110 miles. On my bike. In one outing!
The last time I attempted to cycle more than 100 miles I twice threw my bike into a ditch in frustration, I once almost boarded a train back home, I cursed and cried – and during the last 10 miles I thought I would die from exhaustion. The final 7 miles were cycled at no more than 7mph and my inability to talk or smile led to my then-partner’s belief that he may need to carry me on the back of his bike.
So you can understand why I haven’t been all that keen to repeat this distance.
But with the Bealach Mor cycle sportive looming dangerously close the G-Force has been urging me to bite the bullet and go for the “century”. Not only did he think I was capable of the distance (having built my training up consistently over the last few months) but he also believed that I needed to get over the psychological barrier of cycling long-distance.
And so, on Saturday, we decided to go for it. Things didn’t start too well, however. While we’d planned to set off early an impromptu drink at my brother’s on the Friday night meant the G-Force and I ended up needing a lie in! Thus it was 11.45am when we actually headed off on our bikes to start the mega ride.
The G-Force had a route in mind. One he’d always fancied. I didn’t mind where we went so long as I made it home again. The actual planned distance was 110 miles from Bearsden, via Aberfoyle, Callander, Crianlarich, Loch Lomond and back home.
Over the last couple of months we have completed a fairly easy 70 miler, a mostly downhill 80 miles and five Pyrenean col ascents! Added to this I’ve been squeezing in shorter, faster cycling sessions where childcare and work will allow. But I was still very anxious about riding so far in one outing.
At first I took things easy. I let my legs spin on the pedals and I tried not to push my leg muscles too often. I wanted to pace myself. I took the precaution of eating a cereal bar on the hour, every hour (I often lose energy on a bike due to infrequent eating). Even if I didn’t feel hungry I ate. And by Aberfoyle I was feeling comfortable and enjoying the rhythm of cycling. On the hills the G-Force would disappear, while on the flats we’d try to cycle together or else allow each other some drafting.
I was surprised to find that by Callander I still felt fine. Shortly afterwards I knew I needed something more substantial to eat as I began to feel a little lethargic and tetchy (a sure sign of low blood sugar levels). So we stopped for a burger and cake and two big mugs of tea before setting off again. By now we were being rained on but I still felt fairly strong.
In fact, I was amazed to find how well I coped for almost the entire outing. Admittedly by the time we reached the top end of Loch Lomond I was beginning to feel weary and I could certainly feel the miles in my legs. The rain and head wind weren’t kind either. But I was still able to make it up the long drags all the way along the west side of the loch.
The final 20 miles or so were fuelled by frequent hand outs of jelly babies by the G-Force. He said afterwards that he was thrilled to see me “firing along” and he really didn’t want to see me fade. Jelly babies are totally the way to go when you’re tired and not particularly hungry but you need a quick fuel injection.
As we headed back to Bearsden via Clydebank and that long-ish hill (you’ll know the one if you’ve ever cycled that way) I really did want the ride to be over. But I still had the energy for a brief yet feisty push over the summit of the final hill before the lovely descent on to Drymen Road. And, then, finally back home.
We cycled for around 6.5 hours and totalled 110 miles. I hardly drafted and we average around 16.9 mph. I feel quite chuffed with this. I still worry that the mega hills of the Bealach Mor will kill me off before I reach the end of the 90-mile event… but I do now have more confidence in my ability to get round the course.
Looking back to the last time I cycled more than 100 miles I felt I’d come an extraordinary way. Back then (some 6 or 7 years ago) I only ever cycled about 10 miles in one go. I cycled a hybrid bike and the weather on the day had been truly awful. I had only agreed to do the cycle because the editor of The Herald at the time wanted someone to give the first stage of the Tour of Britain, from Glasgow to Castle Douglas, a go. Just to see how hard it was. And so he sent me. The article that I wrote afterwards described pretty much every second of the pain I felt.
Clearly, putting in the right amount of training, learning how to cycle a steady pace, eating at frequent intervals, having the encouragement of a seasoned cyclist along for the ride and starting to believe in my own ability can make a huge amount of difference. While I was exhausted the night and day after Saturday’s epic 110-miler I wasn’t totally done in. I even managed a gentle 20 mile recovery ride the next day. And by Tuesday I was up for another cycling outing. I just hope I can keep the training momentum and self-confidence up enough until the day of the Bealach Mor. I’m not sure if I’ll want to ditch my bike after that, or whether I’ll stick with the cycling. I’m now really enjoying this sport.