Craggy Island Triathlon

Report from Hamish

Despite sounding like something out of the Channel4 sitcom ‘Father Ted’, the Craggy Island Triathlon is a tough but entertaining, sprint distance off-road triathlon set on the small island of Kerrera, just off the west coast of Scotland near Oban. Launched last year by Durty events (, inventors of the now legendary ‘Celtman’ race) it was voted ‘Most Enjoyable Event’ in 2011 and sold out so fast this year that the organisers obligingly decided to host two races, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. Having accidentally (ok, stupidly) entered on both days, I figured that if the ground was wet then the course would be easier on day 1, so Saturday it was. (Only Grant or Brendan would have done both days )

I duly turned up on the pier at Gallanach with supportive wife, all my triathlon stuff (technical term) and a broad range of other competitors, to catch the tiny ferry across to the island. The crossing takes the same route as the impending swim, and the excited tri-related chat dried up somewhat as the boat butted through the grey waves, taking much longer to cross than imagined. With slightly wobbly legs we arrived at Kerrera, registered at the tent and made our way to ‘transition’, in a big grassy field. The banter was soon flowing thick and fast again as we applied lube and struggled into wetsuits in the rain, and fought with the wind to lay out our kit in some sort of order (ok, heap). With wetsuits on, it was time to get the boat back to the mainland for the start of the race.

The combination of the landing-craft style ferry and the apprehension in the air was reminiscent of the start of “saving Private Ryan”, but I’m pleased to say that the briefing and heckling on the pier was great and in no time we were in the sea warming up. (“16 degrees” the organiser said. “Farenheit?” came the reply.)

With a blast of the hooter we were off, 170 blue caps churning our way back to the island. I hauled myself out of the water and up the jetty after about 11mins in 35th position – thankfully without any jellyfish encounters – and raced off towards transition.

There is a granny gear on my bike so embarrassingly low that I feel I really shouldn’t use it, in case I get spotted by some ‘real’ Mountain bikers. By the first Km marker I think I had already used it about dozen times. A combination of muddy foot paths, quad tracks, open hillside and loose land rover tracks may sound like a playground to some, but it was a pretty stiff challenge for my non-cycle specific legs and tragic lack of mtb skills. Several climbs were so steep I had to get off and run, the descents an hilarious mix from untracked hillside to fast-as-you-dare farm track. The description of the ride on the website is “go out as fast as you can, then take it up a notch. If you can taste blood you’ve got it about right” and they weren’t kidding. What the route must have been like the following day after our 170 riders had come through I can’t imagine. Respect!

With the taste of blood still fresh in my mouth and now about 10th, I ditched the bike at transition and headed off on the run.

For its size, Kerrera packs in a fair few hills, and the run route seemed to take us over the summit of most of them. Apparently there’s a great view of Mull from the trig point at nearly 600ft, but by that time I was fully occupied simply trying to breathe. With muddy paths, stiles, heather and waist-high bracken, this was where the experienced hill runners could really make an impact on the field (note to self: North Gardner Street in Partick is not the same as fell running.) Having negotiated a tunnel full of sheep poo with a very picturesque ruined castle on top, it was time to head for home…

By the time the headland and transition hove back into view I was somehow in 5th, a position I managed to maintain to the finish line, narrowly beating the second SVM, John Stevenson. Saturday’s winner was Ben Abrahams, who was almost 4 minutes clear of the field, with Bella runner Lyndsey Munro putting in a storming performance to finish in just over 2 hours.

A quick dip in the sea and some fabulous home baking and the lights were back on again, and as more and more runners returned, the atmosphere was full of vows to come back again next year. A classic event in my book: fantastic scenery, great course, terrific banter, really well organised and hugely well supported (plus loads of food and coffee), with lots of fun to be had just getting there and back on the tiny ferry – I’ll certainly be back (having trained on a few hills!) Finally, a big thank you to the Oban Mountain Rescue Team whom, having marshalled the event, was then called out to a shout on Saturday night to find a missing hill walker. They then came straight back to the island to marshal the race on Sunday.

Sunday’s event was won by Scotland’s Triathlon superstar Ritchie Nicholls with first SVM going to the redoubtable Tim Brand from Lochaber AC (glad I chose Saturday!) Entry for next year is via Entry Central…go on, you know you want to……