Vigour, July 2015
“Being an Olympian, everyone else wants to compete against you. There was just no way I wasn’t going to complete it”
British ski legend Chemmy Alcott switches downhill for uphill, and the Alps for the Highlands, to tackle one of the world’s toughest one-day events – Scotland’s gruelling Artemis Quadrathlon
“I don’t know why I keep signing up for these things. You would have thought that, going to four Olympics, my ego would be satisfied. But I think that maybe it’s not an ego thing – maybe I just want to keep challenging myself.
I got pulled into the event because I’m friends with former World Cup-winning rugby player Mike Tindall and Mike is an ambassador for the race. They wanted a female ambassador and I said ‘yeah, I’ll have a go.’ Then I looked at the race details and thought ‘what have I got myself into?’
You swim nearly a mile, then run 15 miles over seven Munros, then kayak 7 miles, and finish by cycling 34 miles. Frankly, the cycling bit feels like recovery after everything you’ve done. The whole thing took me 14.5 hours.
I’m not an endurance athlete. I’m a power athlete – I’ve got lots of weight down below, and I’m very, very strong. So hauling myself over seven Munros was just hell for me. And I’ve got a metal right leg, of course – the result of multiple leg breaks – so that doesn’t exactly help. Skiing is all about confidence and strength and overcoming fear, whereas this was very different. This was about powering on, and on. It was low-level excitement rather than an intense adrenaline rush.
They say never do these types of things with your husband or wife. But I made my husband Dougie do it with me because I thought this was an experience we should go through together and I also know that there are not many people I can let my guard down in front of and admit to that I’m in pain. He’s one of them because he’s seen me go through all those multiple injuries during my career.
Physically it was hard – I knew it was going to be sore, but not that sore. It’s really tough on the legs and lower limbs. Mike said he’d never had knee pain throughout his entire rugby career yet he had knee pain that day. That said, it’s definitely more of a mental challenge. You go kind of crazy.
After the eight hours on the Munros, you then get in a kayak for almost two hours and you definitely go a bit delirious. We sung Oasis songs for the entire time – to put that in perspective, we only know five Oasis songs.
I’m kind of a pessimist with regards to endurance racing because I did the world’s toughest ski race in Greenland and 40 per cent of the competitors didn’t finish. They pulled out or didn’t make the cut-off times. The quadrathlon also has cut-offs, for safety, and I knew I’d be mortified if I didn’t make it through them.
Being an Olympian, people think you must be good at everything. They want to compete against you. I knew I wouldn’t be fast, but I definitely didn’t want to get thrown out of the race because I was too slow. There was no way I was going to let that happen.
I’m a nice, lovely person…until I’m hungry or tired. In this race I was going to get both, so Dougie made sure that food, particularly, was something I focused on. I work with Honey Stinger – the organic energy gel people – a lot, and these products helped me get through. We also had loads of peanut butter rice balls for extra energy.
There’s a food station half way round the bike section with fish and chips and haggis. Obviously, those trying to win the event, and the super-competitive, don’t stop there, but the stage I was at, mentally and physically, I didn’t hesitate. I’m quite a health freak but I was devouring fried haggis like my life depended on it – and it was one of the tastiest things I’ve ever had.
I couldn’t have done this if it wasn’t for the knowledge that I was helping to raise money for charities such as Mercy Corps and Mary’s Meals. It’s so important that during the dark moments you can think ‘this isn’t for me’. It really helped. That and my stubborn streak. There was one point when you could choose to not do the last Munro. I was in a lot of pain but I couldn’t bring myself to do something 80 per cent, so I kept going.
My metal leg definitely hindered me. I don’t have any mobility in my right ankle so going downhill over rough terrain and scrambling down Munros is probably the worst thing I could have done.
At the end, I promised Dougie I wouldn’t do this sort of thing again – but I’ll probably forget that promise in a little while. It’s not like it was a marriage vow; it was a spur of the moment comment.”
Chemmy Alcott was talking to Duncan Craig
*The Artemis Great Kindorchit Quadrathlon helps to raise money for various charities including Mercy Corps (www.mercycorps.org.uk) and Mary’s Meals (www.marysmeals.org.uk). For more information, see www.artemisgreatkindrochit.com. For more on Chemmy’s X-Elle initiative, which aims to develop young people through sport, visit chemmyalcott.com