Most people would consider completing one Ironman triathlon a big enough challenge for one season. But attempting four long-distance ‘extreme’ triathlons in three months and at the age of 45, that’s just silly, right? No-one told that to Roland Kelly…
Well, over the summer of 2012 I completed four of the toughest one day races in Europe – Celtman XTRI, XTRI24, Norseman XTRI and the Scottish C2C, raised money for a local charity (Positive Action on Cancer), travelled through some truly inspiring landscapes and had an absolute blast in the process.
Preparing for the 4XTRI was a long haul. Endurance training started back in November 2011 and tailed off in late May 2012 with a couple of BIG training days. I combined this with lots of trail running; researching each route, estimating times to checkpoints and gathering kit I might need during each section taking into account varying weather conditions.
I’m convinced that good research and kit prep before the 4XTRI enabled me attain a top ten place in two of these events. Races like Celtman and the XTRI24 are not standard Ironman triathlons. Although the distances may be the same, that’s where the similarities end. The number and severity of the risks you have to manage while MTB’ing along the South Downs Way overnight or traversing the Beinn Eighe ridge are far greater than you’ll encounter around Bolton or Tenby.
Here are a few highlights from the four races that made up the 4XTRI…
23 June 2012
Celtman Extreme Triathlon, Torridon, Rosshire, Scotland
3.8km swim across Loch Sheildaig (shortened to 3k due to low water temperature)
200km bike around Rosshire
42km trail marathon over Beinn Eighe
Having walked around Torridon and the West Highlands I know how beautiful the place is, so I entered CXTRI as soon registration opened. The lasting memories for me will be the sun rising over Ben Alligin as we swam from the shore of Loch Shieldaig, everything going to plan on the bike route round Ross-shire, passing about 20 competitors during the first 20k of the trail marathon and then a ‘social’ run over Beinn Eighe with my support crew. A big adventure, stunning countryside and lovely day in the hills.
16 July 2012
3.8km swim off Eastbourne beach (shortened to 2k due to bad weather)
160km overnight mountain bike along the South Downs Way to Winchester Cathedral
42km trail marathon to Old Sarum in Salisbury
A little over three weeks later I took part in what was probably the most challenging of the four extreme triathlons, the XTRI24. The highlight of this race was cycling 160km overnight along the South Downs Way that, in-spite of the summer weather doing its best to drown our spirits, was great fun and another huge adventure. Unlike most I opted for a fixed frame hybrid bike with 700-35 cyclocross tyres, which proved a good choice even though my arms were tingling by half way. I did however pick up an injury somewhere and hobbled the whole of trail marathon, but still managed 10th place!
4 August 2012
Norseman Extreme Triathlon, Eidfjord, Norway
3.8km swim in Eidfjord
160km bike across the Hardanga National Park
42km road and trail marathon finishing at Gaustatoppen
Norseman is the iconic extreme long distance triathlon. Jumping off the ferry in Eidfjord, biking across the Hardanger Plateau and the ascent of Gaustatoppen makes this a must do for long distance triathletes looking for something more than standard IM races. After my DNF in 2011 NXTRI was unfinished business for me and the main focus of the 4XTRI.
The race WAS extreme and full of incidents. Starting with a very cold swim off the ferry in Eidfjord and the gastric distress that followed, the bike across the Hardanger national park was fantastic, but dangerous. One lady crashed and had to be air lifted to Bergen hospital.
The stand out section for me was finishing the bike feeling really strong and making up 36 places over the 25k to Zombie Hill. Starting the ascent of Z-Hill in 106th place gave me a massive boost and reaching Gaustatoppen with my son James was emotional.
16 September 2012
Scotland Coast to Coast, Nairn, Inverness, Scotland
11km trail run from Nairn to Cawdor Castle
72km road bike from Cawdor Castle to Fort Augustus
2km Kayak across Loch Ness
56km trail bike from Fort Augustus to Fort William
21km trail run along the West Highland Way to Loch Leven
2km kayak to Isle of Glen Coe Hotel
The race across Scotland was short at 163km and not strictly a triathlon, but being a linear race with little or no support it still posed a significant challenge.
With large road and trail sections my bike setup was very important. I again used the rigid framed Trek 7.2 hybrid, but this time fitted road tyres and some Profile aero bars. With a 20mph headwind over the first 70km road section to Fort Augustus this proved to be the right choice.
The final 20k trail run along the West Highland Way and over the Mamores to Glen Coe was the highlight of my day. After reaching Fort William in 7th I got out my secret weapon, a pair of Mountain King trail blaze trail running poles and had a great run along the WHW to the shoes of Loch Leven. Finishing 5th was a big surprise and a great way to conclude the 4XTRI
All of the events in the 4XTRI add something very special to the increasingly popular long form of triathlon the UK. They’re basic but exhilarating and take you well outside your comfort zone to that place where the magic happens.
You can donate to Positive Action on Cancer here… www.justgiving.com/4xtri