Colin Brooke – reporting on the Ben Nevis Braveheart Triathlon 17 September 2016

Sustenance and support on the longer distance events

(Warning; the elite racers amongst us might find some parts of this report disturbing)

Obviously the greater the distance or time out on an event the greater will be the amount of fuel we need. I have my own my simplistic way of working out what food to take and calculating how much, which probably boils down to ‘varied and plenty’. As the distance events usually start very early in the morning, often having to prepare before sunrise when our appetites are unlikely to be good, I try to eat a substantial meal during the evening before.

I did try the pasta party type approach at the Kalmar ironman in Sweden but found the polystyrene dish of pasta strips, with no more flavour than a bag of crisps, to be unappetising and difficult to eat. So I rely on my staple night before meal of fish and chips. And, as most of the long triathlon events I have done are at the seaside, I have had some very satisfying meals.

The Braveheart Tri, based in Fort William, would be another opportunity to try the local freshly caught sea fayre and I was looking forward to it as I drove through Glen Coe. What disappointment, where were the fish and chip shops of my previous visits during my fell running days of old? Gone? I eventually found one, but with only one other customer on a Friday night, it was not a good sign. I found a camping spot and ate the unappetising fish and chips before erecting my tent.

Feeling a bit queasy when I awoke at 4.30 in the morning I did not think I would manage any breakfast. Fortunately by the time I had packed up and prepared my equipment I felt a bit better and was able to eat my two pots of quick oats and a banana. This is my tried and tested breakfast before an early morning event.

As the skies began to lighten, a lone piper, standing on a raised mound, played while we squeezed ourselves into our swim outfits and prepared for battle before being led down the pathway to the start at the edge of Loch Linnhe.

I was soon trailing on the swim with the fast swimmers storming past before I had completed my first lap. Shortly into my second lap I felt some surface sea weed gathering on my arms and looking down I could see the sea bed through the lifeless water. ‘Aha’, I thought, ‘no fish, which could be the reason for my disappointment the evening before. Perhaps there isn’t a local catch’. However, this was not now my main concern as it occurred to me that the tide could be going out. The organiser must have accounted for the tide times and I was well within the stipulated cut off times. Surely, I wouldn’t get disqualified, it would hardly be my fault if the water ran out and I had to walk back.

With a slightly raised tempo I reached the water exit point and after creeping up the mat, standing upright and regaining some sort of balance, a marshal, who had witnessed my exit from the water, asked in a consolatory voice if I was now handing over to someone else. She had judged that I must be part of one of the relay teams. But who, with a view to completing the event, would consider selecting me as their team representative on the swim leg?

I made my way across the grass straight to my waiting bike. We were allowed to rack our bikes wherever we wanted and I had taken great care to select a spot which I could easily return to. I don’t really know why I had done this as by the time I reached transition there were hardly any bikes left to choose from. The organiser asked if I would like tea which he made in his tent while I changed and ate a couple of tuna mayonnaise baps, followed by a pot of rice pudding. ‘This is service’, I thought. ‘The two minute transition turn round guys wouldn’t have had a mug of tea prepared for them’.

Still feeling a bit cool I tried to put a bit of effort into my cycling in order to get some warm blood circulating when I felt the presence of a vehicle hovering about just behind me. As the Land Rover pick-up pulled alongside, then in front, I spotted a camera guy in the back filming me. This filming continued for some distance whilst I felt obliged to maintain my turn of speed in the interests of providing good film footage. Eventually, the vehicle moved on, waited in a lay-by and then continued filming in front of me. This was repeated numerous times over the outward 28 mile journey. I’d felt I had been elevated from just an also-ran to one of the stars of the event. Possibly the novelty act but nonetheless, a star. It was good to see the first of the cyclists returning as then I knew that I was getting somewhere near to the turn around. The leader raised his hand at me in acknowledgement of a fellow competitor, obviously secure in his opinion that I wasn’t any threat to him. The filming culminated with an interview at the turnaround point when the camera was thrust in front of me before I had opportunity to blow my nose and clear the mini muffins I had just loaded into my mouth.

The cycling section returned in reverse but now with a significant downward trend giving the opportunity to take in the picturesque surrounding countryside.

Bike to run often takes me a while to get moving properly. Fortunately, the initial part of the run takes in a very steady climb along a road before reaching the start of the Ben Nevis path. Jogging along the road, I spotted a young cyclist, probably about six or seven years of age, approaching me. Just as he was passing he put up his thumb and called out ‘you can do it’. With such confidence in me I felt I could not let him down.

At the end of the road I grabbed more supplies from the refreshment point before setting off up the track to the top of the Ben. Coming towards me this time  was the race leader, having already conquered the mountain and was way ahead of anyone else. As he approached, he raised his hand for a high five. I had to make a split second decision. Did I miss high fiving a super hero or did I hang on to my supplies? This conundrum resulted in me offering up a fist full of mini muffins to him.

The almost clear skies with only small amounts of cloud drifting around the top had attracted hundreds of walkers out onto the Ben Nevis climb. Having to negotiate the people was a bit tedious in parts but was a distraction that kept my mind occupied. After passing the last timed cut off point with a couple of hours to spare, it was just a matter of enjoying the trip to the top and a steady jog back down again and along the road to the finish

Although the summit was quite busy with the walkers, I managed to pick out the marshals in their hi-vis jackets. They even had some food to offer, no mini muffins this time, but choice between blue berries and pork pie. As I mentioned earlier, it is best to carry some of your own food, just in case.

Shortly after starting the descent I was began to feel a bit light headed and lacked concentration. This is where my backup strategy comes into play as I always like to have a small bottle of Lucozade Original in my bag for use towards the end of a long event. If I drink this inside the last hour or two it seems to work wonders for me, almost with immediate effect and together with a couple more tuna mayonnaise baps and a kit kat I was soon feeling in good form for the rocky descent with the views over Glen Nevis. A final stretch of road, a few footpaths and I was back to finish at the side of the Loch. I also managed to make up a few more places on the run, in addition to those on the cycle section.

It was a great low key event with super support and fairly generous cut-off times. I’d recommend it to anyone wanting a middle distance triathlon challenge in beautiful surroundings.