Pedal for Scotland – Glasgow to Edinburgh 2015

Medal: No

You know, because there was no medal.

You know, because there was no medal.

Although I had aimed to keep this short and sweet because I am falling rather behind on my posts – I suppose being injured and being forced to pull out of all the races you had planned means that there isn’t much to talk about for a long spells, and I’ve become a bit slack – it would appear that I have a bit to say, despite finding the entire day rather underwhelming.

I took the train to Glasgow – very hung-over – on Saturday morning, and tried to steel my stomach against the nausea brought on by any kind of movement.  Upon arrival I met Ian, and we set off to my friend Grant’s flat.  Once nestled into an armchair – and joined by Grant’s brother Bruce, and his girlfriend Molly – we ordered an obscene amount of pizza to inhale before submitting ourselves to the least comfortable sofa bed in existence.

Ian, Bruce and I were up bright and early for breakfast and about an hour before our designated start time we set off on the gentle 4 mile cycle to the event start.  Cycling along the nearly-abandoned streets of Glasgow as the sun rose was quite a pleasant experience, especially as our group of 3 picked up fellow cyclists during the trek.

As we had received our race packs in the mail, there was no need to register, so we slowly made our way to the start pens.  A friend had decided last minute to sign up, so as he was battling queues at registration, we became increasingly frustrated, and eventually –upon discovering he was there with friends, and not alone – we opted to leave him behind.

At the start - L-R: Ian, me, Bruce

At the start – L-R: Ian, me, Bruce

The start was staggered, and there was pretty much nobody making sure you were entering during your allocated time, so we joined the crowd and waited for 4-5 clusters of cyclists to be set free before our time came.  The sun was shining, the air was calm, and we sailed along the closed city centre roads chatting with each other.  One thing that we did notice – apart from someone on a penny farthing! – was a staggering number of cyclists off to the side repairing punctures.  We later found out that the course had been sabotaged by someone who threw tacks across the road, which has happened by disgruntled locals during other closed-road cycle events in Scotland.  Luckily, none of us were affected, but it’s a pretty dick move by whoever was responsible.

As far as the course goes, I read it had changed slightly from the previous years, but it was generally flat for the entire 50 miles.  The 2-3 short inclines were hazardous not because of how steep they were, but because of the range of cycling abilities on the day, and the inability of riders to grasp the very simple idea that keeping to the left (or any side) would probably be super helpful for people trying to cycle up a hill without their options being limited to:

  1. ploughing through a group of people pushing their bikes whilst having casual conversations in the middle of the road, or
  2. falling off their bike.

Thankfully, we all managed to crest the few hills without coming off the bikes (and remaining clipped in!), but the bottlenecks were a giant pain in the ass.

Moving swiftly on to my next complaint – the feed station at Avonbridge.  We joined a queue snaking around a marquee, not fully understanding what we were queuing for, but agreeing it was probably something worthwhile.  Once we finally made it to the entrance, we were met with tables full of cakes, tray bakes, cookies, etc.  Standard feed station fare in Scotland.  I helped myself to a cube of ginger cake and a small cookie, and Ian and Bruce grabbed a few snacks as well.  At the end of the display, having already started eating, a little old lady looked expectedly at us, and then down at a money box.  It was only at this point we became acutely aware that we were expected to pay for our snacks.

Neither Ian nor Bruce had any cash, and luckily I had enough to cover the 3 of us.  Now, I know the whole event is to raise money for charity, but a little warning that snacks on a course that advertises food as being included in the entry price wouldn’t be an unreasonable request.  Especially when you’ve hit that point where food, no matter what it is, is appealing.

Once back on our bikes, and all a bit huffy, we continued on the course, ultimately ignoring the free lunch stop as by the time we passed it, we weren’t hungry. The final 15 miles or so went by in a bit of a blur, but from about mile 40 my knee was starting to play up.  We eventually started cycling on canal paths that have been used for various running events I’ve taken part in before, and the fact that I was beginning to recognize places meant the finish couldn’t be far off.

When Murrayfield stadium came into view, it was only a couple of minutes before we were crossing the finish line, unclipping, and begin handed our goody bags.  To my horror, and despite the fact that in all previous years they had given out medals, I found that all finishers received an A5 certificate as a token of their triumph.  Ian and Bruce sat on the grass in the sun, and I went to find my friend, Naomi, who was equally dissatisfied with the finishers’ token (especially after her longest ever cycle), but managing to drown her sorrows in an adult beverage.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

There wasn’t much to hang around for, so Ian and I mounted our bikes again, setting off through Edinburgh for his sister’s house, and Bruce rested up as he had decided he would cycle along the canal back to Glasgow (he made it back just before dark!).

Finally out of the saddle, I nursed my then-aching knee, and enjoyed a cold drink in the garden before cramming everything – with the skills of a Tetris master – back into Ian’s car for the drive home.

Overall, I can see this as being a good event for people who are new to cycling, or who want to build up confidence before a sportive, but the crowds and – I can’t lie – the lack of a medal at the end have put me off doing this event again in the future, especially with the number of events that are usually on during the same weekend.  I’m probably also highly critical because I am grumpy about the fact that Berlin marathon is this weekend, and it is the final race I had been signed up for that I will have to DNS.  Although I wish everyone I know (including Claudia, Dan, Rhona, and many others) the best of luck on Sunday, can somebody please give me the satisfaction of breaking their leg during the race?  I’m joking, obviously; I hope you all have a fantastic weekend.

Added bonus: For giggles, I’ve hidden bicycle brand names throughout this post.

Great Scottish Swim 5k 2015

Time: 1:45:33

Medal: Yes

IMG_20150903_162409After the Henley Bridge to Bridge, I took a lackadaisical approach to my ‘training’ for the Great Scottish Swim 5k. I figured I would treat it the same way I would treat a half marathon 3 weeks after an ultra: get in the pool once or twice to check the arms are OK, then reap the benefits of being accustomed to long distances. This was, I wholeheartedly admit, a bit of a mistake, but not the main reason my first open-water 5k turned into one of the biggest suffer-fests I’ve experienced. That, my friends, was all down to my arch-nemesis: the cold.

winterAlthough the actual event was prime nightmare material, the surrounding hours were actually quite pleasant. I was picked up by Roz at 10, and we swung by Aberdeen Sports Village to pick up Kevin, who was coaching at the track until 10:15. We enjoyed a myriad of classic tunes during the drive down (and back) courtesy of Kevin’s iphone and some freshly discovered 80’s and 90’s radio stations, and spirits were high as we neared Loch Lomond’s sunny shores.

Roz was swimming the 2 mile event, and we arrived dangerously close to her start time, so I was on hand as her personal changing assistant in the heated changing tent, dropping her off at her starting pen as the warm-up was ending. Kevin and I decided to head along the shore to get a decent view of the start, and about 20 minutes later failed spectacularly at spotting Roz amongst the thrashing arms, because everybody looks the same in a wetsuit and identical cap. Go figure.

After noticing how off-course some of the swimmers were veering thanks to the current, Kevin and I made a note to stick as close to the buoys as possible to avoid adding on any unnecessary distance to an already sizeable swim. As our wave was approaching, we heading to the changing tents and readied ourselves.

One thing I noticed when I was scanning the information booklet over breakfast was an ‘acclimatisation’ zone, which turned out to be the start, where all swimmers immersed themselves in the water to prepare themselves for the frosty conditions in the loch. Kevin did not hold back his laughter during my experience here, and I alternated between shivering and gasping for air as the cold water literally took my breath away. It was as though I had been transported back in time to the Arctic Enema from 2012’s Tough Mudder. It was fucking cold.

Back on dry land, I was so cold I didn’t even care how stupid I looked taking part in the warm-up, narrowly avoiding being taken out by someone wind-milling their arms in front of me. After the warm-up, a hush came over the wave as the male and female winner from the mile event earlier in the day wished us good luck, and counted us down, signalling for the shoal of swimmers to surge back towards the water.

To my surprise, it didn’t take too long to get over the shock from the cold – I guess acclimatization is effective – and I was soon able to get my head under the water and begin trying to dodge flailing arms and kicking legs (with limited success), quickly passing the Maid of the Loch. To my delight, visibility was much better than I was expecting! I could see swimmers up to about 6 feet away, which, in comparison to swimming in the Thames, is like being in a clean swimming pool. The water was a little choppy, but sticking to the buoys was easier than I was anticipating as well. Maybe this wasn’t going to be too bad after all.

Source: BBC

Source: BBC

The 5k route consisted of three laps around the buoys farthest away, and the first lap felt like a walk in the park. The second lap started off well as I found someone who matched my speed, and drafting off them for the first half of the lap, but they soon slowed and I was forced to do all the work again.

By the time the third lap arrived, I couldn’t feel my hands. Upon closer inspection, I realized that my limited control meant that I couldn’t even squeeze my fingers together (kind of essential for an efficient stroke) no matter how hard I tried. I had swallowed quite a lot of loch water, and the water had become quite a bit choppier than it had been at the start. My guts started threatening to eject my lunch, my mind was starting to become a little fuzzy, and the buoys seemed to be taking a lot longer to reach. My internal monologue was far from PG.

Although it felt closer to hours, the final 30 minutes of the swim were revolting. I resorted to counting my strokes in sets of 100, alternating between counting in English, Spanish, and Italian to try and ‘keep it interesting’. I tried to ignore the debilitating cold and started overtaking quite a few people before – finally – the bright orange buoys directing swimmers to the finish were within reach. I swam under the floating gantry, and then veered left toward the shore, and the official finish line.

When the water was shallow enough, I staggered, drunk, towards land, watching a woman ahead of me assisted out of the water by one of the lifeguards. Where’s my goddamn assistance?! I thought to myself; however Roz later told me that I looked in good nick compared to some of the people she saw approach the end. I crossed the timing mats, threw my chip into a bucket, and was handed my goody bag before finding Roz, who helped me find my foil blanket and wrap it around myself.

“How unflattering would you like this photo?”

– Photographer.

 

“11/10!” – me.

great scottish swim 5k finishOnce we found Kevin, we compared results. Kevin smashed his sub 1:30 goal, I was disappointed with my 1:45 after a sub 1:40 pool 5k, and Roz’s timing chip is somewhere in Loch Lomond, so it was a mixed bag. We could all agree, however, that a Dundee McDonald’s stop on the way home was non-negotiable, and tucking into my quarter pounder with cheese tasted just as good as the last time I indulged in one – with Elaine after the Dundee marathon.

Although I’ll probably be back to try and pick up a faster result next year, I will happily go on record saying that I would prefer to swim 14k in one of the UK’s filthiest rivers than anywhere, no matter how clean, that requires the use of thermal gloves.