GTC member Rachel Hunt, 37, has long had her eye on the Celtman! Extreme Scottish Marathon. At the weekend, she finished second female and won a place in the Xtri World Championship 2020 at Norseman.
She says: “Even before my first triathlon, I’d seen the Celtman! on the Adventure Show in 2014. It was what sparked my interest in triathlon in a big way.
“This year, the Celtman! was my race goal and I am delighted by how it went. It felt great to cross the finish line and felt strong right to the end.
“It was also exciting knowing I have a place in the Norseman.”
From gym starter to Celtman!
Just four years ago, Rachel was six stones heavier than she is now. She started going to the gym to lose weight and get fit but her goal was always to do a triathlon.
She started running and cycling, did her first sprint triathlon, then an Olympic distance triathlon, a 10k, half marathon and a marathon. She says: “Then I kept working upwards, doing my first 70.3 and an ultra run two years ago.
“Las year, I did my first 53-mile Highland Fling running race and a Half X ‘extreme triathlon’.
“The Celtman is my first IM distance race.”
Rachel was also fifth female in this year’s Highland Fling.
Training for the Celtman!
Rachel, 37, reports that training for the Celtman! went well. She says: “My training plan was written by my coach and I followed it consistently. Thankfully, I have been mostly injury and illness-free so I missed very few training sessions.
“The hours of training were long, peaking at 20 hours, but I tried not to think of the week as a whole or it would have been overwhelming.
“I think it helped my training that I tried to mirror the race in training as much as possible with a long run on rolling trails towards a hill.
“I did one run a few times, leaving from my parent’s house in Gartmore to the top of Ben Ledi and then to Callander. It was perfect because it meant practising running hills when already tired and then finishing on a quick tarmac section like in the race.
“This helped me visualise the race finish.”
Rachel admits she was very nervous before the race and scared of the swim. But she was also excited because it was something she had been working towards for years.
She says: “I tried to stay calm and not get too excited or nervous but there were a few meltdowns and I’m very thankful to Vicky and Rose and many club members who gave me excellent advice and encouragement.”
Rachel’s Celtman! swim
She says: “The swim was very cold and no warmer than 11 degrees. When I entered the water I started shivering but I wasn’t sure if it was the cold or adrenaline.
“The swim is a point-to-point swim and you are really out in the middle of the deep sea loch at points but I tried to keep that thought out of my head so I didn’t panic.
“The loch is also full of jellyfish, which I didn’t like the sound of, but in the end I liked them. I was glad of the neoprene gloves, booties and hat, which were very kindly lent to me by members of the tri club, especially when my hand hit a couple of jellyfish.
“I felt myself getting cold during the swim and when I came out of the water I was shaking very strongly.”
Rachel had hot sweet tea ready in T1 but her hands were shaking so much it kept coming out the cup. It took her 10 minutes to get moving and on to her bike.
She says: “This was longer than many people but I don’t think I would have been safe to get on my bike any earlier. I never thought of quitting at that point though and I was just determined to get moving.
“The other memory from T1, which was funny, was seeing some people stripping off completely in transition out in the open in the main street of Sheildaig village.”
Rachel’s Celtman! cycle
Rachel reports that the cycle went fairly smoothly, although it took her a while to warm up and get moving after the swim.
She says: “There were a few guys that I saw quite a lot as I would overtake them on the hills and flats and then they would fly past me on the downhills. There was some cheerful banter between us.
“In the second half, I started overtaking more people. The headwind seemed constant no matter what direction we turned and I was glad I had trained a lot on straight Stirlingshire roads, which always have a strong headwind.
“I would have liked to have been a bit faster on the cycle as I had promising average speeds on long cycles before the race but at least I got stronger with time rather than fading later on in the cycle.
“I left the bike with my legs feeling good.”
Rachel’s Celtman! run
The run was the “absolute highlight” of the race for Rachel.
She says: “I tried to keep running through the hills in the first section and made good use of the long downhill because I was determined to make the high route.”
There is a cut off time when competitors can continue over the two Munro high run route or must stick to a lower course.
Rachel met her support runner, Alwyn Poulter, on the road section and made it to T2A with 20 minutes to spare. At T2A everyone stops for two minutes to make sure they have the mandatory kit needed for the high route.
It was at this point that an Adventure Show interviewer asked Rachel how it felt to be so close to the second female place. She says: “I don’t think my answer was coherent. But it did give me a shove to keep moving up the hill as fast as I could with Alwyn encouraging me on.”
Reaching the next checkpoint Rachel was told she was now second female.
She says: “I knew that the first two places in the Celtman! get a place in the Norseman and this thought and the beautiful views gave me a boost in energy.
“We headed along a ridge, balancing speed with safety as there was a steep drop on both sides. As I was climbing the last peak, we spotted the first female coming down so we knew she was not far ahead.
“We reached the top and turned around running back down along the ridge to the scree slope. We opted for going down the right side of the scree slope and this was probably the scariest part as the loose rocks made for unsteady foot placements.
“I had a tumble near the bottom and scraped up my knees and elbow, which stung for a bit but it was not race-ending. The route headed through the boulder field here and I had fun hopping between rocks.
“We then joined the path down the hill, which was great fun on a rollercoaster trail.”
At this point the route meets the low route, with runners coming in the opposite direction and Rachel enjoyed everyone cheering each other on and high fiving as they passed each other. There was then a 7km run along the tarmac road and along a loop around the village back to the finish line.
Rachel says: “Alwyn was great at this point, helping to keep me running when my body and head were telling me to walk it in.”
Rachel is even upbeat about the weather. She says: “I couldn’t really have asked for better from the Scottish Highlands. The wind was hard work on the cycle and it poured for the road section of the run but at that point it didn’t matter and it was actually quite refreshing.
“I wore just my tri suit for the whole run section and never even thought of needing a jacket or a second layer.
“Last year was a bad weather year and they had to close the upper route early, which must have been disappointing.”
Times and places
Rachel describes her swim as “fairly average”. After 10 minutes in T1 she was playing catch up on he cycle course but rode hard in fourth female place and then by T2A she was in third place.
She was the fastest female on the high running route and the seventh fastest run overall.
Rachel’s overall time was 14:42:15. She was 16th overall and second female.
First female was Rebecca Hoare in 14:30:52, while third female was Magdalena Trumstedt in 15:10:28.
After a bit of a rest, Rachel now has the Devil o’ the Highlands ultramarathon in her sights for August.