To train for the brutally cold endeavour he could have chosen anywhere in the world –Norway or Iceland etc. He chose the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.
He trained twice a day on the island. Each day he would post details of his training swims on social media and invite anyone to come and join him.
Initially he was based on the west side of the island. Its a great location for swimming. Some of the beaches are stunning. Especially when the weather is good.
Occasionally the weather is bad…very bad. In England, during bad weather, the MET office might issue a “danger to life” warning. In Lewis, during bad weather, you just get on with it. As my Dad said whenever I complained about the weather – it is only a bit of wind and rain.
The stunning views and bad weather makes Lewis the perfect place to train. if you can swim here you can swim anywhere!
Ease of Access: Reed is 60 minutes from Stornoway. There is a parking spot beside the beach. It is a 5 minute walk from there to the sea.
Water quality: The water quality is crustal clear and perfect for swimming.
Swim Quality: Cold. In December the temperature was 7C. The beach is 1km long. I did a length of the beach and then jogged back.
Other People: Not a soul other than a few hard folk joining Lewis for a swim
Would I go back: Yes. Uig is a beautiful spot. When I was younger I hated coming here because the road to it was terrible. I would get car sick. Nowadays the road is much better!
I also aim to do the Gullane Triathlon. I’ve said this every year for the last five years but every time I try to do it something comes up that gets in the way.
Hopefully this year Ill finally do it!
My main reason for wanting to do the race isn’t sporting but is instead culinary. The Old Course Inn in Gullane ( http://www.oldclubhouse.com/ ) does the best Nachos in Scotland. I’m always looking for an excuse to visit and have some!
I had learnt my lesson from my DNF in 2012. This time I trained for the race, I wore the correct cycling kit and I had bought a new bike – a hybrid! It was a mix of a road and mountain bike. Surely that would be perfect for climbing hills on roads?
At registration I had to fill in a release form stating I absolved the organisers of any blame in the event of an accident. I assume this was due to Malcolm’s accident as I was not asked for this in 2012.
I lined up at the start. I felt confident. I tuned to Andrew and told him that “I thought it was going to be a great day.” I spoke too soon. It started raining.
This time the climb was much better. I made it half way up before I had to get off and push my bike. There was no camera crew at the top this year. There was no one at the top. The conditions were miserable – wet and windy. Nobody wanted to hang about in that type of weather.
I was pleased when I biked past Applecross. The climb was done. The rest of the course would be easy!
It wasn’t. The miles after Applecross are an endlessly undulating series of small hills. There is more climbing in this section than during the Bealach climb.
By the time I hit the umpteenth small hill I had to get off and push my bike. My legs had run out of puff.
Andrew was on a road bike. He felt fine. Maybe when Lance Armstrong was wrong when he wrote “Its not about the bike.” I felt it was definitely about the bike.
I made it to the second last village on the route – Shieldaig. It’s a small coastal town. The organisers had setup a feed stop here. They were packing it away into a van. They looked surprised to see us. A man approached us and said “I didn’t realise anyone was still biking”
I assume that means we are last. Very last. He opens the van and says “Help yourself to anything you want”
I take a packet of crisps, a can of coke and unusually I spot some cheese slices. I’d never seen cheese at a food stop before. I ask the man if I can have some of the slices. He says yes.
I try a bit. It is delicious. The best bit of cheese I have ever had. It was probably the cheapest cheese imaginable but after cycling 75 miles my taste buds must have craved the milk and salt goodness. I’ve never had cheese as good as that again!
To this day I still salivate at the tastiness of that cheese.
Powered up on the three C’s – cheese, coke and crisps we head off to tackle the last section of the course.
It was horrific. For the the last 12 miles we had to ride into a strong headwind. I had to stand up on my pedals to move my bike forwards. It was like biking through heavy mud.
At last we spot the finish. It’s getting dark. We’ve been riding for nearly nine hours.
I’m spent but elated. We are going to finish. We have done it together.
With 100m to go Andrew sprints off. He doesn’t believe in doing it together. He believes in winning. He is the only one at the finish line. We are so late. Everyone else has gone home.
We drive home. He spends the five hour journey telling me how he is the winner of the Bealach na Todd.
There are three starts to a race. The first start is when you start running. For most of us this will be a few metres before the start line as we don’t start at the start as we don’t want to mix it with the top club runners looking to win races. The second start is when you start your watch so you can keep track of how far you’ve run and how long you’ve been running. This second start will be as close as possible to the third start – the point we cross the start mat and hear the beep of timing chips.
Three starts. Three times we control exactly when we start a race as we decide when to start running, when to press start, when to cross the mat, yet still I like to hear the sound of a starting gun, klaxon or just a loud whistle. There is something ‘official’ about having a starting signal that Garmins and beeps cannot replicate. Even better, the start should be marked with an official starter, and in most years, for the Jimmy Irvine 10K it’s been Jimmy Irvine himself. You can read about it here (including more about Jimmy Irvine). This year, he wasn’t here in person, but he was here in portrait as the finisher’s t-shirt had a picture of him and his wife on the start line at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow.
The race has taken a number of different routes around Bellahouston Park however, this year, it stayed the same as last, which I originally thought was great as it features two laps and three visits to the same downhill section. As the race starts on a hill you run downhill for most of the first kilometre. You then repeat it again at the end of the first lap and again at the end of the second. Two laps, three downhill sections.
However, when I say I “originally thought it was great”, I have now changed my mind. Last week, Iain and I ran around Edinburgh, taking in a number of hills including Blackford and Arthur’s Seats. After checking Strava, I notice something curious. The highest heart rate was recorded at the bottom of hills, and not the top. With the peak rate being recorded at the bottom of Arthur’s Seat after running down from the summit.
I’d always thought that running uphill was harder. It certainly feels like it. But, the scientific evidence – and what is more scientific than a record on Strava! – shows that running downhill was much, much harder.
So, when I originally thought I was going to write about how the Jimmy Irvine 10K is a nice route as it’s more downhill, than up. I’m now here to warn you that the Jimmy Irivine 10K is a hard race because it’s mostly downhill! Avoid, do something easier like the Ben Nevis Hill Race or the Mt Everest Marathon. Anything except run downhill!
Saying that, I might just be annoyed because I missed out on breaking 45 minutes by 8 seconds. It was still the fastest I’ve run a 10k in a few years but, still, even with three starts, I couldn’t find one that would take my time below 45 minutes…
I blame Iain. He ran off to fast and I decided not to keep up as I wanted to warm up a bit first. Then, to make matters worse, he ran the rest of the race too fast as well! What a cheat! I bet he even ran the downhill sections. I didn’t. I walked them* – you can’t be too careful you know!
So, while there was three starts, there was only one way to finish: second place to Iain again.
*This might be a lie to avoid saying I couldn’t catch up with him even when I was trying to sprint.
The only races I ever dreamed of entering were Norseman and the Marathon Des Sables. I’ve been lucky enough to have taken part and supported at Norseman but I will never do MDS. My body struggles badly exercising in hot weather. MDS would kill me!
I only entered Celtman because I wanted to do it in the future. Entering this year would increases my chance of getting a ballot place later. Failed entries give you more extra ballot places in future years.
And then this happened
Trust my luck to win the one ballot I didn’t want to win!
…now that it has happened I’m excited about it. It will be great fun to go head to head with Andrew. May the best Todd win!
Although, if you are anywhere near Torridon in June 2020, expect to hear me repeatedly utter the line made famous by Dante in Kevin Smith’s Clerks “I’m not even supposed to be here today! ”
I spent the week before the race full of the cold. Not the normal cold but life threatening man flu.
My fellow men will sympathise at just how potent this horrific affliction can be. Its only known cure is watching TV, drinking beer and replying “no. I’m ill” to any enquiries about whether any housework is going to be done.
I decided I wasn’t going to do the race as it always rains when I take part. Last years event was so biblically wet I spotted Noah leading animals two by two to his boat. I didn’t fancy running whilst being at deaths door.
But for the first time in my five attempts at the race there was no rain. It was actually a very pleasant sunny morning.
I decided to run. I was still ill and I definitely wasn’t fit enough for household chores. In fact, I think it might be a few weeks before I can even think about hoovering or helping out around the house. A run though is fine to do.
The course is two laps of Bellahouston Park. It’s not a very scenic park but it’s pleasant enough. It’s mostly flat but there is one hill that is tackled twice.
I decided I was going to run as fast I could. As soon as the race started I legged it away from Andrew. Later Andrew complained I went off too fast. No – he went off too slow!
The race was pretty dull. I spotted Andrews wife a couple of times so I gave her a wave. Which turned out to be more times than Andrew spotted her. He managed to run past her without seeing her.
I kept a good pace up for the whole race and I was happy with a sub 45 time. I didn’t expect to be as fast as that. Maybe man flu isn’t as bad as I thought….
The Bealach na Ba, in the North West of Scotland, boasts the greatest ascent of any road in the UK. It begins at sea level and rises to a height of 626m. It takes six miles to get from sea-level to the top.
The name means ‘pass of the cattle.’ It was originally a gravel track used by crofters to move cattle between two parts of the Applecross peninsula. It’s now mostly used by tourists. The route is part of the famous North Coast 500 which has been named one of the top coastal road trips in the world.
It is 2012 and I am at the start line of my first ever bike sportive. I look at the other riders.
They are all using road bikes. I am on a mountain bike. I am the only one on a mountain bike. Why are they not on Mountain bikes? We are going to ride up a mountain. Surely a mountain bike is the most effective way to do that?
They are all wearing skin tight lycra. I have wearing a thick winter jacket and a pair of baggy shorts.
They are all clipped into their bike using proper bike shoes. I am wearing trainers.
They all have a bottle on their bike. I do not have a bottle on my bike. I have a backpack containing a sandwich, a two-litre bottle of water, and a map in case I get lost.
It is fair to say I do not know what I am doing.
Andrew is here but he is not on the start line. He has the flu. He has offered to drive a van around the course in case I need him. I spot my friend Malcolm who is also doing the race. I say to him “Good luck.” He says “You’ll need it more than me” and he then rides off. All the other bikes whizz past me.
I now realise why they are on road bikes. Honestly, up until this point, I thought there was no difference between a road bike and a mountain bike. I had assumed road bikes did not go up hills.
I honestly do not know what I am doing.
After two hours of cycling I have cycled further than I ever have. I realise it is two hours back to where I started so I will need to the do the same again to get home.
I stop and eat a sandwich. I wonder how the other cyclists are getting on. They must be starving. They don’t have any sandwiches.
I try phoning Andrew but I don’t get a signal. The race is too remote for mobiles to work correctly.
After another hour I reach the climb. The sign at the bottom says
Road to Applecross (Bealach Na BA) This rod rises to a height of 2053 ft with gradients of 1 in 5 and hairpin bends. NOT ADVISED FOR LEARNER DRIVERS, VERY LARGE VEHICLES OR CARAVANS AFTER FIRST MILE
It does not mention bikes. That means I’ll have to do it.
I start the climb. Within 100m I have started to heat up. I start to sweat. I decide to take off my jacket. I put it in my backpack. I restart the climb. It doesn’t feel too tough yet.
The road gets steeper. I try to switch to a lower gear. I am already in my lowest gear. No wonder the start was easy.
The road climbs higher. I struggle to turn my pedals. I haven’t even done one mile of the climb. I’m still at the part safe for learner drivers, very large vehicles and caravans.
Maybe a bit of food will help. I stop and eat the rest of my sandwich.
I restart the climb. I feel heavy. The sandwich has not helped. I struggle onwards. I stand up on the pedals to make them turn. I stop and admire the view. I consider quitting. I don’t have to think twice. I decided to quit.
I wish I could say I have the stomach to battle it out when things get hard but I don’t. I try phoning Andrew again. He can come and rescue me. There is still no reception. Feck. I’ll have to keep going. Mainly because I assume I’ll get a phone reception at the top of the hill.
I push my bike all the way to the top of the hill. A film crew is waiting for me. Probably not me specifically but anyone doing the race. They are filming for BBC Two Scotland’s The Adventure Show. The reporter approaches me:
– I can’t believe you’re using a mountain bike!
– It’s my only bike
I take out my water bottle to have a swig.
– You carried that all the way up the mountain?
– Yes. I thought I’d get thirsty.
– You do know the organisers supply water and food at regular stops?
I thought I had to supply everything myself! DOH!! I try my mobile. It has a signal. I try Andrew but there is no answer. I send him a text saying. “I quit! Come and get me at the bottom of the hill in Applecross”
The descent of the other side is great fun. Six miles of fast downhill with treacherous corners. At one corner an ambulance is tending to a rider. I think to myself how glad I am that it is not me.
At the bottom of the hill I reach Andrew. There’s 40 miles to go but I’m not doing any more.
I’ve achieved my race by cycling further and higher than ever before.
We head to the finish to wait for Malcolm…and we wait…and we wait…and we….
As it gets dark there’s no sign of Malcolm. I approach the race organisers and ask if they have seen him. They go to check their list of riders. When they come back they have bad news – Malcolm was the man I passed on the mountain who was getting tended to by the ambulance.
The news got worse. He was taken to hospital. Great. He must be in Inverness as that was the closest one to us. We need to go that way to get home. We’ll pick him up on the way but the news got even worse. The hospital was not Inverness, which is close by and on our way home. He was sent to Broadfoot on the Isle of Skye which is miles away and nowhere near our route home.
We head to Skye to collect him. He is sitting on a chair with his arm in a sling. His brakes failed whilst taking a corner on the descent. The bad news was that he had broken his collarbone and will be off work for six weeks. The good news was that it coincided with the Edinburgh fringe. He spends the next six weeks partying.
Instead of taking the west coast route, I decided we‘d go along the eastern side of the island. The west coast has some great beaches but the landscape of the east looks like the moon. If the moon had brown heather.
The other reason for choosing this route is that Santa lives on the east side. He stays in a bus shelter near one of the small towns. Although I am worried about him. I think he might have lost his head
Thankfully he was still there when I biked past.
Unusually for the western isles the weather was amazing. The sun was out and there was absolutely no wind.
I managed a couple of hill reps of the highest hill in Harris – clisham. The north side was pretty straightforward but the west side was a 300m climb from sea level up a 12% slope!
As the weather was so good my wife decided to cycle for as long as possible. She managed 100K. She stopped near an an alpaca farm at the Callanish Stones.
They claim they sell Fish and Chips but I bet its actually Alpaca and Chips.
Guess what day 3 started with….yup – torrential rain!
At least the days were consistent. Thankfully that was the last we saw of rain until we finished the Hebridean Way.
We started at the Lady of the Isles statue. My wife and her sister headed off following the Hebridean Way but I decided to take a different route. I’d spotted a road heading up a local hill to a radar station. It looked like a fun climb so I parked up and took my bike for a spin.
The view from the top was superb. I could see all across South Uist, Benbecula and onto North Uist.
After the ride I drove through Benbecula. It was very flat and surprisingly ugly. Sorry Benbecula but you are the elephant man of Hebridean islands. The only redeeming feature was the Co-op. They had amazing cinnamon donuts. They were so good I ate two even though it wasn’t yet 10am.
I sped through quickly and caught up with my wife in North Uist. The sun had come out and it was a very pleasant day. I would have offered her a cinnamon donut if I had any. I offered her an oat cake instead.
North Uist was very nice. Quite roads and nice scenery. We could even see St Kilda in the distance. The people of Uist thought folk in St Kilda were a bit dim. They say one St Kilda man came to the island and spotted a lighthouse. He ran towards it, flung open then door, ran up the stairs and looked at the big bright light and said “is that you God?”
I don’t know how true that is but it makes for a good story.
We finished cycling in Berneray and were treated to a glorious sunset –
– Which was nearly as good as the sunrise the next day.