Top 10 Adventure Challenges in Scotland
It’s about this time of year that I start planning my goals for the year. Not New Year resolutions as such, but more miletones. Things that will give me a sense of achievement.
While I’ve been an active hillwalker for many years I recently took up running in Summer 2011 and trained 7 weeks for my first 10k race. Then last year my missus and I entered our first triathlon, the Cairngorm Adventure Triathlon. And in between times I started doing cycling and took up kayaking.
So that brings me to 2013 – what’s the next step(s) ? Clearly I’m not going to become an extreme athlete overnight (OK, make that ever) but with a bit of training there’s lots more I could achieve, right ? So with some vague ambitions in mind I started researching the more adventurous challenges and races in Scotland, both single- and multi-sport.
Choosing a definitive Top 10 is no easy matter. There are at least another 10 I shortlisted but have left out – and probably countless more that I simply don’t know about. There’s a fairly full programme of running races, triathlons, cycle sportives and so on all year round. (Please leave me a comment if you have any good suggestions you think should be included). I’m not saying these are necessarily the hardest challenges, nor are they all similar (some are single-activity races only). But I do think they’re pretty representative of the most well-known and appealing adventure challenges. So, here goes …..
10. TGO Challenge (May)
The 34th annual TGO Challenge, a non-competitive coast-to-coast walk across Scotland, takes place on 10 – 24 May 2014. It’s a popular event that starts from 12 locations on the west coast and finishes between Fraserburgh to Arbroath on the east coast, with a final evening ‘bash’ in Montrose where everyone joins up to swap stories. Entrants are limited to 300 each year and the routes are typically around 180 miles long (assistance with route planning is available).
I’m a long-time reader of TGO Magazine so have known about the Challenge for some time. But anyone new to this should start by listening and/or watching Bob Cartwright’s podcasts of the 2011 (and previous) TGO Challenge(s) on the Outdoors Station, which give a really good flavour of the highs and lows of the Challenge.
9. Cairngorm Adventure Triathlon (September)
- With my better half we’re hoping to take part in the Cairngorm Adventure Triathlon in 2013 again after dipping our toes in the water (literally !) last year. I reckon experienced triathletes may scoff at this event – it’s short, doesn’t involve any swimming and is a pretty informal, low-key event. But it does happen to take place among some of the best scenery in Scotland in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park – the environment is simply stunning.
The CAT is limited to 100 teams of two entrants. It involves a 3km Canadian canoe around Loch Morlich (canoes are provided), a 25km cycle along trails (including a short road section) and a 5km run around the loch to finish. Last year’s wind made for a slightly slower race (at least that’s my excuse ..!) so here’s hoping for a quicker time this year.
8. Corrieyairack Challenge (July)
The Corrieyairack Challenge is billed as Scotland’s toughest mountain duathlon, involving 17 miles on foot over the Corrieyairack pass from Fort Augustus to Garva Bridge then 26 miles on bike to Kincraig. Competitors must enter as teams of four, three participating and one acting as a steward. There are several categories available so you can choose whether you want to walk, run, cycle and/or mountain bike the route. The 2013 event takes place on 6th July and each year there’s a legendary evening ceilidh at the close of the Kincraig Fete.
7. Hebridean Challenge (September)
Not for the fainthearted, the Hebridean Adventure Challenge Race (or the “Heb”) is a multi-day, multi-sport race involving either teams of three or solos. It takes place in the Outer Hebrides starting in Barra along a secret route with checkpoints along the way. It involves a combination of mountain biking, running, sea kayaking and open water swimming with the specific challenges announced to the teams as the event unfolds. The emphasis is definitely on the challenges that participants face along the way. It’s not for novices – experience in all disciplines (including appropriate qualifications) is required. This year’s event takes place from 3 – 8 September.
6. Tay Descent (October)
The Tay Descent is a mass participation canoeing and kayaking event, as the name suggests, down the River Tay finishing at Perth. For some participants a national marathon canoeing event takes place, one of the highlights of the British Marathon Canoe Racing calendar and attracting competitors from as far as South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
The Tay Descent can be either a tour or a competitive long distance race and three different distance courses will be offered from 5 miles up to 23 miles in length – all finishing in Perth in the early afternoon. To round off the event there’s an evening ceilidh for all participants. The event coincides with the Annual Scottish Canoe and Kayak Show, Paddle 2010, and participants have access to the talks, workshops, manufacturer and retail stands.
5. Bealach Mor (September)
The Bealach Mor cycle race is a big one, involving a distance of 140km (90 miles) with 3000m of ascent – all in one day. But that’s not all. The route goes over the Bealach-na-Ba (the Pass of the Cattle), the UK’s highest mountain pass, climbing to 2053ft (626m) from sea level in just 6miles (10k). Just take a look at the route profile !!
The race starts in Kinlochewe and completes a circuit of the Applecross Peninsula surrounded by a fabulous unspoilt landscape with outstanding views of the sea and the hills. Most riders aim to finish the race in under 10 hours. The event takes place on 7th September 2013.
For those for whom this seems a little daunting, there’s also the Bealach Beag which is a 44 mile race. However, it also goes over the Bealach na Ba and so it’s a pretty tough challenge in its own right.
4. Scotland Coast to Coast (September)
The Scotland Coast to Coast endurance race sets the challenge of crossing Scotland from east to west (that’s Nairn to Ballachulish) in a weekend. The 2013 event takes place on 14 – 15 September. It involves cycling 80 miles, running 23 miles and kayaking 2 miles - just over 100 miles in all – and takes in some of the most iconic locations and amazing views in the Scottish Highlands: Loch Ness, the Great Glen, Ben Nevis and Glen Coe.
There are two categories in this adventure race: Challenger and Expert, with pairs or soloists equally welcome. Both categories race the same route, the only difference being that the Experts complete it in one day rather than two. Check out this great video of the race highlights.
3. West Highland Way Race (June)
The West Highland Way Race is a 95 mile, 14,760ft ascent trail race along the route of the West Highland Way long distance footpath. Participants start at Milngavie Railway Station (7 miles north of Glasgow) at 1am on Saturday 22nd June 2013 and run/jog/walk to Fort William Leisure Centre by noon on the Sunday 23rd June 2013 (35 hours).
Along the way you pass through checkpoints within time limits. In order to participate you must have your own motorised backup, consisting of at least two people, one of which must be capable of covering the last two sections with you (or find you) if assistance is required or during the hours of darkness. The male and female course records are 15:39 hours and 17:16 hours respectively.
2. City to Summit (June)
This is tough Iron-Distance triathlon that creates a stunning journey from Edinburgh’s Firth of Forth seashore to the summit of Ben Nevis. You can either choose to complete the full route in one day or take a more leisurely pace (!) over a two day weekend.The event involves a 2.4 mile open water swim across the Forth Estuary, a 112 mile cycle (9400 ft ascent) from North Queensferry to Glencoe (via Fife, Perthshire and the Highlands), then a 26.2 mile (marathon) offroad run up to the summit of Ben Nevis (8500 ft ascent). For those who don’t fancy the swim it can be raced as a duathlon.
1. Celtman! (July)
The Celtman is an extreme triathlon and British Triathlon’s Event of the Year 2012. It’s so extreme that it’s spelled CELTMAN! (not forgetting the exclamation mark of course). For those athletes who are tough or daft enough to attempt it, you’ll swim 3.8km across Loch Shieldaig, cycle 202km around the Shieldaig/Achnasheen peninsula and run 42km back to Torridon. And that final run includes traversing Beinn Eighe and two munro peaks.So there’s no doubt that this is a really, really tough race. In fact, the website warns competitors: “expect this to be one of the hardest days of your life“. You can get a sense of the character of the race in this Adventure Show TV programme.
By this point you may be wondering which of these adventure challenges I’m going to add to my list of 2013 goals. Well … I think the Cairngorm Adventure Triathlon for sure, plus I’m planning to run my first half marathon in May too. That, together with some kayaking, munro bagging and camping, should make for a pretty good set of outdoor pursuits.
I do think the Coireyairack Challenge and the Tay Descent look pretty appealing … but maybe for next year. I’m afraid most of the others are probably not for me (I’m the wrong side of 40 I’m afraid !!).