I could hear them collected in the dead ground; I’d been pushing, carrying, dragging my pride and joy up the “hike a bike”.
I’m 6 hrs (20 miles) in to the 43mile route; I’m sick from my dirty camelback, tired from a 2 am finish and 6 am start, hungover from a lovely Dalwhinie, 5 stone over weight from my mis-spent twenties, crestfallen, ashamed, exposed but I am still moving, still trying to make it to mile 43 I wouldn’t give up. I needed to have the decision taken from me, for me.
The coven of trials motor bike and quad mounted marshals called me over.
“You are the last rider on the course”
“you have not made the cut off”
“I’m sorry but for your safety and the safety of my marshals; your race is over.”
It was a relief to hear it.
What followed was my only ride on a quad bike I never enjoyed to the BBQ at the Bothy at Lairig Leacach.
I walked down in to the stream away from the other 5 souls who’d been shamed in to getting the minibus home and stared up through tears at Stob Coire Easain.
The craic on the minibus was great we shared jelly babies and regret at too many days and nights wasted on the couch “preparing” for this failure.
My Orange 5 Mountain Bike was retired to the garage, my shame, my failure hung from the handlebars. My race number pinned to the garage wall upside down as a reminder.
I’m 33, We’re about to have our first child. I thought I was a mountain biker, I thought I would manage TdBN, I thought my weight was not a problem;
“Well you know what thought did……..”
I felt low; As low as I had done when after preparing to do Lands End to John O’Groats and been run over and failed my Army Selection at age 23.
Back then my dad had bought me a turbo trainer which I had tried and hated so never used. It was still there, in the garage, collecting dust and rags and tripping me up when I was trying to find something. I still had my Bianchi road bike which I had done about 50 miles per year (average in 10 years).
I set it up and found Sufferfest. Dropped 20kg through diet and horrible garage workouts in front of the tiny computer screen. Using Recommended Perceived Exertion (no HRM to start with). I sweated and steamed my way through their 12 week plan (and the paint on the garage floor) hitting about 60% of the workouts.
My goal was to lose weight, what came as an aside was a realisation real rides outside had gotten much easier I had a desire and ability to get out of the saddle and climb like my friends. And they noticed!
4 weeks after Anders arrived I was still managing a mix of rides and turbo sessions.
My friends offered me a place on a sportive round a Loch where a monster lived.
I made a phone call the night before, giddy with anticipation which ended with me estimating my finishing time and being told “Ha, you reckon, we’ll see!”
Still fresh in my mind was my failure. The doubt and the shame led me to ride on my own.
3hrs 40 minutes. Quite respectable.
Fast forward 3 years, I’m a roadie with a mountainbike monkey on my back. My biking friend and coach, Jon, had convinced me to stop attributing fault to the equipment used on TdBN 2014. I rode my Five a few times, spent my summer getting (60% effort) miles in on the road bike. Spent 2 months converting road miles in to epic mountain bike training. 4 x 5 hr+ rides with similar elevation to TdBN. Overcoming mechanical foibles of neglected equipment punished by the local terrain. Completed a Mental Training Programme, reducing the likelihood of mental sabotage in training and event day.
We’re in a hotel room, 10 miles from the start line. Alexandra, Anders, Magnus and me.
Alexandra looks guilty, concerned they are sabotaging my start by disturbing my perfect rest before the ride. (Jon says it’s the best endurance training you can do!). Quite the contrary, I need them there. Anders’ first word was bike. Alexandra knows what this means to me. They weren’t here last time. We got as close to a perfect rest as parents of a 4 month and 30 month boys get.
A large bowl of porridge and the usual dining room carryon with a toddler passes and we get in the car with the Steel “Rat Bike” hanging off the back.
I’m a 3 year roadie and sportive veteran, the 0945 start time is laid back and comfortable. My family, Jon and new bike buddy Hels dispel my self-doubt here and nothing left to do but start.
My Goal was 5:30:00 as it had to be a SMART goal so needed a finishing time.
So the initial climb out of Ft Bill was as hard as I remembered but i also remember pushing a lot more of it than i did this year. I needed your restraint regards effort at this point and it worked.
I arrived at the DH ready to make some points! my chain fell off and mech went inside out on itself I thought it was "DONE!". Then I encountered the casualty in the woods, i think i lost 4 minutes overall but, BUT, for the second time riding it i cleaned it without a puncture which i think says something about fitness and technique!!!!(on a hardtail!).
The next climb after the stop was uneventful, notably I could not hear the quad bike of shame, but when we got alongside the loch I thought I had a nice spinny drag coming but my core ached and my arms got worse as I went along as I was leaning all my weight on the bars, still can’t hear the quad bike of shame. Jon’s up ahead.
I was glad of arriving at the river crossing as I knew I was making progress, no quad bike of shame but a good line of 15 riders tailing me and Jon’s close by, encouraging.
I knew the “hike a bike” was achievable as I have done similar in all my preparation rides leading up to Saturday. Descending off it was even better. Riding away from other riders who could not ride down it was amazing (considering I had no back brake). Quad bike can’t do hike a bike and I still can’t hear it. I’m past the point I was swept up last time.
I thought I might have a moment at the Bothy; it did not come, I shared banter and hydration tablets with other weary riders.
The climb away from the Bothy was tough. The descent from there was hilarious though with no back brake. Quad can’t catch me now.
I had not anticipated such a slog from Lenachan along. It was more than boring. Again, my lack of a core was massively holding me back as my lungs and legs would have taken more of the same!
“I’ve got some bad news………….”
“You’re tired, good news is there is nothing you can do about it and all you can do is finish it now!”
The witches’ trails, once we were descending were more exciting with only a front brake.
We exited the witches trails to the cycle path to Ft. Willian, the distillery, The Finish. Jon, the master of pace making, dug in and span a solid 40kph with me on his wheel we were flying.
“Go on Pedro, you take this.”
A shake of hands and we crossed together, I finished an epic, with a guy capable of winning it outright. With a friend. No quad bike, they never caught me!
My family standing on the line, all happy to see me cross the line.
When I got off the bike at distillery I would never have done it again.
Since then I have become much more reflective.
If I was 20kg lighter, if i had a stronger core, if I had a rear brake. If I had a 29er…..
SO I'm looking for a long travel 29er hardtail now. And will be back next year!