City to Summit Triathlon 31st May 2014
Swim 3.8K/ Cycle 180K/ Run 44K (yes not 42K)
This Rat Race event was widely advertised in the Tri press with claims to be one of the hardest triathlons; surely just hype? The race comprised of 3 different event options: a full triathlon as 1 day (117 starters) or 2 day (13 starters) options and a duathlon (32 starters). After competing in the Helvellyn Triathlon last September this seemed a logical step up and it couldn’t be that hard could it?
A bright sunny day greeted this year's race in South Queensferry, Edinburgh with a 2 circuit swim between the Forth road and rail bridges. This beautiful venue seemed too perfect and with a strong ebb tide and 11 degree water this salty swim took all the courage I could muster. The usual 3 minutes of terror in the massed start settled and with my new neoprene hat, gloves and booties I made progress at the usual slow but sure pace. The low sun troubled all but the 2 leaders with the rest demonstrating navigation skills of a teenager and the field following like drunken lemmings. The leader emerged at 52 minutes, with me straggling out in 81st place in 1:30 but still warm and smiling.
A quick change into my club gilet (essential kit) and some chamois cream I was out of T1.
Then the matter of the cycle to Glencoe across the Highlands. The roads were largely quiet and undulating with just 8800ft of climbing. The sights were spectacular from the moment we left the waterside with the heather clad Highlands looking their best to garnish the mountains that came into view well before halfway. The smells were too exquisite for words; road-kill in the highlands is 4 legged, the size of a small pony and repeated every 3 miles.
Several well placed support stops along the way helped me count down the distance to go and remain optimistic. Little drafting was apparent as so few people were stretched over the long course. The final 7 miles down the bumpy roads into Glencoe were a hard lesson in bike handling and an ill-timed reminder to do some upper arm work.
Now in T2 that's when I noticed the Scottish sun burn; yes really (now booking for 2015 summer season). On with the sun slap, hat and 3kg running bag and out of T2 without time for making the tea.
The first 10k around Loch Leven were settled and assuring (I mean flat) and consistent with the race brief 'a warm up for Ben Nevis' and then we arrived at a small gate with a gleeful man telling us of the 625m ascent in 2k that greeted us. I gathered the usual race wives (Graham and Simon) to run with along the way. Streams and peat marshes had been well stocked to ensure that the trail shoes were soaked from this point forward. This warm up persisted with streams as wide as rivers (they may have been rivers) and undulations that make Knole look flat all placed to test the spirit. The marshals along the way seemed very concerned with our wellbeing but none had that savoury snack I so craved. We continued along the challenging West Highland Way for 15k when finally Ben Nevis came into view and the checkpoint handily placed in the valley below.
Down I went with a suicidal grin into the checkpoint for another bag of crisps and a cup of tea (it's just that kind of event). When asked by the marshal if I was well and heading up I seemed chipper but apparently quieter than usual. I nominated another race wife (Nick) and together we headed toward the base paths.
Now I haven't done Ben Nevis before and it quickly became clear that this was going to take some doing. Assured by the array obese hikers on the paths we pressed onward and upward on the endless staircase that is Nevis. Into the Zig-Zags (look at the map); and then we found the snow.
A brief reference note at this point to the essential kit list (also considered by myself as possible hype). Out came the hat, gloves, warm top, waterproof jacket and spare food; they were more than handy. The snow was initially in 50m patches and quite slippery - useless for snowballing. Gradually the patches turned into a full frosty covering as the top came into sight. We topped out at 21:45 and words cannot explain the sights and feelings…..ok I’ll have a go….happy, cold and knackered.... that’s a start but seriously that underplays it.
Some pics and a quick row with the run wife about the need to run down before darkness then finally he agreed he could run and off we went. Whoopee running down a mountain past the hikers and the poor bedraggled back-markers (who looked just like us only less gleeful). Down we went until light finally gave out just before 11pm. Then with head-torches and smiles we ran down and along the river at night in Scotland in early summer to arrive at the finish with a head-cloud of midges.
Total time 17:18:07 and 55th place. Total finishers 92 of 117 starters with 25 retirements or beyond cut-off times.
Photos in 7Oaks kit and food followed then off to the hotel and bar for some Guinness and then a few days off.
Jim’s post race review.
Was it as hard as the hype – yup, with the all the best bits thrown in too.
No blisters to write home about.
The views and things I saw along the way were just a wow.
Value, well at about £14 per hour it represents some of the best value (Helvellyn was £9 per hour) of any race.
I strongly recommend Rat Race events but beware the hype; they mean it.
Please consider booking something unusual in your race diary.
And of course thanks to my real wife Mary who shared the day by carrying and transporting the bags and picking me up at the end.