Monday, 31 August 2015

Ride the North 2015

Way back in November 2014 I was at a party at my friend Jackie's house and the words Ride the North were mentioned. Several of my friends had taken part in previous years and I thought hmmm might be fun! The website tells you what it is:

A quote from the website: There has been a remarkable boom in cycling over recent years and the North East of Scotland boasts some truly wonderful cycling experiences. RIDE the NORTH is not a race, but rather a challenge ride for cyclists of all abilities.

Next thing I know my friend and work colleague Chris from CNR International told me that CNR were one of the sponsors for Ride the North (RtN) and therefore were putting a team in. I can't resist being part of a team so I signed up immediately! Then I must admit I didn't give cycling much thought for a few months as it was winter. And I'm a runner! Our CNR team met each month for "lunch and learns" as we call them where we discussed cycling and had demonstrations about how to change inner tubes etc, Neil Innes the RtN organiser came in to speak to us and tell us all about the route. Lots of hills got mentioned. I was still thinking about running and had gotten in to the West Highland Way Race for the third time so I was still concentrating on running training, but I bought a new road bike so that was a start:

It's a road touring bike

The months rolled by and I finally had a proper spin on the new bike in April where I went out for 10 miles with Iain and our two older boys. It was not fast but I managed fine. In May I went out on the bike twice, once with a new club which has started up - Stonehaven Cycling Club and really enjoyed it. June was all about the WHW for me but I did have two cycle rides adding up to 20 miles of training. July I actually managed 3 rides but two were with the boys so very easy as Magnus is only seven. 44 miles training in July... Now I was starting to get a bit worried as friends were doing very long training rides - 60+ miles etc. I went out with the SCC again and was right at the back this time and it was a wake up call to me and told me I needed to cycle more, which meant giving up running until after RtN. I knew I could do it but I wanted to have a chance at enjoying it so I managed 6 training rides in August (and only one wee run) totalling 152 miles. This included a demoralising 51 mile cycle to Balmakewan and back with Iain where I bonked at 26 miles and cried twice. I had serious doubts about taking part now because it took me 6 hours 5 minutes to do 51 miles and I knew I had to do 85 miles one day then 90 the next! This is when rule #5 kicked in:

I had to harden the f*ck up and stop whining. So I went for one more ride then it was time to get ready and go for it. I had the day off work on the Thursday and Iain worked from home. He took the bikes to Aberdeen to get loaded on a lorry and taken to Inverness. We went to catch our train to Aberdeen where I was going to meet the CNR team and get my train ticket from our leader Judy and catch the train to Inverness. But aargh the train was delayed! We missed our connection and ended up stuck in Aberdeen waiting an hour for the next train. I was lucky in that a bunch of us were in the same position and I knew Neil and Jane McArthur and they had a spare train ticket which they gave to me :-). We had a very pleasant train journey in the end sitting next to other RtN entrants who were very friendly and chatty. This was to be a theme of the event.

We caught up with the CNR team in an Italian restaurant in Inverness and had a fine meal. I was really nervous about the next day but there was no going back now. We were up at 6:15am so we could get to the Eden Court Centre for half an hour before our 7:52 start. Here are some of Team CNR at the start: 

Richard missed the memo about wearing our RtN tops

Day 1: Inverness to Elgin  -  85 miles, 4,640 ft of ascent

There were five different waves of starters depending on how long you were predicted to take. I was in the first wave i.e. I was one of the slowest. Iain started twenty minutes after me and he said he would catch me up (which didn't take him long). The first morning was due to be tough, with two major climbs. I was focussing on the first feed stop at 21 miles and trying to eat little and often so I didn't bonk, I basically treated it like an ultra. The first 6 miles were flat which was good so I felt warmed up when we approached the first climb. It was tough but I took it steady, settled in to the lowest gear and puffed and panted my way up. Several of the women commented that it was like being in labour! Certainly part of my body was starting to feel very sore :-(. This was obviously due to the fact I'd only put in one month of proper training and the bottom needs more time than that to acclimatise ;-). After the steep climbs we were rewarded with wonderful descents and all around us the scenery was stunning, we were also very lucky with the weather. I was smiling:

Look matching shoes and gloves

The first refreshment stop was excellent, proper coffee and tea and energy drinks and bars, bananas etc. Portaloos a plenty. Pretty soon lots of familiar faces appeared and I probably stayed too long hugging and chatting to Stoney folk. About 150 folk with Stonehaven postcodes had entered the event and I probably knew 100 of them! Lunch was wonderful steak pies and more tea. The organisation was top notch. The afternoon of day 1 was loads of fun as it was mostly long descents on wide roads. I was keeping an eye on my Garmin to see how long it took me to cycle 51 miles and I got there in 5 hours 35 mins, 30 minutes quicker than my dodgy training run the weekend before :-). We eventually got in to Elgin at the back of 5pm and received a nip of whisky from the distillery. I felt elated as the previous furthest I had ever cycled was 55 miles and that was 4 years ago! We stashed our bikes then headed for our coach to Lossiemouth where we were booked in to a hotel. Another fine night with friends and we also had a moonlit walk along the beach before a very good night's sleep.

Day 2: Elgin to Stonehaven  -  90 miles, 6,706 ft of ascent

So now all the talk at breakfast was we had to do it all again, and further, and wow our bums hurt!! I took paracetamol before I even got on the bike but it didn't take the edge off. The start was more brutal too as we had a hill to cycle up to even get out of the distillery grounds. Off we went at the same time as the day before and it was another fine day, but a bit windier. The first refreshment stop came as a huge relief and it was nice to meet Dave Scott, an ultrarunner who was helping out. Probably stayed too long again but it was such a good atmosphere at the stops it was hard to leave. I had a bit of a low after this stop as we were straight in to a long, steep climb and there was a strong headwind. I nearly cried but managed to stop myself, I kept scoffing the cashew nuts and swigging lucosade to keep my energy levels up. One thing I'd learned though that after every big climb we'd get a fantastic descent and the feeling of speed is something I don't get while running! I had tears in my eyes when a bunch of ladies and children appeared at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere and cheered us as we cycled past.

Lunch on day 2:

Me with some of the speedy CNR Team
I felt good on day 2 as I was catching up with people at the food stops I hadn't seen on day 1, like John from the running club. I kept an eye at what time I passed 51 miles again and this time I managed it in 5 hours 5 mins which is a whopping hour off my Balmakewan time! My endurance training through running was coming good, although I was still wincing every time I went over a bump. 

Iain waited on me at the top of each big climb
I enjoyed cycling through Lumsden where an old bloke outside a pub gave us a big cheer! The afternoon was tough with many more climbs including at Shooting Greens where many of the Stonehaven Cycling Club folk overtook us. It was great to chat to so many friends and get their encouragement. I had written my name on my number on my back and so I got loads of shout outs. The folk of Torphins did themselves proud and put on a good spread for us and there was a brass band:
Brass band at Torphins
I was getting a bit weary by the late afternoon on the day 2 but my spirits soared the first time Iain pointed out Durris Mast to me - we were nearly home :-). When I saw Clachnaben I cheered! When I saw Knockburn I cheered! I was less cheery at the long climb on the Slug Road but I knew we were nearly there. We took a right to go past Swanley so there was yet another climb before the awesome downhill all the way to Stoney. When we saw how many folk had turned out to cheer us in we were tearful. It had been an adventure and a huge challenge for me and I was so relieved and pleased to be home. My parents and children were there:

So many friends were there, but the most special was my friend Gillian who is only alive today because her life was saved by 2 amazing people, 2 doctors and a defibrillator supplied by the Sandpiper Trust which happens to be one of the charities CNR have been raising money for (the one I chose). If you can spare any cash please click on the link and donate to 4 excellent causes:

We are also raising money for Northsound Cash for Kids, Yorkhill Children's Charity, and the Brain Tumour Charity. Thanks in advance for any donations, they will be appreciated.

I found Ride the North to be very testing physically for me, my puny runners legs were not so good on a bike. One guy made me laugh when he zoomed past me on a descent and shouted out "This is when it pays to be fat!". I have been inpsired to keep at it though and I want to take part again next year. I joined the Stonehaven Cycling Club and they are a great bunch of folk and very encouraging. Maybe there is more to life than running...
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