~ by John Tomnay
I have just completed the Coast to Coast Race across Scotland, and what an experience.
We set off from Nairn near Inverness, ran 7 miles through a forest towards Cawdor Castle where we transitioned onto our bikes for a 45 mile ride on small side roads through some spectacular Scottish Highland scenery.
The weather was dry at least and we did not have the head on wind that had been expected. You had to fuel yourself as you raced, forcing dry nutrition bars into your mouth that tasted and had the consistency of dried horse poo.
We arrived in Fort Augustus , an old Abbey town on the banks of Loch Ness which we kayaked across unhindered by the monster, which was just as well as everyone was pretty knackered.
Most people camped out that night which just added to the whole instinctive experience of powering yourself under your own steam across a rugged countryside.
The rain started about 4 AM. You could feel the whole campsite groan. We were back on the bikes for 32 miles along the Caledonian Canal, then off across some mountains, getting sprayed by a thin gruel of sandy mud by the bike in front of you which crunched under your teeth as you chewed the cud of your latest nutrition bar.
We then transitioned again in Fort William from the bikes back into a 14 mile run. This time along part of the West Highland Way, through some of the most remote countryside yet. It was pouring. I was saturated.
The path was sodden and had turned into a mini river with water up to your ankles and it could be cold! The route took you across some rivers that had to be forded, walking thigh deep in the fast running water, then up a hillside with more water pouring off of it the I have ever seen…and I have seen a lot of rain.
The descent to Loch Linne was down a hillside that had been turned to mush by the speed racers the previous day who did the race in one go.
It was a scar of pure black mud down the hillside and I slipped and fell forwards, backwards and sideways. My shoes disappeared into a club foot of black mess which strangely helped the gravity of my body stick to the mountain side. Some racers slid down on their backsides and others just tumbled down in a mess of arms and mud.
It was such a relief to get down and had been all I had been thinking about for about an hour, so had totally forgotten that I still had to kayak across Loch Linne to Ballachulish.
This was atrocious. The worst part yet. It was cold, I was wet, the wind was against me and as it was a tidal loch, the water was moving in whichever other direction than the one I wanted. It felt like standing still while flailing your arms and stabbing the water with my oar. The landing was over a mile away and looked tiny in the distance and took for ever to reach where a waiting crowd cheered me in. I gave a little Queen Elizabeth wave from the kayak and shrugged up the bank to the finish line.
A medal and another nutrition bar! Where’s the real bar?