More Late Summer Madness…
You may recall that in September 2017 a small band of people representing MBN Solutions and Purple Consulting trained for and completed the two-day Coast to Coast event. It was tough but amazing fun and we all enjoyed it and were proud of our respectable finishing times for the course. Somewhere along the way, shortly after completing this event, we somehow managed to convince ourselves that it would be great to do it again this year, but this time in just one day!
None of us can actually recall the exact point at which we should clearly have been committed for professional therapy, but having decided to do it, we got stuck in and trained for the one day event: a 7 mile trail run starting on the east coast of Scotland at Nairn, followed by an 83 mile cycle course heading through Fort Augustus at Loch Ness followed by an off road section ahead of the last cycle section, this time on road to bring us to Fort William. Once in the Fort William Transition, we prepped and set off for the 14-mile
slog, sorry, trek/run up through Glen Nevis and over the hills to Glencoe where the final 1 mile Kayak and short sprint to the finish takes place at the Isle of Glencoe Hotel.
So… what’s it all about?
Well, this year, it really was all about the challenge to get it done in one day. Rather than collectively fundraise like we did last year (we raised several thousand pounds for Children with Cancer UK and GOSH amongst others), we decided on different causes. I decided to raise money for NSPCC and Children with Cancer UK. Raising over £1600 through some incredibly generous and touching donations.
So good causes in hand, it was a ‘simple’ matter of trying to deal with the inevitable self-doubt of being able to go the distance and a healthy
overdose of training to try and mitigate the fear of failure!
Another year, another training plan… (Train, train and train a little more).
Armed with our knowledge of the two-day event from last year, mixed with some research on more effective nutrition plans and heaps of practice at eating on the run and whilst cycling, we each set about our usual training. A mix of hill running in the Campsies for some, off road cycling around the Olympic mountain bike course for others, and all of us getting miles under our belts became the order of the day. Cycling around 60 miles a week and running up to 15k three times a week seemed to be a good basis for the event. Remember, we’re not professional athletes, at least two of our team are in our fifties!
I personally undertook a ‘mock race day’ that involved running the trail run followed by cycling the distance using the previous year’s Strava track to control the simulated gradient on my turbo trainer. This was one of the most painful things I have ever done (and… indoors during the hottest summer since 1976)!
Others in the team trained by getting in miles on the bike in the hills or simply getting their heads down and running!
All in all, we all seemed to have made good progress from 2017 with a much better basis for undertaking the event.
So… as in 2017, fitness is key, but we all agreed that the two other components of success for us here were mind-set and nutrition.
We had the mind-set (although ahead of the weekend, we all had tremendous self-doubt that we’d survive the event). Mind-set is more a lifelong pursuit – having that “can do” approach, but nutrition… well that was down to what works best for individuals. It was estimated we’d need around 6,000 calories. My Garmin watch reported that I’d burned 6868 calories on the day so this was probably about the right target to prevent anyone getting into trouble.
As in ‘17, we started with a pasta laden meal the night before followed by a two-stage breakfast as a base in the morning. This was supplemented with Pit Stop bars (moister than Cliff meal bars and therefore a little more tolerable) together with Bananas, Cliff Bloks and Zero tablets in water. Spaced out, little and often during the event, it worked particularly well and no one reported feeling too nutritionally challenged.
We used both caffeine and non-caffeinated versions of Bloks and Zero and ensured we took in caffeine at regular intervals to help with a kick (staying off caffeine for a couple of weeks before also helps with this). This food was more than adequate to get you around and the Bloks were particularly good – especially if you are not a fan of the energy gels or find them plain messy.
Saturday morning at the Beach
Up at 05.00, a quick look out the window revealed a view of an overcast sky – ideal running weather. We arrived early in Nairn and allowed ourselves to indulge in yet more nervousness!
Back to the start and we were ready to go. Ignoring our own advice from last year and joining the middle of the wave, we listen to the briefing and then off we go (if you are fast, get to the front of the wave so you are not held up by slower runners on the towpath and trail parts of the run).
The run starts along the coastal footpath with a mixture of paved and grass surfaces before we turn inland and run alongside a river. Soon the paved surface gives way to gravel paths and single-track surfaces, and as we run along beside the river and along footpaths it’s all quite pleasant with a little time for the inevitable banter about “why didn’t you go before we left?”. In places, the path gets very narrow and there are a lot of areas of uneven surface and stumps/roots which leads to a little congestion and a lack of passing places. Good practice if you are passing is to indicate which side you are coming through on!
Soon we’re crossing a road we were on the day before when we arrived to register and rapidly heading into the T1 transition at Cawdor Castle.
And on to the bike…
We are told that our transition starts on arrival and then the timing restarts 30 minutes later, so plenty of opportunity to take on water and food ahead of un-racking bikes and heading off. We don’t waste time and are off in around ten minutes. Its sunny but a little breezy – nothing major and now onto a moist but familiar road surface for the first 48 miles (of the 83 miles) over the hills but essentially, on road.
It was stunning – and as the morning progressed, it became sunnier with some fantastic views. This year we worked together as an effective team of four. Taking it in turns on the front, we covered the miles quickly until the last drag up the hill ahead of Fort Augustus. That was tough and the peak of the elevation to be climbed before Lock Ness. We were quickly rewarded after we arrived at the summit as the downhill run into Fort Augustus is something special with stunning views at great speed.
Unlike last year, we cycled straight through and headed out alongside the Loch then into the woods, the hills and beyond. This so-called off-road section isn’t a technical ride so the only pitfall you have to contend with is the surface and the prospects of a puncture. Luckily, we avoided such risks. Covering 21 miles off road we moved at a good pace but I was already having issues with my bike. The drive side bottom bracket bearing was rapidly failing and making it very difficult to turn the cranks.
One minor crash later (not me, but one of our team) and the off-road section finished with a slog of a climb. When at the top there was a fun downhill and then without any real drama, we were onto the road section. 13.5 miles left to go on the bike. Once again beautiful views and countryside, but a bit of a challenge with some narrow roads, hills and occasional fast-moving traffic to contend with. The weather really held up for us but I was tiring from fighting my cranks and had to draft on the rear wheel of one of the team to keep going.
Eventually, the team split with two of us cycling through the urban traffic and over Fort William’s collection of roundabouts. We finally reached the transition and timed out a little ahead of the other half of our team, giving us some useful time to replenish liquids and grab more food before departing for the run/trek. We had achieved the one milestone we were most worried about – we had reached and left Fort William before 16.00 – the mandatory cut off for safety reasons. We felt elated and much more confident.
Onwards, and upwards, and upwards, and upwards!
It was hard going and then it started raining as we started to jog through a local housing estate in then up through the forest at Glen Nevis. The climb was immediately steep and slowed us down to a walk. The climb was hard and the rain and mud prevailed. We carried on running where we could and trekking the rest. It had already been a long/tough day and we were tired, it was hard and there were 14 miles – a half marathon – of this ahead!
We joined the West Highland Way and headed up. And then up again, and then up again. No really, it was all up. When it did level out, we could run and run we did, but it wasn’t for long before we’d hit a section of more ‘up’. Sections of single track prevailed and it was back to indicating which side you’d be passing on as we continued to make progress.
The surface was hard going, rocky and uneven but was compensated by the views. We eventually reached the half way mark and were told that the next seven miles could be done in 1 hour and 25 minutes (probably if you were a professional ultra-runner – certainly not at my pace in the hills)! Soon, we had covered around 11 miles of the 14 when we reached a rather excitable Marshall who indicated to us that we only had 2.5k to go (straight up) and then 2.5k (straight down) before a 1k run on the road to the Kayaks!
The ‘up’ was hard… we kept reaching the top of blind peaks only to discover another ahead of us after a further climb. The route turned into single track rocks and unmade paths and was increasingly harder on already tired legs.
At the top, the views were amazing… with momentum established, we were off and the ‘down’ introduced its own challenges. Very muddy, no real route to speak of other than the Rat Race blue markers. As a consequence, I must have fallen over half a dozen times in the steep downhill mud! Egged on by the view of the Loch and the Kayaks sailing across it to the finish line, we knew that this last stretch was all that stood between us and the by now much desired pint of Guinness.
With the combination of a gentle run interrupted by the occasional, out of control sprint, further punctuated by the unintentional falls, it wasn’t long before two of us had made it to the bottom and could start the run to the Kayaks… the last 1km!
A pleasure cruise or a paddlefest?
We reached the kayaks just at the point they were operating the cut off and they gave us a choice of a trip over the Loch in their boat or we could paddle, two up in the Kayak lit by the moonlight… so… it took no time at all for two of us to hop in the Kayak and off we went. Whilst we had no regrets about deciding to take the Kayak route to the finish (after all, it’s what it’s all about), when we realised that the course was longer due to the water levels, it piled on a little extra challenge.
That was it, we reached the shore of a very calm Loch and jumped out for the last sprint over the finish line and on to the Bar (via a warm bath). Another Coast to Coast finished, and with the transitions stripped out, it was less than 12 hours!
So… was it worth it? A resounding yes! A great challenge, and great causes. I raised more than £750 for the NSPCC, the children’s charity supported by Cool Milk and a further sum of more than £750 for Children with Cancer UK, a fantastic children’s charity.
Thank you if you donated and helped push me along the 1 day, 105-mile challenge. If you’d like to support the two great causes I ran for, the link is still open and available here: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/forrest66
** UPDATE ** One of the several falls I referenced in my write up was later fund to be the cause of a Grade 4 fracture to my Tibia and a Grade 3 fracture to my Fibula… I only discovered this after continuing to run for six weeks or so at which point my leg went ‘pop’! As a consequence, my training is now temporarily stalled awaiting full recovery.