I have quite a lot of silly ideas. Many of them work out well and I end up having some fun adventures. Occasionally, I have a silly idea which is actually a really rather stupid idea.
Last year I did a fair bit of cycling, and successfully managed the Etap Caledonia, 80 miles with a few mean hills. However, I didn’t do much cycling after that, avoiding the bike before the wedding due to the likelihood of falling off, and then staying off it during the winter as I’m very much a fair-weather cyclist. Although the nicer weather has arrived I haven’t really got back into the cycling, with only a couple of short cycles on the railway line under my belt. So naturally it seemed like an awesome idea to enter the cycling sportive associated with the Stonehaven beer festival.
There were three options; the Undo (52 miles), Redo (70 miles) and the Dinaedo (100 miles). Here I did make a sensible decision, and entered the shortest option of the Undo. Being a kind and generous soul, I signed both my mum and dad up too. While I was vaguely aware that the route went over the Cairn o’Mount, despite having heard various cycling friends talk about it before, I didn’t fully register the implications of this.
In a bit of a panic as I started to realise what I had done, I headed out for a couple of rides with my dad. 11 miles along the flat railway line – I was sorted! On the Tuesday before the ride I even cycled from the railway line up to my dad’s- three miles of gentle uphill- to drop my bike with him, so surely I was totally ready for the challenge ahead!
I was offshore on the Wednesday to Friday so didn’t do much exercise, hoping that a bit of rest would also help. When I landed on the Friday I headed straight to the pub for a cider or three, but stopped early, aware that any kind of hangover would categorically not help! Although dad had registered us already, and we were heading off in one of the later waves, we were keen to get to Stonehaven in good time as parking would be at a premium, so it was another early start.
Mum had a similar lack of training under her belt as me, so we decided that we would stick together and let dad go off ahead of us (partly so that he could get finished and come rescue us if we decided we had bitten off more than we could chew!).
It seemed like half the population of Aberdeen were at the start, and I couldn’t move anywhere for bumping into people I knew. Comments included “I didn’t know you cycled!” and “didn’t expect to see you at an event on two wheels”. Which says it all really…!
It was already very warm, and I was glad that I was in shorts and t-shirt. I was already starting to regret my bag though- I tend to carry a little running backpack on the bike with my phone, layers, food, and in this case a wee pump. Generally very sensible, but does make for a sweaty back. In the event, I had absolutely no need for the layers, but I did need the food, so although it would have been more pleasant without it, it was worth it.
Soon enough it was time to head to the start. I was nervous about starting with so many cyclists around me, but they were splitting everyone up into quite small waves which helped. Unfortunately they were only giving out the emergency number at this point, and as I scrabbled to try to write it quickly in my phone, one of the volunteers was telling me to move forward, so I missed the number. It certainly would have been helpful to have that made available in advance!
We set off right at the back of a small group, and negotiated the fairly narrow turn out of the park. We turned straight into a gentle uphill, and immediately towards a red light- luckily it changed to green just before I had to stop! It was only now that I started to get nervous about the traffic aspect- the Etap was on closed roads and although I’ve done a few cycle commutes, I’m still very wary of busy roads.
Very quickly, things got very hard! We turned straight onto a pretty mean hill. I tried to remind myself that I have cycled hills before and I just need to get into gear and grind it out. I was still only in the middle ring of three, and it was a comfort to know I had more gears available if I needed them. A few cyclists were passing here as later waves were released, and there was also quite a lot of traffic. I had a scary moment as a car with a horse box passed me when it didn’t really have enough room, and as it swung back in the horse box seemed to come very close to me. At first I thought I was just being a nervous cyclist, but somebody behind me cried out and as they passed me they asked if I was okay, so I knew I wasn’t being totally lame to have got a bit of a fright.
I had pulled away from mum on the hill, so when the route levelled off and the opportunity arrived, I pulled over and waited for her. She wasn’t far behind, and she went past me on the downhill. This remained our tactic for the rest of the day- she’s quicker on the flat and the downs, I’m quicker on the ups, so we would just go at our own pace then wait for each other every so often.
Although I knew the Cairn o’Mount was the big climb and came just before halfway, there were some cruel hills even before then. Still, it was a gorgeous day. We thought we were probably last, and there wasn’t anybody around us, but the route was beautiful and we were in no hurry. The beauty of the roads being open, and the fact there was a 100-mile option, meant there was no time pressure on us to finish. It was lovely just being out in the countryside with mum.
There was a food stop at about 17 miles (maybe?), and we stopped for some snacks and to refill our water bottles. The food stations were excellent, and as I knew the tough bit was approaching I wanted to make sure I was well fuelled. We took our time then headed off again, quite quickly turning up a short but very steep hill. I didn’t have any gears left on that one! I joked to mum “maybe that was the cairn!” as we both recovered our breath afterwards.
And then it was the Cairn. It starts reasonably gently, with some nice downhill too, and then it really starts! The first big climb is 12%. I was immediately in my lowest gear, and having to grind it out. And then my bloody Garmin went onto auto-pause- the ultimate offence to my speed! I wasn’t far from the top but I was scared of falling off, so in the end I did get off and push. I could see mum behind me also pushing. The route then levelled out and I was able to get going again, though my legs were already quite jelly like. A little further on there was another hill and when I saw the 14% sign I must admit I swore out loud. A guy I know from work passed me here and I told him I thought I might die.
Little did I know how much more there was to come. I will admit I had to get off and push a couple more times (and here I did regret my heavy hybrid!). But I was walking at a fair clip, passing other people who were walking and probably going quicker than I would have been able to cycle. Of course the problem is once you get off, it’s very hard to get going again on any kind of incline, so I probably pushed on some bits I could normally have cycled. It was also quite blustery and exposed, and a few times I was blown around a little which was scary. I decided at this point that anybody doing the Redo (or indeed the Dinaedo) which involves not only this climb, but then coming back up and over again from the other side) must be genuinely mentally deficient.
Then finally, it was the top. I gulped down some water and a few jelly babies. I couldn’t see mum behind me, but I knew she would catch me soon enough, and I just wanted the descent over with. There’s not much to say other than I hated every minute. I was absolutely terrified, and spent the whole time glued to my brakes. It didn’t help that cyclists were coming back up the other side, and there was a fair bit of traffic.
I finally reached the bottom with hands, arms and back sore from my terror grip and legs like absolute jelly. I dropped my bike and headed for some food, passing some Metros on the way. I informed them of my mentally deficient theory.
Mum arrived soon after and we grabbed some more water and food. It was nice to know we were just over halfway with the toughest bit behind us. I knew there was another short steep hill shortly after this food stop, but had decided that it was an easy ride after that. I didn’t quite make it up that hill without having to push- I would normally have managed but my legs were just absolutely mashed. I have never felt anything quite like the burning in my quads I felt that day!
There did then follow some lovely shaded bits of the route- it was really warm so it was lovely to get out of the sun for a bit. I was sore and tired and it seemed like a long way still to go. At about 30 miles I started to feel a real bonk coming on, so I stopped and rammed some caramel and jelly babies in my gob. I did it too fast and spent the next few miles feeling sick, but once the food had settled I did feel much better for it. As we approached 40 miles I knew there wasn’t much more than an hour left, and just hoped there were no more bad hills. I got chatting to a girl who said she thought there might be a wee slug sting in the tail. She was doing another 52 mile ride the next day so she was crazier than me!
Mum was well ahead of me at this point, as I descended the hills like a nervous old lady. With 10 miles left, as we approached a left turn, I saw her sitting at the side of the road with another girl standing next to her. I hoped she was just having a rest, but it didn’t look good. As I stopped the girl told me that she had fallen off, and I saw her grazed knee and elbow. She was understandably a bit shaken, so I force fed her some water and sugar while we found tissues for her grazes. At this point I cursed the fact I didn’t have the emergency number. In a fit of optimism we had texted dad to tell him to have a beer while he waited for us and mum would drive home. Luckily when I phoned him, he hadn’t had a drink, so he was able to come get us. I didn’t know exactly where we were but was able to direct him reasonably and it was only another 20 minutes or so until he arrived, just as one of the motorbike marshals also turned up- though we were able to send him on his way, it was comforting that he did arrive. It was also great that every single person that passed us as we were stopped at the road side (and there were quite a few- we weren’t as close to last as we thought!) asked if we were okay and needed any assistance.
Once dad had arrived I quite quickly headed off, keen to get the last 10 miles done. It wasn’t long before I realised that I was on the Stonehaven half marathon route, and it was nice to recognise where I was (and know that it was mostly downhill from here!). I did have one scary moment where I nearly skidded trying to avoid some gravel, and it was very lonely, but I knew it was less than an hour to go which was a big boost. Turning onto the slug road was a little scary but luckily it wasn’t too busy with traffic.
In the last few miles, cyclists started to pass me and I realised it was the guys doing the longer cycle. They had cycled twice as far as I had and yet still flew past me! But I was so nearly there. I cycled down that first mean hill that you run up in the half, and negotiated the sharp left hand turn at the bottom of the hill. As I passed the road that heads into Minerwall park, I saw a “caution cyclists” sign and started to worry that I had missed a turn. The road was busy with cars and I could see no signs. I reached the small roundabout and followed the arrows left, then panicked even more as I turned onto the road we had started on, thinking I had somehow missed the finish and was back on the start of the route!
Luckily there was then a left turn soon after this, and as I turned into that road I saw a marshal indicating into the field where we had started, and I was flooded with relief. With just under 52 miles on the Garmin, I rolled over the finish, then lay my bike down and collapsed on the ground next to my friend Vicky, who captured the moment perfectly.
When I had recovered enough to get my phone out, I was astounded to read a message from my dad that mum was back on her bike and determined to finish. Only around ten minutes after I finished, she arrived, in significant pain and no doubt still some shock, but (just about) in one piece.
We headed for the beer tent, where mum was taken away by the paramedics and patched up, while I used both my token and hers to get a couple of glasses of my favourite elderflower cider- I’m not sure anything has ever tasted quite so good. I also caught up with a few friends which was lovely, but once mum was ready to go I was keen to know she was home safe so I headed off with her and dad.
I totally failed to do anything productive that evening except drink prosecco, eat lots of food, and bask in the glory of having completed one of the toughest challenges I have faced. Yes it was very stupid to attempt that route on no training, but I did it!
The final word goes to my amazing mum. After a night of agony, she headed to A&E on Sunday morning, where an x-ray revealed that she had broken her collar bone. To get back on her bike and finish those last 10 miles quicker than I did was just amazing. And despite what we thought, we were not last- there were a few people as much as half an hour behind us, even with the half hour stop waiting for dad.
Turns out that maybe I get my crazy stubborn streak from her after all!