Ronnie Kimmel

10th May 2016

“I'm proud to have taken part and proud of what I achieved, especially the amount that I raised.”

Well, Well, that's my first Marie Curie Etape Caledonia experience over. And what an experience it was: good, hard and fabulous. But mostly fabulous.

How cool is this? I received a personal good luck tweet from none other than Joe Gannascoli who played Vito Spatafore in the Sopranos. I'm still chuffed at that!

The route really is spectacular. I grew up in this area and know it quite well through trips on my motorbike. I've got to say that travelling this route by motorbike is much easier. I rode the route to check it out and I felt that I was doing brilliantly for the first few miles. I was overtaking lots of people. Then I remember I had a motor in-between my legs and they didn’t.

My new job hasn't really helped my training. I should have been on the nightshift on the Saturday and Sunday of the event and because I've just started, I had no holidays to take. I had to work two extra 12 hour shifts in the last fortnight to give me the hours "in the book" to take both shifts off. No complaints or excuses but it was days I lost when I could have trained.

I got bad news 3 days out from the event. Chris had to back out because of a bout of flu. He was sorely disappointed but undoubtedly made the correct decision.

On the Saturday before the actual event I came off nightshift, had 4 hours sleep then drove up to Pitlochry to pick up my pack. I drove home and had an early(ish) night. I was then up at 0400 to set off with my wife Christine who was supporting me, for the trip back up to Pitlochry. I was excited and slightly anxious. I was really looking forward to it though. This was my first attempt at anything as challenging as this on a bike.

Pitlochry was absolutely buzzing; even at 0645 on a Sunday morning. Before I knew it we were off. I was determined not to get dragged along at a pace too fast and burn out. I'd made my mind up that finishing the course was my only goal: the time I took was irrelevant.
The people who took the time to line the route and cheer us on and shout support were incredible. I really felt that I was involved in something very, very special. And I was.

I'd broken up the route in my head as targets rather than have the mental picture of 81 miles ahead of me. My targets were Queens View, Tummel Valley Holiday Park, Kinloch Rannoch, the foot of Shiehallion, the top of Shiehallion, Weem, Logierait and (hopefully) the finishing line. 

Before I knew it, we had reached the top of the short climb to the Queens View, then Tummel Valley. Things were going well and I felt really good. I was happy with my times. The first feed station at Kinloch Rannoch was a welcome stop and a chance to stock up on gels and re-fill my water bottles. Then back in the saddle. I'm really glad that I spent the money on a Brooks saddle. And chamois butter cream!

By now there were fewer and fewer cyclists in view. I'd left a fair crowd at the feed station and only one or two overtook me so I'm not sure what happened to the rest! Anyway, a bit of a headwind hit me about 8 miles from the next feed station near Schiehallion.

Inexperienced cyclist or not, you certainly know when the wind is against you and the extra effort that's needed. I was well fuelled and hydrated when I tackled the Schiehallion climb. I'm not embarrassed to say that I had to stop a couple of times during the climb to take a breather. At the top, I felt a slight cramping tightness in my right thigh. I've never had cramp in my thighs before. That disappeared and was replaced by a huge sense of achievement at the summit. I was looking forward the easy part: the steep descent. At the summit feed station, a few people were taking the offer of quitting and getting transported back to Pitlochry with the support vehicles. I was given the offer but was determined to continue and finish the course. By now, I knew my time wasn't great and my original goal of under 7 hours wasn't achievable. I wasn't that fussed. Finishing the course was my only aim.

Around about the 50 mile mark I cramped again. This time in my right calf. It wasn't a good sign and I had several more cramps of varying severity over the next few miles. Although my time wasn't great, I knew it would get worse as I had to back off in my peddling power. As soon as I tried to cycle at what I'd class as my normal speed and effort, I got cramp. The support vehicle stopped and asked me if I wanted to quit but I was determined (and in hindsight very foolish) to continue. I'd seen a good few people passing me in the support vehicles with trailered bikes so I knew there was no shame in retiring. But I was still determined to carry on. Obviously I didn't tell the support that I was cramping as I knew what their advice would be.

I passed the 60 mile mark. I told myself that the remaining 21 miles were do-able as it was fairly level terrain and only the climb at Logierait might be a problem. 3 miles later, my right calf seized up in a bad cramp and I almost fell of the bike dismounting. A vehicle following me turned out to be an ambulance. When I told the medic, who it turned out was a cyclist who'd done the Etape before, that I'd cramped and had been having problems for 10 miles or so, he basically told me I'd be an idiot to continue. I reluctantly admitted defeat and threw the towel in. I was absolutely gutted.

At that point, I felt I'd let myself down, let all the generous people who'd donated an amazing amount to my Just Giving page for Marie Curie down and, (as ridiculous as it now seems nearly 24 hours later), I felt I'd let Mary down. After all, it was for Mary I was doing this. I knew I'd done my absolute best but it wasn't good enough on the day. Passing people still on the route then seeing all the people in Pitlochry who had finished didn't help my feeling of failure and disappointment. 

I was glad to see Christine and my 2 dogs back in Pitlochry but even my wife's encouragement and many friends’ messages of support didn't ease my mood. I told Christine that I'd done my best but it wasn't good enough and that my first Etape Caledonia would also be my last…
What a difference a day makes. I'm thinking much more clearly this morning and realise that raising over £2,200 for those wonderful nurses is all that matters. Cycling 63 miles and raising that amount is far more of an achievement than finishing the course but only raising £400 (which was my original target when I signed up). I've also had a complete change of mind and I'm determined to enter the event next year. And finish it!

This experience has taught me a lot. I now know that I wasn't prepared properly. I only gave myself 6 months or so to prepare after "signing up" for the Etape Caledonia. Then I was unable to do any training whatsoever due to my tendonitis problem in my knees. By the way, my knees were OK yesterday. Pity about the rest of my legs though!

I've also learned that determination, stubbornness and stupidity are no substitute for fitness and proper preparation. I've now got a whole year to get ready. A guy who was in the support vehicle with me and who had been picked up prior to me told me that he had completed the event last year in a time of 5 hours 20 minutes, having prepared correctly. That just confirmed to me the difference between being properly prepped and where we both found ourselves yesterday.

Taking part in the Marie Curie Etape Caledonia was a brilliant experience. I'm proud to have taken part and proud of what I achieved, especially the amount that I raised. I'm also honoured to have been invited to contribute this blog. 

My training for 2017 begins now… Or realistically, next week. I think a few days out of the saddle (comfy as it was) is just what the doctor ordered. I’ve already registered my interest to make sure I’m the first to hear about next year’s event and booked my accommodation in Aberfeldy, so 0400 alarm calls are a thing of the past for me. See you all (at the finish line) next year!

24th April 2016

“I'm back on my bike”

Well, after a great deal of anxiety over my tendonitis and around 12 weeks rest from training that involved any kind of leg/knee involvement, I finally got back on my bike to begin proper training for the Marie Curie Etape Caledonia. I'm glad to report that I've had no worrying reaction to my efforts. Phew!

My first venture was the 12.4 mile circuit around Loch Leven, near Kinross. A nice, easy return to cycling and thanks to the route skirting the shores of the loch, little was required in the way of climbing so my knees weren't too taxed. A very enjoyable route this is. The scenery is great and there are a couple of nice cafe spots to stop off at if you feel the need for some refreshments. I did the circuit on my MTB with my good mate Chris Herd, who has also signed up for the Etape Caledonia event.

There are numerous stop off points of interest around the loch with some quite spectacular sculpture work on permanent display. I discovered the following day that it is all the work of David F. Wilson, the Perthshire based sculptor and artist. It's a very small world indeed: I grew up in Blairgowrie in the 1960's and '70's and David and his family lived in the next block of flats to me at Myrtle Park. He's very talented and his work definitely enhances the area and fits in perfectly with the stunning natural backdrops.

Confident that my knees had stood up to their first test, I took my next step in my training programme and got back on my road bike a few days later. Initially, I intended to cycle from my home in Leven along the East Neuk coastal route to Crail. The route is fairly level with only a slight elevation but with an anticipated return journey distance of approximately 30 miles, I thought I'd do well to stick to this plan.  However, I arrived in the fishing village of Crail after about 1hour and 20 minutes cycling and felt really good so I decided to return by a different route. I climbed over 1200 feet from Crail to Largoward and returned home that way. The climb was a bit of a challenge, being against a fairly strong headwind. I also learned a very important lesson: take plenty of energy/hydration bars and gels with you. Apart from fluids, I took none. What an idiot! I arrived home feeling fit enough and was chuffed with my climb and 36 mile circuit but due to carb deficiency, my wife reckoned that I was talking even more gibberish than normal (quite an achievement really).  I won't make that mistake again. 

One note of interest on the Crail run: I cycled past Scotland's Secret Bunker which would have been the underground HQ of our government in the event of a nuclear attack during the Cold War years. I don't know how much if a secret it was; there are signposts to it all over the East Neuk Of Fife! On a serious note, I've done the public tour here and it is well worth a visit.

This was an important step in my training programme. The furthest I've ever cycled and it included a hill climb. I'm more than happy at my progress. Having no adverse reaction from my knees is a massive boost. Onwards and upwards then (a bit like the Crail run I suppose). I really enjoyed this route and I'll definitely do it again soon; you should too!

Oh, and my wife Christine has treated me to a made to measure leather saddle that I'm reliably informed will make the final 30 miles or so of the 81 mile Caledonia route a good bit more comfortable. I'm all in favour of that. It's due to be fitted this week by Andy at Leslie Bike Shop so I'm looking forward to trying it out.

All in all, a very enjoyable week in the saddle and topped off with news that my redundancy and being unemployed is only very temporary. I went for an interview with a local company and got the job. As an added bonus, I can easily cycle to my new work. 

14th March 2016
“Cycling for Mary”

Hello. My name's Ronnie Kimmel, I live in Leven in Fife and I'm writing this blog as I've signed up to participate in the Marie Curie Etape Caledonia this May.

So why does a relatively unfit, overweight guy fast approaching (certainly faster than I'm likely to be cycling) his 60th birthday with very limited cycling experience decide to sign up for an 81 mile cycle ride through the mountains of Perthshire? Simple really: Mary Moodie. Mary was my mother in-law. When I first heard about this charity ride and looked into it online about 5 months ago, Mary was bravely battling cancer. She was being cared for with incredible compassion by Marie Curie nurses. I signed up almost immediately as I was determined to help in some small way as thanks for the wonderful care that Mary was receiving. Sadly, Mary lost her battle in November.

This made me even more determined to do this ride in memory of her.

I've owned a road bike for about 3 years but I've done very few rides further than the 10 or 12 mile mark during that time. In fact, it's fair to say that I've done very few rides at all. I realise I’ll need to start "putting in the miles" if I've any hope of finishing the course in the same week that I started it.

I work offshore and my training has been severely hampered by a bad bout of tendonitis in both my knees; showing off in a gym on a leg press machine without warming up properly has its consequences! Anyway, I'm now fully recovered and when I get home next week from the oil rig, I'm going to start doing some steady and regular distance work on the bike. I should be able to devote plenty of time to my training now as sadly I'm one of the many offshore oil workers who have been made redundant.

The only bike ride that I've ever completed of any real distance was last summer with my good mate Chris Herd (who co-incidentally is also partnering me on Etape Caledonia). We cycled from the Dalwhinnie whisky distillery to the Blair Athol distillery in Pitlochry: a distance of some 36 miles. At the time, I was a bigger fan of whisky than I was of cycling. Hopefully in May, on completion of the Etape Caledonia, I can enjoy a bit of both and raise a glass of my favourite single malt to Mary. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.

Cycling for Mary donations: