Wet, Wind and Hills. That about sums it up.
The week before
Tanya and I were in London for the past couple weeks so it made training for this a bit tough, but managed to get into a gym down there only to find the spin bikes are locked up until a class was on, and most of the classes were for ladies only, unless I took up some form of cross dressing it wasn't likely that I could get on a bike. So I settled for cross trainer and some weights. Unfortunately we were coming back up on the Friday, with the sportive on the saturday, so that meant early train up to glasgow, couple hours of packing then heading off up in the van to Ullapool. I picked up Ade on the way up and we got there about 8pm, of course, just in time for me to put the tent up in the dark, luckily i've done it many times before so no big problems there.
Woke up to the tent being battered by the wind and rain, kept getting slapped in the face by the side of the tent as it flapped in the wind, and that was it being sheltered behind the van too! The weather was atrocious, horizontal rain that would come and go, with a wind that only the north of scotland could call relatively normal. Ade had come over to pick up his bike, so we both were sheltering in the van in the morning trying to decide when would be the best time to make a run for it to the village hall to register, eventually it died down, we got the bikes out and made a dash for it, stopping to pick up George on the way across.
And so it begins
After registration we had to wait for the the start time, at which we got underway with all three of us starting in the first few riders. After the first corner, the course presented us with a nice warm-up hill. Of course, I immediately lost the other two, who disappeared off up the hill (i saw Ade breifly as he had stopped to put his chain back on, he was back up and running before I got to him though). The first section for me was really, really tough. The hardest section i've ever ridden. Strong headwind all the way for 35 miles with climbs followed by descents you had to go slow down because you couldn't open your eyes in the rain (had ditched my glasses as they were even worse). Because the descents couldn't be used to give you a push up the next hill, every hill was a proper climb, and thats tough for a 100kg guy like me. I kept going though, at some point I realised that I had forgotten to put any food/energy into my pockets and that I would have to wait for the first feed stop to pick up any. Of course, i'm always organised... not, I hadn't taken note of where the first one was, and unfortunately, it turned up at 29 miles in, it had felt like 60! Got bananas and flapjacks on-board and got going as quickly as I could, I didn't even know that it was 29miles I had to ask another rider as I didn't have my iphone on (battery wouldn't have lasted) and my cycle computer hadn't been reset at the beginning.
The fast bit
After that feed stop, there was another 5-10 miles of the same that we had come through, however, after turning onto the 65 mile route, the road changed to an A road, meaning that the hills were more rolling and I could use the descents to get me half way up the next hill, plus we had a bit of a tailwind at that point too, so I was flying. Managed to overtake quite a few people at that point which was very satisfying, I also had remembered that I had a couple power bars in my saddle bag for emergencies, and had had one of those, which could be something to do with why I had so much energy there. I enjoyed that bit.
The last section was also headwind city, but with all the signposts now pointing to Ullapool, it gave me hope that I was nearly there. The rain was on and off and sometimes was just that highland smur that makes it look like its not raining, but gets you soaked within 5 seconds. By this time though, I was pushing the bike up the tough hills, and unfortunately, it was at one of these that George had caught up with me (he was riding in the 88 mile route), bit embarrasing pushing the bike up the hill, but at that point, I didn't care! There were about 5-6 big hills left after that one (ahem Geo...), 2 of which I pushed up. I did have one even more embarasing moment though, as I had stopped for a rest on one of the hills, and as I was moving off, the back wheel spun in some mud, and as I had clips on, couldn't get my feet out to put them down and kaboom, over I went. Luckily no-one saw me go down, and I could just see the head of one guy coming up the hill round the corner, so got up as quick as I could, I think I got away with it!
By far the best part of the ride though, was the descent back in to Ullapool, at that point the wind had died down slightly, the rain was gone, and we were greeted with a beautiful view over the town as we flew down the hill to the finish.
As much as it was really bad weather and a really tough event, I actually enjoyed it. If the weather was better next year and I was better at the hills by then (ie I weighed less) then I might give it another go. The scenery up there was amazing!