The Pan Celtic Race 2019

Even though the ferry crossing from Cairnryan to Befast is only a couple of hours long, I happily paid 26 quid for a cabin just for a shower and a chance to lie down on something comfortable. While the idea of riding an extremely-hilly 1470 miles over the course of a week didn’t particularly faze me – it’s surprising what the human body can withstand when there is literally nothing else to do but ride and eat – if I’m being completely honest the past 3 days of the Scottish leg of the Pan Celtic race had been tougher than I was probably expecting….

It all started in Inverness and headed north into a strong headwind. Many wills to live were almost lost. After that, the north and west coasts of Scotland were ridden and while I was happy with my pace, it was obvious that none of this was going to be even slightly flat and/or easy. A couple of hours trying to sleep on a 2 seater sofa at the Ullapool checkpoint while everyone in the room brought their loudest and weirdest snores was welcome respite after 20-or-so hours of solid riding and then the eating/riding routine started again.

(photo: Brian McLeod)

There’s very little food to be found in the Highlands, especially on a Sunday so I think I’d been riding for 28 hours on a handful of gels and a bag of mixed nuts. Some free samples of energy drink were included in the race goody bag and they probably saved my bacon (Active Root – actually very nice indeed, folks) but once the shops and cafes opened on Monday many of them received a sweaty, stinky, clip-clippety-clop visit.

Sometimes, the main spectacle was bacon and sausage rolls being ordered and consumed in seconds right in front of the startled shop lady before another was ordered. Crumbs were probably spat.

Eat food and eat it fast. Make it fatty and high in, well, pretty-much everything and then get the hell outta there.

I spent a solid 4 hours sleeping in a shed just outside Fort William after another 22 hours of the calorie consumption/energy expenditure/calorie consumption sphere of existence and set off just as it started to rain. I’d set off a little bit too early, thinking that the McDonald’s in Fort William opened earlier than 7am but it didn’t so I rode away, muttering naughty words.

Eventually I arrived at a petrol station and ignoring the woman’s moaning that the place wasn’t open for another 10 minutes, proceeded to eat a pork pie, a coronation chicken baguette and a Mattesons smoked pork sausage, washed down with a coffee and a can of Irn Bru. By the time I’d finished she was ready to take some money off me so I bought a couple of extras for the road (another smoked sausage and a ham butty, in case you’re interested) and got cracking.

Invariably I’d either meet another PCR rider just leaving a petrol station or café and I’d be leaving just as another arrived – I assume this routine went on for a week or so, or at least until the food ran out.

The world’s slowest case of panic-buying, ever.

It had been raining all day. It was ok for the first few hours, but as the day wore on (apparently there had been an amber weather warning) it started to wear quite thin. The scenery was still absolutely mind-blowing in places but to be honest my arse was starting to hurt and I knew that my soaking wet shorts were going to be my downfall unless I took action…..

…the problem was that no matter how much chamois cream I was applying, being out in heavy rain for that amount of time was just washing it away. I was stopping every couple of hours but by the time I’d ridden past Loch Lomond, through the shitty, muddly cycle paths of Glasgow and down into Ayrshire it was dark, it was still raining and my seatpost had decided it was going to fall to bits (3 zipties to the rescue). By now I was struggling to grip anything with my hands and changing gear was becoming impossible. I’d altered the saddle angle a few hours ago and now there was more pressure on my arms, wrists and hands.

I was getting into bother but I was almost at Cairnryan.

Ignoring the temptation to just ride back to my house when the route came within 4 miles of it, I arrived at the port just 2 hours before the ferry left for Belfast, 3 days and 670-something miles since the start, just as the sun was rising (not that you could see the sun).

Following a less-than-restful wait to board the boat with my head resting on a crisp vending machine I got to my £26 cabin. Bliss.

I was banking on this amazing 2 hour sleep miraculously fixing my various injuries and issues.

Unsurprisingly, 2 hours sleep is nowhere near enough time to resolve a nerve-damaged hand and a backside that won’t allow me to sit on a bicycle saddle. I rolled down the ramp onto Irish soil anyway and immediately looked for somewhere to stop.

Like an oasis in the desert, a branch of Greggs loomed into view. I spent a large amount of cash in there and tore into my lukewarm haul of pastry on the step outside.

I was losing my belief in getting much further and I weighed up what my next move should be. Just get straight back on the ferry? Give it an hour? Eat another steak slice? Kick the crap out of the car park bin? Cry?

I sat there for as long as I could before the staff in the shop started tutting and my phone got a few text messages from people asking why my dot wasn’t moving.

I set off back on the route. I couldn’t sit down. I stopped a couple of times to change gear with two hands and give myself a break from the pain.

I thought about what lay ahead and thought about the where the other PCR riders who travelled on the same ferry would be, now I’ve let them have a 2 hour gap.

I thought about the ferries, trains, shops and (most importantly) my friends Geoff and Maragaret in Belfast as opposed to the lack of pretty-much anything on the route once I’d left the city. I decided to stay in Belfast where I had some infrastructure and scratch (AKA drop out, jib, cry off, pack it in).

Many people drove and walked past a dejected cyclist sat in a bus shelter just north of Belfast city centre before Geoff rang and gave me directions to his house. Maragaret was waiting with food and a change of clothes.

I spent a few hours with them, visited their local pub then went home on the night ferry, wearing Geoff’s jeans and t shirt.

I’ll be back at some point to finish off the job, and maybe I’ll line up again next year, better-prepared and perhaps slightly wiser. Maybe with longer than a week off work…

Some truly amazing films and details of the Pan Celtic race can be found on their website here https://www.pancelticrace.com/

Thanks to Matt, Toby, Rebecca and Pete and all who helped organise this incredible race.

Glentress 7 2019

It didn’t matter how much shouting and swearing I was aiming at the stubborn tyre valve, it wouldn’t shift. The minutes ticked by. Sally stopped and offered to help, but unless King Kong or someone with a large plumbing wrench arrived I was looking at a very irritating day indeed….

Sofia and I had been banging out laps in the Glentress 7 mixed pairs category for the past 5 or so hours. I figured that this would be my last lap of the course and all being well, we’d secure 2nd place.

Jersey from the Team JMC “Ice Cream Parlour” range. Shoes model’s own

Everything was going well on my final lap until I reached the top of the last descent when a loud ‘psssssssssssss’ instantly changed the happy, “ooo I wonder what I shall wear on the podium?” mood to a state of mild panic and disappointment.

As I listened to all of the air escape from my torn rear tyre, I hoped in vain that it would miraculously seal itself. I don’t care how bold the claims by tyre sealant manufacturers are – in my experience tyres hardly ever re-seal once they’ve been punctured but as usual I ignored past experience, pinned my hopes on a miracle and wasted my only cylinder of C02.

Upside down went the bike, off came the wheel, out came the spare tube and into overdrive went the swearing.

Tick tock….

UNSCREW YOU F***ING B*****DING TW****ING PIECE OF S**T!!!!

The screw-on collar thing on the valve wouldn’t turn. Gluing the valve so that you can’t get it off in a hurry is probably one of the things that tyre sealant does do well, which would be fine if I wasn’t trying to get a bloody inner tube fitted to my wheel before any more people rode past.

It did eventually start to turn, but it took a monumental amount of effort to unscrew all the way along the valve’s 45mm length.

It felt like I’d been there for hours. Eventually I was rolling again and had to take a few risks on the way back down the course so that I didn’t miss the cut-off that would deny Sofia starting her final lap (and hopefully pull some time back). Getting across the line with seconds to spare, Sof went off in pursuit of a podium spot. My tyre-related tomfoolery had cost us 16 minutes and we’d dropped down to 4th place….

Sof crossed the line only a couple of minutes behind the 3rd place rider, she’d pulled back a load of time but it wasn’t to be. The curse of the rear tyre just won’t go away….

Kirroughtree Hillbilly Duathlon 2019

I was hoping that my strategy of simply not doing this year’s Kirroughtree duathlon as a solo participant would amount to a more pleasant experience than last time.

It couldn’t be much worse than last year’s hellish cramp-fest. I suppose I could be squashed by a falling tree or attacked by an angry osprey but to be honest a race-ending wildlife incident last time would have been a handy excuse to go home early.

I’d been introduced to a handy local runner, Jamie, a couple of weeks before the event. We didn’t know each other before then but I was hopeful we’d make a decent team. At the very least I hoped he’d turn up because once I’d put our entry in, he owed me twenty quid….

“I’ll be in the changeover bit, waving my arms around”, I said, expecting a large crowd for Jamie to negotiate. Luckily he returned from the 10K looking like he’d not done a 10k run at all, in 7th place. So I was easy to spot and feeling a bit of pressure to perform just as well as he had, I got cracking.

I was riding the Blur this time because it’s ideal for a fast lap of the red trail at Kirroughtree. Riding fast is obviously a bit part of it, but knowing the lines and being able to just sit down and pedal over lumpy rock obstacles is just as important. Fortunately I caught up with Sam, who’s probably ridden the red route more than my 4 or 5 times and so I kind of just followed his wheel (and may have learned a bit about the best ways to ride some of the more awkward bits of the trail). Following Sam’s wheel wasn’t a bed of roses either, I was feeling ok but wasn’t sure if and when I’d have to slow down a bit…

3 seconds separated us at the finish, me rolling across the line also in 7th place. So that was tidy. I don’t ‘do’ short races as a rule so I was chuffed with that.

Jamie and I finished in 4th place overall, 3rd in our category. As a rare treat for me, I was placed in the young person, non-veteran category because Jamie’s about half my age. In fact I was the oldest person on our podium – easily old enough to be everyone else’s dad in fact.

10 Under the Ben 2019

After our pairs win at the Strathpuffer, Sofia and I decided that we’d take the Christiansen/Miles Steamroller to Fort William for a crack at 10 Under the Ben.

Just 5 hours each. How hard could it be?

Thanks to the Clan McGowan our accommodation in Fort William for the evening before the race was all sorted and after a surprisingly healthy-looking veggie burger (and chips) in Tyndrum we rolled the Breakpad Tranny into town just before it was time for bed.

Oh look, it’s my turn AGAIN to do the first lap. I thought I had the last laugh when we were told that lap 1 was going to be a short one – straight up the fireroad to thin out the pack. If it was more than a mile shorter than the regular course I’d be really surprised, for some reason I was expecting a 20 minute zip around the woods rather than an 8.5 mile painfest but I tumbled into the transition area with a smile on my face and the taste of blood in my throat. At least I’d warmed up a bit and had left some pastry in the van for breakfast.

Sof’s adventures in South Africa and the hard training she’d been doing recently had all paid off as her lap times were nice and quick, so quick in fact that I had to deny myself any kind of easy laps throughout the race just to make sure I was putting in similar times. It’s so important in pairs racing to have an evenly-matched team mate, even when you both seem to be driving each other to the brink of destruction 😉

In between laps we were kept entertained by the junior downhill practice – the race was due to happen the day after and our local downhill superstar, Katy McGowan was going to be racing.

A crash on a Root Of Doom (TM) on my 3rd lap had me wincing for a while and reaching for the ibuprofen but other than that we both had a reasonably flawless race and while we both tired towards the end, we maintained a 20-30 minute gap and took the mixed pairs win, finishing 6th overall.

This was the 17th 10 Under the Ben, which is both super-impressive and a credit to No Fuss Events but it’s also made me feel very old indeed….

(photo – Keith Fawcett)

A McDonalds and cramp-themed drive home through the glens and forests of Scotland in the wee small hours rounded off a good old-fashioned smash and grab weekend.

The awesome Katy McGowan finished in second place the day after!

Something in the water in Newton Stewart I think…

 

Hit the North 6 – the race that very nearly wasn’t.

All photographs courtesy of Paul Davy – Cycling Photographer

The sixth Hit the North (it’s more like the ninth really, we cocked up the numbering a few years ago) was the first one to be held in the middle of a storm. In the past we’ve had high winds, snow, ice and some sunshine but this time the course was partly submerged and the bits that weren’t submerged were incredibly muddy.

I think many thought that it’d be called off but there was no way I was going to let that happen – I’d had to move the date twice as it was due to poor entries. The first date clashed with the royal wedding, so I assume everyone was cheering on the happy couple. The second date was a December gamble and that yielded about 3 entries. I’d had to refund dozens of entries already, so it had to be third time lucky.

Thankfully the March 16th date, over a year after I initially opened the entry, was a big success and entries went mad in the last 2 weeks. A record number of entrants, in fact.

I was glad that people had to pre-enter because I was expecting the weather to put most riders off. The coffee woman jibbed at about 8:30am on the morning of the event so that was a kick in the nuts. No coffee. So serious I included a grovelling apology in my race briefing. There was a loud groan from the assembled throng of 143 riders. The rest of the main ‘arena’ looked sparse too – I’d booked a pair of portable toilets (at least those turned up) but other than that HtN6 was very much the Austerity Edition. Probably just as well given the weather on the day.

(If anyone wants to have a stand or any sort of Thing at the next Hit the North, get in touch!).

143 riders! An amazing turnout considering it was hammering down with rain. The course was absolutely filthy and the big downhill was a lottery. The mud was knee-deep in parts though, so while your fallen waterbottle/garmin/glasses probably sunk forever, you had a softish landing.

We had to close the stream cross that magically went from a small trickle into a super-angry, gushing torrent that was threatening to sweep riders and bikes down the Irwell.

2 hours later and the mens’ winner, Will Lewis, crossed the line. We think it was Will but to be honest it could have been anyone. Screeching to a halt just behind him was local elite racer Chris Lever who’d taken a couple of hours off work in the bike shop to do the race.

Hit the North regular and multiple winner, Ian Taylor won the vets category while Alison Kinloch and Cathy Atkinson won the female vets and seniors respectively.

That was the sharp end of the race, but quite honestly everyone who turned out and raced in those conditions deserved a medal. Most of the DNFs were caused by disintegrated brake pads (and one broken shoulder – get well soon Kai) so there’s probably a lot of unfinished business knocking about.

Thanks to everyone who helped this happen – the next one is in March 2020 so keep your eye on the website, the facebook page or Twitter.

Full results at www.hitthenorth.net