Gary did it again. Signed me up for something I knew nothing about. He has a talent for it. To be fair this time the fact it included the phrase ‘crewing for Scott Molina’ meant I was unlikely to say no. Turns out that Celtman was on the Terminator’s bucket list and he’d told Gary about it at Epic Camp in Canada. From that point it was game on. We had over 9 months to plan Operation Celtman with military precision.
Let’s just rewind a little. ‘Crewing for Scott Molina’…really? Four years ago Gary and I sat at a briefing for Embrunman in the Alps whilst Scott was presented on stage as he was in town and a previous winner. We sat and were pretty excited to have seen the guy in the flesh – even from 100yards away over a sea of heads. He was in town as part of Epic France – we were pretty excited to be in the same town as an Epic Camp. Last year early on at Epic Camp I remember sitting at lunch and finding myself pretty close to Scott. So I took a picture surreptitiously over my shoulder – making sure Scott was visible and sent it home. Less than a year later and I’m spending the weekend with a Kona Legend. Not only that but his wife Erin Baker was coming with him. Two for the price of one.
Military precision can take many forms. Here’s military precision the Gary and Adam way. Don’t really bother reading the race manual too much. Print it out and say you’re going to read it together in Denmark a couple of weeks beforehand but make sure you leave it on the back seat of the car before you leave the airport car park. Don’t plan to arrive until well after the race briefing and mandatory supporter’s kit-check. Panic order said kit for delivery to the home of the non-running supporter after he’s hastily re-booked travel to arrive before the briefing. No accommodation will be required – just book a van and bring a sleeping bag. Under no circumstances should any of the support crew (or for that matter the athlete) have any idea how to use the mandatory compass. Subsequently sit down with Scott the evening before, whilst waiting for Gary to arrive, and scribble out a few words on a scrap of paper. So there you have it…the master plan.
With the plan in place we pootled off in the van to cook some microwave-only paella on a stove Gary hadn’t used in about 5years, using an 8mm Allen key as an impromptu spatula, given all forms of cutlery were safely in a box on a kitchen table in Gary’s house in Edinburgh.
Never that keen on setting the alarm for something beginning with a 2 – even if it did mean bringing to an end being up close and personal with Gary in the back of a Transit van – but the plan decreed a 3:15 pick up of our VIP so that was what was duly carried out. The plan didn’t include any form of crew uniform but lo and behold we both went for the black hat, Epic bike jersey with Harrison’s Fund t-shirts underneath and trackies. Looks can be deceiving – we looked pretty damn competent at this point.
No one had actually recced the start so moments before we were about to do a u-turn as we’d decided we’d gone the wrong way, we found the drop-off point and T1 area. So far, so good. Scott was to be bussed to the start at 4:15 so we had plenty of time to get the bike racked and kit laid out. All pretty hassle-free and then we ambled back to the bus in plenty of time, even stopping for a coffee en route. Scott’s a pretty laid back kind of a guy so I was sensing this was just how he liked to kick things off on race day. It was at this point I noticed all the athletes with tag type contraptions around their wrists. Well not quite all the athletes. All bar one. Unfortunately our one. Then I remembered something about ‘picking up your GPS unit and timing chip in T1’ that may have been mentioned at the briefing. A quick enquiry as to whether this task had been completed by said athlete and after asking a marshall it was soon established that we hadn’t ‘signed on’ or picked up the aforementioned devices. To be fair he’s only done just over 400 triathlons so we decided it was an acceptable rookie mistake. Cue a Fegan dash to T1 to atone for ‘his’ error. Told Scott not to worry and that we’d sort it but with all the buses pretty full up and ready to roll I sensed a slight air of uncomfortableness with the situation. Other than the uniforms at this point I doubt we’d done a lot to send out signals of much competence so it was pretty understandable. Still, it took his mind off the fact he’d soon be in water of around 11 degrees – which justifiably Scott was less than enthusiastic about. Gary duly returned and everything was sorted. We waved off our boy like a couple of parents waving off their only child on his first school trip as he set off on the short trip to Shieldaig for the start.
Spot of quickly knocked up porridge and then a spot of rain. Got quite heavy for a bit so super crew sprang into action and added a few items of clothing to the Terminator’s transition area (wasn’t long ago we were excited about seeing his shoes!) and popped it all in a waterproof bag. Only for it to promptly stop raining 15minutes before we were expecting the swim finish so we promptly took it all back out again. The pretty cool fire torches at the exit had been lit, the drummer was in situ and the first kayak was rounding the island heralding the imminent arrival of the first swimmers out. There was a group of three off the front – we were hoping one of them was our boy as he was swimming pretty well when it mattered in Canada. Our boy duly exited the water in a pretty impressive 3rd spot after tucking in for the ride and playing with the hundreds of jelly fish reportedly out there. So I donned the Support Crew T-shirt and stripped booties, wetsuit and hooded rash vest whilst Gary took a few photos, informed the Adventure Program TV crew exactly who this guy was and offered Scott a much appreciated warm coffee whilst standing next to some lady with a camera. He was cold, a little subdued as a result, but not shaking and in reasonable spirits as we sent him on his way. Good jawb!
Packed all the gear up and just as we were leaving a lady ran to the mount line. ‘B*ll**ks – she’s never in the race…Support Crew!’ charmed Gary before I pointed out that they didn’t generally give Support Crew race numbers. She went on to win the race and beat Scott by over an hour… whether Gary ever apologised is undocumented, neither were the innermost thoughts of the ‘lady with the camera’. The plan was head to Gairloch for some breakfast and first feed stop for Mr Molina. Except the road out of Shieldaig and onto the main road is single track with passing places. So we were only heading as fast as cyclists with the occasional overtake when safe in a passing place. Some poor dude was soft-pedalling behind us for majority of this section as a result – no point letting him past as we were in a queue of cars anyway. If this was a little annoying we can only hope that this took his mind off the fact it was now tipping it down. We finally passed Scott once we got on the ‘main’ road and enquired if any more clothing was required. Nails replied he was okay so we headed to Gairloch. Where we promptly decided Scott’s needs were far greater than ours for a full English (believe me Gary took some serious persuading) and promptly set up the feed station at the bottom of a fast descent – precisely as we’d decided not to do the day before. Gary pre-warned Scott and I stood there whilst he whizzed past without so much as an acknowledgment… feeling like a guy at a bus stop who’s just seen the bus he’s been waiting for ignore him. Charming!
Packed it all back up and headed on a few miles before stopping again. This time a Snickers and a bottle was requested and despatched with aplomb. We then just kept heading on around 10miles finding a decent place to stop and setting up the table and basket ready to cater to any specific requests. Gave a few shouts to those in front of Scott as they passed each time we stopped and generally just had a good time hanging out in a breathtaking part of the country watching what was a pretty awesome event unfold. After several stops I decided it was either lunchtime or bedtime – which is a strange thought when you then check your watch and it’s 8:45! Given Gary had decided it was the latter I got to experience neither. Twas gonna be a long day.
Around 60-70miles it was clear Scott wasn’t quite having as much fun as he had been. Nothing too serious and just part of the ebb and flow of long distance life. Good that we didn’t patronise a legend with some half-arsed motivational bollocks; even better that we didn’t point out he was now third in the female race. Both would have been highly inappropriate and disrespectful – I guess the fact we did neither was testament to our tiredness rather than our deference or self-awareness. Nope, instead we found a layby got out the stove and whipped him up a nice warm coffee. Seemed to be a good call as he certainly wasn’t saying no when it was offered. Scenery wasn’t quite so spectacular and worse was to follow as there was a real drag into a head wind for the last hour plus. Not really what anyone wanted but Nails seemed to have his mansuit on and just cranked it out to the finish. No real dramas on the bike so happy that we’d made a reasonable fist of this Support Crew malarkey on the most difficult bit. We got this buddy!
Then we sent Scott on his way with a Snickers and a bottle of water and said ‘see you in 5k’. Then we got stuck in a road block for 20minutes when a caravan decided to ignore the temporary passing place set up on the narrow approach road and then we found out from a marshall that there was no way you could support your athlete on this section. Would have helped if this was made clear at the briefing or in the race manual or possibly even both ;o)
Would also have helped if we’d have RTFM at this point and realised that there were aid stations but instead we went into full on flap mode and visualised Molina staggering through the trails like a washed up prize fighter cursing those two hapless Brits. We parked up where the runners were emerging and Gary was quickly despatched to run back down the course, carrying enough food to feed a small army, to intercept Scott asap. Gary was soon bounding along down the wrong path and fortuitously the two paths converged just as they were about to pass each other in opposite directions oblivious to the other’s whereabouts. Fortunately that didn’t happen as Gary spotted him down below. Given Gary was carrying the support runner’s survival pack the consequences of them not having converged at that exact point don’t really bare thinking about too closely. You take the high road and I’ll take the low road and I’ll be in T2a afore ye! Military precision.
Would have helped if we’d have RTFM at this point and realised there weren’t any aid stations on the mountain section where Gary was to accompany Scott. Now we all knew about the accompanied section and we all knew about the kit requirements but we never put two and two together and made over 4hours for a 10mile section. I mean we’d only had about 9months to plan this so you can’t cover every minor detail. I did happen across the Celtman website and notice the run course record was 4:40-ish. I managed to casually drop this into conversation after our boy had been convincing us Friday evening that he would be managing a 5hour run split at worst. None of us really knew what was in store but Scott soon got a taste as he was stood in T2a getting the mandatory kit checked and I pointed out that the wall in front of him was the first part of the ‘run’ course. ‘What? Straight up that sucker?’ – yep afraid so, boss. You need to hit T2a before 11hours are up to be allowed over the high route and qualify for a Blue T-shirt (I only know this as I just looked it up now!) so Scott was more happy that he’d achieved that particular objective than he was bothered about what was ahead. So I set about occupying myself for a couple of hours. Ended up spending a most enjoyable time over a pot of tea with that lady with the camera. I could tell she was super impressed with listening to my triathlon stories for a couple of hours…although less than impressed that two grown men were sleeping in the back of a van! Hey that’s just how we roll.
Then I hot footed it back to the mountain exit keen not to miss them – they might be hungry… after all Team Numpty thought there was aid up the mountain and Scott even told Gary to carry his empty bottle so they could fill it up somewhere up there. Chances of the organisers lugging several gallons of water up the mountain not great – we really hadn’t thought this through…but apparently they did have a piper up there! I was told to expect the boys ‘at least 2 hours’ after they entered that section…for at least 2 read at least 4. When I got back I enquired how many people had been through, figuring Scott had entered T2 somewhere in or around 20th place. As only three had gone through and even Scott would agree technical trail running wasn’t his strength, I was confident I hadn’t missed them and he hadn’t turned back the clock and run himself onto the podium. In fact I didn’t have long to wait at all…just the small matter of 2 and a half hours. On the basis I’d been up for approaching 16hours after 3 hours sleep, looking back I can’t think of anything I’d rather have been doing at that point in the day.
Eventually there was the unmistakeable sight of the mildly unathletic Fegan and following on just behind someone doing the well drilled Molina Shuffle. The boys had had an experience they never expected and certainly won’t ever forget. Rough calculations (setting aside military precision for a moment) got them to cover 10miles in around 4 and a half hours! As if by magic the lady with the camera appeared (it’s almost as if she’s read the manual and knew what was going on or something) and handed me the camera and the next thing I know is I’ve parked up a mile or so down the road ready to attend to any aid requirements and I turn around to see two Kona Champs and a Chump running towards me. I thought to myself ‘Where did it all go wrong for poor old, Gary?’. It was surreal and genuinely couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke.
Scott perked up once he got back on the tarmac and trotted out a pretty decent rhythm. Gary was super impressed with the transformation from the man he saw on the mountain to the one he accompanied on the 9k run to the finish. Guess you don’t get to achieve what Scott has and earn the nickname the Terminator if you don’t have that little extra bit of fire in your belly. Then that was it. No Mike Reilly, no blue carpet, no cookie cutter after race protocol. More akin to the Bob Babbitt story of one of the first Kona races with a chalk line and a guy asking if the guy approaching through the dark was in the race and then casually telling him ‘You’re done buddy.’. Good old-fashioned human endeavour and an unforgettable experience. I don’t think we’ll see a Celtman blender anytime soon…thankfully.
The boys had a quick Celtman beer and told us the tale of the mountain. Scott’s a great raconteur and anyone who’s met Gary knows he has his own direct style of summing people and events up. It was fun to just sit back and listen.
So after such a long day there’s only one thing to do. Leave Sea Biscuit asleep on the bed (the boy sure knows how to catch some zzz’s) and head off to the local watering hole with the lady with the camera and sink a few beers. I’m guessing no one from the pub has ever completed the Celtman – if they had they wouldn’t have put on a band and a party in the evening and expected people to turn up. Pretty sure we were the only three there that had anything to do with the race but there were plenty of locals there to give it some life. For us it was the perfect end to an unforgettable day. Once it was clear Gary and I were over double the average age of anyone else left, we called it a day and headed to the palatial Fegan Towers for the night. Despite the bucketing rain on the tin roof we didn’t really have a lot of trouble sleeping.
Thanks to Gary for making it happen and roping me in and special thanks to Scott and Erin for indulging us. A couple got talking to them in the bar on Friday afternoon and were asking loads of questions about the race and Scott’s readiness etc. They walked away without the slightest clue of who they’d just spoken to or how funny questions like ‘Have you ever done this sort of thing before?’ actually sound in the context of who was being asked. Classy.