First Big Ride of the Year

This Sunday I went on my first big ride of the year, a loop from home down to Biggar, stopping at Broughton for a cafe lunch.  So, I thought it was a good time to mark the occasion in the blog and let everyone know what I’ve been up to and what I’m doing this year.ScreenClip

I got a Turbo trainer for Christmas (thanks Dad) and maybe it is the novelty of it so far, but I quite enjoy using it.  Okay, enjoy is probably not the right word, and it certainly isn’t the same as getting outside and into the wild world, but it does help with the fitness and made this 120km trip not too arduous for this time of year.  At the same time last year, I hadn’t even done a total of 120km, let alone thinking about doing it in one day.  In fact, on the same hills back from Biggar last year in June, I seriously popped and struggled after only 80km.

So, things are looking good for my first major event on the 26th April, the Kinross Sportive.  I’m still to decide 100% which route to do, as the black route is extremely hilly – more than I’ve ever done before.

In May I’ll be doing the Etape Caledonia, a closed road, major sportive starting in Pitlochy, in June I’ll hope to do the Edinburgh to St. Andrews ride again as that was good fun.  Thinking further away, there’s the Graham Obree sportive in August and Pedal For Scotland again in September.  This year I’ll be doing the shorter 47 mile route with my son, that’s the plan anyway.


Pedal for Scotland 2013


I was ready for the ride. I’d trained (not excessively, but enough), the bike was good, the clothing was ready, the weather had been prepared for.  What I wasn’t ready for was the early start.

Getting There

The 110 mile ride had to start before the main 47 mile route, and there had to be some time to alter the road closures, the Sportive riders had set off at 6:45 from Glasgow Green.  Not too bad, but once you realise you want to be there 10-15 minutes before that, then you have to build in time to get there and somehow I found myself getting up at 5am and walking down to my friend’s house in the dark, still eating the large bowl of porridge I’d made myself.  The bikes had been loaded up the night before and there was a scary moment when the back of the van wouldn’t open and let us get the bikes to actually ride it.  We were aided by Scott’s excellent wife, Rose who provided additional transport, and also team car duties on the route round.

Setting Off

By the time we were on the start line, it was daylight, not quite as cold as I thought it would be but most importantly not raining.  Our “team” of six, essentially the group of people from the shop; there was no chance that I would be able to stick with them, set off up and out of Glasgow in a large bunch of other cyclists.  Through the urban areas we were mostly surrounded by other cyclists. Whilst the others in the “team” gradually drew ahead I kept pace with Scott.  However, shortly after we left the city we passed Alan who’d had a puncture.  We checked he was okay and pressed on (turned out he wasn’t as he shortly discovered that his pump was broken and had to flag down another rider to help).  A bit further on we passed the other three dealing with another puncture. Technically, we were in the lead at this point.  I know saying things like that are a bit silly, but it’s what keeps me going, distracting me from the distance remaining.

Around this point we also passed a father and son team.  The boy looked very young and we later found out he was 10 and he did complete the ride. Chapeau!

Into the Country

We went straight through the first feed station as it was only 40km into the ride and just before the first big hill.  Transmitter Hill was perhaps the longest climb, if not the toughest and Scott and I were caught by the others.  I was then dropped, not willing to use up all the energy in my legs on the first climb.  Once over the top, there was one of the funnest descents I’d done.  I must have passed about 20 other riders on the way down, and on the flat main road afterwards I caught Scott who dropped back to try and help me onto the group.  Unfortunately, there was then a long drag into the wind and I simply couldn’t get back on.

I couldn’t keep up with Scott either and there followed the toughest section of the route for me; a solo ride into a headwind on the remotest, bleakest area.  I was saved by a group of guys that as they passed shouted “hook on” and I gratefully wheel sucked for quite some time and thanked them profusely.  Eventually, I felt much better and even took a turn on the front as the group grew quite large as we neared civilisation.  The group was shattered by the next big hill at Glentaggart.  The silence of many cyclists stoically pushing up the climb is quite incredible to hear, the only sound is from the bikes.

Shortly after the hill was the second feed station at Crawford St. John where I gratefully rolled to a halt.  Scott was still at the stop, but I had missed the others who I didn’t see for the rest of the day.  My parents and kids were waiting at the stop which gave me a big boost.  I got some grub and refilled the water. I didn’t stop for too long and was able to set off with Scott for the next leg.

It wasn’t long before I was off the pace again. Now it wasn’t a determined effort to pace myself, I was really struggling with the pace up the hills and coming up was the steepest hill of the lot, Carmichael Hill.  This one just rears up ahead of you.  As I approached there were a couple of guys at the bottom having a rest before giving it a go.  Good idea, but one I didn’t follow.  Slow and steady up and I made it in one go – unlike one person I past who stopped and then fell off.  I was going slow enough to make sure he got up and was okay (just embarrassed).  At the top, the directions were not very clear at all ! and I had to stop and double check where to go for quite a few minutes (okay, I was knackered and needed a rest).

I didn’t stop long enough as on the straight after coming off the hill, I got severe cramp.  From then to the next feed station I was in pain all the way. Luckily it wasn’t too far away and once I’d made it, had a rest and a banana, the cramp went.  Whilst it still aching for the rest of the ride, it wasn’t a major issue after that point.

After the Carnwath stop, it was just the Lang Whang and then the descent into Edinburgh.  Or not.  The Lang Whang was bearable, although Scott got away from me again because I knew what was coming, a drag, but whilst the general direction after that was downhill, there were far too many little ascents on the way into Edinburgh, each one feeling like a Cat 4 climb by this stage.  However, reaching 100 miles on this stretch was a real boost.

Finally, I got to the timing mat (quite oddly placed in a driveway which you had to turn back into; I was lucky to see a number of cyclists already waiting there and spotted it; others missed it and had to ride back to it) – just the 9 miles into Edinburgh to go.

We rounded the corner to approach Murrayfield and merged with the Challenge riders, what seemed like hundreds of them compared to our little bunch of weary 110 milers.  Riding through the stadium itself was quite surreal.  Then we emerged through to the finish line, collected our bags and medal.  Done.  A very strange feeling to have finished the goal of my entire year.  I wasn’t too exhausted, just tired and happy.

Thanks to Nick, Alan, John, Barry and Scott who were my main riding buddies through the year, Scott in particular for waiting for me probably longer than necessary.  Thanks to Scott’s wife for giving me a lift there in the morning, and thanks to my parents for coming out with the kids to meet me at the feed stations and collecting me at the end.  Finally, thanks to my wife for putting up with all these hours cycling when I could be at home making her cups of tea.

The stats :-

Distance 178.7km
Elevation 1,944m

Time 07:21:20

Max Speed 62.3km/h
Avg Speed 24.3km/h

Catch up post: Training from June to August

Apologies for not updating this blog at all – just realised that was June that I last posted.  I’ll post this now as a catch up post and then add another separate post for the actual Pedal For Scotland ride – spoilers: I did it 🙂

Between the Edinburgh to St. Andrews cycle ride and going on holiday in July, I stepped up the training and rides. In June I rode 612km, mostly just increasingly long commutes to work, but also a Sunday club ride of 80km which I felt my strongest yet – until I got cramp in my calf with 20km to go and limped home – you’ll want to remember that when I talk about Pedal For Scotland.

In July I took a trip up to the north of Scotland and a two day cycling tour of Sutherland. 100km each day; absolutely wonderful but terribly windy.  The second day I had a block headwind of about 30mph (according to the BBC Weather) and on a long uphill drag was unable to cycle; spending over an hour walking up the side of a mountain.

Apart from that horror headwind display I was feeling quicker and stronger and as the summer holidays had started I was able to head out with the guys on Thursday nights as well.  A set route which included a couple of steep hills. I got appreciative comments on my hill climbing coming on a lot since I started so I was very pleased.

And then I went on holiday.

The plan had been to take my road bike away with me, but it was never going to happen.  We did go cycling quite a bit as a family but I was on my mountain bike and going at family pace. Very enjoyable, and a great holiday but it was not training.

I didn’t get back into the training routine until the second week of August and it showed.  I started with a very hilly 100km ride around the Trossachs.  Wonderful countryside and was with a couple of friends. I was showing off essentially, powering up the early climbs, but after Duke’s Pass my legs had gone.  I hung on at a pace that was too much for me and on each small incline I was dropped. I struggled over the Crow Road and my fellow riders must have been waiting at the bottom for me for about five minutes.  On The first Thursday ride back I was quickly dropped on the same hill I’d received plaudits for a few weeks earlier. There was now just a month until the Pedal for Scotland and I was worried.

The advice from all round was the slow down. Simply take it at pace where you are comfortable and you will finish. With a ride over part of the route at the end of August I found a pace where I’d done 100km and still felt like I could go much further.  There was no chance I’d complete the Pedal for Scotland in a similar time to my friends, but by doing at my own pace, I’d complete it.

Edinburgh to St. Andrews Bike Ride

When I was looking for sportives and rides to do this year, my friend John had mentioned the Lepra Edinburgh to St. Andrews annual bike ride, a 68 mile route, stating it was better than Pedal for Scotland with a more interesting and scenic route.

This was the 33rd LEPRA ride and my first, although John had done it twice before.  You set off from Inverleith Park and head out of Edinburgh to the Forth Bridge.  Once across into Fife it is mainly quiet roads and great views.  After skirting around Dunfermline, you head to Kinross before passing around Loch Leven and heading northeast to St. Andrews.

I was very much enjoyed the ride and was also very pleased with my fitness.  We finished in 4 and a half hours, not including feed stops for the excellent cake (we nearly didn’t bother to stop at Freuchie but sense prevailed).  Relative to those I was cycling around I was strong on the hill climbs, so much so that on the “hardest” climb of the day (Cleish Hill) I didn’t realise that I’d reached the top and continued for a while before deciding that it wasn’t go to start going back up.  I’d agreed to wait for John after each climb as this wasn’t a race and it was better to have company on the ride than to solo for 4 hours and arrive a bit quicker at the finish.  Anyway, John was just as fast (if not faster) than me on the flats and we had great fun on the long, shallow descent into St. Andrews at the end.

With an average speed of around 25km/h I arrived at the end relatively fresh and have certainly felt no ill effects afterwards.  I certainly could have carried on a lot further which is a very positive sign for the 110 mile sportive in September.  Whether this would have been the case if I had upped the speed I don’t know.  What I do know is that when I did the Pedal for Scotland last year, I was slower and completely exhausted by the end and that was a 20 mile shorter route.

Here is the route on Strava

Distance 111.1km
Elevation 1,032m
Moving Time 04:32:59
Max Speed 59.0km/h
Avg Speed 24.4km/h
Cadence 76
(stats includes ride from St.Andrews to Leuchar to catch the train home)

50 Miles Up

What’s happened since the last blog post? I’ve only done three 50 mile rides in the last three weeks, and each week I’ve felt myself getting better and better. I hope I can continue on this path as the Sportive is twice the distance of my longest trip.

But let’s backup to Week 4 which was a rest week and in the end I managed no cycling at all. Oops.  I didn’t mean to not cycle at all, but my legs were tired in the week so I didn’t cycle to work, and I was away the whole weekend (Unfortunately this was the same weekend as the Pedal on Parliament 2 event so I had to miss that).

I started back with the two commutes on Tuesday and Thursday in Week 5 and felt noticeably stronger.  The weather was better too and I noticed more people out on their bikes.  I took a small personal amount of pleasure from overtaking three teenagers on the hill climb home – that was usually me. A 30km trip around the Bathgate Alps on Saturday afternoon in glorious sunshine ended with a host of personal bests, but also a bit of cramp as I pushed it a little bit too hard.

Monday was a Bank Holiday which I’d long targeted as the day I’d do my first 50 miles, however I couldn’t have picked a worse day weather-wise with 20mph average southerly winds.  I had intended a trip to Biggar but as the forecast was heavy rain down that way, a friend suggested the “Round the Forth Bridges” route.  It was a fantastic start with the strong tailwind north to Kincardine Bridge, but the coastal leg east was into some strong winds and by the time I turned south onto the Forth Bridge my legs were quite tired.  I nearly didn’t make it across the bridge the winds were so strong, and the uphill, headwind combination of the final leg nearly finished my off.  The final distance was 89.6km and I didn’t have the energy to do the last 0.4km to get it over 90km.

(Rides:6, Distance: 167.67km, Time: 7:09:42 Elevation: 1,732 Av. Speed: 23.5 Cadence: 82)

In week 6 I finally made it onto a group ride with some riders from the shop. Despite wanting to go out each week, I’d only managed to do it once way back in March in the cold and rain.  This time the sun had returned and set off at a good pace.  I was learning the skill of group riding but feeling fine and keeping up with the group on hill climbs.  Originally the route chosen was about 44 miles, but everyone was going well and it was such a nice day that the decision was taken to go as far as Biggar.  So I managed another 50+ miler.  However, the second hill out of Biggar on the way back and my legs went a bit.  I could keep up on the flat, but had no power on the hills. Thankfully, Nick hung back and paced me back to the group which was fun.  After the ride, I felt a bit disappointed that I’d not been able to keep up, but then realised that I’d done incredibly well for a novice and that I hadn’t yet been cycling for a full year.

(Rides:4, Distance: 140.21km, Time: 5:27:42 Elevation: 1,117 Av. Speed: 25.7 Cadence: 83)

Onto week 7 and the third 50 mile ride and also my biggest hill climb yet – the renowned Crow Road.  The loop out of Stirling was a 55 mile recce for the Trossachs Ton which some of the guys from the shop are doing this Sunday.  Initially I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it as I’d get back too late but a last minute rejigging of plans meant I could go.  However, l looked at the route and saw the big bump in the middle of it and had my reservations that I could make it.

I shouldn’t have worried as I felt much better than the previous week, and whilst I couldn’t match the others on the Crow Road, I wasn’t too far behind either.  In fact, I could probably have gone a bit quicker but didn’t want to blow out half way up.  It wasn’t until just before the end that I remarked that there was only 10km to go that I couldn’t quite make it up the last short climb and couldn’t catch them on the descent back into Stirling.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and my legs have now stopped aching!

The day before I’d had a really enjoyable trip out with my son along the NCN 75 from home to Jupiter Artland, a 40km round trip.  My son did really well, and it was very funny to see him adopt the aero position on his BMX.

(Rides:5, Distance: 184.86km, Time: 8:23:23 Elevation: 1,542 Av. Speed: 22.0 Cadence: 84)

First 3 Weeks Training

I’m following the british cycling intermediate plan loosely with two trips to work in the week, a hilly climb on Saturday and a longer ride on Sunday (ideally with a group).

Week 1 started with my normal commute route which is a hilly one with Cat 4 climbs both ways (as classified by Strava) unless I go around them which I’m often tempted to do.  On Friday morning I set off on a longer hilly ride in the “Bathgate Alps” which seriously tired my legs in a short space of time. On Sunday I managed 50km in extremely windy conditions.  The headwind going out was tough but when heading east I managed my fastest ever 10 miles.

(Rides:4, Distance: 103.96km, Time: 4:47:24 Elevation: 1,065 Av. Speed: 21.7 Cadence: 75)

In week 2 I repeated the first weeks commutes and hilly ride (but in reverse) but failed to find time for a really long ride. Instead I went out with my son on the cycle path downhill with the wind and then returned to collect the car in the evening (uphill into the wind).

(Rides:6, Distance: 109.38km, Time: 4:59:50 Elevation: 894 Av. Speed: 21.9 Cadence: 77)

After struggling to find the time to get longer rides in, I decided to focus on that in that in the third week.  I started by getting up early and extending my morning commute from the usual 30 minute dash over the hill to an extended 40km loop. At first it felt like my legs were still asleep, but I got going eventually. The hilly ride home was even more difficult than normal after being sat at my desk all day. On Wednesday I was supposed to do a really gentle spin but couldn’t help trying a bit hard.  Must learn to take it easy.  Thursday was the normal commute and again the home route was hard.  It seems the wind had returned too.

I finished the third week with my longest ride of the year, a 60km loop to Forth.  I’d half thought I’d get to Lanark and back but the wind was just too strong so I turned round and headed to Livingston. I know it is impossible to compare two rides, but I did this route in August just before the Pedal for Scotland ride and this time did it over 30 minutes faster.  It is interesting to see that whilst heading directly into the wind and finding it incredibly difficult, I was still far faster than last year.  And I got lost in Livingston – which I always do (all the roundabouts look the same).  At the end of the ride, my legs were pretty tired and it is slightly worrying to think that that ride was just a third of the distance of the Pedal for Scotland sportive.  Plently of time to build up the mileage though.

(Rides:6, Distance: 159.93km, Time: 6:42:17 Elevation: 1,216 Av. Speed: 23.9 Cadence: 80)

This week is a rest week which is lucky as I’m away at the weekend so won’t have any time for cycling.  Hopefully, the build up of miles coupled with a week of resting the legs will mean I’m really refreshed for Week 5

Training for a 110 mile sportive

This is a new blog to document my training and preparation for a 110 mile sportive in September.  The idea is to capture the thoughts and information I learn as I go along and be a motivator to help me do the training for what will be a mammoth distance.  My furthest distance so far is the 47 miles of last year’s Pedal for Scotland “fun ride” which I trained a little bit for by increasing my mileage at the weekends to 60km.  I completed the 76km in a comfortable 3 hours 39 mins and decided that next year I could do a proper sportive.  However the Pedal for Scotland sportive is more than double the distance, so I need to do some proper training for it.

First of all, I got a new bike.  My existing bike was a touring bike my dad had given to me – it was slightly the wrong size – nothing that meant I couldn’t ride the bike, but over long distances it became increasingly uncomfortable.  I got a Scott Speedster S20 though the excellent Cycle to Work scheme and my (also excellent) local bike shop, Hooked On Cycling.  Nick in the shop did an excellent job of sizing me up and picking the right frame and measurements.  The Scott was chosen because it was basically the best available in the shop for the £1000 limit of the cycle scheme.  I’ll discuss the bike itself in more detail in its own post sometime but it hasn’t let me down, has excellent acceleration compared to the tourer (not surprising when you look at the weight) and is a joy to ride.

 Jumping straight to 110 miles is a big move even if I get the training right, so I’m hoping to do at least one other sportive beforehand, at a distance of 60-80 miles.  Maybe the Graham Obree short route at 67 miles or the LEPRA Health in Action Edinburgh to St Andrews Charity Bike Ride which is 68 miles.  I also want to do a longer tour in the north of Scotland, a route that is about 200km over two days through Sutherland.

 My plans for training are simple and twofold – firstly continue my rather hilly cycle to work. Hills are slow work; at no point do I feel that I need to stop, but there will be no King of the Mountains for me.  As my friend explained, the only way to get better at going up hills is to go up more hills.  The second part is to extend my mileage each week.  This worked very well for the Pedal for Scotland “fun ride” when I built up from nothing to 20km, to 40km and finally a couple of 60km before the ride.  Getting up to 180km should be the same thing, just over a longer period.  I’ve looked at some sportive training plans, notably the British Cycling Intermediate one, and whilst I’ll follow the general idea of that, I don’t need to worry about speed or special interval training at my current abilities.

Hopefully, over the current weeks, I’ll update the blog with how I’m getting on with the training and how I do in any sportives or rides I do.