Kinross Sportive 2019

BREAKING NEWS/SPOILER ALERT: I entered a bike event, made it to the start AND FINISHED IT.

The first bike event I entered was Etape Caledonia in 2016. It was 2 weeks after my first London Marathon. I ended up DNSing due to an epic bout of tonsillitis. The second event I entered was Dirty Riever…… and we all know how that went. This HAD to work. I HAD to finish this. And I did!

Now, with that out of the way, allow me to furnish you with some details of this brilliant event:

I decided to enter this as part of 2019’s master plan to get the bike split nailed. With 3 route options to choose from (Blue, Red and Black) I opted for the 68mile/109km Red Route which features 2 gnarly local climbs and totals 1000m of elevation over the 109km.

With the disaster that was Dirty Riever, my confidence was knocked. So the weekend after, while Scotland bathed in 20+ degrees and stunning sunshine, I hit the road on Stella and headed straight for Dunning to attempt the second climb of the Sportive.

What I ended up with was a brilliant adventure that left me filled with excitement for the event. I didn’t die on the climb. I DIDN’T DIE!!! ON THE CLIMB!!!

60kms in the sunshine also gifted me the opportunity to trial nutrition for the day. Veloforte is pricey but, in my opinion, worth the cash. The bars are packed with natural ingredients, don’t cloy or stick in your mouth, and taste incredible. My faves so far are the Chocolate one and the Sea Salt one which is LUSH.

With my cycling tan kickstarted, and my confidence renewed, it was time to plan kit and look forward to 109kms on some brilliant roads.

The weather forecast was typically Scottish. All seasons, one day, no particular order, totally random. Kit required some thought, and with the drop in temperature, and my predicted slow-ass attempt, I went for: Endura pro thermo bibs, Pro SL jersey, FS260Pro armwarmers, Pro SL Primaloft gilet, grip-grab overshoes and Pro Adrenaline race cape. I opted for mitts over gloves as my hands heat up WAY too much on long rides. In the end, the kit was perfect. I didn’t need the waterproof until the last climb when the heavens opened.

The Route

We set off from home just before 0830 and pedalled up to the high school to Event HQ and the start. What an absolute treat it was to be able to sleep until normal time and then roll outta bed and eat a good breakfast before leaving at a sociable hour. Beardy was also tackling Red (albeit, WAY quicker than me!) and we got ourselves registered and joined the back of the queue for the start. You’re released in groups of around 20 at 2 minute intervals. Once we got to the front of the queue, and the timer set us off, I was pretty much on my own.

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Beardy was immediately off in a group of speedy speedsters, so I just enjoyed the fact that the morning sun was warm and I was picking off some people from previous waves.

The route is as follows:

Kinross-Scotlandwell-Kirkness “bump”-Auchmuirbridge-Leslie-Falkland-Newburgh-Bridge of Earn-Forteviot-Dunning-Yetts’o’Muckart-Crook of Devon-Cleish-Kinross

There are two large climbs on the route: Falkland and Dunning. Falkland feels worse as it’s shorter and arguably steeper, although it has less overall elevation gain. The descent into Falkland is marked as dangerous and for good reason: Narrow roads, tight, blind corners and slippery tarmac from 2 days of rain made for some twitchy bum time on the very fast descent. As I hit the last corner I was met almost head-on by an Ambulance. Ideal, to be fair, but he was on his way to rescue a stricken cyclist, so I somehow managed to avoid him and continue my long, terrifying brush with death!

The other climb comes after 60km, which I’ll get to later, and despite being longer and more challenging on paper, it didn’t feel so bad! img_2731

After the nail biting descent into Falkland, its off to navigate the Howe of Fife towards Ladybank and through Lindores. Eventually, you end up at Newburgh and it was time for feed station 1:

My nutrition strategy had been to eat from 30mins in and drink energy drink until the first feed stop when I’d top up with water and continue with food. Over time, I’ve learned that sweet energy drink starts to make me feel rank after a couple of hours. With this in mind, I planned to use mine up and then move to water. With a backup electrolyte tab in my bento box in case I started to sweat more.

The plan was going pretty well. I’d got through about 400ml and half a Veloforte bar (150 kcals ish) when I swung into the feed station to find….. no food. Or water. At all.

Now. I’d set off 2 hours previously. It was only 11am. Sure, a few hundred cyclists had passed through but there were still hundreds more to come. The poor marshals were adamant that more supplies would be along “soon” but for the hundred or so cyclists getting cold, this was not a good situation to be in. I’d now have to eke our 350ml of fluids to get me another 40km. I only have one bottle cage on Stella just now after the seatpost jammed in the down tube, so I was relying on this feed stop.

Hopefully they can plan this stop a little better for next year. After 8 years (this year being the 9th) you’d think Kinross CC would know how to correctly stock a feed station.

Anyway. Rant over. Things were about to get hella fun!

I am a bit of a lone wolf during training. Being a triathlete I’m used to non-draft-legal races. So I NEVER get to play at drafting. Also, being chronically glacial, I tend not to get the chance to keep up with anyone.

Well. That changed today.

I was already pleasantly surprised to see 24kph average on my garmin (yes, cyclists. You read that right. I’m THAT slow and that’s quick for me over distance) so I kept assuming I’d blow up and die on a quiet Perthshire lane somewhere.

Imagine my surprise when I caught a group at some lights, and as I looked back I noticed I’d caught a chain gang who were all now using my draft. After 5 minutes or so, the guy behind me took the lead and I kept to his wheel and immediately discovered why there were so many pelotons swishing by earlier! This was MEGA! Pretty soon we were gliding along at 30kph and it felt effortless. I took turns up front and we chatted and discussed the ride so far.

This lasted all the way to Dunning. It was well timed as the hydration panic had begun to set in so, mentally, I was flagging.

At Dunning, I found the second feed station. And oh MY was it good. There was a fantastic selection of baked goods so I tucked into half a yumyum and refilled my bottle, downing about 500ml extra of water just to be safe.

If you’re on the black route, from Dunning you head for Glenfarg via Rossie Ochil and the aptly name section of road called “The Dragon”. As I’d opted for the slightly tamer Red Route, I began the slow and steady ascent of Dunning Common. It’s a grind, this one. So I just spun it out in as low a gear as possible and tried not to look up too much.

The views on this part of the route are superb and you’re soon winding up between beautiful houses on smooth tarmac.

A strange thing was happening, as well: with this being a sportive with a rolling start, it’s unusually to be totally alone with no one else in sight. But now I was catching cyclists. I was passing other riders on a hill. I’m not used to this!

After what felt like hours of spinning in the granny ring, I made it to the end of the timed hill climb and began the much more gradual, pleasant descent in the pissing rain.

I made my way down to Yetts’o’Muckart and the worlds most complex junction then headed for Rumbling Bridge and Crook of Devon. A brief spell on a busy road with the only shit driving of the day (Audi. Obvs) then a wee wander along a lovely lane towards Lendrick Muir. My average speed was sitting back at 23.4 but was climbing. How was I doing this?!

I wasn’t looking forward to the next stretch. The road from Crook to Cleish has really crap surface that’s tarmac but the tar has all but fucked off so you’re left with the stones that shake your teeth loose. I was on my own again but maintaining between 26-30kph. This road feels like it lasts forever, but I made it to Cleish with my teeth intact, to where the surface becomes smoother and I could maintain pace with greater ease.

A wee climb up past the Fruix and over the motorway and onto the last long drag back to Kinross.

Here, I caught Chris again and we worked together with a guy from Kinross CC to draft back to town. From the 30 sign at the bottom of Kinross, I started my strong finish up the new road, negotiated the Sainsbury’s junction and roundabout, hammered it along Springfield road and when the Marshall at the high street gave me the clear to pull out, I gave it the beans and clocked 45kph coming in to the finish.

I cannot BELIEVE how strong I felt until the last minute. I’ve never been able to sustain that amount of output over distance, so it’s safe to say I’m delighted.

My chip time is 4:48 thanks to a pee stop and a yumyum stop. But my garmin read 4:33 moving time and I am so chuffed with that.

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If I can now build on this and work towards a huge PB on the bike split at Aberfeldy, I can hopefully combine that with a decent swim and maybe survive the run with a more respectable time this year!

I’d gone into this battered, with low expectations of myself. Initially thinking I’d be happy with 5hrs30, to come away with 4:33 moving time and legs fresh enough to pedal home after, is a huge victory for me.

Of course, the main incentive for finishing today was the temptation of Chinese food for dinner. The qualifying 100km ride was achieved. It was time for Sesame Beef in Honey Chilli sauce…. and a cuppa in my new Sportive mug!

I definitely rate this event if you’re looking to build confidence on the bike and on some steep climbs and descents.

Now it’s time to focus on the A Race this year and build towards Aberfeldy!

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The Dirty Not 130.

Let me start the blog with a slight spoiler alert: I ballsed this one up, guys.

Let’s begin by reviewing “training” for this event: I didn’t do enough. I worked hard and improved my bike fitness in the run-up, but no amount of power interval training on a wattbike in a sweaty gym will set you up for the gravelly climbs of Kielder Forest. I will issue no blame on anything or anyone other than myself for this.

I did not do enough climbing. I did not do enough descending. Which leads me to lesson numero dos: I need to get better at going down hills. I am terrified of descents. I wish I could be one of the amazing cyclists I so admire, who whizz past at a rate of knots. I am too busy gripping the brakes until my forearms explode and my teeth shatter. I am too busy thinking about road rash if I misjudge a pothole or a bend. I am too busy NOT enjoying the free speed that comes with downhill.

A few months back, I asked Beardy to help me with my cycling. He is one of those modest types that just loves being out on his bikes and happens to be insanely good at being on those bikes. Literally all bikes. He has all the bikes. Being an Endura employee, I felt compelled to enter Riever as it would be fantastic training for my A Race later in the year. The goal for 2019 is to absolutely nail the bike split. I can swim well, running will always be a bit of an issue but if I can nail the bike, it gives me the opportunity of redemption at 70.3 and 140.6 level. With all this in mind, I worked out my FTP and then bodged together a training plan which wasn’t really a training plan as it was sort of shoe-horned in to a 70.3 plan…. Setting myself up well there!

In the weeks and days leading up to Riever, I was largely shitting myself. I would be tackling it on a cyclocross bike. Grippy but narrow tyres and aggressive geometry were filling me with dread the more I read in the Facebook group about bike set ups. No matter, I could still do it. Right?

RIGHT?

The thing is…. I had pretty much decided that I couldn’t do it. The negativity had started to creep in hella early this time. I felt a wee pang of excitement at work the week before, but other than that, I was dreading it.

I prepped decent nutrition. I prepped decent kit. I prepped my bike. But my mind was not prepped. And neither were my legs.

Event Day:

I am totally ok with a 0325 alarm clock. A 30 minute lie in when compared to Lakesman. I was totally ok with a 2hr30min drive at 4am.

We set off on time (remarkable) and made it to Kielder with only one minor navigational error. Overnight road closures were the source of much stress but eventually we were on the same road as other people carting bikes into the depths of the borders.

We registered in good time and then snacked in the car and made final adjustments to bikes and kit.

Beardy had had a bit of a mare with his wheels in the run up. An attempt to convert them to the more favourable tubeless set up had gone tits up so he was running tubes on wider tires with a deeper rim on the back. This meant trying to source a 33mm tire with a minimum of a 60mm presta. Apparently this is not a common set up for tubes and so he had 2. 2 Entire tubes. Wiggle & Chain Reaction’s entire stock. And one was already on the rear wheel.

I had maintained my narrower tyre set up so had plenty of spare tubes and all the required tools. My Endura MT500 Hydrapak backpack was stowed to the brim with tasty snacks and 2litres of water with 750ml of High Five Energy mix in a bidon. We were ready! I was determined not to bonk or hit a wall.

It was fucking baltic at the start. It had dropped to -5c on the hills over to Kielder and our bikes were covered in ice on arrival. An icy saddle sounds appealing after a 100+ km ride, but it isn’t what you need at 8am.

Bikes de-iced, we set off on time, with “Mr Endura” (Ian) getting a special shoutout from the organiser. I got to the end of the row of flags and CLUNK.

What the actual shit.

My chain had come clean off. I hadn’t even shifted. This has never happened (on this bike) at any time ever and WHY is this happening now?! A quick jump off and re-position and I was able to get underway. Somewhat mortified. Thank you to the RD who quickly abandoned his MC duties to hold my bike while I reattached my chain….. SAKES.

The ride out is neutralised for the first 3km or so to prevent people from sprinting off the line and to drive home the fact that this is not a race. You start with a nice, gradual climb which is a good warmup for the legs and lungs. And then I heard the words no one ever wants to hear: “I think I’ve got a puncture”. I turned to look at Beardy expecting it to be a joke.

It was not a joke.

We hadn’t even crossed the first timing matt. Jesus H Christ. This is going to be a long day.

Of course, it was a total dick to change. Beardy told me to go on ahead and if he couldn’t get it seated in the tyre he’d call it a day and see me when I’d finished.

I pedalled on, a little upset and worried that he’d worked so hard on his bike for this to happen so early in the day. And, because it happened WHILE WE WERE ON A TARMAC ROAD, I began to shit myself about only packing 3 spare tubes….

Of course, while we’d been stood beside the road, literally the whole field had passed us. So I was immediately on a catch-up mission. I reminded myself to take it easy and relaxed a little and enjoyed the climbs and the absolutely beautiful scenery. After about 20 minutes Beardy appeared at my side with a “haven’t you finished yet” and a slightly under-inflated rear tyre.

The 130km route has approximately 2400m of elevation (81miles with 7900ft for those of you who speak imperial) so it is pretty lumpy by my standards. Lakesman had 1000m in 180km. For the first 20 or so kilometers, I was actually enjoying the satisfaction of climbing and was coping relatively well with the variable surfaces. One particularly tricky section featured boulder sized chunks of sharp flint and it was marked as a “steep descent”. I gritted my teeth and went for it. We reached the bottom having aged a few years and with forearms so full of lactic, it felt like they were no longer attached to my body. At 35km, I started to feel a bit weary. I don’t know why. I had plenty of snacks and so far had managed to eat enough and drink enough. I’m used to shite sleep the night before an event so I knew what to expect with tiredness. But all this allowed the “I can’t do its” to start to seep in very, VERY early. This was an entirely new kind of event for me. I ride off road at home, both on CX and on my MTB, but the trails in Kinross-shire are hard-packed with very little loose gravel. Despite living in Scotland and being unable to leave the relative flatness of my immediate surrounding without climbing a hill, I am a total novice with climbing.

Beardy provided encouragement and support throughout, making sure I ate and was holding it together. By 40km, however, I was not holding it together anymore. With 90km to go, I was really struggling. For some reason, despite my legs feeling ok so far, I was dying on the hills. Beardy was spinning in his easiest gear which I can usually keep up with, but on this day I simply did not have the strength to keep up. I was being passed a LOT and this was really grating on me. It’s not a race at all, but people seemed to be gliding passed with little effort (in huge gears, to be fair… I run a compact double with an 9 speed 11/27 rear. No 32-tooth cog for me on the back!)

At around 50km, we had run into Justin. A rider in the 200km event who had experienced a gnarly mechanical leaving him with 2 gears on the back. Ouch. He rode with us and kept us chatting. We knew we were going to be up against it for the 1230pm cut off at 65km.

Justin was retiring and to be honest, I was pretty much following suit. I felt utterly broken. Not so much physically (although the lactic burn in my quads was making me wince with every climb, and for some reason, my lower back was in shreds) but mentally I was done. DONE. The thought of another 65km with the same elevation again had me wanting to do a little cry at the side of the road.

Somehow, we made it to the cut off point with minutes to spare.

I am tough. And I’ll rarely pass up a challenge. I have never, ever DNF’d. Until today. When presented with the choice of going hard or going home, I went home.

And I stand by my choice. I know, I know. I can hear you all groaning and rolling your eyes.

I absolutely love being outside on my bike, I love being outside full stop. But today, I was losing the love because I had thrown my training in the bin and ruined it for myself. I chose not to push through pain barriers on an event that was approximately 18 million miles outside my comfort zone. I chose to listen to my head and call it a day.

It was a gutting decision to make. I could see in Beardy’s eyes that he was bitterly disappointed. He knew I wasn’t ready though and, despite having the fitness (though lacking in spare tubes) to continue, he chose to stick with me and call it a day.

Once I stopped moving and got back to the car, I realised how cold I was. I hadn’t felt it out on the bike, thanks to my brilliant Endura kit, but as the adrenaline wore off, my body would not heat up. I had thermal joggers, a base layer and hoodie AND a DryRobe on in the car and I still needed the heating up full. It wasn’t until we got home that I’d eventually thawed out. Imagine if I’d started to suffer with that if I’d stayed out? That would have been bad news.

I am reliably informed that the pain of the choice, as much as I believe it was correct, will dissipate.

Besides… I have Kinross Sportive in a couple of weeks, and a lot of work to do in that time, apparently! At least I can literally roll out of bed and roll to the start for that one…

I have never DNF’d since I started my adventures in endurance. And I am honestly shocked at myself for choosing to DNF. At least if they’d stopped me from continuing, the decision would have been out of my hands and I could have used that as an excuse. But there is no excuse. I simply didn’t prepare and train enough for an event that requires SERIOUS respect. 130km on the road is a bit of a trek but it’s no huge feat for someone with an iron distance under their belt. But this was so tough. And I was not tough enough!

This whole experience has been a stark reminder that you can’t wing it for everything. And for a lot of things, winging it is the absolute worst thing you can do. I know what I need to do now to improve. And, being a goal-oriented lass with a strong will to do better, I will come back from this braver and better-equipped.

Would I recommend Riever? Absolutely. ABSOLUTELY. What a place! Such a great atmosphere and everyone I spoke to was wonderful. Fantastic marshalls, volunteers and a really slick event. It just wasn’t my day.

Onwards and upwards!

New Beginnings

I love Spring. It is my favourite season. Watching the trees and plants (and, unfortunately the weeds in my neglected garden) come back to life after the longest of Winters, makes me so excited.

My birthday is in Spring. My shiny new first-ever niece or nephew will be along in the Spring. The evenings are lighter. It’s slightly less baltic in the mornings. What is not to love?

This year, i decided to shove my A-Race back to August and give myself the long, dark Winter months to focus on rebuilding my strength and stamina after a brutal year of training for iron distance. It’s been a great decision. I’ll swiftly bypass the fact that I am hugely under-trained for the Dirty Reiver 130km in less than two weeks…. but this aside, I feel mostly ready for a few months of 70.3 training.

My plan for the Winter was to try to maintain my weight as well as my CV fitness, and work to improve strength and power on the bike while avoiding injuries and illnesses as much as possible. I’ve become good (some would say too good #hypochondriac) at listening to my body and thankfully, so far, I have only experienced a few niggles here or there. My biggest obstacle, as it has always been, is stress. I get very stressed. Once I am passed being able to deal with it psychologically, my body responds and I experience recurrences of the fibromyalgia I have worked so hard to beat. It can be exceptionally frustrating, especially as exercise, the one thing that alleviates stress, contributes to the pain which, if I’m not careful, can cause injuries that stay for a lot longer than I’d like. For example: in January, I was experiencing my usual shoulder and neck pain. Sometimes all I need is some light weights or an easy swim to allow my muscles to work through the tightness. But on this occasion, I pushed a little too hard and ended up with an extremely sore rotator cuff injury that lasted, on and off, until mid Feb. Not ideal for this swimmer!

With all this in mind, I have worked hard to recognise when it is essential that I take a big ol’ step back and reset mind and body.

Easier. Said. Than. Done. I can assure you.

The most important thing that I try to remember is: I do this shit for fun. I’m not an *actual* athlete. This isn’t my job. I have an actual job that I love and that pays my bills. I have life stress, family and a social life. (also I unfortunately have a garden. sigh) Life happens. I eat cake and pizza as well as vegetables. Life is short and is 100% for living. I’m not in this shit to win it. I’m in it to *live*.

Removing this competitive pressure from myself has been so important. Going into my new training plan with a relaxed mind set and totally flexible goals is (hopefully) going to make this summer fun and exciting as well as successful.

As things shift and change with my career, my family life (and my attitude), I have to remember to be flexible and to adapt. I mean, if last year taught me anything about myself, it is that I am tenacious as hell. Shove me in a difficult situation and I’ll drag myself out of it to the best of my ability.

Over the last few months, I’ve worked hard to bring my FTP up. I’ve attended to my strength and conditioning, I’ve enjoyed running (and hated it in equal measure but that’s standard for me) I’ve rekindled my enjoyment of “training” and made the most of parkrunning and days out on my bike. I’ve conquered some of the hills I’ve been scared of on my bike, and I’ve faced my fears of downhill MTB by accidentally not taking the chicken runs on red routes.

After Lakesman, I forced myself through some more events, I achieved the things I wanted to (apart from that illusive 5k PB which was JUST out of reach). But I felt sort of numb. Nothing was really hitting the spot and I knew I needed to take one of those big steps back and realise how lucky I am to be able to do any of this in the first place.

The last few years have shown me how cruel and short life can be. We get literally one shot at this, so why throw that away or waste it? While my body works, I’m gonna USE it!

I have channelled this renewed sense of purpose into this years “plan”. Which I refuse to put too much pressure on because this is an adventure and I want to enjoy it….and I am EXCITED to see where I end up.

I even went on a proper running adventure with my pal and colleague Laura. We hopped on a ridiculously cheap flight to Stockholm and spent a long weekend marching round the city in -12 and running in Djursgarden in the snow. We also discovered just how British we were by encountering a traditional NAKED (like…. extremely fucking naked) sauna where everyone jumps in the frozen lake after…. We wore our towels with shame/pride and closed our eyes in the communal showers and did we FUCK jump in the lake. Needless to say, when we visited a beautiful roof top spa the following day, the first thing we checked was that we could wear our swimming costumes……

So I guess, this Spring, I get to spend my time watching lambs play in the fields as I huff and puff on my bike, I get to chase choppers down in the pool (LITERALLY FUCK OFF IF YOU SWIM BREASTSTROKE IN THE FAST LANE WHEN THERE IS SPACE IN THE SLOW LANE) and I get to keep trying to run…… FOR FUN.