Time: 6:33:56 [Results]
Medal: No, but all finishers received free entry to the beer festival, a commemorative glass, one beer token, a t-shirt, and a goody bag.
About a month ago, an event popped up on Facebook that piqued my interest, but I soon forgot about it because I didn’t want to enter another event that I wouldn’t make. I have DNS’s every single race I was entered in for in 2015 so far, and apart from the colossal waste of money, it feels like you’re missing out on something even more if you’d actually planned to take part. I’ve stopped scrolling through pages of event listings late at night because there’s just no point. I’ve basically become normal.
Last week, somebody posted a link to the entry page, and a group of girls I know from Fleet Feet were talking about entering and riding as a group. The event? A 72 mile cycle sportive starting and ending in Stonehaven, taking in the ominous Cairn o’Mount – twice.
Before anything had been confirmed, I thought I’d get the ball rolling and signed up. Having never tackled Cairn o’Mount before, I thought what better way to do so than doing it twice in a row? Unfortunately, it soon became clear that everyone who had been talking about it was busy, so I
bullied coerced Claudia into signing up, as she’s training for Ride the North and I thought it would appeal to her. Also, she’s one of the few people crazy enough to sign up to a 72 mile sportive on a whim.
Fast forward to Saturday morning, and it was clear from the deadpan greeting, the heavy sighs, and cold, hateful glares that Claudia was ecstatic that I had convinced her this was a good idea. This and the heavy rain lashing down around us as we secured the bikes to the rack on the back of her car couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I wasn’t going to DNS today!!
We arrived in Stonehaven just after 9, and registered amongst very professional looking male cyclists in club gear with tan lines that told of tough days out on the bikes. And then we saw Phil Mann, armed with whiskey miniatures, and knew that all was right in the world again. He asked us if we’d ridden over Cairn o’Mount many times before, and we both said ‘Never’. He just laughed at us, because he understands our kind. This is a man who ran Amsterdam marathon last year, stopping for a pint every 10k or so. He finished drunk.
Just before 10, we met at the start point. Phil had some whiskey. Claudia accepted some whiskey. I declined the whiskey because I do not share drinking receptacles, and whiskey tastes about as good as nail polish remover smells like it would taste. I was comforted when the marshal confirmed that the sweep vehicle was not of the ‘pull-slow-riders-off-the-course’ variety, but more the ‘we-are-here-if-things-go-badly-wrong’ type.
There was a low-key countdown before our wave set off. And up. I think now is a relatively good time to include the elevation profile:
Claudia and I got off to a steady start, but I was already in my lowest gear leaving Stonehaven, which did not bode well. Curse you, compact chainset! Cresting the top of the first hill was delightful, as was the subsequent downhill section. The second hill was fine as well, as I’ve cycled it several times before and knew what to expect. It’s a steady, but not steep, climb to the stone circle at the top, and then a smooth descent past Knockburn Loch. After this, however, it was into the unknown.
The roads were undulating for a while here and soon we were upon the Glen Dye AA box, where Claudia and I decided we should have a quick stop to eat something. I had half a chia charge bar, a swig of my water, and was set to go. It was about this time some of the faster wave riders had started to overtake us, with sickening ease. Before long, Claudia and I were paddling in their wake.
Shortly after reaching the snow gates, Claudia told me to go on ahead as she was having issues with her gears. I told her I would meet her at the top. And so it began – the long, arduous task of climbing Cairn o’Mount. There were two or three fairly steep sections requiring some out-of-the-saddle action, but overall, it was just a steady slog uphill, and I reached the summit without having to push my bike.
As it was windy and cold, and I couldn’t see Claudia on the road below anywhere, I decided to press on to the aid station and wait for her there. The downhill section was a mixture of excitement and butt-clenching terror, reaching a top speed of 42.9mph despite liberal brake application throughout. At one point, I squeezed on the brakes to no apparent effect, but the slop was vertical at this point, so I’m not really surprised. Despite my life being in grave danger at this point, all I could think was Holy shit, I’m going to have to cycle back up this thing soon.
Thankfully, I survived to the bottom, only to be met by a very sharp left hand turn, and a very steep (12% I think) short hill to wake the legs up after their brief vacation. The road continued to undulate as I looked expectantly for the aid station. After about 10 miles, a white tent came into view. It was surrounded by lycra-clad men and road bikes lying in the grass. I texted Claudia to ask how she was getting on and let her know where I was, then gave myself about ten minutes to have the other half of my chia charge bar and half a banana, as well as re-fill one of my water bottles and chuck in an electrolyte tab. There was a restaurant with facilities to use, but with no sign from Claudia, I opted to just get on with it. I had one last big stretch, and hopped onto the bike for round 2.
From the base of Cairn o’Mount we took a circular route via Auchenblae, and the section after the refreshment stop was much flatter in the approach to the base of the climb. It was a gentle way to re-heat the legs in preparation for the task ahead. And then it was upon me.
From the start you are met with some fairly steep inclines, and my butt was out of the seat from the word go. I was struggling so much I had to dismount and start walking for the few seconds it took me to realize I wasn’t actually in my lowest gear. Dumbass. I saddled up, clipped in, and set off again, at a crushing speed of about 4mph. This was definitely the steeper side and even the riders in club gear looked like they were cycling through molasses.
The only saving grace was the fact that you could see the parking section near the summit, so you had a visual idea of how much farther you had to go. There was also someone paragliding, which provided approximately 3 seconds worth of distraction from the heavy legwork.
WHY IS THERE NO LOWER GEAR?!?!
I’m not even ashamed to admit that just before I reached the Parking area near the top I was in danger of going so slowly I would topple over, so I dismounted again and pushed the final steep section. Thankfully, I was not alone. At the top, I decided to take a quick photo since there was no wind, and it was actually kind of warm.
I also noticed that Claudia had replied with: On my way to Stonehaven. I interpreted this as: I have passed the refreshment area and am on the return leg. I gave an enthusiastic reply, and said I’d see her at the finish. And then I enjoyed the lovely, lovely downhill section of the not-so-steep side of Cairn o’Mount. Bliss.
The section up until Knockburn Loch is a bit of a blur, and for a moment I thought I had zoned out and missed a turn-off as I hadn’t seen any riders in ages. But then I saw a poppy that I had noticed on the outward journey, and knew I was on track. I stopped for a photo, and a few riders went by, so I felt a bit better.
The penultimate hill felt tougher than it should have. By this point I had cycled 50+ miles, and my shoulders were starting to ache (of all things). The penultimate descent was bittersweet; I was grateful for a bit of a rest, but also fully aware that I had the Slug road left to conquer before I could really relax.
Sure enough, the Slug road was a lot tougher than when I’ve cycled it with relatively fresh legs, and at one point I pulled over to check the map on my phone to see just how much farther I had before I reached the finish (about 7 miles, apparently). It was at this point I noticed a message from Claudia: I’m at Stonehaven. This wasn’t a good sign. I let her know I was about to hit the last downhill section on the Slug road, and that I’d see her soon.
FINALLY, I hit the top, and the view of the sea in the distance meant one thing: it was all downhill from here! I was in my heaviest gear, desperate to get to Stonehaven and enjoy a cold adult beverage. The war memorial came into view. I’m not even lying, I shed a tear, I was so happy. ‘Welcome to Stonehaven’ flashed by on the left, I was in town, there were houses around me, there was the festival, nearly at the finish! Two left hand turns to go! One! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand, done!
I stayed on my bike and cycled right to the entrance of the beer tent, floating by people queuing to get in. I ditched my bike, handed in my number, got my glass, and – perhaps most importantly – my beer token, and headed straight for the bar.
There was a colossal range of beer on offer, and I know zero about craft beer other than I generally don’t like it. It was busy, and one of the guys at the bar started chatting to me while we were waiting. He asked how far I had cycled, how long it had taken me, and seemed genuinely impressed. I told him I had just finished and was keen to spend my free beer token on a well earned, and much anticipated drink. And then, when one of the bartenders came over to us, that son-of-a-bitch ordered himself a drink. When a bartender finally got round to me, all I could respond with was, “I don’t care, something refreshing and cold,” when asked what I wanted. Whatever she picked, it was a fabulous choice. I think it was something fruity, it was definitely cold, and it was very crisp.
I found Claudia, limping, and found out that during a gear change, her chain came off and she had taken a tumble. She was covered in bruises, swelling, and disappointment. She told me how she had made it to the aid station, and then opted to bypass Cairn o’Mount a second time, and take a shorter, flatter route back to Stonehaven, eventually getting picked up by one of the marshals and taken to the finish with a couple of others. She did say that there were a few people who opted to skip Cairn o’Mount for a second time by taking the more direct route back. Having passed the sign saying ‘Stonehaven – 12′, I’ll admit I understand the temptation!
It’s now the morning after, and, to my surprise, my legs feel fine. My shoulders and triceps are a bit stiff, and I’m working on some bitchin’ tan lines, but other than that, it looks like, despite no endurance running for months, I can still hack 6+ hours on the go without paying for it the next day, which is encouraging.