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One.Tel Hebridean Challenge 2003
Once again Sula Sgeir were the only local team in the Hebridean Challenge. Our new girl Helen Copeland prepared for the race by spending a month in Alaska climbing all 20,320 feet of Mt Mackinlay (the highest mountain in North America). Now that is what I call serious "high altitude training"! The resulting frostbitten toes only proved to be a minor handicap!
Many thanks to our sponsors - without their help we would almost certainly not be in the race! We received financial assistance from local companies Nessglaze Ltd and D.R. Macleod, food from Stornoway Coop, a minibus courtesy of Mackinnon Self Drive and one nights accomodation from Stuart of Borrowston, Carloway.
The hospitality provided by the local Community Associations was once again outstanding - for me the combination of excellent food, great organisation and a COOKED BREAKFAST meant that Carinish Hall just shaded it in the best hall competition (if they had provided a main meal for us carnivores they would have won easily!).
Once again, many thanks to all of the above - your support is much appreciated.
The new team worked well together, making it an exceptionally easy week from a team dynamics perspective. However, everything else about the race was tough - the race format and structure was changed significantly from previous year's but we we only found this out four days before the race started - far too late to change our training schedules to suit! This meant that the race I had trained for (based on eight previous adventure races in the Hebrides) was not the race I had to run. Where were all the hill runs? What used to be a team relay race had mutated into some sort of moorland marathon with too many epic legs. Even the land based team members sometimes didn't see each other for hours on end! Individual Time Trials were deemed to be more important than the race itself with teams not being allowed to double up or split the road bike time trial. Teams were actually penalised for splitting the MTB time trial and, worse still, to increase the relative importance of swimming and road biking, actual times were multiplied by 105% on swimming and 102% on biking legs. Which meant that theoretically the winning team might not have been fastest across the course - bizarre! Surely, the fastest team should be the winners?
Much was made of how this was being done to increase the team aspect of the race - but from our point of view it had exactly the opposite effect. We were forced to keep our strongest MTB rider out of the time trial and take the time penalty for splitting the leg in two because it was the only way we could prevent two people having nothing to do except drive a van all day! Not my idea of making it more of a team race.
Despite moving the race into June at SNH's request to avoid disturbing nesting birds, the route managed to ignore all the new mountains available to us. In fact, only two hills were used in Lewis and North Harris (Sron Ulladale and Uisgnebhal Mhor) and they were incorporated into a single 20 mile run from Morsgail (Lewis) to Ardasaig (Harris). Having to run the best part of a half marathon just to get to the first hill was a new experience!
Race briefings were even more frustrating, seemingly endless and indecisive meetings led to carefullly prepared race plans being abandoned because of some "clarification" of the rules - not so much clarified as muddied!
Too much time was spent which in the end did not count towards the race total - paddlers particularly were affected by this but so were the runners - Jim ran 17 miles on the third day only to have his time discounted because Helen and I took longer to reach the end of the day than he did.
Despite these problems, we successfully completed the course in 9th place. A fantastic team performance against teams of internationally renowned athletes! It also meant that Murdy and I had maintained our record of having entered and completed all nine adventure races to have been held in the Outer Hebrides. Well done Team Sula Sgeir!
I gather that - despite the above negative thoughts - my team mates are already planning to enter next years race. So I would like to know now - do I have to train to run 20 miles or 20 hills or both?
Ode to Murdie and Team Sula Sgeir
U can hear them say he's a hell of a bloke,
There's one thing for sure he'll never give up,
This put Murty in a hell o' a guddle,
(By team poeat laureates Dawn and Kendy)