Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Lochaber 100

It's over twenty-five years since I have done a 100mile bike ride, but the challenge was thrown down to me by a friend from Fort William Baptist Church. The church, in conjunction with TearFUND organise a cyclo-sportive event every autumn to raise money for that great charity. When I was first sent the link I filled in the form, but hovered nervously over the 'send' button (even phoned my wife, so see if she thought I was being too ambitious!). With a deep breath I hit the button, paid the money and booked myself in. I was initially so nervous about going up to 100 again that I barely told anyone I was going to attempt it, such would be the ignominy were I to fail and take a thirty-mile ride home in the support car. People asking how I'd got on would have been like the walk of shame!

Anyway, I began doing some training. With a week to go, I was doing 60mile rides with some good hills, without too much difficulty. I am creaking a lot more than I did all those decades ago, with my back protesting if I leaned into the hills too much. It wasn't just my back that creaked - my old bike has been showing signs of wear and tear as well. In 1980-something, the "F.W. Evans Tourer de Luxe" was a state of the art touring bike. Its' Suntour gears, cantilever brakes, wolber rims, full mudguards and Blackburn luggage racks were all bolted onto Reynolds 531c double-butted tubing. The mudguards broke a while ago, so I took the luggage racks of with them; one of the pedals made an awful crunching noise so they were replaced. and then last week the bike shop told me the chain was worn out, along with the rear gear-cassette - all replaced. Perth has an excellent bike shop, J.M. Richards, and they got the old machine singing like a dream in time for my big day out.

The ride started at the community centre in Corpach - the first village out of Fort William on the road to Mallaig. While I carefully lowered my steel-framed monster off the roof of the car, all around me, car-boots opened and carbon-frames were quickly re-united with their ultra-light wheels. Not only was this my first 100-attempt for many years but I had never really taken part in an event like this before and was unsure as to the etiquette; more in terms of on-the-road, than the administration. 

At the outset, on the mostly flat road from Corpach to Glen Finnan, the riders stayed fairly close to one another. It was a very small field of just over fifty riders, which for the length of ride is small. A handful indicated that they were there for seriously fast riding and pulled ahead, while one or two dropped off the back, intent on enjoying a more leisurely day out. The main group then split into two. Feeling unconfident, I slipped back into the slower group and chatted as we passed Harry Potter's famous viaduct at Glenfinnan. When we hit the first hill, a 150metre climb pulling out of Glenfinnan, I realised I was in too slow a group, and so overtook and ploughed up the hill looking for other riders. On the hill I fell into step with another rider, she was a powerful cyclist and good conversationalist and we made good progress before being joined by another chap. Staying with them was a significant challenge for me, as they were riding well out of my comfort-zone in terms of speed. My fear was that staying with them would mean burning-out well before the finish. 

After one feed station the pair of them left me behind somewhere up Glen Uig, I believe. Cycling alone and trying to keep up a good speed was impossible (plus I wasn't 100% sure of the route!) and so I flogged myself to catch up with the pair. About five or six times I got close as they ascended hills, only to have them disappear over summits into the distance. After about half an hour of the hardest work I have ever done on a bike, I caught them and gratefully exploited their slipstream again. At Strontian the front rider waved to indicate that he wasn't stopping for food, I was hungry - but to be honest the thought of filled-rolls in pouring rain was not appetising - and we pushed on. The road from Strontian to Conan Ferry is a wonderful ride over the hill and down to the sea-loch; and the three of us really got into a good rhythm as the rain stopped and the sun broke through. This lasted most of the way back until we lost one member who wanted to do a big-fast finish over the last twenty miles. 

It was only on the last ten miles that I really began to struggle, saddle-sore and with plummeting blood-sugar I limped along desperately trying to keep up with my companion of the last 70miles. 

I was delighted when we reached the hall at Corpach and completed the 100. I was shocked to discover that I'd done it in 5hrs45mins, which at 17.34mph average speed was a personal best by some margin! The village hall was replete with teas, coffees, cakes, changing rooms and showers too. There was plenty of good chat too, of routes ridden and hills climbed.

This turned out to be a simply fantastic day, thanks to FWBC, TearFUND cycling, and the great folks I met on the road. The Lochaber 100 also includes some fabulous scenery. Sign me up for next year!

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