Firstly, a confession. I’ve always thought that writing a race report was a bit…err… self-important. Like, thanks mate but who really gives a monkeys what you think or how you got on. Most of them bore on about chasing Kona slots, the amount of Watts they can push out, how many grams of carbs to take per second, average pace, etc so I decided that it’s time to be sent to sleep by one from a bog standard triathlete instead. So, a two faced apology from me, I am now that self important person writing a report that probably only four family members will read. But they are the ones that count so IN YOUR FACE.
So, before I start, a quick bio. I am an average triathlete. Yeah, I’ve completed every distance up to and including Ironman but I don’t trouble the scorers. At all. And I’m really cool with that. I love the improvement I continue to make year upon year but I mostly do it to keep in shape and set a good example to my kids (and sometimes my wife). It’s been good for them to see the commitment needed to train in all sorts of crap weather and times of the day and to show them that nothing comes easy in life, you’ve got to work bloody hard if you want to succeed. Hopefully some of that is sinking through to them as they now compete in the London Junior League Triathlon Series as well as numerous other sports and activities.
Why CELTMAN! Extreme Scottish Triathon? Simply, I love different challenges. I don’t particularly like to do the same event twice and I like to stay away from the masses. After Ironman was ticked off, I’ve completed the Alpe d’Huez Triathlon and ÖTILLÖ Engadin and loved both events. Other long distance races appealed but too many people had either done them, were doing them or wanted to do them. I wanted something different. I started looking at Xtri (Extreme Triathlon) events as a few people had completed the Norseman but August doesn’t work for me due to school holidays and the desire to sit on my fat arse in the sun with a beer and ice cream with the kids instead of training or competing. Plus, the fact it’s the most popular one makes me want to stay away from it. So it was SWISSMAN or CELTMAN! I didn’t particularly mind which one although I knew my lottery chances were far more likely in Scotland. This was good, my Grandmother was Scottish, I had visited the country a number of times and whilst I am English as you come, I knew both my Grandparents would be looking down on me at various points of the race, probably telling me to stop being a soft lass and to get a move on. Their names are on the bike I purchased with some money they had recently left so I was taking them back to Scotland. As I will come onto later, it’s a massive team event so the thought of my parents and brother accompanying me in this mission just seemed right and would keep the motivation levels high during the winter.
Talking of winter, yep, it was long, cold and mostly sh*t. However, I survived it well suffering no real injuries or illnesses and had good consistent blocks of training. I was definitely in the best shape I had ever been in – that’s not saying too much but it’s all relative and I was heading up to Scotland in confident mood.
At the same time, in the week leading up to the race I was also crapping myself. Worrying about the temperature of the sea, the jellyfish, the choice of bike over a lumpy 205km course, the equipment, the weather, the nutritional strategy, the technical nature of the run course and a lot more. And that’s before thinking about getting to the middle of nowhere (lovely though it is) and organising my totally amazing support team of my running brother, Ben, and driving Mum and Dad. The CELTMAN! forum on Facebook was great for advice and tips but it could overwhelm you (read that as sh*t yourself up) and you needed to take a step back once in a while.
The flight, the drive, the stocking up of goodies, the witnessing of amazing scenery, the warm, chilled vibe of registration and briefing (yeah, of course lots of people wearing previous finishers shirts from other races but there wasn’t the testosterone filled vibe you get at most races) and the final supper all went perfect. No screw ups and everything was in place to set the alarm for…………2.30am (yes, 2 flipping 30am!), a time considered an early night ‘back in the day.’
I ‘slept’ as well as could be expected (i.e. rubbish but not as bad as some others by all accounts) and was oddly calm and relatively nerve free in the early hours. Ben accompanied me to the start in Shieldaig whilst Mum and Dad had a couple more hours needed sleep in order to prepare to deal with their demanding eldest son.
Racking was easy – put the bike out and leave a massive bag with all my cycling crap by the side of it because Christ knows what I would be feeling like after the swim and what the weather would be like. Usual poo stop, lube up and a last minute dash to collect my timing dibber which I had forgotten about (thanks for reminding me, Ben) and I was on the bus at 4am after a male hug with Ben trying to hold back the tears. It was an amazing feeling to be cheered off as the buses made their way round the bay to the swim start – you felt like a Premier League footballer leaving for a Champions League Final, not some bang average triathlete from London who was bricking himself about undertaking a long distance triathlon.
I was in the zone now though – I was happy to listen to other conversations but in no mood to chat with fellow competitors. With the best will in the world, I couldn’t care less about how calmer the sea was compared to last year and I couldn’t give a monkeys what you were hoping for during the race so my first apology if I cut anyone dead on the beach waiting to start – you were perfectly pleasant but small talk isn’t my thing, especially as I was preparing to swim 3.4km in flipping freezing water being surrounded by millions of jellyfish. I was calm though, had a good stretch on the beach and soaked up the tranquil surroundings of a rising sun in the Scottish highlands whilst listening to bagpipes and having the customary photo by a lit CELTMAN! logo. If I weren’t about to go for a swim, life couldn’t get any better at that point.
Now, hands up, first screw up of the day – I was caught between two sh*ts. Not literally but trying to balance not getting in the sea too soon and freezing my nuts off by treading water but giving myself enough time to get used to the temperature and in a good position. I failed. I misjudged either the distance to the kayaks or my ability to get there in that time and the hooter went when I was still about 25 metres short of the start line. Bugger, great start Mark and you’re not even used to the water yet. Muppet. So I had to swim through people who are even worse in the water than me (tough find) whilst getting used to the temperature and not being able to see anything. My goggles had steamed up and they just wouldn’t clear. Get round the first island they said and head towards the white house – that wasn’t an option for me, follow the pink hats in front and hope for the best. After a crap first few hundred metres, I got in the rhythm and started to move well. That is until a big, mother of jellyfish smacked me straight in the face and jolted me…..bang, cramp in the calf and by Christ it hurt. I went on my back to stretch it out but that didn’t work and I could feel other areas starting to cramp so I thought I’m just going to have to suck it up and swim with one peg leg until it subsided. It did soon enough and I was on my way again. Me and another swimmer was in no mans land so I made it my mission and mind diversion tactic to catch the pack in front before swim exit. It worked and I exited the water with others around me and Ben was there waiting to escort a relieved older brother in one piece and not too cold. Granted, I couldn’t feel my feet (the booties were always only going to help with protection rather than warmth) and I felt like Oscar Pistorius rushing to get to the bathroom but my (gloveless, correct kit choice) hands and body were ok.
Still in the game, Kleiny, good lad. A 59.00 minute swim after a rubbish start, I’d have snapped your left nut off for that time at the start so we’re good to go.
T1 was good and Ben sorted me right out with encouraging words from the folks from the side. My next apology goes to my mother. I needed the toilet but didn’t want to waste more time with the thought of a pit stop so told her to close her eyes as I peed in my cycling shorts. Classy.
Bladder empty, I was on my way on the bike. The usual process then took place over the first half an hour. The really sh*t swimmers (they must be if they’re after me) but waxed, TT helmeted (in both senses) uber bikers steam past me before it all settles down. I took the ride out past Torridon to Kinlochewe pretty steady and didn’t feel massively great until hitting the beginning of the big loop. Get to Gairloch at 60km Kleiny and you can refuel and go again. A nice little quick pit stop was had and I was feeling good.
It was shortly after this when the drizzle started. Then the rain, And the wind. 120km of that sh*t. I was determined I wouldn’t let it get the better of me and it didn’t…..up until turning right onto the A835. Those 40km to Garve was rubbish, no other word for it. I absolutely hated it and a few toys were left at the side of that road. Next apology to the local folk, have those toys on me. I couldn’t wait to get to Garve as I knew my support team were waiting for me. I caught sight of my Grandparents name on my bike a few times during this period and they kept me going – I imagined them telling me the weather wasn’t too bad and that it was me that chose Scotland so get on with it! Loved ones might be gone but they can still pull you out of tough times.
I must have been a right miserable sod when we were reunited for the final time at Garve but some warm water on my hands and a bucket load of Jaffa cakes and I was on my way again. Five minutes later, BOOM, I was back in the game. BACK IN THE GAME, KLEINY, YOU’RE NO SOFT SOUTHERN LAD SO LETS STOP BEING A BABY AND GET A CRACK ON. I felt stronger, my mood improved and I buzzed back through incredible views into T2 where my support crew were again waiting to take the bike off me.
Hopefully they were surprised by my change of mood and I was ready to attack the run stage. I had my kids in my thoughts at this stage as I imagined them saying the exact same thing I say to them in races as the run leg tends to be the strongest for all of us Kleins – go to work now, Daddy, go to work. My brother, Ben, was going to run the whole run leg with me and there is no person in the world who I would have wanted by my side. He was itching to go, probably not because he wanted to run a marathon in the Scottish hills with me but to escape from 8 hours in the car with Mum and Dad. Not only is he a flipping strong runner but knows how to handle me. He quickly mentioned that we had about 1hr 45mins to get to T2A if we wanted a blue t-shirt.
Ah, the infamous blue t-shirt that everyone was talking about, almost constantly prior to the race and during it as well. Hands up, I was definitely aiming for it and wanted to get one and started the run leg in ok enough shape for it to be a possibility. An unlikely one but still a possibility. That is until the bottom of the climb. Due to a lack of proper due diligence, I didn’t quite know how steep this climb was. It was tough. I couldn’t run it all which meant cheerio average pace and goodbye blue t-shirt. I wasn’t particularly bothered as I knew I felt relatively strong anyway and we made it our goal to pick off as many people and finish as high up the white t-shirt field as possible. As I must have commented about a million times to Ben during the run leg, I feel the blue t-shirt cut off (and the so-called aura around it), like the majority of triathlon races, is heavily weighted in the favour of strong bikers. We had the 6th strongest run leg out of all the white t-shirt finishers and beat 44 of the 61 blue t-shirters that were made to do the low level course due to the early cut off. I understand why they have to have a cut off but the weighting/reward doesn’t feel right. Races are from start to finish and a lot of people seemed give up a bit after T2A.
Hey ho, mini rant over but it served as enough ammunition overtake at least 20-25 people on the run leg and it was a mostly amazing few hours, even during the last hour when it started pissing down again. Chats with Scottish Ryan (east coast, not west coast) and an American who holds the Capital Ring running record were interspersed with football and cricket chat with Ben and the biggest question all day – if you could have one bit of food in the world right now, what would it be? 4 slices of bovril on toast with a cup of tea was unanimously agreed by both of us. For two southerners with little-no experience of fell/hill running we made a decent dig of course and left nothing out there. The sight of tarmac, the loch, our B&B on Torridon Estate meant we knew we only had a few kms to go so an extra gear was found and we must have passed a further 5 people on the road to Torridon Community Centre. Mum and Dad sped past us in the car as they had been having some deserved rest back in the B&B and had been following us on the GPS tracker. They were there for the special last few hundred metres where Ben and I crossed the line together, the only person I would have wanted to be next to. Job completed, work done Daddy.
14 hr 14 mins 30 secs of sheer graft. 106th out of 173 finishers (16 abandonments) on the official list but I’m claiming top half given how many low level blue t-shirters we overtook but were automatically classed as finishing above us and 4th placed white t-shirt finisher. I was happy with that and it’s probably reflective of my ability. You can’t do this event without some serious training and I couldn’t have worked harder in the time available to prepare myself. I did myself justice which is all I wanted to feel at the end of the race. Afterwards was a bit of a blur – I wish there was more time to have been able to sit down with the family and chat through the day but I had the awful scenario of having to pack up straight away as I prioritised flying home early on Sunday morning to be back with the kids on Father’s Day over the presentation ceremony and cèilidh (where I would have just sat down and drunk beer and not danced, much like any party I go to these days). It was nice to spend some time with Dad in the morning as well and have the best of both worlds.
Even though I was the one that woke early many mornings a week, did many a turbo session in a freezing shed at the bottom of the garden, ran through the bloody rain and snow, etc, I couldn’t have done it without some special people.
First up, my wife and family. I can’t tell how much planning and scheduling takes place every week to fit in life, work, kids school/activities, training, social commitments, managing a local football team, etc but we make it work. Just. She is a legend and allowed me to arrive at the start line in the shape of my life. Hopefully I inspire the kids with my endeavours but they certainly inspire me as they never give up and always race with a smile on their faces.
Secondly, my amazing support team. Don’t underestimate what a job these guys and/or girls have to do. It’s blinking hard work and a bloody long day for them as much as the competitor. Whether you’re only meeting your competitor once on the bike course or every half an hour, you really have to drive the whole way round the 205km bike course, on narrow roads, constantly surrounded by cyclists and in rubbish weather. I only witnessed one aggressive support driver (missed the number on the car) but that is still amazing given the nature of the course and conditions throughout the 8 hours. It meant an awful lot to be able to be supported by my mum, dad and brother and I couldn’t have faulted them one bit. We didn’t argue and I didn’t swear at them (at the weather or the conditions perhaps but not at them). This was an improvement from a couple of years ago when my Dad helpfully tried to encourage me by saying Ben had only just entered T1 when he saw me emerge from the sea at the end of the swim leg to be greeted by “I don’t give a sh*t where he is.” Time obviously matures you a bit.
Lastly, to the people that helped get this skinny legged, hairy, fading footballer to the start line. I’m not a member of any triathlon club (that might be for another blog), I’d much rather soak up the advice from experts in various fields and apply it to my situation and skill set. In no particular order – James from Optima Racing for great swim sets and no nonsense strategy, Fiona at Triathlon Europe for her continual encouragement and overall advice, Steve Trew for a great training camp in Italy and Stu Anderson at Team Freespeed (before you start laughing, no, I don’t race for them) for continual little nuggets of useful information.
So, that’s it. The A race for 2018 is over and with it a little void. Thoughts are already churning around my head as to what the next challenge might be. Nothing looks likely to be able to complete with the Celtman oxymoron – stunningly brutal, alone together, openly deceptive, peaceful conquest and just terribly, terribly, terribly good.
It had it all and I can’t recommend the race highly enough. Move away from the masses, challenge yourself and do it. You won’t regret it.