Hebridean Cycle Challenge: Charity Cycle and Charity Walk

Challenge 2013

Gavin Simmon's Solo BIke/Run Challenge Report

What a great, tough event! I found out about this event when visiting family on Lewis the week after the 2012 event and reading about it in the paper. I had earmarked it for my 2013 event schedule and was delighted when I found out it fell nicely in a trip back to Europe from my home in Saudi Arabia.

I originally planned to tackle the event on it’s own merit, but when it’s date fell just one week before a half-ironman race I was competing in in Denmark, my target for the event changed. I planned to use it just as a warm up event, with the focus on performing well in the run when fatigued, so whilst I did intend to go hard in the bike, it was to be within my aerobic zones.

Gavin at the start line

This stayed the case until we lined up on the start line at the recycling center. Once the flag fell, and allowing for a few seconds fumbling into my cleats, the competitive streak takes over and it was all out racing effort on the bike. The 2 young guns and I traded places at the front of the pack for the first 13 or so miles till they took the initiative on the climb up through Ballalan and got themselves a reasonable gap. This should have given me warning of what was to come later.

At this point, it is probably worth remembering the last words of the pre-race briefing – “no drafting”. I will say nothing more but it is fair to say that it was pretty much me riding an individual time trial and the top 2 riding a 2-up team time trial for the first 40km until they finally split. So losing 4-6 minutes overall after the bike in these circumstances isn’t so bad. With my upcoming event I was always going to be riding ITT style anyway.

Gavin on the Clisham climb
Gavin on the Clisham climb

Until the base of the Clisham the gap was fairly consistent then things went a little wrong for me. I had chosen to bring my time trial bike with me over my road bike, mostly due to the long triathlon the following week. The deep section wheels had already caused some anxious moments on the descents and cross winds and now the huge gearing (54T/42T chainset) on the bike made for a tortuous climb – what was I thinking? And when you think you have made it up the climb, oh no, there’s still so much more till you crest the top. I think I really lost time on the front 2 at this point and from that point on I worked on getting back a good rhythm on the flatter section until the descent down the other side.

Gavin on the Clisham climb
Gavin on the Clisham climb

The descent was lethal – the poor surface, the steepness – my GPS registered in excess of 12%, and crosswind gusts led to a pretty nervous time and I only just managed to slow before the turn to the single track road.

By now though I was feeling fresh legged again, getting the rhythm going again on the flatter section had definitely helped, but it didn’t last too long as the steep ramps of the final climb before Miavig really hurt. Another bare knuckle descent in crosswinds and into transition.

The organization at transition was superb, really easy and I was soon on my way on the run. This is where things fell apart.

Gavin at the start of the trail run
Gavin at the start of the trail run

H aving been carrying a calf injury for weeks, I set a safe pace of 5m30s/km but within 500m the cramping came, first in my quads, but that was reasonably easily worked out, but then as the track continued more and more in my hamstrings. I was forced to stop for at least 15 minutes cumulatively to try and work on these cramps and walk some more after each stop before I could tentatively break into a jog. I believe I lost 30 minutes to this factor alone.

This was all before the real climbing started and we left the landrover track and started out on the singletrack. 2 more runners passed me at this point and all my focus was just on completing the event. A lovely lady from the Coastguard checked I was ok and told me there were some more personnel stationed along the single track. This gave me the confidence to continue on. Without this knowledge I was really close to calling it quits.

The climbs were longer than I remembered from having walked the route in reverse some years previously but they passed and any gains I made on the climbs against those in front of me were immediately lost as the next set of cramps attacked.

Finally Loch Seaforth came into view, and eventually so did the road. Those last few hundred meters where I would normally be able to sprint remained a battle between keeping the legs moving and not cramping and finally just a few seconds shy of 4 hours I crossed the line.

I don’t know what caused the cramps but can only guess that a combination of long haul flights, a change in temperature from 40 deg C to 10 deg C and the steep climbs was challenging my body in ways it is not used to.

Honestly, I was disappointed with my time. I had believed based on previous performances to be looking almost 45 mins quicker but you can only work with what you have on the day so I was able to take a lot of positives out of the day, especially knowing that I could suffer such bad cramps and still complete the route. This was a very valuable lesson which would help me in the half-ironman the following week.

Gavin at the finish of the race
Gavin at the finish of the race

Gavin Simmons

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