Coast to Coast

Race Report by Val Machin

Rat Race Scotland Coast-to-Coast 13th/14th September 2013

Months ago, in a mad moment, I asked Janice if she’d be interested in partnering me in this event. OMG- she said ‘yes’; this was going to be interesting, two little old ladies tottering their way from Nairn to Glencoe by foot, bike and kayak. Better do some serious training then- well one of us did!

I’d been interested in this event since its inception about five years ago. It’s 100+ miles over 2 days, but, as my kayaking experience was limited to a couple of hours on a sunny Spanish lagoon, I thought it wasn’t for me. But previous successful participants - Frances, who podiumed of course, and Lisa & Avril who completed the event last year to celebrate their fiftieth birthdays, persuaded me to look again – the kayak stages were very short, weren’t they?

Watch out, Rat Race Team - ‘Old Enough to Know Better’ are on their way. Errrrr..........hmmmm......Not feeling quite so positive on the start line at Nairn. Fellow Cairngorm Runner and neighbour Andy Holmes was competing in the solo category and pointed out that most of the athletes were younger than our bikes.

Janice and I were at the leisurely end of the cheerful stream of runners enjoying the autumn sunshine on the pleasant riverside run to Cawdor castle, but surprisingly there were always lots of competitors behind us- a rare experience for me. A quick change to the bikes and then the 48 mile “undulating” ride to Fort Augustus – the most demanding “undulation” being towards the end where the road rises to over 1200 feet before sweeping down to Loch Ness – and no, we didn’t walk.

And yes, the kayak section was very short; with a bit of a nudge from Nessie, we were finished for the day and feeling a bit pleased with ourselves. Andy of course had finished well ahead of us and happy with his day. The campsite atmosphere was great with everyone optimistic about the next day despite the weather warnings of torrential rain and gale- force winds. Well, this is Scotland after all, and all those competitors from the south needed the authentic experience...

Sunday morning saw us in the bike compound wishing we’d put plastic bags over the saddles the night before.  This was the section I’d been most worried about – a 16 mile off-road cycle, some of it single track and “technical”- for me at least, and surrounded by hundreds of other cyclists of varying experience. Also, my bike is a bit like me – past its sell-by date with no shock absorbers! I was right – we both hated it! Soaked to the skin and covered in mud, we emerged onto the tarmac road at Clunes, but we hadn’t fallen off. A quick stop for coffee and flapjack thanks to our “support crew” (Dave) and we were on the road section to Fort William. No views today of Ben Nevis, I was flagging and beginning to think that, in the Highlands, even the downs are up. Lochaber greeted us in traditional style with a deluge.

We threw the bikes into transition in Glen Nevis and set off on the West Highland Way for the first part of the offroad 14 mile run/trek; familiar territory for both of us. Dear reader, I have to confess, there was very little running over the next four hours, but a lot of dodgy crossings of burns in spate, and a lot of whinging from me. 10 miles into this wild landscape, I begin to look for the river crossing and hill climb which would take us to the final kayak stage over Loch Leven to the finish. But there was no turn arrow, just a very wet marshal telling us that we were to continue on the WHW to Kinlochleven . The kayak section had been cancelled due to the dangerous wind speeds.

Our relief was tempered by the knowledge that the run was now 2 or 3 miles longer. Splashing on, we finally dropped down to the road, and the amazing Janice even managed a jog to the finish kite, with me plodding behind. A quick transfer in a WARM and DRY minibus to the real finish at the Isles of Glencoe hotel for medals, photos and soup. We’d done it- no crashes, capsizes or even blisters- the triumph of hope over experience!


Andy Holmes Position 214 in 13hrs:11 m:13s.

Janice Cargill & Val Machin  Position 397  in 15hrs:44m:08s


With 486 finishers.  Full results and route details etc can be found on the RatRace website.

MANY THANKS to Frances Bain, Lisa Lawson and Avril Bruce for race advice, which was to eat a lot! Mike’s Bikes for bike and tyres advice- you were right, of course, Mike. Jeannette Meldrum for magic flapjack.

Dave Machin- chauffeur, bike mechanic, caterer, rent-a-crowd, - nearly always in the right place at the right time....

And the incredible Janice Cargill, fitter, faster and infinitely more patient than me.

Val Machin