Saturday was to be our last ‘team training’ ride before the LEJOG. In the end there were four riders – Bryan, John, Sam and myself. John cycled to mine and we headed the 5 or so miles to the “Club House” to meet the others. The four of us set off to do an ‘easy pace’ 60 miles or so, but we were soon moving at a blistering pace on route to Stirling, a slight tail wind helping us reach a comfortable 20mph+ average. The miles slipped by, with us occasionally riding 2×2 to chat as we easily moved along what felt like gentle downhill roads, with barely any inclines in our way. We passed through Denny and Bannockburn, and soon arrived at Stirling. A small boy called out “look, its the Tour de France” as we whisked by – the first (and probably last) time I’ll be mistaken for a pro’ cyclist.
As we turned back from Stirling along the A811, the effort required jumped up as we were now facing into the same wind that had helped us along so far. Bending low on the bars for my stints behind the man at the front to save energy, tucking even lower when my turn at the front came along, we worked our way along the road, breaking the momentum in our changes only briefly to snap a quick ‘overtaking’ photo for John.
This turned out to be costly, as unaware of our antics, Sam powered on while the rest of us messed about, and a ‘chase’ to get back on his wheel ensued, lead by myself as the next man in the train. Just as we caught him up, his 0.5 mile stint completed, and I took over at the front, still out of breath from the pursuit. Not to worry, once my turn at the front was over, I’d have time to recover on the back of the train. Not quite, as just as I peeled off the front, we were starting the climb up the Kippen hill, so drafting was going to be of little help. Bah.
a fun 4.5 minutes going up the Kippen hill
We climbed pretty much as a group, pausing briefly at the village to regroup for the final stretch of the ascent. At the top, a quick stop turned into a slightly longer break as Bryan fixed a creaking saddle and Sam’s electronic gears needed some attention.
The ride down was taken steadily, with only a brief mile or two before the Crow Road and our second and final climb of the day. The Crow Road was at the end of my first ever outing on the bike, back in a chilly, wet November last year when I was completely new to modern cycling and could barely work the gears and worries of falling off while ‘clipped in’ were a distinct possibility. So it was apt that the last climb in my final training ride before our LEJOG would also be on that same hill. Back then, cycling up-hill at any sort of speed was a distant dream – I’d chug uphill at barely over walking pace, often thinking I’d be quicker hopping off the bike and running, as my more cycle-experienced team-mates fast vanished into the distance, seeming to glide uphill with barely any effort. Not so today. We all moved up together, Sam and John taking the lead, our speed barely dropping below 10mph except on the steepest sections. Bryan fell off a little, so as we made the top we were one man short, but the descent would be followed by a stop to regroup. My bottle bounced out of its cage at the car park, a fellow cyclist going uphill recovering it for me, as I braked hard and was working out how on earth to turn back up hill to recover it when sat in my top gear (walking was my plan). Bottle back on board I continued down to the turn-off, Bryan soon with us and the four of us got back ‘in the train’ for the last few miles home.
A slight detour at Torrance from the ‘normal’ route added an extra 4 miles. After a stint at the front, knocking back some water, I found myself off the back of the group, and struggling to regain their back wheels. My recent “these hills are easy” self confidence was vanishing as quickly as the group were into the distance. A red light ahead spurred me to catch them, but they all stopped for a quick ‘which way is it’ just before the lights, allowing me catch up, chow down a banana and let them know “I’m suddenly done in”. Not good. We got going again, my energy slowly returning, but I still struggled on some of the slight uphill sections, pushing hard to stay in-group. The downhill to the second to last junction caused a bit of a stir, Sam in the lead coming to a near stop before shooting out, leaving the rest of us unclipped waiting for the traffic. As we’d just been coming downhill, I was in a high gear, so stood up and pushed hard up the first section of the last short hill before home, zipping ahead of Bryan and John, who not liking this ‘attack’ returned the favour as I hit ‘lactic acid’ threshold, sitting down as they zoomed by me before they too slowed up near the top. I rolled after them, catching up on the roundabout as we turned in to stop at the “Club House”, comparing averages as we hopped off our bikes and loaded them onto the cars. 18.5 mph. That was an ‘easy’ training ride? There’ll be none of that crazy speeding on the LEJOG.
The Sunday outing – emails had been flowing during the week discussing a coast to coast in late June, which then turned into debate over a Lakes ride instead and ended with the decision of doing a “Fred” (named after Fred Whitton, turns out this is a 112 miles ride of 9 peaks, some hitting 15%+ – no easy feat). The end of this email exchange also sorted Sunday’s training ride, a plan to take in the Dukes pass run with an extra 50-odd mile extension via Crieff, for a 120+ run. This time there was the promise of a lunch stop.
As this was going to be a long run, and the lunch stop was going to be timed to meet non-cycling family, needed to be up at silly o’clock for Big J picking me up at 7am for the start at 7:30 from the ‘club house’ (Gio’s place). We started as a 4 man group – Bryan, Gio, John and myself, with Gio intending to join us for the first 40 miles or so. The first 20-odd miles flew along, even with the wind against us we were easily topping 18mph average as we hit Aberfoyle and the climb up the Dukes pass.
We rode up as a group, with only the last section splitting us slightly, Bryan dropping back a short distance. I barely had time to take a few snaps before he was with us, “I’m not a climber” as he pulled alongside. The descent went without incident, the only traffic a bus toiling upwards, giving us plenty of room as we streamed by.
Just after the 40 mile mark, a quick stop for farewells to Gio, as he turned toward Callander and home, the three of us continuing onwards to Strathyre. The road rolled for the next several miles, the sun growing stronger and the shadows it was casting through the trees making it hard to distinguish potholes from leaf patterns adding in the occasional clunk and jolt to the ride. John took the pace, holding us steady for a long stint, switching back to turn-about as we passed by the glassy calm of Loch Lubnaig, the shores dotted with folk enjoying the early sun. We were making good time, enjoying the excellent weather and were soon turning along the A85 at Loch Earn, passing campers and day-trippers scattered along its edge, with barely a hill to be seen. The nice level tarmac saw us to Comrie (home to a fine golf course) and it was only another 10 or so miles to Crieff and a welcome stop at Yann’s.
We sprawled on the grass or at the table and were served coke and iced water by the friendly staff while waiting for Bryan and John’s other halves, enjoying the sunshine and break from pedalling. They soon arrived, and we sat down for a fine lunch – not quite a cake stop, but just as good: onion soup with a cheese topping followed by rump of lamb with minted-peas and chips for me, others partook of mushroom soup, black pudding salad, Arbroath smokies with mains of La Potee (Toulouse sausage & ham broth), fish pie and eggs Benedict; the kids tucking in to fish gujons, lasagne and chips. The only slight downers to this fine feast were the grumpy folk at the next table over-reacting to the excited children, and having to pass on dessert from being stuffed.
Bottles refilled, we said our goodbyes to the families, and hit the road for the remaining miles. A steady climb taking us through Muthill, then down to Braco and to Dunblane before turning off to Doune. Here we made a short stop to grab some energy drinks, the chilled water in our bottles (well, mine and Bryans were iced by the folk at Yann’s, John had refilled from the tap) already warm. The temperature in the small square was hitting 33-34°C according to my Garmin, as I tapped in our target of Kippen into its GPS, getting us on our way to Thornhill and the hill beyond. We rode up the first section together, John and I pushed on a little harder on the next steep section, but by the summit we were all together again for the descent down into Fintry and the Crow Road hill.
We trundled along the flat section, John announced himself ‘done’ but as soon as the climb came into view, he forged by me. My ‘thought you were done?’ was replied to with a ‘last throw of the dice!’ as he stood on the pedals into the corner and pulled away. I stuck to my pace, sat on the saddle, feeling ok considering the 110 miles we’d now completed and just kept turning the cranks. John was still in sight, standing at every turn, but I was beginning to reel him in. Feeling a bit short of energy (the lamb and magic minted-peas wearing off!) I struggled with my pack of Zip-vit sweets, trying to pry the now sticky, half melted goodness out of the bag while maintaining my momentum. Eventually got one out, chewed it down, and returned to focussing on John’s back wheel in the near distance. After a few more minutes I was in touch, with not far to go to the summit. “Where’s Tubs?” he asked, “not sure” I replied, and we moved on together. We stopped at the top, Bryan soon appearing, and we waved him on, then followed for the ride down into Lennoxtown.
I missed my clips as I started off, the others were fast vanishing as I finally got my left shoe in, so I was playing catch up down the hill. Pushing hard, I glanced down at my Garmin, to see it reading 45mph (!) scaring myself a bit, so eased off as I passed the car park and the turn. The wind soon put paid to any speed I was carrying, and I could see John and Bryan ahead, folded over the bikes as they disappeared from my view round a bend. I caught them at the bottom, waiting for me at the turn. John lead us for the next section, but as I swapped to the front, I offered to take a longer stint, to which there was no dissent. Strangely still feeling strong, I pushed on, the others hanging on to my wheel for a change. Stopping only for lights and junctions, Bryan asking if I’d been on “the EPO”?, “nope, just feeling ok” as we completed the final miles back to Gio’s to pick up the cars. The only momentary struggle on the final short hill before home, I was well pleased to have been able to return the favour of many a ‘carry’ for the last miles of an outing! A sterling ride by us all, 127 miles done, a proper “LEJOG” distance completed in around 7 hours, average 17.6mph.
Sunday’s training run – the Duke’s, Kippen and Crow Road hills – a tough 60 miler, and now a favourite route of the team was on the table. Gio, John and myself were the riders, with the rest out for various reasons. We set off, the roads drying out and the clouds clearing away, looking to give us a decent day for the ride. Section one (stealing Big J’s breakdown of the route), a nice section of rolling road to Aberfoyle, allowed me to get some good practice at group riding, taking turns at the front and resulting in a nice average speed of 18.7mph. I found myself falling off the back a bit if I took a swig of juice after my turn at the front, must work on the process of pedalling and drinking, but easily regained the group at this early stage of the ride.
We soon had our first hill ahead of us, at the ~16 miles mark, the Duke’s pass (section 2). A brief stop to refuel, and I set off ahead of the others, knowing they’d soon overhaul me. Determined to take this hill without falling below 6mph (speedy!), started steadily, trying to avoid dropping into my lowest gear, standing on the pedals at the steeper parts of the climb. The hardest parts of the hill still are still challenging, but at this point, have lost their full thigh-burner status as my ability to cycle and understanding of the gears have improved. Result – 7.95mph. Not brilliant, but pleased that I easily topped my 6mph target.
Section 3, rolling roads again and more group riding. Odd incident on the road (all the fun happens when I’m in the group it seems), as at one point we’re hot on the tail of an elderly driver in an A6 and we’re having to brake to avoid running in to them! Much confusion and merriment from us, but eventually the driver works out the pedal on the right makes you go quicker and we’re left behind, no longer sucking in their fumes. This section saw us averaging around 18.8mph. Consistent stuff. We were soon hitting the 40 mile mark, the second hill of the morning at Kippen, and as usual, the others leave me on the first rise of the climb. I settled in to my own rhythm, enjoying the scenery and having mixed feelings towards the sunshine (nice for view, not so much for sweatyness). Its not long before two ‘pro’ cyclists zip by me, not muttering a word in response to my greeting as they tear up the hill, I guess saving their breath for whatever private competition they are in. Not much further on, another cyclist, sharing the previous pair’s team colours breezes by me, this time with a hearty hello. As I crest the final rise he’s not far off, so I clunk up the gears in a (futile) attempt to catch him – another short hill puts paid to my chase but shortly after I do catch them, as they’ve all stopped to regroup with another handful of their buddies. Average up the hill – 8.3mph. Not so bad. I press on, as John and Gio are not to be seen (no stopping at the top this time) and enjoy the downhill section solo. Well, up to the point some (hmm, family audience), so lets say “bad driver” in a Range Rover thinks driving up my backside and beeping me when there’s bags of room on the other side of the road to overtake (no other traffic for miles) is the correct etiquette. Must look that up in the Highway Code as I must have skipped that part.
We regroup around Fintry, John and Gio wanting to hammer on to the Crow (aka section 5). I’m happy to let them go, and chow down on a Torq bar (ginger and pineapple flavour – who came up with that one?) and a gel before heading along solo to the 3 mile climb before me. I settle in to a I’m-pretty-knackered-don’t-care-how-fast-this-is pace (turns out to be 7.6mph average) as I’m hitting the limit of my current fitness and ability. As I climb slowly, a handul of riders come down the hill (oh how I detest their ability to freewheel at this point in the day) with a cheery nod, wave or ‘hello’ to which I attempt a similar greeting, its success dependent on how steep the hill is at that point. As I reach the ‘house’ on the hill, the weather decides that it would make my cycle oh so much more fun if it were to hail. How nice, tiny ice particles pinging off my face just to cheer me along. The hail stops as I crest the hill, and I clunk the gears into a more suitable ratio for the downhill section. More hail. The faster I go, the more it hurts, so I ease off the pedals until it subsides moments later. Top speed on the downhill, 33mph. Could have been quicker, but I’m shattered and don’t have the energy or confidence to risk much faster.
We regroup at the bottom (section 6), John and Gio keen to be off and maintain their 17+mph average. I agree to hang on to the back for as long as I can, but am doubtful that I’ll keep up for any length of time. My doubts are soon confirmed as we’ve barely gone a few hundred yards before I lose touch on a round-a-bout and the legs are just not interested in pushing the pedals to get back to the duo ahead, hunting down some fellow cyclist they’ve spotted. The wind picks up, as I check my watch which is showing around 3 hours 45, with 4 miles to go. I forge on, trying to work out what pace I need to maintain to get this done in sub-4 hours, but am foiled by the wind and my complete lack of energy. The last 3 miles offer little respite from the wind, my average drops to just over 11mph but I get back in one piece – a slight niggle in my left knee, but otherwise unscathed. 60 miles done, overall average of 14.9mph. 15mph and sub-4 hours next time…