Scotland Coast to Coast
RatRace - Coast2Coast Scotland September 2013
The race we entered was a 2 day stage race across Scotland from the East Coast at Nairn to the West Coast at Glencoe. A total of 105 miles over 2 days with 6000m of vertical ascent.
Day 1 consisted of a 7 mile Trail run, 48 mile Road Bike, 1 mile run/kayak.
Day 2 a 34 mile offroad/road Bike, 15 mile offroad hill run, 1 mile kayak.
We had kind of a game plan to finish top 5 Mixed couple and with neither of us ever having raced over 2 days for that distance pacing was going to be key with Mel dictating a pace for the run she was comfortable with and me leading the bike with her drafting.
Approximately 700 starters lined up on the Coast at Nairn, 506 teams consisting of Solo’s, Pairs & Mixed Pairs and 8.00am we were off. It was clear to see within a couple of minutes that the level of abilities was vast and with people lining up in any sort of order with regard to their speed. I think Mel sensed this and within ˝ a mile we were running a minute per mile quicker than we had planned overtaking slower runners to try and get some clear space. We settled into a comfortable pace as we hit the single track trail and from that point it was difficult to make any progress as the route climbed very gently along the side of a river. The track was narrow, rooty and had a few rocks so careful foot placement was key we both saw a few people go over on their ankles as they tried to follow too closely. 5 ˝ miles in and the track widened as we approached the first transition and Mel upped the pace again and we started to make up a few more places.
Transition went smoothly and we were out on the bikes. 29” wheel mountain bikes were our chosen option as we did not know how technical the offroad sections would be for the Sunday. We saw a lots of Cyclocross bikes and slick tyred mountain bikes and even some road bikes in transition and began to wonder if we would be at a disadvantage. It was cold to start on the bikes with what felt like a mostly head wind so as planned I took the lead with Mel drafting. At times it felt like I was drafting for 4 or 5 other competitors that had tucked in behind Mel, however as soon as they pulled out to take the lead they could not maintain pace so this was a little frustrating yo-yoing with the same people for a long while. Generally however we were making up a few places but had no clue as to what position we were in the race. I knew that this was meant to be a day with quite a lot of climbing on the bikes and had said to Mel we must be in for some hills at some point then we hit the longest hill a category 4 climb. I could see people in front starting to struggle as we caught a few up, we still had some drafters lurking and my legs felt good so I helped Mel by pulling her up the hill by the handle on her rucksack. This did the trick and we dropped them allJ The next few miles were great fun, on our own bright sunshine and predominantly downhill and setting off a few speed traps on the way! We soon arrived in Fort Augustus Transition after this for the final leg of the day a short run and kayak. Off the bike we ran to the kayak launch, we hopped in and the guy was trying to give us instructions as I was rapidly trying to start paddling and hoping he would get out of the way! We paddled really well and were glad we had a couple of trial runs before we got to Scotland as some of the boats were getting in a right mess with their paddles! I think we clocked one of the fastest splits on the kayak. Out of the kayak and my thighs had seized up, so kind of duck waddled for 50m then luckily they came back to me. The ˝ mile run back to the first end of day checkpoint at the Lovat Hotel and clocked out for the day. We picked up a time print out slip and were shocked to have finished 20th overall for the day. Later that evening we found out we had a 25 minute lead over the next mixed couple in 1st place.
What a difference a day makes! We woke up at about 3am in the morning probably along with all the other campers to the sound of heavy rain and winds getting stronger and stronger. We had decided to leave as early as we could between the 7:30 – 9:00am start window, however it seemed everyone else had the same idea! Straight out on the bikes wearing all the clothes we had to battle the rain and wind but inevitably knew we would soon be soaked through. I think both Mel and myself felt a bit of extra pressure due to the fact that a) we were leading b) the technical offroad section was coming and Mel is not a great fan by any means and c) we were thinking we had to reign in the bike pace to enable us to complete the last 15 mile mountain trail run.
The start of the bike was driving rain and strong head wind on canal tow path simple enough terrain but awful conditions poor Mel drafting me was absolutely covered in mud from the spray off the back of my bike a picture that will remain in my mind for a long time! We were a fair way behind the days leaders as we did not leave bang on 7:30 am but were slowly picking our way through slower riders until we entered the technical forest section Mel’s nightmare. To be fair she did great with next to no experience on a typical trail centre type track through the forest but the regular MTB riders were in their element and flying through this section. It was pretty narrow and only really room for single file so there was extra pressure when faster riders were squealing their brakes behind! Once through this section Mel was conscious we had been overtaken by a lot of riders and was probably a low point for her. We continued along forest trail type tracks interspersed with short road sections and it appeared much hillier than the previous days cycle and in all honesty I had probably pushed a bit too hard on day one for Mel. My legs did feel better on day 2 though so played our tow tactics for most of the second day and I was pulling Mel up all the hills which soon had us passing struggling day 2 bikers again. The last section to Fort William transition was all road and at this point the field had really spread out and we probably only saw 5 people in the last 8 miles. At transition we had a maximum 30 minute timed out section, this was a blessing as it gave us time to offload the extra weight and sort the bikes out for the transfer back to the start at Nairn and to get a lovely cup of tea as soon we had stopped we were getting cold instantly. 22 minutes after arriving at transition we were off on the final 15 mile run and end kayak with lovely dry socks and trainers J. We went up and up and up mainly on all fire road gravel paths and had overtaken 10 or so people by the time we got to the top of this first climb, then off the track onto a single track descent and it had actually stopped raining for a while and we seemed pretty sheltered between 2 valleys in an enchanted forest type environment. One of Mel’s highlights! From here on the paths were quite rocky and undulating for a time until the valley opened out again and the rain and wind returned stronger than ever. We descended down into what I think was a rocky path with Byrnes crossing it every few hundred yards, however with the amount of rain coming down the path was now a running stream and the Byrnes must have been near river classification. This was quite fun for ˝ a mile but after 2 miles it was really starting to grate with me as the progress was so slow and consistent running was near impossible. Mel could tell I was getting fed up with it and as we approached a rise in the track she said “ It’s alright it ends at the top of here” little did we know it just changed direction and ran the other way down the hill.
At this point we had no idea where we were in
the race that day, felt pressured to keep moving as quick as possible to
hopefully maintain the lead we had made on day 1 but the going was so
slow. We saw an orange Jacket in the distance, a race Marshall the only
one on the whole of the mountain run section standing by a sign with 8
miles to go! He informed us that the high mountain section run and kayak
had been cancelled due to the high winds and rain on safety grounds, we
found out the Monday morning after the race it had actually snowed on the
top of Glencoe on Sunday, so all in all a good call by the Race Director.
So literally 8 more miles and that was it Coast2Coast done, the horrible
rocky stream river section continued for probably another 6 miles along
with hail storms and more wind and it became harder to keep warm being
soaked through. Finally the last descent which was extremely slippery,
rocky and steep. We knew at this point tiredness had gotten hold of us and
we were not prepared to take any risks so close to the finish so carefully
descended and found a camera man sat in a portaloo tent taking pictures of
us!!! Odd but by this point we really didn’t care and just wanted to
finish. We finally descended into Fort William via our re-directed route
and the two Marshalls shouted “Well done 400m to go” Mel was off…… I could
barely put a jog together! Luckily she slowed for me and we had finished
10hours 11 minutes 53 seconds.
We were immediately directed to a coach and luckily for us we were first on it as the earlier finishers had taken shelter in a nearby building. We also found out it was the first coach of the day so were hopeful we had not lost too much time over our closest competitors. We arrived at the “official” finish unfortunately/luckily not by kayak and ran through the official finish line absolutely frozen with all the rest of the competitors off the 1st coach at Isle of Glencoe Hotel, Ballachulish. The results slowly started to filter through and we realised we had won the Mixed Pairs category by over an hour, were the 4th Pair overall and had maintained 20th place overall. We were chuffed to bits and the hot shower will go down as one of the best ever!
Just a quick note about Paula and Paula Stuart, they gave us amazing support throughout the weekend and were fantastic company. Considering the huge disadvantage they had riding 26” wheel mountain bikes on Day 1 and finishing in 26th in the mixed pairs race their grit and determination on Day 2 was amazing to climb to 15th overall in such appalling conditions. I am sure they have their own stories to tell if you catch up with them at a club night. Cheers Guys
Overall a fantastically run event, shame about the weather as it made the finish a slight anti-climax, great camaraderie between competitors. Would I do it again?
Probably yes. There is an option to do it all in one day………
Race Results :