After nearly a year’s training we finally completed the Scotland Coast to Coast challenge over the weekend of the 15th & 16th of September 2012.
A large part of the Scotland Coast to Coast challenge is around travel, logistics and equipment. It is crucial to make sure everything is in the right place at the right time and we spent most of Thursday and Friday doing just that, although it did mean we could enjoy a couple of nights in nice hotels Thursday and Friday evening before the challenge began at 8am Saturday morning.
Along with approximately 1200 other people we set off on this 105 mile route that involved running, biking, hiking and kayaking from Nairn on the East Coast near Inverness to Glencoe on the West Coast near Oban. Some of the 1200 people would do this in one day. They were called Racers. We were doing it in two days and were called ‘challengers’ primarily because we had an overnight stay at the half way point in Fort Augustus. Speaking with some of the racers, while I thought they were mad for trying to complete the course in a day, they thought we were mad because of the tiredness that would come from the extra logistics involved lack of sleep after spending a night in a tent. In hindsight they had a point!
I can only write the experience up from my own perspective but having listened to fellow competitors I am pretty sure the views and experiences I will recount below will have been had by all, but perhaps not necessarily in the same order.
Day 1 Start – 8am Saturday 15th September – Nairn.
We were set off by the Mayoress of Nairn after some words of advice from the Rat Race Course Director. As I started to put one foot in front of the other I felt positive and happy to be taking part in what was clearly going to be an interesting journey for everyone involved. The first run was 12k and involved for a good part, running along a single towpath one person behind the other. This presented its own challenge as you had little option but to keep up a fast pace otherwise you would get in the way of those behind you. This brought its own pressure which I wasn’t expecting – in the end I did find myself being overtaken by a good few people!
We finished the first run in around 1hr 30 minutes, arriving at Cawdor Castle which was where we then transitioned onto our bikes to start the next 70k of the challenge.
Day 1 70k bike ride to Fort Augustus
Those 70 kilometres were the most difficult I have ever done in my life. The gale force winds which had been forecast arrived with a vengeance and for every metre of that 70 kilometre stretch, the wind was full on in your face. You know you have a problem when you have to peddle downhill.
The other major challenge along that 70k bike ride route is known as ‘the long climb’. This part of the course was just hell for me because I could see this very long but ever increasing climb for miles ahead. It was simply demoralising to see how far and up you had to go especially when you realised how long it would take in this brutal wind. At the steepest part of the climb I was not the only one who had to get off and push.
As a side note I noticed as the hours wore on that the ladies and gentleman who needed to spend a penny (or two) on the side of the road cared less and less about how visible they were.
Anyway, back to the experience – thankfully, what goes up must come down and the bike ride down the other side into Fort Augustus was great fun. I noted my speed topping 57kph – on a bike!
Day 1 Kayak at Fort Augustus
We parked up at Fort Augustus and having just endured the 12k run and 70k bike ride, my brain thought I was finished for the day. That was until Paul pointed out we still had to complete 1.5k kayaking and a 1k run back to the 1st day finish point. My heart sank.
However we clocked into the kayak section and realising there was a little waiting time, we took the chance to put up our tents on the camp site while the queue for the kayaks went down. At this point we met up with Neil’s parent’s who brilliantly had thought ahead and brought us hot coffee, cake and biscuits. I can’t tell you how much that was appreciated because at this point we were tired and getting very cold.
Day 1 Camping Fort Augustus – the experience!
In hindsight this was clearly a mistake, but ahead of the event I wanted us to spend Saturday night in a tent to enjoy the full authentic Scotland Coast to Coast experience. Having set the tent up early and finally completed the kayaking section we were done for the day and just wanted to shower, warm up and eat food.
The showers were a joy to behold – not. The main block of showers had ran out of water as we pitched up, so we then had to wait in queue to use the camp sites own original shower block. We waited an hour just to get clean but despite this we started to feel human again and now needed food.
After dining (fast food – carbs/protein – nothing by way of taste) it was time for bed.
The tent and equipment were actually fine and comfortable, but because I am a grumpy sod and a light sleeper, the incessant chatter of some women and a bloke clearly wanting to take nocturnal matters further in a nearby tent meant I couldn’t get to sleep until around 2am. Anyway, I then woke up at 6am to the sound of the same said bloke coughing his lungs out. Justice I thought to myself.
We didn’t need an alarm clock in the end as I was wide awake by 7am.
Day 2 bike ride 50k to Fort William
I have no idea how this worked, but despite having only 4 hours sleep, little by way of tasty food and an aching leg, the 50k bike ride was broadly enjoyable. The wind from Day 1 had gone and this route involved much more by way of changing scenery. It was tough going and again at times, the hills caused me problems but the route was beautiful and while I admit the pace might have suffered at times, it was important to me to also enjoy the scenery and take a few moments to enjoy what Scotland had to offer.
As we pulled into Fort William we again met up with Neil’s parents who by this point had become our unofficial support team. Not only had they brought by custom made insoles to the transition point, because I had mistakenly included them in my bag of wet clothes from Day 1 that they kindly offered to take back with them, they also had more hot coffee and cake ready in a flask as we pulled up. This was perfect because while on Day 1 it had been the wind, Day 2 was all about rain and it hadn’t stopped all day. We were soaking through to the skin and as soon as you stop, the shivering instantly kicks in. The hot coffee was perfect and just what was needed at that point. Smiling warm and friendly faces were also more important than they perhaps ever realised. Note to self – must thank them properly when back home.
Day 2 Run/Hike to Glencoe via Ben Nevis / Loch Leven
After a short stop off at the Transition point in Fort William, we then set out on the run/hike. Because we had started Day 2 relatively late – many other competitors had left by 8am, we didn’t leave until nearer 9am, it was important to pick up the pace for this final 14 mile run/hike.
However I did’t quite realise that at the time and my brain was looking forward to a leisurely walk around the hills of Scotland. To make matters worse my brain had also converted 14miles to 14 kilometres and when both misconceptions were brutally corrected by my team mates, I was in a very dark place. I did pick the pace up, but only out of sheer bloody mindedness, swearing inside (and occasionally out loud) for the rest of the journey.
As if things couldn’t get worse, my mood turned blacker than hell (appropriate given our team race number was 666) when a passing competitor pointed out a mountain in the distance had little fluorescent dots climbing up it. When he asked me if those fluorescent dots were from our race, my heart sank. Sods law said the answer would be definitely be Yes. If I had even the remotest opportunity, I would have called a halt there and then, happy to throw a hissy fit then head for the nearest taxi. As it was though we were in the middle of nowhere and I simply couldn’t stop. It would be just as bad to go back or go round. Paul realised I was in a very dark place started to explain the Mountain looked worse than it was. It will forever be known as ‘that bloody mountain’ in my book. (I still don’t know what it is actually called.)
The clock was clearly ticking and we just made it to the final kayak stage at Loch Leven. There was always the risk we would miss it, as they have to close bang on time – darkness sets in very quickly in the Highlands!For the next two hours we hiked up this mountain on a track that was broadly made up of rocks, boulders and gushing water (it’s funny how quickly you pass caring about having wet feet) and then down the other side. In my case mostly on my arse.
Day 2 Kayak Loch Leven to Finish Point.
I knew it was over as soon as we sat in the Kayak. We were nearly home and only twenty four minutes away from completing the challenge. Neil put in a tremendous paddling effort and we sped across Loch Leven to the finish point at Isle of Glencoe Hotel on the other side. By the time we got there it was pitch black.
It’s all over
We completed the challenge in 18hrs 48 minutes. We came 511 out of 572 which to most might seem poor, but to me a bloke who couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs without getting out of breath this time last year, it was a mighty achievement. We raised money for St Leonard’s Hospice, had a tough hellish challenge but in hindsight I loved being part of Scotland Coast to Coast 2012.
Special thanks to Paul and Neil for getting my ass across Scotland. Not bad for a bloke more used to sitting in meetings.
If you want to take a look, the video below captures an earlier year but includes all the major challenges!
Finally, there is still time to donate by visiting our Fundraising page above.