Deloitte RAB 2011 – Day 1: John O Groats to Kyle of Sutherland

It barely seems 12 months since I was writing about today’s stage but the contrast in experience couldn’t have been further apart as today we set off in glorious early morning sunshine and a very welcome tailwind!
Deloitte Ride Across Britain in 2011 is the 2nd and final time the event will be held before next year’s Paralympics, as in 2012 the 3rd edition of the ride will take place in September, just as the Paralympic Games is finishing. As a result the fundraising effort continued with the same momentum it had in 2010 where the total for the year came in at an impressive £375,000.

With Deloitte’s target of raising £1 million over the first 4 years of the ride for Paralympics GB, it seems likely and very impressive we could hit the £600,000 mark during the ride. Deloitte has invested heavily in Paralympic sport and the current fundraising target is set with the aim of providing Paralympic Athletes selected for London 2012 and beyond, with the best support and preparation opportunities possible.

Starting out at the head of a 600 strong field of riders, with my husband Barney Storey and our fellow Paralympian, Danny Crates, we were waved off by many supporters and the occasion was marked with traditional bagpipes as we rode past the official sign which signals the furthest point north in the UK.

This is the point where an End to End record attempt will finish, usually taking advantage of the prevailing south westerly winds, but today we were pleasantly surprised to find the wind coming in from the north and west, so we were quite literally pushed along the north coast of Scotland to Thurso and beyond to the aptly named Betty’s Hill, one of the few kicks in the road in the first half of the ride.

All along this coast the views were spectacular and there is something very calming about riding alongside the ocean. We blue skies and sunshine all along the coast it was a truly breathtaking place for a ride and all too soon the road turned inland and it was to be the last time we would see the ocean for a few days. By this point the rolling terrain had allowed me to ride on ahead of Barney for the first time and we completed the rest of the ride in our own little worlds! Some people would argue we complete every ride in our own little worlds, but that is a blog for another day!

Although turning away from the coast, we were not losing the amazing scenery and love the coastline up there as I do, it was the next section of road that was my favourite for the first day. By this point the route was about half done and I was turning onto a single track road with passing places. The road winds it’s way south west and along the banks of the River Naver before coming out on the banks of Loch Naver and quite possibly the “view of the day”!

The Loch was framed by the surrounding hills and was like a millpond, glistening in the sunshine. With no one around and only the sounds of the birds to listen to, it really felt like I was the only person there!

All too soon the Loch ended and I turned left and started the ascent to the village of Crask. It wasn’t a steep climb, so I used it as an opportunity to do some strength work and keeping the gears in the big chain ring, i climbed seated and made the most of the descent on the other side. By this point the wind was in my face and I used my new handlebar set up to get as low as possible on my Dolan Hercules.The descent into Lairg was great and before long I was passing the Falls of Shin and then through Invershin to the finish line for the day.

It had been a 170km journey and I’d completed it in 5 hours and 9 minutes, some 36 minutes faster than last year, largely thanks to better weather conditions and also an improvement in my own cycling efficiency. This week’s ride is not a race, but from an athlete’s point of view, being able to do such tough stages and compare the training data from one year to another is very valuable and gives some good indications as to the fitness and technical gains that have been made over the previous 12 months.

For me not only was the time quicker, but the average wattage for the ride was down 20 watts on last year to 210 watts for the ride. It’s good to know things are headed in the right direction and it’s also great to be able to do such good training alongside all the fundraisers.

Although today I started at the front and didn’t get to see anyone all day, tomorrow will be a different story and I’ll be starting last and hoping to meet as many people as possible on the course.

Follow me on twitter @MrsSarahStorey or visit our fundraising page