Challenge Weymouth 2014 (Iain)

Next weekend we’re both racing Ironman Edinburgh. It’s three years since we last did a middle distance triathlon (1.8KM swim, 55 mile bike, 13.1 mile run). Here’s how we got on last time…

Up until 2014, the UK “Challenge” triathlon had taken place in Henley-on-Thames. A place so posh it needs hyphens. The people of Henley hated the triathlon. The closed road race would often be interrupted by a Range Rover or Aston Martin. The locals having decided that closed only meant closed to cheap cars.

In 2013, Andrew and I entered Challenge Henley, a middle distance triathlon. It was well organised and, as it was at the end of the summer, we could train for it when the weather was good rather than over the winter. We enjoyed it so much we wanted to do it again but the locals had decreed no more triathlon so the race moved to Weymouth.

DSC_1279_1

Weymouth is a place that doesn’t need hyphens. If you love ice cream, chips and donkey rides then this is the town for you. It’s also worth a visit if you want to see Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper recreated as a sandcastle.

We drove down on the Friday before the race. We wanted the extra day to get ready and recover from the drive. Google maps said it would take 8 hours but it doesn’t take into account any other cars or roadworks. It was closer to 12 hours. We should have got a medal for just getting there.

There’s plenty of accommodation in the area. We stayed in an ex Ministry Of Defence building that was used to test bombs. This meant the walls were so thick, WiFi and mobile phones didn’t work.

Registration/Setup

Registration took place at the pier, which is the end point of the race. The transition areas for the swim/bike/run was about a mile and a half away along the beach. This is ok but it meant you have to work out where to park your car on race morning. Do you want a long walk to the start but be close to the finish or vice versa?

Registration takes a couple of minutes and we were given all the usual – a race number, a tattoo of the number and different colored bags to put our transition stuff in. One for the bike, one for the run and one for post event.

We went back to the hotel to sort everything out. Once we had all the stuff ready we headed over to transition. At this point my brother remembered that he had not put any his bags into the car. So it was back to the hotel…and then back to transition! As a forfeit he had to buy me dinner. I picked the expensive options.

Swim

DSC_1288_1

The hotel was open for breakfast from 3AM so I popped along at 5AM for some Weetabix. There was a few others eating. They all had Weetabix too except one man who was having a full English breakfast. I assume he was just a hungry insomniac rather than an athlete.

We choose to park nearer to the finish than the start. As we walked along the beach to transition  we noticed just how fierce the waves were. A quick check of Twitter (always a useful reference to find out whats going on) revealed the waves were so strong the course was going to be altered and the full length race was going to be shortened. Our race would be delayed by 30 minutes.

This meant a long cold wait by the sea as we watched the full distance athletes struggle in the waves. I’d swam in similar conditions last year in a charity event in fife. That day the weather was so bad the Women’s Golf open was cancelled. I hadn’t enjoyed it as it became an exercise in survival rather than fun. I wasn’t looking forward to the swim!

Luckily it calmed down slightly by the time we were due to start so we decided to give it a go. After all, whats the worse that can happen?

It was two laps out and back to a buoy. The way out was very choppy. I quickly lost my brother in the swell. Sighting was straightforward as there was so many folk around I just followed everyone else. I actually quite enjoyed it but it probably helped that I’d been swimming in the sea whilst on holiday the week before so I was used to the salt.

I finished the swim in about 45 minutes.

DSC_1299_1

Transition 

We have an agreement that we wait for each other in transition. As neither of us is going to win the race we just race each other so all we care about it the times for each section. I had a 10 minute wait for him before he turned up. He said he was delayed as he’d gone for a spin on a boat! If I knew that was an option then I’d have taken it. He had felt fine on lap 1 but, near the end of lap 2, he was sick so had to hitch a lift on the boat so he could be ill. Luckily it was just all the salt that had upset his stomach – or maybe he’d ordered a full English breakfast when I wasn’t looking.

Bike

Experts say you shouldn’t change anything before a race. I decided to ignore that advice and put aero bars on my bike and I adjusted my seating position. I’d never used aero bars and I was surprised at just how great they were! I’m going to use them all the time now. [NOTE: I wrote this in 2014. I’ve barely used them since!] The race was one lap of 55 miles into the countryside. It was fairly flat with some slight hills. I saw some riders getting off their bikes and walk up the hills. They should move to Scotland and learn what real hills are like.

Highlights of the ride was passing a Tank Museum. The speed signs on the road to it had separate speed limits for tanks and cars.

I enjoyed the bike ride and I finished it in 3hrs 10min

Transition 

I waited for about 15 minutes for my brother. He likes watching his speedometer and keeping to a steady pace whilst I don’t bother with any tech and just cycle faster when I feel good and slower when I don’t. I think this is why he is better at going up hills than me but I’m usually better on flatter courses.

Run

Annoyingly the run was 15 miles. Which I thought was a bit unfair, as it was a half marathon race not a half and a bit race. We had no choice in the matter so off we went. The course was two and a half laps of the seafront taking in a section past all the pubs called “the beer mile.”

Whilst on the run we passed a section of beach which contained just one man: one man playing the bagpipes. One man playing the bagpipes badly. It was clear why he had that part of the beach to himself. Even in one of the most southern parts of England there was still a reminder of home.

The run was good and I dropped my brother after half way as his chat was dull 🙂 I then made a fatal error! I thought I’d run for a bit with headphones on. I didn’t realise doing so is a complete no-no! I do it on all running races so I assumed it was okay here. I’d find out about it at the end when I wanted to check my result….

I finished the run in 2hr 3min and then hung about for 15 minutes until my brother finished.

We both checked the distance on our watches and it had only been 13.1 miles so we were thankful it had been changed from 15. It later transpired this change meant the full distance runners didn’t do a full marathon. Their race was 4k short.

Overall

It was a good well organised race in a nice part of the world. Both myself and my brother beat our time from last year on all three disciplines so we were happy. Afterwards I went to check our times and found out

A) My brother had been DQ’d. It turns out a ride in a boat isn’t allowed

B) I was marked as “withdrawn from race” which was news to me! I then found out it was due to been spotted wearing headphones.

Luckily neither of us care about the final result other than who beat who and we still got our medal 🙂

DSC_1308_1 DSC_1311_1

Escape From Alcatraz 2017 – The ‘Duathlon’ Version (Andrew)

IMG_2058

Have you read the Mind Chimp by Dr Steve Peters? It’s a good book, well, good chapter, about sports pyschology. I say chapter because after the first chapter explains his theory the rest of the book… explains his theory and then explains it again and again.

I can only imagine that Dr Steve Peters inner chimp wasn’t an editor.

If you’ve not read it then the basic theory goes something like this: everyone has a chimp, but not in a Michael Jackson type way. He had an actual chimp. We have an inner chimp. A voice in our head that reacts emotionally to events. The book shows how to understand how your mind works and how to ignore negative thoughts like doubt and fear.

It also tells you to ignore losing (which reminds me that I should really get a copy for Iain before next year’s Etape Caledonia) and that you should approach each event on the basis that you can only judge it on how well you trained and how well you raced and that position is not important.

Wise words for this year’s Escape From Alcatraz. After the swim was cancelled, I was disappointed, half thought of not finishing it. Why bother if it’s not the full event?

But that was my chimp talking.

Not that chimps talk. They just say OOOOK, which means “chimp wanna banana”, unless it’s Michael Jackson’s chimp talking in which case OOOOK means “get away from me ya big weirdo”.

Instead, I ignored my chimp and thought: “This is the race. There is no swim. You can only start what’s before you. You were on the boat. You were ready to dive in. You can’t do any more than what you’ve done. So, pull yourself together and get on that bike and get out and run!”

And I did.

And it was brilliant.

Even though I felt like a sausage.

Iain had loaned me a tri suit. Normally, I’d wear tri shorts and change and use a cycling top for the bike and swap t-shirts for the run. But, this time, I was going ‘full triathlete’.

But what they don’t tell you about ‘full triathlete’ is that ‘full triathlete’ involves a garment, the tri suit, which is designed to be slim, sleek, figure hugging and aerodynamic. Or, if you’re a normal body shape, designed to make you look like a strong man has just squeezed a sausage. A plump sausage.

I will not be posting any pictures from the race of anything other than my head!

Bike course

Bike

The bike course is out and back from transition to Golden Gate park. It’s closed road, which is fantastic, and his great views of the bridge, Lands End, the west coast and Ocean Beach.

The hills are relatively shallow, but I was surprised at the number of people stopping and walking up them. Maybe Scotland is better training for San Francisco than other places, but, if you are training somewhere flat, then practice for hills, the course goes up and down faster than Theresa May approval rating.

For those travelling from the UK, India, Australia, the Caribbean, Malta and Cyprus (and anywhere else that drives on the left hand side of the road), then watch out for overtaking. Americans overtake on the left, not the right. Which is more obvious when driving, the oncoming traffic being a big clue (!), but, on a closed road on a bike, it’s easy to overtake on the right, and some folk don’t like that. “Sorry!” to whoever I cut off at Cliff House, I don’t know who you are, but you certainly had a loud voice!

The final few miles are flat, and, with a windy day, gusts were hitting 35mph on Sunday, and with the wind behind, it’s a very quick finish.

Run route

Run

Let’s talk about hills. And steps. Hills are okay, you slow down, shorten your stride, switch your mind off and keep climbing. Steps on the other hand are made to be walked on. It’s automatic. See a step. Walk on it.

At least that’s my excuse for not running all of the run route. There’s two sections with steps. The first at two miles, where you climb steps up to the Golden Gate bridge and the second at 4.5 miles where you tackle the ‘sand ladder’.

I’d read about the ‘sand ladder’ before the race. I knew it involved a steep climb after a short run on a beach but I didn’t realise just how steep it was. (Ladder should have been a clue, it wasn’t called the step stairs, or the step easy incline, it was the step ladder). I didn’t even try and run it. I grabbed one of the guide ropes at the side and used that to help me climb.

IMG_2007

Once those two climbs are done, it’s a nice two and bit mile run back to transition on flat ground.

I play a game as I run. At registration everyone has their age written on their left hamstring with a black marker. I don’t know why. Maybe the sharks in the bay want to know how old a leg is before they bite it off?

But, as I run, I check out people’s legs to see how old they are. Then when they pass I have a quick sideways look to see if they look older, younger or spot on.

It’s basically a very judgemental version of Bruce Forsyth’s Play Your Card Rights. Higher! Lower! Blimey, see a doctor, you’ve had a hard life!

It’s only at the end that I realise that everyone could be doing the same for me. Except they’d add, I’d thought at his age he’d at least be trying to run the stairs?

Sorry, chickened out!

The finish line had a large crowd but one which was quite quiet. My wife was waiting and she said afterwards that people only tended to cheer athletes they knew rather than everyone as they came in. She also overheard the following conversation:

Mother: C’mon children, let’s get ready to cheer daddy!

Small child: Why?

Mother: Because he’s just finished a big race and it’s a massive achievement!

Small child: Is it?

Mother: (After a long pause) Well, he thinks it is…

I think many triathlete widows and widowers can empathise!

At the finish, I get a big medal, a big meal (pasta, soup and various barbecue options) and a great sense of achievement – I could do no more than what I did, I was ready to jump, but better to be safe than to risk your life in dangerous waters. I’d escaped Alcatraz (albeit that maybe this year, the guards had left the keys in the lock to make it slightly easier)!

IMG_2052

Alcatraz Top Tips

Pre-race:

Registration is very busy between 11am and the first briefing at 1pm. You will need to queue. We had to wait 30 minutes in a queue that snaked all the way around transition. However, if you arrive later, the queue is much shorter.

You can’t take your bike into registration so, if you don’t have a handy wife/girlfriend/husband/boyfriend/partner with you, then you’ll want to bring a lock so you can leave your bike safely while you register.

Transition has security guards so leaving bike on Saturday is perfectly safe. You can’t leave your kit, so you will still need to prepare transition on Sunday morning but at least your bike is racked.

There are lots of buses on Sunday morning to get from transition to the boat, so no need to worry about catching the bus.

You can leave a bag at a collection point outside the boat but, if you leave it on the boat, you’ll need to wait longer on Sunday to collect it.

Unlike Norseman, where there a hose of seawater to help you acclimatise, you just jump straight into the bay. I recommend the (untested) frozen water bottle trick!

I hired a bike from Blazing Saddles. You need to bring your own pedals but they provided a helmet and seat bag with pump, spare tube and puncture repair kit, which was great. The store at 550 North Point Street is less than 15 minutes from transition, easy to get to before the race and easy to return bike afterwards. Excellent service and a wide selection of bikes to choose. Though order early if you need a specific size.

Aberfeldy Middle Distance – Bike Course (Iain)

Untitled

Whilst Andrew was failing to escape from Alcatraz, I was in Aberfeldy visiting our parents. They were staying here, instead of at home in the Western Isles, as my Dad had a hospital appointment to attend.

During his appointment he had to sit a memory test. To pass, the test required a score of at least 82 out of 100. If he failed then he could lose his driving licence.

This seems very unfair as I only needed 40% to pass my university exams and, with that limited knowledge, I’ve been in charge of things much more dangerous than a car.

During the test, one of the question was name an object beginning with P. He said penis. My mum was appalled. He was then asked to name the President of the United States, he couldn’t remember. I suspect he’d have got it correct if he’d also said a penis!

The Aberfelday Middle Distance Triathalon bike route starts in Kenmore. The town is famous for being the place where the first cast of the salmon season takes place. Less well known is it’s a town evil Iranian dictator Colonal Gaddafi bought property in!

http://www.eveningtimes.co.uk/news/14496744.Libya_claims_ally_of_Gaddafi_bought_hotels_in_Highlands/

I wonder if any other dictators have property in Scotland? Maybe North Korea’s Kim Jung Un has a little flat in Saltcoats? Maybe Syrian President Bashir likes nothing better than a day on the beach at Prestonpans?

Unfortunately, I’m away when the Aberfeldy race is on, but, if you are doing the event, here’s what you need to know.

The first three miles are flat. There is a single lane bridge with traffic lights in Kenmore. I assume a marshal will be here and wave bikes through if it’s clear otherwise your race would stop before it’s barely began.

After three miles of flat it’s nearly five miles of uphill. It’s a straightforward climb but keep a look out for the turn onto the Schiehallion road. I missed it and had to turn back. Again, I assume a marshal will be at this point.

Once on to the Schiehallion road it’s mostly flat and fast but there are some tight corners where you can’t see what’s coming. I had to brake in case a car was coming the other way. The roads aren’t very wide so I didn’t want to drift into a car’s way. The descent on the way down to Kinloch Rannoch had two steep sections with tight corners.

Once in Kinloch Rannoch its virtually flat all the way round the loch. The road was good quality and I used tri bars all the way round.

The climb back up Schiehallion isn’t as bad as the first time as there’s less of it! It’s then virtually downhill all the way back although watch out as some of the corners are tight.

Overall it’s a enjoyable ride. Nearly 850m of climbing but with lots of places you can get the head down and bike fast.

Escape From Alcatraz – Swim (Andrew)

Athletes, listen, this is an important announcement! You must –

Pfffffftt. Ziiipppp. Fffffuutttt. PA broken. Silence.

I’m waiting in transition. I’m wearing a wetsuit and trainers. I should be swimming in San Francisco bay but I’m not – the 2017 Escape From Alcatraz swim has been cancelled (for the first time ever!) and I’m waiting to find out what happens next.

It was an early start, 4am alarm, but, with the time difference between UK and the US it still felt like mid-morning. I got an Uber to transition, having left my bike there yesterday, the first time they’ve let people rack up on the Saturday. I didn’t know at this point it wasn’t the only weekend ‘first’ .

At transition I have plenty of time to set up my gear (unroll towel, check bike helmet, 10 seconds, done), check bike for air (press both tyres down with my thumb, 5 seconds each) and then catch a bus to the boat which takes you out to Alcatraz (just a couple of minutes to catch the bus).

The last bus leaves at 6am but, as I wasn’t sure of queues, I’d  got to transition early and after completing my rigorous and thorough transition routine… I was on the bus by 5am, which was too early. I was on the boat by 5:30 and had two hours to wait until the swim start.

On the boat, a former sternwheeler (I Googled this), you get divided by age: over 40 onto the top deck, under 40 on the main deck. In case you forget how old you are you can check your leg: at registration they write your age in black marker on your left hamstring.

I’m under 40, and with my memory intact, I don’t even need to check when asked, so I get to sit on the main desk. As I’m there early, there’s plenty of places to sit, so I sit down.

Sorry, you can’t sit there.

The man to my left is indicating an empty space of 10 metres.

My friend’s just coming back.”

It’s okay, I’m sure we’ll both fit.

I sit down and then worry that a man with a 10 metre wide butt will sit on me. Luckily, when the friend returns, he has a normal size butt – as do the two others who later join us. Not that I was checking out butts. But how much room does one butt need?! Even Sir Mix-A-Lot, the world expert on big butts and a man who cannot lie, would have said there was room for plenty of butts on that part of the boat.

I close my eyes. Listen to random conversation and think about the swim.

I’m nervous. Scared. But I have a secret weapon. Last night I left a water bottle in the fridge and I plan to pour it on my face and down my back before jumping into the bay. I think the cold water will help me acclimatise before I plunge in.

But, I never get to check that theory. At 6:30am, just as we’re due to sail to the start, a man with a loudspeaker tells us to be quiet and to listen to the PA. The PA then tells us that there’s been a “small craft advisory warning “and that the “swim is cancelled“.

There’s a loud groan. A protest. We’re asked to leave the boat and it’s still not clear why.

People talk about refunds. About ditching the whole event. One man says he can’t run or ride a bike, the only reason he was here was for the swim. Others talk in foreign languages. People travelling around he world to be here. And the swim, the iconic swim from Alcatraz back to San Francisco is cancelled.

Now I know how Al Capone must have felt – there was no escape from Alcatraz today.

Later, I find out that the wind and current was too strong even for the safety boats. The small craft warning was a warning that the kayaks and paddle boards who marshal the swim would not cope with the conditions. And if it was too dangerous for the safety boats it was too dangerous for swimmers.

I’m disappointed. I’d travelled a quarter of the world to.be here but I know safety comes first. And, after seeing the bay later, with whitecaps heading east, rather than west, and with winds hitting 35mph, it was the right call.

We queue to get back on the buses. It takes nearly two hours to get everyone back to transition. We still don’t know what’s happening but announcements say that a bike run race will take place and details will follow.

I keep warm by staying in my dry wetsuit. I thought of pouring the frozen water on my head just so I can have the Alcatraz experience but that would have been a stupid idea.

At transition, the PA gives our just as the announcement of the new race is made: “Athletes, listen, this is an important announcement – you must –

We gather at the entrance instead as a loudspeaker is found. The organisers will send us out in waves. Pros first then by number, five at a time, every 10 seconds, to ensure people are spread out along the course just as they would be if they’d completed the swim.

I finally take off my wetsuit and get ready to… ESCAPE FROM TRANSITION!

Escape From Alcatraz – Preparation (Andrew)

“Have you got the key?” My wife asked.

“Yes,” I said, closing the door to the flat.

I patted my pocket.

Nothing.

“Wait a minute…”

I tried the door. It was locked.

“When I said I had the key…”

This was not how today was meant to begin.

This is our first full day in San Francisco, having arrived yesterday after a 15 hour journey from Glasgow that involved:

  • a plane full of Celtic fans dressed in green and white hoops heading for a supporter’s convention in Las Vegas – pool party sold out, according to the Facebook page I found, tickets for Wolftones all Irish rock songs night still available.
  • A plane switching directions as fast as you can say “Theresa May flip flop” in an incident we were told was just “wake turbulence” from a plane in front of us during our approach to Heathrow but felt like the start of a 360 degree flip.
  • And a triple bill of Sing, Get Out and The Lego Batman Movie. as I turned our Transatlantic flight into a movie marathon.

So, after crashing out soon after we arrived, today was our chance to explore the city and, after waking at 2am, then 3am, then getting up at 4am due to the jet lag, we were ready to pop out at 7am and get breakfast when the nearest shop opened.

“Are you taking your phone?”

“No, I wont need it.”

“Are you taking your wallet?”

“I’ve got cash.”

“Have you got the keys?”

“Of course!”

I didn’t.

It’s 7am. We’re trapped outside our flat and the only thing to do is to sit on a children’s swing outside and wonder if the ladder in the sculptor’s studio (don’t ask) next to our flat will extend to the first floor window we’d left open.

I can see myself reaching through the window, sliding in and opening the door.

I can seem myself getting shot by a policeman for breaking and entering.

I ditch the ladder plan.

I have a better plan!

We will use the cash to get a train to the city centre to find an Apple store with free internet access and computers ready to use (they say sell, but everyone knows an Apple store is just a pretentious internet café), send an email to our landlords for the week and get spare keys from them!

It was full proof. Except we didn’t know how to get a train or get to the city centre or find an Apple store.

But that’s what true grit is all about!

Bear Grylls would be proud!

So, using all our guile, guts and ingenuity we wondered the streets until we spotted a station, then wondered the city centre until we spotted some ‘posh shops’ then narrowed down our search to a few blocks on the basis that Apple always has a shop in the posh part of town.

Bear Grylls may follow rivers to find his escape, we followed the Gucci, Tiffanys and Luis Vutton.

I should really have my own show in which I show how luxury items can be used to help survive difficult locations – which, to be honest, is no different to Bear’s shows and his secret luxury caravan but at least I’d be honest about it.

So, five hours later, after a ride in a cable car and a Pain Au Chocolat in the world famous Tartine Bakery, after such hard, harsh, desperate struggles, we finally got back into our flat and I only hope that escaping from Alcatraz is easier than breaking into an AirBnB.

End Of Month Report (Iain)

My plan for May was not to have any mileage goals but instead complete a number of events:

  • Helensborough 10K – I was hoping I’d get under 45 minutes for one of my 10K’s this month. I surprised myself by managing it in the first race. Link here
  • Bealach Na Ba Race 44 mile race (with the aim to do the climb twice) – My aim was to beat Andrew but he beat me due to a puncture. We didn’t do the climb twice due to the puncture. Link here
  • Loch Leven half marathon – the aim was to beat Andrew but he beat me easily! I was happy with my time so I can’t complain…too much. Link here 
  • Antonine Trail Race 10k – great race. I’ll sign up for the half marathon when it becomes available. Link here
  • Caledonian Etape 81 mile bike  – My aim was to beat Andrew but he cheated 🙂 Link here 
  • Dumbarton 10K – I didn’t make it to this race which I think is the second time I’ve entered it but not made it to the start line.
  • Shettleston 10K – Last race of the month. I was tired and hungover but my time was okay. Link here 

The theme of the month was “My aim was to beat Andrew but….”

Thankfully, despite these losses, the Todd Championship is still close. It’s currently 4-3 to Andrew. Overall, I enjoyed the races and got PB’s for the biking so it was a good month.

My plan for June is not to have a plan. Iron Man Edinburgh is the next goal (at the start of July) so I’ll concentrate on keeping everything ticking over so that I’m fit and healthy.

I also don’t want to let Andrew know what my plan for this month is to ensure I win! I have a secret idea….

Here’s a selection of photos from May. If you want to see more then follow me on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/twinbikerun/

Shettleston 10K (Iain)

The Shettleston 10k is misnamed – it wasn’t in Shettleston. It was in Glasgow green.

The Edinburgh marathon works under a similar ruse. Visitors think they’re going to run through one of the worlds great cities but instead the race heads out of the city. Before you know it, your running thought a council estate in Prestonpans.

It should be called the “leaving Edinburgh and running through crap towns” marathon.

I did the race when the course was in Edinburgh. Andrew had trained for months to do it. I got a place at the last minute when someone else dropped out. I hadn’t trained. The night before the race, I drank shots in a bar til 3 AM.

The race started at Meadowbank stadium. the first mile was a brutal climb of Arthur’s seat. I felt ill. I kept pace with Andrew till the halfway point and then I retired.

The winning time for the Shettleston 10k was the fastest 10K time in Scotland this year. The man who ran it is called Wayney Ghebresilassie. With a surname like that its not a surprise he’s good at running! He cruised round in 30.11.

I was slightly hungover having attended a wedding the day before. Having learnt a lesson from my Edinburgh marathon experience I didn’t drink shots till 3AM. I drank beer.

map

Etape Caledonia – Part 2 (Andrew)

The Etape Caledonia is an 81 mile closed road sportive around Tayside. It’s one of Scotland largest bike races with over 3,000 riders taking part each year. It’s not a race. The organisers make that very clear – it’s a sportive, which is French for “We Get Cheap Insurance If We Don’t Call This A Race”.

Of course, it is a race. It’s the annual test of Todd v Todd as Iain tries (and fails) to claim the triple crowns of Todd Of The Loch (the fastest Todd around Loch Tummel), Todd of The Mountain (the fastest Todd up the highest climb at Schiehallion) and, the big one, the Yellow Todd, the fastest Todd overall and first over the finish line.

Every year, I win all three. I’m not boasting. It’s a fact. Six Todd of The Loch facts. Six Todd of the Mountain facts. Six Yellow Todd facts. Eighteen definitely 100% not boasting rock solid title winning facts.

(Well, maybe I’m boasting a wee bit – but wouldn’t you with such an impressive palmarès – which is French for “Get It Right Up Ya, Losers, Look What I’ve Won!”).

This was our seventh time at the Etape and Iain was trying mind games before the race.

“I’ve got a secret weapon.” He said.

“What is it?” I asked.

“If I told you it wouldn’t be a secret, would it?”

“If you’re secret doesn’t involve pedalling faster then it’s not going to help!”

But he had me worried. He was cycling far more than me. I’ve had to rely more on Turbo sessions than cycling outdoors. So, I thought there was a good chance he would win this year. I didn’t tell him that though instead I said:

“I don’t have a secret weapon. In fact I’m going to tell you exactly what I’m going to do. I’m going to sit behind you until the very last mile then I’m going to overtake you.”

And every time he mentioned his secret weapon I’d tell him exactly the same thing except…

… I wasn’t going to do that at all. Instead I was planning to make a break as soon as the course flattened out at Loch Tummell.

In French, they call this Le Mind Game. I think. Did I mention I failed my French standard grade?

And I had a back up. I knew another rider who was starting in the same wave as us. Someone I knew was fast and who, last time they raced the Etape, completed it in just over four hours. I made sure we met him at the start and I then stuck to his wheel for the start of the race.

I had a domestique, which is French for “I Ain’t Going To Lose This So I Got Some Secret Help To Get Round”.

And the plan worked to perfection. We stuck together for the first 15 miles along gentle rolling road towards Kinloch Rannoch, before ‘dropping’ Iain just before the first feed stop.

Dropping is English for “See Ya Later, Loser!”.

After that I wanted to see how fast I could go. I had it my head that I might, with a fair wind, be able to beat four hours. In the end, my legs gave up before I did. There are two main climbs during the Etape. The first is at Schiehallion, a steady climb with some steep corners that comes as a shock to the system after 20 miles of flat roads; the second is three miles from the end, a very steep climb of less than 100 metres. My legs threw in the towel on the second climb and, after that, I knew my faint hope of getting in below four hours was over. I coasted the last few miles and rolled into Pitlochry for a time of four hours six minutes.

I then waited for Iain.

And waited.

And waited. 🙂

article-2231428-15F976F3000005DC-253_964x300

(How my house might have looked that night)

Caledonian Etape 2017 – Part 1 (Andrew)

You could hear the school bell ring from our living room in Stornoway, that was the sign to go. We lived across the road from our primary school so could pack, leave and be in class before the bell stopped. It was brilliant.

Then we went to secondary school. It was five minutes away, less than a mile but still we said to our parents:

“We have to MOVE!”

We didn’t. We had to walk and we had to watch the clock because, now, we couldn’t hear the bell.

So, we walked. And, every time I’ve moved, whether for university or work, I’ve always walked or ran or cycled home.

In Glasgow, I’d walk around the Westend at university. At work, during two spells in London, I’d run first from the City to West Hampstead and then, after a second spell, from the City to Battersea. I would time how long it would take me to run and, every time, it was always quicker than catching the tube or the train – and, despite running six miles, it was also less sweaty.

In Glasgow, I commuted from the city centre to the Westend and to the Southside. Now, today, I work in Larbert and have cycled to and from Glasgow along the canal, a 90 – 120 minute commute depending on which way the wind’s blowing.

I love doing this. If I’m in a car, or bus, or underground train in London, I don’t get a sense of where I am. Running or cycling helps me connect everything together.

Running through London I would start in the City, surrounded by offices, run along Fleet Street with it’s mix of sleek offices and 17th century pubs, past the church in Aldwych and the Courts of Justice, still scarred from bombs dropped in World War 2, along past Trafalgar Square, Number 10 and the Houses of Parliament. Tourists, red buses, armed policeman and buildings that define London like the Thames. On the south bank, reaching home, I pass new flats overlooking the river, Battersea Park, a golden Buddha facing Chelsea townhouses owned by the super-rich, a dog pound, a sense of dislocation, and a roar of a plane overhead every 10 minutes descending on the Heathrow flightpath bringing new life, renewal, like blood returning to the heart.

Without running I’d never know how the world is connected. Not just by location but also by time. Every time I run I remember the times I’ve been there before. Running through London last year while on holiday, I wasn’t just running through the streets I knew, I was running through the times I knew them.

Running is time travel. Going forward, going back.

I get that feeling most of all when I return to the Caledonian Etape, 81 miles round Tayside, from Pitlochry round Loch Tummel, climbing over Schiehallion and back through the valley of Fortingal, Weem, Aberfeldy and Strathtay.

Not just a race. A memory.

A memory of coming to Aberfeldy for two weeks every summer on our summer holiday. The only two weeks we’d leave home on Stornoway and cross the Minch and come to the mainland.

Aberfeldy was a foreign country.

It had shops open on a Sunday, you could read a paper on a Sunday, you could go to the playground and the swings would be open, not tied up. It was not Stornoway where the Sabbath was sacred. It was as exotic as Istanbul.

And every year through school we would return, and most years after we left for university too. It was a second home. Our place in the sun(day).

So, when I started riding it was the Caledonian Etape I wanted to enter. A chance not just to ride but to ride my summer, to ride the roads where Aberfeldy was always, when we asked how long to go, “around the next corner and over the next hill!”.

The first time we entered we had no idea of what we were doing. We had the wrong bikes, the wrong gear, the wrong training programme (none) and a backpack filled with water and a packed lunch. It took us over six hours to finish. We would have been faster but there’s no quick way of having a cheese sandwich.

The second time we entered we were better. Better bikes. Better ideas. Still no training but, with more of an idea of what we had to do, we could help go faster even if by faster we only improved our time to under six hours.

The next few times so a gradual improvement. We’d join other riders to form groups. We’d train harder. We’d get faster. We get round in under five hours.

But one thing was constant. I always won.

This time we were riding for the seventh time. Iain promised a “secret weapon”. He was going all out for the win. I knew it would be tough but I also knew that this was my race. I wasn’t just riding against Iain, I was riding with a peloton of memories – and I was going to win.

To be continued…

 

 

 

Caledonian Etape (Iain)

“Bum cream?”

I’m standing in a bike shop in Pitlochry waiting for Andrew to buy an energy gel. I notice a man standing next to me.

“Bum Cream?” He asks again.

I think the man is a shop assistant. I’m not 100% sure – but I hope so.

“Not today, thanks!” Is the only thing I can think to say.

“Are you sure?”

I wonder why he thinks I need bum cream? Is there a sale on? Does he get commission? Or is there something about the way I walk which made him think – that man really  needs bum cream!

After leaving the shop I tell Andrew what happened. He replies.

“It could have been worse. He could have said arse lube!”

This year was our seventh race here. In 2016 I wrote “This year I thought I’d win. I didn’t.”

Well, this year I thought I’d win. I didn’t.

I’ll let Andrew write about his victory but I was pleased with my performance. I got a PB and I got round without needing bum cream.