Cycle time trials. They hurt. A lot.
It was the weekend for the annual Isle of Bute Cycling Festival and I found myself taking part in one of the events, a “two-up” time trial. New to this road cycling thing I’d never heard of the festival before but apparently it is a popular end-of-season outing for many Glasgow cyclists. (Indeed, I met quite a few people on the island who I know through Glasgow Tri Club, or the Falkirk road bike APRs.) The two-day cycling fest includes a bonkers hill race up the Serpentine (a well-named “snaking” hill that climbs very steeply from Rothesay to the caravan park); the two-up time trial of 21 miles around the island; a 10-mile time trial and also an APR.
It was all new to me but the G-Force reckoned we should go for the “two-up” event. This time trial saw about 30 pairs of cyclists heading off from Rothesay at two-minute intervals for a 21-mile loop of the island. I’d always thought that time trials were on flat roads but this Bute time trial included way more than its fair share of hills. All I needed to do, I was told, was tuck in behind the G-Force and just keep pedalling. Obviously it would be nice if I could also take my turn at the front, to allow the G-Force the benefits of a bit of drafting, but I should just aim to keep going as fast as I could.
Let me tell you: Time trials are very painful. At points it felt like child birth. I alternated between feeling agony, desperation, frustration, futility and anger. I cried internally. I let out occasional sobs of pain. I huffed and puffed and hyperventilated and occasionally, just occasionally, I felt a tiny bit of exhilaration. But from the start to the finish I had the same phrase going round in my head: “I hate this!”
I didn’t even feel any relief when we finally made it across the finish line. I just felt drained and sick. My legs were throbbing and my brain ached.
And through all this, the poor G-Force had to cope with my pathetic inexperience. I had imagined that I’d sail around the course tucked in nicely and benefiting from his powerful cycling. I managed this some of the time, but quite often I lost the pace, fell off the back and 10 metres behind, struggled to keep up on the hills, overtook at the wrong places, and generally ersed the whole thing up. Due to nerves I found myself gasping for breath too many times and being forced to slow up when I should have been marching onwards.
To add to this we were overtaken by sleek, slick pairs of male cyclists so many times that I lost count. I could barely do the maths but it was apparent that cyclists who had set off more than 10 minutes behind us were overtaking at frequent intervals. That felt horribly demoralising.
For me, the worst part of the event was feeling as though I was letting down the G-Force. If I’d been cycling on my own I would have accepted that this was “my speed”. But I needed to try to keep going as hard as possible so as not to disappoint my partner. I really do not enjoy the feeling of not being good enough in a team or paired event.
But we did it. (Although there were countless moments when I could have happily given up, thrown my bike in a ditch and sobbed uncontrollably.) Our time was 1hr 1minute, which I believe is fairly respectable. I’ve not seen the list of results but we’ve been told that we were not last. I find this hard to believe, but then there were parents and children pairs taking part so perhaps I’m a bit stronger on the course than a child of 10!
It took until the following day to feel any kind of elation. I’d survived my first time trial and I have heard so many stories about the pain of such events. I now know exactly how much they hurt. The G-Force seems intent on taking part in a few time trials next season but I’m really not sure at all about this. Perhaps I’ll try a solo event next time. Then again perhaps I’ll stick to the longer-distance sportives. I’d prefer to cycle 90 miles over many hours than to give my all in just one hour for a time trial.
The strange thing is, however, that like child birth, two days later I can’t really imagine how bad the pain was during the time trial. The agony is giving way to growing feelings of exhilaration. I did it! I didn’t die! I wasn’t completely useless. I may even be able to smile about it over the coming week. With a bit more training I might manage the hills and the pedalling pain just a wee bit better. I might even learn how to enjoy these events.
The G-Force has explained that the first time trial is always horrible because you have no idea what to expect. The second is a bit less awful. While the third still hurts but you know it will end quite quickly. Does anyone think I might enter next year’s two up at Bute?!