TOM GIBB 'S JOURNEY
|1st Staminade Scottish 4000’s Duathlon – By Tom Gibbs
Sitting in the back of the transit van at 7 am with the rain hammering down on the roof and the wind rocking the van to and fro, I was wondering why I was about to take part in the first ever Staminade Scottish 4000’s Duathlon. 12 long hours later, I knew exactly why….
There are nine 4,000ft peaks in Scotland (and Britain) and they fall into two convenient groups – four in the Nevis Range in the west – Ben Nevis, Carn Mor Dearg, Aonach Beag and Aonach Mor – and five in the Cairngorms in the east – Cairn Toul, Angel’s Peak, Braeriach, Ben Macdui and Cairngorm. In total 32 miles of Mountain running and 13,400 ft of climb. With a 60 mile road cycle between the two groups the route is tailored made for a terrific Mountain Duathlon.
Since this was the first ever running of the event, organiser Martin Stone decided to keep support for the competitors to a minimum. Competitors were allowed a kit bag to store all the required kit plus a Road Bike – both of which were made available at the transitions as well as fresh water. A team of hardy volunteers helped Martin with the Logistics of the race including placing the Sport Ident controls on the summits and transporting kit and bike between the various transitions.
Twenty six competitors left Glen Nevis on that wet Saturday morning. Martin had tried to make sure everyone would finish at a reasonable hour and so had staggered starts, with the first people leaving at 3 am and the last at 7am. 7am was the so called serious start with eight competitors including 7 time KIMM winner Mark Seddon, recent LAMM winner Jim Davies, and Team 9feet.com’s Pete James and myself. After a brief take for the cameraman the race was on. Jim Davies set off at quick pace running the lower part of the Ben and was soon building a lead. I settled into a comfortable pace (walking rather than running) wanting to have something left for the long, lonely run over the Cairngorms.
The summit of the Ben was in its usual state – covered in cloud. The route over the Carn Mor Dearg Arete proved to be tricky with extra slippy rocks and a wind that blew hard just when you were on the narrowest part of the ridge. I was very glad of the company of Alec Keith across this section – the knowledge that if you did fall at least someone would know you had and could find what was left of you was strangely comforting. Once over Aonach Beag and then the broad grassy ridge of Aonach Mor only the descent to the Gondola remained. Here the dormant ski tows looked like a ghost town out of an old western – only with strong wind and torrential rain.
From the top of the Gondola to the bottom competitors had the choice – to run down, or mountain bike down the new downhill course. I chose the latter. Thanks to the overnight rain the route was particularly treacherous. After avoiding most of the “fun” bits – like big jumps and near vertical sections - I thankfully arrived at the road bike transition in one piece and was soon pedalling away.
With long races like these, road bike legs are ideal for having a good feed. I started tucking into my teacakes whilst enjoying the scenery and tailwind along the long road to Kinguisse. The weather improved and even the sun made an appearance. Piling along the road into Newtonmore at 30 mph certainly brought a big grin to my face. All too soon I turned into the headwind and slogged up Glen Feshie to the transition.
Transitioning from run to bike and back can have terrible effects on unprepared legs, especially when you start to run after a long bike. For the first 10 minutes it feels like you legs are fully of concrete. Not nice in general, even worse when you have 21 miles across the remotest terrain in Britain to cover.
The first part of the run was a climb up onto the Cairngorm Plateau and across the Moine Mor, a desolate area of wild moorland leading to the eastern peaks of the group. Due to the dry summer the going was surprisingly good.
Once at Cairn Toul the character of the area changes, the deep cleft of the Lairig Ghru dominates the scenery and the route traverses over the Angel Peak to Braeriach. The cloud started to lift and every now and then you would get a brief glipse of where you were going before the cloud covered the view. Soon Braeriach is reach and next the sting in the tail the steep descent down to the Lairig Ghru followed by an even stiffer 2,000 ft climb up Ben Macdui. All you can do is tuck into your favourite grub (I had a flapjack saved for this very purpose), remember that this is the last nasty climb, and resolve to kill the organiser at the finish.
Once at the summit of Ben Macdui there is a straight forward path along to Cairngorm. I realised that I had a very good chance of breaking the existing record, and keeping the fourth place that I had held since the climb of the Ben. With Mark Seddon closing, I focused my mind to increase the pace. It was at this point that my map decided that it had had enough of my company and promptly went it’s own way somewhere over towards Loch Avon. Luckily the cloud had risen and I was able to see the route to Cairngorm.
Once at Cairngorm the end was in sight and so was the ski complex. Here the debris that is the Cairngorm ski area is in complete contrast to the wild nature of the plateau. It is the first time that I have seen the new Funicular - a truly disgraceful sight on the side of Cairngorm. Originally, I had debated either cutting straight down from the top or following the path past Ptarmigan Lodge. With Mark breathing own my shoulder, subtlety went out the window and I took a direct route straight down to the main car park.
Soon the Car Park was reached and I was reunited with my Road Bike. Officially the race was over, but the time didn’t stop until the finish line was reached – for some reason the organiser didn’t trust us not to race down the fast and potentially hazardous road, as if we would….
A few minutes later I arrived at the Norwegian Stone – the official finish and was able to finally stop and gaze back at the majestic Cairngorms and allow the realisation of a fantastic journey to sink in.
Staminade Scottish 4000’s Duathlon Results
1 Jim Davies 11:35:59 2 Pete James 11:52:31 2 Steve Birkenshaw 11.52:31 4 Tom Gibbs 12:21:49 5 Mark Seddon 12:35:41 14 Jane Meeks 14:18:52 14 Liz Cowell 14:18:52
Fastest Road Bike – Tom Gibbs (9feet.com) 2:52:28
Remarkable Fact - All 26 competitors who started, completed the route