Time: 5:58:20 [RESULTS]
After Etape Loch Ness – and my fastest ride ever – I was looking forward to seeing further improvements at the Etape Caledonia, an 81 mile cycle starting and finishing in Pitlochry. Roz and Ny, who had also signed up, were staying near the start, but Ian and I were crashing at his friend Dylan’s flat in Perth, where pizza, beer, and a later-than-we-had-planned night of film watching was the harbinger of ill-fortune.
After a restful 4 hour sleep, and too tired to eat breakfast, Ian and I grumpily got ready, packed up, and set off for Pitlochry, and the field set aside for participant parking. Without a rack, our bikes had been dismantled and tetris’d into the back of the car, so we Ian had to assemble them once we had parked. We then found Bruce and his friend, and Ian chatted to them while I joined the lengthy portaloo queue. A quick check of my phone saw messages from Roz and Ny who had managed to get into wave B, but with an even quicker check of the time I realized I wouldn’t be joining them.
Following a less-than-pleasant portaloo session, I re-joined Ian, Bruce and his friend, and we set off for the C wave holding pen, joining the swarm of lycra-clad bodies funneling towards the main road, hopping on our bikes, and crossing the start line. My heart sank as I realized my legs were not feeling fresh.
Even considering how I was feeling from the beginning, it’s hard not to appreciate the views you get along the route, which begins with a few climbs before running alongside Loch Tummel, circling Loch Rannoch, skirting the summit of Schiehallion, descending into Glen Lyon for a quick loop, then heading back to Pitlochry along both the Tay river, and, for the second time, River Tummel.
One of the main differences from the very start between Loch Ness and Caledonia was that everyone seemed to be riding on their own, or in pairs. There were no larger groups to latch onto and draft, and when we did pick someone to ride behind, the speed was never consistent; one minute we’d be pushing to keep up, the next I’d be braking to make sure I didn’t clip their back wheel. We soon found that it was much less stressful to go at our own pace, and avoid the other riders.
Before too long we were approaching the first feed station. Although still not hungry, the portaloo beckoned once again, so towards yet another queue I journeyed while Ian filled up on snacks (I think there were bananas and energy bars). 20 miles down. 61 to go.
The next 20 miles were reasonably flat alongside Loch Rannoch, and went by without incident. Ian, who had only been out on his bike 3 times this year, was starting to remember the pain that a saddle can bring, and so we stopped at the second feed station for some pressure relief. Knowing that the climb was beginning soon, I had some dark chocolate covered marzipan and half a banana before re-mounting my trusty steed and setting off again.
I had already been told that Schiehallion was nowhere near as difficult as the climb at Loch Ness, which was just as well considering my legs felt like dead weights. Crossing the timing chips, I had no energy to try to keep up with Ian, and just decided to rejoin him at the top of the KOM section. Ten minutes after losing sight of him, I saw him up ahead, waiting at the side of the road, and although the main climb was over, we still had a bit more uphill to go to the feed station at the ‘top’.
As is customary, the bagpipes were playing to mark the summit, and we stopped briefly to fill up our water bottles before the long-anticipated 5 mile descent into Glen Lyon, before a gently undulating loop, where I cycled past Naomi on her mountain bike (!!), then onto the final feed station. There was one sight that offered a chuckle along this section:
We stopped at the final feed station to have a stretch, and then gingerly hopped back onto the bikes for the final slog. The forecast was also finally starting to get things right, as the sun broke through the clouds and things started getting warm enough (23 degrees) that I was regretting my two long-sleeved thermal tops (and waterproof jacket). By the last 10 miles, everything apart from my legs was in agony, and I just wanted to be finished. To my utter dismay, the last 10 miles consists of a few nasty climbs, and at one point I was near tears simply because I couldn’t seem to get my water bottle into its cage.
Finally, a caravan site we had noticed when we started came into view and I knew we had nearly finished. The clock was ticking, and realizing we could still dip under 6 hours, I pushed hard – uphill – for the final stretch, crossing the line with Ian.
We caught Bruce at the finish, but after we got our medal and handed back our timing chips, we decided just to get going, as I was feeling pretty broken. I even turned down a cold beer in the sunshine for the opportunity to get home, get showered, and get into bed as quickly as possible.
Although the weather was perfect and the course was beautiful, it just wasn’t my day. Maybe next year? I also think I could do with a proper bike fit, as I wouldn’t wish the pain I experienced on my worst enemy.