Cairngorm Adventure Triathlon 2012

Until a few days ago, I was under the impression that I was preparing (or resting) for The Two Breweries on the 22nd. Unfortunately, Andrea’s partner (Lisa) for the upcoming Cairngorm Adventure Triathlon (CAT) had to pull out at the last minute and after fluttering her eyelids, I had no choice but to step in as my wife’s backup.

For those who don’t know, CAT is done as paired teams with 3km open Canadian Canoeing, 25 kms non-technical mountain biking and a final 5km run.

This is probably quite an easy triathlon (compared to what Stuart used to do), but as I have only been training for hill running, I was a little worried about the mix of different sports and I guess it was the perfect first Triathlon.

The whole race is set in the Glen More/Rothiemurchus region of the northern Cairngorms. Individuals in each team do not have to stay together, but the final team time is the sum of both individual’s times. We decided, after the canoeing, to go our own ways. Little did I know that I would have a hot blooded German breathing down my neck for most of the race.

Andrea and I B+B’d on Friday night in Aviemore and stuffed ourselves with the works for breakfast which initially did not seem a good idea but by the end, I was thankful for the greasy sausages/bacon and eggs.

The forecast was relatively warm and sunny, but there was a stiff breeze which felt more like a full blown gale on the shores of Loch Morlich where the first part (canoeing) started. Unfortunately, the organisers decided not to cancel the canoeing and with much trepidation, we started at 10am. The CAT is split into 4 heats (~25 teams) – the slowest starting first and the quickest starting last. There is probably ~50mins between the starts of each heat. We were in the first heat although Andrea and Lisa should really have entered into the 2nd or 3rd.

The start consisted of a ~300m sprint along the sandy beach of Loch Morlich to the canoes. Luckily our canoe was the first of 27 and Andrea and I managed to get out on the water in 2nd place. However, with the strong wind and choppy waves of the near shore water, we really struggled at first. Fighting for our own survival we had no time to watch the carnage of capsizers floating in the loch, but based on the spectators’ loud cheering and laughing this must have been some good entertainment. 3kms canoeing seemed to take forever with our rather untrained arms constantly being sapped of strength and each time we swapped sides, I had to constantly fight the wind to get the boat back into a straight line – a 16 foot canoe is like a big sail in such a wind and it constantly wanted to go sideways and be pushed to shore. On the return, the wind being on our back was not much help as it still tried to turn the boat. Anyway, by the time we got back to shore, we were in ~7th/8th place out of 27. There was then about a ~400m sprint to the changeover point and we quickly jumped on our mountain bikes to try and catch up places. I do believe we gained a few important minutes having no clip-on shoes etc.

Changeovers, as I have now learnt are quite hard. Going from one type of sport to another really drains you, and the initial kilometre was really quite hard (mostly uphill) while your legs adjust to the new activity. However, once up on the relatively flat forest roads above Glen More, I quickly got a good pace and started catching people up. This was also one of the few times in the race where the wind actually helped and this was probably the most enjoyable part of the whole race for me. However, on the incline up to An Slugan pass, Andrea, who I thought I had left in the dust back at Glen More quietly passed me grinning (knowing exactly what I was thinking of her). Of course, this was not on, and I dug deep and ensured I kept up with her and on the fast rough descent through the pass, I was happy to leave old krauty thunder thighs behind. At the end of the An Sluggan track, the CAT route joins the B970 which takes you back towards Coylumbridge. This is the lowest point in the whole race, and the next 13 kms is an almost continuous ascent (~150m) which was made worse with a stiff draining headwind.

Despite this, I still managed to pass a couple of people although I did not realise that my better half was slowly catching me up on the road section and was not that far behind me when we entered the Rothiemurchus pine woodlands after Coylumbridge. For once, not stopping to hug the pine trees, I kept pushing against the wind and it was at this point that I managed to start pulling away from Andrea. Once the route turned sharply eastwards, the rest of the tracks and forest roads to Loch Morlich were again quite pleasurable with the wind mostly from behind.

The bike/run changeover was quite quick – dump bike, dump backpack, strip off and run! Well – it would be easy, if someone had actually told my legs that they were supposed to be quite good at running. But as soon as I started off from the changeover point, I suddenly realised that I had somehow lost my legs somewhere along the route and I felt like I was swimming through treacle. Obviously this is where a lack of cross training between bike and running did not help. These were surely not my legs. I persevered and kept saying, it is only 5kms and it is all flat. Despite feeling awful, I managed to quickly pass a couple of other runners and thought that my legs just might get into a reasonable rhythm. However, this circular route around Morlich has one little incline from the lake side path up to the forest road on the south side. It was running up here that my thighs, especially my left one, decided to start cramping a little. With The Breweries only a week away, I did not want a major cramping episode so I had no choice but to slow down a bit and massage my thighs while stumbling along. I kept this rather hunchbacked approach to running up for about 2kms until I felt that my thighs were behaving again. Unfortunately, one of the runners I had passed earlier, slowly passed by me and I just couldn’t motivate my legs to keep up with him. Despite this, I managed to settle into a reasonable but slow pace for the last 2 kms and when I crossed the line, I was nicely surprised to realise that I finished 3rd in my heat. However, the really nice surprise was that only about ~6 minutes later Andrea crossed the line as the quickest woman in the heat with the two of us being the quickest team. Remember though, this was the first slow heat so we should not get too excited by these places.

As of writing this, we do not know how our individual and team results compare with the other ~200 participants. Our overall results were:

Canoe: Rob (33.31), Andrea (33.42) – I ran quicker on the beach.

Change1: Rob (1.22), Andrea (1.13)

Cycle: Rob (1.13.25), Andrea (1.16.04)

Change2: Rob (0.39), Andrea (0.46)

Run: Rob (26.00), Andrea (29.08).

Total: Rob (2.14.59), Andrea (2.20.54).


Total team time: 4.35.53


Although sunny and warm, the windy weather probably slowed overall times compared to last year, so we wait with baited breath for the full results to become available so we can see where we came overall. It does not really matter. We had a great day and it was a lot of fun. At £40/person it is not the cheapest race in the world (the free pint mug they gave us when we crossed the finish line could have been full of beer), but we would certainly do it again if we could persuade some other Harriers pairs to compete as well.

Now I just need to rest my tender legs for next Saturday.



We were the 5th overall mixed team.

Of 208 participants, I was 53rd (49th male) and Andrea was 74th (9th female).

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2 comments on Cairngorm Adventure Triathlon 2012

  1. Susie says:

    Sounds fantastic you guys and in my favourite place in the world too! Had I not been organising ‘another’ party I might have been tempted 🙂
    Thanks for the great report Rob and well done to Andrea for keeping up with old hop-a-long altough it sounds like it wasn’t too difficult!
    Good luck for Two Breweries Rob

  2. gilly says:

    That sounds like a lot of fun, I love the fact Andrea was giving you a run for your money! The Coast to Coast is the same weekend as this and I keep thinking I will enter that, however that has an entry fee of £200 – £40 seems like a bargain, so I would certainly be up for this next year (assuming I dont suddenly come into loads of cash and enter the Coast to Coast). Should I worry that I have never been in a kayak or canoe in my life? Good luck in the Two Breweries – make sure you take along your free pint mug!

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