Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Celtman 2014 Race Report

The journey to Celtman 2014 began in 2012 after completing the inaugural CXTRI as my first ever triathlon, in a time of 14hrs13mins. The race had captured my imagination with its breathtaking scenery and terrain, adventure, atmosphere and the sheer difficulty of completing the challenge. It starts with a 3.8km swim in a 400m deep sea loch, 202km cycle with over 2000m of climbing then finishes with an off road marathon over 2 Munroe’s. I already had a blue t-shirt so 2014 would be about seeing how fast I could go. The race has every aspect of why I love racing in the mountains so motivation was never really hard to find.

Training began back in Oct 2013. I knew my swim was weak and also that at Celtman being strong on the bike was vital. I am a mountain runner so it was hard to put time in the pool and out on the bike ahead of time in the hills but it was a small sacrifice I was willing to make. After 9 months of focus, hard work and some decent race results June 28th came round very quickly as it always does! I had the usual doubts and worries but reminding myself of the amazing journey to get to the start line, however things turned out it would be worth it. Time to put all that training to use and answer some questions.

One of the best things about Celtman is the camaraderie pre and post race between the competitors. It really has a family feeling and the race is such a leveller, no room for the egos that can be present at other events. We are all about to embark on the challenge of a lifetime; we will all freeze in the water, suffer on the bike and climb a mountain after 7+hrs of racing. The mood on the coach to the swim start reflects this. It’s great to meet a few faces from the social media pre race build up; it helps settle the nerves as we talk about our training and the day ahead.

The scene at the swim start is amazing. Burning torches, the surrounding mountains and a pan flat loch Shieldaig greet us. I warm up, remain focussed and remind myself that this is what it’s all about. I have already made the decision to give my all today and I welcome the chance to do this. We are piped down to water’s edge, a fitting send off for the 155 brave souls who take to the cold water. The water is cold, but I soon warm up when we start and the adrenaline kicks in. Focusing on my breathing and hand entry helps me maintain my rhythm as I find some space in the water. Jelly fish add to the adventure. For the last 800m my shoulders begin to tire and I realise I have been pulling a small group for quite some time as I slow down and hitch a ride for the last few hundred meters. A cool box full of warm water over the head from my amazing support crew warms me up. I am also pleased to notice most of the bikes still racked, unusually for me I had a pretty good swim!

I dry quickly with a towel, put on some warm clothing and it’s time to head out onto the bike. This is some bike course! Hilly, exposed and in places a time trialists dream with long fast downhill’s and flats. It has everything and is certainly challenging. The road surface is mainly good but it would not be an extreme triathlon if it were all this way. I had a plan to make use of the fast, flat and downhill sections after holding back till Kinlochewe. My support crew do a fantastic job looking after me, as do other peoples. At one point I am offered a banana from someone but I think they mistook me for someone else! I am in 5th place and feeling good. Johan comes past at around 100km and I try to stick with him but he is motoring! Possibly my only mistake of the race, it is important to do your own thing during these long time trials but the competitor inside got the better of me.

The usual highs and lows of a long race are well separated and in general I am feeling very good, moving into 4th place. I hit a real low around 180km, my muscles hurt as I make use of the final fast flattish section into T2, I just want to be off the bike now. It coincides with a little rain and wind. I am also worried that I have ridden the bike too hard as I realise my split around 6hrs10 is 20mins faster than planned. I would soon find out! I enter T2 in 4th with 3rd and 5th very close by.

I wasted no time in transition; my support crew had everything ready and do a great job. Time to test those running legs. The Celtman run begins with a slight uphill that gradually steepens before hitting the Coulin pass. I had trained specifically for this in my long bike brick sessions, always running uphill. I was side by side with a Swiss competitor to start. A little doubt creeps in and I fear I will blow up if the pace increases. We too and fro a little up the hill. I decide to take a chance as the path steepens and heads into the trees near the top of the climb. I know I am on borrowed time as I increase my pace and it hurts, but I needed to open up the gap. Through the 15km Coulin pass I continue to push at every slight rise and technical section. The pain is worth it as I enter T2A with a few minutes gap. The mountain has been visible for the last 18km section, looming in the distance, ominous but beautiful at the same time.

I meet my support crew in T2A and am glad to see friendly faces who once again look after me, sorting water and jelly babies and giving words of encouragement. We enter the mountain and things start to get really tough once the path steepens. The highs and lows intensify and become closer together. Steve my good friend and support runner holds me together and pushes a great pace up the hill. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up as we are piped onto the first summit an amazing feeling I will never forget.

We are gaining on Johan and Stuart in 2nd and 1st, but I know I have very little left to give. I am going to have to dig deep and risk everything to take any more places and I don’t even know if I can. Moving into 2nd takes the last of my reserves and I know that from now on I will be racing with my mind. Johan passes us on his way down from the summit. He looks so strong and I try to do the same, running uphill a little which is now very difficult with cramping muscles. On the final descent to the road the technical nature of the trail becomes torturous, every step hurts but I know I cannot slow down or stop. Fear of being caught and the thought I may still catch Johan drive me on. I think back to promise of giving my all today. Steve holds me together again, says all the right things and does a great job.

In the back of my mind I am dreading the final 7km road section to the finish. I know Stuart is a great road runner and I have nothing left to give. Thoughts of catching Johan are long gone as I am told he is 15mins ahead. That is some descending as the gap was less than 5min at the top of the mountain! My girlfriend Jo joins me for the final road section and I am so glad to have someone there and my support crew are never far away in the van. It really is survival now and the flat 7km section seems to take forever, the 4min50-5min km are being run on will power and I just want the pain to stop. As Torridon comes into view my mood lightens a little. I have been in a pretty dark hole since the top of Beinn Eighe and the thought it is nearly over provides some light. I think I even manage a smile as Paul asks me to wave (from the finish line I can see but am running away from!) running along the beach onto the final climb up the road to the finish.

Crossing the finish line I feel a little teary as the emotions of the day and months of hard work hit me. I could not have dug any deeper or raced any better on the day and I know this. I also could not have done it without my amazing support crew who were there for me during the highs and lows of race day and the months of training before.

Massive congrats to Johan on his great win and an outstanding course record, I have a feeling that will take some beating and will be safe for some time to come and to Stuart, who raced so hard at the front all day and has been an inspiration in my training. Also to everyone who started/finished Celtman, who put the work in to get on that coach at 4.15am and set out on the adventure in the cold water. That’s the great thing about Celtman and what makes it such a special race. Everyone is a winner regardless of time, position or t-shirt colour. Long may it stay that way! The local support for this event is phenomenal and thanks to everyone for welcoming us, volunteering your time and making it such a special day. Hopefully see a few more of you racing next year! Did I just say next year?? There is a surprise!

Thank you to Zone3wetsuits, Trec Nutrition and PushCartel for your help and support so far this season. Also to Lyon Equipment, the La Sportiva Bushidos served me well!

Steve and Jo, my amazing support crew, I could not have done it without you. Thankyou!!

Photos courtesy of MovieIt, Sampo Lenzi, Mark Appelton and Alligan Photography.

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