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70 Wild Miles - a Charity Triathlon

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The valley of Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands is known as the 'Weeping Glen'. This name derives from the time in 1692 when a party of soldiers of the clan Campbell, acting under the orders of the English government, took the hospitality of the McDonalds of Glencoe for ten days and then, in the middle of the night, rose up and attacked their hosts. They murdered 38 of them and drove the rest, men, women and children, out into a blizzard. Nowadays, threats of similar action have been heard muttered about the originators of the 70 Wild Miles Charity Triathlon held in the Glen each year.

The History of the Event

The beginnings of the event date back to early 1989, when a group of workmates decided that they would like to organise an event to raise money for charity. After much deliberation it was decided that a sponsored triathlon would be a suitable choice, and that Glencoe would be the perfect location for it. The traditional format for a triathlon is swimming, cycling and running - but as only a totally certifiable lunatic1 would wish to swim for any distance in any body of open water near Glencoe, canoeing was substituted. Accordingly, on 9 September, 1989, 18 brave (or foolish) volunteers gathered in Glencoe and by their efforts raised the magnificent sum of £4,500 for Cystic Fibrosis.

Wounds heal, and as the saying goes, 'time lends enchantment'. So it was that by the following year only the good memories remained and it was decided to stage a second running of the event, this time in August - 11 August, 1990 to be precise. £5,000 was the sum raised this time, and it was the Cancer Research Campaign that was chosen to be the recipient.

By 1991 it was clear that the event should carry on as an annual fixture. It was, however, felt that an even earlier date in the year might be a wise choice in the search for better weather, and the first half of June became the regular arrangement. It was also decided that rather than changing charities each year, it would be better just to split the money raised each year equally between Cystic Fibrosis and the Cancer Research Campaign. This arrangement remained until 1998 when it was decided to concentrate on just one charity and the Cancer Research Campaign (now Cancer Research UK) was chosen. For the 16th running of the event in 2004 this was changed again to divide the total between Cancer Research UK and Challenging Cancer and Leukaemia in Childhood - CLIC2 Following the 2004 count the totals raised came to approximately £65,600 to Cystic Fibrosis, £42,500 to CLIC and £352,100 to Cancer Research UK, for a fantastic overall total of £460,200.

The Course

Due to the fact that the cycle section has to be run over the only surfaced road through the glen it is impossible to stage the event as a straightforward race. Each section is individually timed and the totals announced later - this usually leads to some 'lively' discussions involving the timekeepers (frequently regarding their parenthood - or lack of same!)

The original course for the event consisted of a 47 mile cycle run, followed by a 10 mile canoe, finishing with a half-marathon, all in a roughly triangular route to bring the finish back close to the start line. Due to changes forced on the organisers by the increased popularity of the event, the course has had to be altered somewhat and the event should perhaps now be called '66 and a bit Wild Miles'.

To comply with police requests, the cyclists are set off at one minute intervals3 from the entry road to the White Corries ski-lift in the middle of the glen, and make their way towards Tyndrum and then towards Taynuilt at the foot of Loch Etive.

After a rest period to ensure that all competitors are ready, the canoe section begins with a mass start - this assists the safety boats to keep a good watch over all entrants. The large lifeboats usually stay with the main body of canoes, allowing the smaller, speedier boats to watch over the leaders and any stragglers. Safety is, of course, always the first priority! But despite Scotland's famous weather, the canoe section has only had to be cancelled once (so far - fingers crossed). In 1996 high winds caused wave conditions such that the lifeboat crews questioned the ability of the less experienced paddlers.

On reaching the finish at the head of the loch and checking in with the timekeepers there, the competitors can recover and help themselves to food and drink4. Once ready, each entrant signs in with the timekeepers and starts off on the run.

No part of the course can be regarded as particularly easy5, but the run is usually taken as the worst bit! The road that it runs over is a single track public road and the only access to the loch, so that as well as holiday-makers and climbers, the runners have to cope with vans ferrying people and equipment and also (particularly in the case of the later starters) vehicles hauling trailers loaded with their canoes. But the finishing touch is that this is no nice level running track! The course starts at sea level naturally, but the finish is over 800 feet higher. A contour map of the cycle and run sections can be seen on the 70 Wild Mile website, but the scale necessary for display makes it look even worse than it really is.

After the Event

Following the run, most people just want to crawl away and die! But there is no let up. The competitors have to be re-united with their equipment and ferried back to their base of operations for a well-deserved shower and a rest (or vice versa). The volunteers need to remove all traces of the event before they can seek out their own rest. Last, and by no means least, the poor timekeepers have to retire to a secluded bar to work out the times of the fastest finishers.

Once everyone has recovered from their exertions, it's time to gather for the post-event celebrations in the Glencoe Hotel. With a disco for the younger element, a ceilidh6 for the slightly more mature element and a (slightly) quieter bar for the truly exhausted element, this allows people to dismiss their body's aches and pains and leads them into making foolish promises about the next years event7.

There only remains the task of contacting all the sponsors and extracting the promised monies, forwarding these to the treasurer and, for as many as possible, attending the presentation ceremony when the resulting cheque is handed over to the deserving charity before getting down to starting arrangements for the next event.

1Or possibly a Polar Bear.2CLIC merged with Sargent Cancer Care for Children to become CLIC Sargent in 20053Slowest cyclists first away.4And perhaps make use of the massage facilities available - two hours or more in a kayak can be very cramping!5Quite an understatement, perhaps.6A traditional Scottish social gathering with traditional music, refreshments, and storytelling (and more refreshments).7Possibly some devious plot by the organisers?

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