With only two weeks to get my cycling legs back after Tough Mudder, this 68 mile sportive around the Ayrshire countryside was always going to be difficult. I didn’t help my chances by spending the day before it in the pub with the lads watching the Olympic road race, either. It’s not like I was in the kind of condition where I can go flaunting it!
When I woke early the following morning I felt awful, but hoped that by the time we’d got to the start and registered I’d be ready to roll. Unfortunately I still felt rotten even once I was on the bike, and just had nothing in my legs to stay with the fast moving pack.
Within a few miles of the start I’d been dropped, leaving me to that all too familiar solo slog. A workmate, Ed, was also tackling the event and although he started in the group behind me, he caught up with me at about the 15 mile mark and we stuck together for quite a while.
It was good to be riding with someone, and it helped pace me over the miles before we hit the two big climbs of the day. On the first we stuck together, but on the steeper one I managed to leave Ed behind, as he didn’t really have his climbing legs under him. I waited for him at the top of the climb for a few minutes, but then pressed on by myself, mindful that every minute I wasted on the course, George & Adrian would have to spend waiting for me at the end.
Along the way, and before we hit the major descent, I got chatting to two guys who were really friendly and going at my pace. Gregor and Timothy we’re good fun, so we stuck together and enjoyed the big downhill – slipstreaming down what felt like endless miles of wide open road. I was a bit more cautious than usual after seeing lots of big stones littering the road – especially after seeing some poor guy with a puncture.
Our group arrived at the food stop at the same time and agreed that we’d just ride together for the duration, as they weren’t interested in going for a time and I just wanted to finish.
However, less than five minutes from the food stop we encountered some poor bloke with a puncture so bad that it had split the tyre. Timothy had a tire repair patch kit and gave him one of the patches, while Gregor said he’d stay to help fix the puncture while we pressed on.
We set off over the undulating roads expecting to be caught up soon enough, but as the miles rolled by we began to wonder what was taking Gregor so long. During this stretch I got stung on the forehead by a wasp, so we stopped for a bit before realising there wasn’t much we could do about it! We had tools for fixing bikes, but no first aid kit, so I just had to put up with the pain.
After a descent we pulled over so that Timothy could call Gregor, because it seemed odd that we hadn’t been caught by the fitter man. There was no answer, which was a bit worrying, but we decided to press on all the same.
At this point we were caught by Ed who had got a second wind and reeled us in, so now we were a group of three and set off again, soon taking a sharp left onto a busy road. We couldn’t really ride side by side any more so I took a turn up front into a nasty head wind for a few miles. I probably stayed up there too long, as by the time Ed took a turn I was struggling and fell back from him. That was the last I saw of Ed until the end, but I was pleased for him to have got his second wind after his earlier struggles.
The remaining two of us stuck at a moderate pace until we had about 20 miles to go, when Timothy got a puncture. This took an age to fix, as we had to do it twice when the valve came out of the inner tube as it was being pumped up. It delayed us half an hour and while we were there, sheltering in a bus stop, Gregor and Stan finally caught up with us. Turned out that after helping Stan, Gregor had suffered a puncture just up the road and it had taken them a while to sort it.
Now we were all together again… or so I thought. Despite applying some deep heat, my legs had seized up during the stop and I just couldn’t keep up with the guys once we set off again. It was truly demoralising to have nothing for the short sharp climbs that just kept coming and as the rest of the group ebbed into the distance I made my mind up that I’d had enough of long distance cycling.
I had been worried about that eventuality when I got back into road biking again, but the different type of challenge kept me motivated even as the distances increased. However, after putting myself through the 93 miles of Pedal for Scotland in 2011, the Bealach Beag in May and now this tough ride, I really wasn’t enjoying it at all. The training had become a chore and the thought of spending a couple of hours blasting around Carron Valley on my mountain bike seemed substantially more attractive than yet another training ride to build the miles on my road bike.
It was when my morale was at its lowest point that I spotted Gregor had slowed to wait for me. He asked me how I was coping and I told him I was really struggling. He said he’d stick with me to the end and reiterated that he wasn’t bothered about getting a good time – he just wanted to complete it.
For the next 40 minutes he gave me a wheel into the headwinds and paced me up the climbs. I wasn’t exactly enjoying myself, but it was really uplifting to have Gregor riding alongside giving me encouragement.
As we got closer to the finish I got anxious to get there, managing to lose control on a downhill left-hander and slide into the wall of a bridge. I only made light contact in the end and managed not to hurt myself or the bike, but Gregor said he couldn’t believe I got away with it! All those years of coming down hill on my mountain bike, sliding all over the place had counted for something.
Finally crossing the line in 5:57:51 I was glad to see Adrian & George waiting for me – I had a nagging suspicion that I was taking so long that they might have bailed on me! They’d finished in around the four hour mark, so I felt a bit bad at keeping them waiting around. Ed had waited to see me finish too, although he was cycling home after the event so I think he was maybe just getting his energy back.
We headed back to Helensburgh and had a good night of curry and beer, recanting our experiences of the day. With hindsight I had enjoyed the first few hours, it was just that last 20 miles that really broke my spirit.
The following week I contacted the Pedal for Scotland organisers and changed from the 110 mile route to the 47 mile route. That should be a fun three hours or so on the bike that I should be able to enjoy – the others are welcome to their torturous sportives!