Ten Tips for Scrambling on Skye09/03/2021
ROAD TO THE CELTMAN TRIATHLON
AUTHOR | LYNN GATHERER
Never be afraid to dream. Take one step at a time, implement the training and you can stand on the start line, the fear rising in your chest and the adrenaline coursing through your veins. You look over dark seas hiding the blooms of jellyfish, another 250 wetsuit clad bodies all anxiously awaiting the day they too have been dreaming of – The Celtman Triathlon.
It’s been a long and steady road, sometimes it meandered and sometimes it was a superfast highway. I began with a love for the Scottish mountains. My husband introduced me to climbing and I spent many weekends hanging off the end of a rope and hauling myself up frozen waterfalls. This unknowingly gave me a natural affinity for endurance sports and therefore when I began running after my son was born, I gravitated towards the long and steady races. Another child followed and as we were both unable to leave the children, my husband lost his climbing partner and I had to look elsewhere for my adrenaline hit. I quickly developed a love for road biking and was persuaded to join my local triathlon club where I was introduced to the long course triathlon.
Being inspired by fellow club mates, my training became more disciplined and I entered my first Ironman. Coinciding with this, my brother completed the Celtman Triathlon in 2015. This was a race I had previously heard of and it seemed to be for the seriously ‘hard’ athletes! A less sanitized version of the Ironman, with no support points, an A to B swim through the cold sea loch of Shieldaig and an impossibly hilly run which would be an achievement in completing in itself. I thought I would never reach the standard to race the Celtman Triathlon. I was too afraid to even dream.
In 2016 I took on Austria Ironman. As I stood in the holding pen I remember standing up on the railings and scanning the thousands of competitors, “take it all in, enjoy this moment” I thought. The atmosphere of support and the red carpet finish of an Ironman is an experience which lives up to its reputation. It’s a huge organisational circus but you can’t deny the smile you get when you cross the finish line and the booming American voice announces – ‘Lynn Gatherer YOU are an Ironman!’
Training for a long course triathlon is time-consuming. With the three disciplines and strength and conditioning work, it does take its toll on family life. As a result, my husband Graeme and I started a tag team – one year I would complete a large event and the following year would be his turn. Two years after my Austrian Ironman year, Graeme trained for and completed the Celtman Triathlon. Watching him train and then being part of his support team cemented my desire to complete the race. However, year on year the global appeal of the Celtman grows and the possibility of a place on the start line becomes tighter for this relatively small race. I entered the ballot, and in November I received the email confirming I would be racing the iconic Celtman.
Scotland is a fantastic natural training camp. Throughout this year I completed some amazing races such as the Salomon Ring of Steall Skyrace – an arduous circuit on challenging terrain, scrambling over mountain ridges and airy traverses. I also completed the Braveheart Triathlon placing ‘third female’ and first in my age group, this race plays to my strength of mountain running and finishes with an ascent of Ben Nevis. I completed the Devil of the Highlands and the Highland Fling which are endurance races along sections of the West Highland Way. This year was all about strengthening my mental resolve during races as well as my physical endurance.
As soon as I knew I had my spot for the Celtman Triathlon my training ramped up and became far more specific. Having seen a handful of friends and family complete the iconic race I knew exactly how my training should be shaped and what lay ahead. The bike route is long, hilly and notoriously exposed. Starting from November I logged many more miles on the bike and immediately increased my long cycle to cover 100 miles. This is undoubtedly the single most important aspect of training, the long ride and building cycle endurance and strength. Once the warmer weather arrived in April I took to my local loch to become accustomed to the cold water temperatures that I would face during the swim. Initially, due to the freezing water, swim time was limited, but week after week I acclimatized as the water temperature rose. My swim training peaked with an exciting Mull to mainland swim where I was introduced to the intimidating lion jellyfish as well as the beautiful moon variety, both are notoriously plentiful on the Celtman swim course.
As the Celtman Triathlon is considered early season in June, I was very fortunate to have a mild winter which enabled long bike days. Memorable training rides included the classic three pistes route and the Deeside loop taking in the Grampian snow roads.
As the race approached training was relentless. Some days saw me finish my working day and then head off into the hills to run several Munros, a late dinner and then a 5 am wakeup call to swim 3 kilometres in the loch while my husband provided safety cover on the SUP board. My family were always supportive. They all knew what this race meant to me and they spent many weekends following me in the campervan whilst I cycled for most of the day. My training peaked at about 25 hours per week.
During the height of training, I was fortunate to get the opportunity to attend a sports science lab at the University of Highlands and Islands in Inverness and take part in a series of sports physiology tests. This was filmed by the BBC Adventure show and they produced an extended edition covering the lab trials and the race itself.
Once I began my taper I was able to reflect on my training and really begin to mentally prepare. At this point, I had recced the route many times and for me, this was vitally important as it would minimize race day nerves. With the large detail of training dealt with I was able to now focus on the minutiae. The race manual was poured over and my support crew were briefed.
Initial transition preparations didn’t go to plan. At Portree harbour and with an international audience, Graeme pulled me off the camping chair and unceremoniously dumped me on the stony beach whilst attempting to remove my wetsuit. Tried and tested race nutrition, as well as various all-weather race outfits, were gathered together. Although this race is held in June the Scottish summer is notoriously fickle and many a Celtman has suffered due to the cold rain and wind. These last few days are always such a mix of emotions. I always ask simply for the race I deserve.
So then it was, a mild drizzly June morning at 5 am, I was standing on the start line, the blazing triskele glowing against the brightening sky and the safety boats bobbing in the dark water of loch Shieldaig. The blooms of jellyfish awaited.
15 hours and 9 minutes later I too am a Celtman.
Massage therapist, ultra-runner, cyclist, open water swimmer – Celtman;
Lynn Gatherer is a keen amateur athlete. Alongside her husband Graeme, she manages to fit her training and racing around raising their young children and future athletes Struan and Mairi.