Sometimes there is a race that you have to do. Over recent years my challenges have been more self planned and not focussed on racing but going beyond what I thought I could do. When the opportunity to take part in the Scottish Islands Peaks Race (SIPR) came about though I knew I couldn’t pass it up.
To the uninitiated SIPR consists of:
“This adventure race is for teams of Sailors and Fell Runners (both adult and teenage) and is held annually on and around the most beautiful parts of the West Coast of Bonny Scotland.
The Race starts in Oban with a short hill run, then a sail to Salen on Mull, run over Ben More, sail to Craighouse on Jura, run the Paps, sail to Arran, run Goat Fell, then sail to Troon. The Race takes 3 to 4 Days and caters for Multihulls, Racers and Cruisers.
Each team consists of 5 (usually 2 runners and 3 sailors), there is also an allrounders class for sailors that can run or runners that can sail, and a class for young people (with the assistance of a few adults).This adventure race is for teams of Sailors and Fell Runners (both adult and teenage) and is held annually on and around the most beautiful parts of the West Coast of Bonny Scotland.” from the SIPR website.
I was originally down to do this many years ago but was not required as the first reserve as all the team turned up so when a colleague at work asked me if I was up for it I had no problems in volunteering myself. I have to confess to being a rubbish sailor but that wasn’t going to stop me. Kit packed I started to collect the other runners (Jack and Mikey) before collecting the Skipper, Andy, and making the journey up to Oban on the 18th May for registration. The other crew member, Nathan, was meeting us at Oban where he would help Andy prepare the boat, Curlew, for the race.
We registered and after a couple of minor kit issues we were sorted and could get on the boat for the night and start getting ourselves sorted for the next few days. At this point, with the boat firmly secured in the harbour and feeling no effects of any motion sickness I was operating quite comfortably in the cabin. The 3 runners had a crash course in reminding us of the key sailing aspects and then we finalised our kit before turning in for the night.
The race starts with a short road run around Oban and very grateful that Mikey and Jack took this short and fast leg on before they paddled in the dingy back to Curlew and we were off on the first sailing leg.
It was very calm to start with and while that helped my motion sickness it did nothing to get us going. Only making 1-2 knots and we started rowing the yacht in the first hour. Having never rowed a 42ft yacht before I found my first experience interesting. With absolutely no rhythm I thrashed about on the oar, finally getting into some routine after about 10 mins. It all felt like we were making little difference but we stayed with it and as the wind picked up we finished rowing and started to prepare for the first run.
Me and Jack were taking this one on and once we arrived in the harbour at Salen we paddled out, got the kit checked and started on our way. The first 10km to the CP 1 was all on road and I was glad I was in my Hokas. With lots of cushioning they did me proud before we then hit the trails and started to climb. The track was pretty well defined and there were no issues getting to the first saddle before we then turned to the summit of Ben More. We had the option of staying low and having a bigger climb or traversing around some crags to the saddle just below the summit. Going high seemed like a good idea until we ended up in a scree field. Not to worry – we re-joined the path and clambered over some technical scrambling to the top. At times it was genuinely hair raising as we clung to the rock face and climbed to the top. It was also incredibly exhilarating and we got to CP 2 comfortably once we were free of the rocks.
Running off down the saddle we got into some serious scree fields that left us cut and bruised before we got to the grassy foothills. We traversed around picking off CP3 and CP4 before we started the long descent. The ground was really uneven and the angle extreme – that did not stop 4 teams flying through us. It was amazing if not a little annoying not to be able to keep up with them but we had to let them pass for fear of breaking our ankles! We eventually hit the road as night fell and with the head torches on we ran to CP 5 (same place as CP 1) where we caught the teams that had overtaken us back up. Tired we cracked on and didn’t see them again as we re-joined our dingy and paddled out to Curlew having been on the go for 6hrs and 49mins.
We had a few hours to grab some sleep then I was back on with Mikey running across Jura. Same routine as we jumped in the dingy and paddled to shore. The inspecting team were waiting for us and they could not have been friendlier. After inspecting our kit they wished us well as we started on the road to take on the “Paps”. This one is a breaker – 3 peaks and after every single one you lose the height. We looked at the first one and it seemed to tower above us as we picked our way through rocks, scree and grassy knolls. There was no quick way up – it was a case of digging in and leaning into it. That said we were surprised how quickly we got to the top and without waiting we left our marker behind and ran off, ready to take on number two.
Same approach – lean in and burst the lungs and legs. The weather started to close in and runners we were alongside disappeared into the mist and we were soon on our own. The positive was the navigating was easy – you were either going up a steep hill or coming down it! Feeling good coming off the 3rd peak we pushed home and after 5hrs and 20mins we were ready to paddle back to the boat. Again the marshals were really friendly and plied us with fizzy drinks and chocolate bars before we said goodbye and cracked on.
So I had completed my 2 running phases, totalling 42 miles, I felt bruised and battered and very happy with what we had done so far. Calm weather aside we had gone as fast as we could and now we had 2 sails and one run left. The calm weather did not hold and around the Mull of Kintyre we finally got some wind and we started to surge forward. While this was a welcome relief for our progress this unfortunately meant my motion sickness arrived with a vengeance and I had to forgo some of my cabin duties as whenever I went below deck I felt horrendous. Lying down helped a little although at one point I was sick in my mouth. The others seemed unaffected and I was amazed at how Mikey and Jack could cut around, making brews and sorting themselves out while we lurched in what seemed like every direction. For a couple of hours I was absolutely no use whatsoever – sorry fellas!
We arrived at Arran for the final run and Jack and Mikey absolutely stormed round, catching us back some time and leaving Andy and Nathan to guide us home.
We finished on the Sunday evening and as we docked into Troon it was a welcome relief to get off the boat. We found out we had eventually come 4th out of 4 Joint Service Teams although I think we moved up to third after another team got the route on the final run wrong although I am not sure the final standings were ever changed. It didn’t matter – we had been a hastily cobbled together team and none of the runners had ever met before the event. In this respect this is what made the race for me – everything was a new experience and we came together as a team for the whole event; no moaning and everyone pulling together to either sail or run us all to the end. Andy and Nathan did an amazing job getting us through challenging sailing conditions and Jack and Mikey were fantastic running partners. Curlew – you did us proud and it was amazing and a great privilege to be part of a race that got me into some of the most beautiful parts of Scotland. A couple of very well earned drinks were had that evening before we cleaned Curlew in the morning and headed off home, tired and very happy. It was an amazing experience and if you ever get the change I would really recommend SIPR.
It has been a bit of a long blog and I wanted to mention something about the kit I used but will save that for another time…………………………………………..