Updated: Jun 18, 2019
Article by Matt Green // Photos by Jay Golian
Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to the inaugural Gleneagles Great Adventure Race. I knew that this would be like nothing else I had ever done. Despite having filmed and competed at many races, it was clear this would be a different breed, a whole new approach, and one that I was really looking forward to.
“Where sporting grit meets stunning scenery and luxury hospitality” - the description could not have been more accurate.
In ten years of racing, I’ve slept in cars, on wooden decking by a car park, in bushes, tents - you name it. Whilst all these experiences have their charm, and are for me the norm, I certainly won’t stop, the idea of staying in luxury accommodation at a race was an exciting prospect.
Doing challenging things and pushing yourself is a rewarding process, but this race goes to show that racing doesn't always mean roughing it! Hardship can go hand in hand with comfort and luxury.
Whilst this race doesn't reflect your normal, muddy tent, and portaloo race experience, the Gleneagles adventure race is not ashamed to break into the adventure market offering a unique option for those that want that extra...everything! The price is high for an adventure race but this race is a luxury, a potentially once in a lifetime experience, and it is not ashamed to shout it from the rooftops. There will be a market for this, maybe not one I'm used to but I can see how this will become a fixture in the diary.
Gleneagles makes an impression as soon as you arrive, the towering buildings, manicured grounds stretching off into the distance and a warm welcome from the moment you enter. Gleneagles has an outstanding reputation and I could already appreciate why this was the case.
Feeling like the campaign rooms of an expedition at the Royal Geographical Society, a wing of the hotel was dedicated to the event. After a short registration I went up to my room to find a beautifully engraved pocket compass and other race goodies. Attention to detail is something I really revere and it was clear that a lot of thought had gone into every single part of the weekend.
I was lucky to be racing with GB ultra runner Donnie Campbell as Team Salomon. Along with his expertise as an athlete, (which is far beyond mine!) and being a great bloke, he also knew the area very well which was sure to come in handy in the race.
When Donnie arrived we had the opportunity to do a quick practice in the canoes on Laich Loch by the world famous golf course. Getting used to the kneeling position and technique we paddled round the fountains, through one of them and felt satisfied that we could make her move fairly swiftly through the water. As it turns out ‘moving swiftly’ is more handy when in a straight line...
Although we knew the disciplines and distances that we would encounter in the race, we weren’t aware of where the route itself would go. This was announced in the race briefing held in one of the race campaign rooms. I really like this element of adventure racing, revealing the route at the last minute adds an element of excitement and to a certain extent levels the playing field as no-one has had a chance to recce the route.
Race Director Stuart Johnson (who has great deal of experience in Adventure Racing and expedition races) talked us through the route, starting on the north shore of Loch Earn, we would complete a 4km course, landing on the south shore for transition one. The 17km run takes you over Ben Vorlich (985m) into Glen Artney where transition two awaits, onto the bikes for 36km. Quiet estate roads take you through the quaint Perthshire village of Muthill and onto the finish line in front of the main entrance of the hotel.
Stuart, who also heads up the Tayside Mountain Rescue team had his team dotted around the course, along with a water-based team, Gleneagles staff and live GPS tracking on all participants to ensure everyone was covered.
After arranging all our kit for the following day, we went down to dine in the newly
opened Scullery, surrounded by culinary delights from the Strathearn kitchens. Director of Leisure, Colin Farndon started the speeches and introduced the evenings speaker, adventurer and cycling world record holder Mark Beaumont.
Hearing Mark's tales of from childhood dreams of cycling the length of the UK to breaking the world record cycling around the world, surrounded by fine food, I felt almost like we were back in the Victorian golden age of exploration. Donnie and I chatted to the other teams and we speculated about the race ahead, everyone seemed to be either looking forward to the run or the bike the most, the canoe, as we would soon learn would test everyone more than expected!
To say it was a brilliant morning would be a total understatement, the sun rose in a clear sky, lifting a whispy mist into the valleys.
Breakfast was yet another feast that would easily satisfy even the most ravenous adventurer. Pre-race means eat what you know, so I resisted many of the tempting delights, looking forward to tucking in the following morning with a post race hunger. A definite motivator to push harder and burn more calories!
A coach took us out to the start, it was pretty quiet as most people had their faces glued to the window as Donnie pointed out the majestic snow-capped Ben Vorlich. There’s something alluring about a snow-capped mountain and I was very excited about summiting it.
Loch Earn was picture perfect, the Perthshire landscape reflected back in calm water as the day began to warm up. A Gleneagles Land Rover Defender was smartly set up with last minute refreshments and staff wished us well as we boarded the canoes ready for the start. With all ten boats jostling to get straight at the start line we set off at the whistle. It must have been an interesting sight - it's very difficult to hurry in a canoe, technique would make all the difference, shame I didn't really have much (I couldn't see Donnie behind me, but I'm sure he was doing it right... weren't you!!?)
It quickly became apparent that going in a straight line was very difficult, at first we were neck and neck with Mark Beaumont and his team mate Pete, but they soon pulled ahead as we fought with the boat to get round the first buoy. Rounding the large yellow inflatable mark (which we managed to do quite neatly!) we started the traverse to the south shore. Donnie shouted over my shoulder, “what should we call the boat?!”, I had no idea, but Donnie was keen to put forward “Drunkard” due to its floundering bow, wandering this way and that. I agreed.
Like a canoe possessed, she wandered from left to right, while we fought to maintain the gap between Mark, Pete and ourselves. I have a whole new level of respect for anyone that can canoe quickly in a straight line.
Mark and Pete got to shore about 25 seconds ahead of us, we jumped out onto the pebbled beach, getting into transition one where another Defender awaited, laid out with a choice of food and drink and our kit bags.
Consuming a quick drink and snack we put on our running vests and head out on the trail, just ahead of Mark and Pete. We knew that the run would be crucial, if not make or break for us - on the bike we would be hunted, but could we get a big enough gap to survive it?
The start of the trail was a wide Land Rover track, a gentle incline slowly increased and the trail became narrower and more technical. Rising out of the glen, the views opened up all around, it’s not hard to see why so many people come to Perthshire, the landscape alone would bring you back time after time. Donnie patiently stayed with me while I put down the work to get through the run as fast as I could. Power hiking up the last steep section we soon broke into the snow, there’s something cool about running in snow, on top of a mountain. A race marshal from mountain rescue checked us through with a smile and a wave as we began the descent.
In contrast to the busy trail on the ascent, the descent was classic fell-running terrain, no trail to speak of, only a waypoint off in the distance to aim for - the head of Glen Artney. The snow ended to reveal a technical traverse over some boulders which quickly became a patchwork of grassy slope and bog. The springy ground meant you could let loose and really enjoy the descent, a hidden stream caused me to stumble but a short roll and I was back up on my feet, trying to catch up with Donnie as he flew down the Munro.
Near the bottom of the 2km descent it was getting noticeably warmer, Donnie chucking
bottles of water down my neck. Following the river, a trail became visible, starting as a singletrack then after a few kilometers, widening, eventually back into an estate Land Rover track. Focused on getting the speed ticking over, I started to want the run to last a bit longer, give us a bit more of an edge before the bikes. Every now and then I would ask Donnie if he could see what gap we had behind us, 'not far'... that was enough to make me push on, nothing like a sprinkling of fear to make you push on.
I knew I wanted to swap out the bottle of electrolyte on my bike for one with water so Donnie made use of his speed to get ahead to the final transition. The Gleneagles team were there again to offer support, refreshment and cheer us on for the final leg, the bike.
My legs were quite fatigued by this point but I knew that that it was far from over. As well as Mark and Pete chasing us down was the talented Tom Hill and his team mate Marion Shoote. Most people the night before had said they were looking forward to the bike the most, so I started to feel like they were all just behind us, breathing down our necks, cranking the pedals.
Oh the downhills, what a joy, just a shame they came with so many uphills! The route took us almost entirely along quiet estate roads, leaving Ben Vorlich in the background to flatter ground. Although I must admit it didn’t feel that flat at the time. Donnie was cycling like he’d just been for a picnic and was ambling over to the next distillery… while I peddled behind like a distressed duck, wondering how on earth Donnie looked so relaxed. I mean I was trying really hard! Of course then I realised, that the gap behind us might, and probably was being closed quicker than anticipated.
Head down, crack on. I don’t think I really believed it when we turned into the entrance to Gleneagles. A welcome party awaited outside the main entrance, first over the line, Donnie and I rode over the finish, the end of an exceptionally fun adventure. However the Gleneagles experience was far from over.
With sore legs (ok, my sore legs, Donnie looked far too fresh!) and a glass of champagne in hand we welcomed in the other teams, Mark and Pete who finished just ahead of Team Findra.
The celebration meal was nothing short of spectacular, with a menu titled ‘A taste of Scotland’, it was a chance to share stories of the day and another example of the incredible attention to detail that had gone into the event as a whole.
Thank you to Billy and all of the Gleneagles team that made went into the event, from the route planning to the catering, safety to media for a truly superb event. Thank you to Donnie Campbell for being an absolute machine and equally as patient as I tried to keep up. Thank you to Salomon and Suunto for awesome kit and support - the S/LAB Sense Softground 7 remain to be my favourite shoes to run in. Thank you to experienced adventure racers Richard Sparks and Jon Barker for their invaluable advice.
🔴 Find out more
The annual Great Adventure Race at The Gleneagles Hotel has been confirmed next year for 15th &16th May 2020.
For more information and to book a place, visit www.gleneagles.com