Coach Phil does Coast to Coast


Why did I take on the challenge?
On the weekend of 10th September I embarked on my biggest endurance challenge to date. After completing Man vs Mountain last year with some of the members from the box I decided to complete at least one big endurance event each year. This type of event, although enjoyable, has always been out of my comfort zone and I’d always lean towards lifting heavy things rather than going on a long run. However, for me, having a target or event like this has always been an opportunity to test myself and learn.

Why Coast to Coast?
Last year I completed Man vs Mountain, which apart from a half marathon was the longest event I had done. What draws me to these types of events is the complete change of environment from the gym. It’s great getting stronger and fitter in general, but I like to use what I have worked for in the great outdoors and different environments. So after finishing Man vs Mountain I wanted to do an event with more variety of disciplines and a longer distance. After looking through the Rat Race event calendar (the company that organised Man vs Mountain), Coast to Coast jumped out.

What did it involve?
The event involved three different activities (running, cycling and kayaking), was 105 miles long and could be done over one or two days. After looking at the challenge I decided to enter the two day version due to my limited experience in this type of event and the one day option having checkpoints that you had to meet in a particular time in order to carry on.

Day 1
It all started at 8:00am with a seven mile run, which took you from Nairn on the east coast to Fort Augustus. We left the town and headed into the countryside along the river Nairn. This route had large stretches of single track so there was limited space for overtaking. However, the twists and turns that we had to make going through the woods were good fun and kept things interesting. Before I knew it I was in the grounds of Cawdor Castle, which was the first transition and where I picked up my bike. Part two of the first day was a 48-mile road cycle, which I was a bit apprehensive about, due to it’s length. We then carried on following the River Nairn. Here I managed to cycle with two other guys around Loch Mhor and got going in a good pace. We then went on some bigger roads where I passed one of the participants having to take a pit stop for a very public number 2… which just so happened to be on the road side much to his friends amusement! We then had a climb that felt like forever where we were greeted by a photographer, and a steep descent into Fort Augustus where I managed to hit 55 km per hour free rolling. The final part of the day was a short run from the transition site and campsite down the the edge of Loch Ness for a one mile kayak, with the hope of seeing Nessy. I was really happy with how this first day went and I had finished just after 1:00pm, which gave me the afternoon to put up my tent, get some dinner and an early night.

Day 2
Day two started off with an early alarm in order to get the tent packed up. After a bit of breakfast, I then set off on 21 miles of off-road cycling, which started on the Caledonian Canal footpath before heading into the woods for some more technical off roading. I was expecting to have fun here, as I was riding a mountain bike rather than a cyclocross bike and it brought back childhood memories of riding through woods as fast as possible. I still have a desire to go as fast as possible when there is a downhill section, which gave me the chance to overtake lots of people.  After 21 miles of off-road cycling I knew that the final road cycle of 13.5 miles around the edge of Loch Lochy would go quick. Before I knew it I was heading past buildings I knew in Fort William from previous visits to climb Ben Nevis. So after a quick change of kit, stock up on food and water I was off on the final run. At this point the event was becoming more lonely due to everyone being so spread out, so I found that the mental element of the event became more important.

The run started off along the roads of Glen Nevis before cutting off the road and climbing steadily to over 300m and back down to climb again to 500m. Getting going on the run was the hard part for me as I just couldn’t get my legs into my usual running rhythm due to them feeling strange after the bike and the incline that the run started with. After an hour things started to feel a bit more normal and I could feel myself getting faster. I also started to see more people out on the hills walking in the opposite direction, which kept going as I didn’t want a complete stranger to spot me walking (it’s funny what keeps you going). Over the last 4-5 miles myself and a few other competitors kept on changing position, which was good for conversation and motivation because if I saw them walking I’d, jog and if I saw someone jogging, I’d run. Simple yet effective. Finally I got onto the pavement and the flat before the finish and even though my body was tired I managed to run faster and faster. Upon crossing the finish I was informed that we had been directed to a different finish point, as high winds meant the final kayak would be unsafe and our run that we had just done was just over 15 miles. This meant we did the same distance even though we didn’t do the final kayak.

My finishing time for all the stages was 10:53:13, which I was really happy with. The challenge for me was to complete the distance and for my body not to be in bits at the end – which it wasn’t. Then on the Monday when the results of the event were published, I found out to my surprise that I had finished in 24th out of 635 finishers and 16th in my category. This was a complete shock and something that I never thought that I could have done.

What I have learnt
Once you complete an event or challenge like this, I feel it is important to give yourself the time to think about what you have learnt as a result of the experience and see if there is anything you have discovered that you can use in other areas of your life.

  1. I tend to think that what I’m doing isn’t good enough, however, if I pick my head up and look around things aren’t as bad they seem.
  2. If you just keep moving forward you’ll get to your finish line. There may be hills, turns, rivers, mental barriers, other people, equipment issues, etc in your way but if you just take things one step at a time it’s remarkable how far you can go in a short amount of time.
  3. Believe in yourself and what is possible. “Your only limitation is the one you set up in your own mind.” – Napoleon Hill


What’s next?
Now the event is over and I have had time to think about what I have learnt and discovered I need to set the challenge for next year. I would like it to be equal or a step up from this year or be something that is a ‘bucket list’ type of challenge. With that in mind the front runners are…  climb Mont Blanc, run a marathon or even an ultra marathon or an Ironman. I am open to suggestions though so please feel free to let me know your ideas!  

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