New record for Celtman! Extreme Triathlon

Johan crosses the line in a record breaking time. Photograph: Steve Carter

How did Johan Hasselmark take 30 minutes off the record time for what’s claimed to be the world’s most extreme triathlon?

Those that have raced such events, including the Norseman in Norway, report that the Celtman! Extreme Scottish Triathlon is the world’s toughest. The distances equate to an Ironman event, but the conditions and terrain make it far harder than an “ordinary” Ironman.

The extreme off-road ironman-style event takes place in the Torridon and Shieldaig area of Wester Ross.

Participants  begin with a swim of 3.8km in the freezing and jellyfish ridden waters of Loch Shieldaig. They must then ride 202km on Highland roads with a total ascent of 2,000m.

To finish, there is a marathon distance run of 26.2 miles that takes in two Beinn Eighe Munros, Spidean Coire nan Clach (993m) and Ruadh-stac Mor (1010m).

Added stress is provided by the “cut-off”. To complete the high route over the Munros and achieve the coveted blue t-shirt finish, triathletes need to meet a stringent cut-off point 11 hours after starting the swim, which is half way through the run. If they  miss the cut-off time, there is a lower level route to run, which, in itself, is very tough.

“All in all, the Celtman! is an extremely challenging event,” says Paul McGreal, the founder of the race and the owner of organising company, Durty Events. “People who have raced similar events, like the Norseman,  around the world reckon the Celtman! is the hardest.

“I think it’s because the conditions are so unpredictable, the loch is so cold, the bike ride is so hard and the run is on difficult terrain. Even without the two Munros it would be a very hard ironman-style event, but with those two mountains thrown in it is an immense challenge.”

Swedish athlete smashes Celtman! record

At the third Celtman! Johan Hasselmark, of Stockholm, finished 30 minutes faster than the previous record in a time of 11hrs 41mins and 30s.

Johan on the final stretch of the run route. Pic credit: Steve Carter

Paul says: “He ran an incredible race. The weather was more favourable this year but we added 1km to the run distance and Johan still smashed the previous record by an amazing 30 minutes. This is very impressive. He was also some 20 minutes ahead of second-placed Chris Stirling.”

Johan, 35, who was second in 2013, is delighted with his win. He says: “I really liked this race last year and although I am not a triathlete I took second place in my first attempt. Obviously I wanted to come back to see if I could do better.”

A successful multi-day adventure racer, Johan reports that his best discipline is mountain running. He says: “I really enjoyed the mountain run in the Celtman! although I was worried that I would not be as fast as last year.

“When I started the section that heads steeply uphill, after the cut-off, I thought I wouldn’t have the energy to catch the front-runner. But it came good halfway up. I am also a good road cyclist so I knew that the combination of being a good cyclist and runner would help me in this extreme event. I have good endurance.”

Johan, who works in marketing in the sports industry, made use of all the extra neoprene that he could for the swim. He says: “It’s cold in the loch. But, then again, it’s cold in our Swedish lakes and so you have to be prepared for that. I wore neoprene boots, gloves and hat to try to guard against the worst of the cold. I enjoyed the race, although it is tough, and I am looking forward to taking up my winning prize, an entry to next year’s Norseman.”

Marie wins for the women

First female across the line was Marie Meldrum, of Fort William, in 14.22.36. She was more than 30 minutes ahead of the second woman and came home 24th overall. Only eight women made the cut-off for the higher level run route.

Marie, 38, says: “My aim was to be relaxed and calm and to enjoy this race. And this is what I did. I don’t think I pushed it too hard and the next day I felt great. Not really tired at all. I was thrilled to be the first female, too, and next year I’d like to come back and try for the record time set in 2012. It will be a big ask to knock almost half an hour off my time but I might try to do more run training next time.”

Marie, a teacher, reckons that she did not have enough time to train for all the disciplines. She says: “There is a lot to do, with the three sports and I much prefer the cycling to the swimming and running. I didn’t run more than two miles every day and while I did swim each morning before work it was the cycling that I did most of. I love long bike rides and I think this really helped me when it came to the event.”

Another blue t-shirt winner is Lee Vernett, another accomplished endurance cyclist. Lee, 41, of Kirkintilloch, completed the Tour de France route last year, and this year set herself the goal of the Celtman!.

The primary school teacher, who was eighth woman home in 16:47:46, says: “Celtman! was an epic adventure from the freezing temperatures and ghostly spectres of white jellyfish in the loch, through the ridiculously long bike ride, to the massive run. The fantastic scenery and my runner support really helped me to get through this event but it was still a very tough shift. It is days like this that make you feel most alive.”

Running the lower route

Not everyone made it to the cut-off in time to run the “high” route. Almost 50 of the participants ran the “lower” white t-shirt trail. Ryan Maclean finished in an overall time of 15.55.22. This was an hour and 40 minutes quicker than his personal best time at the Celtman!, recorded in 2012.

Ryan grins after the arduous Celtman!

Ryan grins after the arduous Celtman!

Ryan, a local competitor, says: “It’s a tough event and I’ve come back three times. Last year I had to pull out after the swim because I was too weak to continue. I’d had a chest infection prior to the event. This year, it was a case of unfinished business.

“I think I went off in the swim too fast and ended up feeling awful by the end. In the bike ride I suffered cramp but I kept going. In the final 20 miles of the bike ride I was gritting my teeth and pushing hard to get to the run transition. Then it was out on that tough run course. I might not have run over the high route but the lower trail is still extreme. It’s boggy, rocky and up and down and you can’t ever get a running rhythm going.”

Ryan, 29, who is an outdoors instructor at Torridon Hotel, was delighted to be able to compete on home terrain. He says: “It’s one of the hardest races on the planet and  it’s in my backyard. I love taking part, although it is hugely challenging.”

The Celtman! is entered through a ballot system so look out for details on how to register for 2015. See Celtman!

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