Ever wondered what’s actually involved in the 5 to 8(!) hour 45km race that is the Buccleuch Challenge? Samantha Murchie spills the beans, and maggots, on what went down at the 2019 race.
Myself, Mark and Clare entered an LBA team for the Buccleuch Challenge, not knowing what to expect. It’s safe to say that the website didn’t give much away, other than noting that it will consist of 45km of a mixture of challenges with the fastest teams expected to finish in 4-5hrs and the slowest in 8hrs. Our training consisted of weekly(ish) 5-7km team runs after work and…not much else.
We knew we needed bikes and neither me nor Clare had ridden one in a few years – aside from the occasional spinning class on a static bike in the run up to the event – but we knew Mark was a cycling pro with his weekly mountain biking sessions. The bike hire was booked, the (very extensive) kit list was gathered and we set off at 5.30am on a Friday morning to Dumfries. Arriving at the event made us quickly realise that many people were taking this very seriously, and far fewer were ‘in it for the fun’, which we had persuaded ourselves we would be. We were handed a map and a list of the 31 challenge check points and had to plan our route, knowing that the route is probably the most crucial aspect of the event. Each check point had to be ‘dibbed’ by our electronic wristbands to confirm that we had completed it. Each missed checkpoint incurred a 20minute or 40minute time penalty.
The race briefing described a series of 5 check points, the furthest out on the map, as ‘only suitable for experienced teams’ and following conversations with other teams, we questioned whether we should bother attempting this section to avoid wasting time. Our general route plan was to head in the direction of the hardest challenge, hitting various check points on the way and finishing on the wet challenges.
A selection of check point challenges:
Bush tucker trial – we stumbled across the event’s surprise challenge first – which presented us with 3 covered plates which revealed crickets, maggots, chillis, pickled egg and various fishy things. We each had to finish everything on the plate to pass the check point. Post-race we found out that most other teams only had to share one plate as they were running low on the ‘food’.
The orienteering challenge involved a very unclear map with very rough check point locations indicated. Aside from the nettles and spiky branches that we had to wade through, from which we still have cuts on our legs, it was good fun.
We cycled a fair distance to reach the bottom of the ‘hardest’ challenge mentioned above, which we were still in two minds about until the event marshall told us that there would be a 3 hour penalty added to our time for skipping it – at which point our competitive spirits kicked in and there was no way we were skipping it. It involved pushing our bikes (it was pretty impossible to cycle the majority of it) all the way up a massive hill, reaching the top, and cycling down the other side – the fun part.
The swimming challenge came after the mountain biking challenge – which to me and Clare seemed like it must have been a ‘black’ route (most challenging route), but was apparently a red route. The swimming involved jumping into the flowing river and swimming out to a check point on a rock in the middle of the river. Thankfully the tide allowed us to float downstream without too much swimming effort but the initial shock of the cold water certainly took our breath away.
We ended on the paddle boarding challenge, which in comparison was a very relaxing, albeit slightly unstable, challenge and a great check point to end on. It was then back on the bikes for the final cycle sprint back up hill to the castle finish line.
It’s fair to say that we didn’t expect quite so much cycling and rather expected more running (which we largely trained for only to find there was only a short run at the start). We had a great team spirit and continuous positivity – with me constantly shouting ‘I think we’re winning!!’ to encourage us. All in all, it was a great day out with an amazing LBA team and to our shock we were placed 7th out of 42 mixed teams with a time of 6hrs (including one 20minute penalty for missing a fire-making challenge).
LBA hope to enter two teams next year – let the training commence!