Adidas Terrex Adventure Race – Sterling

Posted by on 29 September, 2012
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Adventure racing can often be about getting to the start line and then to the finish line. For us both were challenging. First Taryn McCoy had to withdraw due to tearing tendon in her foot in June. Lucky for us Mary McBride who Finbar had met at Godzone was coming to Ireland to spend a month at home and was willing to race an expedition style race with a crowd of strangers J.  Then Enda tried to pull out two weeks before as he was struggling with his Achillis for over a month but as we couldn’t get someone at short notice he decided to chance it. We had put an SOS out to JD but he was already on Team lastminuteAR.

Finbar and I arrived into Sterling on Friday night, picked up Maps Saturday morning and got stuck in to the maps as we waited for Enda to arrive Saturday afternoon and Mary Sunday morning. As Finbar and I laid out the Maps and read through the route books the plan came together. The course looked very long (apparently I always say that J) it was clear that we would need to be a bit tactical and doing all controls may not be the wisest thing for us to do. We had some big decisions to be made, but shortening one of the Bike sections and doing the long Trek looked imminent. Taking on the long Trek would really depend on how Enda’s leg would be. We put our heads together and it looked like we would need to drop one of the early bike controls 2 controls on the first Trek to enable us to hit cut offs give us enough time to do the long 70km cycle out to the long Trek 105. This was provisional until we got to the race briefing and also was largely dependent on how Enda would be on foot. The first Trek was to be the tester.

With Mary arriving early Sunday morning we were tight enough on time to get the Kit and Bikes loaded for 5:00pm on the evening before the race. Having to compete in the prologue the night before also added a little to the pressure. For the Prologue we tried to play as much to our strengths as possible. Richard starting with the Trail run, handing to Finbar on the Orienteering section (with Maps from the 1898), handing to Mary who had the first more straight forward Mountain Bike section who handed to Enda who had the more technical ride to the Monument and back. Our strategy was to take it easy for the Prologue – that lasted around 3 seconds. 7 Minutes off the leaders was a great result and we would have to serve a 14 minute penalty during stage 2 of the race.

Race morning was late in comparison to other races, sure it was like a lie in. we were to return to the Castle for 8:00 Monday morning. I went in search of my bike shoes only to discover I had packed them into my Kit Bag the night before. We asked the lads on the other  teams knowing they wouldn’t have a spare pair – but I decided if I struggled on the cycle back up to the castle with them I would buy a new pair during the first bike section (it started in Sterling itself). The drama got us to the startline before I knew it. I was fine on the climb back up the hill and so it was 80km in trail shoes for me J. As we picked up our tracker and the Dibbers it was great to see the faces of our mates on the other 3 teams. Team Ballyhoura, Irish AR and Moxie races.  We have all become friends over the years and it was great that we were all here competing and supporting each other on this race.

Stage 1: 10 km trail run

8:45 and we left Sterling Castle for a 10km run through Sterling to the Wallace Monument and back. The run was pretty relaxed as we took time to get to know Mary, and chatted about what lay ahead in the days ahead. The weather was pretty warm so we were glad not to be carrying packs at this stage.

Stage 2:  80 KM MTB

The run took us back to the castle to head out on our bikes out of the castle to exit Sterling . We started with a flurry of teams taking a wrong turn, but then we all corrected and moved at a descent speed out of town and into what was going to be a rocking 5 days. The first 30km of the bike section were on road so we were moving at a pretty decent pace we rolled out of town. This 30km was broken up with a visit to Rob roys Grave and by Doune Castle (from Monty Python Movie). The next control moved us from Bike to a paddle across Scotland’s only Lake.  Enda declared in Pirate fashion that he would take the helm. It was a row boat Enda taking boat Oars. It was an opportunistic time to wind him up a bit as he had his hands full. We then got sense and decided to put a person on each Oar and got our way back. Back on the bikes and onto Rob Roy way and our first dose of the wet underfoot and Mucky bike pushing that would raise its head many times throughout the week. It was mud after mud and then onto road. We stayed on the long course as we were feeling good and although it was mud it seemed to be only in Pacthes, the next section however provided a good selection of Push mud and climb, it was pretty heavey going. We then climbed up over 600Meters, pushing the bikes through some pretty dry rocky terrain while Enda just cycled up it and waited at the top. When I say we I mean us and all the teams around us. The Mud, hike a bike and climbs made our mind up for us about the next 1.5hr penalty we dropped a control and ended on a very nice paved bike trail that took us to the transition before our 1st kayak section.

Stage 3: 6 km canoe

The transition had 3 different areas for Kit, Bike Boxes and Canoes in different places – this caused us to spend a wee bit longer that we would have liked to before then carrying our Canoes from Transition to the lake. It was a bit of a haul but we got there eventually. We were at our next transition, Milton Lodges within the hour.

Stage 4 : 30 km Trek

It was pretty bright here so our plan to move fast on the bikes to bag daylight for the Trek had paid off.  Our plan was to hit the 2 most difficult ones Tarmachan Ridge and Ben Lawers in as much daylight as possible and then return to the transition in order to bag some sleep before the Canoe section opened at 3:00am. We were giving ourselves as much time as possible with the long Trek being the target.

We headed out onto the trek food in hand. We made a decision to hit the 2 most difficult controls first. These had a 4hr penalty as opposed to the 3hr of the other 2 controls. From the maps we could tell they were the most technical but would yield the greater award.  We hit the first two controls pretty much spot on and in daylight which left us in high spirits. As we were moving well we were moving well we decided to trek to a 3rd control. It took approx. another 3.5 hours with some tough climbs thrown in. The last climb was a pretty much a vertical 600meter climb with around a 900meters descent down a rocky Path. We made it back for around 1:30am which gave us the 2 hours we need to sleep before the next stage , the Canoe, which opened at 3:00am. I have to say I slept little this time, combination of buzzing and fear of sleeping out. We didn’t sleep out and having ate, slept got our kit in order we were on the water in the Dark at approx. 4:30.

Stage 5 Canoe 40km

As we started stage 5 we were on target and in good spirits in the Canoes.  From memory we avoided any casualties getting onto the water this time.  We had estimated the next section to take around 6 hours, the first 3 hours were very very very long, lucky there were a few teams around for company. Canoeing against the wind and rain for 3 hours so early in the morning isn’t when one is at their best. We moved from side to side of the lake, but it was hard to find any shelter. Conversation was limited and bike lakes just seem to take an awfully long time to cross. We well I thought we could see boats at the entrance to Kenmore, it was just racers ahead. We caught 1 or 2 teams on the water and then at last we made it through Kenmore where we stopped to hit a control. The movement of limbs was welcome.  Enda and I were first back onto the water. As we turned we could see Finbar in the Canoe, Mary was pushing the boat off the bank which unfortunately capsized as it came off the bank at an angle , the bull was submerged– the ducks were happy as Finbars sandwich went floating through the air and landing on the water top. To follow was a quiet few moments to the rapids, we knew he was cold but we needed the Bull to settle before we would re-ente conversation.

We proceeded to Canoeing over Rapids and fast moving waters over the next 2.5 hours, which had us back beaming  … casualties so the Canoeing that we did with Mick had paid off. The rapids were well Marshalled and their instructions clear and we definitely had fun. The rapids lasted right until the transition at Grandtully. Here  the third decision but probably the biggest was made – we were going long!!! This meant we were going to take on the long cyle out to the long Trek, it was a big decision but although we would probably end up out there toward the back of the field it would mean that we would climb up the table fast as we worked our way back in to the shorter Transition option.  We now had to pack our bike boxes that would be sent onto a Transition that was at the start of the long Trek. We had to make a few decisions around sending off a tent,  I made sure not to send off my bike shoes this time J… It was a nice part of the race – it was pouring rain, my chain had managed to get in a not in the bike box and we really knew we had to get going. We broke the Chain got the bike boxes shipped and got ready to head. Grandtully was the major transition of the race, as this was the middle of a giant figure 8, and we would be back here final morning to re-join our canoes for the second last stage of the race. (I have to say I read that and didn’t even realise that was the same place J )

Stage 6: 160km MTB

I remember the start of this bike as been some of the nicest fire roads treks  and views that we had in the race. There was the occasionally mud Hike n Bike, but this was becoming normal in the race. It was very wet underfoot and we continuously passed through puddles of mud , streams and large puddles but the bikes and bikers were moving well. Mary was loving Taryns bike, she was flying and eating up the trails as we went.  We arrived at the canyoning in the warm sun – approx. 3 hours ahead of schedule. We met Moxie racers on the way in which gave us a a nice lift. Good to see a the lads and their friendly face mid race. They were on the full course and had just had a sneaky sleep in the sunshine, there first in the race so far. We actually thought something had happened to them at that stage.

The race brief told us it was the best Cannoning in the UK. (Falls of Bruar – falls of Brrrrr!!!). The crew at the transition checked our harnesses, slings and carabineers etc …. The sun was shining as we wandered aimlessly to get to the Top of the canyoneering section. As we climbed up we past waterfalls and we could see an abseil. We eventually made it to the top where we were greeted by a guide. We were directed to a ledge – 1.5 meter drop straight into Ice Cold water. There was a girl from Cam Racers sitting on the edge. She wasn’t encouraged by the darkness we were jumping into. I launched first – it was f*cking cold – but the jump was enough to keep the blood pumping. We were all in and asked to float on down as the water took us. Next was a rope climb across some rocks some fun before we slid down some small waterfalls – it was cold but we were moving. Next was the abseil we were strapped on and been honest it was a wee bit unclear if they wanted us to climb down or abseil down. I was first and I started to climb down when he asked that we lean back – as I leaned back the rope dropped and I slipped down off the rock , dropped down and then swung under the rock face as the rope became tight again, and I swung out and then in, I came crashing against some sharp rocks on the back of my hand with the weight of my body swinging into it, it happened so fast I hadn’t time to stick my legs out to protect myself against the Rock face. I felt heard a crunch and just focused on getting myself down off the rope and I couldn’t release the Carabeener, my hand was swollen and I couldn’t grip with my hand. I held it under the freezing cold water to numb it a bit or reduce swelling and fumbled at the carabineer with the waterfall crashing on my numbing head. Meanwhile the man from above kept pulling at the rope. It seemed to take forever but eventually I got it off and escaped out into open water. I had a wee throbbing golf ball on the back of my hand –the Marshall was concerned  – I explained my logic to him, refused to see a medic and assumed the cold water would keep it from swelling too much until we completed the course, we needed to keep going.  The lads were sympathetic and we rolled on down the waterfalls hammering our buts off the rocks as we went. We were lead by another Marshall down in the direction of the top of a waterfall – with a weak hand I wasn’t swimming too well but shuffling through the water, during the shuffling I was pulled by a current and off down the wrong waterfall – I held out my hand to the lads as I passed our meeting point but it was too late for them to catch me – luckily there was a tree about a foot down the waterfall, I caught the tree and held on tight. I looked at the waterfall below and asked the Marshall could I jump as we had done some of the previous plunges… His answer was no – that didn’t make me feel too comfortable.   My hand was aching I was hugging the tree and me nuts were getting number by the secong. One of the marshalls climbed the other side – grabbing me sore hand , the rescue was not going well. Eventually we worked it between us and I managed to scramble back up the rocks and was back to loud cheers with my team !! I felt a spaz for the drama but was keen to get it now finished and out of the cold. We rolled on through the remainder of the canyoning and we got back to the heat of the tent. I attended the Medic who reckoned something was broken by the swelling – he put something on it – pain killers – bandage and we were on our way. The bandages provided some support on the bike, helped to keep my fingers straight which kept the pain at bay.

From there it was back on the Bikes, we had decided back before the race started that we would cut this bike section – this was the sacrifice to have enough time to take on the long Trek. It was back to Blair Atholl and up Glen Tilt – the route book called out clearly that the long journey was for those who were on the full course. This along with Nick Gracie describing it as one of the best biking routes he had ever done encouraged us to take the short course option. A long hike a bike along single track in the dark, with some sheer 30 meter drops into a dangerous looking collection of waterfalls , deep river gorge, all while being attacked by swarms of Midgets may have been a slightly better description.  A 5km hike a bike that seemed to take forever we were happy to be back on the saddle and it wasn’t long before we arrived in silence to Mar Lodge.

Mar lodge we ate courtesy of the Clive Ramsey man in the Van, got coffee and slept in the tents for 2 hours, it was Tuesday night and we had already covered a lot of ground. Eating, sleeping and blogging was important here before we took on the next part of the course 70km out to the long Trek. We opted to skip the Orienteering course here, looking at the times that it was taking Addidas Terrex to complete it , didn’t inspire us to take it on in the Dark. We waved goodbye to the roof full of sculls and it was back on the bikes as the day started to break.

We exited along a maze of fireroads, I can still feel the morning chill, we needed the sun to come up and out soon. Onto the road and again we were moving along at a good speed. W e estimated around 25km + was on road passing Queen Elizabeth’s summer gaff Balmoral Castle along the way. Apparently she was in as a control that had been there originally was removed.  A break before the Paralympics.  The cycle out to the “house of Mark” seemed to be moving quickly. But after every road there is pain – we moved on to fire roads and farm yard roads. As we climbed we did a bit of weight distribution – ahem before the realisation of the hike a bike ahead – Christ what a sight, Mount Kean – we could see it from at least 5km away –  it was warm and we stopped for water and refuelling and I needed to repack my bag to fit someone else’s additional gear J at that moment a new team was formed there was seven people on this new team as they moved up the Mount Keen leaving me behind. Yes I soon caught up to the back – langers !!  It was great to meet another Team on the 1000 meter climb as it made the carrying of rocks across a boulder field go quicker. It was mayhem everyone taking different paths through the boulders all bringing with equal amounts of difficulty. There was no easy way and no way Mr Gracie that someone would cycle up this. The other side a different matter !! There was a rideable descent off it. My hand hurt like hell from the vibrations of the descent – I think you can just understand from this point on the hand was fecked – not a race report about me hand – but it swelled up largely at the end of this and stayed moreor less that way for the rest of the race – throbbing and swollen !! The descent was incredible – grins on faces all around us, with the odd ground plant as people (on other teams) miss timed the jumps over some of the Drains. As we descended down in unit a helicopter came into view and filmed us on the way down and tracked us into the house of Mark. This added to the excitement of what was already an awesome bike section!!  Hopefully we will get to see this on Channel 4 SOON!!

Stage 7: 105 km trek

We got to Marks house in the middle of Zog – We were treated by Finbar to 2 Bacon sandwiches courtesy of Mark – I guess – the man who owned the house. Badly needed for the long trek ahead. We packed the bikes back in the boxes – packed the tents, fooding and Clothing and exited the transition with Team Salamon. Both Enda and Finbar were with walking Poles and a trekking we would go. The first climb was horrendous, of thick thick course grass and took a while before we eventually got near any sort of descent terrain – descent terrain was a clight sheep trail up a large climb. It was nice to have a team about so we weren’t out there all alone. As we gained a bit of height it was fair to we could see Munroes as far as the eye could see. What seemed as a close control on a map seemed an eternity in view – there was a lot of ground to cover and the Terrain was mainly peat hags and occasionally would break into something better as we hit higher ground.  The underfoot was pretty wet but at least it was dry – We trekked all day picking up 3 controls – the wind howled and howled and at around 6:00pm Wednesday evening we looked for shelter off the ridge to get the Stove heated up for Mary to have her tea J She needed to get a bit of hot food in as the Wind blew cold and hard and between that and the boggy terrain it was energy sapping.  The trek was hard going and having been out there for a hard 14 hours we made the decision to sleep when we hit the  Check in at Spittal of Glenmuick – As we still had a pretty hard trek to go we opted for additional sleep and bagged 3 hours to give us that extra recovery time. As we defrocked my feet were soaking – they had been soaking for days from boggy conditions and I had used all my socks – slept with no socks and applied hydropel in the morning – but as my socks and shoes were still soaked – ah it wasn’t much help. The wind remained blowing hard and cold as we ventured back out into the hills in the Darkess. We ventured onto a firer road and climbed along rocky paths up and up and up – we headed for Lochnagar for the 2 scrambles – We weren’t 100% what the scrambles were going to be scramble up scree was kind of the expectation – as we approached Lochnagar the darkness was lifting and we could see a light up in the side of a cliff. We contoured across with a lot of difficulty, no paths really available but rocky scrambling was required. The instructions were a little vague we were undecided weather to go down to the lake to meet a marshall who would point is at the right gulley or if it was the light perched on the hill. After making our way back down to the lake we realised contouring was probably the right decision – moaney hand didn’t need the extra climb as I borrowed a stick from Enda to reduce the leaning on my hand. As we approached the first scramble – they radiod ahead and I got a rope assist to get me up the scramble it was basically crawling up scree – to the top we went and then to the control – all I remember is the wind the mist the cold – it was miserable – we need to get to lower ground – off to the next scramble we went. More boulder fields and small cliffs just what the doctor ordered. I think it was the boulder field where Enda really started to notic his ankle and started to slow – his Achilles kicked was kicking in and the drugs were fading. He kept moving forward but it was a slow pace as we approached the Stuic ridge – Up in the distance through the mist and howling wind we could see another team at the top of the Ridge climbing around the Rocks around 400meters up. Em they seemed to be rope free – but thought it was just the lack of sleep making my eyes not work. We checked in where the marshalls just asked us to put on our helmets and follow the Red Tape (IMRA style tape) Without thinking we stormed the boulder walls using my elbow on my left hand and knees for climbing – It wasn’t as free climbing as I would have liked it to be – and with the wind blowing hard it was better not to look back or down – Finbar was behind me to cushion my fall but was overcoming his own wee difficulty and wasn’t at all happy with the heights we were climbing unassisted – cant blame him it was nuts !! We hit the top with much relief in one piece and trekked some more ….. a lot more !! Still moving we went to control 29 as we chatted on route about what other controls we would pick up. We crossed through more bog and eventually hit the north Summit Cairn in search for an Airplane wing Tip. EM there were actually a few small things that looked like airplane wing tips, boulders that looked like wing tips J eventually we came across a rather large un-missable wing – as e hit the control MOXIE racers appeared and Mary disappeared… she was way off with the sound of Music on the other side of the hill. We eventually found her had a chat with the lads who were in great spirits and doing well – it lifted us along over the hills in the direction of 31. From there we decided it was better that we headed to Glenshee Ski Station as we needed to get some food as we were starting to run a wee bit short and the pain in my feet was getting worse. I rem putting on my sun glasses so one may not see the grimace in my eyes – it was like there was a stones in my shoes but I had emptied them – there was blisters forming – and I thought they would be grand – but they were getting worse – I slowed down to Enda pace as we neared the ski station and was glad to get there so I could get a Medic to check them out. At the ski resort Enda and I arrived a few minutes after Mary and Finbar – Enda was at snails pace – I, unless I got me feet sorted wasn’t going to be going anywhere fast either.  Finbar had a sleep – Mary had a wee moment and some eggs and Enda and I negotiated the penalty if we were to leave here on our bikes. The Medics sprayed my feet with iodine, covered them with tape and as I had no socks wrapped them with bandage to match the one on my hand – dressing was changed on my hand along with some numbing gel !! Diephene and coffee and we were ready to role –

Stage 8 : MTB 60 KM

We decided for the Bike option and headed off for another 60km approx. The start of the bike Journey for me was a bizzare one , as I rode the front of the Train I was really struggling to keep the lines on the road – lucky it was bright or I would have been on the ditch – we stopped at a pub for Crisps how nice were they – and Mary gave me a nodoz or a tablet – I was a new person as climbed we caught a team ahead and I was mad happy to have a chat along the way…. The Tiredness totally lifted as we climbed to yet another Hike A Bike – this was a 3km of walking in bogged ridden fields. We were forbidden for cycling this section. It was nice to be around some teams again but it was a long Hike a bike as it started to get Dark and the Rain closed in. We hit control 40 and then went in search for 41. We circled around the lakes and then up a lane. Another hike a bike up a lane that felt like it hadn’t been used in 400 years – it was wet, I was silent as we hit what felt like a dead end – we trounced through more undergrowth and after probably the guts of over an hour searching for a control that had a .30 minute penalty we cut our losses. We cycled back to the Grandtully Transition for around 12:30pm on the Thursday night. Thankfully the Marshalls allowed us to sleep in the hall – we were given a time of 6:16am to be on the water – the final 2 stages approached and we were getting fed by the man in the van and then to sleep – we got 4 hours sleep in.  Enda and I slept it in as did Diarmuid and Eoghan (Irish AR) Finbar had thought he saw Enda and I awake  and roaming. The same with Dan and Maedhbh who thought they saw Diarmuid and Eoghan !! There was a Fuck lads its 5:30, we jumped up it was a blur and it wasn’t long before we had the bikes packed and were on the water for 6:35am …


Stage:  9 60km Canoe

We took off into a current and the guys followed behond – they caught a tree on the way round and were tipped out of the Canoe – don’t worry our time was going to come J We moved on down the river. We opted to skip the Orienteering, Enda’s Achilleas wasn’t any better so no time to be gained here.   As we approached the first weir there was a lot of shouting me telling Enda not to paddle so I didn’t loose control of the boat going down the weir and the Marshalls shouting paddle !!! Cameras ready action !! Both Canoes passed without incident the same was to occur over the next 3 sets of Rapids. We were then told that was the end and continuously on the look out for rocks and mistook a small weir for a rock and ended up with a close up view – in to the water – cold wake up call we swam the boat ashore emptied the Canoe and our pockets and got back on the water. The remaining journey was basically a Canoe down a river full of fishermen up to their shoulders in water fly fishing – lads with sticks waving wool at the water!! It was a bizzare sight and they really weren’t impressed with us being on the water !! Big License costs had been purchased and smelly, grumpy hairy AR racers wasn’t part of what they signed up for. We eventually after around 5.5 hours we hit the end of the Canoe and what seemed like civilization. We hit the Transition ahead of Team Terrex who had a trolley for their Canoe as we carried our wet canoe and bags. At this transition the boats were inspected for Damage, we were happy that we had avoided any additional dents or scrapes. No change required here – we put the bikes together and began our last Stage

Stage 10 : MTB 60KM

We exited Perth eager to complete the Race – we rolled out of time chatting with Team LastminuteAR.  JD was in good spirits as we chatted briefly. We pushed on with still some racing left to do. The last 60km seemed to go very fast, the Train moved at full Tilt, it was a great feeling to be still racing at that speed on the last stage of the race, it wasn’t long before we completed our last climb to take us to within 15km from sterling – from there it was some pretty fast downhills as we approached closer and closer to Sterling and the finish line. As we passed through sterling memories of Monday morning were flashing by as we retraced on bikes what had been on foot Monday. It wasn’t long before we saw Peak Sports center where we had registered, insight we seemed to still be getting faster as we approached the finish line. We were directed in to the paddock where we would drop our bikes for the final time. We were then directed to the finish shute where we ran, shuffled, limped and kind of  stumbled our way across the finish line where James and Nick were on hand to give us a warm welcome home, we were glowing  as we were quickly interviewed having crossed the finish line. We were then presented with champagne and Medals and loud cheers and cameras we had done it !! An amazing accomplishment to have finished the 5 days of racing in an expedition style race.

As we wallowed in the moment other teams arrived in for us to cheer, the Irish Army AR team (Dan, Maeve, Eoghan and Diarmuid) arrived in around 20 minutes after us and we gave them an almighty roar !! We were stoked as were they and it the Post Race analysis and reflection began, the  it was the turn of It was nice to return the favour to the lads, to be able to cheer them in as they had done to us many times out on the course. There was many moments of encouragement out there and Paula’s attempt to give us food poisoning by cooking for us the night before the race had failed miserably. Lastly about 5-6 hours later came the warriors, Moxie Racers, the only Irish Team to complete the full course. It was now dark but you could still see Chris’s smile in the dark as they approached the finish line – we caught them on the way for food away from the finish line, but they joined us soon after. Moxie had a brilliant race finishing 4th, have to say it was  a proud moment seeing friends of ours doing so well, and it was great to see what it meant to them as they beamed for the following days.

On a final note we would like to Thank James and Nick and team for a fantastic experience and a super race course, what a way to see Scotland. We would like to thank all the Marshalls who were always always friendly. I would like to thank Steve (the Medic) for the on-going support continuously checking me throughout the course and relacing me bandages and giving me bandages for my feet as a new pair of socks.  Thanks to Taryn for the loan of the Bike (next time she will be on it J) and to Karren for all her equipment. Thanks for all the messages of support online and lastly a Huge thanks to Mary – who flew the whole way from New Zealand to race with us at very short notice, to race with 3 strangers!! Take a wee bow MacT!!









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