Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Race Report: SXC Round 1 Laggan Wolftrax

We all question ourselves in every aspect of life, but when you're training hard for any kind of sport you can find yourself questioning every little detail.  Did I train too hard, did I do the right training, did I rest enough, did I eat the right thing?  Will it all work out on race day?!

It's been a long winter of training.  Twenty three weeks to be precise.  I've really enjoyed it.  I've tried new things.  I've pushed myself in ways I've never before.  I've managed to stay healthy and have rested when I've seen any sign of fatigue appear.  I've worked hard.  I've taken it easy when my body has told me too.  I've got the great support of a new sponsor, Origins Fitness, including some expert Personal Training advice from Pamela in the gym there.  I've also had some fantastic advice from Tom Bell that has really improved my training results (check out his website and YouTube channel for great mountain bike training advice).

But would all this turn into race results?  That's the main question for a racer as you approach that first race of the season, which for me was Round 1 of the Scottish XC Series at Laggan Wolftrax in the highlands.

I loved the course at Laggan last year.  On arriving this year, the course had been changed slightly - it was basically one big fire road climb and one nice long descent with a mixture of technical rock gardens, a short muddy slippy section and some fun berms and jumps using the orange "freeride" area to finish. Roughly equal time climbing and descending and it suited me pretty well.  I thought it was a great course again so thanks to the SXC guys and local organisers!

I did 3 practice laps on Saturday, 2 easy and one a little faster - it's important to experience some of the downhill sections at near race pace the day before rather than for the first time in the race itself, but try not to push yourself and tire out too much.  It was also great fun doing practice with my wife Heather.  As a brief aside, she did a few races in the Senior Female category last year, including a win at Forfar and 2nd overall in the series so she is now also competing in the Expert category and came 7th in her race!  So so proud of her!  Amazing for her first race with the Expert/Elite ladies!

The weather on Saturday had been pretty wet, gale force winds overnight (which required quick dismantling of the gazebo!) and pretty cold.  It was therefore nice to see it brighten up a bit on Sunday and the weather to be drier than forecast.  The track was still muddy and wet in places and while some of the rocks were slippery, most of it was actually pretty grippy and I was happy with my tyre choice of Bontrager XR1s.

All my prep went well but we had a 45 minute delay to our race so that the ambulance could deal with two casualties from the previous races.  Thankfully nothing too serious I think and I hope they are both recovering well.  Totally understandable delay and you have to be flexible to deal with these things.  I stopped and restarted my warm-up when I heard, but maybe spent a bit too long warming up - something I need to experiment with this season I think.


Calm before the race - even managed a smile for the camera!

I arrived on the start line feeling focused but calm.  I had been a bit nervous beforehand, wondering how all the winter training would pay off, but I had to remind myself of two key things:
  1. I need to race my own race - I can't control other people and the result doesn't matter in the long run. My own performance is what matters
  2. I hadn't peaked for this race.  That doesn't come until the end of May and it's only the first race of the season!
I reminded myself of these facts and lined up calm and ready on the front row of the grid thanks to my placing from last year's overall series.

1 minute . . . 30 seconds . . . 15 seconds . . . Bang!



I didn't get clipped in straight away but was in reasonably quickly and happy enough with my start.  I stuck well with the group and we didn't really spread out initially - there was a head wind up the first climb so people were trying to tuck in behind each other.

I was pleasantly surprised that I was staying with the "big names" up that first climb.  It was a small but pretty strong, tough field.  Some guys I know from last year who get great podium results in Elite/Expert and some people I didn't know but had heard were really good.  

I stuck with the group for the first 3 minutes or so of the climb.  I wasn't max'd out and while it wasn't easy I knew I could maintain it for the 8 or 9 minutes of that fire road climb.  However, someone then put the hammer down and the pace just changed once we turned a corner away from the head wind.  It turns out it was Callum MacGowan and he went onto lead and win the race.  Callum has only just moved up from Juniors to Expert - I've chatted to him over the past two years at races and I'm so happy to see him win.  Especially against such a strong field and by a decent margin in his first Elite/Expert race.  Well done young man!  He's definitely one to watch for the future and I'll be keeping a close eye on his results in the British Series too (where he's clearly going to beat me too as we're now in the same category!).

I just couldn't stick with that pace.  I kept the group in sight most of the climb and had a few guys behind me, but wasn't sure how many.  The juniors go at the same time as us so some of the people in front and behind would be those young but fast guys!  I didn't want to burn all my matches on the first lap so I just stuck at a pace that was hard but not too hard and hoped I could maybe catch up as the race progressed.


Pushing it up the fire road climb

In the end, I stayed in the same place for the remainder of the race and rode on my own, other than lapping some people in other categories and being caught by the leading 2 or 3 from the Sport and Vets category behind (they get set off 1 minute and 2 minutes behind us respectively so their leaders do tend to catch a few of us in Elite/Expert by our later laps, although we are doing one more lap than Sport and Vets).

So, head down and ride your own race!  In some ways this is a good thing and I enjoy just getting my head down, keeping an eye on my lap times and trying to work on my consistency, but it's also nice to have someone to race against.  A big positive is that I put more time into the guys behind as each lap went on so I had a good margin, but I just couldn't catch the group in front.

Image courtesy of Stevie Todd

On lap 2, the skies opened and the wind came howling along as I descended . . . and brought with it hailstones!  I'm so glad I had my Oakley glasses on to protect my eyes but bare legs and lycra ain't much defence against hailstones!  Ouch!  


Hailstones and head winds ain't much fun to race in!

Then it was sunshine again for the rest of the race!



As usual, I dropped a bit of time from the high pace first lap but was happy that my climbs stayed pretty consistent with not too much variance for the full fire road climb:

08:24, 08:55, 09:29, 09:16, 09:51

As you'll know if you read my blogs last year, I've been trying to work on my lap time consistency.  The ideal situation is a fast first lap, consistent times middle of the race, then speed up towards the end.  As well as the climbs above, my full lap times were:

19:24, 20:13, 20:38, 20:35, 21:15

So, while I clearly slowed down towards the end (and I'm still analysing why), I'm happy with laps 2, 3 and 4.  Any variance under 30 seconds is good and especially looking at laps 3 and 4.

In fact, in lap 4, I dropped my chain on one of the rock gardens so that took 5 or 10 seconds to get back on.  I stayed calm and didn't panic, but it shows lap 4 was probably even faster.  Thanks so much to the other riders who I overtook from other categories on laps 3, 4 and 5 - amazingly kind and great etiquette to allow us to pass.

Image courtesy of Stevie Todd

As for the dropped chain - I fitted a new chain recently and maybe need to take a link or two out.  I now run Shimano XTR 1 x 11 on both bikes but no chainguide.  I've found the Shimano chainring tooth pattern and XTR clutch mech flawless all winter.  I've done some pretty rough stuff and never dropped a chain.  I thought I made this chain the same length but maybe not.  I'm going to check it, probably shorten it and if I drop it once more I will invest in a small lightweight chainguide to prevent this happening again in a race.  It thankfully wasn't a crucial moment and didn't cost me much time.

I'm happy with my descending too although feel there were some sections I could have gone a bit faster - it's a fine balance of speed vs. risk in a race!



On the 5th and final lap, I settled in nicely to the climb and had actually forgotten how much it was hurting!  I enjoyed the final time down the fun descent and even smiled before crossing the line!

So, where did I finish? . . . 10th

In my first race of last season I was 9th out of a field of roughly the same size in my first Expert/Elite race.  So, how does this compare?  Should I be upset with that result?  Well, I'm definitely happy but with some mixed feelings:

  • I'd say the field was very tough and strong, perhaps tougher than the first race of last season
  • I'm happy with many of my own process goals and on comparison to last year, many of my sections are faster, both up and down
  • I was only a few minutes behind James Fraser Moodie in 9th place, and he got on the podium last year a few times
  • I had a good gap to the next rider behind me
  • I shouldn't compare myself to others but I do - on comparing to a few people in my own or other categories that I know I'm roughly on a par with, I'm happy that I'm either doing roughly the same lap times or slightly faster
So, why the mixed feelings?  Well, on analysing my data afterwards, I feel I could have actually pushed myself more, both on the climbs and descents.  I also do wonder if I could have stuck more with that surge in the first lap.  I'm also not sure how my warm-up affected me - it was a bit start/stop because of the race start delay but everyone was impacted by that so it's not an excuse.  I think I need to experiment with a shorter slightly less intensive warm-up though so will report back on how that goes.

Overall, I'm happy with that as a start to the season and as I've said above, it's the first race of many and there's a long way to go before I peak in my training plan.  It's the first round of the British XC Series next week at Pembrey in Wales.  If I'm perfectly honest, the course footage I've seen looks not very inspiring at all but I'll try to reserve full judgement until I ride it - it just looks flat and not very technical.  I do hope the videos and photos just don't do it justice as it's a round of our national series after all so should be up to the same standards as the great SXC courses like we had at Laggan.

It's so good to be racing again!

Friday, 25 March 2016

Nutrition: racing, training and off the bike

There's no point training really hard to prepare for races, or even just generally riding your bike for fitness and fun, if you don't fuel your riding properly.  You wouldn't deliberately put the wrong fuel in your car, yet every day many of us put the wrong fuel in our bodies.

I'm not claiming to be an angel when it comes to food.  I used to eat terribly, until I found cycling and it basically changed my life.  I still have the odd "off the wagon" moment, a few treats now and then, and those times when I know I'm eating the wrong thing.  I'm only human after all and it is not good for anyone to abstain permanently from the odd treat.  But the majority of the time, and for most of the race season and the months of training leading up to it, I try to ensure I'm fueling my body properly for training and racing.

This isn't just about fueling on the bike - what you eat day to day plays a big part too.  I'm not a nutritionist or dietitian.  I have no qualifications.  If you need proper professional advice, I recommend you go see someone like the expert nutritionists and personal trainers at Origins Fitness or your own local gym, health centre, or doctor.  However, what I've included below is just a few simple hints and tips to help you on and off the bike, based on what I've learned over the years.

It works for me, and so I'm not saying it will necessarily work for you, but it's a good basis to start from.  Experiment and find what works best for you.  

My top ten tips for nutrition


  1. Eat "clean" as much as possible - that is, cook your food from scratch and avoid processed packaged foods.  This is the only way to know exactly what you're putting in your body and be careful eating out.
  2. Always read the label - you'd be surprised the amount of chemicals and additives there are hidden in supposedly "healthy" food
  3. Eat little and often - don't starve yourself all day to then just have a massive dinner.  Have 3 smaller meals and 3 healthy snacks rather than 3 massive meals with no snacks in between
  4. Eat more protein - sweeping generalisation, but most people don't have enough (and no, it's not going to make you look like a body builder!)
  5. Only eat carbs when you need them - I do recommend a good balance of carbs, protein and fat, but just watch when you have the carbs.  Don't have a massive bowl of pasta then sit and do nothing
  6. Never try a new food or drink for the first time in a race - always try it out in training first to make sure it works for you (especially energy gels and bars)
  7. Fuel your training properly, both the night before and the day of the ride
  8. Recover properly - get some carbs and protein in your body within 30 minutes of completing your ride
  9. For any ride over an hour, eat!  Unless you're doing an easy Zone 1 or 2 fasted ride (which is good for teaching your body to use fat stores) - for anything over an hour, make sure you take food with you to avoid the dreaded "bonk".  Eat regularly during the ride.
  10. Have a treat now and again - don't let it become a binge and still try to avoid the chemical laden nonsense, but just time it properly and allow yourself the odd treat.  As I've said, I'm no angel when it comes to food - you just have to ensure 80 - 90% of your eating is "clean" and allow yourself the odd treat
General day-to-day eating tips

As I've already said, I'm not a qualified nutritionist or dietitian, and I also don't plan to give you lots of recipes and detailed meal plans here.  However, I've included a few ideas based on what I have myself day-to-day, to help you get started if you're looking for ways to better fuel your training and racing (or to just eat a bit more cleanly).

Breakfast ideas:
  • Porridge - I love it!  I would eat it 3 times a day if I could!  Just don't overdo the portion size and don't have it if you're not going to use it later in the day.  Also, please avoid the packaged nonsense!  Over-priced and often full of refined sugar.  Porridge is a great low-GI slow-release carbohydrate with a good dose of fibre.  I make mine with milk, even though I'm a Scot!  (no water and salt for me, but each to their own!).  You could add one or more of the following to spice it up a bit:
    • Banana
    • Blueberries
    • Flax seed
    • Chia seeds
    • Maca (great natural energy booster without being sugar)
  • Eggs - despite what the previous generation were told, eggs are so good for you.  Good fats, great dose of protein and they'll leave you feeling fuller for longer.  If you've got a big ride later in the day, eggs on toast is a great way to fuel it, along with a carb boost about 30 - 60 minutes before the ride
  • Fruit and protein smoothie - stick some natural yoghurt (not the low-fat stuff that has fat replaced by refined sugar!), fruit, ice and a scoop of whey protein powder in a blender and whizz it up.  You can add some of the seeds I mentioned above for some extra vitamins, protein and good fats.  A quick fix breakfast when you don't have time to make something.  Just ensure it's not all fruit to avoid a blood sugar spike then crash - ensure there's yoghurt and/or protein powder in there too
Lunch tips

I don't propose to give you a list of suggested meals, but my general tips would be:
  • Keep it light and mainly protein/good fats if you don't have a big ride or training session planned later that day - e.g. salad with tuna/avacado, soup with some natural yoghurt afterwards, an omelette
  • If you have a big ride or hard training session later that day, have some more carbs and more calories to help fuel it - aim for low-GI slow-release carbs just like at breakfast; e.g. wholemeal pasta/rice/bread
Dinner tips

I'm not going to give you a recipe book here, but what I want to show is that you don't need convenience food even if you have a busy life.  Everything I've listed below takes no more than 10 minutes to prepare and less than 30 minutes to cook.  If I've not just come home from a big ride or I'm not doing a big ride the next morning, my dinners tend to be quite low carb.  I've therefore separated the list:

Low carb:
  • Salad with any of my favourite meats: chicken, salmon, tuna and about once per week a red meat (usually steak)
  • Good old meat and veg - favourites include sweet potatoes (I rarely eat white potatoes), carrots, parsnips, asparagus, onion, butternut squash.  You can spice things up with your favourite herbs.  I have been known to cover everything in ground garlic - it's so good for you too!  Just make sure you brush your teeth afterwards! :-)  Use turmeric too - great for recovery.
Higher carb for fueling training:

  • Wholewheat pasta, green beans, sweet potato, chicken and pesto
  • Wholewheat pasta, tomatoes, passata, peppers, onions, courgette, chicken, garlic
  • Chicken and mushroom risotto - I just make this with normal brown rice.  If you just overcook it slightly, it has the same consistency as aborio rice used for making risotto and means you're sticking to a lower GI rice
  • Mixed veg cous cous, topped with fish or chicken

Snacks

The dreaded snack!  The time that most people give in and have something they shouldn't.  Snacking is good, as I've said above, and I try to ensure I eat roughly every 2 to 3 hours.  I'll usually have a snack at about 10 - 10.30am and then around 2.30 - 3pm in work.  If I'm training that night I might have something else around 5pm ish just as I'm leaving work and it'll be more focused on energy (such as an energy bar).  I've been known to have a bowl of porridge (told you I love it!) at about 4pm if I have a hard or long training session planned at 6pm or 7pm.  However, the rest of the time, I tend to stick to the following.

Just watch the portion sizes as the nuts can be high calorie despite how good they are for you.  Preparation is key so make sure you take snacks with you to work to avoid the vending machine!
  • 30g almonds
  • 30g pumpkin seeds
  • 30g brazil nuts
  • Protein shake (quite often the best way to get a protein dose if I'm in meetings in work rather than munching away in the corner!) - just watch out for added sweeteners which can mess with your blood sugar level.  Stevia is a good alternative sweetener that is much better for you but it doesn't agree with me.  I'm now just sticking to plain unflavoured whey.
  • Natural yoghurt (sometimes with blueberries, flax, chia added)
  • Cottage cheese - great source of protein yet still low fat
  • Fruit - I try to have only 2 pieces of fruit a day so that I don't have too many sugar spikes and get most of my "5/8/10 a day" from vegetables (who knows what the current recommendation is . . . lots is good!)
  • Homemade protein bar (some shop bought ones are okay and I do use them but just watch the chemicals and additives, especially sweeteners or sugar)
  • Chicken - a great tip from Graham at Origins Fitness: cook up an extra chicken breast with your dinner the night before and flavour it with your favourite herbs or spices (e.g. chilli and garlic).  Chop it up, let it cool, and you've got a tasty protein-filled snack for the next day!

Training

I hope the above gives you a few ideas for changes you could make day to day.  The emphasis is on high protein/fat and low carb unless I need the carbs for training.  So, what about training then?

Well, it depends on the type of training.  If I'm doing a short high-intensity effort, I find I don't need to load up on carbs before it.  Just eat normally throughout the day then have some fruit or an energy bar or some carb drink before the ride.  You don't need anything during a session like that, but make sure you get some carbs and protein into your body as soon as possible afterwards.  I find a banana and a protein shake the quickest way to do so, or if I've prepared more in advance, I'll just have my lunch/dinner straight away afterwards, depending on the time of day.

For longer training rides, I tend to do the following:
  • A good carby dinner the night before
  • Porridge with banana and a couple of boiled eggs about 3 hours before the ride
  • About an hour before the ride - an energy bar or a piece of fruit, and a caffeine coffee (I drink decaf most of the time, so the caffeine is a good boost)
  • During the ride, I'll use High5 4:1 (Carb/Protein) powder and typically have one bottle every 1 - 1.5 hours
  • If it's a steady Zone 2 ride, that's often enough, but I might supplement it with my homemade flapjacks, a banana, or gels if I'm practising race nutrition and getting my body used to gels
  • To give you an example, when I do the pretty intensive 80km group road ride I take part in most Saturdays over the winter, I'll have:
    • 2 x 500ml bottles of High5 4:1
    • 2 x energy gels
    • 1 x banana
  • I wouldn't have that much on an easy 2.5 hour training ride but that particular ride is pretty intensive and I treat it like race simulation so I want to ensure I'm fueled well until the end
  • Another favourite of mine that is simple to stuff in a bag or back pocket, but best saved for longer endurance rides where you have time to stop for a few minutes to eat:  peanut butter and chopped banana on a wholemeal wrap or wholemeal bread.  I wouldn't advise this on a really intensive ride as the fat/protein in the peanut butter can be hard to digest, but it's a great fuel for a longer steady ride and the kind of thing I'd have on, for example, a 6 hour wild mountain bike ride
Racing

In general, you want to aim for 1 - 1.5g of carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight per hour to ensure you remain fueled, especially in a longer race.  Another rule of thumb is about 300 calories per hour (very roughly half of the kilojoules you'll put out per hour) but that varies depending on your body, the intensity, your power output and so on.

However, in a short XC race, it's more about what you eat before - all I use in an XC race is water and gels (since they're much easier to consume and there's no way I could chew at XC race intensity!).  I'll ensure I've had a good meal with plenty of slow release carbs and a dose of protein about 3 hours before the race start.  An energy bar or homemade flapjack about an hour before, just when I'm going to start my warm-up.  Then, it's roughly:
  • 1 caffeine energy gel on the start line when we get called up (10 mins to go)
  • 250ml of water per lap
  • 2 x normal energy gels (start of laps 2 and 4 usually)
  • 1 caffeine energy gel on the last lap if I feel I need it
  • 250ml of High5 4:1 on the last lap, just for an extra boost (quite a few pros use flat coke in their bottle for the last lap for the same reason)
I used to have more than this in XC races and realised I was causing myself to feel bloated and get sluggish towards the end.  As long as you fuel properly beforehand you really only need a sugar boost every now and again, as above, in a race of approx 1.5 hours.

I realise I've gone on about clean eating above then I'm now saying I use energy gels.  I completely understand they are not "clean" but the ones I use don't have much added to them and I've yet to find a clean alternative to gels that I can get in my mouth quickly during a high intensity XC race!

For longer endurance races, I might have more carbs the day before the race and a bit more protein for breakfast (e.g. 3 eggs) to ensure I'm fueled for longer, but otherwise pre-race is the same.  When it comes to during the race, I will typically go with the following, but bear in mind this is based on my weight and I have erred towards the 1.5g of carbs per kg of bodyweight mentioned above and I just ease off if I start to feel a bit too full.  I've got to know my body well and can tell in advance if I'm at risk of eating too much or if I just need some plain old water instead of High5 4:1 (remember it's food, just in liquid form!).

  • Half a homemade flapjack and one gel per hour (spaced out by 30 mins - e.g. half a flapjack on the hour, gel at half past the hour)
  • 500ml of High5 4:1 every one or two laps, interspersed with plain water as I feel like it
  • A banana every 3 ish hours when I'll make a very brief stop in the pits
  • I will sometimes use jelly babies (a wee stash in my back pocket!) for an extra boost - they are much more natural now than they used to be and are a great way to get sugar into your system quickly.  I'm going to experiment with alternatives this year though so will let you know how I get on
So, I realise that's been a relatively long blog and not any pictures to spice it up in between, but I hope it has been useful and informative.  As always, if you have any questions please leave them in the comments box below or post on my Facebook page (link on the top left of this page).

Thanks as always for reading and remember to speak to a professional if you want proper advice - the above is just based on my experience!

Sunday, 20 March 2016

One week to go . . .

One week from now my first race of the 2016 season, riding for my new sponsor Origins Fitness, will be done and dusted!  I started my training for the 2016 season back in October 2015.  If you include my 5 week "prep" phased, I've just completed my 22nd week of training for this season today.  As I'm sure you can expect, I can't wait to get racing at the first round of the Scottish XC mountain bike series at Laggan on Sunday 27th March!

I'm well into my "Build" training phase and so have moved on from all those steady base miles in the winter and have been enjoying some tough interval sessions a couple of times per week.  I've had a real confidence boost in those sessions this past week, as I've seen my numbers improve week on week.

A further confidence boost came this weekend as I finally completed my weekly road group ride with the Glasgow southside "chaingang" without being spat out of the back . . . and in my fastest time yet.  81.5km with 940m climbing in 2 hours 21 minutes - got to be happy with that. 

Beautiful sunshine too, so I went for a nice cool-down ride afterwards to enjoy more of it.

It's hard not to have a cheesy grin after a great bike ride on a day like that!

Despite the aching legs from Saturday's road ride, it was off to Comrie Croft today for some mountain biking (well, I am a mountain bike racer after all!).  I love the trails at Comrie - proper red and black graded trails, not tamed down like some other trail centres.  I would go to Comrie every weekend if I could!  

The reason we chose it for our ride today was due its similarity to Laggan where the first race of the SXC Series will take place next weekend.  Laggan and Comrie are both mainly rocky trails, with a mixture of natural exposed bedrock and man-made rock gardens.  The difference is that Laggan is over 2.5 hours drive away from where we live, while Comrie is just over an hour.  A great place to hone our skills for Laggan next weekend without the long drive.  Plus, the sun was shining yet again!



Today's ride was not about high intensity - nice and steady Zone 2 most of the time.  However, on the descents, I was focusing on line choice, smoothness and working on my skills through the rocky sections.  This is just after the start of the black route at Comrie . . . the picture doesn't do it justice!  It's a lot rougher and steeper in real life!  Hence the look of concentration on my face!

It's also a while since I've worked on drops and jumps, so the small skills loop at Comrie Croft was useful for refreshing those skills.  You do get the odd jump or drop in an XC race and it's also just simply fun to be in the air on a bike!












Setting a new fastest time on the black descent at Comrie was yet another confidence boost, but even without that, it was a great session to do some final tuning-up of the rock garden skills in advance of Laggan next week.

Now, I'm not planning to "peak" for Laggan . . . to peak for your first race could mean you burn out half-way through the season.  I therefore don't expect to be completely on-form for Laggan.  It's been a long, hard winter of training, but to see these improvements at this stage shows it has all paid off and I feel ready to start the season.  I'm so motivated to get racing for my new sponsor and can't wait to get back to Laggan.  It was one of my favourite races last year and I love the trails there.

As well as training hard over the past few weeks, I've also found time for a bit of fun now that I've got my awesome looking new Origins Fitness kit to race in this season.  Thanks to my great friend and amazing photographer Jamie Simpson, we've had fun taking some promo photos both at Cathkin Braes MTB track, and at Origins Fitness gym itself.  As you'll see, Jamie is a great photographer so check out his Facebook page and get in touch with him if you like his work.

You can read our official press release about the new sponsorship here on UKXCNews, and here are some of the photos we had fun taking.  In the meantime, check back in a few days for another blog before the season gets underway and next week for my first race report of the season after Laggan.  










Thursday, 17 March 2016

MyHi Protein Review: Good intentions, but definitely not "healthy"

When a company with the tag line "deliciously high protein" sent me some free samples to try, I thought: great, a food company focused on delivering healthy, protein-rich food to the masses.  I appreciate this is a sweeping generalisation, but most people don't get enough protein in their diet and so I thought it can surely only be a good thing that a food company is trying to improve that.

Unfortunately I was wrong . . . 

I really do believe MyHi have good intentions.  The problem is how they've executed those intentions.  In my opinion, what they've delivered is processed food, albeit with extra protein added, but it's still processed food.  As an athlete, I can't possibly recommend this to any of my readers on this blog.

Some of it tastes good, some not so good.  Some of it is convenient.  But therein lies the problem - convenience.  I have a busy day job.  A busy training schedule.  A wife.  A family.  Friends.  A social life.  You get the point - I'm busy!  But I still find the time to make nutritious clean unprocessed food, from scratch.  There really is no excuse to not obtain all your nutrients from natural sources, so I was surprised to read in the MyHi press release included with their samples that "the team found that on a macro nutritional level, it was incredibly hard to find nutritious snacks or easy-to-prepare foods on the current market with a high enough protein content for those on a fitness regime". 

Really?  An egg?  Chicken?  Almonds?  Cottage cheese?  A simple scoop of whey protein powder in a shake, in a yoghurt, added to your porridge?  They couldn't find these?

Those who know me know that I can't give a biased review just because I was sent some free samples, so what you'll find below is my honest view on the MyHi products I've tried.  It's a real shame as I had such high hopes for this, but I personally think they are at risk of misleading and confusing the general public further.  We're now going to have people thinking they are consuming "healthy" nutritious food from a packet full of processed items and additives when they could have just made themselves a bowl of porridge or scrambled some eggs.

While there are a couple of items below that tasted fine and might be handy as an occasional convenience, I really don't think there's a place for most of these foods in a modern healthy diet.  In each case, I'll give an alternative to show why.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not an angel - I do sometimes "pig out".  I do sometimes eat things I shouldn't.  I do sometimes have processed food.  But I'm afraid I won't be considering MyHi's products on any of those occasions.

Porridge

I have to start here.  I'm rather evangelical about porridge.  I love it.  I'd eat it 3 times a day if I could (but that clearly wouldn't be a very balanced diet!).  I absolutely never ever eat "ready made" packets or pots of porridge.  Why?  Because they are a con!  £1.20 gets you a 1kg bag of natural oats from a well-known supermarket.  Add milk or water, bang it in the microwave for 3 minutes and you're good to go!  If you don't think it has enough protein, just pop in a scoop of whey protein powder or have an egg with your breakfast too!  (and before you tell me whey powder is really expensive, it's far cheaper in the long run than buying sachets of ready made porridge that just have it added in the factory!).

I tried to get over my hatred of packaged porridge just to give MyHi's golden syrup flavour "instant oat cereal" a try.  I thought . . . maybe it'll be a nice treat after a training ride.  A quick and convenient way to get some carbs and protein back into my body.



Well, it lived up to my expectations!  I followed the instructions exactly and was presented with a partly lumpy, partly runny, undercooked, not very satisfying, tiny portion of not very tasty porridge.  In roughly the same time, I could have made a larger portion of oats with milk, with roughly the same calories, and felt more satisfied.  If I wanted a quick sweet fix with this I could have added some maple syrup or honey.  I usually have just milk and banana with my porridge, sometimes flax and chia seeds.  All perfectly natural sources of fantastic nutrients and it tastes great.

I really have no idea why there is a place for such products in our society when you can buy a bag of porridge oats for less than £2.  What MyHi have produced is no different to the other sachets of ready-made porridge in the supermarkets, with just some added whey protein.  On reading the ingredients list, I found sweeteners, corn starch, flavouring, salt . . . Why?  

I'll stick to my bowl of cheap oats from the supermarket with skimmed milk and I'll pop a scoop of whey protein in if I need an extra dose of protein in the morning!

Rating: 0/10 (yes, it really was that bad)

Granola

I come across many people who eat muesli or granola for breakfast and think they are having a "healthy" breakfast.  What they are actually having is a nice bowl of sugar, causing a blood sugar spike, making them gain fat in the long run and leaving them hungry an hour or two later.

Could MyHi have solved this problem with the Mixed Fruit Granola pot they sent me?



In a word . . . no.

Here's the ingredient list:

Granola (83%) [Oat flakes, Soya pieces, sweeteners (sorbitol, oligofructose, steviol glycosides, isomalt), vegetable oil (rapeseed, palm), Soya protein, emulsifier (Soya lecithin), flavouring], dried fruit (17%), [raisins, papaya (papaya, sugar, citric acid), pineapple (pineapple, sugar, citric acid), banana chips (banana, honey, sugar, coconut oil, flavouring), cranberry (cranberry, sugar, sunflower oil), apple].


So, a whole lot of
additives, things your body really doesn't need and a good old helping of sweeteners and sugar to cause havoc with your blood sugar levels.

Yes, it tasted nice.  I tried it with some natural yoghurt and it was a nice treat . . . but that's exactly what it was - a treat!  I'm not saying you should never ever eat granola or muesli, but it really shouldn't be a regular thing due to the amount of sugar.  Yes, I'll have a bowl now and again, and I quite often have muesli before a race.  But it's carefully chosen for a lower sugar content.

Again, the convenience factor just doesn't add up for me.  You can buy an entire 1kg bag of Sainsbury's granola for only slightly more than the MyHi 90g individual pot.  So, if you are going to have an occasional treat, you'd be far better off buying that larger bag and taking a tupperware of it with you to work.  That would be just as convenient but a whole lot lighter on your wallet!

As with the porridge, if you want an extra dose of protein with it, just add some whey powder and it'll still be cheaper in the long run.

Rating: 3/10 (only because it tasted nice)

Pot Noodles

What? I hear you say . . . yes, MyHi sell what is essentially a Pot Noodle but with some protein added.  They've sent me a couple of different pots, including the Beef Szechuan one.  They have remained sealed and will never be opened.  I can't provide you with a review of this as I simply refuse to put something with this ingredients list in my body:

High protein noodles (80.1%) [fortified Wheat flour (Wheat flour, calcium carbonate, iron, niacin (B3), thiamin (B1)), flour treatment agent (ascorbic acid), Wheat gluten, salt, turmeric, natural colours (paprika extract, carotenes)], texturedSoya protein (4.8%), freeze dried minced beef (4.8%) [minced beef 99.5%, Rosemary], Szechuan broth mix [salt, chicken powder (salt, lactose (Milk), flavour enhancers (monosodium glutamate, disodium phosphate, guanylic acid), modified corn starch, chicken (5.7%), palm oil, yeast extract, chicken fat (0.6%), flavourings (Egg), chicken extract (0.1%), potato starch, whey powder (Milk), colour (caramel), antioxidants (butylated hydroxyanisole, propyl gallate), flavour enhancer (monosodium glutamate) sugar, onion powder, red chillies, ground szechuan peppercorns (2%), white pepper)], modified maize starch, dehydrated minced leeks, dehydrated carrots, dehydrated mushrooms.

This
is clearly aimed solely at convenience, but there are plenty of foods out there that are just as quick to prepare, cheaper and a whole lot more nutritious.  I just can't condone this as it is so far from "healthy" or "nutritious" I wouldn't even class it as food.



As an aside, the health problems in the western world are not just because the population eats too many calories, too much sugar and doesn't exercise enough.  Plenty of "thin" supposedly healthy looking people have a lot going wrong inside because of the amount of chemicals in modern "convenience" food.  There is simply no need for most of the chemicals in the above ingredients list.  If you've stuck with me this far, please please just cook food from scratch yourself.  I don't care how busy you are, there is time!  I'll talk more about that in my next blog which will be about nutrition in general.

I can't rate these as I've not tried them, but I'm afraid I simply can't bring myself to put this in my body.

Cereal Bars



So, moving onto MyHi's cereal bars.  They sent a few flavours so I've tried Chocolate & Orange, Raspberry & Strawberry, and Peanut & Seed.  They all taste quite nice and are handy snacks to have perhaps before a cycle or as an afternoon snack in work. However, yet again the ingredients list puts me off:

Cereals (38%) (Oat flakes, corn flakes: corn, sugar, Barley malt, salt), extruded Soya, Milk chocolate cOating (16%) (cocoa butter, sugar, skimmed Milk powder, cocoa mass, emulsifier (Soya lecithin), flavouring), sweeteners (oligofructose, sorbitol, steviol glycosides, isomalt), vegetable fat (palm, rapeseed), Soya protein, orange peel paste(2%) [sugar, water, orange peel, thickener (sodium salt)], Barley malt extract, emulsifier (Soya lecithin), acidity regulator (citric acid), flavouring.

My pr
oblem with this is that they are trying to be a convenience snack bar that gives you more protein but there are plenty of other bars out there that have just as much protein but are far more natural.  Take Nakd bars for example - same or more protein and they have no additives at all.  Just natural cold-pressed ingredients.  Yes, they are a bit sugary due to the dried fruit they use, but at least it's a natural source of sugar without chemicals or sweeteners added.

Another little gripe with the cereal bars is that the wrappers are a bit fiddly to open.  That would put me off using them on the bike as I would struggle to grab one from my pocket and open it while riding.

Rating: 5/10

Waffle Crisps

Crisps, but more natural and with a good helping of protein . . . what a great idea I thought.  A nice way of having a snack that feels like a treat but still getting a good dose of protein to keep you feeling full for a long time afterwards.  I tried the Chilli Waffle Crisps:



The ingredients list isn't quite as bad as some of the other products.

But my problem with these was . . . 

They are dry and tasteless.  The only way I could eat them was to dip them in something like humus (which if home-made is actually quite good for you but it's just adding more calories to your snack!).  If I eat something chilli flavoured I expect to taste of chilli.  It was like eating cardboard.  I even took a few packs to a friend's house one night so that others could try them and the consensus was the same from everyone

If you want a healthy snack with a good dose of protein, grab some almonds, pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, or any other healthy nut (not roasted or salted!).  You'll get a good amount of protein, some healthy fats, and other things like vitamins or minerals (e.g. magnesium) that are very good for you.  No additives.  Just as convenient.  And cheaper when you look at the price per gram.

Or, if you want a treat and to have some crisps when watching a film on a Saturday night - just have some crisps!  Yes, they're not good for you, but as a one-off treat, you'll be more satisfied (because they taste good!) and therefore less likely to want something else after eating them.

Rating: 2/10

Savoury Squares

From a taste point of view, I've saved the best for last.  I genuinely enjoyed these Sesame & Cashew Savoury Squares.  Very "moreish" and tasty.  The ingredients list still has some stuff I don't feel they need, but also some good things like oats, flax and cashew nuts:

Wholegrain Oat flakes, flax seeds, vegetable oil (rapeseed), extruded Soya, Soya protein, Barley malt extract, glucose syrup, thickener (gum arabic), potato starch, Sesame seeds (5%), Cashew nuts (3%), dried onions, salt, flavouring.

I probably would buy these. I w
ouldn't have them regularly but they'd be a nice treat for a snack and at least you're getting some protein from them.  If I was sticking strictly to clean eating though, as I try to most of the time, I'd just have some almonds or nuts instead.

Rating: 7/10

Conclusion

So, despite quite enjoying the savoury squares, I'm sure you've got the idea by now!

I really do think MyHi set out with some really good intentions but I can't possibly classify this as "healthy" food.  I think some of it is actually quite bad for you and even the stuff that's not quite as bad can be replaced with many far cheaper, healthier more nutritious alternatives that are just as convenient.

Not only can I not recommend any of the products above for someone who is training hard for any sport, but I wouldn't recommend them to the general population either.  While it's great to get more protein in people's diets, there are far more natural ways to do it and it really doesn't take that much time out of your day to do so.  I'm also genuinely surprised that the One Pro Cycling team are supported by MyHi.  I can't believe professional cyclists are fueling their bodies with processed convenience food.

I really do hope MyHi can take my feedback onboard and come up with some alternative "cleaner" more natural options.

In the meantime, check back soon for my next blog where I'll give you some more general nutrition tips.  These will be for daily meals and snacks, training and racing - and you'll hopefully see that everything I suggest is clean, natural, nutritious and really doesn't take very long to prepare.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

The West Highland Way by Mountain Bike

Some of you will know that I've completed the West Highland Way by mountain bike twice - once over 3 days back in my "not so fit" days and once in one day (16 hours riding, 17.5 hours total) as a challenge to raise money for the Beatson Cancer Charity.

My original report on the three day trip still gets a decent amount of interest over on TrailScotland and I did include a write-up of the one day ride on my blog a couple of years ago, but I thought it would be good to do a summary article with my advice all in one place.  There's been a bit of interest on a Facebook group recently and I think people still find my advice useful so here it all is in one place, regardless of how long you plan to take to do the trip.  I would highly recommend every mountain biker includes this on their "bucket list".  It's not just a great achievement to tick off, but who can resist a trail with views like this!


I'm planning to do this again this year, in order to smash my previous best time.  I will let you know when I confirm a date.  I'll be doing it for charity again so any contributions would be appreciated!  Watch this space!

The West Highland Way

The WHW is a 96 mile walking route, covering some beautiful rugged Scottish terrain, typically walked south to north from Milngavie near Glasgow to Fort William in the Highlands.  Some people walk it the other way though.  Most people walk it over 5, 6 or 7 days to take in the beautiful scenery and there is also a one day running race mid-summer where some amazing trail runners complete it in record times of less than 15 hours.


Over recent years, more and more mountain bikers have been enjoying this route too.  Given the wonderful access rights in Scotland, there is nothing to stop you doing this on a bike (as long as it's not motorised!).  It's a challenging route but well worth the effort for the amazing scenery, great trails and sense of achievement when you complete it.

Not only have I complete the full route twice (once over 3 days and once in 17.5 hours), I have also used most sections of it for other individual rides.  I know it pretty well and I've tried to summarise my advice below.  If you have any other questions, please post them in the comments below or pop them on my Facebook page.  This isn't intended to be a detailed step-by-step write-up, but I'll no doubt do another one when I complete the route again this summer!

If you want to read the detailed step-by-step write-ups, my original 3 day one is here (although my advice would be quite different from the list at the bottom of that article now) and my one day write-up is here.

Here's my advice if you're planning a WHW mountain bike trip:

Terrain and bike choice

I'm not going to get into a hard tail vs. full suspension debate, but the one thing I will stress about the WHW is that it's rough and rocky.  Even when you're not on singletrack, the old military roads and land rover tracks can be very rough.  Bear that in mind with your bike choice, along with these tips:
  • Go as light as possible.  There's a lot of climbing and there are sections of "hike a bike" where you'll have to carry your bike
  • I would recommend a full suspension bike due to the points above about the rough tracks and I also find a hard tail can be hard going on my back on such a route.  A full suss will also help reduce the risk of rear punctures against sharp rocks.  However, if you only have a hard tail, don't let that stop you - it just might be more comfortable and less puncture-prone on a full suss
  • Go for pretty chunky tyres but something that still rolls reasonably well on the rear.  My choice these days would be Bontrager XR3s, with perhaps an XR2 on the rear for lower rolling resistance.  Good puncture resistance for those sharp rocks will help
  • Consider going tubeless if you don't already have that set up on your bike.  If you're not tubeless, consider inflating your tyres a little higher than normal to reduce the risk of pinch-flat punctures, but not so high that you lose grip
  • Make sure you've given your bike a full service beforehand.  This will be hard going on components
  • Make sure you have fresh brake pads.  There's a lot of sandy gritty stuff on those trails that will eat away at your pads.
  • If you're on a 1x11 or 1x10 gearing set-up, I'd go with your smallest chainring due to some of the climbs.  You may spin out on occassion on some of the flatter sections but it won't hold you up too much.  Given you have to carry your bike for some sections, you don't want to unnecessarily add more carrying because your chainring is too large and you can't get up steep climbs
  • If it's wet, fit a mudguard.  Some sections can be full of puddles and it'll prevent you having a wet rear end!  If it's been dry for a few days you'll be fine though, or you can just put up with getting wet!
  • If carrying your bike for more than a few minutes hurts your shoulder, consider putting some foam on the top tube - it doesn't add much weight and it'll save you hurting your shoulder
  • If you use both flat and SPD pedals, I'd go with the SPDs.  Although you have to get off at times to carry the bike or to go through gates, SPDs will help you on the steeper climbs and provide security on some of the rough descents
One final point on terrain - the infamous hike-a-bike section between Inversnaid and Inverarnan at the top of Loch Lomond is tough . . . but it's not the hell some people make it out to be.  You don't have to carry your bike the whole time - there are rideable sections.  I'm about to come onto direction choice, but this section is easier going north to south if you carry your bike on your right shoulder like I do.  If you carry it on your left shoulder, the other direction is easier.

Direction

It's a simple choice and here are my reasons for each:

South to North, Milngavie to Fort William:
  • It's the traditional way the route was intended to be walked
  • You're gradually moving further away from the city and more into the hills, so that has a nice feel to it
  • I personally prefer the Devil's Staircase in this direction
  • You can get the hike-a-bike Inversnaid section over and done with earlier
  • I hate the climb out of Kinlochleven in this direction - it's much better as a descent in the other direction
  • Rannoch Moor is a bit of a drag in this direction
  • There's more climbing in this direction
North to South, Fort William to Milngavie:
  • You'll be facing most walkers, since most tend to walk South to North, and so they'll see you coming and give them more time to get out of your way (but remember to always give them room and stop if you have to - they have priority over you)
  • You feel like you're "coming home" rather than getting away from it.  When trying to do a fast one day time, I like this.  I live in Glasgow so it feels like I'm racing to get home!
  • The Kinlochleven descent is great fun (but horrible as a climb - see above!)
  • Rannoch Moor is easier and faster
  • There's less climbing in this direction
Duration

3 days:
  • The way most people do it by bike
  • Gives you time to stop for lunch, take photos, enjoy the scenery
  • If you're going south to north, I'd recommend getting to Inverarnan to get the hike-a-bike Inversnaid section out of the way on the first day.  It's a long first day but good to have it over with
  • For your second night, I'd recommend aiming for Glencoe/King's House
  • An alternative would be getting to Inversnaid on the first night, doing the hike-a-bike section early on your second day and spending your second night at Tyndrum or Bridge of Orchy.  The remainder is still achievable on your last day
  • If you're going south to north, book yourself somewhere nice in Fort William for when you arrive - you deserve it!
  • If going north to south, I'd recommend the same two alternatives for overnight stays above
  • I personally would much rather stay in hotels or B&Bs than camp - it keeps the weight down for what you have to carry and it's nice to have a real bed after a full day on the bike.
  • But if you do choose to camp, it gives you the freedom to stop where you like
2 days:
  • Regardless of direction, your most likely stopover points are Tyndrum, Crianlarich or Inverarnan.  They are all achievable for a one day ride in either direction if you have the fitness
  • This is a nice compromise between the slower approach of 3 days and the all-out effort of a one day trip.  You'll still have time for photos and to admire the scenery, but do expect to be on the bike for up to 12 hours each day depending on your fitness level
1 day:
  • For the fittest among you and an amazing achievement - if you think you've got the fitness, go for it!
  • Two options - supported or unsupported.  I did it unsupported the time I completed it in 17.5 hours.  I carried a fair amount in my backpack but there are plenty of shops and pubs where you can fill up on water or food
  • If you want to have a go at the record (12 hours), you'll probably need to do it supported, so you can carry less and have someone meet you every now and again to re-stock food and fluids for you
Time of year

Clearly the best time of year to do this is in the middle of the summer when the days are longer, giving you more daylight.  I'd still recommend taking a light just in case you get caught out in the dark though.  Here are a few other considerations:

  • April/May is lambing season and there is sometimes a diversion round Conic Hill.  This means you won't technically have completed the official full route.
  • The Saturday/Sunday closest to the summer solstice (21st June).  This is when the WHW running race is held.  Avoid it - you'll just have to stop all the time for runners and you'll not give mountain bikers a very good reputation if you get in their way when they're trying to get a new PB or break the record.
  • Spring/Summer is worst for midges - beware!
  • Winter - it's possible, but check the forecast and make sure you know what you're doing as there can be snow and ice in many sections.  If you get the right weather, it could be amazing . . . and free of midges!
Navigation

The West Highland Way is way-marked over its complete length.  If you've gone a while without seeing one of its famous thistle markers then you may be off the track.  However, it's pretty difficult to get lost.

Despite that, I would highly recommend you study the route in advance and have maps with you if it's your first time.  The following OS Landranger maps will cover the whole route:  64, 57, 56, 50 and 41.  Rather than carrying that many individual maps, you could buy one of the many dedicated WHW books, many of which have smaller pull-out maps.

Then there's GPS.  If you have a dedicated GPS device, like a Garmin Edge with OS maps, then you could use that.  But don't rely solely on it as batteries can run out.  The same goes for your phone, and it's best to keep a phone switched off to save the battery until you need it, especially if you're on your own.

What to carry - kit list

If you're doing a supported one day attempt then clearly you won't have to carry as much as this, but please still be sensible - you could injure yourself in the middle of nowhere with no phone signal so ensure you still carry the essentials.

If you are doing a multi-day trip, you can obviously consider a change of clothes and more bike spares, toiletries, and so on.  If doing so, for your own sanity and enjoyment, I highly recommend a service like Travel-Lite.  It's not too expensive if you're only doing 2 or 3 days and remember this isn't about proving you can carry a heavy backpack with you!  Enjoy it and just take a day pack!  These guys will drop your large bag off at each overnight stop and pick it up again.  This means you can take more clothing, food supplies for each day and even some basic bike cleaning stuff and lube to ensure your bike stays in working order.

With all the great bike luggage solutions these days, if you're camping or do decide to carry 3 days worth of kit, I'd recommend using Alpkit or Apidura packs rather than panniers.  Remember you're going to have to push or carry your bike at points so you don't want even more weight.  I also can't begin to imagine panniers and the Inversnaid hike-a-bike section!

So, assuming you've taken care of all that, here's what I'd carry in a rucksack for the day:
  1. Water (either in a reservoir in the backpack or in a bottle on the bike) - there are plenty of places you can fill up.  Ensure you have enough for a few hours though.  Consider using an electrolyte drink or a carbohydrate drink (the latter may be easier to consume than solid food but do mix it up with solids too)
  2. Food - for a ride like this I'd recommend a mix of "real" natural food and energy bars/etc.  There are shops along the way but don't rely on them - make sure you have enough for the full day.  I'd recommend including a few "emergency" energy gels or jelly babies for those moments when you need an extra boost!
  3. First aid kit
  4. Phone, plus spare battery if it takes one
  5. GPS device and/or maps
  6. Spare base layer
  7. Hat or buff to keep your head warm if it gets cold
  8. Spare gloves
  9. Packable waterproof/windproof jacket (even if it's sunny!  You never know, and it'll keep you warm on descents if you ride late into the evening and it cools down)
  10. Multi-tool
  11. Chain breaker, quick link and/or chain pins
  12. Tyre levers
  13. Pump (and CO2 cannisters if you use them - but have a normal pump too)
  14. Spare tubes - minimum of 2
  15. Tube patches
  16. Tyre boot
  17. Cable ties
  18. Spare brake pads
  19. Spare rear derailleur hanger
  20. Midge repellent
  21. Sun cream
  22. Midge net (your saviour if you have to stop to repair a puncture and the midges descend!)
  23. Whistle
  24. Good quality bike light fully charged and with spare batteries (a light you could actually ride with at night - just in case you are delayed and stuck out in the dark unexpectedly)
  25. An emergency shelter like this (Optional, but can be life saving if something goes wrong)
  26. Camera or smart phone (optional, but if you are not trying to set any records, stop and take some photos!  Those views are worth capturing!)
Where to stay (if multi-day)

I have no affiliation to any specific accommodation, but my personal recommendations for a 3 day south to north trip would be:

First night, Inverarnan:  The Drovers Inn or Beinglass Farm Campsite (the latter has B&B, self catering lodges and camping options)
Second night, Glencoe:  King's House Hotel or Glencoe "hobbit huts"
Third night, after arriving in Fort William:  There are so many accommodation options in Fort William there's no point in me listing what Google can find for you.  However, I believe you deserve a treat after completing the WHW so I'd highly recommend The Lime Tree.  It is one of my favourite hotels (in the world, not just Scotland!) and the food in the restaurant is amazing!

All of the above have somewhere secure you can leave your bike and Travel-Lite can deliver your bags to them.  I stayed in the Drovers, King's House Hotel and the Lime Tree when I did the three day trip.

Make sure you book well in advance, especially for the summer months.  Given there are not too many accommodation options at Inverarnan or Glencoe, these can become fully booked quickly with all the WHW walkers.

The return trip

If you've cycled south to north, and don't plan on turning around to do the WHW "double", then consider returning using the train to Glasgow.  It's an absolutely stunning train ride through some amazing scenery and you can stare out the window reminiscing about the highs and lows of your WHW mountain biking achievement!

If you're going north to south and don't have someone to drop you off in Fort William, I'd again recommend the train ride to get there.

Summary and some random hints and tips


I appreciate this is still a pretty long article but rather than wade through my original full step-by-step (or should that be pedal-by-pedal?) write-ups, I hope this has provided a "one stop shop" of advice for mountain biking the West Highland Way.  To finish, here are my key bits of advice and some other random tips:
  • You’ll enjoy it more on a full suss, especially some of the descents like Kinlochleven
  • You will go through brake pads if the weather is bad, so carry spares
  • Fit a rear mudguard if it's wet
  • Consider taking padding to put on your bike for carrying it north of Inversnaid, or just deal with the bruises on your shoulder!
  • You will have to push your bike more than you think
  • But, the Inversnaid section is not as bad as some people make out
  • If you are not confident bunny hopping the drainage channels on many sections, don't risk it - you could damage a rim if you miss-time your landing and that'll be your trip ruined
  • Don’t just ride – stop to enjoy the scenery . . . it’s stunning! Take a camera if it's not too heavy
  • If you're doing it over multiple days, stay in hotels / B&Bs . . . I love camping but couldn’t face it after a day on the bike like that
  • If doing it over 3 days northwards, do the Inversnaid section on the first day to get it over and done with
  • If doing it in one go, do it southwards
  • If you’re doing it on your own, keep in touch with someone so they know where you are and a wee text now and again reminds you you’re not on your own