The Celticman! Extreme Scottish Triathlon lived up to his name when extreme weather struck on Saturday night. While the race, which includes a 3.4km swim in the marine lake, a 202km bike ride and a 42km run, took place in mostly calm and sunny conditions, there were also high temperatures and humidity, plus the possibility of a thunderstorm.
A huge storm, as well as lightning, came just as some of the athletes were running the high level route of the Beinn Eighe mountain range in Torridon. This meant that the safety teams had to make a series of quick decisions that changed the dynamics of the race and ultimately saw the athletes complete one of five variations of the course.
In the end, four athletes completed the full course, including the full high-level mountain route. This comprised 18km off-road in the Beinn Eighe foothills and through the Coulin Estate, 15km off-road over the peaks of the Beinn Eighe massif, then a 9km road race to the finish.
Four other athletes completed a course called “hill 1 + low course”. They made the first summit of Beinn Eighe and then had to come down the mountain due to lightning. These runners completed what is known as the low level race.
There were two other categories created on the day. “Hill 1 + scree slope” and “Hill 1 + Road”. Those who did not meet the cutoff for the high level course completed the usual low level race route.
Paul McGreal, one of the race directors, says: “Celtman! 2023 was another tough one, but not for the usual reasons.
“The heat was unexpected and that made the early stages of the race quite tough. The thunderstorm that passed Beinn Eighe during the run was particularly unfortunate at the time.
“We did our best to get as many people up the hill on the blue route as we could, but the conditions were too dangerous. It was a great shame given how spectacular the weather was for all but that hour or so. The storm means the race results are complex.”
celtman! 2023 1st male: Ross Creber
It was a second win for Ross Creber, who had returned to Celtman! to defend his title. The 35-year-old athlete from Aviemore, who is supported by RAB, finished in 13:08:56 and was ahead of runner-up Robin Downie by almost an hour. He also set a record of 5:26 for the bike section.
Says Ross: “I was very pleased with my victory. Last year was my first time at Celtman! and he was a great unknown. This year, I knew what to expect and felt pretty strong going into the race.
“The conditions were also very good. The bath was in calm water and there were not too many jellyfish. I had a similar time to last year and came out of the water in 30th place.
“The bike is my strongest part of the race and it went very well for me. The roads were dry and there was not much wind. Last year it was wild and wet, but this year I was able to go a lot faster. I really enjoyed the bike ride.
« I didn’t go out there to set a record because you always have to make sure you have something to run in these types of events, but I was very pleased with my time. »
Ross was supported by Ian Stewart of Trail Running Scotland for the full run. He says: “It was great for morale to have Ian there from the start. He felt the pressure from race support because I got off the bike first, but he did a great job.
“I ended up crashing early in the race and got a big cut on my knee. It wasn’t until the aid station that I was able to fix it. It hurt, but I was running on adrenaline and I kept going. »
Ross had been through the mountainous section before the lightning struck. He says: “We could hear the storm above us, but luckily I made it through before that happened. We are relieved that we are not riding high at that point.
“I was very satisfied with my total time and I had about half an hour to go to reach the overall course record. I think without the knee injury and the high temperatures, which affected my ability to eat and drink, I might have been closer to setting a record and I’m looking forward to going back to try it again. »
Ross was also charmed by the finalist Robin, who is a friend. Ross says, « Robin and I have run together as a team in the Scottish Isles Peak Race. It was great to see him do well in the Celtman!, too.
“Celtman! It’s a brilliant race and because the weather was so good this year there were a lot of supporters on the course. The local people and race teams created a great atmosphere and it was very helpful psychologically to have everyone rooting for you.”
celtman! 2023 1st Woman: Claire Weller
Among the athletes who finished the “Hill 1 + Scree Slope” course were the top three women, Claire Weller, Kaja Bergwitz-Larsen and Estera Zak. Claire, 33, from Edinburgh, had to run hard to finish in a time of 13:08:56, just four minutes ahead of Kaja.
They got to the limit for the senior run, however, then down a scree slope, half a mile from the second summit. Claire says, « We could hear a lot of thunder as we came over the ridge, so we were really glad to go down. »
Claire spent much of the ride, bike and run, battling with Kaja. She got on the bike hard. She says: “Having overtaken a couple of females in the first 10 miles, I didn’t catch up to the leading female until around 30 miles. I caught up with her, but she came with me.
“Knowing it was too early to ‘race’, I stuck to my race plan, focused on myself and settled in, not worrying about it.
“We rode together until about 85 miles, which is when I decided I wanted to try and buy some time with her and make some space to give myself a breather to start the race.
“I put my head down and went for it. Luckily she didn’t come with me and my legs felt good so I just kept pushing all the way back to T2.
However, it wasn’t until the closing stages that Claire was sure she would win. She says: “There was a technical descent down the mountain and back onto the road and I managed to create a small gap with Kaja. With still 7km to run on the way to the finish line, it wasn’t until the last 1km that I knew she had the win”.
It was Claire’s first Celtman! and his first experience in an XTRI race. The Celticman! He is part of XTRI World Tour. However, he has also had success in other long distance triathlons, including winning Outlaw Full Nottingham last year and a third place finish in the Spanish Long Distance Championship.
Claire describes her Celtman! Career. She says: “The swim went mostly ok but I took the second island a bit wider which I think cost me time. Other than that the conditions were amazing with calm waters and the temperatures not as bad as expected.
“I loved every moment of the bike ride. It was an awesome ride with some nice climbs followed by really fast descents. The wind also behaved. Couldn’t have asked for anything more.
“Then came the race and I went through some ups and downs. I struggled in the first half to establish a rhythm, then felt nauseated and dizzy going up hill one in the second half. Fortunately, I managed to get my second, third and fourth breaths to go to the end and finish strong.
« It was all good learning to take to review my nutrition strategy and what might have caused this. »
Claire also thanks her backup running back who stepped in to help when her original backup running back withdrew due to injury. She says: “I lost my support runner a few weeks before the Celtman! due to injury Fortunately, the Celtman! community came together and someone volunteered to run with me. He did a great job and I am very grateful to him. »
Adds Claire: “I’m over the moon to beat Celtman! Everything was amazing, but the descent back to Kinlochewe on the bike was something else. Also, I loved the overall sense of accomplishment that came across the finish line when I realized what I had just done.
« I would highly recommend the Celtman to anyone thinking about getting on the ballot. »
celtman! results 2023
To get on the ballot for next year’s race, keep an eye on the celtman! website.