Whenever May approaches there’s always the question of what to do in the football off season — those three long months of pre-season but no games.
This year my partner Cal and I decided we’d train for a triathlon. The only criteria was it had to be an endurance event, something that would require serious training hours. We also looked for one that didn’t have a swim portion as both of us needed to teach ourselves how to swim again. And just like that we registered for Ratrace’s Coast to Coast in Scotland. 105 Miles in one day from Nairn to Glencoe running, cycling and kayaking. Ambitious, but doable.
When people talk about the process when training I always assumed this was about discipline. Actually, it’s not that simple. The process is really about the 16 + weeks of planning, eating really well, getting your body used to really long rides and runs and building up the strength to keep yourself upright for so long! In some ways, the process is more important than the race itself.
Throughout training we kept a log, ‘red amber and greening’ everyday. By documenting training days where you feel rubbish you can see if there’s anything ways you can adapt. For example, I always trained badly on Thursdays. So, I moved my rest day to Thursdays and solved that problem. We did a mix of strength training, 5-aside football, run/cycle/run sessions and long weekend bike rides. London’s not great for long runs and rides but we found refuge in places like Burgess Park and Richmond.
September came pretty fast and before we knew it we were on the Caledonian sleeper bound for Scotland. You get to sort out all your kit and registration the day before so we racked up our bikes got our racetrackers and kit bag. Side note: the logistics were insane. Magically our stuff was taken between places and all appeared at the finish line. It was really well organised.
At 600am the next morning we queued up at the start line. It was pretty chilly and the ground was wet from previous days rain. We set off for the first run at 8 miles from Nairn to Cawdor Castle. We were lucky to have set off pretty quick as throughout the woods it was a single track and muddy so hard to pass anyone. Arriving at Cawdor we got on our bikes and began the 85-mile cycle along mostly paved roads. This is where I had my first rookie error. I should’ve eaten after the run during the transition but I was so frantic I didn’t, and I had a really tough time for the first 20 miles of the cycle. Whilst I was battling inner demons (hard!) my partner was really pragmatic. At one stage he calmly told me that if I don’t pick up the pace we wouldn’t finish today in the expert category as planned and need to complete it over two days. When you enter as a pair you have to stick together. We had a slight deviation from this when he got a flat tyre so I took the opportunity to gain some ground knowing he’d catch up with me.
The best part of the cycle was the massive decent down into Fort Augustus. After a considerable climb uphill, you get to enjoy stunning views whilst letting your legs rest down a huge hill. However; the worst part of the cycle was the next part: the off-road bit. Cycling in gravel provides a constant state of fear that you’re going to get a flat. Every rock hit at an awkward angle, every time you take a sharp corner, you convince yourself you’ll get a flat. Thankfully it was only for 15 miles before nice rolling hills into Fort William.
We made it to the final transition at around 2pm. Race organisers allow experts 14 hours to complete. 7 hours had passed by now so we were feeling confident that we would finish in one day. We dropped off our bikes, inhaled whatever food we could for fuel (pretty sure I ate 3 bags of crisps) and refilled our water for the 14-mile run. The first few miles were slow but manageable. Soon into the run, we started our gradual ascent up the base of Ben Nevis and it was tough to get my legs to move. Cal and I made a deal: we would run the flat bits and fast walk the hills. Despite it feeling horrendous, the views of the valleys and the surrounding areas were stunning. The final running portion of the event culminates with an epic view from the too at circa mile 12. This is followed by a negative 22 percent decline. Imagine a giant mountain that you’d probably ski down and then try walking down it when it’s solid mud. That last mile took us almost an hour in itself. I have vivid memories of saying “don’t worry I won’t need trail shoes, my runners will be just fine”. They weren’t.
After about 20 falls we made it to the bottom. There was half a mile to run before arriving at the beach for a tandem paddle over to the finish line. As we climbed into the boat, we instantly had mega leg cramps. So we took paddling in turn and did our best to just keep moving. Somehow we even managed to pass other competitors as we crossed the loch. Now, with the finish line 25 meters away we sprinted (yes, sprinted) to the end. No logic to this aside from ending 11 hours and five of perpetual movement. Out of 1548 competitors, we came 101th, a result we were both really happy with.
Would I do it again? Never say never. With a London Marathon Place for April and a half Ironman in Finland in June, it’s fair to say I have the itch. If you are looking for a challenge, definitely give this one a go.