Beinn Eighe - the day before the Celtman!
Celtman 2013 was all about the wind. You know you're in for a tough day when you're reduced to using the granny ring on your bike to keep moving forward on the flat! On the plus side the Torrdion midges were kept at bay!
The alarm went off at 2am and in the half light we made our way down to the village of Sheildaig nestled on the shores of Loch Torridon. Bikes racked and final preparations made we boarded the coaches to take us the short distance around the bay to Inverbain. Water temperatures were reportedly a chilly 11oC and a gusting wind was driving down from Glen Shieldaig. We were led to the waters edge by the traditional piper and in front of the flaming Celtman logo the race got underway. The swim route rounded Eilean an Inbhire Bhain before a long and exposed stretch to Shieldaig Island and the final few hundred meters to the village.
I struggled to adapt my stroke and breathing to the choppy conditions swallowing a lot of salt water in the process with predictable results. Luckily there were very few folk behind me by this stage! The wind increased in ferocity during the second hour and many of the slower swimmers were pushed a long way east struggling to make ground back towards the old slipway at Sheildiag. As the sea floor came into view in the last 100m it was dishearteningly obvious I was only inching forward as squalls ripped water off the surface peppering my back with spray. I'd estimated the 3000m swim would take me around 1:25 but eventually exited in 2:06. A number of competitors did have to retire from the swim, mainly due to the cold, so I was very pleased to have got my kit right and was comfortable throughout. It was the usual fun trying to stand up in the shallows but once my cold fingers had managed to pull my ear plugs out my balance quickly came back as I clambered across the rocks to my bike.
A quick transition and I was away for the 202km cycle. There was a surprising amount of sunshine around in the morning and there's a few competitors sporting a Scottish glow today! However the gusting wind always seemed to be working against me. After a couple of close calls with ditches I came off the tri bars and resigned myself to a long battle. My pace was still pretty good and I managed to overtake my support without them noticing. Que some frantic driving and searching until they got back to me.
Annoyingly I'd failed to get my nutrition right for this race but my support driver / runner Carrie worked her magic and managed to source a bacon sarnie and a milkshake in the wilds of Scotland just when I was at my lowest ebb! Replenished I got my head down and started to pick off a few riders ahead of me.The rain arrived with an hour to go and just as we turned westward to face the full brunt of the weather.It was at this point I was reduced to grinding along in my lowest gears to try and keep any forward momentum.
I eventually arrived at a very soggy and bedraggled marshal manning T2. I was outside the 11 hour cut off time by 36 minutes so had to retire. The body and mind were still fine and I felt like I had plenty of running in my legs but I just hadn't dealt with the conditions well enough. In reflection it's my usual problem of bucket loads of endurance but not nearly enough base line speed over the ground.
There were some incredible world class performances at the head of the field especially the 11 competitors who headed up over the mountains of Beinn Eighe before the route was modified due to dangerous conditions. As a general rule I usually race at around 150% of the winners time but the lead swimmers were out of the water in under 50 minutes, more than twice as fast as me (251%). My bike leg was more normal posting 9:21 as opposed to the quickest time of 6:07 (153%). All in all a stunning event and I'll be back in the future to try and get that blue t-shirt!
Climbing into my wetsuit in the half light
Fires burning on the Celtman swim exit
Exiting the water after a very slow swim
A brilliant bike course with only a few long hills
Fighting the strong headwinds
Head down in the granny ring on the flat!