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 – 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?

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.

The one where I get a bike fit (Iain)

A few years ago I received a Christmas present – a voucher for a Trackman golf fit session. Trackman is a radar tracking system used by golf professionals to ensure they have a perfect swing.

The session was really interesting. For an hour I hit golf balls whilst a man analysed all the stats generated by the radar system. At the end he said to me “You have the swing of a professional….”

I interrupted him “YES!! I’ve always wanted to be a golf pro. Should I quit my job and concentrate on my game? Should I change my name to Tiger Todd? How many competitions will I need to play before I’m a millionaire?”

He didn’t answer me. He finished his sentence. “…a professional footballer!”

He went onto explain that he had many clients who were professional footballers and they all have the same fault. They balance their body weight on the front of the their feet rather than the back. A professional golfer always balances on the back…in fact most golfers do it except professional footballers and I.

I’d played golf for 30+ years but I didn’t know I was doing it incorrectly until then.

Last Christmas I received a bike fit voucher as a present. I’ve been slightly scared to use it because the only sport I’ve played longer than golf is biking. I didn’t fancy learning I’d been doing that wrong too.

I bit the bullet and went along last week to get tested. The fitter used the retul system which is an adjustable bike rig that setup to be an exact copy of my current bike setup. The advantage of using this rather than my bike is the rig can be endlessly adjusted whilst I’m sitting on it. A normal bike fit would require me to get off the bike to adjust it.

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The first question he asked was what type of fit I was interested in. I choose comfort as 99% of my riding is for fun.

The next question he asked was about my injury history. He was surprised when I said “I rarely get injured.” He said that question normally takes at least 30 minutes to discuss.  In my case it took 30 seconds.

We then did a series of physical tests. By the end of them he declared my legs were almost identical. Which explained my lack of injuries as most people have one side different to the other which leads to imbalances and injuries in the body when doing repetitious actions such as running and biking.

The only change he recommended after the physio exam is that my saddle is too small which I think is the polite way of telling me my ass is too wide

After that I had to sat on the bike as he attached monitoring points to various parts of my body, The points were mapped to the Retul system, so that all my stats could be accurately mapped.

As the system has done thousands of Retul fits a range of good stats has been set. His job as a fitter was to adjust my race position until my stats matched the good stats of a Retul rider.

After thirty minutes of riding as he made adjustments to the bike rig I went from mostly red numbered stats to mostly green.

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He then took my bike and adjusted the setup to match what he’d changed the rig too.

I asked him if I’d been riding incorrectly all these years. He looked at me and said “not incorrectly just differently to everyone else!”

I’m not sure that was a compliment.

The Alternative 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. We moved away from Lewis to go to university but our parents still live there.

The Isle of Lewis is renowned for three things – Harris Tweed, Gaelic and having the oldest group of rocks in the UK. The rock is called Lewisian gneiss. The second oldest rock group in the UK is The Rolling Stones.

In Summer 2016  I met a cyclist at Stornoway ferry terminal. I asked him where he’d been cycling on the island. He said: “I did the Hebridean way. A 185 miles route from Barra to Lewis.” I asked if he’d enjoyed it.  He said: “I’ve cycled in the arctic circle in Norway. I’ve biked the far north of Canada but I’ve never been as cold and miserable as cycling here!”

I gave gave him some words of encouragement “If you think this is cold you should try it in winter!”

The Hebrides is the best place in the world on a nice day but on a bad day….

After speaking to him I looked at the route of the Hebridean way. I was disappointed. It missed out lots of great places and bike routes. So here is my improved version of the parts I know well (Barra & Lewis/Harris).

BARRA

The ferry from Oban arrives early evening into Castlebay. The official route recommends starting your trip the next day in Vatersay before heading north to catch a ferry to Uist.

DON’T DO THAT! Stay in Barra for two nights so you have a full day to explore the island before leaving.

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Vatersay

Day 1: Head to Vatersay to see the official start. Make sure you have walking shoes with you as there’s a nice beach to explore here. From the start head clockwise around the island aiming to get to the airport for lunch time. They have a great onsite cafe. Check the plane timetable so you can watch the plane take off and land from the beach.

On the way to the airport stop at Barra golf club so you can see how a sheep field has been converted into a sports venue.

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View from the statue above castlebay

There’s only one hill of note which is towards the end of the  route. Anyone of moderate fitness can bike up it. Park your bike at the top of the hill so you can walk up the hill to the statue overlooking Castlebay. Finish off the day with a fast downhill ride into Castlebay.

 

barra

 

Day 2: Catch the ferry to Uist

UIST

My girlfriend’s sister is married to a man from the Western Isles (he’s from Uist.) Her other sister is married to a twin. I’m a twin from the Western Isles. I’m not sure if she was inspired by her sisters or whether she’s so competitive she’s just one up’ing them.

I’ve never been to Uist but her brother in law has a house there so hopefully I’ll visit one day. I therefore can’t comment on the route until it gets to…

HARRIS

Day 3: This is a controversial choice but I’d argue not to  go the official way up the west coast but instead take the east coast. Heading south first means you can visit Rodel church. This is ancient church has one of earliest known representation of a man in kilt. Now a day there’s lots of men in kilts here. Its a very popular place to get married.

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I was best man at a wedding at Rodel

Next to the church is small pier which is the southernmost point you can cycle to on the Harris.

The west coast has some great beaches but the landscape of the east coast is unique to the island. A barren landscape of ancient rock and heather. The windy undulating single track road is great fun to ride.

Once you get off the east coast head for Luskentyre beach. The official route passes a bit of it but the best view can only be seen by heading along to it. If you want a challenge try running up the sand dunes. It’s hard work!

The island across from the beach is where the BBC filmed Castaway.

Finish the day by heading to Tarbert. There’s a long climb from the beach towards tarbert but once you get to the top its all downhill into the town.

http://www.hotel-hebrides.com/ does great food.

harris

DAY 4 – (WARNING: Contains hills!)

Unfortunately Tarbert is at sea level and at the base of a hill, so today is going to be hilly no matter which way you go. I’ve added in some diversions off the official way.

Start by heading to Amhuinnsuidhe castle. At one point Madonna was going to purchase it, until she discovered the public are allowed to walk right by the windows. Robert Plant from Led Zepplin was also interested. He went for a pint in the local pub but the beer must have been bad as he never came back with a bid.

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Amhuinnsuidhe castle

The road out to the castle packs in allot of interesting sights. There’s the ruins of an old whaling station, there’s stunning views of the harris hills and there’s the world’s most useless tennis court! It’s exposed to the wind and wild weather of the Atlantic.

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If you like very wet and windy tennis then this is the court for you.

From the castle you can walk up to one of the UK’s biggest cliff faces. The 600-foot cliff face of Sron Ulladale,

Head to Rèinigeadal next. Rèinigeadal had no road access until 1990; the only route in was along a hill path, or by boat. There’s a postman’s marked path from the village back to Tarbert. Imagine doing it carrying a load of Amazon parcels. It’s worth walking a bit of it as it has some spectacular views.

Afterwards head as far north as you can but there’s a convenient stop at http://www.locherisortinn.co.uk/

lewis

Day 5: 

This sticks pretty closely to the Hebridean way path. Therefore you can read about it here https://www.visitouterhebrides.co.uk/way-finder/lewis-wf831

The main difference is I suggest not going to the official end of the route. The road to Ness is one of the most boring drives on the island. Vast empty moor as far as the eye can see. Instead head to Stornoway as there’s much better routes that you can do from there.

If you do want to know what the end of the route looks like then check this out. I was there on a very stormy day.

 

Give yourself at least a couple of days in Stornoway. From here you can do some great routes.

Tour De Point – https://www.strava.com/activities/1102079723

A flat out and back route to a lighthouse. From here you can watch whales pass by. On the way back a small detour will take you to a 15% hill climb! It’s short but hard. I needed a quick rest at the top!

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Castle Grounds Mountain Bike trail –https://www.strava.com/activities/1100545590

If you tire of road biking then a recently completed mountain bike trial has been constructed in the Castle Grounds. An area of forestry next to Stornoway.  I hadn’t tried it before and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. There’s no major hills but lots of undulating tracks. It was a great way to pass a few hours.

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Tour De Tolsta: If you only do one route from Stornoway then do this one! The beaches along here are some of the best on the island. One of them even has its own waterfall

Originally the road to Tolsta was supposed to go all the way to Ness but it was never completed. Supposedly a local sightseer had predicted that if the road was complete then the “The day will come when the Isle of Lewis will sink beneath the waves.”

Which seems unlikely as how can a whole island sink? But, in 1995, the ferry to Ullapool was named the “Isle of Lewis”… There was no calls to complete the road whilst that ferry was operational!
tolsta

 

There’s some great swimming spots along the route. Coll beach is very popular with the Hebrides open water swimmers.

Conclusion

There comes a time in your life when you have to confess something to your partner. You’ll have struggled with the confession for weeks in advance. You’ll spend ages trying to get the correct phrasing. In the weeks leading up to ityou’ll use bribery and flattery to get your  partner in the right frame of mind to hear it.

But… eventually… you’ll have to confess – “I’m going on a biking holiday!”

You’ll then try to explain to your partner how your week long “training” trip to Mallorca or the Canary islands wont be fun. You’ll claim – nobody will be drinking!  You’ll say – we’re not going anywhere near Shagaluf…sorry Magaluf.  You’ll state – it’s all about the hills and the weather

So, to avoid all that worry, book a trip to the Western Isles. There’s amazing hills, amazing weather (on a good day) and if your partner asks about the pubs then you can says that the island’s have the highest rate of abstinence in the UK – just don’t mention that its also got the highest rate of drinking too!

King of the Crow 2018! (Iain)

My goal for 2018 is to be the fastest cyclist over the Crow Road. It’s a fairly long climb heading north, out of Lennoxtown. It’s a favourite route of central Scotland cyclists.

It was also a training route for Scottish professional cyclist Philippa York (previously known as Robert Millar) She would ride a dozen reps of it as preparation for the Tour de France.

I could spend months training hard to achieve my goal or I could cheat! As I don’t have any asthma spray and I don’t have Chris Froome’s mobile number to ask to borrow his, I used my wits.

The easiest way to be the fastest cyclist in 2018 is to be the first cyclist in 2018.

Yesterday, I got up early and made sure I was on the route as the sun came up. It was a beautiful morning, made even more beautiful when I got back to the house and checked Strava.

I’m King of the Crow 2018…as long as I don’t check the leader-board again till 2019.

crow

2018 (Iain)

I have wee’d in Harry Potter’s author J K Rowling’s driveway. It is not my proudest moment…

Even worse than that – I met her at an event and, instead of saying, “Hi there, I really enjoy your books,” I said “Hi there, I pished on your gate.”

I told her she could use it in a book – Harry Potter and the Search for a Toilet. A book where Harry Potter has one too many Butter Beers and then tries to make it home. She’s not written it… yet…

Triathlete’s claim an IronMan is the hardest event on earth. It’s not. The hardest event on earth is trying to unlock a door, hopping from one foot to the other, whilst desperate for the loo.

Rowling owns a country house in Perthshire. The house is peaceful and quiet but a b-road passes by her front gate. Every May the Caledonia Etape Cycling Sportive uses the road. 5,000 cyclists pass the entrance to her house but one year instead of wiz’ing by I wiz’ed in a different manner.

I was desperate for the loo and I saw her path was conveniently located close to the road. A bush next to the gate hid me from the view of other cyclists. I knew it was her house but resisted the urge to shout, whilst gripping my wand, “Expelliarmus!!!!”.

I’ve started planning my 2018 “season” hopefully I’ll avoid any incidents with beloved children’s authors! I’m picking races based on the closeness to my house and ones I’ve done before and enjoyed.

2018 Races (until Norseman)

  • January 27th – Buchlayvie 10K
  • February 11th  – Kirkintilloch 12.5K
  • February 24th – Glentress Trail race 21K
  • March 11th – Balloch to Clydebank Half Marathon
  • March 18th – Alloa Half Marathon
  • March 25th – Stirling Duathlon
  • April 22nd – Balfron 10K
  • May 13th – Loch Leven half marathon
  • May 20th – Caledonian Etape
  • July 1st  – Ironman Edinburgh 70.3
  • August 5th – Norseman

Norseman 2018 (Iain)

 

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Feck – I’d better start training!!!

I feel very lucky to have won a place through a ballot. Although – is it really a win to have to jump off a ferry into a freezing Norwegian fjord? Is it a win to then bike 112 hilly miles? Is it a win to have to running up a mountain called zombie hill?

I think most people would describe it as a punishment.

I’ve read they’re going to change the entry process from next year. I suspect to make it harder for no-hopers like myself to get in 🙂

Considering the rise in the number of long distance extreme races I’d guess Norseman will become like Iron Man Kona and an athlete will have to qualify to do it.

Unfortunately, I forgot I’d also entered the ballot for Celtman so I was a bit shocked when I got

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I haven’t ever been successful in a ballot for a race. Then I get in twice in a row! D’OH!

I’ve written to Celtman to apologize and ask they give the place to someone else.

Hopefully, another lucky person will also ‘win’!

Learning to learn (Iain)

There is an old saying: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach”

Which is certainly true of the teachers I had. Except they could not ‘do’ or ‘teach’.

My physics teacher was a drunk. He had no idea who anyone in his class was. At the start of each year, he would take a photo of the class. At the school parents evening he pointed at the class photo and asked my parents: “Which one’s yours?”

My history teacher used to tell fat kids at the front of the class to move to the back as they were blocking the view of the other pupils!

My tech teacher gave me a bit of wood to make a model boat. He then used my bit to demonstrate how to do it. When I gave it to him for assessment he said it was rubbish and gave me a “D.” It was his work!

All I can say to my physics/history/teach teacher is – all is forgiven! Last month I did the  UKCC Level 1 Triathlon Course. I discovered for myself how difficult it is to teach a group.

The course takes place over three days. On day one, I coached a swim session on sculling. There was only one problem. I did not know what sculling was. Actually, there was a second problem. One of the people I had to teach was the brother of an Olympic swimmer. It’s fair to say his small toe knew more about swimming than I did.

I was very self-conscious as I told people to “catch the water” and “this will make you a better swimmer” as I had no idea what I was talking about. I eventually gave in and made them swim up and down. At least they got some exercise.

The lesson I took from that was its best to teach what I know and if I don’t know it then I need to practice, practice, practice till I do know it.

On day two I had to teach running and biking. This went slightly better. My running drill was balance. I’d done a yoga class that morning with a balance section so I just repeated what that teacher had done. There’s no point in reinventing the wheel.

My bike coaching was terrible so the less said about that the better but it did reemphasize that I need to practice, practice and practice some more.

Day three was the assessment. Thankfully, that went well and I passed the course. Thankfully, there’s a gap of a few weeks before day three so I was able to practice, practice and practice!

Hopefully I can now help out at some club sessions. Fellow athletes can then say about me:

“Those who can tri, those who can’t coach!”