Late 2016 it seemed like a good idea that Simon Griffin and myself would enter this monster of a race. An iconic journey between the historic heart of Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh, and the summit of Britain’s highest peak, Ben Nevis and finishing in Fort William. Starting with a half marathon of road running from the centre of Edinburgh Castle and culminating in a crossing of the famous Forth Road Bridge to North Queensferry, it continued with a stunning 180km road bike leg snaking its way into the Highlands. Then transfer back to foot for the final marathon-distance off-road assault on The Ben and a finish line set in spectacular Fort William – It was never going to be easy!
Preparation for the race wasn’t the best. I had completed Manchester marathon in April but had a slight glute strain mid-way through at around 13.8 miles which resulted in a slower result than I would have liked as I was bang on my target pace up until that point. Work commitments in May also meant very little or no training for the best part of 5 weeks which also didn’t help and to top it off, my race partner had to pull out of this challenge a few weeks before the race due to injury – it was going to be a long, tough and lonely day!
It was a long slow drive to registration at the run to bike transition at the community centre North Queensferry, with this completed we actually decided this would be as good a place as any to park the motorhome. We had an early tea followed by an early night as the alarm was set for 0130!
I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t switch off. It was gone 2300 before I finally went to sleep and when I awoke my stomach had other ideas about being calm – I will leave the rest to your imagination! We arrived at Edinburgh Castle at 0330, with the race starting at 0400. It was quite overwhelming. I have been to Edinburgh Castle a few times, but on this occasion the grandstand was there ready for the Edinburgh Tattoo and the race started from here.
My initial plan was a steady half marathon, aiming for around 2 hours – no point chasing to gain 20-25 minutes on what was going to be a very long day. We set off in groups of around 20 athletes, I was in the 3rd wave. The run itself wasn’t too bad, more off road and trail than I expected through some stunning areas of the city. It was dry but very windy. No major dramas on the run apart from when I got to the half marathon distance and also at the 2 hour point, I along with everyone else still had the Fourth Road Bridge to Cross:
and about a million steps to climb to the run-to-bike transition as you had to go down steps to sea level to cross the bridge then back up to bridge level and up again to the top of the cliff to transition
– Just what you needed after a half marathon! The finish line couldn’t come quick enough after these as I had clocked 14.6 miles (as did everyone else).
Transition was a full change of clothes. I thought due to the differing terrain and expected poor conditions, proper cycling apparel was in order – this was a good move! The cycle turned out to be 144 miles (I think they need a new ruler!). The first leg, 28 miles to the first feed station was tough going. It took me an hour to cover 13 miles – it was obvious this was going to be a long day in the saddle. My legs were like lead from the off and straight into a 1000ft climb didn’t help. The weather at this point wasn’t too bad, dry but very windy. The weather played a big factor in the remainder of the day. I stopped at the feed station to top up my water bottles and a quick cup of tea. I didn’t eat anything because as quick as it went in it was coming out! The first leg was a bit cat and mouse with the people who I had left transition with. 2 people passed me, never saw them again. When I left the feed stop I was basically on my own for the rest of the bike leg, I managed to keep picking people off one by one as the day went on and apparently I was in 5th Place with about 15 miles to go on the
bike according to the tracker. It seemed like Scotland was just one great big hill and the route had been especially picked to go up it – well it seemed that way to me as I was chunterring to myself. It started to rain…. and it rained and rained and rained. It was head wind for the whole of the bike – it was brutal. There was a downhill section after the feed stop, but you know it’s going to be a long day when it was that windy you have to pedal downhill. From about mile 35 to 100 was nearly a constant climb, the odd downhill stretch but no respite due to the wind.
The clouds were almost at road level, visibility was poor and I don’t think I have ever been so cold or wet in my life – this is without doubt the hardest ride I have ever done! I stopped at each food stop for tea and fluids but didn’t manage to eat anything until the 3rd feed stop at around 80 miles. I imagine on a nicer day, the decent through Glen Coe would be stunning – not today I am afraid! The end of the ride couldn’t come quick enough in Kinlochleven. Full change of clothes (again), a bit to eat, soup, sandwich and anything else I could get my hands on as I was starving at this point! My support crew were on hand to assist and once I was sorted and ready to go they collected all my wet gear.
The final leg was undoubtedly going to be the hardest. I set off from transition, the first few hundred meters were on flat public footpaths going away from the National Ice Climbing Centre, then it
came! Running off the bike is never easy, but when you have a 1100ft climb to contend with within the first mile, this is in a completely different league:
There are no other words for this part of the race other than horrendous – conditions underfoot were shocking, it was like running on a river bed – rocks, stones and to add to the torment, it hadn’t stopped raining all day and was now flowing down the footpaths – great. I kept ticking off the miles, again on my own in what can only be described as a lonely, desolate and bleak place. A few people passed me – they must have been related to some sort of mountain goat! I soon realised it was going to become much colder. I had initially started in T-shirt, windproof jacket, waterproof jacket, shorts and calf guards but due to the volume of water flowing towards me and every step generating a massive splash and flood of water on me I took the decision to put on my waterproof trousers, not just to keep me dry but to keep me warm also. The miles kept coming, as did the rain and wind. Fort William couldn’t come soon enough as I was now getting cold and my legs had started to seize up and my Garmin died just after the last feed stop .
When I arrived at the finish I was truly broken on what was most definitely the hardest challenge I have ever done – asked if I wanted a beer or a cider the only thing I could think of was sleep! I later learned that less than 50% of athletes made it to the last feed stop, some stopped after the first run, some never completed the bike and others called it a day at Kinlochleven. I later learned, out of the 160 athletes who started, only 52 made it to Fort William!
4 days later, my appetite still hasn’t returned fully. I did manage 22 miles on my bike last night so my legs still do work, albeit tired!
As usual, big thanks to Coach, Steve Clark at Offthatcouchfitness , David Heath-Drury at Paragon Cycles and Jo Findley for ironing out my poor legs when I got home.
Undoubtedly, I could not have achieved this without the assistance (and mockery which they called motivation) of my support crew – Dave Jackson and Vic Fellowes, who I have already booked for next year’s crazy adventure – not sure what yet!
Would I do his again – most definitely, not this week though and I would hope for better weather next time – something that unfortunately Scotland isn’t renowned for………. Next stop Ironman Wales!