City to Summit – A TRI (p) across Scotland – Sunday 1st June 2014
Originally entered in 2012 for the first race in 2013, and deferred a year due to on-going knee injuries, this has been a long event since the start… and wouldn’t stop being long until the finish!
This is basically an Iron-distance race – a 3.8km swim of two loops between the Forth road and rail bridges, followed by a bike of 110 miles through central Scotland to Glencoe, and finishing with a (slightly long) marathon including up and down Ben Nevis. Doesn’t sound too bad if you say/read it quickly…
The organisers have tried to open this event up to as many people as possible – you can omit the swim to make it into a duathlon, and you can take either one or two days, depending on your level of fitness (or how hard you want to make it!!) Ever the optimist, I opted for the whole lot in a day.
Registration was Friday on the waterfront at South Queensferry. The water looked perfect – still, little current, and the two massive bridges looming overhead gave a real sense of scale to what we were entering into for the rest of the weekend. Bike racking was easy, and bag packing for both the run and bike transitions, plus an extra bag of dry, clean kit plus sleeping bag to be transported to the finish, was made easier by having plenty of time in the warm sunshine. Once completed, it was time to eat, sleep, and panic about the day ahead…
Staying with a friend in Edinburgh made the overnight logistics easier, and with the alarm set for 4.00am, it was un-needed as already awake since 3.20… Out of the house and into the car by 4.25 to find the streets of Edinburgh virtually deserted. A quick tour of the city centre courtesy of a wrong turn, and 30 minutes later found me parking at South Queensferry and donning wetsuit and sorting out final gear before wandering towards transition.
Race briefing at 5.45am was good natured, and we were informed that due to the good conditions (calm waters and a ‘balmy’ 12°c!!) we would be swimming the full distance. We were allowed to gloves and socks (providing they weren’t webbed!), and together with neoprene hats, the water didn’t actually feel too bad. The swim start is on a long sloping jetty going into the Forth, where you exit off the side and swim towards the road bridge. This must rate as one of the easiest races for sighting – just to the left of the first upright on the road bridge until you get to the marker. Turn left and go towards the white house on the end, turn and then the third bridge pillar to the right of the last arch. Then repeat. After an uneventful first lap, the second turned into a bit of a race as the first marker buoy had broken loose, necessitating in a sprint to catch and swim round it! Back to the jetty, and then a 300m run/walk to transition. No rush – it’s going to be a long day – so make sure clothing is sorted, food in place, and a quick drink before setting off.
The bike starts by going through South Queensferry – about 800m of cobbles! and then one of the many highlights of the day – going over the Forth road bridge. The first thirty miles or so are all undulating, starting more urban through Rosyth and Dunfermline before entering Glendevon and Gleneagles (30 miles) where the first ‘pit-stop’ would be. A quick refill of drink, and then out on the road again for the next 30 mile section to Lochearnhead. The scenery up to this point was stunning, and as we headed towards the highlands, it was only going to get bigger and better. The long climb up Glen Ogle followed, and then the (equally) long descent started this 20 mile section, but it was the long gradual climbs in the second half of the section which reduced my speed considerably, especially the pull up to The Green Welly at Tyndrum and the third pit-stop. I could quite happily of stopped at this point!! Four pieces of flapjack, half a bottle of energy drink, and eight minutes later, and it was back out onto the road for the final 32 miles of biking. After the first climb, luckily with a second wind courtesy of the aforementioned food, a monstrously long, very fast, descent towards Bridge of Orchy felt great, and sped us towards the final real climb of the bike going up onto Rannoch Moor. Again, the long gradual ascents which followed, by now into the wind, kept average speeds down, and also kept the suffering levels up, lest we became blasé about how things were going! Going down Glencoe was amazing – towering mountains on either side as we descended towards the end of the bike, and the start of the next part of the adventure.
Ballachulish village hall was the location of Transition 2, where we could finally get off our bikes, and start the ‘run’. With only one recognised pit-stop on the whole run route (at approx 18miles), we had to carry enough provisions to get us to the foot of the Ben, and I, like many, opted for a ruc-sac type Camel-bak plus extras, to carry the additional extra clothing and other mandatory equipment we were required to take. The first ten kilometres were relatively flat, and were a welcome start before the big climb up from Loch Leven and over on to the West Highland Way at about 15km. The next 13km varied between good mountain shooting tracks to rough forest paths, all giving an overall impression of going ‘up’!, but which actually finished at the same elevation, albeit on the other side of the hill, at the final pit-stop. This was where you could be timed out of the final ascent of the Ben and told to go direct to the finish.
The organisers had pulled out all the stops at this final stop, with the usual biscuits, flapjacks, drinks and crisps supplemented with Redbull, Coke and hot chocolate. Two cups of hot choc and a packet of custard creams later, and the last challenge began, at roughly the time you would normally be finishing an IM run. From the road crossing, we had 9 miles to go – 4½ up, and 4½ down. The path up Ben Nevis starts steep, and doesn’t feature ANY downhill or flat all the way to the top. Snow patches were encountered from about 1200m and with the increasing wind, meant temperatures were decidedly ‘nippy’, but I decided to not bother with extra clothing as I hoped not to be up there too long, and also that I felt worse when I stopped.
Any thoughts of an easy finish were quickly dispelled after turning to start the descent, with the rough path and tired legs a great combination for staggering like a drunk, and frequent stumbles meant it was actually quicker to walk rather than try to run. Dusk was rapidly approaching as the path flattened out near the bottom, and a final jog took me over the river and into the finish chute – 16 hours, 34 minutes and 4 seconds after the start.
A great day out – the views from start to finish were stunning, and the swim is possibly one of the most iconic you can get in the UK. Yes, I had a couple of rough patches (70-80 miles on the bike, and the final climb near the top of the Ben) which are present in any long race, but the knowledge that it was all going to stop soon kept dragging/pushing me onwards. If you are looking for something a bit different (and long), then this could be for you.
For anyone still awake enough to care, or any anoraks out there…
Swim – 1.17.54 : Bike – 6.50.26 : Run – 8.08.25 (2hr33mins for the final climb, 1hr35mins for the descent) : Transitions – 17.19 (T1 and T2)
I used my TT bike – mainly good roads (lots of rough surfaces!), and orienteering shoes for the run.
Amazingly, I only suffered a blister on a little toe and another under my right foot (and the odd bit of cramp)
Nutrition – during the event, I consumed approx 4.5 litres of High-5 energy drink, approx 10 gels, one bag of crisps, 4 chunks of flapjack, 3 custard creams and a couple of cups of hot chocolate. I ate considerably more that evening and the following day…