Last year I went into the Celtman XTRI World Series race held in Torridon in the North West of Scotland with no expectations, as it was my first triathlon. My main goal was to get around the 3.4km swim, 202km bike, and 42km mountain marathon. I really surprised my pre-race expectations last year by taking the overall win. This was in some extremely testing conditions, possibly the worst in the history of the race.
This year I knew exactly what I had signed myself up for by taking the start line again. I had prepared better for the race this year and I was confident with my form going in. Conditions could not have been any more contrasting from last year’s Celtman. With light winds, calm seas, and soaring temperatures, I knew it was going to be a very different race.
The swim is the discipline that I’m least comfortable in, mainly due to the lack of time I get to train in the water. I live in Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands; my nearest pool is over 40 minutes away, so I train in the lochs and sea. These natural venues take a while to warm up after the winter months, meaning a small training window before Celtman where the waters are a bearable temperature. My swim this year was steady, coming out the water around 25th, 15 minutes or so down on 1st place.
My wife Jess and two kids Struan (4) & Fionn (2) were in Transition 1 to get me out of my wetsuit and dressed as a cyclist ready to hit the 202km Time Trial, with the ambition to eat into that 15-minute gap to first place.
Onto the Bike
The Celtman bike route is an incredible loop around the iconic roads of the North West of Scotland. Grueling climbs, technical sections, and fast open roads all surrounded by jaw-dropping scenery! I paced the ride well, especially with temperatures hitting 25 degree. After the hilliest section of the course was behind me, I was delighted to be in the lead and extending my gap to those behind. My mum as bike support did an outstanding job keeping me fuelled, hydrated and motivated. I knew that it had been a good ride and was delighted to discover that I took course record for the bike.
Turning into Transition 2 in Kinlochewe to see Jess and the kids again, I knew I had a good lead. If I delivered a strong performance on the run, I had a great opportunity to defend my title. Ian Stewart of Trail Running Scotland was my support runner. The 42km course takes in the mighty mountain of Beinn Eighe that rises from Loch Torridon. We set out into the run feeling strong and ready to take it on with all that we had!
Ready to Run
All was going to plan until early on I took a nasty fall. I had been distracted by searching for food in my bum bag. Hitting the gravel track hard, I put a deep gash into my right knee which could have been a race ender! It’s not mandatory to carry first aid in the first part of the run, so we had nothing proper to stop the bleeding. With an improvised bandage made from my t-shirt we ran on. Getting to the checkpoint before the mountain where we collected our mountain bags, I was able to replace the make-shift dressing with something much more suitable.
At this stage I knew that I was going well and the gap to the rest of the field was growing. From the checkpoint it was a 900m vertical gain to the first of the two Munro summits on Beinn Eighe up a steep and unrelenting mountain path. Greeted by a lone piper, while looking around at the 360-degree mountain vista was an incredible moment and one that will stay with me forever.
From here it was technical running on loose rock to reach the second Munro peak. Then down the notoriously steep descent of the mountain via Morrison’s Gully. I had the Scottish Islands Peaks running race in my legs from May, so I was feeling very at home running in the mountainous terrain. Rejoining the road with 7km of tarmac to go I knew I had done it again. I was exhausted yet elated at the same time.
Reaching the Finish Line
Nearing the village of Torridon, I could hear the commentator announcing my incoming arrival over the noise of pipes and cowbells. What a feeling! I crossed the line with a time just under 11 hours 30 minutes. Sharing the moment with my family and support team, sipping the Celtman finishers beer was just amazing. Everyone in the support team put in such an incredible performance to make my race go the way it did, and I owe so much thanks to them!
For now, it’s time for a some recovery before ramping up in preparation for the World Championships in August.