Richard baynes where we’re going we don’t need roads heraldscotland

These adventure races can include multiple disciplines such as running, swimming and cycling, or just one. They can carry brands such as The Starman, be part of a series such as the Nordic-inspired swim-runs, or stand alone. The key is they are organised races in some of the most challenging environments in Scotland.

At the “accessible” end – aimed at the reasonably fit everyday adventurer – are races such as the Mighty Deerstalker, a night mountain run of up to 10 miles (16k) around Innerleithen in the Borders. Some raise cash for charities, such as Perthshire’s Rob Roy challenge, a 14-mile (22k) run and 56-mile (90k) bike ride.

At the extreme end are City To Summit – a total of 41 miles (66k) of running and 115 (185k) miles cycling from Edinburgh to Fort William via the summit of Ben Nevis; and possibly toughest of all, the Celtman!, an Ironman-style triathlon involving more than two miles of open-sea swimming, 125 miles (202k) of cycling, then a full 26.2-mile (42k) marathon over two 3,000ft-plus (914m) mountains.


It’s not clear how many such events exist in Scotland, but there are many dozens, ranging from small-scale ones such as Inch By Inch, a swim-run around the isles of Loch Lomond attracting 90 people, to big events such as the Coast To Coast, where 1,750 people run, cycle and kayak 105 miles (169k).

Jim Mee started his Rat Race event firm with a multi-discipline race in Edinburgh, and now runs five Scottish events – including the Deerstalker and Coast To Coast – which attract 20,000 people a year. They often come with friends and family, so the events will bring 30,000 people to mainly rural locations.

At the Deerstalker it’s mainly locals and other Scots. The Coast To Coast draws largely from England and Europe, with 150 from the Netherlands and Belgium. Racers gather in Nairn, paying more than £200 each to enter. It generates £400,000 in turnover, much of it spent with local suppliers. Events are often outside the main summer season, increasing their value to tourist operators.

“When an event rolls into town in the shoulder season, spring and autumn, the beds are filled for miles around when they would normally be empty,” says Mee. “We can be hiring every coach on offer in the area and we also have to book accommodation for our crew.”

Celtman is based in Torridon. Cathryn Field runs the Tigh an Eilean hotel in Shieldaig there, and says: “Sheildaig villagers think it’s great. They finish their swim in the village and lots of people go out to see them coming out the water and cheer them on. Locals have a go at the event too.

Safety in challenging environments is a key issue for organisers, and they believe it’s one of the reasons people take part in events rather than just doing it for themselves: it’s an opportunity to take on wildly difficult stuff with a safety net.

Celtman competitors must have their own support team, and organisers check on racers to ensure they can complete the course, but no experience of wilderness is necessary: “What we’re doing is allowing people to have an adventure but safely,” says race director McGreal. “We do organisation and safety assessment, the boring back room stuff, so people who have not got big mountain experience can do it. We are the safety net.”

On Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor, and the neighbouring Aonach Eagach ridge, a slip could be fatal, and there is danger from stonefall. The organisers had to issue the warning often given for mountaineering activities: this could result in death.

But he says things will soon go further, with events combining serious, hazardous ice climbs, and ski descents. “The climb people have been doing on Ben Nevis will become a race,” he says. "They will do it with short skis on their back and then ski off down a low-graded gully climb, then do another climb and ski off and so on. That will happen.”

Another clue to the psychology needed for such events is his attitude to the gruelling climb to 3,000ft near the end of Celtman. For him it’s a rest. "You are using a different set of muscles, so you can treat that as some form of recovery,” he says with no hint of irony.

“I made it through the 15-mile initial run, and the 115 miles on the bike to Kinlochleven,” he said. “The weather was as bad as it gets in Scotland in July, having to pedal downhill into brutal headwinds. I had stomach cramps but managed to keep going. I went to set off for Ben Nevis and got 200m into it – but that was as far as I got.”

His gut just couldn’t cope any further, but there is still pain and regret in his voice as he talks about his failure: “Lots of people think I was daft to try it … I still felt I could have given it a go but had to make a decision for safety.”

Sports physiotherapist Danny Wray treats adventure racers and says repetitive strain injuries make up almost all their problems. “People who have been doing these things for many years tend to be ok,” says Wray. “It’s the people who start a bit later in life and push it that have trouble. Instead of just concentrating on, say, running, they need to work on strength and flexibility, take a more holistic approach, and listen to what their bodies tell them.”

Paul McGreal was inspired by Torridon’s scenery to set up Celtman with a group of friends. A triathlon competitor himself, he says: “It’s a bloody hard day. The phrase we used when we set it out was that the course was probably at the limit of what can be achieved in a one day.”

The reward can just to be to join the rarefied group who have completed such events: “The more extreme you go, the fewer people there are who’ve done it, and there tends to be more shared camaraderie. It might not be verbal but there is recognition within a small group.”

Adventure racing has been dominated by men, but some such as the Coast To Coast now have a gender balance. Physiotherapist Caroline McKechnie from Aberfeldy worked helping contestants at the Artemis Great Kindrochit Quadrathlon around Loch Tay from 2008. That lured her into tackling the 57-mile (92k) run, swim, cycle and kayak trip three times. “Seeing other people do it, I thought it was insane,” she says