If you enter as a solo entrant and you’re worried about not knowing anyone, that’ll quickly change as you are in an environment with like-minded people, all with the same sense of adventure as you.”
Name: Alan Affleck
I started adventure racing in 2001 after a friend phoned to ask, ”you have a bike don’t you?” I then ended up in a field in Wales suddenly feeling very apprehensive, but despite several visits to the medical tent for dehydration and mild hypothermia, I was hooked! So, I swapped playing rugby for the great outdoors. 2022 was my 5th Heb and every one has been a different and special experience.
I was aware of the original “Heb” 5 day expedition race in the early 2000’s but didn’t get the chance to do it, so when I saw it back in 2016 I jumped at the chance. I’d never been there and Adventure Racing is a wonderful way to explore an area.
It’s the “race on the edge” in more ways than one. It’s tough. It tests your limits and the knowledge of your own abilities. You’re battling the ever-changing weather, terrain and your own self-doubt. You’re trekking through a spongy landscape which saps the energy from your legs. You’re pulling your bike out a bog and getting back on it. The satisfying “beep” of another checkpoint nailed. It’s a real sense of achievement to finish each day. So, when you cross the finish line on day 2 and someone hands you a beer, it’s a wonderful feeling.
Anyone can do The Heb, but the fitter you are the more you’ll get out of it. You can do as much or as little as you want, but don’t underestimate the cycle back to the finish on Day 1. It can be a long, long, way, so leave time and energy for it.
You need to build endurance, so depending on your starting base you may need around 6 months training. There’s no point trying to get sub 6min mile running pace…you won’t need it. When asked “how was the run?” a competitor memorably said “…that’s not running”. Get ready for the hill sections by going out on the hills, not easily paved ones like Schiehallion. Find less travelled Corbetts and Grahams and get used to crossing by boggy ground and mossy landscapes.
Don’t underestimate the bike, get bike fit. If you find a nice piece of single track turn sharply off it as you won’t see much of that on the Hebridean Way. Practice biking along rougher terrain. If you enter as a solo entrant and you’re worried about not knowing anyone, that’ll quickly change as you are in an environment with like-minded people, all with the same sense of adventure as you. You wouldn’t do these activities if you came to the area on holiday, most of it wouldn’t even cross your mind, so come out and explore this area of the country.
The best thing is that there’s incredible views from the top of Eaval, & Hecla – it’s the uniqueness of the landscape, the remoteness, the deserted, white sandy beaches, the crystal clear water on the kayak, and if you’re lucky, a tail wind, and sunshine on the beach ride to the finish. The lows are as you’d expect, the struggle of a few hours sleep each night due to the wind & rain, but they are sweetened by the highs.
You’re never alone, every other competitor is going through the same thing. You recognise that in each other, even if they are running to a different race plan to you – the format of the event allows your paths to cross several times.
Different year’s events are defined by the weather, wind direction and the people I met on the way. In 2017 the top speed my friend David and I hit on the Day 2 beach section bike was 9km/h. In 2018, Graham Walton & I managed 11kmh, in 2019 I hit 30kmh. God bless that tailwind!
I would advise anyone who’s about to do it for the first time to not follow the people in front! They may have a different race plan to you, or may not be that good at navigating. I advised two friends in 2022 about this. They saw a big group head off in one direction and thought they’d follow them. They ended up on the wrong side of an estuary.
The Hebridean Way is a more of a Hebridean “no way!” I’ve ended up axle deep in mud a few times. In 2022 I was chatting to a couple who were planning on doing only one checkpoint on Vallay (the monument). I persuaded them to at least go and have a look at the North beach section; after hesitation, they did, and they soon had a huge smile on their face. They were so taken with it that they ran to that extra checkpoint and experienced that beautiful beach.
The hardest part about the race is the physical challenge of the terrain that’s ever present. I remember looking at the map on the ferry for the 1st event, saw the 16km hill run and wondered why they had limited the time to 4hrs 30mins. I’d trained in the Pentlands and thought maybe 2 – 2.5hrs. But then I experienced the landscape, oh my legs! We had to push hard to get back by the cut off.
The other factor is keeping fuelled and getting the sleep your body is crying out for, getting up on day 2 is tough, but you get on the bike, into the Hebwind….get the Hebridean shower of horizontal rain, the sun comes out to dry you off and a fellow racer rocks up to help share the load and life is suddenly good again.
It may seem cheesy to say “You arrive as strangers and leave as friends” but it’s true – marshals and competitors together, a community. Cheering each other on & greeting each other with a wave and a smile, no matter what the weather, as you all go through it together. It’s like no other event I do.
A Durty event is best summed as ‘adventure in unique places’. I can’t really recall my first one, maybe the first Bowhill Duathlon Winter Series. Since then my list would be like a roadies t-shirt: Aviemore Tri, Craggy Island, Hop Run, Dramathon, FoxTrail Winter Series, The Heb …all multiple times.
In any event, you need to have faith that the organiser makes the right decisions and that it is a safe event. I have done other events where I’ve seen poor organisation and participants safety put at risk, but I have faith and trust in the Durty crew, so much so that I now have my daughter taking part in the FoxTrail series. I hope to get her to The Heb at some point. There’s always a shout of support when you need it most.
The Heb is also unique as it’s not a one-day event – you are camping, eating, and travelling with the crew so you get to know them and they, you. It’s been a pleasure doing these events and with marshals like Rachel Henderson who’ll offer you a jelly baby at the top of some ridiculous climb, the calming presence of Jock and Sandy, and the ever-present smile of Pyro, what’s not to like!ENTER THE HEB 2023