There are Triathlons and there are long distance Ultra Distance Triathlons. And somewhere in between there are Extreme Triathlons. But what makes these Extreme Triathlons like Celtman unique and different? First, the weather conditions as well as the course is on the extreme end. Secondly these are self supported races. They are built to make you suffer in more ways than one. And in this suffering alongside other athletes and support crew, you not only become a part of a family but also live though some of the most memorable moments in your life. I got introduced to these crazy races while doing a research on my first IRONMAN Triathlon. For someone who was then struggling to swim 100 mtrs without a break, the thought of doing an extreme triathlon should have been scary. It indeed was, but it just gave me goosebumps and at some level got me excited. Maybe that was a sign enough for me to take the plunge. But of course I wasn’t ready for it then. How the journey unfolded warrants another blog entry, so in this one I will purely focus on highlighting what you are up for, if you are considering Celtman Extreme Scottish Triathlon.
Before dwelling into other facets, here is brief snapshot of what Celtman entails:
SWIM: 3.4 kms in Loch Sheildaig (temp around 11-13 degrees) infested with jellyfish
CYCLE: Bike through a distance of 202 kms (approx 2000m elevation) across sections of rolling hills in cold and mostly rainy conditions
RUN: Last but not the least, the run takes you on a beautiful, yet brutal course of 42.2 kms across munros before ending at the community hall in Torridon village.
ENTRY INTO CELTMAN
The ballot for Celtman opens every year around November. The application process is fairly simple and self-explanatory. There is no limit to the number of entries the organisers accept, but yes, as the title suggests, it’s a ballot and there are fixed number of entries which get accepted every year. And this is not on first come first serve basis, which means, unlike black Friday sales in US, you don’t have to sacrifice your sleep for getting a foot inside the door. There is a deadline for submitting the entries. The shortlisted candidates will receive a confirmation via email on the pre-decided date. If you have received a confirmation, you will be asked to submit the race fee within a week or so. In case you decide not to go ahead with the race owing to your personal reasons, you can always decline and there will be a wait-list as well.
I am bringing this upfront as this is the part which gave me sleepless nights. I waited for my confirmation before even doing any research on stay and had to shoot out atleast 60 emails to different B&B, Hotels within 10kms radius before I managed to get a confirmation. However, later when I met other athletes, I learned that most folks tend to block a place even before the shortlist is announced. Worst case scenario, you lose out on a small deposit, but definitely save yourself from the hassle of finding an accommodation later. This part of the highlands predominantly has Bed and Breakfast setups or you can also book a cottage. The budget of course varies basis the location, size and amenities. The other option that you can look at are camping sites for campervans in and around Torridon. There is one 3 mins walk from the Torridon Community hall – the venue for the expo, race briefing and also the end point for the race. If you are not comfortable or don’t have an experience of camping in the past, then it is not advisable. Owing to the heavy winds on the day before the race briefing, one of the athletes had to manage the tent almost flying off the ground.
Most of the B&B setups will have their independent sites, listings such as Steve Carter, FB groups etc. Not many AirBnb options were available when we checked. While the race will start in Sheildaig and there are some options available right outside the starting point. This takes care of your start point and T1 access. T2 this time around was in Kinlochewe and as luck would have it, it was just 2-3 mins run from where our cottage was. The race ends at Torridon, which is like a 15 min drive. You can search for places to stay in Torridon, Sheildaig, Loch Carron, Kinlochewe, Lower Diabaig or Strathcarron. For race briefing and registration, it won’t be a challenge to even drive down for an hour, but remember that you will have to report in early on race day in Sheildaig Church Hall between 3 am to 4 am.
Your life line through Celtman. Your support crew can make or break things for you. You are free to choose the number of people you want in your support crew. But remember that only one of them will be permitted to assist you in T1. It is mandatory to have one support runner accompany you beyond T2A (18 km mark in run). Goes without saying, he or she has to be an experienced runner. In my case, I had checked with a close friend to club the race with a vacation, but owing to his schedule it couldn’t work out. Even though he was kind enough to fly in only for the race, I thought it might be too much to ask. It is another coincidence and story how I found my support runner. A local resident of Loch Carron, fantastic person, familiar with mountain routes and a good runner himself. He was familiar with the entire route and more than that, he made our entire journey and experience memorable.
If you live in a country where the weather is nowhere close to what Scottish Highlands have to offer, then I would suggest that you come in a few days earlier. It will help you settle down and also explore the route and decide on the game plan along with your support crew. Do a few short rides, runs and definitely swims to say hello to jellyfish
It opens up two days in advance. A schedule will be shared with you. Some of the equipment that you need for your race day, right from neoprene hood to show cover to rain proof jackets are up for sale during the expo – only until the stocks last. You have the chance to also purchase Celtman merchandise – Tees, Jackets, Jerseys, Kilts etc. There are two briefing slots basis your bib number as there is limited space to accommodate everyone at the same time. Please pay attention to the briefing. You and your support runner will also have to get your respective mandatory kits checked at the expo before you get your bibs
Unlike IM events, you don’t have to put your bikes on the rack a day before. You have to carry it on the race day morning and place all your T1 gear next to it. Only one person from your support crew wearing the Celtman Support Tee will be allowed to assist you in T1. You can also carry a foldable chair to sit at ease and change.
From Sheildaig, you will board a bus to the starting point of the race. This is when you might get anxious or tenses. But the sound of bagpiper and the drums gets you charged up for the race. The water is really cold, especially for athletes who do not have access to water bodies in such temperatures. I chose comfort over drag – covered myself from head to toe in neoprene suit, booties, gloves and hat. The cold temperature will hit you as though thousand needles have been pierced into your face. The water temp can go as low as 11 degrees. Ensure that you do 2-3 short swims in the lake prior to race day to create a game plan to deal with this. There will be fields of jellyfish and you will have to swim through them. Of course, you need to keep calm, there is no way you can simulate this in your pool. Once out of the water, you might feel slightly disoriented. So be careful when you are getting out from the rocky pavement. Keep a warm cover in T1 to cover yourself for the short span while you change. Have some warm coffee if that helps to relieve yourself of the cold temperature.
The course is nothing but absolutely beautiful! Enjoy every bit of spectacular view that you come across as there will never be a dull moment. The course won’t kill you, but the weather can definitely catch you by surprise. I saw riders in multiple layers and I saw some brave hearts in sleeveless through the entire bike course. There is one clear mantra to survive it – Stay warm and focus on comfort over being aero. If you get wet in the rain, then chances of catching cold are higher as you pass through the open fields. Avoid that situation as that will set you back on the course, like it did in my case. You support crew can meet you at any given point post the first stretch until Kinlochewe. The road until this point is pretty narrow and this rule is to avoid traffic jam or chaos. But don’t worry, you generally don’t need your support crew for the first 10-12 kms, unless there is an emergency. If you can, keep some warm team or coffee with your support crew – it can help to battle the cold.
For flatlanders, this is nothing short of brutal. If you are not into trail running, you will definitely find this tough to deal with. Barring the first 5kms, between 16-18kms mark and the last 5-7kms, there is nothing which you can call fairly flat and even. You will absolutely need to know how to read a map or have a support crew who knows it well. I was lucky to have a support runner who dint need a map at all for this course. T2A is at 18km mark and if you make the cut off time, you get to go on the high level course. The rest have to cover the low level course. Don’t get fooled by the term “low level”, it is not easy by any means. Both have enough and more sections where you possibly cannot run and will have to hike. In order to qualify for the lower course, you still need to make it to the cut off.
There is a list of mandatory gears that you need for the run section, please do not take it lightly. The weather on these munros can really change within minutes. The temperature can drop down to as low as 5 degrees on top of these mountains. The mandatory kit for you and your support runner will be checked again at T2A. The Celtman organisers will also asses your health at this point. If you are a flatlander, you are in for a big surprise on this run course. One thing you need to add to your kit is a pair of light hiking poles. Trust me they really help and provide the support you need when your legs are all beaten up.
Dont forget to relish the beer at the finish line of Cetlman, it will be the hardest you would have worked for one in your life. The T-shirt distribution and group photo is captured the next day at Torridon community hall. This is the time you also get to interact with the other athletes. As the organisers rightly pointed out, irrespective of how rough the weather is on race day, but on the day of the group photo, there is a clear weather for a nice picture. They also throw a small party in the evening at the Torridon Community Hall. You get to learn some Scottish / Irish dance moves and definitely works well as your recovery workout.
NOTE: When a Scott says that’s its easy, you must brace yourself for a storm that’s coming your way. The idea of this summary is just to give you a sense of what you can expect at Celtman. And what are the key things you should keep into account if you are considering this race. Of course, for the locals and residents of countries which offer similar course or weather conditions for training, this might not be very useful.
A quick look at some memories from Celtman 2018 in a short film by Erik Putsep and Paul Lockhart
Another interesting documentary “A Race for Lords” by PeigneeVerticale about French athlete Jean-Sébastien Rolin who has taken part in Celtman Extreme Triathlon 2018, in Scotland. Not my story but loved how it has been beautifully captured
And of course, Scotland is a beautiful country to explore. You must take some time out post your race to relish the beauty of this wonderful country. Check this fantastic video from John Duncan – it will make you fall in love with Scotland.
You can also refer to the Celtman 2018 Race Manual for more details. Stay tuned for my race experience in the subsequent race report. I have kept the blog really brief, but if you want more details, feel free to connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or drop me an email on email@example.com