So there you go! My first ever bike race was completed on 27 April 2015. I ask “what is it about Loch Ness?”, because the scene of my first ever running race over any distance was the Loch Ness Marathon (a sweet 3:59:01 perfectly paced round by my fiend Jim Groark). That was back in 2006.
Then last year I got involved in a personal coast-to coast challenge across Scotland (The Soldier v Scholar with my friend from way back in 70s, Bruce Strachan).
On our challenge we got used to running and cycling along the banks of Loch Ness. So naturally this year the Etape Loch Ness Cycle Sportive had to be done (66 Mile/105km).
The event was a wonderful experience; the organisation was superb. Being used to the start of running events I was surprised at the calm at the start of this race. The marshalling into start pens was so smooth and fuss-free. But the thing that really surprised me was once we set off. It felt sedate and relaxed compared to running events and I suppose I expected it to be more frenetic. We all knew we had a long way to go so people simply pedalled off. One thing that became apparent quickly was how conditioned we are on the roads. Despite being a closed road event, you couldn’t help but chortle as a few of us cruised down the right hand lane watching the “sheeple” sticking to the left.
The main thing to take away from the race is obviously the scenery. But three of us had decided to work together over the first half of the race, taking it it easy, but pushing and pulling each other to get to the half-way point in good time. Then came the “King of the Mountains” and we separated for the rest of the race. Ali Bartlam pushed off first. I tried to go after him – no chance! He waited for me at the top of the 5.5 mile section, but had been there almost 10 minutes. Together we waited for Bruce, but the snow came on. I told Ali to press on, I’d wait. But 5 minutes later, all of us waiting at the summit were ushered away by the marshals who were fearful we’d get hypothermia.
Then onto the swiftest part of the course where I hit my top speed of 59.8kmh (37.5mph in real money). I maybe could have gone faster, but this was already MUCH swifter than I’ve ever gone in my life. Having negotiated the decent, and now cruising at about 20mph, a slight disaster happened. A rear wheel blowout caused me to skid, and in the process hit the verge and take out a guy slipstreaming me. We were both shaken but fine, and after making sure my friend was OK to continue, got him back on his way. Then I had to turn to the problem of my bike which I was uncertain would be able to finish the circuit. Luckily the motorcycle mechanic team had me back in the race in less than 15 minutes. They changed the tube, but also gave the bike a surprisingly thorough check over before sending me on my way. Ah, the old Genesis Aether – not the fastest, but now a proven sturdy bike!
While I had been confined to the verge, Bruce had gone past, so when I got back on the road I made it my mission to catch him up. When I did he told me to press on as I was going well – and in the last quarter (and very much to my surprise) I maintained a much higher pace than any other time in the race.
I crossed the line in 4:42:20 – a time I am delighted with given I was thinking more like 5:30:00 for a target. For those who like such things, the stats are available from GARMIN.
Afterwards Ifelt tired, but did not have that “nearly broken” feeling I get after the ultramarathons. My BGL was admittedly low (3.5), but I had been correctly fuelled on the way round and am used to going low on a cycle. Asthma – well, I did need a puff a of the reliever inhaler after about 10 minutes, but apart from that I was fine. Indeed, overall, I liked the feeling very much and know this is not my last sportive.
I would like to thank all my friends for their generous support in the build up to the race, and for those who supported my fundraising for Diabetes UK and Asthma UK. To those who donated anonymously, you have the advantage of me – how will I know who to buy a pint, coffee or cupcake for?