AR Competition race 20:00:00 
The adidas TERREX Sting in Stirling
As our lives have become more complex during parenthood, Lee and I have certainly realized that sometimes it’s best to keep things as simple as possible for the sake of our sanity. This is difficult to adhere to from time to time as we clutch onto our former, non-parental selves and the activities that we’ve come to love. Adventure racing is one of those activities.
Anyone in the sport knows how tough it can be to field a team, collect all of the requisite gear, conform to all of the race organizer’s certification requirements, solidify international travel plans, and make sure that you’re in shape for what will likely be another punishing epic of a racecourse through parts unknown. For this race, a few extra twists were thrown our way…here are a few that we had to navigate:
• A move to France – No biggie. Just move your life to the most administratively heavy place on earth about a month before go time and you’ll see how fun it can be to juggle paperwork, bank accounts, internet, and starting a new job. The huge upside, however, is that Annecy is likely one of the most amazing places on earth for those who love to live life out of doors.
• A broken bike frame – What’s that creaking sound? Must be the bottom bracket as usual. Our intrepid bike wrench buddy in Bolton has a look a week before I left for France and, oh…no…it’s the frame that’s cracked. What are the odds that this will be an easy fix or that I’ll seamlessly end up with my new frame in France well in advance of the race? I’ll save you the suspense…somewhere between slim and none.
• A babysitter – Sadly, my Granny passed away a few days before my mother was to come over to France for 10 days to look after Mari. After a day on the phone with Aeroplan and a begging phone call to my mother-in-law, we had a new plan. Ironically, we would be heading to Scotland, were my Granny lived for 97 years but because of the race, Lee and I would be unable to attend the funeral. We’ve got a little plan to celebrate her life in our own way.
TEAM SALOMON - RUNNING FREE
Somehow, the AR gawds smiled upon Harper Forbes, James Galipeau, Leanne and I in that we all arrived into Glasgow, Scotland, and a little more northward onto Stirling, with all of what was supposed to come with us…despite the boys opting for the ‘budget-rent-a-plane’ option of Air Transat! I shouldn’t poo-poo as they only charged Harps an extra $30 for hauling my newly built up bike overseas.
It was quickly evident that this race was going to be run smoothly and professionally. Upon arrival at The Peak, race HQ, the polish on the proceedings was palpable and it never stopped. The race staff was knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful. The surroundings were branded adidas TERREX from top to bottom. Any processes were completed swiftly and efficiently. And, most importantly, our race maps were pre-plotted, unbelievably detailed, and easy to work with. In short, this crew was dialed…more so than I’ve ever experienced. I really can’t say enough complimentary things about them and hope that other race organizers take notice as ‘best practices’ are going on at Open Adventure!
Taking place out of Stirling Castle, this relay event was going to be a hammerfest…or worse, a Euro hammerfest. Ugh. There were 4 sections: 1) A run…James drew the short straw; 2) An orienteering section…perfect for Lee; 3) A technical bike…guess I’ll do it; and, 4) A longer ride…The Harps is in the best riding shape so naturally, this was for him. We knew we were in trouble when James came back in about 12th or 15th position given how strong he is. Lee had a couple of bobbles on the 1898 dated map they were all given but finished well. I gave it everything I had, narrowly escaping getting run over by a car at one point and even managed to pass about 8 riders. And, the Harps held our ~15th position well on his ride. What made this section techy cool was how you could see in real time on a TV screen where your teammates were on the racecourse due to the tracker we had to wear around our waist. We knew that this sprinty session wasn’t too much of a proxy for how things would play out over a 5-day racecourse but we were definitely rattled. 15th?!? These teams were bloody fast. Are we going to get dusted or what?
ALL ABOARD THE PAIN TRAIN
Harper and James have had success in races when they go out fast, trying to establish a competitive placing, and then hanging on to challenge the teams in front as the race winds down. While there was no illusion of grandeur given the obvious talent in the field, we stuck to this plan. Given that we kicked things off with a 10km run to the William Wallace monument and back to Stirling Castle, our tickets were punched early for the pain train. My tight hamstring felt like a piano cord for this run and kept up that way for the majority of the day. My only solace was knowing that stuff like that typically dissipates over the course of a multi-day race as everything starts to hurt equally.
Transitioning onto bikes, we were with the leaders but they took off quickly. We gave chase but made our route carefully to get out of town efficiently with so much adrenalin pumping. Thankfully, the lead pack took a wrong turn and we settled in with a few teams on the 10km ride to Doune Castle in a pace line. There were a few hammerheads at the front who were content to lead so we let them and spun happily along in their draft. I always find that a little silly and would otherwise be happy to help and take a pull at the front. However, some dudes like to lead and blast away.
We were forced to a walk at the Castle according to the rules and so you could see a host of spandex-clad racers doing their best impressions of Olympic speed walking, wiggling their a$$es around the grounds. Given the historic site that we had access to, no one was complaining and it was really cool to have this as part of the race, breaking up the day’s biking a little. We left with the leaders only 15 minutes or so ahead.
Firing west still at a really quick pace, we teamed up in a pace line with another team. Lee started to struggle a little with a wonky and rubbing rear brake so I towed and Harper took the front. Given the pace we were pushing, this gassed me more than I had hoped and I would feel the consequences later by not getting enough food in me. After another 15km or so, we made our next stop at the only lake in Scotland; Lake of Menteith. No one will ever mistake us as Olympic rowers but we did give it our best as we were tasked with getting a 200lbs row boat about 1km to an island Castle and back. The pity was when we realized that the bloody motor was hanging in the water, giving us significant drag…ugh. Harps joined in the rowing effort about ½ way across the lake and we finally started moving well. By this time, a decent collection of teams had passed us which was a little disheartening given how hard we seemed to be working. There’s a funny video on the race website when we finally got out of that tub of a boat…I couldn’t have finished that section fast enough. Again, however, full credit to the race organizers for throwing in something historic and unique into the race.
THE RACE FORMAT
Now the fun began as the race format was a different and creative one. The organizer’s goal was to get EVERY team across the finish line and to do so, they incorporated a collection of ‘Short Routes’. If you took a short route, you took a pre-determined time penalty and while still ranked, would officially finish below a team who completed the full course. At first cut, this was a little frustrating to learn as it would be impossible to strategically plan out whether or not to take a short route (eg. if the penalty was ‘worth it’). However, the organizers communicated to everyone that it was NOT their intention to make the race more complicated than it needed to be so go for full course until it looked like it wasn’t possible anymore. Given that the full course was designed to be achievable (eg. they estimated that 8 teams would complete the full course), this was how we approached it which made things simple.
So, when the first short course option arrived, we stayed in the just rideable trails and climbs on the ~50km that we had remaining. The land opened up at times, revealing the grassy hills of the Scottish Highlands. Harper and I navigated well, as each team was provided with two full sets of maps(!), and we remained with the top few teams…even through the push-a-bike section over the heathers for 4km.
ONTO THE HEATHERS AND ROCKS
Into Killin and the transition to paddle, I felt okay but the pace had taken a toll on me for sure. I’m not as strong as James or Harper and with the move to France, I hadn’t been racing this year nearly as much as them. However, we changed quickly to paddling and set off for the ~30km Ben Lawers orienteering trek with purpose. It isn’t often that Lee and I feel fast in the boat but given our competition’s lack of experience at canoeing, as well as our Whisky Jack bent shaft paddles courtesy of Barb and Richard, we managed to reel a few teams in on this 6km crossing to the TA.
We continued to push the pace so as to get as much of this trek completed in daylight. We had to climb up to about 1,000m or so and use ridges to pass from one area to the next, making a good view essential to fast moving. The Harps drove us onward and just before attacking the second of four CPs, Team adidas TERREX came crashing our way, ticking off the points in reverse order. “Holy Shit!”, they were cooking…and wearing little more than shorts and Ts in the now fading light and blowy weather. They’re in another league altogether! En route to the third CP, I started to really slow down. James took my weight and I can’t believe that I didn’t force myself to eat more. It’s so frustrating as I even knew this at the time…it just required so much effort to keep up and eat at the same time not to mention the ‘lovely’ bouts of nausea. I managed to stave off a big puke and we continued to push our way back to the TA where the dark zone was in effect for the rest of the paddle. ‘Free sleep’ was our reward so we moved as quickly as we could.
COMPETITIVE PADDLING TEAM?
Once back at the boats, we had ample time to construct James’ beautifully designed PVC contraption, making two boats into one, for our ~18km paddle on the wide and happily calm Loch Tay. We earned about an hour and 20 minute time credit here and even managed a quick cat nap. I think all of us would have appreciated more of a sleep but that would have meant an even faster pace on this first day and given how much I was hurting, I’m not sure this would have been possible. Off my feet now, I tried to get some food in me and contribute well to the effort that lay ahead. They let the teams proceed in waves and given that we were in the first wave of 5 teams, we took this as a good sign as to our competitive status even though so much race lay ahead of us. Once again, we paddled well, and distanced ourselves from 2 of the teams that started with us as well as the chase pack behind.
The River Tay was a really fun paddle and we commenced our trip down it just after the 6h00 dark zone lifted. It was riddled with rapids, swifts, and fast sections and it kept us wide awake. What kept us even more awake was the swim both of our boats took (we unhooked our PVC for this river section) in the biggest rapid set. The safety boat pointed us right toward the largest part of the wave train for some reason and while neither of our boats flipped in the flow, we took on so much water that it made it really difficult to stay upright. While trying to eddy out, both of our boats flipped…I watched my unfastened water bladder, seat, and bag of food float down the river and out of site…ugh. Angus would have shaken his head in utter disgust at our predicament…at least our hands never left our paddles!
Arriving at Grand Tully and the TA to bikes, we were still in a pretty respectable and competitive position. It helped that 4 of 5 first teams dumped in the same rapid that we did. Rumour had it that the guide changed the line after our team went through. We set off on a 30km ride toward the canyoning section having to go through a town called Blair Atholl. I couldn’t help but chuckle at a lame movie I saw a few years ago where some chick from New York, that’s supposed to be with Patrick Dempsey, is engaged to this strapping Scottish fellow, with the last name Atholl. Apparently, he came from a long line of Atholls…the things you laugh at during a race…
It was gong show time and we donned our wetsuits and climbing kit for a frigid descent of the Falls at Bruar. I usually love sections like this but given that so much of this was supposed to be us bumping around and jumping off the jagged rocks like pinballs, I didn’t relish the thought of one of us bruising a tailbone or something. The brogue-filled instructions were pretty funny from the local guides and some of our crew might have looked a little dumbfounded when they were instructed to do one thing, only to learn that what was actually meant was something else completely. Those bloody Atholls. Luckily, our Atholls stayed fairly unscathed in the canyoning section…
I LOST MY SH!T
Onward into the heart of the Cairngorms, things got more remote and the land more rugged. With steep walls beside us, we biked north through Glen Tromie and then east across the Enfeshie Forest. There were teams just ahead of us which spurned us on but that competitive motivation changed quickly when the midges descended upon us in clouds. Holy ^&*%, I absolutely lost my %^&. Those little ^&&*ers are worse than anything I’ve ever encountered; and I feel like I’ve experienced a lot in the wilds of Ontario and Quebec. Mosquitoes would get eaten alive by the midges. Deer flies would ‘pop’ themselves into oblivion if they had to hang out with midges too long. And black flies…well…even they would skip a hatch if they knew the midges were in town. These little bast^&*s travel in clouds by the thousands and while they don’t ‘sting’ and you can’t even swat them, they infest your body like something out of a horror movie. They make you want to peel your skin back or shave your head and eyebrows so you don’t have to deal with them crawling around in your hair. They itch like poison ivy and I honestly think that they could actually drive someone into an irreversible state of insanity if you left them get at someone for too long. Of course, this is where a push-a-bike was and we searched for what seemed like too long for the trail that was supposed to be there. Thankfully, we located it and moved the $%^& out of there before I lost my marbles for good.
MAR LODGE: SADISTIC YET INTERESTING?
Moving well on double-track road, the type where we saw an inordinate amount of Land Rover Defenders driving on throughout the racecourse, we biked to Mar Lodge and the start of another out-and-back orienteering section on foot. The Lodge itself is a stately locale and the TA was in a hall which often hosts weddings and special events. This was not your typical décor, however. The entire ceiling and top third of each wall was lined with stag antlers….literally hundreds of them. It was a little spooky and maybe even a little sadistic. I could envision a host of Gary Larson Far Side jokes about this place. We hadn’t slept yet and it was our plan to grab some shut eye so as to push quickly through the next section. As is often the case, however, my heart seemed to be beating out of my chest and neither I nor Leanne could sleep. So frustrating! I know it wasn’t wasted time but there are so many times in adventure racing you wish that you could just keel over and have a snooze. Here we were committed to one and sleep wouldn’t come to us. Instead, we lay there in the light rain and let the hot food we just consumed, digest peacefully.
The map they gave us for the O-section had 8 CPs spread across a swath of Forest of Mar highlands. Lee and I took 5 CPs and around 13km of distance while Harper and James took the running CPs, which amounted to about 15km. These sections have a way of being polarizing; either you nail everything and largely forget that the section even happened. Or, the simplest of navigation decisions turn into disasters and you waste too much time and mental effort sorting yourself out. Our result during the darkness of our second night on course? The former, thank GAWD! Lee and I moved well and spiked each of our CPs save for the second last one. We opted for a direct line which included a scrambly climb in the dark and a bit of a slog over the heathers rather than a more circuitous route on trail. It probably cost us about 10 minutes in the end, which by no means is a disaster, but every extra minute on foot in the wetness meant more trench foot to deal with.
WE HAVE TO CLIMB THAT?!?
The BIG bike continued and we moved east through Ballater before turning south into the Forest of Glen Tanar. The land opened up here and Mount Keen came into view…all 939 vertical metres of it. “Is that seriously where we’re headed?”, inquired Leanne. Unfortunately, the answer was ‘yes’. Mount Keen is a munro, a rare one which is ‘rideable’. By ‘rideable’, I mean only one side of it…not the side that we were on during our climb of it. We rode most of the approach to it but then things got steep; really steep. Harper and Lee switched bikes for the uphill push (Harper’s bike weighs less that a fart while Lee’s 29er is a bit of a pig) and James did a couple of out and backs to lend a hand. I really appreciated the comfort of my Specialized mountain bike shoes in this race. While they’re trashed, they are a pleasure to walk in and I can’t think of getting rid of them.
Once at the top, the 360° view of the Cairngorms was spectacular. The BIG trek was next and I took a gulp at the immensity of the land upon which we’d have to travel. We had a technical descent to do now and Harper set off at pace. You had to be careful, however, as there were cuts along the trail to prevent erosion from run-off rain. ‘The Claw’ began to set in on our hands and wrists as we clenched hard onto the brakes and had several bumps to negotiate. A helicopter whizzed overhead to capture the action on camera – perhaps we’ll make the ESPN show after all!
Clive Ramsay is a local business owner who caters events and has a full-time set up out of The Peak facility in Stirling. He’s also an avid cyclist and runner and had been easily convinced to participate in the race as on-course, hot food provider. Anyone who’s done a multi-day adventure race can attest to how energy-giving a hot meal is while on course. At The Sting, Clive hooked us up again and again and it buoyed our spirits considerably. He must have worked his a$$ off all week but I have a feeling (and hope) that it was economically viable for him. At this remote TA, we didn’t have access to Clive’s services, but the owner of the B&B took inspiration from him and offered hot bacon sandwiches…Mmmmm bacon. We needed this as it was time for the BIG trek – 85km of hill walking and peak bagging that would likely take us 30+ hours to fire off.
Team Mountain Hardwear had retired from the race due to injury and while Team adidas TERREX and FGS were likely out of reach, we had teams Endurance Life, Moxie Racers, and MaxiRace to deal with. It would be a battle for 3rd and quite honestly, I was a little surprised that it had come down to this. While I was hurting and not moving as quickly as I would have liked, I felt good about our situation. There was so much racecourse left to go but for whatever reason, I felt confident about our ability to remain competitive for the podium. It certainly helped that I knew that each of us had the mental and physical ability to push for the bronze.
The BIG trek was broken into three parts: 1) 25km of ridge and valley walking before descending to the Spittal of Glenmiuck; 2) 30km of more of the same but also featuring two technical ascents before arriving into Glenshee Ski Station; and, 3) 30km of big ups and downs along with a road rash at the end to finish off our beaten feet.
While we broke no speed records, our progress was efficient as we navigated our way across the wide open landscape to the CPs at Loch Brandy and Cairn Derg. There was certainly no ‘right way’ to go and we jostled for position with the teams that traveled along with us; one of which was Team Endurance Life. It was good that they were alongside us because it forced us to keep a competitive spirit as energy flagged from time to time. We were definitely tired at the latter part of this first section of the BIG trek as our discussion about navigation deteriorated. Lee argued that one chain of highpoints moved north and south while Harper and I saw them as being east and west. Distant high points seemed closer to some of us than others…ugh…we moved north alongside Loch Muick and called it even.
We were in and out of the next CP and passed by Team Endurance Life as we pushed onward into the fading light toward the technical climbing at Lochnagar Cac Carn Beag (just rolls of the tongue, doesn’t it?). As it turned out, they stopped to sleep at the CP but we kept the push on now in 3rd place as we weren’t aware of their sleep strategy decision. The next 4-5km had the potential to get really, really ugly in the dark. 4 CPs were scattered around two separate scramble climbs from the bases of lochs to rocky high points. Moving around in this landscape in the pitch black was not easy and while we were wide awake, thankfully(!), it was tough to do efficiently. We got cliffed out again and again or found ourselves having to negotiate slippery rock atop precipitous drops below. Times like those are where I don’t like racing with my wife as it makes me so nervous. However, our experience and patience prevailed and we tackled the first of the two scramble ascents successfully. Once atop the climb, however, we were welcomed to Scotland with the type of weather that makes this country famous – sideways rain, fog, and driving winds. Holy sh!t, we couldn’t see 10’ in front of us! Times like these are good to trust the compass and that’s exactly what we did….and miraculously, it worked and we bagged the next one. The next technical climb went more efficiently than the first and we were through the bit in this trek that had the biggest potential to go sideways.
MUSH HEAD AND GOLDEN BOTHIES
And right about then was when my brain started to go a little mushy. This was night number three now and we were on less than 2 hours of sleep…not good. We had hoped and planned to get more rest earlier but it just hadn’t panned out that way. This always seems to happen in these long races. However, we were determined to shut it down at some point soon so make a final push on this trek rather than a fizzle. We bagged one more CP and started to make our way downhill to Loch Callater…a very sleepy downhill for me. I found myself just stopping at times, standing there on the trail, fast asleep, only to be awoken by something, and then rushing to catch up. James watched me walk off the trail a few times, too, unaware of what the heck I was doing until the heathers impeded my progress. Those are goofy times in a long race and best to be minimized as forward progress is so slow. Thankfully, from out of the mist came our saviour, a Mountain Bothy Assoc. shelter fully furnished with bunks, mattresses, and pillows. Unreal! It took all of about 2m34s to shut it down and while my heart pounded heavily in my chest, I nodded off…finally.
While we slept, Team Endurance Life made forward progress and as we got going toward CP30 adjacent to Carn an Tuirc, we met up with each other. It was on! Unfortunately, I wasn’t moving well and James took my weight as we kept pace with our battle for 3rd place rivals. At the next CP, they beat us to it by a couple of minutes and tried to escape into the mists. I don’t know if they felt that we were just following their route but that really wasn’t the case. By the next CP, we had surged ahead and as it was an out-and-back, we saw that their pace had slowed. We later learned that an injured teammate slowed their chase of us. Either way, we made off down to Glenshee Ski Station for some hot food, hoping to leave before they arrived.
The race was very much on in our minds and we climbed out of the Ski area as quickly as we could; eating hot pasta courtesy of Clive Ramsay once again, on the run. To finish this BIG trek off, we had three mountain top CPs to hit before moving south for one more along the road out to Gleann Fearnach and the TA to bikes. These three were available to us in any order and in hindsight, we did this all wrong. Our route gave us far too much road ‘running’ at the end and it mashed our feet into hamburger meat. As it was, we spiked each of the three CPs without issue and I really felt that we moved between each pretty efficiently over the untracked, heathered, and mucky landscape. Once on the road, however, things began to slow way down. Night fell once again and even James began to feel the effects of dozens of wet kms on our feet. It was slow going into the TA to bikes but we were buoyed by the realization that we likely had some free sleep time in the not too distant future. The canoe section on the River Tay after the next 40km bike ride didn’t open until 6h00. We figured that we’d get there well in advance of this, even if this next ride took us 4 hours to complete. We know from past races how brutal it can be to do paddling sections with no sleep (read: almost falling out of the boats because you’re so damned tired and can’t complete 10 strokes in a row without keeling over) so this was a golden opportunity to finish strongly.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
We really were quite tired now. For me, riding felt so foreign and I weaved all over the road. Lee yelled at me a few times to tighten things up but I was in a weird place mentally. Then the nav got goofy and I woke up no problem. There were trails going in all sorts of directions, villages, and farmland and we couldn’t figure out how what we saw through the darkness was supposed to match up with what looked like a straight forward ride on the maps. We picked our way south but I know that in daylight and on better rest, we would have quartered our time here. At Pitcarmick, we crossed our fingers and moved west toward an area that was marked as a “Push Your Bikes Within This Area” section. The area marked on our bikes was generous at best. This was hardly rideable at all with so much water underfoot. We slogged along for km after km, realizing with each step that our ‘free sleep’ was becoming less of a reality. In fact, after another hour of slow progress, we started to worry about making the 8h00 cut-off for the next paddle outright. Each time that you’d get some momentum on the mucky track, you’d catch a rut and down you’d go in a wet heap of frustration. Suffice it to say that the collective mood was not good. At the very least, we had a strong sense of purpose to keep us motivated to not hoist our bikes into the marsh and pack it in for good. All you could do was laugh at how silly this was given that we thought this was a 4-hour maximum section. WRONG! Despite the quagmire section from hell, we did come out the other side, about as happy as wet cats would be, and made decent time on the last 12km on roads into the TA as the sun rose on our last day of racing.
3rd IS IN THE BAG, RIGHT?
We learned in the middle of the night that Team Endurance Life had been forced to withdraw due to injury. They were a fast and talented team so admittedly, we felt a sense of relief as we thought that we would be the last team on the full course. However, upon inspection of the flat screen TV in the TA with all of the up-to-the-minute rankings and team GPS positions (oh yes, these race organizers were dialed!), it seemed as though the race for 3rd was very much still on. Team Moxie Racers had made a significant push and while it would be extremely tight for them to get on the water before the 8h00 cut-off, we assumed that they could do it.
We were pretty wasted from the mountain bike slog that we’d endured overnight but we hit the River Tay with a sense of purpose. It didn’t stop us from nodding off from time to time of course. Thankfully, the river was full of rapids for the entire length of our 60km on it. This kept us awake and honestly, it was really fun to have to figure out our lines down the river. It certainly helped that we managed to hook up with a ½ team that contained a river guide in the stern of their boat. She was good. Really good and calmly approached each set with confidence. Harper and James paddled well while Lee and I flagged a little and had a tougher time keeping pace. I was certainly guilty of falling asleep more often than I would have liked.
OH NO, MY KNEES DON’T WORK ANYMORE
Bobbing along in the river meant that my legs were pretty immobile for a few hours. Things stiffened up big time and when we arrived at the town of Dunkeld for a quick foot orienteering section, I was in a bit of trouble. I went to get out of our canoe and I couldn’t stand up. Seriously. I literally had to crawl on hands and knees up the embankment. Sure, it was a little comical but I was in pain. My knees were done from all of the descending we had to do on the BIG trek. I guess I hadn’t lived in Annecy for long enough to build up the resiliency to the beating ones knees can take going up and down elevation. Harper and Lee took the maps and I gave chase as best I could, relying almost too much on my trekking poles. James’ lower calves were not in good shape either but he was able to grit it out and keep pace much better than I could. I was not having fun in the least and while I appreciated that my teammates were spiking the CPs bang on, meaning no extra distance to cover, it took everything I had to gut this out. I wanted to puke it hurt so much.
IN AND OUT OF PERTH
Like all things in adventure racing, you have to take the crunchy with the smooth. Dealing with this debilitating knee pain was the ‘crunchy’ and I had the rest of the paddle and a final bike ride to look forward to as non-weight bearing ‘smooth’. Once back into the boats, I made an extra effort to keep my legs moving for the duration of the paddle into Perth. This helped; thankfully so because we had a sizeable portage from the take-out to the TA. With only a 60km bike ride left from here to Stirling, we felt good about our grasp on 3rd place. Team Moxie Racers hadn’t come blazing down the river and given that we had an hour+ time credit difference versus them stemming from the opening trek, we liked our chances should an all out showdown to the line on this last 60km bike take place. Certainly, anything was possible, but it would have to be some bad luck to have 3rd slip out of our grasp at this stage.
Putting together my bike as quickly as I could, my stomach turned when I only saw one wheel in my bike box. Had I seriously forgotten this at the last TA? How could I be so careless? My facial expression of sheer confusion and fatigue must have been pretty comical to the bike transport folks as they had collected my errant wheel almost as soon as I had done up my bike box at the previous TA. Enter nervous laughter as they handed it over to me. That was a DUMB move on my behalf and could have cost us the podium. I suppose I could have easily borrowed a bike but still, I know better than that. Either way, we sped out of the TA and…seriously?...is that Team Moxie Racers coming out of the water? Ugh. It wasn’t over yet.
Harper danced on the pedals and created a good draft for us to fall in behind. We rode well and moved with a decent bit of speed. In fact, we even caught a shorter course team along the way! The KMs ticked by and while we were cognizant of the proximity of the 4th place team, it didn’t really affect any sort of panic level. What did, however, was trying to cycle past Gleneagles. The Johnny Walker Classic PGA Tour event was in full swing (yes, lame pun) and there were cars everywhere. We never did get used to riding on the left side of the road and there were a few close calls as golf fans burned by our pace line a little too close for our liking.
ONE LAST CLIMB
We only had one more climb to negotiate and then it was largely downhill into Stirling and the finish line. As we turned the cranks over and over, a team went by us like we were standing still. My heart dropped. “There’s no WAY that’s Moxie Racers?!?” I thought to myself. Thankfully, I was right. It was a short course team looking to close a gap on a team in front of them and it was bloody impressive speed they managed to generate at this late of the race. Before long, the William Wallace monument came into view and we had less than 8km to the finish through Stirling proper. Right on!
I’ve always found that crossing the finish line of a race like this is largely a sense of relief more than anything else. We had nabbed 3rd place and we had really, really earned it. It felt good. Proper food and a good sleep would feel even better. The Scottish Highlands are a great place to do a race but it’s harsh out there. I would even say that it punished me. It was a tough journey to both the start line and the finish line this time around but I suppose that is stuff of indelible life experience.
Now that we’re based in Europe, Lee and I will make a point of participating in other Open Adventure events in the future. James Thurlow and his crew are second to none in my opinion. Their execution was spectacular and their approach to staging adventure events is something special to experience. Congratulations to Teams adidas TERREX and FGS for trouncing us royally and to Teams Endurance Life and Moxie Racers for pushing us so hard. Lastly, I really appreciated the support of my teammates as I suffered pretty hard during this one. Maybe they’ll even race with me again!