Back in June when I was feeling sorry for myself because I couldn’t run, I would never have expected that I would be writing a post about a cycling event – after all, this is supposed to be a running blog! At that point I didn’t cycle, and had no intention of becoming a cyclist. That all changed when Shirlie at Macmillan approached me about taking on Cycletta Scotland.
Admittedly, I was reluctant at first, so reluctant that my initial response was no, but then Steve somehow talked me into at least getting on a bike before I gave a definitive answer. So I got my old and sadly neglected mountain bike serviced, headed out for a pootle along the traffic-free riverside path…and actually enjoyed it! To cut a long story short, after that first momentous cycle I replaced almost all my running with cycling so as not to go stir crazy whilst injured, bought my first ever road bike and signed up for my first ever sportive – the women-only Cycletta – which took place at the beginning of the month. Don’t worry, I’m not going to switch allegiance to cycling and change my blog name to The Cycling Princess, but I am going to incorporate cycling into my training plans now in order to build my fitness without the constant pounding on my legs whilst training for running events. Hopefully this will reduce my chances of becoming injured again.
I was quite calm in the lead up to the event, even though I hadn’t quite cycled the full distance in training and would be riding my new road bike for only the second time. I guess my experiences of running marathons, particularly those when the odds were stacked against me, meant that despite taking on a new sport, I felt confident that I would be able to do it. Yes, I was a little nervous about the logistics of a cycling event and the possibility of mechanical issues, but I was confident in my fitness levels to cycle 40km (a little under 25 miles) and that was good enough for me.
The night before the event was spent re-reading the event pack and working out what I would need. I had been checking the forecast and it looked like it would be dry but cold, the first really cold day of the season so far, so I opted for long cycling tights and a variety of base layers to put under my Macmillan cycling top. I also packed a cycling jacket and zip up top in my bag just in case I needed them while I was out on the course, but really wanted my Macmillan top to be visible.
Next, my bike. In running, all I usually have to think about is attaching my timing chip and race number. For this event, I had a variety of stickers to attach to my helmet and bike, as well as a race number to be worn on my back. Since I was cycling with a backpack, I decided to attach this number to my bag so it would be visible. I also had to give my bike a once-over to check everything was ok and put a bit of lube on the chain.
The first difficulty arose when I was getting ready on Sunday morning and Molly decided to “help” with my kit. I bet this is not an issue Victoria Pendleton has to deal with!
Soon though, I was ready to set off for Scone Palace. I had toyed with cycling out, but since Steve was on cheering duties with Macmillan, it seemed more sensible to drive. We folded down the back seats of my car and found that my bike fitted without having to remove the front wheel. Bonus!
On arrival at the Palace we were directed to park the car on some long, thick grass (I was worried it would be squelchy and cause difficulties when we were ready to leave but it was fine) and then had to walk up a steep hill to the event village. We were greeted by Macmillan staff and Steve was dispatched almost immediately to help with the kids’ “Scootathlon”. While he was doing that, I chatted briefly with a few people I knew then decided it was time to tackle the logistics of nipping to the loo whilst trying to keep my shiny new bike safe. I soon discovered that there were racks for bikes by the loos so that took care of my main logistical worry.
I was ready to get started at this point, but there was still a bit of waiting around to do. Since there were four different event distances, there were also four different start times, beginning with those on the longest distance. As I waited for my distance to be called, I chatted to a few more people and double-checked that I had my kit as I wanted it (including a handful of sweets in my pocket!).
Finally, the announcer called for those taking part in the 40km to head towards the start area. There seemed to be loads of us taking part, however we were being started in groups of around 10-15. This meant that each group was individually given a quick race briefing and it significantly reduced the number of cyclists emerging onto the main road at once.
When my turn came I listened carefully to the information we were being given about route signage as I would be cycling on unfamiliar roads, then all of a sudden we were off. Steve was at the start line with the Macmillan cheer squad and he snapped a couple of photos as I got underway.
The start of the route took us along the main Palace drive before joining the road at the gates. This merge with the traffic was well managed and I was soon pedalling along a road I had been using during my training rides. All too soon, though, we were turning off this road and the event became a whole new adventure for me!
I quickly found that I fell into the same mindset as when I’m running – just keep on moving and check off the miles. I had my Garmin attached to my handlebars so I could see the distance I had covered and had settled into a steady pace. I may not have had any idea where I was as I meandered around the country roads, but I was enjoying the scenery and everyone I found myself riding alongside was really friendly.
About half way round the course there was a “treat stop” with water and Powerbars, however I didn’t feel any need to stop: I had brought along plenty to drink and hadn’t even touched my sweets yet! I was in a good rhythm, although I was convinced I had mainly cycled uphill so far (later confirmed by my Garmin stats):
I kept going and almost immediately, there was a short downhill section before the road levelled off a bit again. I was suddenly alone as most of the women cycling near me had pulled off into the treat stop, and although I was joined by others who were restarting after their break, the road did feel emptier in the second half. This didn’t bother me though as I had done all my bike training alone and am used to running alone as well.
I think it was shortly after this when I noticed the race photographer. As usual, I couldn’t resist posing!
My favourite part of the course came around the 30km mark. The first half of the course had felt mainly uphill, with just that brief downhill section just after half way, but at 30km there was a wonderful long, gradual downhill section. I got down on the drop handlebars, grinning like a lunatic and thought, “I am a cyclist now!”. Feeling like Victoria Pendleton, I found myself whooping with sheer enjoyment (until I remembered that other people might be able to hear me!).
A little further on, we rejoined the road we had started out on, before taking a left turn to return to the Palace grounds on one of the roads I had used to train on. I knew this would be the final section of the course and I was back on familiar ground. It wasn’t going to be flat, but I had ridden it enough times to know exactly what to expect so was able to keep up a decent pace. The only thing I wasn’t sure about was precisely where we would turn off into the Palace again.
All of a sudden, there were more people around me again as all of the routes met at this point. I kept pedalling along remembering some of my previous Sunday morning rides along that stretch and feeling pleased that for once it wasn’t incredibly windy as some of it is quite exposed.
The turn into the Palace, like all other junctions on the course, was well managed with a friendly marshal to direct us into the grounds. As it turned out, there was only a really short stretch here before the finish. I was aware of another marshal telling me to go slowly around a bend as there was moss which might be slippy, then I looked up to see the finish gantry ahead of me beyond a stone arch. I also saw one other cyclist ahead of me. Now it may have been a sportive and therefore non-competitive, but at that point my runner’s instinct took over. The cyclist in front of me might not even have been in the same distance event as me, let alone clocking a faster time (due to the staggered start), but I still felt compelled to try and catch her! Not only that, but a glance at my watch told me that I was going to finish in under 2 hours. I got my head down and pedalled as fast as I could towards the finish until a race official, who had the somewhat dangerous job of getting the cyclists to stop, materialised in front of me waving his arms!
I was met by Steve who was handing out medals to the finishers. He put my medal around my neck (later recreated for a Macmillan photograph!) and took my photo:
The smile on my face says it all. I had gone from not cycling at all, to completing a 40km sportive in quite a short space of time. Just a couple of weeks before, I had anticipated my finishing time being around 2:30, but with my super-speedy new road bike, I completed the distance in under 2 hours! In fact, shortly after finishing I got a text with my time – 1:58:34. I celebrated by heading to the massage tent then having a delicious burger cooked by my good friend (and chef) Graeme, before taking some more photographs:
Finally, it was time to go, a little tired, but happy. I really enjoyed my first cycling event and it certainly won’t be my last. I found it well organised, friendly and inclusive as there were distances ranging from 20km right up to 100km. Finishers received a decent medal and a really good goody bag provided by Liv cycling.
Not only was this my first ever cycling event, but it marked the official end of my fundraising challenge for this year. I set out to run 3 marathons, and although this changed due to my injury problems, I completed 2 marathons and also became a cyclist along the way! More importantly, I have raised almost £4350 for Macmillan Cancer Support and am incredibly grateful to everyone who has donated so far. Now I plan to get back to some running again and get planning for 2015! Watch this space…