Medal: No, but again, we got a commemorative beer glass (and beer token), t-shirt, and goody bag
Having originally signed up to do the redo route for a second time, I had my arm twisted by Ny (top 5 cycling friend) to trade down do the 52 mile, still hilly, route on offer instead. I then assisted in twisting Roz’s arm (who is also easily one of my top 5 cycling friends), into dropping to the shorter distance as well. My need to beat my time from 2015 paled in comparison to my memory of how desperate I felt in the final 20 miles of last year’s monster, and a social Saturday cycle was born!
Saturday morning arrived, and we found ourselves at the train station milling about with several other lycra clad humans. Before we even got on the train, Ny managed to stumble and fall onto the platform floor, much to the amusement of anyone with a pulse. Thankfully we safely boarded the train without any further incidents (apart from an unimpressed tutting at the number of bikes being loaded onto it), and found a table. What could have been an average 15 minute train journey turned into an event in itself when Roz’s husband James, upon hearing the train would be passing by their house, leapt from his slumber to wave us off ceremoniously!
Once in Stonehaven, we followed everyone else to the beer tent and queued up to register. The event was much bigger than it was last year, and registering took a while (but allowed me to catch up with a few people I hadn’t seen in a while), and eventually we were kitted out with our numbers and timing chips, and made our way to the sea of cyclists shuffling slowly towards to start line.
We were let off in waves, being briefed as we approached the start. After clear instructions, we were off. And, just like last year, up. Ny shot on ahead a bit, and Roz and I chugged steadily up the first climb. Eventually, we caught up to Ny, who had tucked in behind a Stonehaven CC rider who was providing a sweet tow. We tucked in behind them and stuck with the group for the first wee while, but eventually we found ourselves climbing the Garrol as a threesome. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this climb felt almost easy, especially considering last year I would climb it – with quite some exertion – in my easiest gear. This seems like as good a time as any to include the route profile:
We stopped at the top of the hill for some flapjack, and bike seat adjustments, and were shortly joined by Katherine. Then it was flying downhill, past Knockburn Loch, and creeping closer and closer to the AA box that marked the start of the big climb.
And then? It was upon us. The grunting started and the chatting stopped as we climbed our first steep section, only to lose all the height we’d just gained before the main climb. Agreeing to meet at the top for a photo, we all settled into our own rhythm and got stuck in. Ny made it to the top, with me and Katherine close behind, and Roz just slightly further back. As if to acknowledge our mighty feat, Mother Nature split the clouds and we basked in sunlight and glory at the summit of Cairn o’ Mount!
Unfortunately for our legs, this only marked the halfway point, distance-wise, of our cycle, so we began the white-knuckle descent, during which I maxed out at an eye-watering 43.4mph. As a reward for our efforts, there was an aid station at the bottom, and we filled up on water and snacks before setting off again into an immediate incline that made our thighs question their ability to get us to the beer!
Thankfully the jelly legs were only temporary, and we soldiered on to the Undo turnoff, giving the marshal a little cheer as we began our homeward journey. Though not exactly hilly in comparison to the first half, the second half was not flat, and we took it in turns drafting off each other as we were all starting to struggle.
I managed to get a second wind, however, when I realized we were on the (old) Stonehaven half marathon route, and I calculated that we only had about 6 miles left, and that they were predominantly downhill. The second wind gained momentum when I saw female riders up ahead on the Slug Road descent, and I took an extended turn at the front, before Roz eventually took over on the home straight.
We crossed the line finishing in 7th, 8th, and 9th female, and Katherine was not long behind in 10th. Not bad for a day’s work! We parked up our bikes and got our goody bags, beer glasses, t-shirts, and beer token, then parking up at a table with our adult beverages and food van lunch.
Our original plan was to stick about at the beer tent for a few hours and mingle before cycling back to the train station, but our free drink was pretty much our limit and we had to phone for very much appreciated pick-up assistance.
Overall, the weather was kind, and I’m glad I was talked into the shorter distance. I was much faster on all the sections I covered than I was last year (and felt much stronger), and more importantly, I wasn’t alone this time, but surrounded by good friends.