Rat Race Scotland Coast to Coast


Sorry to ask a question that has been covered elsewhere but I am hoping for some further advice on the Rat Race Coast to Coast Challenge on 14/15 September. I know there is lots of discussion on bike choices and I am yet to decide how to approach this. I am a keen mountain biker and do 2/3 rides a week up some pretty challenging hills so am a reasonably competent rider.

My choices are:

1) Full suss MTB (which I already own and use regularly) with slick tyres
2) Buy cyclocross bike for event only and look to resell following the race. I live on the Isle of Man and there is no scope for cyclocross riding over here. Looking at eBay and gumtree it looks like cyclocross bikes hold their value pretty well.
3) Buy a cheap and cheerful road bike that I don't mind taking over some rough stuff. Surely the worst that will happen is a buckled wheel and maybe a pinch flat. I understand most of the cycling section is on the road with day 2 having a 10 mile section of rougher stuff (although it doesn't look any where near as rough as what I am used to on my MTB on the local trails). I would imagine the time made up on the road section would be more than I would lose by running/pushing through this bit.

I think the the day 2 running section is going to be incredibly tough so I want to give myself the best possible start on the cycling sections. I hope to be pretty strong here but need to make sure I have the right kit under me.



  • Gary, 

    Did this in 2011, great event!

    I had a hybrid with lockout front forks and semi slick tyres, now I'm not the fastest cyclist but I was consistently passing people on and off road. I think whatever you go for it should be 2/3 road oriented and 1/3 off-road as something like 65 of the 80 odd cycling miles are on roads and the majority of the off-road is on wide forest tracks with only a couple of miles of single track.

    Yes the run/ walk section is tough (some pretty serious ascent and decent), make sure you have shoes with decent grip and protection. I wore fell running shoes, which were great for the descents but inadequate on the rockier sections (felt like running bare foot over snooker balls).

    Hope this helps and have a great event!


  • Hi,

    I have found a cheap cyclocross bike on gumtree that I am pretty sure I can resell for a similar price so I am thinking of doing that. Thanks for the advice on the trainers. I do a fell runs over here but my trainers are very lightweight Salomon ones that sound like they aren't up to the job. Oh well, more new kit to buy lol.

    Thanks for all of the advice. Any more hints and tips are greatly appreciated!

  • Full sus would be rubbish. Cheap road wouldn't be up to it.

    Cross bike is the fastest option. Get sturdy tyres on it as you don't wan flat tyres.

    If you put road tyres on a cross bike - it will be as fast as a road bike.

    Make sure your backpack is good for running with. As roger says - that last yomp is tough.
  • Thanks guys. The bike I have in mind is a second hand one from Gumtree. Not very light but sturdy, has good reviews and should have far less rolling resistance on the road sections and be quicker on the canal path and fire road bits. As you say, I was worried about using my full sus MTB with slicks as it was just going to be too slow and I would have struggled to keep up with lesser riders who have the right sort of kit. I need as much of a head start for the giant fell run as possible!

    My plan is to get road tyres for day 1, then swap onto something with a bit of tread for day 2. Hopefully my MTB skills will mean that the rougher stuff isn't too much of a problem despite the lack of suspension (I usually ride flatter bits and uphills with it all locked out anyway).

    Thanks for all of the advice. I do need to practice running with my bag. I am a sucker for Strava though so haven't wanted to slow my times down. I know, very stupid, but its horribly addictive and I am very competitive.

  • TBH - I'd not bother with changing tyres. I did it in the one day and used Schwalbe Marathon plus tyres. OK on road (I still use them for winter) and they were fine through the mud and I had rain allllllll day long. Plus we were going through after the 2 dayers had gone through. If you can MTB you will be fine.

    The last leg is brutal. I can run a half in under 90 mins. I was well over double that time for the last leg. I used trail shoes which were fine for the rocky bits - but crap on the descents. I fell so many times on that last hill !

    Definitely practice with a packed bag or you'll hate it come race day.
  • I have heard it is going to be in glorious sunshine this year without a drop of rain all weekend. Wind behind the whole way.

  • Hi all, just reading soMe of the posts above.  The only thing that concerns me is the off road bit of the second bike section.  I was thinking of putting cyclocross tyres on my old Orbea racer, maybe schwalbe of something similar.  Also how far is the kayak bit?  I've entered with a friend as a pair hoping we can do it in one day.  Never done anything like this before (might never again if it goes wrong!).

  • 1st kayak is only for 2 dayers I think, the one at the end is a little over a mile and a real test of your hip flexors.

    Tyres wise there really is no more than a couple of miles of technical riding on the 2nd bike stage with most of the off road consisting of wide, fairly even fire breaks, so if you are competent with a mountain bike you could definatley get away with a racer as long as you don't have slicks fitted.


  • I think everyone does the kayak in the middle but it's only a few 100m.

    I caught a girl on a road bike using slick tyres on the off road section. So it wasn't ideal - but it's very short anyway. I'd worry more about impact punctures from thin tyres. I think mine are 35mm.

    The last kayak is a mile or so ? Yes it's funny to see people struggling with hip flexor issues ! And if you haven't kayaked before its well worth practicing. Some kayaks were all over the place. You can see the finish but just can't reach it !
  • Thanks for your info guys, I'll get some schwalbe tyres on the racer I think.  Looking forward to getting started!

  • Same ideas. I have a sturdy road bike and was hoping to put some good grippy tyres on it and take it very easy on the rough bits. On that off road section, how much of it is tow path, forest road and rough single track?

    I dont even mind pushing the road bike a couple of miles if needs be.


    any help much appreciated!

  • I'd say theres a few miles of tow path - most of it on grit - but then theres some badly broken up pavement - you'll be glad of some wider tyres there.

    The forest roads you wont have any issues with = and the single track- well there might be a few bumps you need to push the bike up - but I think people on MTBs might well be doing the same. I think its the risk of hitting a stone and flatting more than anything else - so I'd go for sturdy rather than grippy.
  • Hi, again. Cheers for the advice so far, I bought a cheap CX bike so fingers crossed it does the job.

    Next question now! How hilly/undulating is the bike ride on day 1? Looking at the route profile it doesn't appear to be too bad but I saw the guy who won the racer category was only averaging about 15mph. That doesn't sound particularly fast for elite competitors so I think it sounds like its much hillier than the profile suggests, or that the wind plays a big part.

  • Seems I've been posting in the wrong Coast to Coast discussion! Sorry Caroline I hyjacked your post about shoes in the other forum discussion on the race image Reading all this is making me feel much better, I'm scared! Been having a complete fit over the weekend about bikes suddenly changing my mind about what I should use.But seems everyone is in the same boat and that there will be whole range of bikes out there. Going to go try out my road bike on the off road bit on Friday and see what I think (well see how fast I can do it pushing for large parts!)

    Currently the weather in the Fort is blowing a gale and its wet and miserable - basically all the rubbish weather is getting itself out the way so come race day its going to be calm,cool, clear with stunning views for us all just like Ron says!!!! Joanne

  • We've done this race a few times, the last time on cross bikes.  If you don't have a cross bike I would definitely do what you can to favour the road biking section. Before I had a cross bike I used my mountain bike and found the road sections a grind.

    As others have said there is a little bit of single track that you might push on, but I did that anyway as I'm pants at mountain biking.  Bigger worry is punctures so whatever you use good tyres are the order of the day.

    Very sorry to be missing the race this year.  Will be thinking of you all on that descent in to the final kayak (how on earth can you have bogs on that steep a slope?!).

  • How did you all get on?

    Little late for this conversation but maybe of use for future participants - I used a cross bike with Sammy Slick tyres fully pumped to 85psi. Think that was ideal choice for event as so much on road or good track, I am not a strong cyclist and needed all the help i could get. I did take a tumble on last part of the single track (I was't the only one) but that was more due to my lack of bike handling skills than tyre choice.

  • I heard they had to change the route at least on Day 2 to avoid the stream crossing and the kayak across the lake. That's a pity. Race reports would be good when they've recovered.
  • I was so glad I done the single day event, the weather was perfect on Saturday. We stayed at the Isle of Glen Coe Hotel the Saturday night (located at the finish) and the weather was foul on the Sunday morning. I noticed no Kayak times posted for the two day event so assumed they had cancelled the kayak. Yep will be good to hear their reports. 

  • Good planning on the hotel ! Did they take you up Ben Nevis this year or not - the route map seemed to say they'd taken that part out ?
  • No we didn't go up the tourist path to Ben Nevis. The transition point was other side of the river and we kept that side if the river and started off climbing up a forest track, still steep enough that no one around me was running that part. 

  • I did the 2 dayer (Challenger) and it was torrential on the Sunday, rain, wind and hail. The last 14 mile run was like running in a river! They diverted the route from the original over the mountain down to the kayak to straight on over the West Highland Way to Kinlochleven. The problem was that they didn't change the signage so about 20 of us went the wrong way up the mountain then got turned back.

    I was leading by 2 seconds after day one and ended up 4th overall so still pretty pleased.

  • Well done Ian, didn't envy you lot while laying in my bed Sunday morning, listening to the rain lash at the windows as I contemplated a cooked breakfast ;-)

  • I also did the Challenger 2 day event, Sunday was just bloody awful!!! 

    1st time I've ever done anything like this and knowing what I know now, I would've packed clothing & food so differently for Sunday!!

    I aimed for 16hrs and completed in 16hrs 12mins, but I stuck with my mate on Sunday who is really poor on the bike so I could've taken at least an hour off my time.

    I'll be back next year!!!

  • They had indeed taken the part of the run up the Ben tourist track out (much to my relief!) Its the first event I have ever done of any sort and it was AWESOME! I did the one day event on the Saturday, slow and very steady was my pace but I finished and had a great time. Loved every minute. Doing it by myself it did get a little lonely out on the bike legs but somebody was always semi close (usually as they were cycling past me) for a little chat and banter. Having no brakes on my bike for the second bike section made it much more interesting. Not! Having the half an hour time out section in Braveheart carpark seemed to bunch people together and for the last run it was cool running along with loads of people infront and behind you - kept me going by aiming to catch up with people ahead.

    I would say that the weather helped a lot being dry and cool. If it had been much colder/wetter/windier I would have struggled. I live in Fort William and felt so sorry for the people doing it in two days I went and stood on the Banavie back road for a few hours to cheer people on the Sunday morning- if you saw someone in a pink jacket standing at the bottom of the last big hill on the last bit of road cycling that was me! Respect for camping in the misery on the Saturday night and then getting chilled to the bone on Sunday and keeping going.

    Hope everyone else enjoyed it and got what they wanted out of doing the event. I had a great time and would definately think about it again! Never thought I would enjoy races but think I may have caught the bug, thinking Hadrians wall in June.....maybe.......

  • I did the one day "Expert" option in the pairs category. My team-mate and I have a lot of experience of offroad running but this was my first adventure/multi-sport race. Having only this summer really taught myself to ride any real distance on a bike, I was a bit nervous about legs 2 and 3. We hadn't really discussed a target and Plan A was to be within the cut-off times. Secretly I hoped that we could come home inside 11 hours but this being uncharted territory for me I had no idea if that was realistic or achievable.   We started in Nairn at first light in perfect running conditions. Cool with a light breeze and a buzzing pre-race atmosphere amongst the small field. I was a bit stiff from a poor night's sleep on a sofa bed in the Inveness Travelodge (not really recommended unless your budget is £15pp). As the murk of the dawn gradually gave way to the rising sun it became apparent that we were going to be lucky with the weather and mild sunshine and glorious clear skies became the order of the day.   We started steadily deliberately. I'm a seasoned but average runner (i generally run just over 40 min 10k on the road) and so the 12km ahead didn't worry me but everything after that was in the back of mind and I knew it would be crucial to save myself for other battles to come. The first 5km was a gentle warm-up and I didn't mind that the single file nature of much of that section meant there was some traffic ahead of me. As the route eventually hit some wider tracks we pressed ahead a little bit, picking up the km pace by 20seconds or so.    The time flew past and before we really knew it we were entering transition at Cawdor Castle and locating our bikes that we had set up and safely racked the night before. I'd chosen my trusted Surly Crosscheck for the job. A great cross-bike with road bike features but ride-all-day geometry, steel frame and knobbly 32mm tyres. It's one of my favourite material possessions in the world and as we rolled out of transition and clipped in we were feeling good, strong and excited about the 48miles of rolling road that stood between us and the next transition. That was, however, until fate intervened.   We must have gone all of 500 yards when I heard the words from my team-mate that I'd hoped not to hear at all for the next 85 miles of cycling. "Flat, flat, flat". Damn. Before we'd even got our of the Cawdor estate we were on the verge, using one of only two spare tubes and compressed air canisters. My team-mate is good on the bike maintenance side of things and got it done quickly (and I just tried not to get in the way), but it was still hard watching half the field settle in to their rides and roll off into the distance as I stood helplessly watching. 10 minutes later we were off again. But it wasn't to last long.   My Garmin said 2.48km when I looked round to see him veering off to the side once again. Another puncture, same tyre. Another 10 minutes wasted. This wasn't going to plan.   After what seemed a lifetime and having again checked the tyre cavity and found nothing, we finally got going properly and were off. We'd lost 20 minutes and a lot of places, but at least we were moving.   The first 20km after that was difficult. We had to hold ourselves back a bit and avoid the temptation of trying too hard to make back the time. We reeled in some of the slower riders (mainly on mountain bikes which is not the ideal tool for this job, but then not everyone owns a cyclocross) but it took nearly an hour of hard riding before we started to get back amongst it. At that point we managed to get a bit of a group going and working together to share the load off the front. This proved to be a godsend and looking back it was a key part of the day because it enabled us to conserve a bit of energy without losing too much time.    By this point the mile
  • were flying by and despite the odd twinge in my back I was enjoying it. I also remembered to eat and drink, alternating between lucozade, water, flapjack, haring and gels to keep on top of the calorie intake. This was a crucial part of the strategy and I was glad to have practiced eating on the move over the summer.   The climb to the highest point on the road bike leg was steady and manageable. Despite taking this in a relaxed fashion we made up a lot of places here and left our little informal group behind somewhere along the way. I had enough breath to have a chat with a guy on a lovely looking Genesis and made sure i took in the beautiful surroundings. Riding over the peak we felt good and the descent into Fort Augustus was fast and technically challenging with some sharp bends taken at speed.   We took a fast transition at Fort Augustus and felt great as we ran round to the kayak. We were pleased that the friendly marshal made a point of telling us we looked fresh at the time-check. I think maybe it gets harder to detect sarcasm after 4 hours of exercise. Getting into the water I was really found out at my lack of experience with a paddle. In my team-mate's words I was "shocking". That's probably a kind assessment.    A short easy run back round to the transition, a pork pie and a drink later, we were out of transition and into the offroad bike leg. It started with an easy ride along the canal before heading into a fairly technical section of fire roads and single track that the Surly was well equipped to handle, with the only limitations being those of the rider and not of the machine.   The offroad section is a bit deceiving on paper because, relative to the on-road section, it looks flat. It's not. At all. In fact after leaving the canal path behind I can't remember a single stretch that wasn't either up or down. Again we were happy to be on fast bikes with proper bike shoes as we overhauled a lot of MTBers in trainers on the short, sharp climbs.    There was the odd bit of drizzle around by now and we were tempted to stick on a waterproof layer, having been in a single, short-sleeved layer up to that point, but we could see blue sky ahead and so pushed on. Eventually the fire tracks came to an end and we were welcomed by a sign telling us we had 12 miles to go on the road to Fort William. Our bikes ate these miles up with minimum of fuss and apart from one mental driver in Fort William who couldn't control her car, we reached the final transition without incident.   You get up to half an hour's grace at Fort William before heading out on foot to tackle the West Highland way.  We wanted to get on with it and so after a quick change of footwear and some fiddling with kit and camelbaks we were off. The first few km were a steep-ish climb out of the valley and we decided that our planned "walk the ups, run the flats" strategy remained the right one. My team-mate by now was struggling with some stomach cramps and decided it would be funny to tie a bungy to my pack and let me literally drag him up the hill. For the first time in the day, that made me feel the burn in my quads.   The route was stunning and the weather was set fair, and with running the flats we got through the first 15km at a reasonable rate. Then a sharp right turn took us over the hilltop up a very steep path. Tiredness was beginning to creep in and this was a case of head-down and just keep going. Finally the miles started ticking by more slowly and I was glad to know that the finish wold be within sight once this final hill was conquered. Eventually we hit the top and without really pausing to soak in the views we were jogging down the otherwise. The conditions underfoot were treacherous and I fell over three times trying to get myself off the mountain. On the last fall I slid about 20 yards down the h
  • hill on my arse and remember thinking "sweet, that's 20 yards less I have to run".

    We hit the road at the bottom and were directed to turn right and run about a mile along to the last kayak start. We kept up what felt like a decent pace along this section but what in reality was probably a crawl. But we just kept going and it was a bit of a blur climbing into the boat. Here again my technique let me down but I was a bit better than the first time round and we got into something of a rhythm. By this point my back and hip flexors were seizing up and I had to stop for a couple of strokes a couple of times. Once we came within earshot of the finish-line tannoy and realising that people were able to see what we were doing I knew I just had to keep paddling. Then we were at the shore being literally dragged out of the boat by the marshals. My team-mate tapped me on the shoulder and said "we've done it mate". Four simple words that sounded so good.

    We jogged the 50 yards over the finish line to be welcomed with a mars bar and some water and a pretty decent medal. You get an immediate print out of your time and a breakdown of your splits and I was made up to see we'd made it in 10 hours and 58 minutes. With 20 mins wasted up front on puncture repairs, that was way beyond my expectations.

     It's been a week since that moment and I still haven't decided how I feel about it. There's definitely a sense of achievement in completing something that I haven't done before. It wasn't as hard as I expected, which I put down to a combination of some reasonable training, proper feeding, decent weather and the fact that actually it was awesome fun.   Finally some advice for people thinking of doing this in the future; 1) take the one day option, it's really not that bad, 2) try to get a cyclocross rather than an MTB, 3) cycling SPDs are a must, even though it means carrying your running shoes on the bike and 4) never stop eating and drinking as you go.  
  • I did try to put that report into paragraphs so sorry!

  • Excellent report. I think that half hour rest at Fort William must be new ? They weren't doing that the first two years.

    I'm sorely tempted to do it again next year.
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