Hebridean Way – Harris (Iain)

Instead of taking the west coast route, I decided we‘d go along the eastern side of the island. The west coast has some great beaches but the landscape of the east looks like the moon. If the moon had brown heather.

The other reason for choosing this route is that Santa lives on the east side. He stays in a bus shelter near one of the small towns. Although I am worried about him. I think he might have lost his head

Thankfully he was still there when I biked past.

Unusually for the western isles the weather was amazing. The sun was out and there was absolutely no wind.

I managed a couple of hill reps of the highest hill in Harris – clisham. The north side was pretty straightforward but the west side was a 300m climb from sea level up a 12% slope!

As the weather was so good my wife decided to cycle for as long as possible. She managed 100K. She stopped near an an alpaca farm at the Callanish Stones.

They claim they sell Fish and Chips but I bet its actually Alpaca and Chips.

Hebridean Way – South Uist to Berneray (Iain)

Day 1 started with torrential rain

Day 2 started with Torrential rain

Guess what day 3 started with….yup – torrential rain!

At least the days were consistent. Thankfully that was the last we saw of rain until we finished the Hebridean Way.

We started at the Lady of the Isles statue. My wife and her sister headed off following the Hebridean Way but I decided to take a different route. I’d spotted a road heading up a local hill to a radar station. It looked like a fun climb so I parked up and took my bike for a spin.

The view from the top was superb. I could see all across South Uist, Benbecula and onto North Uist.

After the ride I drove through Benbecula. It was very flat and surprisingly ugly. Sorry Benbecula but you are the elephant man of Hebridean islands. The only redeeming feature was the Co-op. They had amazing cinnamon donuts. They were so good I ate two even though it wasn’t yet 10am.

I sped through quickly and caught up with my wife in North Uist. The sun had come out and it was a very pleasant day. I would have offered her a cinnamon donut if I had any. I offered her an oat cake instead.

North Uist was very nice. Quite roads and nice scenery. We could even see St Kilda in the distance. The people of Uist thought folk in St Kilda were a bit dim. They say one St Kilda man came to the island and spotted a lighthouse. He ran towards it, flung open then door, ran up the stairs and looked at the big bright light and said “is that you God?”

I don’t know how true that is but it makes for a good story.

We finished cycling in Berneray and were treated to a glorious sunset –

– Which was nearly as good as the sunrise the next day.

Hebridean Way – Eriskay (Iain)

Eriskay is famous for three things – whisky, horses and football. Which sounds like the ingredients for a great night out.  

Whisky – In 1941 the SS Politician ran aground off the Isle of Eriskay whilst carrying a significant cargo of Scotch whisky. The incident inspired the film Whiskey Galore. One Christmas I bought my dad a £250 bottle of whisky. I thought he would save it for special occasions so he could savour the taste. Instead, he tanked the bottle in three days. At least he enjoyed it.

Horses – I have only ridden a horse once. It was in India. I sat on the horse. The horse bolted. I tried shouting “woaaaaah” to slow it down. It didn’t stop as it only understood Hindi. Since then I have never trusted horses. Eriskay is home to the Eriskay pony, an endangered breed of horse unique to the island. They roam free but they seemed to enjoy hanging out at the pub.

Football – Fifa recognised Eriskay football pitches as one of “eight remarkable places to play football in the world”. I used to play football in Lewis. It was remarkable any of our pitches could be used for football. One pitch was so slanted I needed climbing equipment to make it out of my own half.

The journey from Barra to Eriskay takes 40 minutes. Luckily some dolphins appeared and swam alongside the ferry

Eriskay is very small. It only took the cyclists 15 minutes to cycle through. They missed all three of the things Eriskay is famous for because they followed the official Hebridean way route exactly.

One of my complaints about the route is that it does not point out interesting diversions.  For example in South Uist the route passed a side road that lead up a small hill to a magnificent view of the whole island. It only takes a couple of minutes to cycle up but there is no indication on the road that it is a diversion worth taking.

View from the radar station

We stopped for lunch at the Borrodale hotel. A recent Tripadvisor review described it as “tired looking…like the rest of South Uist” That must have been written by a man from North Uist.

I thought the place was nice and the food was tasty. In fact, It was so good we went back in the evening.

The riding in South Uist was very easy. The only problem occurred when a funeral cortege approached us on a single-track road. We stopped to let them through but it took 15 minutes for everyone to get past.

We finished the day at a statue called “the lady of the isle.” It was commissioned when the Ministry of Defence was planning to build a missle testing range on the island. The statue is a reminder of the power of church and community. I’m sure its intentional that it looks a little bit like a rocket.

Hebridean Way – Oban to Barra (Iain)

Barradise

“Do you sell bike tubes?”

I was in a bike shop in Oban. In ten minutes time, I was due to leave on a ferry to the Isle of Barra.

My wife and her family were going to cycle the Hebridean way – a 185 mike ride from the Isle of Barra to the Isle of Lewis via the Isles of Eriskay, South Uist,Benbecula, Berneray, Harris.

The route

My role for the trip was to drive a support car. It was a nice change not to have to be the one doing an event. My only responsibilities were to ensure they didn’t get lost, that I had carried their supplies and luggage in the car, and that I could fix their bikes if their was an issue.

There was only one problem. I forgot to bring any spare bike tubes. If any of them got a puncture they be walking rather than biking the route.

“What size do you need?” The bike shop worked asked.

“700×25 or 700×28” I replied. I was confident he’d have some. They are the most commonly used bike tube sizes.

“Sorry. I don’t stock those sizes!”

I was shocked but I didn’t wait around to debate the merit of a bike shop not stocking the one tube most cyclists need. I ran to the other side of Oban to see if the only other bike shop in town stocked them.

Thankfully they had some. I made it back to the car just in time to board the ferry.

I spotted a number of cyclists waiting to board. They were all female. The weather forecast for Barra was wet and wild. Does this mean male cyclists are wise or does it mean they are big girls blouses scared of a little rain?

Despite all the cyclists boarding the ferry, we didn’t see a single cyclists whilst doing the Heb way route.

The ferry was the one that used to do the Stornaway to Ullapool route. I’d taken it many times. It was looking a bit tatty compared to when I was last on it.

There wasn’t many passengers on board. I had the dinning room area entirely to myself. Mainly due to it being a rough crossing. Nobody wanted food, they were all lying down seasick.

What folk don’t realize is that the dining room is actually the best place to be. They were all in the observation lounge which is at the top and front of the ferry. The place which experiences the most ship movement.

If you want a smooth journey sit in the middle of the ferry on the lowest floor. Where the dining room was.

We arrived in Castlebay in time for dinner. My wife and her sister are both vegan. I looked at the menu. It was very meaty and fishy. There was only one vegetarian option and that had cheese in it.

I asked the waitress if they did any vegan options. “Yes – we do chips”

After dinner we checked into the bed and breakfast. I asked the owners what the vegan breakfast options were available? She replied “toast”

It’s fair to say the Hebrides has not yet embraced veganism.

Other vegan options we were offered on the trip were

Blue cheese and broccoli soup. Cheese isn’t vegan
Lentil and bacon soup. Yes – really. Bacon!
Smoked salmon. What do you mean fish isn’t vegan?

Great Scottish Bike Climbs – The Crow Road (Iain)

Crow Road (towards Lennoxtown)

An episode of the channel 4 house hunting program “Location, Location, Location” featured a flat in Glasgow that was described as a desirable two bed home, in a quiet neighborhood, with stunning views across the city.

I recognized the flat because I lived around the corner from it. The flat was not at all desirable. It was next to a very busy noisy road and the only view out the window was of MacDonald’s drive in restaurant.

The flats location is on Crow Road. So when I heard cyclists say they were off to cycle Crow Road this is where I thought they were going. I couldn’t understand why they said the climb took them 30 minutes. I could walk it in 5. Maybe they stopped for a MacDonald’s McFlurry?

It was only once I got a road bike that I discovered the other Crow Road was on the outskirts of Glasgow in Lennoxtown.

The first time I saw it I didn’t think it looked too hard. Little did I know that from below I could only see half of the climb. The first section up to a car park. Then there is a big right turn over the hill.

 

One year I decided I was going to be the quickest man up Crow Road. Now this is quite a challenge because allot of good cyclist use the climb for training. The Scottish Tour De France Cyclist David Miller used to ride a dozen reps of it as training in preparation for the Tour.

So my choice was either train hard and smash it or be smart!

I choose to be smart. So one new years day I got up early and became the first man up the Crow that year. Which also meant I was the fastest that year….as long as I didn’t check Strava again for 12 months.

Climb Review

Difficulty: 6/10

Its not a steep climb. I’d describe it as steady. Although when the wind is in the wrong direction it can be a bit of slog!

Views: 8/10

Great views on both sides of the Campsie hills. Ona clear day you can see for miles around.

Traffic: 8/10

Its normally a quiet road. Especially on Sunday mornings or weekday evenings.

St Marys Loch Triathlon (Iain)

It is two years since I last did a standard length triathlon. Which is my excuse for why I forgot to take my bike helmet to transition. Thankfully, someone spotted my mistake. I ran back to the car to get it.

It wasn’t my only mistake, I lost my swim cap during the time it took me to receive my swim cap and then walk the short distance to the loch to put it on. I still haven’t worked out how I manged to do that.

The swim temperature was announced as 15C so I was surprised when I got into the loch that the water felt much colder. I swam a little distance to warm up and water suddenly became warm. I assumed it was just a cold patch at the start but the fluctuating temperature was present throughout the swim. On one stroke my hand would enter warm water and on the next the next it would enter freezing cold water. Very strange.

I enjoyed the 2 lap swim. The loch never felt too busy and I was happy to swim round with no one near me. I think swim drafting is cheating so I try to avoid it. I’d rather do the swim using my own power than be dragged along by someone else.

I got into transition after the swim and discovered the socks I had left there were inside out. I had to correct that before starting the bike. A gentleman has got to have standards!

The organiser had warned us that the roads might be slightly busier than usual because there was a classic car rally taking place nearby. There was also a beer festival on. Beer and cars. What could possibly go wrong?

Thankfully the classic car drivers must have been sleeping off their beers as other than a Model T Ford I didn’t spot any classic cars.

The organiser said no-one had ever got lost on the route. It was easy to see why. There is only one road and no option to take any other route.

The route itself was on a decent road surface. The road was undulating rather than hilly but there was a draggy climb near the end.

The race manual describes the course as “It’s almost completely flat (really!) – a couple of small undulations – maybe 5m climb on each. “

Not according to my watch. It shows there was 70m of climbing. Which is not allot but it definitely is not flat course. The trail means there’s lot of small up and down sections.

I like running off-road so I really enjoyed the run but it definitely did not match the description of the course.

OVERALL

It was a great race. I got a PB for the distance and its definitely a course I’d do again. The race gets a bonus point for its t-shirt which is a snazzy baseball style affair.

Bealach Beag (Iain)

Is the winner of a race the person who crosses the finish line first or the person with the fastest time?

You might think that these two statements are mutually consistent but….

At the weekend, Andrew and I headed to the north west of Scotland to take part in the Bealach Beag sportive – a 72km race that includes the UK’s biggest road climb. An ascent of 626m from sea level in just 10km.

I’ve done the race four times. Andrew has done it three times. He has beaten me every time.

Race 1 – I did it on a mountain bike. Not because I am an amazing biker but because I did not know any better. I quit half round because I was knackered.  

Race 2 – The first year Andrew did it too. We both did the long version of the race. I had learnt my lesson from my experience with the mountain bike. I brought a hybrid bike instead. Andrew brought a road bike. He won.

Race 3 – We both used road bikes. The temperature was unseasonably warm. It was nearly 30C during the climb. Andrew was wearing shorts bib shorts and a light cycling top. I was wearing winter gear. I felt I was biking in a vertical sauna. He won.

Year 4 (this year) – I had been training for the last four weeks and I hoped that was enough to beat Andrew’s five months of Challenge Roth training. Just in case it was not enough, I had taken radical weight saving action to eek out the best performance from my bike. I removed the bell

I also had a cunning plan….

At the start of the race we were both given a time dibber. We had to dib in at the start and dib in at the finish to record our time. At the start line, I let Andrew dib in first. I then deliberately waited 10s before I dibbed in.

At the finish, we both raced for the line. Andrew thought he had just pipped me as he dibbed in first. What he didn’t realise was that I had a 10s buffer on him. We received the paper results and it shows quite clearly I’m the winner or am i?

If you look at our Strava times it clearly shows Andrew beat me by 5 minutes because he did the climb 5 minutes faster than me and then paused his Strava at the top until I appeared. He then restarted it and we continued on the course.

So… is the winner of a race the person who crosses the finish line first or the person with the fastest time? All I’ll say is that on paper I’m the fastest Todd.

Number 1!

I used to be a contender (Iain)

This time last year, I cycled the 2000m climb of Mount Tiede in Tenerife. It was 3 hours of climbing and afterwards I felt fit and strong.

Last weekend, I cycled the 300m climb of the Dukes Pass in Aberfoyle. It was 22 minutes of climbing and afterwards I felt so tired I called the Police to report my cycling fitness had gone missing.

The Police explained that they don’t investigate crimes against fitness but if they did they would have arrested me years ago – “ello, ello, what is going on here? Do you call that a front crawl? I’m taking you to the nick for G.B.S. Grevious Bodily Swimming!”

I graphed my performance on the Duke’s pass and it looks like my latest result took a dive off a cliff of consistency.

Afterwards I put this onto Instagram

Thge key point is the “I wonder if my consumption of macaroni pies and bakewell tarts is anyway related to this? “

How can you tell a diet is unhealthy? When the dessert is larger than the main course. Check out the size of my bakewell tart.

On a positive note the dinner was vegetarian so there must be a slight bit of healthiness in it.

Afterwards my wife said to me “how can your time be that bad due to the food. Did you eat it before you went up the hill?”

No – I had it afterwards but I think it points to the conclusion that I’m not a clean living performance machine.

So from now on I have to eat a little bit healthier and try to get back to my previous times…or I do what any middle aged male cyclist does when faced with getting slower – spend lots of money to fix the problem.

I’ve often noted the more expensive the bike the wider the waist of the owner.

PS – I actually had two macaroni pies but I only took a pic of one so people wouldn’t think I’m a fat bstrd!

PPS – I don’t regret it. they were delicious.

Bishopbriggs Sprint Triathlon (Iain)

Bishopbriggs has a reputation as one of the best beginner friendly triathlon races in Scotland. Which is why Andrew and I decided to do our second ever triathlon here. It was 2014 and the race came 5 years after our first attempt at a triathlon https://twinbikerun.com/2017/10/23/my-first-triathlon-iain

My preparation for the race didn’t go well. I didn’t realize I had to be there early to put the bike into transition. By the time I arrived the official car park was full. I managed to get a car parking space in a side street but I didn’t write down the name of street. I wouldn’t realize until later that Bishopbriggs has allot of very similar looking side streets…

SWIM (16:09)

I’d like to say the swim went smoother than my parking but I made some rookie errors:

Mistake 1: I under estimated my swim time.

When entering the event I had to give a predicted time for the swim. I took a guess and added a couple of minutes to make sure I wasn’t in a fast lane.

My estimate was too slow! I was actually much faster than everyone else in the lane. I should have realised I wasn’t among fast swimmer when everyone else arrived wearing rubber rings and snorkels.

I’m not a fast swimmer but I’m not slow either. I should have checked my time in advance and I should have had confidence in my ability. It would have been an easier swim for me and the other in the lane if I’d been in the correct lane.

Mistake 2: I didn’t have a tri top

I was the only one in my lane without one. It was a cold wet day. When we headed outside for transition I felt every cold blast of wind and rain on my bare naked skin. I was more more Frozen than children singing “Let It Go”

I should have worn clothes appropriate for the weather condition outside and not just for the tropically warm indoor condition.

Mistake 3: Leaving clothes outside uncovered

The weather was dry when I placed them in transition but now that it had rained all my stuff was wet. I should have put a plastic water proof bag over them to keep the rain off.

My bike seat was soaking wet. If I’d put a plastic bag over it then I would have enjoyed a nice dry seat instead of a “wet Andrew” which is my code for a soaking wet arse.

Mistake 4: Safety pins!

My biggest mistake was that I’d accidentally put my safety pins through the front and back of my cycle top preventing me from getting into the top! DOH!

I had to do undo all the pins. Put the top on and then tack on the number. Ever since this I’ve used a race number belt.

BIKE (42:30)

There was quite a variety of bikes on the course from mountain bikes to hybrids to full on time trial specific machines. Maybe triathlons shouldn’t be just about age group results but about how much was spent on the bike.

But then again I saw one man on a hybrid race past a man on his time trial bike. Maybe it is actually about how hard people train!

RUN (23:21)

The run was the first time I’d ever seen a spray can used as a course feature. After running 2km I had to run round a spray can, which was placed in the middle of a path, back to the start. I remember thinking why don’t they just spray the ground instead of putting the can there?

The last km was through a muddy path but annoyingly I had on new trainers. I  abandoned running quickly and instead ran cleanly as I gingerly avoided every bit of mud. That was my excuse for my slow run time.

POST RACE (1:26:47)

As I’d forgotten where the car was parked I had to spend twenty minutes on my bike, exploring the back streets of Bishopbriggs, trying to find it.

Norseman Training Plan (Iain)

This is not the most interesting blog I’ve ever written but it was something I looked for when I got my Norseman place – a Norseman training plan. It was hard to find anything from anyone else.

My aim was to complete not compete. I split my training into into two distinct parts

Part 1: Get fit (Jan 1st until 12 weeks to go) 

My base swim fitness was poor. I had barely swam in the three months previous to January. The positive is that my swimming technique has always been good. I was confident I would quickly get swim stamina back and that I wouldn’t need to work much on technique.

My base bike fitness was good for short rides. I was commuting to work by bike four days a week (15 miles per day) and I would occasionally ride 30/40 miles at a weekend.

My base run fitness was ok for short races. I could run 10k in 45 minutes and I’d run two or three times a week at lunchtimes.

For each discipline I created a schedule but deliberately didn’t put days against any session. I prefer to fit training into my week rather than fit my week into training. I also took the view that if I missed a session, I wouldn’t try and catch-up. I’d just continue as if I had done it. That way I wasn’t putting pressure on myself if plans went awry.

Running Schedule (per week)

1 x hill run – 4 miles comprising 3 laps of a hill.

1 x tempo run – 4 miles where I pushed myself to run above my normal pace

1 x recovery run – 4 miles easy pace on flat route

1 x long run – anything up to half marathon distance at an easy pace.

I commute to work by bike which meant I could do most of my bike training to or from work. My plan was to stick to my normal biking but to increase my mileage each month. As the weather was not great this winter/spring I added in some turbo sessions with a similar steady increase in time rather than distance.

Bike Schedule

In January I did 60 miles a week, in February I did 80, in March 100 etc

I stopped increasing it when I got to 120 miles as that was about as far as I could go with the free time I had available.

On the turbo in January I did one 45 minute sessions a week, in February I did an hour and  then in March I hour 30 minutes etc.

I stopped increasing the length when I got to two hours as any longer than that on a turbo was incredibly boring.

Swimming didn’t really happen. I had a plan to swim twice a week but didn’t do it. Instead my sechedule became

Swim Schedule

In April I started going to my triathlon club’s swimming session. This was a 2K-ish weekly swim. I went most weeks until Norseman.

Part 2: Get Norseman fit

Part 1 got me fit enough to do part 2 which was to take my now increased base fitness and attempt to do longer rides/runs.

I based it on starting 12 weeks out from Norseman. I listed the one key thing I had to do each week in each discipline. I’d normally manage to run and bike outside of this BUT the priority was to do these. By only having thee key points I was able to fit them into my week. I also preferred time over distance as distance can be a cheat. A hilly 100 miler is different to flat 100 miler but five hours in the saddle is always five hours in the saddle.

Week Run Bike Swim
1 2hr run 5 hour 2k swim
2 2.5hr run 5 hour 2k swim
3 half marathon 2k swim
4 10K + half marathon 5 hour 2k swim
5 10k 5 hour 2k swim
6 2.5hr run 5 hour 2k swim
7 Easy week
8 HALF IRON MAN
9 Recovery week
10 2.5hr run 5 hour 2k swim
11 2.5hr run 5 hour 2k swim
12 1 hr 3 hour 2k swim
13 RACE

Final Result

I was 172nd in the swim with a time of 1 hr 21 min
I was 209th on the bike with a time of 8 hr 1 min
I was 41st/58th run (white tshirt) with a time of 6hr 13 min

I comfortably made the white shirt times and cutoff. I also felt fine all the way round. I wasn’t quick but I was steady.

Looking back at my plan I couldn’t have done much more based on the time I had available and the desire to still have a life outside of training.

The downside of my plan – I had low level anxiety for weeks leading up-to the race. Every day I’d wake up thinking what do I need to do today to get through the race? If I was to do it again I wouldn’t have that anxiety because I’d trust in my plan. I could have avoided this by having a coach but I hate being told what to do. A coach would have made me more anxious!

If you fancy giving it a go hopefully this post and the one about logistics will give you a good idea about how to do it.