King Of The Pensioners

I’m sat in Inverness late on a Friday night, with the Ride 2 Cure bike in the back of the motor, checking out Strava segments on the brute of a climb up from Fort Augustus, thirty miles south west of here. I’m on a two night stopover before I head over to Aberdeen on Sunday for the launch of the Eileidh Rose Puddles Project, and I’m seriously contemplating attacking the King Of The Pensioners records on that hill tomorrow morning…

I remember the hill so vividly the first time we met. It was about 22 years ago, before Jane and I were married, and I’d chucked my Flying Scot road bike in the back of the car. Jane was living in Inverness at the time and I was in East Kilbride: “why have you brought your bike?” was the opening gambit. “I thought I might cycle round Loch Ness” replied I. “I thought you’d come to see me”. “I have: I’m planning on going out at 5am”.

So I did: 67 miles. I remember it like it was yesterday. I shot down the busy side (the A82) with virtually zero traffic and got to Fort Augustus about half seven in the morning. I’d studied the OS map so I knew there was a bit of a climb, but I was shocked when I got on it. I was fit back then, like fit enough to cycle from my house in Stewarton to my work in Cathcart, 17 miles away, up and over the Fenwick Muir, in 42 minutes. But that hill out of Fort Augustus did for me that day, and therein lies it’s attraction. Maybe my gearing was wrong, as in set too high for the climb, but the only way I managed to get up that blessed hill was to zig zag backwards and forwards across the road: and that painful memory of almost being defeated has remained with me ever since. You see adversity either makes you, or it breaks you.

The background to this crazy notion lies in the fact that since I got my pension, I’ve been hoovering up King Of The Pensioners records on Strava, but rather than go for the simple flat stuff where you just go eyeballs out as fast as you can, I head for the hills: I want the challenges that really, really, really hurt. I want to recreate the pain of fell running on two wheels for old time’s sake.

And it’s working…

I’ve got a new feature request in with the Strava people for a matrix report on your dashboard: a list of all the segments that you’re featured on down the left hand side, and all of the age group categories across the top: then in the intersecting cells, I want to see my position and time relative to a the other guys. I don’t want to have to trawl through every segment on the planet to discover that I currently own 40 King Of The Pensioners (KOTP), I want it there, in summary form, so I can decide quickly who’s getting knocked off the top of the leaderboard next.

Someone once said to me that if you want to consider yersel’ a mountain climber on a bike, then you have to do the Bealach Na Ba pass between Kishorn and Applecross: it’s a five mile climb to 2,300ft from sea level, then it drops back to sea level on the other side. Jane and I were on holiday in Skye in 1996, the year I’d trained for Aberdeen to Glasgow (in ten hours), so I asked for a wee detour on the way home. Having climbed the hill from the Kishorn side, I dutifully scoffed a sandwich, had a drink, then did it in reverse fifteen minutes later. A notch on the cycling bedpost.

So back to tomorrow…

This week was already set up to be a crazy challenge because (a) I started it on 27×200 (b) Don’t be a Wum (c) this has been the hottest June week on record in Scotland.

So I front loaded the week, knowing that tomorrow would give me at least 55, with Sunday off as a recovery day. But then Big Lardy messaged me on Monday and asked if I could get Thursday off: he and Kev had swung their work schedules so they could go cycling and I suggested Arran. Kev (the Lawman) hadn’t been back since he ran first leg south for Cumbernauld AAC in the Arran relay over thirty years ago. Lardy didn’t know what awaited him.

The first executive decision of any hardy traveller planning to cycle round Arran is this: “left or right off the boat?”

It sounds so simple: believe me, it isn’t.

If you go left, you get the chance to kill your legs for 25 miles because only about a mile of it is flat. The other 24 are excruciatingly up or down. That gets you to Blackwaterfoot and a relatively simple ride up to Lochranza where the beast awaits. 40 miles in, you get the biggest, longest climb on the island and it’s a bastard. To be frank, I didn’t fancy it: I did it that way (clockwise) two years ago and I cooked on that hill under a blazing sun.

Yesterday was hotter by a distance.

So the three of us turned right off the boat and meandered our way at a steady 15mph until we hit the first climb at Sannox: 3.5 miles of pain: the reverse of the Lochranza hill off a less steep gradient. KOTP was around 17 minutes so I set my stall out by stopping for a pish at the foot of the climb, then legging it after the other two: and I’ll be honest with you, I thought I’d bagged it by around fifteen seconds, spreading the effort right down the hill. But when I uploaded the gig to Strava when we got on the boat, my effort was only good enough for second place. Somewhere along the line, I must have miscalculated big time. Not a happy bunny.

All of the other segments I was after were on what Kev n I call first, second and third legs south: that’s because back in the day of the Arran relay, the race started at Blackwaterfoot and three runners went north to Brodick, whilst the other three went south: roughly ten miles each. You always put your fast guys on the first and second legs north, whilst your hill runners fought over the other four. First leg south is a bastard; second leg south ever so slightly less so; third leg south has the climbs out of both Whiting Bay and Lamlash right at the start then the rest of it is a breeze.

Yesterday, in temperatures of 30C, I was for taking on first leg south at 30 miles, second leg south at 40 miles, then third leg south at 50 miles.

And I was fuelled by porridge (before leaving the house) and malt loaf, supplemented by copious amounts of water. Interestingly, I was heavy on fuel going up that first hill where I missed the KOTP but I was lightweight on water by the time I hit the hills on the south side.

I had four targets on the day. I’d already missed the first by the time I arrived at Sliddery for the race up to the church. It’s a zig zag start from a wee burn before the road opens out into a straight climb. Under a baking sun, I knew instinctively that I was up on the clock when I came round the corner and the rest was pure bloody minded strength endurance…

Bagged one!

Next on the hit list was the half mile climb out of Whiting Bay. I’ve done this many times and it’s a big wide road, but it twists left and right so you never get to see the top until it’s almost upon you: cue the Hammerhead Karoo: believe in the technology of how much further there is to go and grade your effort: then just feckin’ go for it.

Make that two!

Which just left the Lamlash hill. This one’s a complete bastard and it had been nagging away at me all day: “what’s the point of taking the other KOTP’s if you miss out on Lamlash?” I was thinking all the way round the island. But to counterbalance that, I was also thinking “ah, but every guy that has ever beasted this hill has come round the island and got fifty miles in his legs before he turns that corner…

I absolutely had to trounce the notion that I was knackered and should therefore just meander up the hill, a broken man.

And that was my motivation…

I stopped for a couple of minutes in Lamlash, swigged the rest of my water and scoffed what was left of the maltloaf (for maltloaf read fuel) before setting off again. This was at 2pm, there was feck all wind and the temperature was in the region of 30C. I’d already got 50 miles in my legs and I’d just blasted the Whiting Bay hill five minutes before: ideal preparation? I don’t think so.

But as I rounded the corner, I found a gear that worked, and it was nowhere near the Granny so I just kept pushing it…

1.2 miles: piece of piss: er, no, it’s a slow burner and even after you pass the entrance to the golf course halfway up the climb, it keeps on meandering left and right so you cannae see the summit: out of the saddle: too sore: back in the saddle, nae momemtum: back out the saddle: push and let the legs scream while the heart’s pounding. And finally the summit, before the long descent to the boat, and a Wifi signal for the Strava upload.

The metric that tells me if I’m ready for Australia (or not) is that final climb out of Lamlash. Strength endurance and speed endurance rolled into one ferocious effort…

Mine by 51 seconds: 7m03 plays 7m54s.

Four records that I went for: three achieved, but then by pure accident of being on the right pace at the right time, a further five KOTP on other segments that I didn’t even go for.


Ride2Cure: I’m ready for you…

After tomorrow.

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