I went and did it. I was fretting about the King of the Mountain stage and I was right but I have completed the sportive.
It’s all Alex’s fault. I think… I don’t even remember whose idea it was to sign up for this. We thought it would be a fun excuse to travel to Scotland. Not sure if I read the bit about the King of the Mountain stage before paying the entry fee though.
So the original idea was to get a road bike in time for some race preparation and take it to Scotland. With the hill in mind you can see what the thought process was: lighter, better position for such a climb etc. And as you know from my previous post I did get a road bike.
However it turned out riding it for the first time made me feel like I have never been on ANY bike before so I decided that if I die in the Scottish Highlands, I will do it in style crashed by the full weight of my Pinnacle hybrid.
Anyhow, we booked the Caledonian Sleeper train so we could take the bikes with us and save some dosh on a hotel. The support team (my cousin – Alex’s wife – and her mum) flew ahead of us using the opportunity to see Edinburgh first.
The train was really nice and the beds were quite comfy.
It takes around 11hours to get to Inverness from London. In the meantime our bikes travelled in a van as there were no more spaces on the train. That was included in the train ticket price.
We arrived in Inverness and went to register. You should see our faces when the Scottish weather greeted us the best way it could: wind, snow & rain all in one… But then we left London in very similar conditions so we could not really expect Scottish weather to be better, right?
While waiting for the girls to arrive, we took the bikes on a little freezing spin around the town.
After lunch the weather seemed to have improved and after renting a car we went exploring.
We also decided to check out the start/finish line which thankfully was a 5min ride from our hotel.
And towards the end of the day the weather got better.
The next morning we were to start at 6:51 & 6:53 respectively – we cautiously signed up for the last 2 waves.
Breakfast was a bit of an issue as the hotel served it from 6am and we had to be at the start line around 6:20am so the night before I got some yoghurt, fruit, & coffee and hoped for the best. I so wished I could have some of that famous Scottish porridge but it was not to be.
I got ready and we went off to the start line:
Meanwhile our ever so supportive crew SLEPT THROUGH.
There were 4,000 riders that signed up and about 3,500 who turned up on the day. It was a beautiful sight and the weather was crisp and clear.
And we were off.
It was a closed roads sportive which was brilliant. And I must tell you, if you ever think of doing anything like that, Etape Loch Ness is a great choice as the views are spectacular! We were so lucky that there was no rain or wind despite the atrocious weather the day before.
I got to chat to a very nice Scottish gentleman and we kept each other company until my chain fell and I lost him. I would like to proudly announce that I put the chain on myself 🙂
At the first food station I was feeling great. I inhaled a banana and a chocolate bar, used the loo and here comes the bit of information that some may find too much but if you read my post from last June about my first road race where I struggled with the “women” regions, this is important (read more here).
Since my last big race three things have changed: I have had my bike fitted at Cadence – THANK YOU IAN! That made the biggest difference I think. Number two: I listened to the advice I had ignored last time and wore no underwear under the padded shorts. What was I thinking! And finally: no more Vaseline in the crucial areas and I used coconut oil instead. This made world of difference. believe me.
Note to self: coconut oil freezes solid in Scottish weather. Carry a toothpick or something to scrape off as much as you need to apply…
I was back on the road. And the King of the Mountain stage was approaching.
Right before we started the climb there was a spot where everyone was taking snaps:
And then it started. 4-5% gradient that turned into 8%. It was all doable. Then we got to 10%. That is not nice. Especially on a crowded road with people going different paces and some already walking their bikes.
I was breathing like a tank working the gears and trying to keep the pace that would allow me to go through it steady with one mission: do not get out of the saddle.
Now, can anyone please explain something to me: what is it with British people and suffering in silence?! There were people getting blue in the face, yet not a peep was coming out of them! I was still fine (up to a point) but I need to talk to myself as if I was in a spin studio. A bit of swearing helps around 10-11% gradient. I also breathe like a woman in labour.
Meanwhile everyone around, hundreds of people all shape, sizes and ages NOT A PEEP! That makes one feel extremely self conscious… Thankfully there was a nice Scottish guy who took the picture of me above who saw my struggle and we kept yelling at each other; C’MON! DON’T GET OFF! KEEP GOING! Whoever you were – thank you!
And then it got real bad. I looked at my Garmin and it showed 13% My legs were fine but my HR was going nuts and I couldn’t breathe steady anymore. It was time to get off. That Scottish dude managed to yell: DON’T GET OFF! only to do just the same 50m ahead 🙂
This is where the suffering begun: out of breath pushing my beloved Pinnacle also known as “Heavy P” up that hill while wearing cleats was even worse. So many people were cramping up trying to do the same.
It was tough. But then it got a bit flatter so I jumped back on foolishly thinking that might have been the top, for the gradient to go up again and then my gears jammed and I was off again. Pushing the bike up with my soul crying silently.
Finally it evened out enough to get back on the bike and ride up the final part of the climb. And boy was the view worth it!
From then it was downhill for a long time. I felt good so did not even stop at the second feeding station.
This was the first time I used the “SIS” sachets with the electrolytes and I loved it. I had a gel with me just in case but I had issues with them years ago so that was my last resort. Bearing in mind I had no proper breakfast and that was about 3 hrs in, I was doing fine. Until I wasn’t.
I was running out of my drink and had just water and the gel with me and I was starting to feel that whole in my stomach. Thankfully there was a sign with FEEDING STATION 1m. It could not have come fast enough.
They were serving some kind of massive doughnuts with whipped cream – I don’t do dairy but could not care less at that stage so had 2 of these babies. And a chocolate bar, and a drink and something else.
The last stretch was coming and I was feeling great! No cramps, no pains. What was the biggest help in the last 6 miles was that the day before we drove along that part of the route. We went past mile 60 mark so I knew what it looked like.
Finally, I have made it past the finish line with my name being announced and all!
Turned out Alex made it through the line 30min ahead of me. He did not get off on that hill – kudos to you Alex!
It was time for a short massage and a picture on the podium:
It was a great event. Fantastic organisation. The weather was amazing – by the way the next morning we woke up to snow and sleet 🙂
I finished in the time I thought I would due to that climb. And as you can see I came 414 out of 652 women. I was actually surprised there weren’t more women taking part as there were around 3,500 riders in all.
It was a great adventure. We saw some stunning parts of Highlands, had some fantastic food and had a laugh. Until next one!