If you start racing a 66 mile close road circuit around Loch Ness at 6am in the company 4000 people, the rest of your Sunday is always going to feel a bit surreal. If you then drink champagne and deliver a talk as part of the Aviemore Mountain Film Festival in the afternoon, the chances are you’ll be seeing unicorns by the evening.
It was cold and bright when we rolled out from Bught park at a time most sensible people are still fast asleep. We bowled down to Fort Augustus in an enormous peleton of riders, each of us considering our form that we knew would called into question the second we hit the climb at the half way point. My form on the day was not so good. My legs screamed on every little undulation and I knew that if I were to get a good time on this years Loch Ness Etape I would have to ride carefully and with other people as much as possible. There is no hiding on that climb though and in order to stay at the front of the group to be helped back to Inverness along the flat, I had to empty my reserves and shut my ears to my protesting legs.
On passing the piper at the top of Glen Doe, we breathed what we could of a sigh of relief and began the rolling descent back to Inverness.
I completed the climb in 23 painful minutes .At this point last year I had gapped the riders behind me but been dropped by the guys ahead so spent 10 lonely miles pegging it back to the leading group. This year, I was lucky. I arrived at the top and began descending amongst the group I would cross the finish line with making the second half of my ride much more comfortable that the previous year.
I crossed the line after 2 hours and 57 minutes of effort – exactly the same time to the minute as in 2015 – and earning the title of Queen of the Mountains for the fastest climb too.
This event showcases the Scottish Highlands at its very finest and is so well organised that participating is a delight even when taking into account the 6am start. I encourage anyone to take part no matter what speed you average and enjoy the ride.