The Celtman! Extreme Scottish Triathlon lived up to its name when extreme weather hit on Saturday evening. While the race, which includes a 3.4km sea loch swim, 202km bike ride and a 42km run, took place in mostly calm and sunny conditions, there was also high temperatures and humidity, plus the potential for a thunderstorm.
A major storm, plus lightning, arrived just as some of the athletes were running the high level route of Beinn Eighe mountain range in Torridon. This meant that safety teams had to make a number of quick decisions that changed the dynamic of the race and ultimately saw athletes completing one of five variations of the course.
In the end, four athletes completed the full course, including the full high-level mountain route. This comprised 18km off-road on the foothills of Beinn Eighe and through the Coulin Estate, 15km off-road over the summits of the Beinn Eighe massif, then a 9km road run to the finish.
Another four athletes completed a course named “hill 1 + low course”. They did the first summit of Beinn Eighe and then had to get off the mountain due to lightning. These runners went on to complete what is known as the low-level run course.
There were another two categories created on the day. “Hill 1 + scree slope” and “Hill 1 + Road”. Those that didn’t meet the cut-off for the high-level course, completed the usual low level running route.
Paul McGreal, one of the race directors, says: “Celtman! 2023 was another tough one, but not for the usual reasons.
“The heat was unexpected and that made the early stages of the race pretty hard. The electrical storm that passed across Beinn Eighe during the run stage was particularly unfortunate in it’s timing.
“We tried hard to get as many people up the hill on the blue route as we could, but conditions were just too risky. It was such a huge shame given how spectacular the weather was for all except that hour or so. The storm means the race results are complex.”
Celtman! 2023 1st male: Ross Creber
It was a second triumph for Ross Creber, who had returned to the Celtman! to defend his title. The 35-year-old athlete from Aviemore, who is supported by RAB, finished in 11:29:38 and was ahead of runner up Robin Downie by almost an hour. He also set a record of 5:26 for the bike section.
Ross says: “I was super pleased with my win. Last year was my first time at Celtman! and it was big unknown. This year, I knew what to expect and I felt fairly strong going into the race.
“The conditions were also really good. The swim was in calm waters and there were not too many jellyfish. I did a similar time to last year and came out of the water in about 30th place.
“The bike is my strongest part of the race and it went really well. The roads were dry and there wasn’t much wind. Last year was wild and wet but this year I could go much faster. I really enjoyed the bike ride.
“I didn’t go out to set a record because you always need to make sure you have something left for the run in these sorts of events, but I was very pleased with my time.”
Ross had the support of Ian Stewart of Trail Running Scotland for the full run. He says: “It was great for morale to have Ian there right from the start. He felt the pressure of the running support because I came off the bike in first place but he did a great job.
“I ended up falling early on in the run and got a big gash in my knee. It wasn’t until the aid station that I could get it patched up. It was sore but I was running on adrenaline and managed to keep going.”
Ross was through the mountain section before the lightning hit. He says: “We could hear the storm above us but luckily we made it through before that happened. We were relieved not to be up high at that point.
“I was very pleased with my overall time and I was about half an hour shy of the overall course record. I think without the knee injury and the high temperatures, which did affect my ability to take on food and water, I might have been closer to setting a record and I am keen to come back to try again.”
Ross was also delighted for runner up Robin, who is a friend. Ross says: “Robin and I have raced together as a team in the Scottish Islands peaks Race. It was great to see him doing well in the Celtman!, too.
“Celtman! is a brilliant race and because the weather was so good this year, there were plenty of supporters out on the course. The local people and the race crews made for a great atmosphere and it was very helpful psychological to have everyone cheering you on.”
Celtman! 2023 1st female: Claire Weller
Among the athletes who finished the “Hill 1 + Scree Slope” course were the top three women, Claire Weller, Kaja Bergwitz-Larsen and Estera Zak. Claire, 33, of Edinburgh, had to race hard to finish in a time of 13:08:56, just four minutes ahead of Kaja.
They met the cut-off for the high level running course, however they were then turned down a scree slope, a half mile from the second summit. Claire says: “We could hear lots of thunder when we were crossing the ridge so we were quite glad to get off.”
Claire spent a lot of the race – the bike and the run – battling with Kaja. She went into the bike hard. She says: “Having overtaken a couple of females within the first 10 miles, I didn’t catch up with the lead female until around 30 miles. I overtook her, but she came with me.
“Knowing it was too early in the day to ‘race’ I stuck to my race plan, focused on myself and settled in, not worrying about it.
“We rode together until around 85 miles, which is when I decided I wanted to try to get some time into her and make a gap to give me some breathing space for starting the run.
“I put my head down and went for it. Thankfully she didn’t come with me and my legs were feeling good, so I kept pushing all the way back into T2.”
However, it wasn’t until the final stages that Claire was sure she would win. She says: “There was a technical descent on the mountain and back to the road and I managed to create a bit of a gap with Kaja. With still 7km to run on the road to the finish line, it wasn’t until the last 1km that I knew I had the win.”
It was Claire’s first Celtman! and her first experience of an XTRI race. The Celtman! Is part of the XTRI World Tour. However, she has also been successful at other long distance triathlons including winning Outlaw Full Nottingham last year and a third place at the Spanish Long Distance Championship.
Claire describes her Celtman! Race. She says: “The swim mostly went well but I took the second island a little wide, which I think cost me time. Apart from that the conditions were amazing with calm waters and the temperatures not as bad as expected.
“I loved every moment of the bike ride. It was an awesome course with some nice climbs followed by some really fast descents. The wind behaved itself as well. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
“Then came the run and I went through a few highs and lows. I struggled on the first half to get settled into a pace, then felt nauseous and dizzy heading up hill one on the second half. Thankfully, I managed to get my second, third and fourth wind to get to the end and finish strong.
“It was all good learning to take away to review my nutrition strategy and what might have caused this.”
Claire also has thanks for her support runner who stepped in to help when her original support runner pulled out due to injury. She says: “I lost my support runner a few weeks before the Celtman! due to injury. Thankfully, the Celtman! community came together and someone volunteered to run with me. He did a great job and I am very thankful to him.”
Claire adds: “I am over the moon to win Celtman!. The whole thing was incredible, but the descent back into Kinlochewe on the bike was something else. Also, I loved the overall sense of achievement I got crossing the finish line when I realised what I’d just done.
“I would highly recommend the Celtman to anyone thinking about entering the ballot.”
Celtman! 2023 results
To enter the ballot for next year’s race, keep an eye on the Celtman! website.