dicking in action 

“Did you see what that man did, Mummy?”

“Yes, dear, he tried to stop those nice young lads chanting a catchy song about their rival football team’s sexuality, that we were all secretly rather enjoying.”

“What a dick!”

“Exactly, dear, let’s glower at him to show our disapproval!”

What can we do?

We need an anonymous way to inform the dick on the train that we are watching them – and we don’t approve!

We need… a dicklight!

It’s simple. Every seat will have a large blue light. Every other seat will have the power to switch on that light remotely from a special keypad.

This may be expensive to install in every seat but, trust me, it’ll be worth it.

Once the dicklight is installed, if you act like a dick in seat 45, the passenger in seat 78 can just just switch on your dicklight  and the spotlight of shame will shine upon you!

Easy!

Dicklight version 2.0

But, what if the dick doesn’t know why they are being a dick? What if you just want to tell them to nip to the loo and have a wash under theirs arms to get rid of their bad B.O.? Sometimes dicks smell.

Simple – along with the dicklight we have dick text – an anonymous inter seat texting service. Shine a light and send them a message: “You smell!”

And, if you see a pretty lady, why not try dickflirt?

Perfect!

The only thing trains won’t have is dick flashing, because that sounds dirty, and children will just giggle.

A true story

Now, if Scotrail had introduced the dicklight two weeks ago, I would not have had to suffer silently when I saw, through a gap in the seats in front of me, a middle aged man watching pornography on his laptop. Sweaty hardcore pornography.

I could have switched on his dicklight! I could have sent him a dicktext! Because just as I caught a glimpse of a XXX double dicking, he switched it off!

And then he put on Mrs Brown’s Boys!

What a dick.

In summary

Don’t leave your house!

*The dick on the train is a distant cousin of Jasper Carrot’s nutter on the bus

Devil O’ The Highlands – Part 2 (Iain)

Toblerone Mountain

The triangular shape of the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps is commonly believed to be the inspiration for the shape of Toblerone chocolate. But I think Mr Theodor Tobler (the creator of the bar) must have walked the West Highland Way and seen the Toblerone-esque Ben Dorain.

I’ve only climbed Ben Dorain once. It was a cloudy wet day with no view from the top. When I got back down, a man asked me “did you get to the top?”

I replied yes.

He said “the second cairn?”

I replied “what second cairn?”

“The second cairn is the real top. The first one is a false top”

DOH!! One day I’ll go back and reach the real top.

Tyndrum to Bridge Of Orchy (CP1)

My plan was to take this section easy. Don’t run past anyone just stay at the pace of the group.

That plan lasted until the first slight incline when lots of folk started walking. I suspect they were following a “walk the climbs, run the flats/downhills” plan but it seemed too early for that so I kept running and overtook them all.

I thought the section was relatively flat but afterwards I noticed one of my mile splits was 6 minute pace!

There must have been a downhill section that I didn’t notice.

I blame the early start. I was still half asleep.

There’s a road crossing at Bridge of Orchy manned by volunteers stopping the traffic. I was amazed I recognized one of them. I’d been at Uni with him but hadn’t seen him in years.

Its a very Scottish thing to say what something is not rather than what something is. Ask a Scotsman what the weather is like on a sunny day and instead of replying “it is sunny” he will say “its not raining”

Ask a Scotsman how an event has gone. Instead of saying “it was good” he’ll say “it wasn’t shite”

I realised this after he shouted “how are you” and I replied “I’m not bad”

Why didn’t I just say I’m good? As I was good. I reached the CP in just over an hour. Right on schedule.

Leaving CP1

Bridge Of Orchy to Glencoe Ski Resort (CP2)

The only previous time I’ve done this section was during a night walk. It was pitch dark and I didnt’ see a thing. I was looking forward to seeing the route in daylight.

There was a kitcheck as soon as I left CP1 and then the first hill of the day. I walked most of it to conserve energy.

After that the route it was a bit dull and samey. Lots of moor! It turns out I hadn’t missed much by not seeing this section previously.

After a few miles I got bored of the view so I tried to listen to a podcast but my hands were so sweaty my touch screen phone wouldn’t respond to my touch. I tried wiping it on my clothes but everything I had was either damp or sweaty so it didn’t help.

After the race I realized I didn’t need to use my hands I could have just said “Siri – play music” DOH!

The midges got worse as the leg progressed. Thankfully I grew up in the Western Isles. Mainland midges are just a minor inconvenience compared to the flesh eating flying monsters I’ve experienced at home.

I reached Glen Coe just after 0900. Thankfully, my support team were there as I’d told them to get me at 0930. I was bit quicker than I originally thought.

I picked up some food and refilled my bottles before heading off. The next section was the one I was looking forward to the most. If asked to describe the next bit I would have to say “its’ not flat…”

Devil O’ The Highlands – Part 1 (Iain)

The Devil O’ The Highlands is a 42 mile point to point race along the West Highland Way from Tyndrum to Fort William.

I’ve always wanted to do the race for no other reason than the name sounded exciting. Who wouldn’t want to race the Devil?

This year I fancied doing a race that would challenge me as much as an IronMan distance event but without the faff of the swimming and biking. So I entered two ultra marathons. A 50K warm up (https://twinbikerun.com/2019/04/01/john-muir-way-ultramarathon-part-1iain/) and this race.

Pre Race

I drove up with my wife the night before the race. Registration was quick and easy. I was all done in less than five minutes. This left plenty of time to pop to the Real Food Cafe ( https://www.therealfoodcafe.com/) for some dinner.

They had an impressive range of sweet treats but I’m not sure if a Creme Egg donut is appetizing or an abomination !

Creme Egg Donut

Start

At the start of the race a women next to me said. “I’ve not trained for this” I looked at her. She looked very fit. She looked like she should be on an advert for a gym as an example of what would happen if you went to the gym and trained every day for a year.

She then said, “I’ve done nothing since The Highland Fling (a 53 mile ultra)….other than three marathons and loops of Glencoe every morning before work. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this.”

If she did not think she could do it then I was f****d, as I’ve not done any marathons and the only loop I do in the morning is a breakfast bowl of Honey Nut loops.

Oh well – there was nothing more I could do! At least I’d made it to the start line fit and healthy. I had a plan that I was confident would get me to the end of the course.

I would run the 10K to Check Point 1 in bridge of Orchy in 60 minutes. Run the 10 miles to CP2 in Glencoe in 2 hours. Run the (hilly) 8 miles to Kinlochleven in 2 hours and then run/walk the rest of the way to Fort William in 4 to 5 hours.

I just had to trust the plan….

The Start

A Triathlete’s Travel Guide – Planes (Andrew)

Whenever you enter a race you will need to travel. Unless you live by the ocean or a loch with enough space for a transition area then you’re going to have plane, train our automobile it. Over the next three weeks I’m going to share my thoughts on travel...

Flying

I used to be scared of flying. Really scared. The kind of fear that makes you think twice about going to the airport. It was irrational. It was stupid. And I needed to find a cure so I checked out a website which explained in forensic detail the purpose of every single knob, button, indicator and screen in the cockpit. Knowledge is power.

The website was meant to reassure the nervous flyer. Failsafes knobs catching failsafes buttons catching failsafe indicators showing on failsafe screens. A pilot would need to be dead, dumb and blind not to know something was going wrong – and every button would have to fail before you ran out of buttons that could save you. 

And, as yet another failsafe, you can be confident that your pilot is alive and is not dead, dumb and blind because they definitely test for that in pilot school.  In fact, pretty much every airline insists on all of their pilots having eyes, mouths and ears. It’s not the law though, so, just as a precaution, before boarding a Ryanair flight, I’d check if the cockpit contains a kennel, just in case the pilot needs a spot for their dog.

And with this basic check complete, you can be confident that there are over 200 knobs, buttons, indicators and screens making sure we don’t fall from the sky. Who couldn’t be impressed by all the measures in place to ensure we can fly safety while eating a free bag of nuts? It was a revelation. It cured my fear of flying because, after checking out the site I realised one simple thing – NO MAN CAN REMEMBER ALL THOSE BUTTONS! THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF THEM?!!! IT’S IMPOSSIBLE. HE’D NEED TO BE MR MEMORY! AND WHAT IF HE CAN’T GET THE INTERNET WHEN HE’S FLYING THE PLANE? IN FACT, HE SHOULDN’T BE CHECKING THE INTERNET WHEN FLYING! HIS PHONE SHOULD BE ON FLIGHT SAFE MODE!!!! OH GOD, WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!

And that’s why I no longer fear flying because under no circumstances will I ever get on a plane again.

Summary

Don’t leave your home! 

Outdoor Swim Review: Loch Venachar (Iain)

In a scene from the comedy film Zoolander the eponymous male supermodel hero, Derek Zoolander, dresses as a merman and swims towards the camera to utter the line:

” Moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty.”

But in real life Merman are anything but beautiful. In contrast to mermaids, mermen are traditionally described as unattractive extremely ugly creatures with green hair, teeth and skin, narrow eyes and a red nose.

Which is also a valid description of what I look like when I’m hungover.

I learnt this “fact” after spotting two swimmers at Loch Venachar. It was a hot day. The water was perfect for swimming without a wet-suit but they were wearing multiple layers of neoprene . One of them was so covered up he looked like the gimp from Pulp Fiction.

But they were not swimmers or gimps. They were free-divers practicing their skills. They hold their breath diving 20m to the bottom of the Loch.

I looked them up on Google and discovered they do mermaid courses https://freedivers.co.uk/mermaid-course/

REVIEW

Ease of Access: I parked at the Loch Venachar cafe car park. It was just a short walk from here to the Loch side. There’s a few other car parks along the shore.

Water quality: Clear water close to shore. I could see the bottom of the Loch. Temperature (in July) was 19C

Swim Quality: Hard work. It was a bit windy. I battled waves as I swam out from shore. It made the swim more exciting.

Other People: There was a lot of folk in the cafe. They were watching from the terrace as I swam. There was also a few folk walking along the shore.

Would I go back: Yes. It was a nice spot. I’d like to try swimming to the other side of the Loch but on a less windy day.

Hebridean Triathlon 2019 Race Report (Iain)

All photos https://www.facebook.com/ColinCameronPhotography/

This was the fourth edition of the Hebridean Triathlon – the most remote triathlon in the UK. It’s as far north and west as you can go in the UK before you reach Canada.

It’s also the best value race as it’s only £30 to enter. £10 for each event is a bargain.

Swim

The swim course was two laps of a triangular course. Each side of the triangle was approximately 250m.

I was glad I’d gone to check the course the previous day because it was in a different loch than where I thought.

There were three large buoys in the loch the day before but only two on the day. One had run away during the night, nobody was sure how it had managed to come loose but thankfully it was found, in a local field.

The water was warm (19C) and there was no wind. It was perfect conditions for a swim.

I have done a lot of swimming this year so I was confident of a decent time. The race started. I headed straight to the first marker but about half way to it I looked left and spotted a number of swimmers. They seemed to be taking a scenic indirect route or I was lost.

I like to think that one of my outdoor swimming strengths is my sighting. I usually manage to swim in straight line but I started to doubt my line as I watched so many of them do a Jermey Corbyn – embrace the left wing!

I stopped, I took off my goggles and double checked I was actually heading to the correct marker. I believed that I was so I continued in a straight line. Afterwards a few also mentioned this scenic route swimming but nobody had an explanation why it had happened.

After the first marker I was mostly by myself but occasionally I’d see another man. He was a good swimmer but his sighting was very erratic. One minute I’d spot him way off to my left and the next he’d be way off to my right.

Despite his wayward route we finished at the same time. I checked Strava afterwards. He swam 250m further than I did. Which shows what a difference bad sighting makes.

Snapped by the Paparazzi

Bike

The bike route is an out and back undulating route to the Callanish Stones. Normally a fierce wind either blows you there or back. One year it took 60 minutes to do the out but only 30 minutes to do the back.

I haven’t done much biking recently so I took my TT bike to the race. My thinking was that I might be slow but at least it won’t be the bikes fault.

Within a mile of starting I was passed by a man on an old battered bike. As he passed he said “I don’t think my gears work!”

Which shows you don’t need a good bike when you’re a good biker. He raced off away from me.

Towards the end of the bike leg I spotted a man with a puncture. I thought about keeping going, as stopping would effect my finishing position, but I decided that would be bad karma. I’d hate to be stuck on the side off the road and have people bike by me.

We tried to fix his puncture but, unfortunately we weren’t able to do it, despite using three different inner tubes and having more than one person try to fix it.

After the third tube exploded I called it a day and continued on. Despite losing positions Andrew hadn’t passed. I was happy to carry on knowing I was ahead of him.

Run

The run starts by going straight up a small hill. I started running and immediately felt very heavy. My first thought was I must have eaten too much whilst spending the previous week at my parents home eating my mum’s baking.

I then realised it was because my back pockets were full of the spare parts from the puncture repair. Broken tubes! CO2 canisters and tools. D’OH!

I had to run a mile before I spotted a bin I could put it all in.

I’d ran a lot during the week, which meant my running motivation/energy was very low. I aimed to run 5K and then evaluate from there how fast/slow to do the last 5k.

The course was tough – hilly and wet. The rain had started just after I’d left transition. After 5k I decided my legs didn’t have anything in them so I walked a little bit on the way back.

I kept an eye out behind me to ensure Andrew wouldn’t catch up.

Finish

I collected my medal and a change of clothes and headed to the changing rooms. I was happy to be ‘Top Todd’. I opened the door to the changing rooms and Andrew was there! Already changed!

Feck. He’d gone past me when I was changing the tyre but I hadn’t seen him.

He was happy because he was fourth.

Double feck. If I hadn’t stopped I’d have been fourth!