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Romy wins the Corrieyairack Challenge

Written by Fiona July 18 2013

Romy Beard, a friend and fellow member of the Glasgow Triathlon Club, writes about her experience racing – and coming first female – in the Corrieyairack Challenge 2013.

Some people prefer to save the best bits of their meals until the end. Others, like my husband, divide potatoes, veg and meat into equal portions to make sure they have a bit of everything left for their last bite. Then there are those who separate things and eat them all by one. Me, I prefer to have the best things first, when they’re still fresh and tasty. Taking part in the Corrieyairack Challenge, a 23k hill run followed by a 60k road cycle, earlier this month has confirmed that this is also the case for multi-sport events.

Romy and her Corrieyairack Challenge team

Romy and her Corrieyairack Challenge team

After swearing at yet another stitch during the run of all bar one of the triathlon races I have completed, running first and then cycling was not only refreshing but had me performing at my best.

Apart from the fact that I probably misspelt the name of the event all the time, this was one of the best events I have ever done.

get-attachment-26I signed up to the Corrieyairack Challenge earlier in the year after two guys from my running club, the Bellahouston Road Runners, were looking for a third member to form a team. At the time I was suffering from a hamstring injury, which I only really got over about a month and a half before the event, so training was far from ideal, but I managed to keep reasonably fit in the gym and on the bike. In a way, it was a great motivation to have an endurance event in my schedule where time didn’t matter so much. It was a “challenge”, not a “race” and I could just enjoy it.

The Corrieyairack Challenge, apparently “one of Scotland’s toughest mountain duathlons”, is usually a 17 mile run followed by a 26 mile cycle. But this year there was a last minute change due to the arrival location not being available, so the organisers shortened the run to just more than 13 miles and lengthened the bike route to 40-odd miles. As I had problems with my hamstrings while running, I was quite pleased about this, and concentrated more on my cycling. In the month before the event I had managed a few longer runs and bike rides, including a tough tour of Arran facing the head wind on the west coast, which turned out to be just the perfect training.

Although competitors (must be in teams of three) pay to enter, and the event is chip time, it is also a fundraising event organized by the Bagaduish Trust, raising money to help people with a disability to enjoy an outdoor holiday at their centre. Participants can choose to walk the off-road route, run + cycle or mountain bike the whole route. I tried to raise a bit of money for charity, mainly from family and close friends. I set up a JustGiving Page, posted Facebook updated, but as a newbie to fundraising I admit I didn’t really put myself out there. Perhaps next year I could try a yard sale or selling cake for charity?

The challenge weekend arrives

I was chauffeured up to Aviemore by my husband Wes and son Ayden on a very sunny Friday afternoon, and registered at the Bagaduish Outdoor Centre with the fellow competitors, checked my baby (bike) into a giant truck (slight reluctance here) to be taken to the changeover point, and enjoyed two (!) free bowls of pasta before heading back to Aviemore for an early night, which my two-year-old didn’t like the sound of.

My alarm was set for 7am on the Saturday but the little human body clock (usually a very good sleeper) decided that 5am was enough, but at least I had had a decent sleep in between and could rest a little bit more. I had a quick bowl of cereal in the hotel and then got a lift to the Bagaduish Centre where the bus left at 8am to take competitors to the start line in Fort Augustus, about 1.5 hours drive away! That really put the distance we were about to cover on foot and bike into perspective.

I had my porridge pot ready in my lap and forced myself to finish it as my stomach was all knotted. Fellow team member Bruce did a very good job of making conversation to try and keep my nerves calm! After the long bus journey we still had about 45mins to do the usual pre-race faffing, put contact lenses in, slap on the suntan lotion, do a few sun salutations and get a team photo taken with Bob and Bruce, and the three ladies forming another Bellahouston Road Runners team, before walking over to the start line. There was a short briefing, and then we were off.

The challenge gets going

My main strategy was to make sure I would eat enough and keep my energy levels up to make sure I wouldn’t fade. We started off and I settled into a reasonable pace next to another lady. There were only guys ahead of us and I saw the purple vests of fellow team members Bob and Bruce quickly jump out at the front of the race. I exchanged a few sentences with the lady next to me, who was also in a mixed team (with two guys in front of her), thus an immediate contender for a possible team prize – and her name was Corrie. Irony or what? I could already see the headline: “Corrie wins the Corrieyairaick Challenge.” She had done the event before (although with the original distances), so she had a clear advantage over me. But then the first gentle incline appeared and Corrie disappeared behind me, and I had a clear run.

Of course, this was an endurance event, and I wasn’t going to fly off the handle but I was feeling strong and doing a reasonable pace, and I had to do what was right for me.  Shortly after leaving the tarmac road for a trail road, there was a sharp left turn up the hill where the other competitors were heading to. Bob and Bruce however were coming back towards me having run off in the wrong direction, and had lost their prime positions. What a shame. I felt for them as I could see some of the other guys already high up on the hill. They would have trouble catching them!

I had been warned by friends who had done this event before to take it easy in the first part of the hill run, which took you all the way from Fort Augustus over the Corrieyairaick Pass, Scotland’s highest mountain road. During the first hour I was feeling great though, and it was hard to go slowly on purpose. The road was uphill but there were some nice gentle descents in between that allowed my legs to recover, and whenever I started to feel a little tired I had the added bonus of looking at the scenery and felt an immediate uplift. I was surrounded by beautiful green mountains, the sun was shining, I was out running and felt so alive – what was there not to like?

Although it was a hot day I had decided not to carry any water so I stopped to drink a full cup at every watering station, and this worked out quite well for me. I started to overtake the hill walkers who were cheering me on as well, and time was flying until around 1hr 20mins when the big hill appeared and the real work began.

But after a little bit of walking followed by little steps up the hill, more food, some persistence, more walking while my legs screaming at me, I made it up the top to face a steep descent with tight 180degree bends and high drainage steps. Not easy!

My feet were hurting at this point, and my lungs were bursting as I flew down the hill, elated by the speed of the downhill. Then there was another dip in energy, and I knew I had to take another nibble of my bar. I was now overtaking more walkers, one lady on the mountain bike, and I even managed a genuine smile for the camera, still exhilarated by the downhill.

But then I faced the boring, stony valley that seemed to drag on forever. I kept checking my Garmin and expected the changeover point to me just ahead of me but I still couldn’t see it! I was really struggling, my legs felt beaten and I was desperate to see my bike.  I was counting the kilometres, and although I had 20k in my head it was 23k by the time I arrived at the red tent, and my bike was brought to me (NOTE: you do not have to find it yourself!). I was never happier to see the black carbon Scott, and after a short stop in the portaloo I was off again.

The cycle challenge

I was quite amazed how good my legs felt when I first got on the bike. It felt like I was flying compared to the run. I lay down on my tri bars, and ate and drank as much as I could, and felt fabulous… until I hit the first gentle incline. Then I had to slow right down to snail’s pace, with nothing left in my legs but heaviness. But the time distance flies by on a bike and before I knew it I have done, 10, 15, 20k.

My focus for the bike leg was always to make sure I would eat enough to keep going, and keep sipping water. The good thing about the tri bars was that my stomach was in a fairly flat position so I didn’t have to worry about getting an upset tummy. They were also great for cutting the wind – which was quite strong, so I just stayed down low and kept working the legs, thinking of the tough headwind I had faced during that training ride in Arran. I was still the first lady, and I knew I had to keep pushing on if I wanted to win this. The biking wasn’t my strongest point, and I just didn’t know what my lead over the other girl was like. 60k is a long way, and a better cyclist could easier fly past me (and some of the men behind me were doing just that). So I really put my head down and worked as fast as I could. I had never won any race before, so that was my goal to the finish as first lady.

There were moments when I felt like my legs are about to pop, but I kept eating and drinking and pedalling while enjoying the wind in my face and the mountains around me.  I passed the water stations without stopping and enjoyed the cheering and clapping from the marshalls, shouting at me being the first lady. Hell yes! What great motivation to spur me along.

After Kingussie the road turned into the forest, and there were lots of up and downhill, twisty and turning. Thankfully my legs had recovered by now and I felt enough strength to push over the hills, where I was now overtaking more mountain bikers. It was getting tougher as I became more tired, but my spirits were still high and I kept thinking of team members who had probably already finished. It wasn’t just about my win, but a win for the team; they had done their bit, so I had to keep pushing hard.

Then I finally joined the main road from Aviemore out to Bagaduish, I knew it wasn’t far to go, but this truly was the toughest part (comparable to the last few 3ks on the run), waiting for the turn off.  Looking at watch, counting the kilometres. I had driven this section a few times but never noticed the long, very gradual hill. As the finish got nearer I kept wondering if it would be victory for me. I was trying to look back down the hill, but couldn’t spot anyone.

Finally, it seemed like forever, I saw the turn off into the woods, welcoming me like an archway. Surely this was it, I had done it, but I had to keep pushing, because who knew, Corrie could come just around the corner, and I told myself not to be certain of the win until I had crossed the line. Then I saw colours in between the wood, the tent, the people, clapping, me racing. This was the first race I had ever done where I finished on a bike, which was weird. I wanted to sprint but was told to slow down!

Someone took my bike away from me, and I stumbled along to get a medal and grab a cup with water, and was then welcomed by team members Bob and Bruce. We made it! Yay!

Supporters Wes and Ayden didn’t actually see me finish but were playing on the grass; their excuse was they didn’t expect me to finish before 4pm and I was ahead of schedule…. But it was still a nice welcome to have them there.

After a few stretches, a shower, a burger and a coke we were lazing on the grass, waiting for the rest of the Bellahouston Road Runners, Mati and Chi, and before that Lucy who had a puncture and didn’t finish the bike.

It wasn’t not long until the prize giving. Indeed, we were the fastest duathlon mixed team so we get a trophy as a team, and some goodies, but of course I am very chuffed with my trophy for the fastest lady, and a spot prize. A voucher for dinner.

The next day the real prize awaits, of course, sore legs, exhausted body and a real high feeling.

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