With only a week to go the Étape Caledonia race I’d not managed to get out on my new bike, Ricky. So I headed out for a 55-miler with my friend Neill (and his newly-built bike Pinky). It was a great ride but I discovered that Ricky’s beautiful, lean white saddle was a bit of a crippler. Comfort had to take precedent over looks for the forthcoming 81-miler, so I swapped it for the black saddle from my old (dead) bike, Doreen. I also needed Compeed blister plasters on my butt (nice), in addition to the usual nappy-like cycling shorts. Oh well, good to find out these things before the event I guess.
Another important lesson from this week was to do with pacing, and particularly working in the right heart rate zone for endurance purposes. I did laps of Arthur’s Seat for one of my cycle sessions this week, which previously had left me burnt out after three or four. Now I made sure to keep my heart rate in the aerobic zone on the ascent, rather than flooring it, and the result was that I felt I could have carried on all day. It’s really not rocket science I guess: work less intensely and you’ll be able to work for longer… But it’s useful to know where that person-specific fine line is between just enough effort and too much.
I travelled up to Pitlochry on Saturday 11th May, and camped overnight (brrrr). Then I was up at 0530 to head to the start line, to grab some breakfast and line up for what I thought was an ambitiously-precise 0654 start time (waves of 200 cyclists were to be released into the Perthshire countryside every 2 minutes from 0630). In fact my wave only started 2 minutes late, which was one of many impressive things about this event. All-in-all over 4000 cyclists participated, but the spacing between waves was adequate to ensure that cycling at your own pace was always possible. I’m a nervous cyclist but most of the time the bike traffic wasn’t heavy enough to make me anxious. And – joy of joys – this was a closed-road event so I could forget about careless drivers for a while.
The course (see below) covered 81 miles (131 km) and included 4,360 ft (1330 m) of ascent in total. The scenery was incredible, with snow-capped mountains, lakes, forests and super-cute lambs. I felt strong and full of energy throughout, although my hamstrings, quads and lower back were complaining quite consistently. Getting out of the saddle on the climbs was a bit of unexpected relief for my back. I finished in 4:51:40, as 103rd female (out of 555) and 19th in my age group (out of 100). Overall there were 4177 finishers and I was 2140th (a little way from a podium finish unfortunately). I was over the moon with that result, especially as I’d predicted finishing closer to 6 hours.
The event was amazingly enjoyable, brilliantly organised and the local support was incredible. In particular, I could kiss the person who had spray-painted ‘Last Hill!’ on the road on what was nearly the last hill (but definitely the worst of those that remained). That point of the climb was the closest I got to stopping and walking. Thanks whoever you are! The cheers and waves from spectators were so motivational, they really helped to spur me on.
Straight after finishing I went for lunch in a Pitlochry cafe. A rather attractive guy started talking to me, but as he wasn’t in lycra I didn’t realise initially that he had also been competing: he’d finished almost 2 hours earlier (1 hr 20 mins faster than me, accounting for the staggered start) so had had ample time to get cleaned up and changed! He had finished in the lead pack of riders, in 3 hrs 33 mins, which took the shine off my finish just a tad. I enquired whether this meant he’d not stopped – meaning did he make use of any of the feedstations around the course – but he confirmed that all bodily requirements were taken care of whilst on the move (twice). Not quite the level of detail I had needed, but hey. If that was supposed to be a chat-up line I think it needs a bit of work. Moving on…
Things I learnt during the Étape:
- I love my bike
- Having an easily-accessible top-tube feeding trough full of Haribo and apricots is invaluable (handy new top tube bag: here)
- More men need to replace their worn lycra shorts: too many bum cracks were on display. Although they don’t have to look at it they should spare a thought for others.
- Schiehallion? Schmiehallion more like.
- If your legs and back hurt enough you can forget about your eczema
- I definitely want to race the Étape again
- I really love my bike.
(P.S. The event was a big fundraiser for Marie Curie Cancer Care, so if you think my exploits merit a donation please click here: http://www.mariecurie.org.uk/en-gb/donate/Donate-today/. Thank you!)