After many months of training and worries about the Artemis Great Kindrochit Quadrathlon, I took it on and loved it.
The Artemis Great Kindrochit Quadrathlon is like no other event I have ever seen or entered â€“ and sets a tough challenge in and on the shores of Loch Tay, Perthshire.
Indeed, completing each of the four sports, an open water swim of 1350m, a hike/run of seven Munros, a seven-mile loch kayak and a 35-mile round loch road cycle, individually would be a feat for many people.
It was the seven mountains that most worried me. The total ascent of these Munros â€“ thatâ€™s Scottish mountains with a summit of at least 3,000ft â€“ is 8087ft.Â Thatâ€™s almost the same a hiking the UKâ€™s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, twice.
The longest ascent is the first Munro, Meall Greigh, from 338ft to 3284ft, while the highest point on the 15-mile walk is Ben Lawers at almost 4000ft.Â Having walked just six of the Munros in one outing during training, without completing the swim, kayak and cycle, had been exhausting.
But on the day, the entire event was incredibly uplifting. It took my partner G and I more than 11 hours to complete the quadrathlon and we were very tired by the end but we also thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and the atmosphere.
The day before the quad
I am familiar with triathlons and have set up my kit in the transition areas many times before. Making sure all the right kit was in the right place for the quadrathlon was far more complicated.
Each entrant was given a bag for each transition area (between the swim and hike, the hike and kayak and the kayak and bike). I spent ages working out what to place in each zone and what I might need if the weather was hot, cold, wet or windy.
Even so, I still woke with a start the next day at 3am because I had suddenly remembered that Iâ€™d forgotten to place my cycling gloves in the pre-kayak transition zone. I worried, for the next three hours, about sore hands from a seven-mile paddle.
Just before the swim I thankfully remembered a small dry bag and decided to carry my gloves in the bag inside my wetsuit.
All participants are also tested on their navigational skills and their kit list for the Munros rucksack is thoroughly checked.Â Safety is important during the Kindrochit Quadrathlon for obvious reason and it is vital that everyone has the correct equipment.
G and I passed all this with flying colours although I heard that many participants didnâ€™t.
On the day of the quad
Almost 350 people lined up at the start of the Kindrochit Quadrathlon on 12 July. Most were racing in pairs, while some had chosen the relay option. There were two waves of swimmers, the first at 6am and the second at 7am.
The aim was to make it to the opposite shore and swim times varied from 21 minutes to more than double that.Â Luckily, although Loch Tay is infamously cold, a few weeks of warmer weather meant it wasnâ€™t as numbingly chilly as Iâ€™d expected.
Sighting was tough, however, and the number of swimmers who careered into me and over me hampered my progress across the loch.Â I had to stop several times to work out where I was and to adjust the checkpoint timing dibber attached to my wrist. It had an annoying habit of flicking over and over as I swam each stroke.
I exited the swim a few minutes ahead of G, as we had predicted, and headed to the transition area where most people were doing full clothing changes.Â This is also very different from triathlons. Most people stay in their trisuits and simply pull off their wetsuit before heading off to bike and then run.
It was difficult at the quadrathlon T1 zone to avoid seeing naked bodies! However, everyone was happy to excuse each otherâ€™s nudity and simply get on with finding dry and warm clothes for the Munros section.
Gâ€™s quicker transition change meant we were ready to head out together to climb the first Munro.
Seven Munros and a lot of cloud
It had been warm and sunny for days before the event and the next day turned out bright again but the quadrathlon took place in overcast and wet conditions.Â We were prepared for this although many others were not â€“ and I think this is where we had an advantage.
The key factors to reaching the checkpoints on the top of each of the Ben Lawyers summits were preparation, hill fitness, wet weather clothing and navigation.
While the route over these fabulous Scottish mountains is fairly easy to see in clear conditions, when the clouds came down and the rain came on, a map and compass were essential.Â This was especially true between Munros five and six, Beinn Ghlas and Meall Corranaich.
Many people became disoriented or lost as they attempted to descend the shoulder of Beinn Ghlas. Others decided not to continue with the Munros and went straight on to the kayak section at this point.Â I was thankful that Gâ€™s excellent map reading skills saved us from any wasted extra miles (as were the dozen or so participants who followed us in a long line from Munro five to six!).
But there was still the seventh Munro to summit and it proved to be a beast.Â Before Meall Nan Tarmachan, the quadrathlon route descends almost to loch level and then climbs again to 3500ft.Â There is no path and the climb seemed to go relentlessly on and on. I almost hugged the checkpoint team (manned by MRT volunteers, among others) in delight at the top before turning round for the descent.
The downs by this point felt worse than the ups and it was easier to run than to hobble-walk.
The slog of a seven-mile kayak
It was with huge relief that we reached transition two, swapping hiking kit for kayaking clothes and a buoyancy aid. Again, I did a full clothing change!Â The amazing support teams cheerily fed us pasta and cake and handed us bottles of energy drinks and water before giving us a push out into Loch Tay.
But there was something missing.
With so many sports to train for we had managed only 30 minutes of kayak practiceÂ and this showed in our efforts to paddle the seven miles. WeÂ lacked style, efficiency and ability and had to grit our teeth to paddle through shoulder and back pain while seemingly making very slow progress.
It took us a hard-fought 90 minutes to make it from transition two back to the event HQ and into transition three.
A ride around Loch Tay
Another full change into dry cycle clothing offered a little relief but it was short-lived. After swimming, hiking, running and kayaking, my legs seemed to have lost the ability to function normally.Â I could hardly walk let alone contemplate pedalling the undulating roads around Loch Tay.
For some reason, G suddenly felt fine. This meant he was able to encourage me forwards, even when I was almost crying for mercy.Â Small hills that would normally be easy to ascend felt like steep Alpine passes and flat sections were frustratingly slow.
Yet, incredibly, we passed many riders and caught up with another team pair.Â The four of us cycled together until close to the end when I, with a huge surge of adrenaline, found I could sprint for the finish line.
TheÂ quad â€“ part five
The Artemis great Kindrochit Quadrathlon is not over until pairs have sliced a watermelon in half with a sword. Itâ€™s a strange thing to do but, at the end, it felt very satisfying.
G and I sliced out watermelon with pure joy â€“ before sinking into seats to enjoy a well-earned beer.
The quad results
Amazingly, G and I came home 17th team and second mixed (male/female) team in a time of 11 hours and 16 minutes.
The overall winners were Jonathan MacNeal and Angus Thomson in an impressive 9:42. The winning female team, Janine Inman and Heather Hartman, took just under 11 hours to finish. Â Just behind were first placed mixed team pair Andrew and Kirsty Ferguson in 11:02.
On the day, onlyÂ 16 people didnâ€™t finish. Some 44 participants bailed after the fifth Munro but still completed the kayak and bike section to become silver finishers.
The slowest pair took 16 hours and 32 minutes and received a huge cheer at 10.30pm from finishers and spectators.
I was hugely impressed by the organisation of this event, as well as the support teams, catering and entertainment. I am even more impressed by the funds raised for the two charities, Mercy Corps and Maryâ€™s Meals.Â So far, 14 Kindrochit Quadrathlon events have raised more than Â£6million for these two great causes.
Before the event, I’d thought the cost of Â£150 early bird and Â£220 per person to enter was too much.Â Afterwards I would say itâ€™s amazing value for money. The entire weekend of camping, food, entertainment, as well as the event, is included in this cost.
If you are looking for an amazing and challenging event next year seeÂ www.artemisgreatkindrochit.com. Early bird prices of Â£180 per person in a pair or Â£120 per person in a relay team ends on 31 August 2014. We think we might be back…