I've never been much of a competitor - not in sports anyway. As a youngster I had neither the skills for the likes of football nor the fitness for anything more athletic. My participation in cycling has, almost always, been for relaxation, for enjoyment and for simply enjoying the outdoors. However, back in 2007 I was persuaded to take part in an event called 70 Wild Miles. This is/was a triathlon set around the Glencoe area that would involve me only in the cycle part - a 47 mile ride from the Grey Corries to Taynuilt. I can't deny that there was a frisson of excitement as I pinned the number to my jersey and stuck one on my bike. It was a nice ride, though I struggled on one particular climb, and I gave it my all approaching the finish line.
Looking up the timesheets later that night confirmed that I had done "OK", but plainly there were a lot of folk better trained and fitter than I was. The event was primarily about fundraising but it had started a little spark in me to see what else I might be able to compete in.
Fast forward a year and I found myself back at the Grey Corries to do it all over again. This time, I'd actually put a bit of effort into a training plan, I'd even bought a lighter/quicker bike. Again, I rather enjoyed the experience and, but for a handful of seconds, the team I was in would actually have won the event.
With a bit of enthusiasm now, I joined a group of internet-based buddies to do a wee bit of off-road racing in the Sleepless in the Saddle event. To be honest, I was cursing the guy that talked me into it as rain turned the track into a muddy slop that left me carrying the bike round the nine mile course for over two hours.
Other than that, I've taken part in a few Sportives. These can hardly be classified as races, though many riders take them very seriously indeed. I find they can be a great way of meeting other riders and, on the busier events, the sight of someone a little ahead of me makes me work a wee bit harder just to catch them up. My goal with any Sportive has been just to finish in the top half of the field and I've been able to achieve that.
One event that many folk have asked me about is the Strathpuffer. I've often considered it and even went to help out a friend one year. However, the idea of riding round a forest for 24 hours, in January, mainly in he dark and with the risk of snow, ice and/or mud hasn't quite grabbed me enough.
So - fast forward to 2013 and what have I done? I've only gone and entered a mountain bike race. However, this is a race like no other. This is 560 miles through the Scottish Highlands, unsupported, in the manner of an Individual TIme Trial - http://www.highlandtrail.net/ I have no doubt whatsoever that this will be, by far, the toughest thing I've ever done. To put it in perspective, my Lands End to John o'Groats ride was 10 days of around 100 miles but with a comfy bed each evening, food provided and with luggage all carried for me. For the HT550, I'll be carrying my food, water, bedding, clothing etc and I'll have to do 70 miles per day regardless of how much of that is walking and carrying or pushing my bike. To say I'm apprehensive would be a massive understatement.
A quick calculation shows that I have six months to get fit, develop my "camp-craft" and work out what kit I'll need and how little I can get away with. With a fall-out rate of almost 50% in last-years inaugural (though shorter) event I'm going to be very pleased just to make it round in the 8-day cut-off time whereas the fast guys (like Mike Hall - current record holder for the unsupported circumnavigation of the globe by bicycle) will likely do it in 4 days.
Sounds like I have two challenges to manage into 2014 then; get ready for the HT550 and yet not lose the fun and relaxation that I normally associate with riding my bike and camping. Expect this blog to be full of anguish, head-shaking and sheer panic for the next six months!!!