Congratulations to Jamie Farquhar who has successfully completed his Galloway Tri Challenge in aid of Cancer Research UK. This blog completes Jamie’s blog posts for DGWGO.com. You can still read his first blog post (to find out why he had decided to take up this challenge) and also his follow up post about the final preparations.
64 Mile Charity triathlon. 40 mile cycle, 4 mile sea swim and 20 mile run
Jellyfish, Shire boys and other strange creatures.
As Greenlaw came in to sight and a sizable crowd of friends gathered, a surge of emotion wound its way up from my cramping and exhausted legs to my eyes which moistened behind my sunglasses. It had been a long day, I was shattered, I was in pain and I was so happy.
I didn’t plan this. It started as idle chat and became a thing. The thing found a cause and a route and most powerfully a name. Once it had a name it was no longer a thing it was The Galloway Tri Challenge. People started to take an interest; something about this lunacy connected with people. Strangely so. You see to multi-sport endurance athletes the distances involved are nothing to write home about; iron distance triathlons are longer in both the bike and run sections. Perhaps the swim had more kudos at 1.5 miles over Iron distance but still. Maybe people liked that I’m very average. I run and finish respectably but never trouble the winners, I cycle but way slower than friends of mine and I genuinely can’t swim well at all. I’m also not a committed athlete; a fondness for beer and raucous rugby rowdiness and if i’m honest a good seat come before training in my book every time. I’m also a rugby player, an ageing one at that. Rugby requires speed, explosiveness, strength and complete comfort with nakedness; both your own and other’s. These attributes are in complete contrast with endurance sport except that nakedness is replaced with Lycra EVERYTHING which is every bit as bad if not worse. I think that must be it; people worked out that I wasn’t really cut out for this and therefore I was either very brave or very stupid to attempt it.
There was also the cause. Cancer is one of those diseases that touches everyone. I was staggered by the number of people who shared with me their experience of this cruel disease. Even within my own family I discovered how much of an impact it had had. So a good cause and me being a tube. Done.
What happened next was the amazing bit for me. A safety boat was organised without so much as a mention from me and then later in the day another, two kayaks appeared and boys to paddle them. Support vehicles with actual flashing beacons and trailers for bikes, signs, stop points all just kind of happened through other people’s generosity. I mentioned that it would be good to have some company on the cycle and run legs and that this would help to raise some more sponsorship. Within days friends from Stranraer, Castle Douglas and Dumfries has rallied round and that was taken care of. I created a Facebook page and a JustGiving page as you do these days and suddenly people from all over the region and beyond were taking an interest and supporting. I hope that most of these people will donate even a small amount but to be honest their support, by that simple act of clicking “like” has been really motivating.
Time went on and I worked hard on my swimming, kept the running ticking over and eventually got the bike out the garage. I even bought new SPD peddles for it. These are the fancy ones where you clip your shoes in to the peddles and fall off in front of a nice old couple at the first junction you get to after fitting them.
Then suddenly it was the night before the big day and I will admit to serious nerves. My concern was operating on three levels. In order of decreasing nobility; If I failed I’d be letting the memory of John Craig down, if I failed I’d be letting Cancer Research down and if I failed I’d either drown or be ripped mercilessly by my mates for ever more. I’d have preferred drowning.
Thankfully the morning arrived and any nerves were put to one side as the Shire boys arrived. “Shire boys” are lads from Stranraer and the surrounding area who play rugby for Wigtownshire RFC and they are a species of hominid as yet not fully understood by science. My brother who literally breaks out in a rash when he exercises rocked up on a borrowed bike with SPD peddles but no SPD shoes. One had arrived from south Wales at 3am that morning. Three lads were on mountain bikes. One had a bottle of water taped to his bike frame which was therefore impossible to get to on the move… and a can of cider and not one of them had a helmet.
They also happen to be among my oldest friends and the best men you could ask for in this kind of situation. As the cycle progressed they sorted themselves out in to three distinct groups without any fuss. There was the group who kept up with me and helped me along. There was the group that grafted away so that the support vehicles weren’t too spread out and then there was the mountain bike group who told the support drivers to go on as “they may be some time”. Captain Lawrence Oates previously uttered these words before going off to die a hero in the desolate wastes on Antarctica these boys went to the CoOp in Port William and bought cider. They still completed the 40 miles.
The cycle was actually really enjoyable. Riding out in front by myself at one point I spooked a Roe buck in the prime of its life, as big a Roe as I’ve seen, all sleek powerful grace. The Galloway coast drifted past majestically with the cry of seagulls, supportive honks from lorries and the Galloway-Irish twang as a soundtrack. It was a good morning.
We made great time on the bikes and thanks to the support team everyone arrived at the swim point. We had time to eat and have a banter as the kayak lads arrived and a bevvy of supportive wives and girlfriends arrived at Culscadden. An old rugby friend owns the farm and he and his family could not have been more accommodating to this bizarre invasion. They also had the great parenting sense to look their children square in the eye, point to me and say “You don’t ever do this!”.
So wet-suit finally on and with no further excuses presenting themselves it was time to start the swim. I have admitted in previous blogs to being scared of this bit. It turns out I was right to be. You get a certain look from people that care about you when you do silly stuff like this. The look communicates that they know you well enough to not try and dissuade you from your stupidity but are entirely convinced of it and that if you die they’ll kill you. Its actually quite a lovely look.
The things I was most worried about before the swim were the jellyfish and the currents; both were terrible. Despite my best efforts and please believe me I was swimming for all I was worth I could make no progress in the south easterly direction I had intended. I was swept at around 10 knots in to the estuary and had to battle simply to cross Wigtown Bay. Without a powerful safety boat generously offered by Mossyard Caravan Park I would have ended miles from my Auchenlarie transition site. Wigtown Bay is a silly and dangerous place to swim across, there I’ve said it.
The other challenge was the jellyfish. I though I might meet one or two, I met literally thousands. The first one I touched with my hand and promptly jumped clean out of the water. My reaction to the second and third was equally dramatic. They just kept coming, the stings built up on any exposed piece of skin so soon my hands, feet, face and tongue were in pain. I have to be honest and say not that much pain, akin to a bad nettle sting perhaps but everywhere. This was the work of the outrageously abundant but relatively benign Moon Jelly. Despite that the stings were bearable there is something very unnatural about swimming through a swarm of jellyfish. At one point I scooped one up in my hand as I swam and threw it out of the water and on to my backside, much to the delight of Neil my kayak support.
Then I met a Lionsmane. The name tells you both of their appearance and something of their more fearsome nature. The first tentacle from one off these little horrors actually kicked like touching an electric fence and that was on my foot, the second wrapped around my face and elicited a bubbled stream of sub-aqua expletives; it wasn’t the last. If I’m proud of anything in this event its the swim and not least for enduring this waking childhood nightmare.
I finally exited the water sore, slightly traumatised and tired but alive and on schedule. At Auchenlarie a complete stranger offered the use of their caravan for me to change in. Another act of kindness among many. The shire boys were there for continued support (they had previously checked there was a bar). I should say at this point that two guys did the cycle and the run with me, a great effort from these boys.
I was also met by three generations of the Craig family including John’s widow, Mary. She is a brilliant women, all kindness and well concealed but latent, delightful devilment. It was an absolute honour to see her there and in general to do this small thing for the memory of the man she loved beyond measure.
Also perched on an outcrop, shouting abuse (they had a lot on) were the Stewartry boys. I love the Stewartry boys. They have taken me in and made me welcome despite my near unforgivable rugby heritage of developing as a Shire player and then going on to not only play for but captain Dumfries RFC. This generosity of spirit was again displayed in that while splitting the run all but one ran further on this day than they had ever ran before in their lives.
The run started in baking heat with a hazardous scamper along the A75. Despite two safety vehicles there were a number of close calls with drivers simple being impatient, admittedly the closest of these calls came from, as you might have guessed, the car filled with Stranraer folk. They do know the whole drive on the left thing through there but they so rarely meet anything coming the other way that it can slip the mind.
Once in to Anwoth and Gatehouse the run was again a pleasure. The views at the top of Castramont Hill over Culreoch and beyond are astounding. I felt great; even this demanding climb out of Gatehouse was taken in our stride and as we swapped running buddies I felt very confident that we would complete on schedule. I perhaps got a little over confident. With the majority of the climbing done the pace escalated as we dropped down toward Laurieston and perhaps as a result of this exuberance or maybe just the previous seven hours of effort I hit the wall. My pace slowed and I am indebted to the team at this stage for running with me and for continual encouragement, the highlight of which was singing the Rocky soundtrack at me. I was also sustained by what appeared to be randomly placed bottles of water at the road side. This was not the work of fairies but again those wonderful shire boys who had deposited them on their way to Castle Douglas. What I didn’t know and am glad I didn’t was that they were placed exactly every two miles. Ian Craig, John’s son appeared as we turned a corner, his presence a reminder of why and his words a reminder of how; “Keep going lads”. Our final stop was in Laurieston where I ate upwards of three of the best oranges I have ever tasted and downed a gallon of blackcurrant squash.
The last few miles were terrible, if I had been left alone I would have happily and immediately fell asleep on the side of the road. My legs were cramping and had nothing left to give. I wasn’t left alone though. My boys were still with me, Bill’s trailer still rattled, reassuringly along behind us, Susan was still ever present with her camera (you can’t stop if someone has a camera pointed at you) and a wee blue car sped past filled to the gunwales with screaming Stewartry girls.
Greenlaw came in to sight, one floodlight after the other was reached, the stand, the gate and the finish line complete with tape.
It had been a long day, I was shattered, I was in pain. I was surrounded by the best of friends and the kindest, most generous of supporters, I had done a good thing and I was so happy.