After we got back from Crete, mid July, it dawned on me that I was less than two months away from a 110-mile Sportive that I had signed up for. On the up side, the fact I cycle to work most days gives me a certain level of fitness. On the downside, I hadn’t done much in the way of long distance cycling at all this year.
I had a look at a few “Sportive Training plans”. The level of detail was boggling – I would have spent more time faffing about with stop watches and bits of paper than I would actually cycling. What was more, a lot of the training seemed to rely on Turbo trainers.
The last thing I wanted to be on was a stationary bike, so I opted for my own training strategy. Here it is…
Get a new bike. Ride the feck out of it.
Picture courtesy of www.sandground.co.uk
I also set myself the goal of cycling 200 miles a week and joined Strava.com. Instant, addictive motivation!
With Strava I now had lots of lovely stats. I could see what other cyclists were doing training-wise. And I could also see, for the first time, just how fast I was. But fast I was not. Along came a new type of motivation. FEAR!
Over the next six weeks, it really did feel like I was pedalling for Scotland. I covered a lot of B-roads and saw quite a bit of the country. That in itself was quite lovely. I also fell off a couple of times. Blood, sweat and tears, as they say.
Many miles later, with wounds licked (and sporting a fresh set of blood-stain-free clothing), I found myself at the start line of my 110-mile Sportive.
Early on, I accidentally got myself in the first big bunch – a ball of cyclists made up of around 60 riders. There was pal from my work in this bunch too. I knew he averaged 2mph faster than me, so I was likely out of my depth if I tried to keep pace. But I’d try for bit anyway.
About 20 miles into the race, I was in trouble. I had been trailing at the back of this bunch for a little while & I hadn’t been able to work my way into it. The bunch started to pull away. Disaster. I had been dropped.
And we were still 5 miles shy of the biggest hill climb of the race – a tough 4-mile 1000ft ascent. This thought brought some new fear. Bit by bit, I clawed my way back towards the bunch in time for the big hill climb.
Like ice-cream left out in the sun, cyclists who I had only previously seen from a distance started to melt in front of me. I was moving through the bunch. Not with ease, but methodically. I saw my pal from work up ahead & eventually managed to catch him up. I think he was as surprised as I was when I pulled alongside.
By the time we had cleared the hill, the bunch had split and I was now holding my own in the front bunch. It was time for the real work. No chat now.
Over time, the line began to tease out. I saw my pal skip up a few places, climbing towards the stronger riders. The bunch was going to split, so I dug in, following him up just as the pace increased again. I was now with the serious riders and we were tearing up the tarmac. I can honestly say I have never cycled harder.
We had raced through the first food stop, and, working within my own sub-group of three, the chase was on to catch the strongest lads who were a bit ahead of us. Keeping up was one thing, but chasing them down was taking its toll. I did a mental leg check and a dull ache just below the back of the knees confirmed I was going to have to bail at the next food stop and let my legs have a wee wobble.
Having lost the bunch, the next 20 miles on my own were dark miles indeed. My pace dropped to almost nothing. It was not fun anymore. It was a total absence of fun. Un-fun!
76 miles into the course, a young chap caught me up on the ridiculously steep and un-funny Carmichael Hill.
He asked me how I was doing and I admitted I was having a wobble. Without really saying anything else, we paired up and helped each other along. Having someone to work with was like a shot of adrenalin and our pace just got better and better.
A couple of days later the results were in. I had finished the Pedal for Scotland 110-mile sportive in a fairly decent time. No one was more surprised than me.