The Heb: An amazing race on the Edge
I took part in The Heb race in the Outer Hebrides last month. I wrote about the event and also included it in a Sunday Mail outdoors column. It’s a big challenge but something to target for next year if you like superb scenery, fab adventures and meeting bonkers like-minded people.
New race: The Heb
More than 80 people from across the UK headed to the far-flung Outer Hebridean islands to take part in a new Scottish adventure race earlier this month.
The Heb: The Race on the Edge comprised two days of cycling, running, walking and kayaking amid the stunning island landscapes of Benbecula and the Uists.
Uniquely, the event course had been designed to offer both experienced and novice adventure racers a challenge.
Paul McGreal, of race organisers Durty Events, said: “We knew there were many people who would like to try their first multi-day adventure race.
“We also knew that there were many experienced racers who would love to race in a beautiful area of Scotland.
“Our goal was to create an event where everyone felt challenged and rewarded.”
Taking part in The Heb
All competitors, racing as solo or a pair, were required to complete the cycling sections on road, trail and beach.
The kayaking sections, which required no specialist expertise, were also mandatory and on sit-on crafts.
However, racers could choose the number of running and walking checkpoints that they attempted.
Time penalties were issued to those who did not reach any of the 11 points located on hill and mountains and on tiny causeway islands.
A checkpoint on the last hill climb on South Uist was also a mandatory before participants raced to a beach finish line.
The Heb winners
The overall winner was Craig Mattocks, of Peebles in the Scottish Borders.
His time over two days totalled 16 hours 25 minutes and he ticked off all checkpoints.
Craig, 43, a surveyor, said: “My aim was to get out and enjoy the challenge, tackling all that I could at my own pace.
“I had no ambitions about a position in the race, simply to give it my best and feel satisfied with my efforts.
“I loved the incredible setting of the race and despite very mixed weather I was in awe of the landscapes of the Uists.
“Although remote feeling and rugged, the hills were great for running.
“The road cycling was fast and it was fantastic riding across a sandy causeway and on the huge beaches.
“However, I did have a sense of humour failure when it came to a rough and boggy section of mountain biking trail later on day one.
“That was very tough and I couldn’t seem to stay on my bike to ride it.”
By the end of day one, Craig was lying in second place 10 minutes behind Craft-sponsored athlete Sean McFarlane, of Dollar, Stirlingshire.
He said: “I admit that being so close behind Sean as we started day two did drive me on.
“But I could really only go at my own pace. I think, however, that the terrain was good for me.
“I’m a keen hill runner and I enjoy a navigational challenge so with the low clouds and hill summits it felt manageable. I gained good ground on Sean on day two.”
Craig believes his kayaking ability and triathlon experience helped, too.
Yet he was still surprised to triumph over Sean who finished 15 minutes behind overall.
Craig said: “I really had no aspirations going into the race, except to enjoy it, so to be the winner feels fantastic.”
First woman home was adventure racing novice Amy Goodill, 33, of Glenrothes, Fife, in 20 hours and 53 minutes.
The plumbing engineer decided from the outset to tick off as many checkpoints as she could manage and “to not get lost”.
She said: “I have never done anything like this kind of race before so I just went for it.
“It was exhausting and challenging in so many ways but I thoroughly enjoyed myself.”
Amy had worried about racing solo but in the end she found it was a good way to meet new people.
She said: “At various points in the race I found myself cycling and running alongside different people, which was interesting.
“I did the kayak on day one with Sean, who happened to be at the kayaking section at the same time although I had done one less hill than him.
“But I also enjoyed the time on my own, too, such as when I rode the entire long stretch of beach on day two without meeting another person.
“It felt, then, like I might be the last person in the race.”
The final mandatory hill checkpoint was Amy’s lowest point. She said: “I’d set my sights on doing all the check points earlier in the day and I was completely exhausted for that final run and walk.
“When I eventually crossed the finish line I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t believe I was first female home.”
Other results included Jim Cunningham, the oldest racer at the age of 60, in 22nd place overall.
The first female pair was Catriona Morrison and Caroline Wallace in 9th place overall.
Robbie Lyall and Derek Wilkie were the first male pair home in 13th place.
And ranking 29th was the first placed mixed pair team, Polly Weston and Steve Lock, who were also on honeymoon.
My Heb race
There were incredible highs and a few lows as my partner Gordon Lacey and I competed in our first adventure race together.
I loved the smooth tarmac roads that offered fast cycling and the kayaking in sheltered bays and though clear waters.
I was also stunned by the views from hill summits over wildly beautiful scenery and the truly superb beach ride on very the edge of South Uist.
Cycling 2kms across the tidal causeway to the island of Vallay created memories that will last a lifetime.
The biggest challenges included the tough boggy terrain of The Hebridean Way towards the end of day two.
Days of wet weather had made going slow and arduous and I walked while pushing my bike for some five miles.
And navigation in a wild land that is filled with myriad lochans was never easy.
The weather was also very changeable, with strong winds and torrential rain at times, mixed with calm periods and warm sunshine.
It’s also worth thinking about who you choose for as your team mate.
Gordon and I didn’t always have the same goals or energy reserves and a hillside argument about whether to try for two checkpoints, not just one, cost us a lot of time.
However, there were advantages of being in a pair, especially when you need a push to get you back to base after a full day of racing.
It’s also far quicker to fix a puncture when there are two of you and the shared experiences make for great post-race chat.
In the end, and with great surprise, we finished in third place in the mixed pairs category.
We were some eight hours behind winner Craig, however, so there is clearly plenty of room for improvement in next year’s race.
As novices we felt included in The Heb and the race was achievable for all kinds of people.
We also met many wonderfully friendly competitors and felt like we had, had a full weekend’s experience.
Sign up for 2017 at www.theheb.org
Read more in this pdf. The article appeared in the Sunday Mail.