Bagpipes and Blisters

This morning I watched the last of my blackened toenails drop off and swish down the plug in the shower. Time to write about the adventure that was… Scotland Coast to Coast

The story actually begins in Namibia on the border with South Africa in a beautiful place called Felix Unite. We were on a rest day from the Tour D’Afrique. So, as usual, we were all crammed into the internet cafe, eating chocolate and catching up with home. I was feeling relaxed and, as it turned out, vulnerable to ridiculous ideas.  Hence when Paul Spencer, God amongst Men, turned round and said, “Alice, you’re Scottish, let’s race across the Highlands when we get back. ” I said yes, thinking September is a long way away. In my defence so did Liam, Dennis, Chris F, Sam and a host of others….

Scroll forward to September 17th at 7.30 am in a light drizzle after a summer of couch potatoing and continuing to eat 8000 calories a day whilst doing no exercise, and it didn’t seem like quite such a good idea.

Three of us finally ended up on this intrepid adventure – me, Ruth and Paul Spencer. Ruth and I were in the Challenger category – we had two days to do the race in – and Paul was in the Racer category – he had to do it in one (did I mention he is a God amongst Men)

The race is organised annually (and very well) by Rat Race and this year over 1,000 people took part. It starts in Nairn on the east coast of Scotland and ends at the Isles of Glencoe on the west. Day 1: Run 7 miles (5 off road), Bike 48 miles and Kayak 2 miles. Day 2: Bike 33 miles (16 off road with some singletrack), Run 14 miles and Kayak 1 mile.

Somehow it doesn’t look too bad when you write it down, but the two things to remember are: 1/it is a race so you can’t just pootle and b/it is across the Higlands of Scotland so it is going to be hilly… and raining.

Having waved Paul off an hour earlier, Ruth and I stood at the back ready to go. The rain had stopped and the sun was peeking out and we were feeling good apart from a few butterflies. The klaxxon went and off we trotted. Trotted is actually a pretty accurate description, with a big crowd of fellow runners the pace was dictated by the mass. We set off by the sea and then cut inland through a beautiful woodland by a river. This stage was mainly flat, and the only real hazard was the mud, made worse by hundreds of eager racers.

First transition stage was at Cawdor Castle (yes, as in Macbeth) where we grabbed our bikes and bike kit and set off. Hills from the start. But not all my bike fitness had disappeared so this felt easier than the run – even if my legs were a bit wooden when I first got on. About half an hour in, the rain started but couldn’t damp our enthusiasm. An enthusiasm heightened by Ruth’s genius decision to stop and have a coke break at a wee cafe on the road. Not classic racing tactics admittedly but it was great.

The last bit of the bike was up a long, draggy, killer hill. I was delighted to see that quite a few people were pushing their bikes as I ground up in Granny – no matter that some of them were walking faster than I was riding.

Last stop the kayak at Fort Augustus. We turbo powered ourselves across the Loch by singing Flower of Scotland and Bonnie Bonnie Banks. Then day one was done. I had to change my tyres ready for the off road – managed to rope about five people into helping”. Ruth was amazed that I don’t actually know how to get my back wheel back on. We had managed to book into a hotel for the night so a big dinner and a very hot bath and then porridge for breakfast.

Day 2 was always going to be harder – we were tired after the first day and also had the 14 mile run at the end. But it was so beautiful and such fun that it was actually even better than day one.

The first stage was brilliant! 16 miles offroad with some nice poky, muddy, rocky single track. I loved the fact that I passed loads of blokes who were horrified as I yelled “on your right” and mashed on through. Then, lots of up on the fire tracks and a final stretch on road with the sun glinting off the loch.

Transition was at the bottom of Ben Nevis and the bit I had been dreading most was now upon us – the half marathon. We started off up the Ben at a fast walk, and that was the pace we kept up for the whole route. After a shortish climb we went back down towards the youth hostel and then crossed over into the forest. Endless up on endless fire tracks. My will to live faded. But we eventually came out onto the moorland. More ascent but with the most stunning views until the final down on a boggy, boggy hill.

Ruth reckons we spent more energy laughing on this stage than actually doing it. I would like to extend my apologies to the three men who she invited to join us in the bushes, and also to the poor man whose legs I threatened to cut off when he passed us. I did offer to stick his feet back on with duct tape but I don’t think it helped.

Our final dash was on the kayak over the shining loch to the Isles of Glencoe. Massive smiles, fantastic feeling of satisfaction and a reunion with Paul plus hot soup.

I know this will come as a shock, but we didn’t win. Paul did brilliantly and came 19th overall and we came… 438th!

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