Craggy Island Triathlon by Amy Wheldrake

The last Triathlon of my 2017 Season; The Craggy Island Triathlon. A unique cross triathlon which starts with a sea swim (500m) to the Island of Kerrera, just off the coast of Oban. On the Island there are no roads, so there is a mountain bike ride (14k) and a trail run (8K). This triathlon was rated as being one of the best in the UK, so I had high expectations

There had been a bit of a false start to this weekend. My mountain bike had been stolen (amongst other things) after my garage was burgled just a week beforehand and despite my insurance company being pretty speedy; unfortunately they were not quite speedy enough.

The organisers were super helpful, suggested some potential bike hire places and said I was more that welcome to just do a swim-run. After not being able to hire a bike, I had made peace with only doing a swim-run, I thought never mind it would still be fun. Then I saw all the other competitors getting on the ferry to the island to registration and transition with their mountain bikes and felt sad.

At registration when I pick up my dibber (the race uses a dibber system like that in orienteering rather that timing chips), I explained I was the person who had emailed about my bike and was just going to swim and run. Without hesitation one of the volunteers of a similar height (sorry I didn’t get a name) offered to lend me one. As an optimist I had taken my helmet along for should some miracle like this occurred and it did! I did a short ride towards transition on the bike, got it racked and set up my transition area. Joy! Hurray! What a strike of luck! I could now do the full race.

However, on the ferry ride back to the mainland (where the swim start is) the anxiety set in. I was about to race a pretty gnarly, chewed up mountain bike course on a bike I had had zero practise on, had not completed a course recce or even studied the route. Plus having fully intended on just having a short swim followed by a trail run I had sampled some very good Scottish whiskey last night. Was my bike being stolen, the bad luck I’d had with sourcing a replacement all been the universes way of telling me I shouldn’t do this ride? Was I about to break both collar bones and both legs and some kind strangers bike? What on earth was I thinking? So it was safe to assume I was quite anxious before the swim start.

Race briefing time. The water was 14.5C, nothing daunting there; I’ve raced in around 15C all year. There was no wind so it felt quite mild. Weather-wise it had rained and was quite misty and dull. I was taking part in the Sunday race, the second day of the race, so the course had already been churned up.

Then my first sea swim; across the Sound of Kerrera. Less than 60 seconds in a boom a full kick to my right eye. Could not see a darn thing and was expecting to emerge from the sea looking like the elephant man to gasps and people running away in terror. Quite the opposite. Whilst staggering up the jetty, there was bagpipes playing. I removed my goggles and felt that my eyeball was still where it was supposed to be, this and realising I wasn’t actually that far back, along with the cheering crowd numbed my eye pain.

After a relatively quick transition, as some people got fully changed, and I mean fully changed (an eyeful of a different type) I was out onto the bike course. This was OK to start, a bit of a climb heading out but nothing too scary, the first descent wasn’t too bad either. This built my confidence and reminded me how much I love mountain biking! The course quickly got muddier, more uneven and challenging and I was certainly playing it safe. Mountain biking in comparison to road cycling is worlds apart. Mountain biking uses muscles you dont even know you have when road cycling, requiring much more upper body and core strength and having spent all summer on my triathlon bike, I had forgotten all this. Being on an un-familiar bike and on a torn up course I had no shame in walking some of the more technical bits. While walking one of the very muddy sections I saw a man take quite a tumble, on asking if he was OK I also took a mud slide right down the hill and had to scramble back up it for the bike. After my mud slide my hands were covered in mud and my wet muddy tri suit did not provide a suitable wiping surface, so after this just holding the handlebars was a challenge.  I made it back to transition in one piece, though unrecognisable for all the mud.

The run was incredible! Mainly because I am a lover of mud and there was plenty of it! There was quite a steep uphill, some parts requiring all fours to clamber up. I got stuck in a bog, knee deep, at this point I got over taken by not one but two women, in a normal triathlon this would have been a kick up the butt to sort it out and get a move on, but to be honest I was having too much fun. After the bog there was a stream, which I managed to end up in waist deep, this was quite welcome as it washed some of the mud off.

When I wasn’t stuck in mud I was taking in the views, which were incredible. At the top of the hills you had full views of the bays below, over the Island, mainland Scotland and across to what I think was the Isle of Mull. I took just a few seconds to take it all in, before concentrating on where I was putting my feet again, or I could have taken a very nasty tumble over the edge. The last 2-3K of the run is on a trail that follows the coast. On this bit I was feeling awesome and managed to increase my pace and take back a couple of places.

In almost every triathlon I have ever done I have experienced a mental battle, usually around a third of the way into the run. At this point I usually hate everything, my legs, running, triathlon, but I didn’t experience this during this race. The setting was so picturesque and unique all I could think was how I already wanted to do it again.

I wasn’t fast. I didn’t expect to be. I didn’t even expect to be able to complete the full race (with no bike) but I did and I had a fantastic time. Possibly the most enjoyable race I have ever done. It was the perfect end to a brilliant season, one that I have trained the most I ever trained ever following a structured training plan. Qualified for GB Age Group, completed my first half Ironman and made the decision to try a full Ironman in 2018. The weather and the mud just added to the magic of the race.

Next day notes: My eye is quite swollen. I do not love the mud quite so much when I am cleaning it off my kit.

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