Tag: cycling

Whats your best time? (Iain)

A few years ago, I did an acting course where I performed a scene in front of an audience at the Citizen’s theatre in Glasgow.

The  scene was a conversation between a serial killer and the landlady of a bed and breakfast. I was the serial killer. The acting tutor said I was perfect for the part. I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing!

The other actor was an older woman. The first thing she asked me at rehearsal was: “What accent are you going to use?”

“My own,” I replied, “but louder so the people at the back can hear me.”

On the night of the show it seemed to go well. I was myself but louder and she performed the scene with a perfect Yorkshire accent

Afterwards, the tutor said to her:  “You were amazing! You transformed yourself and inhibited that character. You could easily work in theatre.”

He then turned to me.

“As long as you enjoyed yourself.”

I did enjoy myself. I was a terrible actor but I’d set myself the challenge of acting in front of an audience and I’d achieved it.

So, recently, when asked by a fellow triathlete what my best time for a race was, I replied: “I don’t know my best time but I can tell you the race I enjoyed the most”

Because enjoyment should always come before performance.

Visit the Outer Hebrides (Iain)

 

There comes a time in every man’s life when he has to confess something to his partner. He’ll have struggled with the confession for weeks in advance. He’ll spend ages trying to get the correct phrasing. In the weeks leading up to it he’ll use bribery and flattery to get his partner in the right frame of mind to hear him.

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

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

A few years ago, I went on a week long “training” holiday to the famous Lanzarote resort of Club la Santa or as  I prefer to call it, Prison Camp la Santa. The accommodation was so spartan the film 300 was filmed here. (I might have made that last bit up).

The accommodation, at that time, was terrible (and subsequently has been upgraded) The room was tiny with old broken furniture. I had to pay a small fortune for food and drink and there wasn’t much to do once I’d been for a spin on the bike as Santa is miles away from any big town. What made it worse was discovering someone else was staying in a 5* all inclusive hotel near by which was half the price!

This year, instead of an overpriced training camp on a windy, desolate, overbearingly hot island I went to a  windy, desolate, cold island – the Outer Hebrides.

During the week, I was able to bike a different route every day on virtually car free roads.

Tour De Harris – https://www.strava.com/activities/1099040596

One of the greatest cycling routes in the UK. The road hugs the coast around the Isle of harris. On the west side I passed golden sand beaches and amazing views across to small islands. On the east coast I biked through a rocky landscape that wouldn’t be out of place on the moon!

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!

Tour De West Side – https://www.strava.com/activities/1103897867

A great way to see some of the island’s best attractions. The route takes in the ancient stone circles at Callanish as well as visiting the blackhouses, the Broch and some of the best beaches on the west side.

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.

As well as cycling there’s great places to swim, to run run, and to go on walks.

It’s one of the most beautiful places in the UK and everyone should visit at least once. If your partner asks about the pubs then you can says that the Outer Hebrides has the highest rate of abstinence in the UK! Just don’t mention that the one’s who don’t abstain love to drink…a lot! 🙂

The Hebridean Triathlon (Iain)

My mum was born in the Outer Hebrides. She is a native Gaelic speaker who didn’t learn English until she went to primary school. If she spoke Gaelic in school, a teacher would punish her with a cane! She very quickly became a fluent English speaker.

I was born in Glasgow but grew up in the Outer Hebrides. I’m a native English speaker who didn’t learn Gaelic until I went to primary school. Nobody hit me with a cane. I failed Gaelic. I blame the lack of “motivation”. I know only two Gaelic phrases: “How are you?” and “I am cold and wet.”

Which, in Scotland, is all you really need.

I was reminded of this whilst battling wind and rain at last weekend’s Hebridean Triathlon.

This was the second time the event has been held. Last year I came in the top 10…because there was only 10 competitors!

In the last year the organisers have done a great job encouraging participation from both men and woman. 25 people took to the start line with an almost equal split of men and woman.

Swim

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Last year the swim was in a loch by the sea but this time it was in the sea by the loch. Which is a bit of a tongue twister but it was a great move from the organizers as the sea was much more enjoyable to swim in.

Last year I wrote: “I took a detour on the first lap…”

I was determined to sight better this year. I did! This time I took a detour on the second lap.

Bike

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The bike course is an out and back route to the Callanish Stones. It was an undulating route into a very strong headwind. If that wasn’t hard enough. The heavens opened and the rain/hail started.

The wind was so strong. it took nearly an hour to do the out route but only 35 minutes to get back.

By the end of the cycle I was battered by the elements. All I could think was “Tha mi fuar agus fhluich” I’ll let you work out which of my Gaelic phrase that translates to.

Run

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I’d finished the bike just ahead of a fellow athlete from the Glasgow Triathlon Club. I was determined to stay ahead so set off at a steady pace.

The weather wasn’t any better but this was helpful because instead of letting my mind think about how much I hate running. Instead, I thought about how much I hate the rain!

I felt quite good on the run and managed to overtake a few people who were ahead of me.

Overall.

I was happy with my performance. My time was down on last year but due to the weather so was everyone else’s.

I’ll leave the last word to one of the competitors who wrote:

“Thank you all for putting on one of the best triathlons I have participated in. The course is hard to beat and the relaxed atmosphere was just perfect. Well done to everyone involved.”

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 (Andrew)

“Is it safe?”

In the film Marathon Man this quote is repeated as Sir Laurence Olivier performs an increasingly painful dental treatment on Dustin Hoffman.

In IronMan Edinburgh this quote is repeated by everyone on the start line as we gaze out to sea.

“Is it safe?”

Swim

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Last week we had a recce of East Lothian to check the swim start and to cycle part of the bike route.

It was windy, over 20 mph, and the water at Preston Links at Prestonpans was choppy and covered in white caps.

A woman got out of a car beside us. She was wearing an IronMan hoodie and IronMan cap. So was her father, who came out next.

“Are you racing?” We said, which was a daft question as he was clearly in his seventies. 🙂

She answered for him.

She was racing. And she was there to practice the swim. But, on looking at the water, she said: “Not today. I’m not going out in that!”

She had an English accent so we thought she wasn’t local (though, with Edinburgh so close, an English accent could be local!) and we tried to reassure her: “It won’t be like this next week – this is a one off! It’s just a bit of wind!”

Unfortunately for her we were completely wrong. It wasn’t just a bit of wind, it was the start of a week long howl that kept going all through Monday to Friday, sped up on Saturday and wasn’t due to slow down until the race was over.

On Saturday, the forecast was for winds of 15mph plus. Too strong for a calm swim. By Saturday night the organisers were predicting a shortened swim and by 6am they’d shortened it from 1900m to 950m. One lap of a course that had been rearranged to try and avoid the worst of the currents.

But not at the start. The first 100 metres would be straight into the waves and current and wind. The perfect storm.

For the first 100 metres I could see people struggling. Not only was there the shock of cold water, the tightness of my chest constricting, the shallow breaths and the constant gulps of salt water as I tried to time the waves correctly so that my mouth is, and this is crucial bit, above the waves, not below them. But there was also the need to sight the first buoy, to avoid fellow athletes and to generally survive in conditions that even blockbuster movie shark Jaws would say: “Don’t go into the water!”.

But, after the first turn, as we swam along the beach, not out to sea, the conditions improved. It was easier to breath with the waves at my side, than right in front.

Of course, being an idiot, I then decided I had to clear my goggles as they’d filled with condensation. I tried to duck under the water, remove my goggles to rinse them out, then put them back on in one smooth fluid motion.

It didn’t happen.

I ducked. I spluttered. I got salt in my eyes. I couldn’t see. I swallowed half of the Firth of Forth, I ended up swimming in the wrong direction – but I did all that in one smooth fluid motion, so at least I got something right.

For the rest of the swim I had leaky goggles, I had to keep taking them off to clear them of water, while, when they were on, I had to keep one shut to avoid the salt water seeping in. And swimming with one eye is not easy – just ask Captain Hook, if he’d had two eyes, he’d have been able to swim away from that crocodile.

Despite my one eye, I got to the final buoy and turned back to shore. The swim back was a relief, and with the current behind, fast too.

The swim was over. I hadn’t drowned, which in itself felt like an achievement.

Bike

Bike

The bike route started in Prestonpans and then headed out through East Lothian, through Haddington and Gifford, before turning back and heading in almost a straight line to Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh.

But, it was only the direction that was straight. The elevation promised a course with very few flat sections and plenty of ups and downs with some short sharp climbs.

And, because it was still windy, the course also added 25 miles into the wind as we came into Edinburgh.

The crowds were out in force, at least in the villages we passed. The largest town, Haddington, had the fewest spectators. Literally, one man and his dog. A man, and his dog, standing in his driveway. I can only guess the rest of the town must have been in church. Either that or the four hour road closure on a Sunday morning wasn’t appreciated by locals who decided to protest by staying away.

The course was varied, with plenty to see, from rolling hills, to leafy hedges, to forest canopies, farmlands, and, at one point, one of my work’s housing developments (which was nice to see, though not perhaps a selling point from anyone but me).

The final few miles saw a short burst of pave, the Edinburgh cobblestones, and then a climb around the back of Arthur’s Seat. This comes as a shock after 54 miles but not as much of a shock as the sign at mile 40 that “This is the high point, it’s all downhill from here!”. Only it wasn’t. Not in the slightest.

The last mile is downhill and provides a couple of minutes to relax, stop pedalling and getting focused on the run, or, in my case, to try and swallow an energy gel but forget how fast the road falls away and get tangled between trying to eat the gel and desperately apply the brakes to slow down.

I read afterwards that some people complained the road wasn’t in great condition and that there were a lot of punctures. I didn’t see any more punctures than normal and I thought the road was no better or worse than most Scottish roads.

Run

Run

I’d seen Iain in transition after the swim but couldn’t see him in the run transition. I knew he was ahead of me so I thought he must have left so I decided to follow him out.

And, by quickly, I mean for around 500 metres. Then the climbing starts. A one mile plus climb up Arthur’s Seat.

This was going to be a long run…

The run route is deceptively hilly. Deceptive in that even the flats bit are steeper than you think. Especially on the third time around the four and a bit mile course.

The run up Arthur’s Seat was tough, but the course itself was varied and featured a long run through the Innocent Railway tunnel, which was lit by a spinning light show and soundtracked with classic rock.

It’s worth racing IronMan Edinburgh just for the tunnel. Nothing beats running through a dark tunnel with AC/DC singing Highway To Hell and disco lights spinning round.

And then you have another hill. Followed by another hill. Then another hill. Then you finally get to run back down Arthur’s Seat before you have to do it two more times.

It was tough.

Much tougher than expected and I was pleased to get round in around 2 hours 10 minutes so at least I was getting round in around 10 minutes a mile. Not great, but after the swim and bike, I was happy with it.

I finished the race with Iain. As it turned out, he’d been in the toilet so I’d missed him in transition, but he caught me up, then passed, then slowed down at the end as I caught up with him. I conceded he’d won the Todd Championship point and we finished the run together.

The finish-line

I wasn’t sure if the announcer would shout: “You Are An IronMan!” as we crossed the line. It seemed wrong, you should only get that for the full distance, but, as an IronMan event, I wondered if they’d also do it for 70.3.

They didn’t. Instead we had hardcore dance tracks. “Shake that ass! Shake that ass! Shake that ass!” it cried before the announcer quickly said “Um, maybe that’s the wrong song, let’s get something more family friendly”.

We crossed the line in around six hours. Just under for Iain, just over for me (boo!). A tough race but a fair one with some great views of Edinburgh and East Lothian. Also a race that attracted the highest proportion of female athletes than any IronMan event, with over 20%. It was great to see a less male dominated race and, perhaps next year, IronMan could rename it the IronWoman Edinburgh 70.3.

No asses were shook for the podium picture.

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Aberfeldy Middle Distance – Bike Course (Iain)

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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!

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/

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. 🙂

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(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…