A summer of cycling for Pedal for Scotland

At the finish line for Pedal for Scotland

This year I took part in Pedal for Scotland, an annual charity cycle from Glasgow to Edinburgh. This was the first time I had participated in the event.

I had entered two years ago, but I was unable to actually take part because I had broken my elbow — in a daft cycling accident. Last year I couldn’t make the date. So I was determined to do it this time.

My main motivation for entering was to encourage myself to cycle more often.

When I first moved to Edinburgh, I bought a bike partly because I’d wanted to take up cycling for years, but also because it was the best way for me to commute. Since then, I have moved close enough to work that it makes no sense to cycle, and is easier (and, so I’m told, better for my fitness) to walk to work instead.

The prospect of having to train for September’s 45 mile challenge was meant to get me using the bike as I had originally intended, as a leisure activity and to improve my fitness.

However, as August approached I gradually realised that I was failing. Aside from a couple of less-than-taxing rides in the spring, I had not been on my bike at all. But August was set to be a busy month. We had Airbnb guests staying almost every day, and we had booked loads of festival and Fringe shows to see.

Me cycling in the rain at the canal

I made myself somehow find the time to begin training. It began with a dreich 90 minute cycle along the canal on the first Sunday of August. I chose the canal because it was flat, the logic being that it would be easy-going.

I originally planned to cycle for one hour out, then turn back. But the rain got bad enough that I bottled it and turned round early. However, when I arrived back home I was already drenched anyway, and I was disappointed in myself for giving up early. I knew I didn’t feel tired enough. So I resolved to push myself harder.

The very next day, I did just that and went to cycle a few laps round Arthur’s Seat after work. For the uninitiated, this involves a fair bit of climbing. It was in fact the most intense climbing I had done up to that point.

I squeezed in three laps before making my way to the Pleasance where we had booked to see some comedy. I had to finish sooner than I ideally would have, but I this time I felt satisfied because I’d pushed myself as far as I could in the time I had.

Later in the week, I planned to do 5 laps. But this was thwarted when I got a puncture at the far end of the loop. I had never repaired a puncture by myself before, and it took me almost half an hour to do so. On the bright side, I viewed it as good practice in case I had to repair a puncture during Pedal for Scotland itself. But it was a bit demoralising. Training wasn’t going to plan.

Gradually, I began going out for longer rides. For the first time, I was truly exploring cycle routes around Edinburgh.

Me cycling across the deserted Forth Road Bridge

I cycled to Fife, going across the Forth Road Bridge on the first day it was closed to motor vehicles.

I went via the Innocent railway tunnel (great fun) to Musselburgh and Dalkeith (although the cycle route from Dalkeith back into Edinburgh is not so pleasant). I did some climbing in the Pentland hills — a truly stunning ride.

These rides were interspersed with missions along the canal, going slightly further each time. I’d got as far as Broxburn and back — 27 miles in total. But that was not quite the 45 miles I would need to do at Pedal for Scotland. Next I wanted to do 33 miles along the canal.

Then came disaster. I fell off my bike again, this time as I was riding along the canal towpath.

Once again, it was totally my fault. I had heard another cyclist behind me ring his bell at a bridge to warn any potential oncoming traffic. When I turned round to see where he was, I realised that he was much faster than me.

He wasn’t hassling me at all, but I still let it get to me. I tried to slow down and pull over to let him past. But at this point, the towpath was far too narrow for this. I looked round my shoulder to see where he was.

When I looked back, I was convinced I was heading towards the canal itself. I slammed on my brakes and tumbled over the handlebars. In the end, I think we were both lucky not to end up in the water.

Stupidly, I was carrying my work laptop in my rucksack. That would have been an interesting conversation to have with my boss. In fact, it was carrying the laptop that probably made me tired and impaired my judgement.

At least I had learned how to land properly from my last fall. This time, I was badly grazed and seriously annoyed with myself. But no more than that.

I had to cycle more than 10 miles to get home. But I did it. Looking at Strava, it seemed as though I was actually faster on my way back.

A few days later, I triumphantly cycled to Kinghorn in Fife to meet some friends.

I still hadn’t cycled 45 miles. But I was very comfortable cycling more than 30. With my head in the game, I was now feeling fit and ready for Pedal for Scotland.

Pedal for Scotland itself

In fact, more than anything else I was worried about the early start. I had to get up at 4am to cycle to the tram stop at Haymarket, where participants were taken to Ingliston to catch a coach to the start line at Glasgow. My set-off time was 7.30am.

Me at Lochend during Pedal for Scotland

The weather was slightly drizzly. For a lot of people, this counted as a bad thing. But for me it was welcome. The sun wasn’t in my eyes. The drizzle was a cooling influence — not heavy enough to be a distraction.

There were three well-positioned rest stops along the way. I felt so good at the first rest stop that I skipped it and kept on going. This wasn’t exactly a mistake, but I begin to feel really tired a few miles later, and I had to stop by myself and eat a snack.

Even though you can take loads of snacks and water with you, it’s really easy not to stop and take them. The pedalling itself is quite addictive, and the idea of losing momentum makes it tempting not to look after yourself.

Me at Hulks during Pedal for Scotland

The first section of the ride is quite hilly, as you climb your way up towards central Scotland. The camaraderie among the participants at this stage was pretty good. People were chatting away, offering encouragement.

Me at Standburn during Pedal for Scotland

During one particularly hilly section, someone with chunky mountain bike tyres asked me if he had a puncture. It didn’t look like it to me. “It’s just a tough hill, sir.”

Rest stop at Slamannan

Near the highest point of the course, at the halfway mark, came the second stop at Slamannan. There was soup, coffee, bananas, cereal bars and — most importantly of all — loos.

Rocky road cake at Slamannan

There was also a charity cake stall. I grabbed some rocky road, which I felt was very apt for some of the transport infrastructure I was experiencing that morning.

As the day went on, the participants became less communicative as energy levels diminished. But the security stewards offered increasingly more encouragement.

Me at Babbithill during Pedal for Scotland

One particularly enthusiastic individual was standing at the top of a long, straight climb. He curled his hands around his mouth and yelled at the top of his voice: “PEDAL! COME ON! PEDAL! YOU CAN DO IT! COME OOOOON! PEEEEDAALLLL!”

I’m not sure the residents of the house he was standing outside could have been happy about this happening early on a Sunday morning. Their dog certainly wasn’t, and it matched the steward in volume.

Pasta pot at Linlithgow

The next rest stop, at Linlithgow, offered more bananas and a small pasta pot for lunch. I found it a bit poxy, but it gave me enough energy to see things through without needing to grab for the snacks in my bag.

Me at Bridge Inn during Pedal for Scotland

By this point, I had already cycled further than I ever had done before. But these final 10 miles or so felt comparatively easy. The approach to Edinburgh through West Lothian was a little less picturesque than earlier portions of the route. But the knowledge that I was approaching the final stretch pulled me through.

Approaching the final stretch at Pedal for Scotland

As the Royal Highland Centre, at the end of the route, came into view I felt some disappointment. Even after 45 miles, I still wanted to keep going.

Crossing the finish line at Pedal for Scotland

I didn’t feel as tired as I’d expected. It was all a bit easier than I’d anticipated. There was nothing to worry about! I could probably have gone on for 10 more miles.

Me with my Pedal for Scotland medal

I finished earlier than I was expecting to as well, despite taking longer at the two rest stops than I really needed to. My total time from Glasgow to Edinburgh was 4 hours and 13 minutes, including almost 30 minutes at the rest stops.

I’m told by Alex’s father, Chris Oliver, who knows a thing or two about bikes, that my time was good considering I was riding a hybrid bike.

Me with my bike after Pedal for Scotland

Photo by Alex Oliver

I had tremendous fun doing Pedal for Scotland, and I achieved levels of fitness I never imagined before. I’m sure I will participate again.

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