Thursday, 9 May 2013

Aberfeldy cycle update

What goes up, must come down!

My main target for this year is the Aberfeldy Middle Distance Triathlon which consists of 1900m swim in Loch Tay, 56 miles cycle ride and a half marathon (13.1miles) to round it off. All my training this year is aimed at getting me round this course so when I realised the cycle route involved a climb over the saddle of Schiehallion and back again I thought it would be good to check out the bike ride ahead of time.

Last weekend I headed up to Kenmore, along with my very understanding and supportive husband, Jerry. Since it had been my birthday the week before we went up for the full weekend to stay at Kenmore Hotel as a treat, and had a very enjoyable Friday evening. On Saturday we took a look at where the swim goes from but any thoughts of a trial swim were very quickly dispelled by both the water temperature and the howling wind whipping across Loch Tay. I would certainly not go into water like that without a very strong swimmer by my side, at the very least.

We then decided to drive the route so I would know where I was going on Sunday, when Ian from work was coming up to cycle the route with me. Jerry would be our support crew, meeting us in a couple of places with require refreshments and moral support.
On driving out of Kenmore it was pretty quickly apparent that the hill had not been exaggerated, a 1000ft climb in one long drag which seemed to go on forever in the car. Once at the Schiehallion turning the road then undulates, before dropping down the other side into Kinloch Rannoch. The route goes around the north side of the loch back along the south side and then back over the hill to Aberfeldy.

On the return drive it was clear that although the climb is not as high as the first one it is steeper. We saw plenty of cyclists all along the route, as it was the Etape the next weekend we may have seen some people giving it a last minute trial.
I finished the drive a bit worried for the next day, but I had always planned to do it to give myself an idea of the route, compare the hills to ones I was training on and get a feel for how far off ready I was and not worry about how fast I did it. My goal for the race is to cycle it in less than 4 hours, and for the recce I was expecting to complete the route in 5-6 hours.

Sunday dawned reasonably bright with a stiff wind, not as bad as the previous day but still pretty windy. Also the forecast was for rain from midday. Ian arrived just after nine and we headed out straight away. There is a three mile flat road before the hill starts so the legs get some warm up and then the climb starts. I knew it would be quite tough so decided to just pace myself and make sure I could do it in one go. Ian very kindly stayed with me to keep me going and by just thinking about keeping the rhythm and drawing on my training I made it to the top and turned onto the saddle still feeling pretty strong.

The saddle was good after the hill but the wind was swirling about and after the fast drop off the top we were into a head wind all the way into Kinloch Rannoch. We had planned to meet Jerry at a parking spot at the head of Loch Rannoch, I thought it would take us at least 90 mins to get there. In the end we did the 16 miles in 1 hr 13mins so were too early!

We waited ten minutes but the spot was a cold one so after a protein flapjack we headed out. We had to stop after ten minutes when Jerry called to make sure we were OK, and on getting going again I was struggling to get my second cleat to connect. While still trying to do this I lost attention on the road, ran off the side into a huge rut and next thing I knew I was in the middle of the road. I hate falling off, I always feel so stupid. Since nothing seemed badly damaged, my right elbow and hip were just sore I got back on and kept going.

The headwind all along Loch Rannoch was very tough and seemed to go on forever. I was desperate for the turning at the bottom of the loch. It came at last and then we turned and had the wind at our backs, but the south side is more sheltered so there did not seem to be as much benefit as we had difficulty. The route around the loch is mainly undulating with a couple of tricky hills but generally OK. We met Jerry at a car park and stopped for lunch.

It was a relief to get out of the wind and sit in the car for a few minutes. When a few spots of rain started we decided it was time to get going on the last leg. I was very aware that we had a steep hill ahead of us and tried not to worry about it too much. The first few miles were along the loch side and were undulating again, then there was a flat few miles with a nice tailwind before the climb began. It is not as high as the one on the way out at 600 feet but it is very steep and I had to really pace myself to keep going.

The hill does have a respite about half way up where there is a flattish bit then it starts again, with a pretty nasty hairpin and just an unrelenting climb. Again, I managed it without having to stop and the top was definitely a relief. At this point though the rain came in with a vengeance and that swirly wind became a real headwind. The whole ride along the saddle was much harder than the way out, and seemed to go on for ages. I was very relieved to see the T junction at the top of the hill and, even better, the rain stopped at the same time.

The ride down the hill was fabulous, but seemed to be very long. I was very impressed with myself that I had been able to cycle up it in one go! Also, a van behind us decided not to bother passing us as we were making such a good pace. I only slowed for a couple of the tightest bends. The last three miles was a flat ride back to Kenmore (we decided this was better than going to Aberfeldy and needing to come back along the main road and only takes off 2 miles) but the headwind again made this harder than I wanted. It was great to see the Kenmore Hotel come into view!

Overall we took us 4hrs 30mins, actual riding time was 3hrs 41mins and I felt pretty good at the end. The route is tough but I did it in much faster time than I had thought I would, both overall time and actual riding time so I now have loads of confidence that my training is going well and I will be able to do the ride on the day. The idea of checking out the route was a great one, so I am really happy we did it. Roll on August and huge thanks to Ian for keeping with me!!

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