In our house, there has been a race that has been a part of our lives since the winter: the Craggy Island Triathlon. It’s a very unique off-raod triathlon held in Oban on the west coast of Scotland.Competitors start on the mainland and swim across the Sound of Kerrera to the rugged and roadless Isle of Kerrera, where they transition and begin a very technical, muddy and difficult moutain bike course. The run is equally challenging: all trails, hills, mud – challenging to the point where in some sections, you are crawling vertically rather than running. This is not a race for the fairweather road athlete; this is a race where you get dirty, you use your entire body and you’re challenged in every way possible. Sounds like my kind of race 😉
Pat competed in the sprint distance race last year with his cousin Alistair, but entered the longer course for 2014, which incorporated the Scottish Triathlon Championships.The long course featured a 1km open water swim (mandatory wetsuit), a 28km mountain bike, and an 8km run. Alistair was back for more in the ‘normal’ distance race, as coined by the race organisers, which was a 550m swim, 14km mountain bike, and an 8km run. I say this race has been a focal point for us because, in the months, weeks and days leading up to the race, it was mentioned all the time. All the trail runs we did together and the Monday night swim sessions at the Stonehaven pool together were all in preparation for this weekend. Pat has increased his training load and intensity this year as a result of a strong swim, an even better bike leg, but a disappointing run where he basically ran out of steam. This was his redemption year. And I was along for the ride.We headed to Oban Friday night to set up camp. Yes, we were camping. I had flashbacks of last year’s chill in the tent, and was fearful I would be frozen again. Last year’s weather was cold, dull and rainy – this year was the total opposite. It was a beautiful weekend for racing and spectating, and that’s just what I did!
I rather enjoy watching triathlons:even as a kid, I’d watch the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kona ABC sports on Saturday. I love going to Pat’s triathlons because of the atmosphere and energy, and this is the reason I’ve entered my own Try a Tri next month. I want to be part of the action.
The morning of the race, I headed out for my first bike-run brick session: an 11 mile bike followed by a 3 mile run. It was very manageable and I was happy with my run paces. As I was returning to the campsite, Pat was heading out to the race site to set up for the 3 pm start. Late, I know, but this was to coincide with the tides.
I showered, ate lunch and made my way to the pier to take the ferry to the Isle of Kerrera.
I met up with Alistair’s wife Lorna, their two sons Ross and Andrew, and their sweet little puppy Ruby.
I found Pat setting up in the transition area.
The guys got their last calls for the ferry back to the mainland to start the swim. The mass of swimmers gathered across the Sound, waiting for the race to begin.
Rather than give you details of the race from my perspective as a spectator, I’ve got something a wee bit special for you. Alistair wrote a great recap of his own on Facebook, and is allowing me to post it on the blog. I think it offers a great perspective of this very special race from a competitor’s perspective:
Sitting in the sun looking east over the Sound of Kerrera towards the mainland. Paul McGreal tells us that the Craggy Island Triathlon series is unique as the only triathlon in the world where you have to swim to an island for transition. We are also told to start boarding the ferries for the start. I am one of lucky ones and get a ride on a seriously powered RIB that was worth the entry fee alone.
The water is a balmy 15’C, but after the hooter goes it’s a frenzy of froth and neoprene-clad legs and arms flailing wildly to find a wee bit personal space in the brine. The jetty [dock] on the other side doesn’t get any closer, but I resist the temptation to flip over and look back to check I am making progress. I keep pace with the black blob in front of me, I turn my head to the side to take a breath; the sea looks like there is a feeding frenzy. The black blob gets closer he starts to tire; finally I find may stroke, I pull and kick. The view underwater changes: it’s a concrete ramp. My feet find terra firma. Out the water, wet suit undone, a welcome slurp of fresh water from a station, socks, shoes, jersey, belt, helmet, bike.
The track rises, I climb well, I pass people, I keep climbing, I keep passing people. The track falls away … steeply. I do not descend well, people pass me. I look up, there’s a bike on one side of the track and a man on the other. He’s bleeding. I look away. I climb again, I pass people. We leave the track and go cross country. There’s grass, mud, bushes, mud, rocks, mud, grass, rocks etc… The trail drops, I drop. Head and right shoulder take the brunt. I get back on the bike and have second thoughts. Better check myself over. I think to myself Okay, nothing broken but that’s gonna hurt once you stop moving and the helmet’s for the bucket. I’ll have to make it up on the run and proceed at a slower pace. Someone shouts “Dismount” (perhaps a little early in my view as one bike and its rider pass me, and I run over the Dismount Line) and I’m into the transition area. Row 2, but where’s my kit? That’s not where I left it, is it? Change your shoes, get moving, stuff a gel in your shorts. C’mon legs, wake up, I need you to run now!
We leave the track and the path kicks up through the ferns, it kicks up again and again. Onto open hillside and it then rears up. Ah well, four limbs are better than two, as I scramble skyward to the summit. A quick glance around, a full 360 degrees. What a view: sky, sea and hills all around. Then it’s down, down, down. I am still passing people. Take a gel, There’s the ruined castle, must come back here with Lorna and the kids. Through the rock arch, okay 3km to go. I focus on the runner in front of me, I can’t hear any feet pounding behind me. C’mon Ali, no one gets past now. I can see the transition area along the coast but its still 2km to go. I hear feet pounding, there’s an undulating 1km ahead. A man in red passes me. I read ‘Edinburgh’ on his shirt as he pulls away. My last thought is No way, Jester. You’re mine as I burst for the line.
A great event in a spectacular setting. Well organised and a ride on a fast RIB included. What’s not to like?
There was familiar site from last year’s relay race: a very experienced trail running man and his dog, and young Jack Russell terrier who ran the entire 8km at his owner’s heal! Incredible!
Pat and Alistair both did well in their races. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of the two of them together! 😦
Next year, you’ll be reading my recap of the race rather than Pat and Alistair’s. Although, I’m fairly certain they’ll do it again!
What did you do this weekend?
What off-road races have you done?
I’ve got my first big one in October!