In May, FINDRA partnered up with the Gleneagles Hotel for the inaugural Great Adventure Race where sporting grit met stunning scenery and luxury hospitality. Athletes were in pairs for the whole race. Our ambassadors Tom Hill and Marion Shoote represented Team FINDRA and were pitted against ultra-endurance athlete Mark Beaumont and his partner Pete Eccles, and 8 other teams from all different sporting backgrounds. Fully recovered, they’ve written their race report to fuel your adventure fire!
Marion takes up the story…
When I think of adventure racing, I think of beautiful landscapes and adrenaline-fueled fun coupled with cold water, sweat, mud, soggy feet and exhausted legs. But what about all this and then adding in gourmet food, inspirational company and a jacuzzi to soak in afterwards? Well, exactly. So when FINDRA asked us to be an ambassadors team for the inaugural Gleneagles Great Adventure Race we jumped at the chance.
Saturday morning saw us trying not to overdo it at the incredible Gleneagles breakfast buffet before heading out in the minibus to Loch Earn and the start of the race. It was a stunning spring morning of the type only Scotland can deliver: blue skies and sunshine bringing out the rich colours of the hills and the dusting of snow on the tops. Loch Earn was calm and serene, reflecting the slopes of Ben Vorlich in its waters, where we would be headed after we finished the canoeing stage.
It’s fair to say that Canadian canoeing is not a strong point for either of us. Neither of us could actually remember the last time we had been in a canoe and it definitely showed as we zigzagged our way across the start line and off towards the first marker buoy. Our mental states also zigzagged between the joy of being out on the lake on such a glorious morning and the frustration of watching the other teams disappear into the distance. We wobbled on, eventually crossing the loch to follow its southern shore to the landing point. What a relief to finally have made it and to turn towards the beach and our bemused supporters, who were wondering what had taken us so long!
Over to Tom to describe the run…
After our less than impressive display on the water, we exited with stiff and wobbly legs, after kneeling down for the whole 4 kilometres of paddling. An impressive transition was set just away from the water, with sweets, snacks and water laid out in front of one of The Gleneagles estate Landrovers.
Keen to make up a bit of time, we both bypassed the goodies, grabbed our running packs and tried to loosen out our legs on the short shore-side track that lead to the main trail up Ben Vorlich. From the base, we had a direct sight line to the summit, and could just about pick out a few others pairs ahead. It wasn’t the first or last time that day that we were thankful that the weather was significantly better than it had been overnight. Fresh snow capped the mountain, but the air was still and the sky cobalt-blue.
It’s easy to get caught up in a game of “hunt down the next pair” when you are trying to work your way through the field, but we quickly settled into a sensible pace, knowing that we’d be climbing for some time yet, and there was a long way to go after cresting the summit. We chatted with other competitors as we ascended – it was the spirit of the race that everyone was hugely supportive of each other, from first place to last. Donnie Campbell – eventual winner, with partner Matt Green – had shared hints and tips with us all the night before. Neither of us counted the places we caught and passed as we climbed, but it was nice to know that we were making some progress up the standings.
The last fifty metres or so of climb was through snow – fortunately neither too deep nor frozen. It was relatively straightforward to kick through it to the summit – marked by a trig point and a marshal sat on top. Not wanting to hang around, we followed a small line of marker flags down a rolling ridgeline. It was the kind of descent that I love… no trail to follow, just tussocky grass interspersed with rocks and hidden hollows. Every now and then, we’d find a small sheep-trodden track that guided us down before disappearing or pointing in the wrong direction. The foot of the ridge jutted out into the river below, and a marshal’s tent made a good point to aim for.
We’d ticked off a Munro, but still had nearly 10 kilometres to cover over a mixture of terrain. Generally, the running was over gentle gradients, trending downhill, but with some spicy little climbs in there to test the legs. The glen that we passed through was utterly stunning though, and the warmth of the day was building, making it a glorious hour or so of running to reach the bike transition.
Marion describes the last leg…
After a quick change of shoes and a brief pause to sample more delicious snacks from another Gleneagles Landrover, we grabbed our bikes and made a start on the final stage of the race. This was a 36 kilometre ride through the rolling Perthshire countryside back to Gleneagles. It felt great to be on the bikes although we didn’t know how far we had managed to claw our way back up the field during the running stage. That was until we spotted Mark Beaumont changing a puncture on the side of the road and it started to dawn on us that maybe we were doing ok. “I’ve just overtaken Mark Beaumont on my bike!” I whispered as we passed him – bragging rights forever – even if he did fly back past us a few minutes later!
The bike stage was one of those wonderful road rides where it’s warm and sunny and the road twists and turns, climbs and descends just the right amount. The route took us gradually out of the hills onto the lowland plain and through a number of villages before finally bringing us back to Gleneagles. As we spotted the hotel sign we turned into the main driveway and made a sprint for the finish right in front of the hotel’s grand entrance.
And finally over to Tom to wrap up…
I don’t think I’ve ever been handed a glass of champagne as I cross a finish line before. The bagpiper was still playing as we dismounted and had our celebratory drinks passed to us. We chatted to winners Donnie and Matt, and runners-up Mark Beaumont and his partner Pete. I don’t think it had crossed either Marion’s mind or my own that we might be in third place. It had felt like there were more teams up the road, and realistically, I think we were so busy enjoying being out in a beautiful part of the world that the competition aspect had been forgotten about. It was (a very nice) surprise to be told that no one else had made it back yet, and we were also first mixed pair to return. The champagne felt a little more earned at least.
Given the stunning weather and yet more incredible food laid on by Gleneagles, it was no hardship at all to wait on the lawn for our fellow competitors to return – each being greeted by the same bagpipe fanfare and glass of fizz. There were huge smiles from all and varying states of exhaustion, but all returned with tales of fun (and the occasional tale of woe).
A few hours later, we were scrubbed up and settling down to a multi-course meal of traditional Scottish food, once again in the grand surroundings of the hotel. It was a far cry from a bowl of chilli in a marquee and a long drive home with tired legs, and one that we all fully enjoyed. Nothing like starting the recovery in style…
Thank you to The Gleneagles for organising a spectacular event, and hosting us in the hotel over the weekend. Neither of us have experienced anything like it before – combining the utmost luxury with all the usual thrill of racing and a healthy dose of fun thrown in. It’s the kind of weekend that won’t be forgotten in a hurry and we are already planning our return next year… we might even try some canoe practice before then.