Couch to Celtman A personal journey – Mark Hartree.

This is an insight into the Celtman Extreme Triathlon by a pal Mark Hartree!


‘Millions of Midges and Thousands of Jellies’, said the T shirts at registration in Torridon village hall.  The event is the busiest weekend of the year for the NW region and those midges and jelly fish also seem to flock here for their annual feast on rubber and lycra clad nutters and their friends.

How do you prepare for a:

 3.4km sea loch swim (temperature of 10c accompanied by jellyfish)

– 200km cycle (obligatory wind, possible gales)

– 40km run (high route over 2 Scottish Munro’s, low route still with 1000m ascent)

The Pentland Skyline is one of my highlight races of the year but the October 2018 race was not good with my dodgy knees creaking again and meaning I aborted after Turnhouse Hill with a rare DNF.  Lying on my sofa with frozen packets of peas strapped either side of both knees I needed some new ways to train, rest and recover.  I had applied for the Celtman having sworn to never do it after supporting Nick Williamson in 2017, but Carnethy President Hardie, had done it last year after also swearing ‘never but had said it was easy, you’ll smash it’ so I’d applied.  He was lying, I saw through his cheap lies, but I like a wee challenge and needed an excuse to improve my swimming, my biking and running.  I was accepted by ‘race director’s choice’.  That bugger Paul McGreal!

I don’t follow prescribed training plans as I can’t be botheredwith set rules and anyway, what would a “Couch to Celtman” ™ training plan look like?

I hatched my own informal plan which included: learning to swim the crawl more effectively by swapping Tuesday lunchtime Inverleith running intervals for swimming Skills and Drills (aka controlled drowning); doing some long hilly cycles through winter (getting abandoned by Neil Burnett and Mike); not running too much to save my knees and having regular massages and acupuncture to fix them; reservoir swimming from 1st March to get used to cccccold water with reeds and weeds to simulate jellyfish; cycling to hill races and making-up my own (free) du and tri-athalons; hiring a campervan from a company that went bust, getting my money back and then finding a replacement ; roping in Jim Hardie and Mike Lynch for race support; and encouraging Mrs H to go to India with my daughter Lauryn (so that she felt that she owed me a support as well). 

It all went pretty well.  Highlights included getting Mike Lynch out of his wetsuit as he jabbered away with hypothermia at Torduff (wasn’t he meant to help me?); Fi and Lauryn losing their luggage for 5 days in India (ahem); coming last Carnethy at Screel after a 90 mile cycle; doing the Stuc a Chroin race after a 62 mile cycle and not coming last Carnethy somehow; getting bargain bucket accessories to ‘upgrade’ my bike (including the use if IKEA bag straps, tie wraps and bodge tape to turn a cheap water bottle into something useful); some great solo swim circuits of Gladhouse; and recee-ing the all new Traprain Law Hill Race with added Triathlon (3.2km swim, 45km cycle, 10km hill race, 45km cycle home) for folk to do next year maybe.

Fancy a triathlon or an Ironman?  Here is an A – Z of things if you choose the Celtman:


Achnasheen, Arse

By Achnasheen, after 185km, you will definitely have a sore Arse, and shoulders, hands, legs and back.



You need a serviceable one with good gears.  Folk spoke of TT, Dura-Ace Di2 shifting and UCI rules (I’ve no idea either). I had a 10 speed Boardman CX Team which is a Cyclocross bike with road tyres instead of nobbles and cheap tri-bars costing £1000 all in.  It worked, but the winner had a £6.5k Argon 18 E-118 Tri (never heard of it either) and went over 10km/h faster than me up, down and along. I am looking forward to Santa coming Mrs H (No WAY she says!).


Camper Van

Worth getting, but take a car as well for your support team since the roads are too narrow in places for a camper (see H).  It kept Mrs H happy vrs a tent, it does cost more than a hotel, but housed my wonderful support team (including Sparky), and kept us out the rain and midges – see M. It also made for a great changing room after a post-race dip in Loch Morlichon the way home.


Dodging potholes, Daft Drivers

These two seemed to go hand in hand (see H and V).



A lot can go wrong, from mechanical bike problems, crashes, weather factors from wind, rain, hail, thunder lightning, tummy problems, getting out of a tri suit when in need of (see P), trips and stumbles, blisters, dehydration, heat stroke. Plan for all of them, have spares of everything.  Help others in need, but don’t forget who you are supporting since they need you.


Food (and drink)

Since you get up at 0230 and swim at 0500, plan breakfast, transition food, brews, lunch, and mix of savoury and sweet food on the bike and run.  Cold baked beans is an acceptable replacement for a missing tub of ambrosia creamed rice!  Practice eating and drinking on the go.  No time to stop.


Gales, Gruinard, Garve

If you haven’t cycled into a Gale by Garve, hard luck.  The last 50km will be into a Gale for the finish.  I got a Gale for the 80km section from Gruinard to Garve but had a relatively easier finish with the wind at my back for about 20 mins.


Hair raising driving

When support cars (200+) chase their cyclist it is wacky wacky races (seealso V).  Try not to kill anyone, or yourself.


Interesting excuses

After your swim, despite wads of Vaseline and Glide, your neck will look like you have been strangled.  If stung by Jellyfish you might also look like you lost a fight to Tyson Fury.  Folk in shops, cafes, in the campsiteand at work will offer sympathy for your depression or think you do kinky sex, or both (see also C and S)


Jellyfish, Jokes, Jessie

Don’t be a Jessie with the Jellyfish.  Practice by crawling around in a field of cows in the dark slapping fresh cowpats.  It’s kinda feels similar (apparently, ignore the smell).  Mike Lynch tells the worst Jokes and managed to not be a Jessie with his knee. 



You need to do loads of these chaps in each discipline.  See “Couch to Celtman” ™.



It’s just a wee race but a very long, long day out.  You need food, clothes, drinks, cars, fuel, spares, bags, shoes etc all in the right places.  It took a full day beforehand just to figure it all out and pack. Also have a finishing bag with a towel and full change, duvet jacket and hat plus money for a few beers, but don’t lose your support team while showering.


Midges, Mudge

Skin so soft, Jungle formula, full body cover, midge nets…pack them all and wear with pride (see also C).  It is just as well I swim a bit quicker than Angela Mudge to be first Carnethy, but she managed to win a place in the Norseman as a consolation.



This is when you hear if you’ve been accepted in the ballot (see also P and “Couch to Celtman” ™ ideas).


Other half, Onside,

The Celtman is not cheap, kit is expensive and accessories all add up (see B and C) especially if Santa is kind.  Bribing your other half can help, even if that costs you even more.  Build smarty points up through the months before the race if you have any spare time or money.


Pee and Pooh

This will happen, first in November and then sometime during each discipline on the day.  Peeing in wetsuits is….warming.  Poohing in wetsuits is not nice for your Support Crew so avoid that.  When wearing a tri-suit, wear your T shirt under the shoulder straps as this saves removing it and your helmet and goggles to P (see also E).



Radio reception in Torridon is rubbish.  Downloads of Pop Master quizzes from the BBC iplayer can be great entertainment for your Support Crewor purgatory for your other half to endure!.



Use SHR, FRA and Carnethy races as training.  Cycle to them to see what happens to your legs after hours on a bike, or enter other Triathalons if rich (see also O).


Support crew

Choose them carefully, you can’t pack experience.  Ideally, check their driving skills before you go (see D & H) and their other interests (see I and Q) and quality of their jokes.  De-select them if you have any doubts.



Practice getting out of your wetsuit.  Plan what you need at each transition (see also L and P).  Eat, pee and pooh, and Vaseline up. You won’t regret this.



The Carnethy winter Ultra Marathon series is another way to get the miles in your legs – especially if cycling to and from them. 


Venting spleen, Vaseline

When you meet the D and H and fear imminent death, feel free to Vent spleen since the driver is probably playing Pop Master (see Q).  Lots of pre-positioned Vaseline helps if inadvertent Venting in your tri-suit happens (see E and P) 


Wild Swimming

Loch Sheildig will be colder than that allowed for normal Ironman temperature levels.  Get over it Jessie.  As the Celtman Manual states ‘the Celtman is not for softies’. Swimming pools are useless for preparing.  Cold showers through the winter help.  Swimming in lochs and reservoirs helps conditioning for the cold – start early, breaking the ice before taking the plunge is a good sign.



Shoes for the run need to cater for all terrain.  Parts are like Jura – so if you have done Jura then that footwear will work.  If not, do Jura.



You will shout this on the fast descents.  The location of these can vary (see G).  Either way, the descent into Kinlochewe is a Yippppeeeemoment, as is getting into a transition with a controlled P, and definitely when crossing the finish line, just before you collapse. 



If you can’t sleep before the race, you definitely will afterwards, once your body realises it is no longer moving.  A few beers may help.

The Celtman is an awesome race, fantastically organised, in a stunning part of Scotland and one for your bucket list.  It is a wee bit Extreme at times, but then I think a tarmac slapping would be worse.  Thanks to Fi (Mrs H), Sparky, Jim, Mike and Heavy for their brilliant support, and all the race crew, competitors and supporters that made this the friendliest of events.

Also on The Adventure Show soon


Mark Hartree

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Friends, Hill running and huge days!, People. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Couch to Celtman A personal journey – Mark Hartree.

  1. jamiecpawley says:

    Great post and what a great race. This took me back

    Liked by 1 person

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