This year saw the 10th running of the Celtman Extreme Scottish triathlon. Each year the race opens up a ballot for entry in November and it is always over subscribed so before anyone even makes it to an entry some 2000 hopefuls are cut down to an entry list of 200.
The ballot itself generates great excitement on social media with a variety of people throwing their hats in the ring for what has to be one of the worlds most iconic one day endurance races. Before it even starts only 10% of hopefuls make that first cut.
Over the years we have observed the different types of individuals who enter the ballot and these range from the very few looking to win or be at the sharp end to people simply looking for a real challenge in one of the world’s most inspiring places. Not all though are cut out for it.
From the success in the ballot the 200 can then drop down significantly with around 30 dropping out before the race even starts. The 2022 event had only 170 starters. There are a variety of reasons why this is the case, ranging from illness and injury to family issues or quite simply the realisation that not enough preparation had been done.
The race itself is unique. The 3.4km swim in a cold Scottish sea loch infested with jellyfish as far as we know is a one off. The 200km ride around the North West highlands with 2000m of climbing isn’t the ‘hardest’ bike route in triathlon but the weather always has a say in how tough it can be with the infamous Garve to T2 segment often being a block headwind for 40km. The ride is a real challenge but the challenge is surpassed by the sheer beauty and grandeur of the scenery. The extra ‘pressure’ that exists for those people who have the objective of making the various cut offs adds a little spice to the mix. If you have made the bike cut off time, you then have to tackle the first run portion from T2 to T2A. This for many people is one of the attractions of the race – to be able to negotiate the Coulin estates single track and climb to line up to tackle the mountain section and gain the coveted Blue T shirt.
Each year there is a further split takes place with those who make the cut for blue and those who are still eligible for the white. At this stage if there is extreme weather it can be as severe as only half of the original starters that make it. In the years where the weather was bad in the outset and the mountain part of the course is closed due to safety it can be as much as 50% of the starters that are left eligible for blue.
The low course is still a severe challenge with rough rocky ground, ample climbing and usually a lot of water underfoot, so the completion of this to gain a white t shirt is no mean feet. Taking both blue and white finishers and looking at the DNF ( did not finish ) rate means that of the 2000 hopefuls, only around 140 -1 50 actually make the full journey. Looking at only the blue portion that can be as low as 50 people.
2022 was particularly harsh with the weather, but was similar to 2017 where the mountain course was fully closed. In 2013 the weather was also harsh but 11 people started on the mountain before it was closed and only 48 people made the time cut for blue. In 2022, 88 made blue so it makes a nice discussion point as to which day had the worst weather.
Maybe looking at the statistics in more depth would be fun, but it is safe enough to see why the blue T is a bit of a big deal for many. Of 2000 hopefuls only (circa) 50 make it if the weather isn’t playing ball.
If you are lucky enough to be one of the 200 who make the start line is there any way of being sure you have a successful day. Each year only a handful of people are genuinely ever going to be battling for the win and looking at those people doesn’t necessarily inform the rest of the field on how to have a great day, but it would make good reading! Quick taster from the men’s field says that in 10 years, only 2 ‘ triathletes’ have actually won the race. Looking at this in detail for another piece will be fun.
Over the years we have been lucky to help over 90 people tackle this race with a real mix of results – from the race winner, multiple top tens to DNS or DNF. What we have learned isn’t surprising – the better the preparation, the better your day.
We use Training Peaks as our main tool for delivering training programs, feedback and communication. Training Peaks as a company produce guides using the CTL ( Critical Training Load) to outline what ‘good’ looks like. It has flaws but is a useful guide to use for many athletes but not all and in reality we use it as a measure of consistency.
Training Peaks guides suggest that if you are training for say, an Ironman your CTL into race should be 145-185. In simple terms that means that your rolling average of daily training stress score ( TSS) would be the equivalent of 85 to 111 minutes of activity at Threshold effort!! Clearly nobody can operate at threshold day in day out but if we look at what that means in ‘training hours’ we are looking at somewhere between 18 and 22 hours a week of a mixture of training activities not including stretching or massage.
We can argue that Celtman is or can be harder than a standard IM but that would depend on how hard or deep you can go so let’s not add complexity and stick with the TP numbers. Most people with families and real jobs typically don’t have upwards of 18 hours to devote to training and the good news is you can get round, make blue and indeed win the race on less.
Sadly we don’t have all of the historical data and the CTL numbers are only part of the equation but in 2017, Chris Stirling won the race on the low course with a CTL value of 122. He then went on to win Canadaman 3 weeks later with a lower value ( due to recovery) of 118. If we take the data we do have over multiple years.
Total Entries – 44
Total Starters – 38 ( Heart condition, stroke, divorce, injuries)
DNF – 5
White T – 6
Blue T – 27
Top ten ( M/F) 8
CTL maybe at a gross level does seem to provide a guide as to how the race pans out and it appears to be pretty simple with of course some exceptions.
27 Blue T shirts – range of CTL was 101 to 165 with 2 exceptions. The exceptions were 60 and 65 but both individuals were highly experienced athletes who had a sub optimal final 6 weeks training that dragged the score down.
6 White T shirts – range of CTL 65 to 100
DNF – range of CTL 40 – 110. If we exclude the DNF that crashed it becomes 40 – 85
What does this tell us, if anything? Not exactly rocket science but if you want to complete the war of attrition, you need to train consistently and specifically for the race. If this has been interesting and you want to know more, give us a shout.