Riders Delight at doing The Heb
I don't usually start stories with incredibly tenuous references to the Sugarhill Gang (and likely never again) but fortunately for you dear reader, club members David Holgate (riding for Hardie Bikes) and Alan Affleck (riding for DCC) give a far more intelligent account of their epic results in the The Heb, a gruelling race through the Outer Hebrides. Handing over to David and Alan then...
"The Heb is a two day adventure race in the Outer Hebrides for pairs and solos, travelling 120miles through 5 islands (Benbecula, North Uist and South Uist and the tidal islands of Vallay and Orasaigh). It combines on and off road cycling, trail/hill running, kayaking and navigation. Thrown into this mix is the famous fast changing Hebridean weather of sunshine, wind, rain and more wind which plays a big factor into any event there.
The race started on the Saturday morning from Shellbay campsite on Benbecula with a Le mans style 1mile run along the beach to the bikes, (some folk just ran with their cleats and helmets on) then a quick transition to get riding along the road with a tailwind and 21mph average, even on the MTB. Sitting behind a pair for a fair bit I glanced behind to see the state of affairs and spied the yellow DCC jersey of Alan making rapid progress, jumping on his wheel as he flew past. After 25miles we were on the sand for just over a mile to the beautiful & deserted tidal island of Vallay, the tide thankfully being lower than last year where it was approaching bottom bracket level. Here you leave the bike and hit 4 checkpoints running around the island for 5miles. The lead pair was already gaining time and it was obvious they were far superior to the rest of the field. I gained a fair bit of time on the run to those behind me, following the lead pair’s footsteps in the sand. This was the most northerly point we would reach (at the top of North Uist) meaning the remaining cycling for the day (and weekend!) would mostly be into the 20-25mph headwind.
After a lonely cycle where I pushed on a bit, the next stage was a short kayak and arriving at the transition alone I was advised to take a time-out until the next competitor arrived as the conditions weren't suitable for a solo kayaker on the 2 man sit on top kayaks. This was brilliant, the sun was out and I ended up with 10mins to refuel, sort out my kit and grab a quick rest. The next competitor in was Alan and this was the start of the rest of the race together for us, as we ended up working tactically and tirelessly together. We were sitting 1st and 2nd Solo and 2nd and 3rd overall in the race but I had my 10min time-out to take off my total race time at the end of the day.
After the kayak, The Heb way walking route which is more an annoying technical ride/hike a bike section, was steadily and eventually dealt with, the tarmac a welcome sight before the big Eaval hill run. The long run/trek section over the saturated and boggy ground was at the end of the day rather than the start as it was last year to tie in with the low tide to Vallay. The main goal of the day for us was to make it there, hit all 3 checkpoints, and get back to transition before the 1800 cut-off time. As it happens we made it by 5mins and only 5 people did, including someone that caught us towards the final checkpoint, running with his cycle helmet on the entire 2.5hrs. Obviously a very good hill runner, he'd be someone to watch out for on day 2.
The final cycle back to the campsite was left, fighting into the wind on tired legs but still working together to put 12mins (22mins overall for me) into the tall helmeted running man. We passed dozens of other cyclists , all struggling in the wind but no one really showing the gumption to work together, so we both just cracked on, chain-ganging, swapping over every 60 seconds. Back at campsite it was a case of sort out self, bike, kit then refuel and sleep. Not before securing tent pegs and guy ropes for the forecasted windy night ahead and following day (45mph to 50mph gusts).
On Sunday morning you break camp and vans take your kit down to the Kilbride campsite at the bottom of South Uist. Due to the weather conditions (45-50mph gusts at ground level) the race route was adjusted with the kayak stage not going ahead and the big run stage being reduced from 5 checkpoints to 3 to miss out the 2 highest peaks. However the cut-off time to be back in transition after the run was moved forward from 1430 to 1300 making it no less testing, especially given the weather conditions. The start on Sunday is staggered by 30secs to stop a mass peleton scenario forming. Last year it was done by the leader going out first but due to the results not being available from the previous day (the organiser having their hands full with the logistics of rearranging the days stages) we were out on a first come first served basis. I knew this could be crucial as although your race time gets adjusted depending on when you dib in and start the day, the cut-off isn't adjusted. So I was on the start line first with Alan behind me, braving the elements to get started quickly whilst the rest of the racers preferred the shelter of the campsite toilet block. After a mile Alan caught me and the plan from the previous day continued, taking 30secs shifts side by side and overlapping to try and keep out the wind and rain. The exposure to the sidewinds on the causeways was particularly scary and it was a fine line between being close enough to shelter but far enough away to avoid crashing into each other as the winds made it impossible to ride in a straight line.