Celtman – Mirjam Allik
Photo credit to Alligin Photography
The idea of doing the Celtman was planted in my head by Neill from Lomond triathletes.
After the 2016 Loch Loman he suddenly, quite out of the blue, told me that I should sign up for Celtman and then volunteered to be my support runner. I was listening with my jaw half open as he seemed to be signing me up for the race. I believe I suggested he did it himself if he was so eager. I was vaguely aware of the Celtman, Kay and Helen had done it, Emma was doing it soon, and many in the club are quite passionate about iron distance races. I remember Alasdair showing up for Tuesday run one fall evening with his Welsh dragon IM tattoo and telling how it had always been his dream. Let me be clear, I had no desire to do an ironman.
Like many others, I followed Emma’s progress towards the event that year, her great result on the day and the adventures in France that followed. And while she always maintained that it was tough and hard, she also described how exciting it all was. It was the latter that was also visible from her face, a gleeful grin I’d even say. All that excitement made me look at the event video. I may have watched that video a bit too many times for my own good…
In September my chosen conversation topic on the way to work with Ty revolved solely around Celtman. Was it not the coolest thing ever? How awesome were those who did it? Do you think I could do it? Should I do it? Eventually it wore Ty out and he told me to sign up, probably thinking that otherwise he’d never hear the end of it. His exact words were: “I think you have already convinced yourself you want to do it.”
After the congratulations and commiserations of getting on the start list there were two main tasks to solve: 1. Get a support runner, 2. Get a plan. As Neill had already suggested he would support me, I asked him first, but having signed up for Arranman he had to decline. I turned to Dave, an experienced orienteer and hill runner. Dave also has three strong and independent daughters, one of whom represents Scotland and the UK in orienteering. So, I figured that in addition to being strong on the run, he’d probably also know how to deal with me if I threw a tantrum on a hill. Dave was reluctant, but did not say no. I was hoping that now that the idea of running over two munros had been planted in his head, he could not shake it out. I was right.
For the training plan, I turned to John. Everyone knows that you will have to put in long hours to train for an event like this, but exactly how to build the efforts, when to push and pull back is a different question and I needed help with that. John was upfront about my strengths and weaknesses, which allowed me to focus on things that needed the most attention. And so, the work began.
The winter seemed endless and a lot of the time training felt like shooting darts in the dark, not really knowing if you were getting anywhere. The long rides and runs on the weekend were exhausting and I wondered how on earth was I going to do two or three times as much on a single day. There were Monday mornings where getting myself into the pool was difficult because my legs refused to squat. But I knew that I would feel better if I did and threw myself in the water. It’s one thing to dream of doing the Celtman, but something else to actually work for it. The training quickly brought me down to earth. But spring came and with it the (shock) realization that I was getting in shape. Returning to some regular routes showed I was running my best times ever. My swimming had also moved up a notch and I was managing the long bike rides well.
And then there was a week of horrors. An accident left me injured and more unhinged than I initially realized. I tried to keep things normal, but they were not. It was 20 degrees, sunny, windless and I was sweating away on the turbo, I just could not go out on the road. My knee hurt on impact, so I had to pool run or hill walk. In the pool I could not do 6×100 on 1.40 when just last week I’d done 10 on 1.35. Pulling my swimsuit down in the changing room, the scab on my hip came off with it. I was in pain, I should have taken a step back and let myself recover from what had happened. There were some tears.
To make matters worse, time seemed to speed up, it was already May and I needed to recce the course. The night before the cycle I was very tense and slept bad. I had not been on the road since the accident. But 7 am I got on the saddle and set off. I got on fine at first, but 160k in I’d had enough for the day. I wanted off the road. Ty said no and convinced me to get back on. I rode the whole course and the next day ran the high route. Looking back, this was an important turning point. I returned to normal training and to my surprise was able to pick up almost where I’d left off.
Finally, the day was upon me and in the words of the Boss it was time to take my best shot, see what I’ve got and bring on my “wrecking ball”. I felt excited, confident and I really, really wanted to do it. I put myself up in the frontline for the swim and got off to a good start. The waters were choppy and I swallowed some good gulps of seawater, but exited the water in a strong position, prompting the Adventure show to try to interview me in T1. Ty gently got them to give us some space and off I was on the bike – 1 hour into the race and exactly where I wanted to be.
But quite early on the bike I realized that this was going to be a long ride. I was being blown side to side by the wind as other competitors kept passing, passing and passing… It was going to be a battle. By telling myself that all hills end and kilometres will pass I made it to the final stretch of the course where the headwinds really hit everyone hard. I seriously contemplated getting off the bike and walking, but simple math told me that even pedalling at 10km/h on the flat is faster than walking in cycling shoes in the same conditions. And so, nearly seven and a half hours after I had started on the bike, T2 was finally here.
I was ready to run, but due to some mishaps I ended stuck in T2 for over 20 minutes. Supporters of other teams and the event staff were kind to come to my rescue, covering me with blankets, jackets and offering hot tea. Two women passed me while I waited, and dropped me to fourth. When I finally got going I was determined to catch them. I got back into second position about half way into Coulin Pass and overtook many male competitors. A German guy tried to stay with me, but then uttered “Uhh, you are too fast”. A couple of guys offered me some gels, while a third one said “she does not seem need them…” I was not feeling particularly fast, but looking back at the times, I was moving at a good pace. However, this also did its damage and the second stage of the run was going to be more difficult.
I had learned that the mountain had closed in T2 and given the conditions I was not surprised, but the low course was still 20+ hard kilometres away from finish. In the back of my mind was the fear that the women I’d passed would catch up with me and, feeling myself fade, I started questioning my abilities. I felt like I was not doing enough, not performing well enough. This is where having a support runner really made the difference. Dave helped me put things in perspective – we were still overtaking other competitors! And he also, made the right decisions – if I felt kind of cold, I needed to stop and put on dry clothes. He talked me through the last kilometres when I was getting really low on energy. Despite having kept to my eating plan, my body did not seem to be taking in any nutrients.
The sight of finish was a relief, almost bringing me to tears. I was so happy. Finishing second female gave cause for the Adventure show to try to interview me again and I agreed as long as they waited for Ty to get my Fusion T-shirt out of the car. I don’t quite remember what I told them, something about loving adventures, at the same time thinking I was going to pass out in front of the camera. My head was spinning. When you see the interview, please remember that there was no sugar left in my blood at that point.
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