Ross Creber won CELTMAN! Extreme Scottish Triathlon 2022 at the weekend in conditions that were described by the organisers as “unbelievably challenging”. Impressively, it was the Scottish athlete’s first triathlon. He crossed the finish line in the Wester Ross event in a time of 10:35:59, which was almost 20 minutes ahead of runner up Robin Downie, who crossed the line in 10:55:18. Third place was taken by Jack Brown in 11:02:59.
Ross, 33, of Aviemore, said: “I decided that if I was going to do a triathlon I would pick a challenging one. CELTMAN! was definitely a tough day out and I was very surprised to win.”
The first female was Eilidh Prise, who successfully defended her title of last year, and finished in 11:19:30. She was an hour ahead of the female runner up Caroline Livesey in a new low-level course record. Eilidh, 26, was fifth overall.
The Aberdeen-based athlete said: “In an event like the CELTMAN! it is more about completing than about competing. It is a battle with the elements and against myself and I didn’t pay attention to where I was in the race until I crossed the finish line and then I found out I was first female. It was a crazy day and I am very pleased with how I did.”
What is CELTMAN!?
The Celtman! Xtreme Triathlon is an international triathlon that takes place over a slightly greater distance than an Ironman. It includes:
- 3.4 km sea swim
- 202 km hilly bike ride with some 2200m of total ascent
- 42km of mountain running up with a total climb.
The race takes place each June in Achnasheen, Wester Ross, at the foot of the Torridon mountains. Created in 2012, CELTMAN! is part of the XTRI World Tour.
This year, as in 2017, organisers decided to close the mountain run route due to challenging weather. The forecast predicted that wind speeds above 1000m would be 60mph, gusting to 80mph, and a windchill of -12C. All athletes faced the alternative low-level running route.
Eilidh, who was inspired to do the CELTMAN! after her sister Siobhan took part and finished first female in 2015, said: “The low-level run route is still a challenge and I found it tough. I prefer the mountain route because I love running in the hills and mountains.
“This year, too, because of the challenging and windy conditions on the bike, I found I had a lot less energy at the start of the run. I really had to dig deep and I think it its fair to say the low-level run is not an easier option. The whole race was a battle.”
The swim: ‘It was like jellyfish soup’
Ross, who is a former road cycling professional and a keen runner, confessed he was worried about his first triathlon swim. He said: “I know the CELTMAN! swim would be challenging and it would be the hardest bit for me. I had to force myself to start the training for the swim in March and in Loch Morlich near where I live.
“I don’t even own a wetsuit and I did the race in my wife’s wetsuit.
“I really wasn’t looking forward to it and everyone else looked like experts at the start of the race. But, in the end, I actually found it okay.
“It was challenging, especially all the jellyfish towards the end of the swim near the island off Shieldaig. It was like jellyfish soup and I got lots of stings on my face.
“But I was pleased to finish in the top 15.”
Eilidh, who was fourth out of the water, described the swim as “traumatic”. She said: “The waves at times were huge and I couldn’t see any other swimmers. There were also so many jellyfish all around.
“I am a good swimmer and I was thinking about how hard it would be for many other people. I didn’t even have time to think about how cold the sea was. I just tried not to panic and to keep going.”
Eilidh was only a couple of minutes slower in this year’s swim compared to last year.
A very windy bike ride
Eilidh, who is a contracts supervisor for an energy company, described the bike section as “unbelievably windy”. She said: “I am used to cycling in Scottish weather but it was crazy windy, with gusts from the side and a strong head wind at times.
“I tried to relax as much as I could – as mad as that might sound – because I knew there was no point in trying to fight the wind and become frustrated by it.
“I just did what I could. It was incredibly tough but I actually felt good.”
Eilidh completed the ride in 06:26:05, which was 20 minutes faster than 2021. She was the fastest female cyclist in this year’s CELTMAN! and she believes she completed one of the fastest female bike rides in the race’s history.
For experienced cyclist Ross, the bike ride was the part he was most looking forward to. He completed a strong cycle of 05:46:50.
Ross said: “My aim for CELTMAN! was to survive the swim, ride a solid bike course and hang on in the run. It was a hard ride with a brutal headwind at times but I enjoyed it.
“I quickly overtook a few other men who had been faster in the swim and then at Poolewe I found myself in the lead. I didn’t expect this at all because I had no experience of triathlon.”
In fact Ross, who was riding a borrowed time trial bike, was the fastest cyclist in this year’s race and headed into the run with a half hour lead over the runner up Robin Downie.
A tough low-level run
Ross decided he would run a steady final part of the CELTMAN! He said: “I knew I had some time in hand and I went steady rather than trying any heroics.
“I think I was the third fastest runner in the end and Robin did close the gap during the run but I was fairly confident I would win from the start of the run.
“The toughest part was the trail between Liathach and Beinn Eighe in Glen Torridon when we had strong wind, sleet and hail but the scenery is so amazing and inspiring and that helped mentally.
“When I crossed the finish line first it was an amazing feeling. I had no expectations for my race because I had no experience of one before but I think I will now do CELTMAN! again. I also won a slot at another extreme triathlon race, Norseman, and I might think about doing that, too.”
Ross revealed that manages only around six to eight hours of training a week, which he fits around working full time as an instructor at Scottish National Outdoor Training Centre Glenmore Lodge and caring for two small children with his wife Jess.
He was only around a minute outside the course record for the low-level CELTMAN!
He said: “I am very grateful to my support crew including Jess and my mum Maggie on the bike section. I think Jess had a harder day than me looking after my needs and also our young children at the same time.
“Also Torridon is a special place for Jess and I because we were married in the same hall where the CELTMAN! was based.”
Meanwhile, Eilidh found the run more challenging on the low-level course this year compared to the mountain route of 2021. She said: “I much prefer running in the mountains than lower-level trails although it was still an amazing run route.
“It felt so humbling being in such an amazing landscape and I thought a lot about how privileged I am to be able to take part in an event in such an incredible location.
“I tried hard to get the right nutrition in when I came off the bike but I lacked energy. It had been a difficult bike ride. The wind was strong at different parts of the running course and, at times, it was hard to stay upright.
“Then Robin, who is a friend, came past me and gave me a big cheer and it suddenly helped me. I tried to hang on to him, which proved to be a good incentive to up my pace. I am also thankful to my sister’ Kerry’s fiancé Idwer for his running support.
“I am very grateful to all my support crew, including my dad and my other sister Kerry. They cheered me on and kept me going.
“It’s a brilliant race and very different from anything else. It feels like you are part of an amazing community and you are racing in such a special place. I love taking part and the win is just an extra bonus.”
Results of CELTMAN! 2022
With the high level run course closed, all athletes who reached T2a (mountain safety cut-off) by 4pm were awarded a coveted blue T-shirt and those who reached it by 6pm were awarded the white T-shirt.
Some 88 athletes were rewarded with the blue shirts, while 54 athletes got a white shirt. Twenty-eight athletes didn’t finish.