Scotland Coast to Coast September 14th – 15th 2013

Welcome to the first blog on my new personal website. This and forthcoming articles will be detailing my participation in various running, biking and adventure events as well as some motorsport competition.


Team manager!

Christine and I had been planning the Scotland Coast to Coast for the past 9 months. Unfortunately Christine developed a stress fracture, which I will explain in more detail in another article. Suffice to say that it renders you incapable of running and so sadly I would be competing on my own, though Christine would be giving me much-needed support over the weekend.

The event entails running, biking and kayaking 105 miles from the East to West Coast of Scotland, roughly following the Great Glen and the Caledonian Canal. It is not an elite event, in that it is not sanctioned by any particular body (such as the Fell Running Association or British Cycling) and, as such attracts a wide variety of competitors. For some their sole aim is to complete the event, whilst others have very firm goals in terms of pace and position. So there is something for everyone and there is little of the pretentiousness that you sometimes get at certain cycling or running gatherings.

The logistics for this event are pretty substantial, requiring the Friday and Monday off work, unless you live in Scotland, and a lot of gear. Since the route is not circular you will also need to think carefully about what equipment ends up where. If you have supporters they can move the gear and clothes from each location but if not you are able to use the bag drop off at various points on the route. The permutations can seem a little intimidating at first but the first rule is that your initial bag should not be more than 65 litres and weigh no more than 15Kg. This is dropped off at the registration at the start in Nairn on the Saturday morning (not the Friday evening when you first register). The bag will then follow you to the midway halt at Fort Augustus on Saturday evening and the finish in Glen Coe on Sunday night. If you plan to leave your car at Glen Coe you will not need your Sunday night stuff as this can be left in the car at Glen Coe. This option involves driving up to Glen Coe to arrive no later than 12:00am on the Friday morning, whereupon you can board a shuttle bus at a cost of £30, which will take you to Nairn, where you can register, fasten your number to your bike, pedal the 7 miles to deposit your bike at the Saturday transition and then get a shuttle bus back to Nairn for your overnight stay. Got all that!? For more information you can read this year’s pre event briefing notes.

Nairn Start

Getting ready for the start

My training for this event had been quite focused. From someone who had never run until 2 1/2 years ago and who used to skip the school cross country, I had built up from a few miles per week to eventually completing the Yorkshire Dale 3 Peaks Fell Race in 4 1/2 hours this April. We also competed in quite a few Sportives to improve our road cycling and bought a Cyclocross bike apiece as this was considered the best compromise for the event. To be honest a Cyclocross bike is a slightly more robust road bike with cantilever brakes and more space for big tyres. I manged to pick up a Trek Cronus Ultimate for less than a £1,000 from eBay – a full carbon monster that cost £3,000 6 months ago and weighs only 16 Lb (7.5Kg). This easily doubles up as a swish road bike and the Schwalbe CX Pro 700 30 semi slick tyres are little slower than full road tyres.


Crystal clear view over the sea at Nairn

The costs can also build up quite a bit depending on where you choose to stay. Entry starts at around £195 for early birds in 2014, rising to around £255 for very late comers. Before you start thinking “how much?” do bear in mind that Rat Race are a commercial organisation, who have to employ people as opposed to volunteers and that the event is linear not circular with all the complexities of kayaks, bike transition etc. We stayed at a B&B in Nairn on the Friday evening (book very early) at a cost of £70, the Lovatt Arms on the Saturday, which is £120 without the evening meal or £170 with it. The hotel is a “boutique” hotel and is very lovely, with excellent food. Finally, on the Sunday, we paid £120 to stay at the Isles-of-Glencoe Hotel, which is directly at the finish point. The accommodation can be replaced by camping of course but you have to ask yourself how much fun it might be trying to dry wet gear, queuing for the shower and getting a good night’s sleep. It depends on your budget and how much you like camping.

Cawdor Castle

Transition after the first run

The event started off at 8:00am on Saturday morning on Nairn beach, signifying the East Coast, with a 7 mile “trail run”. As the first 2 miles were tarmac and pretty flat it should have been easy-going but I realised that all my recent training had been 15 mile or more fell runs or shorter runs across pasture and my shins were giving me hell on the hard surface – not a very auspicious start. From my initial number 2 position I slowly slipped down the order, which I was prepared for. By the time we arrived in transition at the leafy Cawdor Castle, I was in 40th position on 59 minutes, with the fastest runner clocking just under 52 minutes. I remembered where my bike was racked in transition and had packed my helmet and SPD shoes in a plastic bag in case it rained, Transferring my running shoes into my Inov-8 Race Pro 12 rucksack I was off down the driveway to the castle and left onto the scenic minor roads to the South of the main A82 and Loch Ness.

Heading towards Fort Augustus

Having fun heading towards Fort Augustus

From reading other reports, even though the terrain was not initially very steep. the prevailing South Westerly wind would batter me into submission pretty soon. However either the wind was not too strong or I had saved myself enough to be pedalling pretty well, passing bunches of bikes every mile or so. It was pretty obvious that anybody on a mountain bike was fairly hamstrung, not so much on the uphills but on the flats and downhills when the aero efficiency of a road bike was a massive advantage. I did pass one person later on who promptly passed me again! Little did I know that I would be dicing with him on day 2.

Slipstreaming with Nick

Slipstreaming with Nick

Towards the end of the 48 miles somebody said “hello” and a younger guy on a straight road bike sidled up at the side of me. “I have been trying to catch you for miles”, he said, which was quite nice! “Where are we” I asked. I thought he said 21st which wasn’t so bad but I was hoping for a little better. We then took it in turns to slipstream each other. He was obviously a “roadie” and was pretty accomplished at this so we spurred each other on. The downhill into Fort Augustus is huge with my poor knobbly tyres struggling to grip the sinuous bends at over 40mph. Still it only took us 2:40 to do 48 miles and 3,000 feet of ascent so not too shabby at 18mph average into a headwind.

Kayak Across Loch Ness

Day 1 Kayak Across Loch Ness sharing with Nick Thompson

We arrived in transition together and racked the bikes then had a short run through Fort Augustus and down to Loch Ness. I could probably have left my biking boots on and I definitely didn’t need to bring all my bike gear with me. Once Nick and I got in the Kayak we realised that we only had a few hundred yards to go but Nick kept getting the dreaded cramp due to the unnatural position. Still we arrived at the jetty and stumbled into the water and then had another quarter of a mile to run to the day 1 finish outside the Lovatt Arms hotel. I punched my dibber and it said 1st out of 2… “So that means we are 2nd and 1st not 21st” I said to Nick! Despite a 00:07:29 on the Kayak, which left us 332nd, I was now leading day 1 by 2 seconds, which was way beyond my expectations.

Cyclocross in the Forest

Single track biking along the North shores of Loch Lochy

The weather was amazingly warm and, as we took the opportunity to walk along the locks at Fort Augustus the sun was actually burning! So, after a nice evening at the hotel we awoke to torrential, driving (and I mean driving) rain. The second day’s ride was 32 miles in total, divided roughly between canal path and single track off-road and on road to Fort William. Straight away when we set off I knew I was not quite as fresh as on the Saturday. Still I pushed hard and caught and passed all but 2 bikers as we pedalled for around 5 miles along the canal towpath. With them still in my sights we entered the single track in the forest, where I was convinced that I was going to trounce them.

A bit wet!

A bit wet!



Alas, unless in the hands of an expert, a Cyclocross bike is no match for a mountain bike and they were soon gone. There were a couple of steep ascents from the road into the forest that I failed on due to the combination of narrow tyres, 38 x 25 gears and being knackered. Then there were what should have been hoots downhill but were not much fun when you were fighting the howling wind and rain.

Soon I heard a familiar “hello again” and my riding companion Nick had caught me up – on a racing bike, on slicks! We tandemed up again but this time Nick seemed to be doing more of the towing as I was flagging quite badly. The road section dragged a little but my morale was boosted when I saw Christine on the route, taking photos and waving. The route takes you part of the way into Fort William and then South to Claggan, where transition was in a forest car park. By now I was fairly cold and felt pretty tired. We were allowed up to 30 minutes of dead time here but I can’t honestly say that felt to be recovering! Christine was a bit concerned as I was all over the place.

15 mile run

15 mile run over the Highlands. Am I slavering!

Having forced down a couple of gels and a chocolate bar I set off on what was supposed to be the hardest part of the 2 days – the 15 mile run up over the mountains and down to Glen Coe. As soon as I set off I knew that there was something wrong, The back of my knee was really painful and I felt as though I had been hobbled. I was reduced to a fast walk on the steep forest track out of Claggan and people, including Nick, streamed past me. At that point I thought I was finished as I could see no way of completing another 14 miles in that state. All that hard work for nothing.

Gradually the pain subsided. I kept running through my mind what could have happened as I never get injured. The miles passed and there were some interesting single track sections to take my mind off the aching. I actually loved the really steep parts as running was unfeasible and so hence took the heat off my knee.  A new running partner arrived and we had a chat for a while and then ended up having to link hands to cross a maelstrom of a  river crossing. In fact the path, the Highland Way, was just like a river. I had long since given up the thought of keeping dry (see the pictures). Even my super dooper OMM Kamleika was saturated and Sealskinz socks are no match for fording 2 feet deep streams.

It was at this point that we saw all the runners coming towards us in the opposite direction… “The route has been changed and they haven’t moved the signs!” shouted the lead runner angrily. It seems that an executive decision had been made to divert the route from up and round Man na Gualainn to straight ahead on the West Highland Way but the marshal failed to tell us and didn’t change the signage. Even more frustrating was the fact that we had already crossed the dangerous stream that was the reason for the diversion and which we now had to re-ford!

By now I was starting to bonk, feeling light-headed and nauseous. I tried to take on another High 5 gel but it was a major struggle and to be honest the liquid diet was starting to take its toll on my stomach. The cramps got worse as we all plodded on like some kind of crazy marching battalion. Everybody else must have been shot as nobody overtook me. The new route took us down to Kinlochleven at the head of Loch Leven. I was wracking my mind like hell, trying to imagine whether we would be kayaking half the length of the Loch back to the Isle of Glencoe. Luckily they had scrubbed the kayaks and I was very happy indeed to see the finish right at the side of the indoor ice climbing wall.


Glad to be at the finish

It was only now that I realised I was in quite a bad way as uncontrollable shivering took hold. Someone kindly offered me a reflective blanket on the bus back to Glencoe but my body was obviously in quite a state of shock. When I clocked in I was 1st out of 34 finishers but that dropped to 4th out of 513 finishers. I felt slightly disappointed having led at one point but then top 30 was my aim and top 10 was the best I had hoped for so I was being unfair on myself. On further perusal of the results I was 2nd and 4th in the biking, 40th and 80th in the running and about 320th in the kayaks! So the lesson is that you can be very good at one discipline, even if others let you down, and still do well. The winner, Tim Hildreth was the person that I overtook on the mountain bike but was better on the off-road and the running. What I really learnt from this event, though, was that it is not over until the finish and not to give up even if it does mean retching uncontrollably from the stomach cramps brought on by your stomach attempting to digest nothing!

The Finish

The Finish

Writing this 5 weeks later my knee has just about recovered. It seems that I had torn my popliteus muscle, which is a stabilising muscle that runs diagonally behind the knee. Christine is due to have her air boot off this week and the lesson to be learnt from this is not to increase your workload by more than about 10% if you are planning on training for this event. This particularly applies to fit cyclists who have not run, as your fitness will take you to places where your legs may not be ready to go!

Results here

Kit list