Etape Caledonia 2018 (Andrew)

Recovery

It’s not often you see someone carrying a spare tyre when they’re out riding. A tube, yes. A tyre, not so much.

What are the chances you’ll need a spare tyre in the middle of a race? Or worse, in the middle of a race that you ‘d be planning to race for six months? Or worse, 10 miles into that race, you need a tyre and you don’t even get the sense you’d even started it.

What are the chances? Pretty high actually, if you’re me. I had a tyre explode 10 miles into the Etape Du Tour – a race which follows a stage of the Tour De France.

A rip in the tyre wall meant a wait at the side of the road for a motorbike support.  And then another wait as the support checked if they had any spare wheels they could give me before I was finally told “the only wheels you’ll see are the four on the bus that’s coming to pick you up!”.

I remembered this horrible memory on Sunday as I waited at the side of the road, this time just after the five mile point, for motorbike support. I was taking part in the Etape Caledonia and had selected the wrong gear before climbing a short sharp hill. I tried to change gear. My chain slipped. It became caught in the crank and it became so twisted and knotted even Alexander The great would have said “I may have conquered the world – but, fek’s sake, even that knot’s beyond me!”

But, as I waited for the inevitable conversation with the mechanic that would lead to the sweep up truck, he said:

“Wait, is that a quick release link?”

Before he pressed the chain, split it in half, threaded it through and released the knot in 30 seconds. He then threaded the chain back, linked it together and said: “You’re good to go!”

And I had a second flashback. I remembered in January I’d tried to change the chain, failed miserably at removing the pins, destroying the chain tool in the process, before I’d replaced the chain again with quick release links.

Thank you, January Andrew! You’re a star! (Even if you didn’t know what you were doing and was just following the first YouTube mechanic video you could find).

So, despite starting again near the back of field, as every one had passed as the bike was fixed, at least I was starting again this time

As for the race, a new three mile loop adds an interesting challenge to the first half and some cracking views of Schiehallion. A rebrand gives some cracking looking jerseys. And, despite a heatwave on Saturday and forecast of a dry day with more to come, there was still a couple of spots of rain as we passed Loch Tummell. The Caledonian Etape – never knowingly dry no matter what the forecast!

The highlight of the race however came as I reached the 70 mile point. I saw a man with a spare tyre tied onto the panniers on the back of his bike, I didn’t think “Ha! He won’t need that!”. Instead,  I thought: “Well played, sir, well played indeed!”

(Oh, and Iain claims he won – but the official time shows a dead heat, so I’m still the undisputed heavy weight champion of the Etape Caledonia!)

Balfron 10K (Andrew)

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I left my legs in Wanlockhead.

On Saturday, it was a beautiful day and we went to Wanlockhead – the highest village in Scotland – for a 40 mile cycle down through the Menock pass and back via Drumlanrig Castle and Elvenfoot before climbing to the top of the radar station.

Before we started, we parked in the centre of the village. A smiling man with an old large rucksack approached.

“Are you here to open the shop?”

We explained we were cycling.

“Oh, my bus leaves in 10 minutes and I need to buy my licence.”

“You need a licence for the bus?”

“No, I need a licence from the land owner as I’m here to find GOLD!”

Which was not what I was expecting to hear at 9am on a Saturday morning when (a) we’re not in California; and (b) it’s not the nineteenth century!

“How do you find gold?”

He opened his rucksack and then showed me a tube that was used to collect gravel from the bottom of riverbeds. He showed me a large plastic tray with grooves where the lighter soil would be washed away but the heavier gold would be caught in the grooves. Then he showed me his pan where he gently washed the last of the gravel leaving behind the millions and millions of pounds of GOLD!

“Do you find much?”

“I usually find a few specks the size of a grain of salt.”

Really?!? I looked round to see his Rolls Royce.

“And how much is that worth?”

“Nothing really, not even a pound, but it’s FUN!”

I didn’t want to hear about fun. I wanted to hear about making millions just washing gravel. But despite, as I found out later, Wanlockhead being known as ‘God’s Treasure House in Scotland’ due to the abundance of minerals found in the area, there’s not a lot of gold in them there hills.

In fact, the licence was £5 (I checked) and if it was possible to make more money panning for gold than selling licences for £5 then you can bet the land owner wouldn’t be selling licences for £5.

Despite the small chance of striking riches, as we cycled round I began to see that all the people I’d previously thought were  fishing were actually panning for gold instead. It seems that gold fever is alive and well and can be found in Wanlockhead.

Gold though was the last thing on my mind on Sunday at the Balfron 10k. Iain’s already described the race (see here). I can only add that it was the first time that I’d taken part and I can confirm that it was hilly and that every down hill seemed to lead to an ever longer uphill.

It was either that or my legs were still tired from cycling round Wanlockhead and every kilometre felt like a struggle today.

The race though is very well organised and has a good turnout of runners. And if you’re chasing a fastest 1K time on Strava then I can recommend the first 1K. A downhill so steep it can only be described with one word: “Geronimo!”

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Alloa Half Marathon 2018 (Andrew)

 

We were meant to run the Alloa half marathon on Sunday but it was postponed after the mini ‘Beast From The East’ brought sub-zero temperatures and more snow.

The organisers couldn’t guarantee the safety of competitors or, just as important, the safety of marshals who would have to stand for hours  in freezing conditions. It  was the right call and hopefully the race be rearranged for later in the year.

In the meantime, if you want to know what racing in sub-zero temperatures is like here’s a video of me with hypothermia trying to warm up on the Norseman bike leg in August 2016.

Kirkintilloch 12.5K 2018 (Andrew)

There are two types of runners. There are runners who park beside the start line and then there’s runners who park on Mars – to give themselves a bit more of a challenge by running 55 million kilometres as ‘warm up’.

I’m a runner who parks beside the start line. If I had a choice, I’d park on the start line. Warming up is just wasted energy after all. Why run before you need to run?!?

Now, some people – coaches, athletes and professionals – will tell you that warming up is an essential part of the whole running experience. If you don’t warm up then your muscles are cold and stiff and more likely to break. But those people – those experts – have clearly never had warm up in Scotland in January when it’s cold and wet and miserable and the thought of spending 30 seconds stretching each hamstring is as enticing as sharing a hot tub with Donald Trump.

Scotland is not a country for warming up. It’s a country for running as fast as you can out your front door until you run as fast as you can back in your front door and straight into a hot shower.

Which is what I wanted to do after Kirkintilloch 12.5K.

The Kirkintilloch 12.5 is a hilly circuit around the edge of Kirkintilloch on mostly old farm roads. It’s also one of the most exposed races with the top of every hill giving the freezing cold winds a good 50 mile standing start to breeze right through you.

It also doesn’t help that there’s very few car parking spaces near the start so, before the race, there was also a battle between the runners who like to park next to the start line to actually park next to the start line. Most failed.

We saw quite a few running a mile along the road from the centre of Kirkintilloch to the edge of the town, where the race started.

Luckily, we found a spot on a side street not far from the start as otherwise who knows what might have happened if we’d had to run before we ran. (We’d have probably run round faster as we were warmed up but that’s beside the point!)

The race itself featured a cold wind, some ice on the side of the road and a Penguin biscuit at the finish line. It also had a few sharp wee hills and a couple of longer drags. The good thing though is that the hill you race up at the start is also the hill you race down at the end. At which point we could see people cooling down.

Don’t get me started on cooling down. It’s Scotland. In Scotland, if you cool down any further you’ll turn into Frosty the Snowman.

Instead, don’t warm up, never cool, just park near the finish line, you know it makes sense.

 

 

A Rally Good Adventure (Andrew)

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In 2005 I entered the Plymouth to Dakar Rally. This was a rally from Plymouth to Dakar (the rally was well named!) in which I had to drive a car bought for less than £100.

I was raising money for Save the Children and, in our 1982 American Town and Country Station Wagon, we had pens and pencils, notepads and first aid kits to hand out to the villages on our route.

And, in the back, in a sealed case, we had filthy dirty erotica.

If we got into trouble, or were stopped by border guards, the organisers’s rules were quite clear, we weren’t to use cash to escape – we were to use porn!

Border guards were lonely guards….

So, for the first time in my life, I had to go into a shop and buy a girly magazine.

I didn’t know what to do.

I’m looking at all these different images: big jugs; bouncy butts; but all I can think is “What would Abdul likes as a kinky backhander?”

Cause it wasn’t like I was buying it for myself. It was a gift. I couldn’t give Abdul the border guard any old book. What would he like in his lonely Saharan outpost?

So, I asked for help.

That was a big mistake.

Don’t get me wrong, I now know that asking for help could come across as a little bit weird, but tell me this, what’s weird – me, asking for recommendations or the guy at the counter exclaiming in delight “I thought you’d never ask!”

I should have been shocked but all I could think was: “Cool, my pornography is bespoke!”

Sadly, for Abdul, he never saw his adult gifts. Although I was buying erotica like my life depended on it – because my life did actually depend on it – we crashed our station wagon near Paris and the car was wrecked. Our rally was over.

Luckily, the French scrappy who examined the wreckage offered to find a home for our pens and pencils at the local orphanage. Our charitable endeavours would not go to waste. It was only when he was gone that we remembered that not all of our gifts were meant for children….

But, I think the orphans were secretly happy when they discovered our secret stash. When you’re 13 you’re not looking for a pen or a pencil – all you really want to get is your very own dirty book.

Marcothon 2017

The Marcothon is a 31 day challenge to run 5km or 25 minutes every day in December.

Day One

Bugger. I forgot today was day one. I’m sitting on my turbo trainer halfway through a 45 minute session when I remember that today’s the first day of December and I was going to attempt the Marcothon. Bugger.

I debate for 25 minutes whether I should go for a run after I finish the bike. It’s dark. It’s cold. I don’t want to but…

… isn’t that the point?

You have to go out no matter what, even if you’ve stupidly started riding when you could have been running.

I go out. It’s dark. It’s cold. I plod round a circle of street round the house until my watch says I’ve run 3 miles then I stop.

Then I remember I promised to go mountain biking in the morning. Bugger.

Day Two

After two hours of mountain biking round Whitelee wind farm I debate going for a run straight after or leaving it to later in the day when I’ll be at Turnberry for the night. Having checked out Google maps I can see there’s a nice 1.5 mile run to the Turnberry lighthouse which means an out and back run will at least give me something to aim at as, while it’ll be dark, you can’t miss a bright white lighthouse.

My legs are heavy but running in the dark keeps me distracted as I look out for cars driving on the main road, then look out for potholes in the ground while running on a closed road to the lighthouse. There’s a Land Rover outside the lighthouse and lights in the house below. It’s only the next day I find out that you can hire the lighthouse and I was standing outside, breathing heavily, sweating profusely, trying to stare in the windows…. at hotel guests who were not expecting a red-faced stranger to be standing outside!

Day Three

Run in the morning? Yes. Definitely. Back to the lighthouse! But first, a spa! Then breakfast! A buffet? Don’t mind if I do? Run now? No chance…

Back to Glasgow. Run at lunchtime? Definitely. Wait. Is that Rangers v Aberdeen? I should watch that first…

Run after the game? Okay. Wait. The dog needs walked.

Run after the walk. Legs heavy. Body sore after yesterday’s ride and run. Still thinking of breakfast. Okay! But it wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pleasant.

Day three done.

Day Four

Stress injury in left foot. Bit of a niggle but I decide that the Marcothon is a stupid idea. Day off.

Marcothon done – I can now enjoy the rest of the month! 🙂

Antonine Trail Race 2017 (Andrew)

Normally you get a banana at the end of a run but, yesterday at the Antonine Trail Race, we got a big banana at the start – along with two skeletons, several witches and a Homer Simpson.

That’s what happens when you have a race on Halloween weekend.

We didn’t join in. It was tough race and the only fancy dress I wanted was a jet pack to help get up and over the two hills that made up most of the route. First up, Croy Hill, a long climb through muddy tracks and thick grass, then Bar Hill, another long climb along a forest track before, cruelly, the race finished with another climb up Croy Hill.

It was a fantastic day, sunny, bright, and with a slight chill that made it impossible to decide what to wear – assuming you were wearing running gear and not a large yellow fruit costume – as it was too cold for a t-shirt at the start but too warm to run in two t-shirts a mile after starting. I choose a single t-shirt and then stayed in the car with the heater on until the race was about to start. This is my version of warming up…!

The race was mostly off-road and on narrow tracks. While dry, the previous week’s rain had left much of it covered in thick mud. The first few miles were spent doing the bandy legged hop leap and jump of someone half runner/half frog.

The good news was that you could follow the runner in front of you and try and follow their footsteps on the basis that if they cleared a path then you would just be stepping into the hole they’ve already created in the mud. So, if you want to keep your trainers clean when running through mud just follow someone with big feet in front of you.

The race was tough, with a few steep climbs (which in this context means, ‘walks up hill’ rather than ‘gets out the rappelling gear’) but some great views across to the Trossachs and outwards Falkirk and the east coast.

You can see part of it on this short video:

Forth Road Bridge 10k (Andrew)

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I hate flying. It’s unnatural. Even birds think so and they fly everywhere. They’re always saying “Bloody hell, how did I get up here – and how do I get back down without crashing?!”

I tried to get over my fear of flying by watching a video designed to reassure nervous flyers. It was a 10 minute video on YouTube that showed you exactly what every button did in a cockpit.

There were over a 100 buttons, flicks and switches. There were back ups of back ups. Bright lights blinked red to warn of dangers. Everything was designed to keep us safe and keep us in the air – and all I could think was: “HOW CAN ONE MAN REMEMBER ALL THESE BUTTONS?!?!?! IT’S IMPOSSIBLE! AND IT’S NOT LIKE HE CAN WATCH YOUTUBE ON THE PLANE – HE’S GOT TO SWITCH HIS PHONE OFF! WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!”

I hate flying.

But I loved the Forth Road Bridge 10k even though part of it made me think I was flying above North Queensferry.

The Forth Road Bridge 10k starts in North Queensferry, a town designed to have a view of the Forth Rail bridge out of your front window but not designed to have any shops or roads built without a steep slope. Personally, I’d rather have a pint of milk than a red bridge, but, if you’re a trainspotter, I assume North Queensferry is your ideal home.

The race starts at the top of North Queensferry and the first two miles are mostly downhill before you turn and cross the bridge. At this point, the land drops away beneath you and you run over the roofs of North Queensferry below.

It feels like flying. By which I mean, it feels slightly queasy and I wished I was back on solid ground again.

But as the race crosses the bridge you start to cross the Forth and you get fantastic views to your left and right of both the Forth Rail Bridge (the red one) and the new Queensferry Crossing which should really be called the new Closed Because of Lorry Overturning In High Winds Bridge, because that’s what Fife will call it as soon as winter hits.

The race sells out instantly so you need to be quick to enter but it’s well worth making the effort to secure a place. The bridge provide a different experience and finishing at the end of the bridge provide a great finish line experience.

Also they have hundreds of cakes and sandwiches to eat afterwards. Everything is better with cakes and sandwiches – except flying!

 

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The Hebridean Way (Iain)

Andrew and I grew up on the Isle of Lewis. It’s the furthest north and west you can go in the UK before you get to Iceland. Although we moved away from Lewis after university, our parents still live here.

I had some vacation days to use so I decided to pop up and see them….and get some biking and running in.

The Isle of Lewis is famed for three things – Harris tweed, sheep and rocks. The stone is called Lewisian gneiss and it’s a group of rocks three billion years old. The only rock group older is The Rolling Stones.

If you want to see more rock than you’d find in a Fast & Furious film, visit the Isle of Harris. Harris is joined to Lewis and it’s only a forty minute drive from where my parents stay in Stornoway.

I’ve only ever driven around Harris – except for one disastrous half marathon attempt

The Harris half marathon is a point to point race starting in southern Harris and ending at the capital Tarbert, in the north. I got so drunk the night before the race I struggled to get to the start on time. Thankfully my dad drove me.

Before the race began I said to my dad to wait ten minutes and then drive along the course and check up on me. Due to my hangover I wasn’t confident about finishing

The race started. Everyone else started running. I started vomiting. This was going to be a long day…

I waited for the heaving to stop and then started running. I lasted five minutes and then threw up again.

I scanned the road hoping to spot my dad driving towards me. There was no sign of him, I wanted to stop. I checked my distance. 13 miles to go.

I jogged on. My head hurt and I was rough as… and I scanned the road for my dad. No sign of him. 12 miles to go

I restarted my death march. The world was spinning before my eyes and I wanted to go to bed. Still no sign of him. 11 miles to go.

No sign of him. 10 miles to go!

Where is he? 9 miles to go!

Oh God. I think I’m going to die. 8 miles to go!

What do you mean the next four miles are up hill???? 7 miles to go

This is harder than trying to climb Mount Everest without oxygen…with no shoes …in underpants! 6 miles to go.

I see him! YES! Screw this race I’m out of here….oh. That’s not him. Just a car that looks similar. Oh Lord. Make this end. 5 miles to go.

If I drink all the water at this water stop will it dilute the alcohol and make me feel better? 4 miles to go.

Downhill. Weeeeeeeee. I’m flying now. 3 miles to go.

I think I’m last. 2 miles to go!

I’ll kill my dad when I see him! 1 mile to go,

There’s a big crowd at the finish line. They spot me. They start cheering and whooping. The crowd are going wild! One man shouts “you can do it!” Wow I didnt expect such a big reaction. I raise my hand to thank them. They must be really impressed by my effort. Wait a sec. I cross the finish line but the man’s still shouting. “You can do it”. He doesn’t need to say that. I’ve done it.

I turn around, I’m not the only finisher. They weren’t cheering me. The were cheering a man behind me. An  80 year old man!

After the race I ask my Dad why he didn’t come, He said he wanted to teach me a lesson. He certainly did – I will never rely on him for a lift again!

Ironman Edinburgh 70.3 (Iain)

PRE-RACE

The IronMan Edinburgh expo had for sale IronMan branded t-shirts, IronMan branded shorts and IronMan branded socks. They have more IronMan clothes than Tony Stark’s wardrobe. And they don’t just sell clothes, they also had an IronMan branded cake tin – maybe they plan to launch a new type of triathlon – a swim, bake, run.

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Normally registration involves filling in lots of forms. But not me. I didn’t need to fill in a form as someone had already done it. Which was a shock  but not as much as discovering that the someone who’d filled in my forms was a middle aged woman from America.

I offered to sign her forms but the registration desk rejected my offer. It would have made the finish line interesting. The announcer would said to me “Congratulations…Barbara????”

Originally the swim start was to be in Gosford House – one of Scotland’s grandest homes. I’ve always wanted to visit it so I was dissapointed when the start was moved. Instead of racking my bike in a beautiful garden I did it next to a construction site and a lidl supermarket.

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I’ve never had a puncture on my race bike so guess what? Yes – my bike had punctured in the car. We’d booked accommodation near the start so once everything was setup and the tyre replaced we went a pre-race feed of nachos’s and ice cream!

 

SWIM (24:51)

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We were one of the last into the water as queuing for the toilet had taken priority over queuing to get into the water.

The swim had been shortened due to the weather. Luckily (or unluckily) my first ever sea swim race had been in horrendous weather. The swim was in Fife and, on that day, the Woman’s golf open in St Andrews had to be cancelled due to the conditions! If a land event had to be cancelled then my swim should have been to, but it went ahead anyway. This swim was choppy but it wasn’t half as bad as that day in Fife.

I enjoyed the swim and would have happily done another lap.

BIKE (3:19:50)

I wish something interesting had happened on the bike as it would make this section a better read but it was thankfully uneventful!

The bike route is pretty flat. The longs climbs aren’t very steep and the steep climbs aren’t very long. The first 30 miles are the best part of the course- good road surfaces and nice views over the East Lothian countryside. The route back into Edinburgh had some ‘interesting’ sections – some cobbled roads, a farm road and some pavement.

The only issue I had was towards the end. There was a sharp left turn immediately followed by a slight rise in the road. A lot of people (including myself) misjudged which gear to be in. I heard a lot of “clanking” sounds as people tried to drop to a lower gear. Unfortunately, one of my club mates broke his chain at this point.

RUN (2:09:51)

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I thought I was ahead of Andrew after the bike so it was very disappointing to spot him ahead of me on the run! He shouted “What lap are you on?” as he passed. I should have said “My last!” as that would have played mind games with him.

I spent the next couple of miles trying to work out when he’d passed me on the bike but I came to the conclusion that it must have been in transition as I’d gone to the loo.

Running is my weakest discipline so my aim was to do two laps then take the last one easy.  Thankfully I caught up and passed Andrew on the second lap. If he’d kept ahead of me until the last lap then I wouldn’t have caught him.

At one point a man ran next to me. He muttered “nearly” after ever footstep. He kept this up for the mile he was alongside me. Eventually he ran off. I wonder if he kept up his muttering until the end and then did he mutter “done!”?

On the third lap Andrew was only a minute behind me so I slowed down and let him catch up. Better to walk down the finish line with him than do it on my own. Nothing what so ever to do with getting to spend the last mile gloating about beating him at all three disciplines 🙂

Although I think he’s still ahead in this year’s Todd Championship. It’s still all to play for…

OVERALL

The course was good, the event was well run and I got home in time for my dinner. What more can you ask for in a race.

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