Last week I visited the pretty Cornwall town of St Mawes.
St Mawes is very long drive from Glasgow. I stopped en-route for a toilet break. Some people stop at a service station but I wanted something a bit classier so I stopped at Prince Charles house. The Queen uses the phrase the ‘Royal We’ but in my case it was a ‘Royal Wee’.
The Prince’s loos are very nice. The cubicle even has a painting in it. The sign next to it read “gifted/painted by David Andrews.” If I painted/gifted a present to Chaz I hope it would take pride of place in his house, not hung in the toilet used by commoners.
Whilst having a tour of his property I tried to find his WiFi network. I know this is a really geeky thing to do but I was really hoping it would be named “Your Royal Wifiness.” Unfortunately I didn’t get a WiFi signal anywhere near his house.
Away from his house I was shown a shed in his garden. The tour guide said this was Chaz’s personal meditation space and only the Prince had a PIN number to unlock the door. At this point my phone pinged to say it had found a WiFi network.
Aye right, mate, meditation. That’s why you need to lock the door!
His gardens are amazing. Probably the best I’ve ever seen. It was very inspiring. To think all it took to do the work was an unlimited amount of cash and not having to work for a living.
So on the way out I stole an apple from his garden. He’s taken enough money from the public purse so its only fair I get one measly apple in return.
Findhorn is a small village in Moray famous for it’s eco-living and for the Findhorn Foundation, a spiritual community. It’s also has one of the nicest beaches on the Moray Firth.
Ease of Access: There’s plenty of parking beside the beach although a sign does warn that parking costs £1. However, as there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to actually pay a pound, I’ve never paid it and I’ve not seen anyone else pay either.
There’s plenty of grass beside the car park and it’s easy to walk to the beach, even barefooted.
Water quality: Very clear when I was there at end of July. There’s also plenty of room to swim before the beach starts to drop away. You can easily move away from shore and still, not only see the bottom, but also find places to stand and keep your head above water. The water temperature was c15 degrees.
Swim Quality: Excellent – at high tide, the sea was calm and there were views straight across the Moray Firth. Watch out for the estuary though – it looked too calm to be natural so I assumed that it was full of undercurrents. Afterwards someone else told me it also had a “whopping great whirlpool”, not sure if that’s true but I’d definitely avoid swimming near it and head east instead along the beach only.
Other People: Findhorn Beach is popular but, at more than five miles long there’s plenty of quiet spots away from entrance to the car park.
Would I go back: Yes. Though I would like to see it on windier day to see how conditions compare.
I think it was Rod Stewart, rock star, famous Celtic fan, and a man who now asks “Do You Think I’m sexy?” as a rhetorical question, who passed on this tip when you go to the pub. Always buy the first round, said Rod, that way everyone will remember you’ve bought a round as, once the drinking starts, no one will remember who bought the second or third round. And, because you bought the first round, no one will ask you again because you’re the only one they’re sure has had a turn.
The same thought applies to the Ramsay Round. A hill climb of 24 Munros (mountains over 3,000 feet) in 24 hours that starts or finishes with Ben Nevis – depending on whether you run it clockwise or anti-clockwise.
It’s named after the first person to run it successfully. And, after Ramsay’s Round, only a further 159 have managed to successfully run it again. Of those, only a handful have managed to complete it in Winter rather than Summer, when crampons and ice axes are as essential to any runner as a pair of trainers.
Yet, despite it challenge, despite the brave stories of those who’ve managed to run it, I struggle to name any runner’s round after Ramsay. And that’s despite reading about – what feels like! – all of them in Jonny Muir’s ‘The Mountain’s Are Calling’.
The Mountain’s Are Calling is a comprehensive and detailed history/biography of the hill running in Scotland and the Ramsay Round, in particular. It’s well written, extensively researched and contains many first hand interviews with the most successful hill runners of the last 20 years including Finlay Wild, the undisputed king of the Ben Nevis Race, and Jasmine Paris, who, until recently held the record for the Ramsay Round. Yet…
It’s just too much!
The mountains, the people, detail upon detail obscure the joy of running in the hills. And it seems ironic that a book which celebrates the hill runners who eschew gadgets, Garmin, records to run as natural as possible and a book which celebrates the “doing something, not the achievement of something being done”, should be so baggy.
While individual chapters, most dedicated to one athlete or one race, are complete in themselves, each chapter taken together becomes a slog. Much like the Ramsay Round. No sooner have you completed one hill then another presents itself and then another – and another.
A particular low point is the chapter covering in page after page the detail not just of a race but watching Twitter updates about that race.
While the book does make me want to try more hill racing – and I’ve marked the entry dates to try and get a spot in the Abernety 5 in my diary – largely it succeeds in showing you how much of a slog an actual 24 hour challenge would be. Which was maybe the point. There’s a good reason only 160 people have completed the Ramsay Round.
An episode of the channel 4 house hunting program “Location, Location, Location” featured a flat in Glasgow that was described as a desirable two bed home, in a quiet neighborhood, with stunning views across the city.
I recognized the flat because I lived around the corner from it. The flat was not at all desirable. It was next to a very busy noisy road and the only view out the window was of MacDonald’s drive in restaurant.
The flats location is on Crow Road. So when I heard cyclists say they were off to cycle Crow Road this is where I thought they were going. I couldn’t understand why they said the climb took them 30 minutes. I could walk it in 5. Maybe they stopped for a MacDonald’s McFlurry?
It was only once I got a road bike that I discovered the other Crow Road was on the outskirts of Glasgow in Lennoxtown.
The first time I saw it I didn’t think it looked too hard. Little did I know that from below I could only see half of the climb. The first section up to a car park. Then there is a big right turn over the hill.
One year I decided I was going to be the quickest man up Crow Road. Now this is quite a challenge because allot of good cyclist use the climb for training. The Scottish Tour De France Cyclist David Miller used to ride a dozen reps of it as training in preparation for the Tour.
So my choice was either train hard and smash it or be smart!
I choose to be smart. So one new years day I got up early and became the first man up the Crow that year. Which also meant I was the fastest that year….as long as I didn’t check Strava again for 12 months.
Its not a steep climb. I’d describe it as steady. Although when the wind is in the wrong direction it can be a bit of slog!
Great views on both sides of the Campsie hills. Ona clear day you can see for miles around.
Its normally a quiet road. Especially on Sunday mornings or weekday evenings.
Blair Atholl Horse Trials. As far as I can tell there were twenty three guilty, thirty six not proven and one mistrial for a case of mistaken identity with a Shetland Pony.
I admit may not have understood what was going on around me…
The Blair Atholl Horse Trials are an annual event, held in the grounds of Blair Atholl castle. But they may as well be called the Blair Atholl Dog Trials given the number of dogs in the grounds. Or the Blair Atholl Land Rover Trials given the number of Land Rovers in the car park. Or even the Blair Atholl Barbour Jacket & Welly Boot Trials…
Basically, I’m saying there were a lot of farmers, people who wanted to be farmers and dogs who wanted nothing more than to run around a farm chasing sheep all day.
Don’t worry if you don’t have the right gear. There’s loads of stalls selling everything you need to look the part. Though I was a bit taken aback by the large sign for Welligogs – which was a spoonerism away from selling a KKK robe.
The Trials take place over four days – Thursday to Sunday. We went on Saturday to see the main cross country and show jumping.
I admit I know nothing about horses but my wife has been learning to ride so she explained what was happening and that while her jumps may be smaller, the technique was exactly the same.
She said this as we watched one rider fall off.
“Is that what you do?” I asked.
“Exactly, the same,” she said, “I’m just closer to the ground when I fall!”
There’s plenty to see throughout the day as the cross country course has different types of jumps, some water hazards and is long enough that it’s a ramble in itself to move from one place to another.
Every five minutes a horse would gallop along the course with riders with different expressions of happy, joy and positively please make it stop screams of terror depending on how experienced they were.
One thing to watch out for though is that the tickets were cash only. Unless you do what we did and bought the ticket on our phone then showed the phone to the staff at the entrance. A long walk back to Blair Atholl avoided – until we worked out that most of the stalls were cash only and that we’d need to scavenge for food for lunch.
I like seeing new sports and, with a sunny day, some action at all times, and a loudspeaker that blared across the course in an upper class accent updating everyone on the scores, there’s plenty to do.
Would I go back? Probably. But with cash. And a tweed Land Rover.
I recently purchased core buoyancy shorts for swimming. They are made of neoprene and they aid swimming by raising my hips slightly in the water. Similar to the effect of swimming in a wet suit.Higher hips mean higher legs, which means less drag therefore I can concentrate on good swimming form. I think they are great. Andrew thinks they should be banned. He calls them floaty (or cheat) pants. My only reply to that is: I am not a pants doper! If you repeat the accusation then I’ll see you in court!
To be clear – if you even looks at me funny whilst I’m wearing my definitely not cheating pants then you will get a visit from my lawyer. Lance Armstrong said it best – “hard work, sacrifice and focus will never show up in tests.” I swim clean. End of story. Other than giving me a performance enhancement….ummm….skills enhancement the main reason I purchased them was for outdoor swimming. I wanted to swim without a wet-suit but still have some benefit of neoprene. I combine the pants with a neoprene top. Its great for swimming as you get all the freedom of skins and all the benefit of a wet suit. Although it does make me look like a character from Little Britain.
Carron Valley Reservoir is the closet loch to my house. I usually swim on the Fintry side as its furthest away from the fisherman who use the Loch. I’ve never seen them at this end of the loch. There’s a spot to park that’s next to the Loch that allows for an 800m swim straight across to the other side of the loch. It can be a bit choppy as the wind blows down the loch but its never too bad to swim in.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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. From 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. I 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!