Last Saturday saw me in “Cycling Princess” mode as I took part in the first of two cycling events I have planned this spring. Having enjoyed my Cycletta experience last October, I was keen to try a longer distance so signed up for the 46 mile route at the inaugural Tayside Challenge.
The Tayside Challenge was organised by the Perth Kinnoull Rotary Club as a charity sportive to raise funds for both local and international charities. There was a choice of 46 or 81 miles, starting and finishing just a short drive away from Perth in the village of Pitcairngreen, and the start time was flexible (any time between 8am and 10am). I had no idea what to expect so was a little nervous, but I knew the distance was manageable for me and a useful warm up for my next event.
Rather than sticking to the conventional pre-event preparation of a good dinner and an early night, I instead spent Friday evening in Glasgow at the Hydro seeing Take That! Getting to bed at 1am wouldn’t exactly be my recommendation ahead of an endurance event, but I did have a brilliant night seeing my favourite band and the good mood stayed with me even as I got up just a little too early on Saturday morning to go and cycle!
Fortunately, I’d had the good sense to lay out my kit on Thursday evening so all I would have to do on Saturday would be get up, get dressed and get myself to Pitcairngreen. As it turned out, I did cause myself a bit of stress by struggling to inflate my tyres with my rubbish floor pump (which I have since replaced!) and with Steve at work I had nobody to help me out. Eventually I decided just to head off and find a friendly cyclist with a decent pump I could borrow, so I loaded my bike and other bits and pieces into the car and set off.
From an organisational point of view, everything ran really smoothly from the moment I arrived in Pitcairngreen. I was directed to park my car on some grass and a marshal handed me a sheet of paper with some route information on it. I then joined a queue to collect my race number and timing chip. Since I was by myself, this could have been a bit of a boring wait, but I soon got chatting to the people around me, some of whom were experienced cyclists and some of whom were there for their first event. All were really friendly and encouraging. I even had a couple of offers of a pump to sort out my tyres, but by the time I had registered, a friend of mine had arrived and she also had a pump with her so we were able to
sort ourselves out faff around getting organised together.
Kit organised and toilet visited, we were ready to start. Debbie (my friend) suggested sticking together and I was definitely glad to have her company since we were the only ones starting at that particular time. Once more, the organisation was superb as the friendly starting marshal gave us a briefing then set us on our way.
As we left Pitcairngreen the previously pleasant weather began to change and soon we found ourselves cycling in the rain. Not ideal, but nothing we could do about it other than keep on moving, so we kept pedalling and chatting and the miles seemed to go in quite quickly.
The route itself was easy enough to follow as we wound our way towards Bankfoot and on to Dunkeld following the signs which had been put up at all the junctions. Beyond Dunkeld there was a long steady climb towards Amulree and the higher we climbed the worse the weather seemed to get. The scenery was stunning and the company was great, but I could probably have done without the constant headwind and the hailstones bouncing off my helmet!
About half way round the course there was a feed station and we both agreed that it would be rude not to stop since there were marshals there who had given up their time to support us 😉 It was nice to get off the bike for a few minutes and get out of the weather where yet more friendly volunteers were waiting with trays of filled rolls, cakes and sweets as well as bottles of water. We had some cake, took an energy gel and took advantage of the nice heated toilets before getting back on the road for the second half of the route.
The weather had changed yet again and we set off hopeful of a bit of sunshine. There was a little bit more climbing to do, then a nice downhill section to enjoy. I’m still a little wary going downhill so Debbie quickly got away from me, but I was quite happy on my own for a few minutes. We had been talking about the Take That concert the night before and I found myself with one of their songs in my head. I merrily made my way down the hill singing away to myself, then all of a sudden another cyclist came whizzing past me. Any other cyclists we had encountered had exchanged a few words but this one flew past without saying anything, probably thinking I was a complete lunatic for singing to myself on my bike. It certainly gave Debbie a laugh when I caught up with her!
(In case you’re wondering, it was this song. I’m trying to ignore how long ago it was that Take That first released it!):
The remainder of the route took us through the breathtaking Sma’ Glen (STILL into a headwind) then by quiet country roads back to Pitcairngreen. It was quite hilly, but we found ourselves increasingly joined by cyclists from the longer route who were now making their way back too and this gave us a bit more company and the chance to exchange a few words with others.
Finally, I found myself on a stretch of road I recognised as we came back into Pitcairngreen and the finish came into view. We crossed the line to the congratulations of the marshals and had a little hug. One of the marshals then offered to take a photo of us so Debbie dug out her phone so we could capture the moment.
I really appreciated Debbie keeping me company on this one as she is a little faster than me on the bike and I was worried I would slow her down, but sometimes it’s just nicer to have someone to chat to and make the miles pass by more quickly, something I rarely experience in running as I’m so often training and racing alone. Thanks Debs 🙂
Steve had cycled up to see me finish and he appeared at this point so was tasked with getting my bike back into the car as I could no longer think straight and just wanted to have something to eat. I promptly inhaled some chocolate and had a cup of tea from the refreshment tent (there were some filled rolls and bananas too, but I was keen to get home and showered by this point) then set off home.
Despite the challenging weather conditions, I did really enjoy this event. As far as I could tell, the organisation was faultless, all the marshals and volunteers were really friendly and helpful, and the route was beautiful. I would certainly take part again if it became a regular event. The organisers were also thrilled as they raised around £5000 for their chosen charities. Not bad for a small inaugural event.
In the end, our official time was 4:15:14, including cake stop. We probably took just over 4 hours of actual cycling time, so I’m happy with that given the hills, hail and howling wind! If you’re interested, you can see the route and elevation profile here. You’ll just have to believe me about the weather!
Next time I get on my bike, it will be for the Étape Caledonia. Eek!