In the second part of the Celtman trio of blog posts Amanda details her day out.
Celtman! What a weekend! I can't really put into words how amazing, but grueling, the day was! The week leading up to the race was emotional and filled with self-doubt, asking myself,
"Am I capable of taking on something like this?"
"The jellyfish and cold water, I won't even finish the swim! Why are you doing this?"
Everything was going through my mind. Luckily, I am surrounded by people that were positive that I could take on this challenge. Well, at least they said I could.
I told my coach Craig the first time I met him, "If you think I'm not cut out for this don't hesitate to say!" So I must have been ready, even though I thought another year of training would have been handy.
On Friday morning, my support crew: Euan; my dad, Mark; and I drove to Lochcarron in preparation for Celtman. We headed straight to registration at Torridon Community Centre: first to register and then to meet my coach Craig, who was on support runner duties for the day. Meeting a few friendly faces I had been talking to on the lead up to Celtman helped calm the nerves ever so slightly. Race briefing commenced with the usual do's and don'ts of the race, which I found hard to concentrate on; I don't know if it was because everything was going through my head or the severely numb bum I was experiencing from sitting on the wooden floor for almost an hour. However, I took in the important points. Arriving at our accommodation in Lochcarron, I checked over my bike (Craig checked over my bike) and then Craig and I went for a quick spin which helped calm me down. For the first time, I was surprisingly prepared with all of my food made up. We sat for dinner and a chat and headed to bed for 9ish. I was scarily calm and organised which felt strange, not only to me but to my support crew as well.
I think I had around 3 hours deep sleep and woke up with a rush of nerves going through my stomach! All I could think about was the jellyfish and the cold water. 1:30am: out of bet, got ready, into the kitchen looked at Craig and gave this nervous laugh whilst thinking "what am I doing?!"
I proceeded to try and make my breakfast, and also my sandwiches for the race, and make a cup of tea, whilst getting my kit organised. I tried to walk around doing it all at once before I just took a breath and thought, "one thing at a time: Food first!" And at that time in the morning, the food was hard to eat!
I checked and checked, again and again, that I had everything ready for transitions and my buffet ready for on the bike. We all headed on what felt like the longest journey to transition to get my GPS tracker and sort out my transition box, as well as my bike. Dumping everything at my number, I had some last minute preparations with Craig; but the midges!! I could feel them crawling all over my face, hair, head, hands and everywhere! Sheildaig had perfect weather conditions, the water was calm and in our favour; the Celtic gods were being good to us so far. But the midges!! Even though the weather was perfect, I wasn't getting my hopes up. Once everything in transition was prepared, I squeezed myself into my wetsuit and made my way to the bus pickup point. Final hugs to everyone and off I went. Boarding the coach, I felt like I was Forest Gump going to school, but I saw a smiling face and that was enough for me to choose who to sit next to. Her name was Claire, she was lovely and calmed my nerves about the swim as she had swam here often, thanks Claire! The journey was short and the feeling coming off the bus was quite surreal: hearing the drums play with the Celtman sign blazing as you looked out across the water to Shieldage, with a pink lit sky as the sunrise. I wasn't in the group photo before the swim as me and Claire were too busy looking out at the water, but the view was too good.
5 minutes to start: All the athletes entered the cold water but I felt surprisingly okay with it, so far. Gun went off and Celtman had begun! Nerves and slight panic rushed through me and I struggled to relax: the thought of jellyfish started to freak me out, everyone just bashing about trying to get there space, my goggles kept filling up with water. Complete nightmare! Eventually I started to find my rhythm and calm down for a bit, but I will say I saw no jellyfish. That might be because I swam with my eyes closed though, I only opened my eyes once I was sighting. Strange I know, but it was the only way I could relax. That was until I felt these squishy things hitting my hands or sliding past my body. I just kept lying to myself to get through it, "it’s fine! It's just another swimmer!" even though the nearest swimmer at this point was a good couple of feet to the side of me. Once the first island was passed, I began to calm down. The second island looked as though it was getting closer, but it felt like it wasn’t! Another jellyfish hit my face, hell no! Even feel my face because of the numbness, I knew exactly what was around me. I'd say it felt like the worst swim I had ever done! I thought I was at the back and swimming for about 2hrs. That was until the swim exit was in sight! I swam as fast as I could to get away from the jellyfish and out of the cold water. I made it to the exit, I touched solid ground again, but I couldn’t find my feet; thankfully, a volunteer pulled me up and made I got out alright. I can’t put into words how amazing the volunteers were throughout the day, but now it was time for Craig to take over. He met me at the exit and wrapped my up in my dry robe, asking if I was okay. I looked at my watch 1hr 2 minutes, I was over the moon!!!
Craig helped me out of my wetsuit and into my cycling gear, putting a hot water bottle on my feet to bring back some feeling whilst shoving a sandwich into my mouth; I’d never thought I would need help to be fed at 28 years old. I felt so sorry for him: I basically had a wardrobe in that box and I was in a kind of shock so on top of Craig making sure I was alright, it was up to him to pick what jackets, etc. I was putting on. In the background, Euan started yelling, "Amanda! I know it’s not the time, but you look like you've lost weight!" He tried to lighten the mood which worked in the manic. I was good to go with the bike, with my one cold foot as I stood on my sock; I was off out of transition.
The lovely short steep hill at the start and the first twenty miles to Kinlochewe was just sheer craziness! The roads were packed with support cars and bikes. I barely got over 12mph because of cars not letting me by and from dodging potholes! There wasn’t much I could do but accept that it was going to be a long stretch of road because I couldn't go very fast; additionally, my legs were feeling heavy from being cold and not getting the chance to properly get into my pace. As well as all of this, I lost my straw from my water bottle going over a cattle grid; off to a brilliant start! Eventually my support crew appeared along the road and I just shouted, "STRAW!" I could see the confusion and panic in their faces. At the next stop, I got the bottle sorted and was off heading to Gairloch.
The weather wasn't too bad and I was feeling really good, making really good time. Euan was hilarious, I previously wrote out all my stops on what food to give me, when and where but that never happened at all. At every stop he would run out with his hands full of food asking me if I need anything and about 50% of the time I didn't (they stopped a lot but I wasn't complaining). Still feeling good, I was catching people on the climbs which I surprised myself with. The heavens soon opened and in true Celtman style, the weather took a turn for the worst. It was cold, wet, and mostly head winds. I thought if I get my head down everything will be fine. Craig pulled me over just past Poolewe, I think to make sure I was taking plenty on for the big climbs about to come. Nine bar in mouth I headed off again. It was getting colder and I could see my pace gradually dropping but I tried to stay as positive as I could. A couple of miles later I saw Euan running down the road a bit holding something, a chocolate bar claiming Craig told him to give me it. At this point I was feeling sick from the amount of chocolate I was eating. I accidently bought the Nine bars with the chocolate on top. Heading to the climb before Dundonnal, I felt my stomach turn; I boked pretty much all the way up this hill! At the top of the climb, I thought it would be a good idea to change jackets to let the one I had on dry for a bit. I grabbed a sandwich which I planned on eating but instead just shoved it in my pouch and headed down for the biggest climb on the course. I couldn't even get on my tri bars for the down hills because I was scared incase the roads were too slippy.
Getting to the big climb, I took a deep breath and made my way up; I was freezing! This hill didn't seem so bad the last time I climbed it but this time it felt torture! I mastered the art of eating whilst climbing on this hill, the last thing I wanted to happen to me on this course was bonking; that was all that I needed. Eventually, I got to the top; it felt like it took forever! I shouted to Euan that I needed my leg warmers as they passed in the car. Quick stop and I got handed tailwind; not much of a difference between leg warmers and a bottle of tailwind. Once I eventually got the leg warmers, they were a life saver, along with my relatively dry jacket on under my waterproof. Now, you would think a downhill would be amazing for a rest, but when you have to pedal down it through a head wind, it’s the worst! I looked at my watch and I completely accepted that the blue t-shirt was out of sight. The focus was now just on finishing the bike course. Coming down the hill to the junction that takes you on to the A835, I felt so weak; my eyes started to close and I was all over the road. I thought this was the end of Celtman for me, I couldn't think straight. I think my dad started to notice something was wrong; I saw him pull over at the reservoir and rush out to tell me he was going to get me a tea. I felt my body was about to collapse, I couldn't say much to him. I felt deflated; my chest started to feel really tight with the cold and everything was sore. "Next stop!" he told me. I could have honestly just shoved the bike in the back of the car; but I’d come this far, I’d trained for months for this and I had to prove to everyone and myself that I could do it! That cup of tea was a game changer for me, change of gloves and I was off! Craig looked at me and said; "only 30 miles, that's all!" It would have been stupid for me to stop now. Back on the road, head down and I gave that 30 miles everything I had! I don't know what happened but my pace started to creep back up and I felt a bit stronger, again taking over athletes. I just got my head down and powered though the demons. 10 miles!! 10 miles to push!! My support team passed and I smiled, I was nearly done! One more climb and that was me! All downhill from here, but that one climb nearly killed me; I couldn't breathe and again, my chest was agony but I got up it; I actually got a PB going up it. Then the long awaited downhill, the best downhill ever: 46.3mph; the perfect way to finish the cycle and with a perfect view.
When I got to transition, my head was everywhere; I didn't know what was happening, I had the timing chip lady grabbing my arm and another woman who was supporting taking my bike from me. She could have been stealing it for all I knew! She took me into the transition area and waited with me until my support crew came. All of a sudden, I had another support crew giving me a chair and a towel, so now is the time to thank you, you absolute stranger, and apologise to their athlete for having to wipe my feet on their towel. Relatively quick change of shoes and clothes; went to the toilet and off onto the run with Craig. "1 hr 17 mins until the blue t-shirt cut off, can we make it?!" Good one Craig. I couldn't even make that if it was a flat 10 miles and with no cycling beforehand. I had to laugh about the situation, although I was disappointed. I’d finished the bike and the swim so I wasn’t going to beat myself up about it; I was still finishing and getting a t-shirt which was the main thing.
The start of the run was dry but I was on edge, I didn’t want to speak too soon. Craig informed me that the mountain was closed because of the weather, so not getting the blue t-shirt was okay because if I made the cut off and bagged blue I wouldn't have felt as though I truly deserved it. A steady jog from T2 to the first climb of the run and then up Coulin's Pass; there was no way I could have ran up it, I would be faster walking. The heavens decided to open again, just as Ross; another athlete from You Can Sport that Craig knew, caught up with us. We all walked up a good bit together but you could clearly tell who was supporting and who was racing as the two support runners were chatting in front whilst Ross and I were shuffling at the back. After a while they jogged off and it was just me and Craig again. We had a lovely meal together consisting of a Nakd bar and Clif blocks. We thought that it would be a good idea to have topics for the run but both of us forgot to write suggestions down, but we managed to discuss music, films, training, Love Island, living with people, habits, cars and how Craig should of just pretended he was me because he had his jacket over his bag which gave him strange looking boobs. Overall, the conversations definitely passed the time and the views were amazing .
Finally, T2A! I was still feeling alright on the second half of the run as I was still able to chat. We adopted a method of jogging which was doable for the majority of the run; however, we had to walk for a lot of the steep rocky parts. There was a lot of walking seeing as it was almost all rocky part with a few river crossings. I eventually gave up jumping across the river crossings because I was absolutely soaked anyway.
Along the 'trail', we passed a few others and the Torridon Mountain rescue teams that cheered us on so that lifted our spirits. We continued to chat about food to pass the time; mostly discussing the food we were most excited to eat afterwards. I also got the feeling Craig was getting a bit worried because I wasn’t taking on much food; the last thing I ate was the nakd bar during the first half of the run. I felt okay though, just a bit tired with my chest still as tight as it had been, with sore knees that Craig heard all about for most of the run. One thing I will say is don't trust people telling you what’s ahead; they lie! "Downhill and flat!" I was told! Yeah, maybe, eventually; about 2 miles away! Craig's tactic was helpful though; he took lead a bit and jogged when possible so that I would jog on behind him, good coaching I'd say. But it was getting cold and we needed to keep warm.
Finally a road! A hilly road but it was a road! Again, I was lied to and told we had 4km to go... we definitely did not! And finally, I got a niggle. I wasn't worried about it, it just meant the jog was going to get slower. Looking over at Torridon, we wondered where the finish actually was because there was no blue arch!
Just over the last hill, the finish line was waiting and I didn't know how to feel about it! All the training and tears in the months leading up to this moment; it was finally here! It's a moment I will never forget! I’d finished! Craig hugged me and told me, "You did it!" I was in shock, and then Euan came running over to me hugging me telling me how proud he was. My dad; he's been through it all with me and it finally hit me what I had just completed. He hugged me and tears started running down my face. Paul (the race director) congratulated me and gave me a massive hug. I received my beer - I had completed Celtman!!! My overall time was 15hours 54minutes, 19seconds. I was obviously a little disappointed that I didn't make the cut off for blue but I never thought I would ever complete anything like Celtman.
Celtman was quite possibly the hardest, most amazing, day of my life. The race tested me and made me push through what I thought was my limit. The Celtman community is among some of the most mental but friendliest people I have ever met. The race did not disappoint, in true Celtman fashion, the water was cold, the cycle was horrendous, the run was brutal and the weather was tedious but it wouldn't be Celtman if it wasn't like that.
I could not have gotten through that day without my dad, Euan and Craig; they kept me fed, watered and as warm as they possibly could, and lifted my spirits right when it was needed. I would like to thank Craig for the past 5 months of crazy training and stepping up to be support runner last minute, you've not had it easy dealing with me but you done what you promised you got me to the finish line and I can't thank you enough for everything. To my dad, who has spent many miles in the car, keeping me safe and helping me out as much as possible, even if he does annoy me from time to time, thank you for being you. To my friends and family, thank you for all of your encouragement and understanding this year. A special thank you to Iain; you tell me time and time again that I can do anything I want to, even if I think it's impossible, you make the impossible possible. It was all your fault that I got into this race and I can't thank you enough from the bottom of my heart.
Celtman I am not finished with you yet! I will be back!