Team OAG’s gear and some things we learned along the way.
It’s not just about getting your mind and body in shape for C2C Scotland. You need the right kit and a little planning.
We didn’t get everything right but here’s what we used and some of what we learned. We hope it helps your next adventure race but as always, it’s what works best for you and your budget – so try things out first if you can.
Team OAG took the advice of C2C organisers Rat Race and went for cyclocross bikes. The Scott CX Comp to be precise.
Scott CX Comp £1,099. A cyclocross bike was perfect for C2C Scotland
They may look like a normal road bike to you or I, with drop handlebars and 700c wheels, but the geometry is more comfortable across country and the frame and carbon fork clearances allow for chunkier tyres.
It also has centre-pull brakes that aren’t as powerful as disc or cantilever brakes, but they keep working when the mud is flying.
JC kept the tyres it came with: Schwalbe Rocket Ron CX 700-35C, which are light, knobbly and suited for muddy terrain.
in between road an MTB tyres – a good compromise for C2C Scotland
They had better grip than the ‘semi-slicks’ I had fitted: Schwalbe Marathon Supreme Folding Road City 700-28C. But they had lower rolling resistance so I could go faster on the roads. They’re wider with more grip and comfort than a 23C road tyre. I admit they struggled for grip on the gnarly off-road tracks, but on balance, we were both much faster on the tarmac roads and gravel roads (about 95% of the bike stages) – than if we’d been on mountain bikes.
Some racers used hybrid bikes with straight handlebars.Our drop handlebars and tri-bars meant we saved a lot of energy pedalling into the headwind. A no brainer, we thought.
Drafting is a vital skill – if you’re a team.
Technique tip:if you’re racing as a pair,practice ‘drafting’ with your partner. Staying close behind a back wheel saves around 25% effort. Just make sure as lead rider you don’t suddenly sit up or brake. Keep swapping as you tire and you’ll maintain a higher overall speed.
Drafting other competitors, unless you agree to work together for a while, is a real no-no, for obvious reasons.
During bike training we practiced ‘off’ as well as ‘on-road’ biking. The CX Comp coped well, but it was essential to power-wash and lubricate the bikes after each ride, wet or dry, to keep them working properly.
Bikes take a lot of punishment and get dirty in a race, but they need to be spotless and well-maintained at the start to minimise the chance of mechanical failure.
We know basic bike mechanics but after a few hundred miles of training rides, our gear and brake cables had stretched and adjusting them was proving tricky.
We turned to Felix at Moore’s Cycles in Twickenham who fine-tuned our Scott CXs to run smoothly during the race.
Transitioning between disciplines in an endurance race, means getting the right gear, food and water in the right place at the right time.
We put as much as possible on the bike, so we didn’t have to run heavy, and made sure it was light and compact.
We fitted two bottle cages each and a “bento-box’ Velcro’d onto the top tube behind the headset, for gels and food. A compact saddlebag held repair kit and inner tubes. I also had a small pump attached to my seat tube bottle cage. JC attached a Garmin GPS to his CX, so we could see how far we had to go – usually good for morale.
We had two bottle cages for the long bike stages as it’s easier to carry water here than on your back
The Bentobox gave us easy access to gels and food
Specialized mini saddlebag: for repair kit and spare tubes.
Carrying running shoes during the bike stage was a challenge. We used an elastic bungee cord to fix them behind and underneath the saddle. We were complimented on our ingenious solution during the race, but most people fitted them in or onto their packs.
A good way to carry your trainers on the bike – almost aerodynamic.
The train to Inverness from London had a bike storage area in the guard’s van but it wasn’t very big – room for five or six maybe – so getting there early was essential, especially as it wasn’t possible to book space in advance.
We needed to fly home, so a bike box was vital. Baggage handlers aren’t known for their delicacy and bubble wrapping or using a soft case for the hold seemed insufficient.
Bikebox online has robust cases for hire at £40 – ideal if you don’t plan to be getting on planes with your bike too often as they cost about £400 to buy.
Bikebox-online loaned these robust boxes for safe and secure air travel.
Bikebox online delivered the boxes to the home of kindly local taxi driver Alistair, so we didn’t need to worry about them until the finish.
Look at Bikebox’s helpful online video of how to pack your bike properly and make sure you have ALL the right Allen keys.
We booked out taxi van months in advance. Ballachulish is deep in the Highlands and transport is limited so book early.
Bed and Breakfast:
Check in advance that your B’nB will do you an early breakfast – not all will go to the trouble of getting up an hour earlier for you.
Over two days we had bright sunshine and howling gales and hail. Choosing the right racing outfit is important but it’s always going to be a compromise.
We wore Helly Hansen’s Pace range of training base layers and cycling clothing. It’s tight fitting so doesn’t sag when wet; it keeps the wind chill off and allows sweat to wick away fast.
Helly Hansen Pace training and cycling base layers worked well for Team OAG
The main thing is to have some options and not get too cold or too hot.
When you’re racing you generate heat and can get away with not wearing too much. If it’s raining, you get wet and keep going – less clothes holding water is a good thing. On the bike however, your arms can get cold, as they aren’t doing much and you’re travelling faster. I wore some 2Xu arm warmers and compression calf guards to avoid cramping in my lower leg.
Wearing a waterproof when it’s not really tipping it down, doesn’t help much as no matter how breathable, you’re going to sweat on the inside.
On Day Two’s bike stage, Team OAG wore windproof tops. Mine was the Salomon S-Lab Light Running Jacket (£72).
Salomon S-Lab Running Jacket – windproof and super lightweight.
The S-Lab is windproof but so packable I could crumple it in one fist. It got wet through but on the bike it kept the wind chill off. I wore it on the run the day before at the start and then stuffed it in the back pocket of my bike shirt.
Helly Hansen Odin Fast pack Jacket – another lightweight but robust essential item on C2C Scotland
When the gale and rain came in on Day Two the Helly Hansen Odin Fastpack Jacket came into its own. Very lightweight, properly waterproof with large vertical chest zips for ventilation.
At the end of each day’s racing it was important to throw on something warm and windproof. Helly’s H2 Flow Jacket is a new and clever ‘fleece’ jacket that uses a ‘holey’ insulation design to maintain warmth but also to encourage airflow ventilation. It worked, as we warmed up without getting clammy.
HH’s H2 Flow jacket was a winner with its innovative ‘holey’ insulation design working brilliantly to warm us up fast after each day’s race/
Carrying as little weight as possible is essential on endurance races. But then you do need food, water, warm and waterproof clothing, and a first aid kit, especially in the mountains in bad weather. Race organisers can make you carry safety items so you need to be able to carry whatever’s required.
On Day One, I didn’t carry a pack. My food, hydration, trainers, first aid kit and bike repair kit were either on the bike, or in my Helly Hansen bike shirt back pockets. The weather was good and it worked well.
Day Two was a different story. JC wore his Camelback Octane XCT: good for carrying water, windproof and first aid kit, but not much else. I was trying out the legendary French brand Raidlight’s ‘Ultralight Olmo 20’.
Developed for ultra-long distance races such as the Marathon Des Sables, the Olmo 20 is designed to carry all you need in as efficient and accessible way as possible. Two water bottles high on the shoulder straps meant I could drink hands-free and easily.
Black Diamond Ultra Distance Trekking Poles -light enough to fold and run with them in hand when not in use. Great for lessening the load on your knees and feet
Trekking poles still divide opinion amongst hikers, let alone adventure racers. We’re not fell runners, and I’d hazard that very few C2C racers were. So we decided to use them and found them to be a great help.
The Black Diamond Ultra Distance Trekking Poles were so light (10.4 oz. for the pair) that keeping them in hand when running was easy. On the steeper inclines – up or down – they helped lessen the impact on knees and feet, with the rhythm of planting the poles helping to keep our pace fast. There’s no doubt in our minds that very light poles, on fast long distance trek/runs across rough country, are a good thing.
Nutrition and hydration
Most people doing endurance events these days have got the message that you need to eat and drink throughout to sustain your best effort.
Team OAG tried various gels and energy bars in training and opted for a mix of them in the race. I used Nectar Fuel Cells , which work fast but tend to squirt if you rip the top off on the move and squeeze too enthusiastically, as I did.
Nectar Fuel cell energy gels for a quick boost of energy
My alternative was Cliffbar’s Expresso energy gel. A double shot of caffeine and carbs that oozes rather than jets out.
A gel that adds a shot of coffee – in treacly form so can be taken more slowly than the more sticky, liquid gels
Gels are not enough and we added Cliffbar flapjacks and even homemade bars. We took onboard protein as well as carbs, but craved something savoury after two days.
It ain’t cheap this adventure racing business. The C2C race cost c.£200 (depending on how soon you enter). With travel and accommodation on top it starts mounting up quickly. That said, it’s not an experience you’ll be doing very often – unless you really get the bug – so it’s likely to be a one-time only outlay for the year.
Think of it as a fitness/training aid. Team OAG entered nine months in advance so we had all that time to focus our training on the event. The truth is we felt quite bereft when it was over!
Beautiful scenery and a real sense of achievement – the winning ingredients of C2C Scotland 2013