Andy's Celtman 2014 experience

I had decided to do Celtman 2014 with my brother some 8 months earlier. 6 months of training and 3 stone lighter, I was as ready as I’d ever be. We decided to drive up as we had so much kit to take.

Three days earlier I had cycled up the Bealach na Bà route to Applecross. This is the longest climb in the UK - 2000ft of hair pins over 5 miles. I continued and cycled another 34 miles, climbing a total 5000ft. Luckily I met up with my brother in the car before having to return back.

The following day I was a little concerned that I had overdone the cycling: my quads were aching from all of the climbing. The day before Celtman it was time to start stacking carbs. A large bowl of granola followed by a cheese & ham sandwich was later followed by a massive fish & chip lunch at Shieldaig pub with my support runner and cousin Ali. After lunch it was time for registration and briefing. We sat through the briefing and then asked about registration to be told that we had missed the registration time but luckily they would do an extra registration after the next briefing.  This sudden change to our schedule stressed me out. We had planned to return home for a sleep before the 2am start and now meant we would get 2hrs less sleep! The stress was further added to when the BBC Adventure Show requested an interview with me. I immediately pointed them in my brother Ian's direction who after some persuasion gave them an interview.

We eventually registered and had the kit inspection for the mountain stage. We had to carry a compass, whistle, full waterproofs, survival bag, gloves, hat, 2x micro fleeces, fluid, food, and a phone. Eventually we drove home, avoiding the nocturnal deer grazing on the long road side grass, to where we were staying but the unplanned events had stressed me out to the point I couldn't sleep. The alarm went off at 2am. I felt that I had had a couple of hours sleep - better than nothing. I was in a positive mood. I had some breakfast and a large cup of strong coffee in the hope that I could bring forward the call of nature.

We drove to Shieldaig, my nerves were briefly distracted by the number of deer on the road on the way there. We signed in at the village hall, and picked up our gps tracker and wrist dongle. The midges were out and seemed especially hungry for Guernsey flesh. It was bizarre to be walking through a sleeping village at 3am with our bikes and gear. We set up in the transition area. Our dad grew up in Shieldaig; we pulled our wetsuits on in the house where he was born.  We walked past our cousin's cafe, open from 3am and full of sleepy support crews warming their hands with coffee mugs.

The swim start appeared after a roller coaster of a coach journey some 15 mins later. A long line of paraffin-filled tins were burning brightly in a field next to the shore. The coach emptied of wetsuit clad triathletes to the sound of bagpipes. We all gathered round the paraffin filled tins in the hope that the black smoke given off by them would keep the midges off but it was little help. We were soon led down to the water’s edge by the piper and entered the water. It was colder than it had felt during the afternoon training sessions. Some people round me discovered that there was a high number of jellyfish in the water. I assured them that they were harmless. We swam out between two kayakers for the start. Before we knew it the horn was sounded and we were off.

I tried to draft the swimmers around me but found they were going a little slower than my ideal pace so decided to overtake. From there I was on my own. The group in front were already a good 100m in front of me, and I was pulling away from the swimmers behind me. There was a large white house to the left of Shieldaig island that we had been advised to spot. I could also see the lead support boat so used this as a more accurate spot. There must have been quite a strong current against us: despite the jellyfish rapidly passing underneath me the island seemed to take forever to pass. Eventually I made it into the bay and had around 400m left to swim. I could hear and see the crowd gathered on the shore already welcoming the lead swimmer out of the water. I stepped up the pace and was soon being helped up the rubber mat over the rocky shore.

I attempted to smile at my relatives but found my face was too numb. My cousin Ali assisted me to get to my bike and get my wetsuit off, juggling trying to get a wetsuit off and warm cycling gear on with numb fingers and trying to avoid cramping up was made easier with Ali's assistance. I eventually was mounting the bike and cycling up the first hill, I was feeling great, Ali had told me that he thought I had exited the water in the top 10 this gave me a massive boost.

The cycle included 6000ft of climbing, the first thing I had noticed during an earlier recce was that the tarmac was much coarser that the road surface in Guernsey, as soon as you stopped peddling the bike slowed down very quickly, it was going to be hard to maintain the 18mph average I had set myself in order to comfortably make the mountain route cut off time, especially with 6000ft of climbing. 6000ft climbing also meant 6000ft of downhill which was a lot of fun - my maximum speed of nearly 50mph was shaking the hell out of the bike.

2 hours into the bike I had made it to my first refuel point, the swim had taken more out of me than expected so I had drunk all of my 1.6ltr fluid and taken several gels and energy bars, I powered down the hill into the crowded Gairloch looking for cousin Donald, my support driver but couldn't see him so continued in the hope that he had stopped at a quieter point, where was he? 50 miles passed and still no Donald. I got my phone out whilst cycling and  text my cousin Fiona, who was the support driver for my brother. “No Donald. No water.”, I knew she would sort this out. Luckily I spotted a family with a 5ltr water container and pulled over pleading for some water, they reluctantly parted with their water and filled one of my water containers and I was back on the go. By mile 60 just as I was starting to run low on water, Donald pulled along side me and told me to stop at the next car park, to refuel.

The rest of the cycle went really very smoothly, with the exception of the tarmac - there were a couple of lengths that didn't seem much better than the cattle grids. Throughout much of the cycle I jostled places with an Italian guy, I joked to him that we could maybe play a game of cards. The climbs were rewarded with spectacular new views, something I wasn’t used to with the repetitive training over the same roads in Guernsey. On one of the descents my bike felt like it was going to shake to pieces as I clocked 48mph. 100 miles passed and I started getting uncomfortable, just 26 miles to go and my discomfort was distracted by overtaking a few cyclists. The last 16 miles I was shouting out swear words at the levels of discomfort I was experiencing, I wanted off this bike badly.

126 miles and we were entering the run transition, I had decided to go for a full change but the air was thick with midges, laughing at the bizarre difficulty of getting changed whilst maintaining dignity and getting eaten alive by midges, I was soon away running with my support runner Ali. The initial run was steep so we decided to walk, I had cycled 126 miles in just under 7 hours and the swim had taken me just under an hour that gave me a comfortable 3 hours for transitions and the 11 mile run before the mountain route cut off. The forest run was harder than I thought, fell running shoes would have been better suited, we did make it to the bottom of the mountain with about 30mins to spare.

There was a 2 minute health check and equipment inspection before being allowed up the mountain, I was dizzy and nauseous but tried to hide this from the marshals, I was desperate to do the mountain route. My number was called out, one of the marshals shouted that we were clear to go so we went.

As I started up the path I wondered to myself if it was wise whilst feeling so ill but all that mattered to me for the last 6 months was finishing the mountain (blue) route and getting that blue t-shirt. A number of people started overtaking me as we began the main ascension up ben eighe but we also saw a few that had also obviously bluffed the marshals at the bottom. One lad I passed could barely pick up his feet, weird but I took some comfort in knowing someone else was also feeling exhausted. We continued up the climb and eventually made it to the triangulation point where we were met by the same piper who had earlier led us into the water.

My wrist dongle was swiped for the 5th time and we were directed to the ridge that joined the second mountain. I hesitated, there didn't seem to be any clear path marked and it seemed like a sheer drop either side, I'd also have to try to control my fear of heights some how. Scrambling along the loose jagged rocks of the ridge we eventually made it to a large grassed area. Despite the grass feeling quite blissful on the foot the temperature had fallen quickly, my hands were cold and I began shivering.  I took my back pack off and pulled out a jumper and gloves. I ate yet another energy bar, and drank some more electrolyte fluid in the hope that it would help relieve my sudden weakness.

I looked out up the second mountain and the pathway between us and it, it was the first and only part that resembled the Guernsey cliff paths, we scrambled along it with relative ease and then over more jagged rocks before getting my time dongle swiped at the top of the second mountain. We double backed on ourselves until we got to the scree valley. On the way we met the American amputee, Jeffrey Glasbrenner  who was stumbling over the jagged rocks toward the top of the second summit. I felt enormous admiration for the courage of this man and for the the first time on the mountain I started to feel good. We reached the top of the scree valley and I looked down, it was a much longer descent than I had seen in the photos.  We had to wait until the guys in front of us had got to a safe distance before we were allowed to descend as loose moving scree or sliding triathletes could be hazardous to them. The scree valley was quite fun with the exception of trainers filling with grit it was fairly easy to slide/jump down. After the scree valley was complete we were greeted by a stunning segment of grass and small crystal clear lakes.

The path wasn't clearly marked so we continued down the slope until called over by marshals who instructed us to continue down the path until we reached the road. I looked at my GPS watch, there was still 10 miles to go, the last 5 miles of the mountain had taken 4 hours! I was so knackered by this point, the feeling I had after finishing the Graniteman or Guernsey marathon would have been nothing on the pain I was currently going through. My feet had swollen to the point that it felt like my shoes were crushing them, I started thinking about how many toe nails would or had already fallen off. I ran for a bit, jumping from one large boulder to the next as the path curved around and down the mountain.

Running hurt but so did walking. My foot clipped a rock and I fell down onto a grass verge landing on my arm and ribs. I paused for a moment whilst trying to work out if any damage had been caused and picked myself up. I was too exhausted to run on this boulder path so completed it with a fast walk/jog technique. The pathway to the road seemed to last forever, when we got back to the road I could have kissed the tarmac. 6 miles to go, my feet were killing me, I tried not to whinge too much to my cousin Ali who by this time was a desperate as me to get to the finish. The only person I had overtaken on the previous path overtook me so I set myself the target of overtaking him before the finish. We trundled down the road to Torridon overtaking the Norwegian as I passed him I shouted out "not far now" a phrase we had become sick of hearing from all the marshals we passed. He had set me as his target to overtake, the race was on.

We got into sight of Torridon hall and were diverted away, a lap of the village had to be completed before the finish. Ali opened the cattle gate and closed it behind me as we ran along the shore, 2 minutes later I heard the gate clang shut as the Norwegian passed through, time to pick up the pace. I could hear the crowds cheering for me, Ali's son joined us, and his wife started cheering us on as she ran in front of us to the finish. I felt overcome with emotion as I saw the crowd of relatives waiting for me to cross the line, the last time I had seen them was 16 hours ago at the end of the swim but it felt like days ago.

My brother who had completed the lower route some 2 hours earlier greeted me as I was handed a bottle of Celtman beer and my split times by the race marshal. We headed into the hall for food and a beer. Not a great selection of food but I would have barbecued my own dog at this stage though just lifting a plastic fork to my mouth was an effort. 2 mile swim, 126 mile bike, and a 26 mile run for a blue t shirt, was it worth it? Yes.

A big thank you to all my relatives, friends, and the Guernsey Triathlon Club for helping to make this all possible.

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