It’s fair to say that I’m enjoy cycling way more than I expected and as someone who has the habit of jumping into new hobbies quickly (and deeply) I’m even happier that the simple joy of exploring the local countryside has yet to abate.
I’m also happy to find myself capable of much more than I thought too, both physically and mentally, and oddly I’ve found it’s the latter that is the larger part of what I’ve had to overcome when it was the former that has played on my mind far more in the past.
Having gotten a new bike last year, and having made the most of the COVID lockdown quieted roads, I started cycling more regularly but then I seemed to stall. I got to about the hour mark on my rides, mostly on the same roads, and it was starting to get a little boring.
It took me some time to figure out what the issue was… why couldn’t I ride further?
In the past, I’ve done longer organised rides like Pedal for Scotland – cycling from Glasgow to Edinburgh (bus back) – and whilst they are 40+ miles, they are a day out with a few stops for cake and food along the way, tackled by all abilities, and was more about the day itself than the cycling; it was a great event that unfortunately ended a couple of years ago.
What I realised last year was that the few times I did Pedal for Scotland, it became a goal, a reason to get out on my bike before it to make sure I could actually do it and, whilst I know I enjoy being out on my bike once I’m out, I still occasionally need that push, still need that goal, a reason to sling on my cycling gear, don a waterproof, and start spinning the pedals.
So, in the spirit of challenging myself and setting a goal, I signed up to ride Etape Caledonia last year but thanks to COVID, it’s been moved (twice!) and is now finally running this coming September. It’s a 40 mile route and, while it does include rest stops, it is a bit more serious than Pedal for Scotland with a suggested ‘minimum average speed’ of 13mph, which at the time seemed like a good thing for me to target, and so the training began.
My beautiful fiancee and her family are big cyclists – her brother was a professional cyclist for a few years – so I’ve had no end of encouragement and helpful pointers when needed, and this includes picking routes which can, in my limited experience, make or break things, that and the weather obviously.
Becca is a mobile dog groomer so has spent a lot more time driving around the West of Scotland than I have and she has been wonderful at suggesting routes for me to try, including which direction to go to avoid (or tackle) the steeper hills. Strava is my weapon of choice when it comes to planning routes; it’s maybe not the best but as it syncs easily with my Wahoo Roam bike computer it’ll have to do for now.
Becca’s local knowledge has been a huge boon. With the confidence of her directions, a GPS map in front of me, and even taking the time to drive the route in advance, I’ve pushed past my ‘limit’ of 1hr, blasted through 2hrs, and can now comfortably ride for 3hrs.
At this point the challenges change. Etape Caledonia is 40 miles, and by current average pace estimate, Strava thinks I’ll complete that (non-stop) in about 2hrs 47 mins. To put that in some context, when I first started training for it, the estimated time was 3hrs so I’m pretty happy with that progress with still a couple of months to go.
I’m even going to ride the Etape route in advance just to get my confidence a little higher because, as it turns out, that’s all I was really missing, confidence and self-belief. My legs have hauled me up some long horrible hills and I have to admit I’ve surprised myself at my ability to just keep going; the most recent horror was ‘Tak Ma Doon’ up and over the Campsies which took me 30 minutes of solid (slow) riding uphill (rated 9th hardest hill in the UK I think!)
All of this means that while I know I won’t be the fastest person at the Etape in September, I’m pretty sure I won’t be the slowest, but that’s really not what it is about. All of this, I now understand, is just giving me the confidence to go and ride the event without fear, to go and have fun out on my bike amongst our beautiful Scottish countryside.
Beyond the Etape there are other goals to look towards, 100km, 100 miles, and at that point I’ll likely stop because whilst I enjoy being out on my bike, the current estimated time for me to complete a 100km ride is 4hrs 20mins (100 miles comes in at 6hrs 45mins, so an entire day on the bike!), and that’s before the not inconsiderable event of the arrival of our new born sometime late October. By then who knows what free time I’ll have, maybe that 1hr loop will seem like a luxury!
Yes, it’s fair to say that I’ve got the cycling bug and whilst I’m mostly a fair weather cyclist, the desire to get out for a spin is starting to override the usual Glasgow showers. I’m not questioning all this, not overthinking it, just going with the flow and removing all the pressure from myself. It’s just what I do now, another thing to add to the growing list of what I am.
I talked about this before, but whilst my adoption of meditation into my life was a deliberate choice, cycling seems to have snuck up on me a little. The more times I go out, exchange acknowledging nods with fellow MAPILs*, the more I feel at home. No matter how high the hill I feel confident I will get there eventually, no matter how far from home I venture I feel more and more secure in my abilities on the bike, and in my head.
I won’t ever be fast, but I’ll always be happy!
Image (not of me!) courtesy of Fat Lad at the Back – a wonderful company with great products and a super supportive community of riders too!
* Middle Aged Person In Lycra