So normally when people talk of Coast to Coast it is usually a bike ride starting at Whitehaven and cycling across the UK to Sunderland.
We didn’t enter any normal Coast to Coast event… Of course we didn’t! Instead we chose to enter Rat Race Coast to Coast! This is a combination of running, cycling and kayaking across Scotland from Nairn to Glencoe! This event appealed to us because of its varied nature, the sections looked fun, the running was trail running through gorgeous countryside and the cycling a mixture of road and off-road cycling.
So on Friday we began our journey to Scotland! I (Helen) left home at 6.30am, with a very full car, and Adam (my boyfriend) and Janet (a friend) came with me too! It is unbelievable how much stuff you need to take to these events! So hard to remember what to pack, needing bike, bike shoes, kit to wear, plenty of snacks, bike spares etc.
Jenni and I had put a lot of consideration into what to take with us but even so I was still on the phone to her on Thursday night in a last minute packing panic!
We settled on hybrid bikes, as the bikes needed to be capable of lengthy road cycles but also in excess of 20miles off-road cycling. I took my Liv/Giant Invite2. We opted for cycle shoes and cleats as despite some advice saying the off-road sections would be difficult with SPD’s we decided it was worth the risk to get the benefit of them on the road sections. I used my SPD SL pedals largely regarded as road only pedals but as these are what I am used to it made sense to not try to change, Jenni had SPD pedals. We both packed appropriate shoes. We decided on wearing Tri-suits for the full event which meant there was no need to change clothing during the day. We opted for road running trainers, but packed our trail shoes as well so a decision could be made on the day when we had assessed the weather and the terrain. We both packed as much food as the bar bags on our bike could take, as the bike sections were quite lengthy it made a lot of sense to do our eating on the bike, as the event is unsupported there would be no food stops en-route. Saddle bags were filled with the obligatory spare inner tubes, CO2 canisters, pump, tyre levers, multi tool etc. Then there was the compulsory kit, you had to carry a thermal layer, waterproofs with taped seams, hat, gloves, first aid kit and a survival blanket, in addition to food and water to sustain you for the day, so for this we both packed in a Camelbak Magic which is a very small but perfectly formed hydration pack with just enough space to carry all the necessary items!
So anyway, car loaded with what looked like all my worldly goods and bike firmly tacked on top of the Thule roof bars and Adam, Janet and I drove up to Southport to collect Jenni! We arrived in Southport about 11am, quick break for brunch (carb-loading is one of our favourite things to do) and we headed onward to Scotland…
Everyone says it always rains in Scotland and they have awful weather but we didn’t think it would genuinely be awful all the time… Unfortunately the weather during the drive was pretty horrendous! With 2 bikes now on the roof the wind howling through them made it feel like the car was about to be lifted off the road, coupled with the poor visibility from the torrential rain the drive was pretty difficult and slower than anticipated! But during one short stop we found Fergus the hairy coo and paused for a picture!
We eventually got to Nairn at about 9.30pm, we had to register, show our mandatory kit and then head on to Cawdor to set up our transition area ready for the morning… When we arrived at transition there were a lot of bikes already set up and it was still wet, and very windy! This was not boding well for our upcoming adventure!
Wet and windswept we headed to our hotel, arriving too late to eat, so made some jam sandwiches (yes Jenni had packed a loaf of bread and jam) then headed to bed for approximately 5hrs sleep before getting up at 5am to be at the start just after 6am!
In the morning the rain had stopped, but the wind was still intent on making sure we didn’t have an easy time! Adam took a picture of us at the start and as you can see from this picture the start sign that should be upright was losing its battle with the wind!
But it was a bright enough morning and we were ready to go! The run was stunning! 7miles of mostly trail running, starting along the seafront and then weaving through woodland and gorgeous countryside up to Cawdor Castle, it was a gentle incline all the way to Cawdor and concious of the long day ahead we took the run quite gently and enjoyed it a lot!
You don’t have to carry all your compulsory kit during the first run so we had left our hydration packs in transition the night before and opted to run just carrying a small bottle of water. Once we arrived at Cawdor we needed to change our shoes, tie our trainers to our bags and head out on the first cycle section.
We were all smiles at the beginning and as we are both strong cyclists had expected this section to pass quickly and pleasantly… But the wind had other ideas!! I know I have moaned about the wind before and it probably sounds like I am using it as an excuse however I promise you a strong headwind can make cycling ridiculously difficult and this was what happened. Our moving speed was often below 10mph (for comparison moving speed on a normal day is often approx 18-20mph on a normal road) so 10mph felt like we were barely moving. It was too difficult to eat and drink as taking your hands off the bike left you vulnerable to the strong gusts of wind, and even if you managed to get some food to your mouth the effort needed to sustain cycling into the wind meant that it was ridiculously difficult to chew or swallow as you couldn’t breathe enough to do this!
Rat Race sent out an email today describing the event as follows:
So I promise I’m not making it up about the weather!!! To add insult to injury I then got a puncture!! On a rear wheel (much harder to change than a front) and I have to admit I had never had a puncture on this bike, it has disc brakes and I wasn’t sure I knew how to get the wheel off and on!! A nice cyclist heading in the opposite direction stopped to help but couldn’t work out how to use my pump so handed it back to me and was on his way so I continued changing the tube myself, scowling and feeling sorry for myself whilst Jenni took photos!
Then the challenge of putting the wheel back on without damaging the brakes, I ended up covered in oil, another cyclist stopped to help but somehow didn’t put the wheel on properly so I did this then we were on our way! We will be practising our ‘how to deal with punctures’ skills prior to our next events for sure!
Convinced we were now last we plodded on, with our steady moving speed, cursing the wind and laughing a little when it got so strong it pretty much stopped us moving forward! This section was a hilly one, it would have been challenging without the wind but the wind was making sure no one has an easy time and we started over taking other cyclists, some who had stopped temporarily to eat, or shelter in bus stops for a few moments respite before continuing! Then after gently climbing for 40miles there was a proper hill!
This was not welcomed by already tired cyclists and as we headed up it we sadly passed a lot of people walking up the hill, we do feel that our SPD’s were an advantage on the climbing and we stopped briefly at the top of the hill for a selfie. Well, I stopped, Jenni had been having some issues unclipping so she cycled to the summit, past a fellow competitor and asked him to grab hold of her to steady her to unclip! Being stuck in your pedals can be very frightening!
From here there was a descent into the next transition, there were signs up to warn us of the steep descent and to be careful with speed however there was no chance of speeding up heading into the wind even the downhill was slow!! We eventually arrived in the transition, racked bikes, trainers on and started running to the kayak stage! Adam and Janet were waiting at the Kayaks to cheer us on, we were so happy to see them, we were exhausted, hungry and starting to feel the toll the last stage had taken on us. We got into our kayak headed off to do our lap, it wasn’t a tough course, but the wind did make it tough and we often had to brake to turn the kayak back on course!
Kayak stage 1 complete we put our shoes back on ready to run back to the bike. We were in pretty good spirits here as you can see!
The next section was one we weren’t looking forward to, the off-road cycling. Off road scares me, we are used to road cycling on reasonable surfaces so heading up and downhill over flinty areas, mud, sand etc was not going to be our strongest stage. It was tough! And scary! Some sharp turns, steep descents, very rocky paths, and it seemed to go on forever… We both thought this section would be 13miles, we obviously hadn’t read the event info properly as it was 20.5miles!! That’s a long way when you are very far out of your comfort zone. We opted to do tha majority of it with one foot unclipped so we could put our foot down in times of extreme difficulty, I have to say I think this approach worked well and I would probably still do it like this next time… Off-road cycling is not quick, it takes a while to cover the miles especially when nervous and as time ticked on we became nervous about the cut off time to start the final run. This had to be started by 4pm for safety reasons as it runs over part of Ben Nevis. We tried our best to catch up on the time, but after the wind and our puncture the odds were against us. We eventually arrived in the Fort William transition at 4.55pm, too late to start the final run and we were not alone… An estimated 100people were not allowed to start the final run due to timing and approximately 40 of those were behind us. We were devestated, we were ready to run and looking forward to the miles but this was not to be. I did ask if we could run around the base of the mountain to the kayak instead which would have been a similar distance but was informed there was not a safe path that could be followed.
So Adam drove us round to the start of the final kayak and the organisers agreed we could take part in this final stage. They said the weather had delayed most participants by 2hrs, this made us realise the strong impact the wind had had, it wasn’t just us who were affected! So we headed out on the kayak anyway.
The final kayak was beautiful, across Loch Ness! It was such an amazing experience! We explained to the staff at the other side that we had missed the final run but they were very supportive and totally understood as there had been a lot of people withdrawn during the day, one girl jogged with us to the finish line congratulating us on our efforts. The staff on the finish line were equally lovely and still gave us a medal (maybe we shouldn’t have taken one but we had completed 91miles of the event and missed the final run through no fault of our own…) so here we are with our medals…
We tried, we managed a lot, but not enough and we will be back next year to try again!! If at first you don’t succeed…