Over-ambitious and under-prepared

Early in 2014 Chris entered us in the Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon (LAMM). A demanding event held each summer in a wild location somewhere in the Highlands. The exact location of the start is not released until a couple of weeks before, so you can’t go up there and reconnoitre beforehand.

This would be a step up from our usual activities for the following reasons:

  • There is no marked route but an orienteering course requiring pinpoint navigation
  • There are few paths ; just rough open country all the way
  • It is a two day event with an overnight camp. All the gear for this has to be carried, you arrive at the campsite knackered and get up to do it all again the following day

We were delighted when the venue turned out to be Strathcarron; just south of the Liathach-Ben Eighe massif. We had been there before for the CELTMAN. This is lovely country.

They looked after us well on the Friday evening. There was a big marquee with live music as well as food, beer and equipment for sale. We sat next to a bloke from Swaledale who – once he had quizzed us about our level of experience – seemed pessimistic about our prospects. ‘How much does your pack weigh?’ We told him. He shook his head and said, ‘Most people will be carrying half that’.

He was right. Making or way to the start the following morning I felt a proper amateur. Our bags were far too big and heavy.

It was a great day though! Our route took us through wild and remote country. It was challenging; one of the most memorable days in the hills I’ve ever had.

The checkpoints were an adventure, even in excellent visibility. In mist, these would have been very tricky to find.

My problems began between CP 5 and 6. It had already become apparent that I was under-prepared for this. Chris was full of beans and well inside his capacities but I had done little preparation on real hills, none on bigger mountains. I was struggling by CP 5 and kept falling over on the way to 6. Slowing down significantly and falling over constantly, I was going to be a liability for the rest of the journey. We decided to call it a day around 16.00 hrs – nevertheless, we still had a five mile walk back to base.

I felt rotten for Chris, because he could have finished.

Some lessons learned:

  • We entered the B class – this was (for me) too ambitious
  • We needed lighter kit
  • More than anything, I should have trained hard on steep, pathless terrain. The LAMM is nothing like anything I’ve ever done before!

So do we have another bash in 2015? Oh yes, I think so!

There’s no such thing as a DNF – only a training run for next time.

CELTMAN! – mountain run

So you are thinking of doing the CELTMAN! Thousands of people sensibly resisted the temptation to enter the CELTMAN!in 2012 – 127 were not so wise and actually turned up at the start. Of these, 101 of them finished the full course, while 11 missed the cut off for the mountain section and were sent round a low-level alternative.

In this first CELTMAN! My wife and I supported our friend Chris in the cycle and the run – I then rode shotgun for him on the mountain section. Mountain running is my thing, so here are my thoughts; based on our own experience, chatting with other competitors, and looking at their blogs. This may help you prepare for your effort. If you are thinking of doing the CELTMAN! you need all the help you can get.

First, the mountain section is big and scary; a serious Scottish one. You will ascend steeply, 1000 meters in less than a kilometre; straight up!  At the top is a rocky ridge, sometimes quite broad, but occasionally reducing to a narrow path with big drops on both sides. You need a head for heights.

Second, there is a good chance that the mountain will be sheathed in cloud. We had not had a chance to recce the route so the terrain was unfamiliar. I wish we had micro-navigated from the first summit. We didn’t, and found ourselves a bit confused in thick mist. In anything other than clear weather, it is advisable to get your map out and navigate; noting the ups and downs and correlating these with the contours on the map. Use the magnifier on your compass and take your time.

Third, the mountain section is very, very rough underfoot. If you are used to running cross country in England, Holland or Denmark, you will not know what hit you when you enter the mountain section of the CELTMAN! – before you compete you really need to get experience of terrain which is mountainous and rough.

Fourth, when you reach Corrie mich Farquhair you are still a long way from home. After an open water swim, a 120 mile bike ride and 19 miles of mountain running, you have still got 7 miles to go. For 4 of those miles you will have to watch every single footfall in case you trip and hurt yourself. You need stamina and presence of mind when you are knackered.

Finally; it is worth it. There is nothing, absolutely nothing in this world, better than the taste of cheesy pasta and a glass of beer in Torridon village hall when you have finished the CELTMAN!

 So go for it and enjoy yourself!

CELTMAN! 2012

The air was still, and thick cloud plastered Ben Eighe, one of Scotland’s grandest mountains. We were looking for a cairn where we would turn right onto the sharp ridge leading to one of its summits, Ruach Mor. Afraid we had gone too far, I was about to ask Chris to switch his Garmin on when…

‘Ding!’, ‘ding!’, ‘ding!’ A bell chimed through the gloom.

I shouted, ‘Hello!’ and through the clouds came a calm mystical voice, ‘Over here!’

This was the CELTMAN! Extreme Scottish Triathlon. At 05.00 that morning Chris had waded into Loch Sheildaig for a 2 mile swim, then cycled 120 miles through the Highlands. By the time he reached that last summit he had also run 16 miles, climbing 3000 feet onto the Ben Eighe ridge. He was still 10 miles from the finish. I had only joined him for the mountain section of the run, a compulsory companion in case anything went wrong. As a result, I was pretty fresh but Chris was knackered.

With visibility down to 100 feet, we followed the bell slowly and carefully. I imagined a lonely monastery; it’s temple-bell guiding pilgrims through the mountains. Then a strange figure took shape, it was our cairn and, sitting on top of it in a garden chair, the Dalai Lama was banging a metal dog bowl with a spoon.

Approaching with reverence, we were rewarded with enlightenment. ‘It’s that way’ said the Dalai Lama who turned out – on closer acquaintance – to be a member of the Torridon Mountain Rescue Team. We were soon standing on our summit, the highest point in the race.

The way down was steep, when the mist cleared for a minute to reveal dizzying drops either side of the ridge; just ahead the immensity of the triple buttresses soared above us. Mercifully, the clag came down and hid the lot – I felt safer when we couldn’t see the drop. The fog covered almost everything, but we could feel the majesty of the mountain all around us. It was now 21.00; we were still in a very remote place, and it would soon be dark.

Wilderness all around, the trail from the corrie took us round the end of Sail Mohr and into the valley between Liathach and Ben Eighe; a hidden world of lonely lakes and waterfalls. Here, Chris found his second wind and we were racing again, picking off other teams on the way to the finish in Torridon.

If you have ever finished an Iron Man Triathlon you are one tough dude. But you still have no idea how tough the CELTMAN Extreme Scottish Triathlon will be – for this challenge you need to be more than fit and more than tough – you need to be exceptional; nothing less.

I just did the fun run – Chris became a CELTMAN! He was exceptional!