With two days to go before we cycle 81 miles in the Scottish Highlands, I thought I’d give a quick update on the pre-race preparation. Our cycling team has a 6:56 AM start time, making us one of the first few groups of 5,000 cyclists that will be attempting the course. Our goal is a finish time in under 6 hours, but in reality, my goal is to just finish.
The Weather Report
Weather is a huge factor in both enjoyment and how difficult the ride will be, and the number one factor isn’t temperature or rain, it’s the wind. We’ve been enjoying spectacular weather here in Edinburgh the last few weeks, but the highlands is a different story and at one point the BBC was predicted 25kph winds which would make things very difficult. The weather in Scotland changes quickly and dramatically, so while out on the ride we’ll be prepared for everything from torrential downpour to bright and sunny, and won’t be surprised to see everything in between over the duration of the race.
I’d like to take a minute and thank everyone who has supported the Marie Curie charity by donating money – we’ve raised over 400GBP, which has exceeded the 300GBP goal I had and commitment I made when signing up for the race. It may not sound like much, but it’s a huge motivator when you’re on the ride to think that every mile that we put behind us means another 5GBP for people suffering and in need of care. Part of the Facebook fundraising involved a promise to provide some “in action” spandex pictures, although some of my friends offered to pay to NOT have any pictures posted. Unfortunately for them, the pro-spandex pictures won out. It’s a humbling thing to consider that even though these races are tough, it’s nothing like the fatigue, fear, concern, and a whole lot of other emotions that those battling cancer face every day. Your money is helping people. (If you still want to give – you can!)
Most of the team is heading up via car, but I’ll be taking the train there and back using the excellent Scotrail services between Edinburgh and Pitlochry (technical, the Blair Atholl station). The journey is just over an hour, through some beautiful scenery, and crosses my all time favourite rail bridge – the Forth Rail Bridge.
Unlike the previous Tour o’the Borders, we have not cycled the route prior to the race, which is always a bit annoying. Schedules just didn’t work out, but we did have part of the team take on the big climb around Schiehallion, the large and iconic mountain peak that is part of the route. Sciehallion is from an anglicised form of Gaelic (Sìdh Chailleann) meaning “Fairy Hill of the Caledonians”, and in Celtic mythology, a retreat to the hills was part of the surrender agreement that the sos sí, a fairy people kind of like elves made to the Milesians who came from Iberia. This means that you can essentially sum up this entire experience as me cycling 81 miles in Spandex around a Scottish mountain populated by a bunch of defeated fairies, thanks to the Spanish of course.
Schiehallion is the most difficult climb of the route and provides the majority of the 6,000 feet of elevation we’ll be experiencing during this ride. The roads for this race are closed to traffic, unlike the Tour o’the Borders (although the Borders race will be on closed roads next year), and there is limited “support” available from sponsors Mavic, a cycling wheels company. If you receive a puncture, the support cars will be pacing groups and will stop to assist and even swap out a wheel if necessary. Quite a luxury, but we’ll still be prepared with our own spares.
I’ll be looking forward to the finish, and in true Scottish fashion as soon as you’re done it’s time for a pint! I’ll be on the lookout for a pint of Schiehallion ale to commemorate the achievement. We’ll be using Strava to instrument the route and illuminate how far we are from professionals. I’m sure it’ll be extremely difficult but also intensely rewarding.