The alarm rudely wakes me at 5.21am. Never set it for a round number – not 5.00, 5.20 or 5.50 like a normal person (although what normal person would be getting up at this hour?). No, it’s got to be different. Seems like a strange time, but it’s something I’ve done for over 25 years now. That extra minute in bed makes a difference.
Quietly I make my way to the spare room, trying not to wake the house where everyone remains fast asleep. There I’ve laid out my kit the night before, different options as over the years I’ve learned not to trust the weather forecast. It’s Scotland, always lay out the Gabba.
It’s too early for coffee. I need to get out on the road, so quickly I make up a drink bottle, pack my phone into my pocket, pick up my Garmin and then head out to the garage to get my bike. I say hi to Eddie, our neighbour, another early riser on his way for a swim.
I haven’t been on the race bike since last week, preferring to ride my steel frame for the long Sunday ride, so I quickly check the tyre pressures. It’s a hard session today, so I have to make sure the bike’s ready for what I’m about to put it through.
Just as I’m closing the garage door, I realise I haven’t picked up my pump, I curse, then open the door again and grab it. I’m ready now.
As I roll out the drive I stop at the car to check my helmet & cap in the window. No-one else will notice, I probably won’t see another soul, but I need to know they’re sitting right. Feel like a pro, then you’ll think like one too. At least that’s my theory.
The sun hasn’t risen yet, the village is still asleep. I pass the odd dog walker or runner as I roll through and before long I’m back in the dark, riding on the ribbon of road through the fields of the Carse.
I love the peacefulness at this time of the day. Most people are still asleep. The roads are quiet. The wind is still this morning, just a whisper as it gently blows the crops.
I pick up the pace. At this time of day, I do a shorter warm up. Fifteen minutes, gently building, with a few efforts to wake up the legs and let them know we’re nearly ready.
Before it’s even gone 6am I’ve started the first interval. Lifting the power to 250w, I’ll ride between 250–260w for 15 minutes, increasing to 290w every 3 minutes. It’s hard, but manageable. I push on, alone on the roads. Just me and the bike.
I’ve timed the effort so that I finish this first interval just as I get to Errol. I roll through the village, spinning a low gear to recover. It’s still early, but the village shop is open, so I pass a few people. We nod. The silent acknowledgement of the early birds.
Before long I’m pushing the pedals again. They’ve resurfaced the road to St Madoes, although only in places. I glide over the fresh Tarmac, adding a couple of miles per hour to my speed, before I’m rudely reminded of what the roads are normally like. Bouncing around on the old, uneven surface, I’m always thankful not to puncture.
Again this effort ends just as I get to Glencarse. I ride up the path at the side of the busy A90. Even at this time of day the road is busy. The slipstream from the passing lorries pulls me north.
And then one final time I assault the bike. The first interval is always hard. The second a little easier, as the body adapts. Then with the final effort I know I can leave it all on the road. I push on, riding close to the top end power for the interval. Feeling strong.
The road from Glendoick takes me along the foot of the ridge that runs from Perth to Dundee. It’s a gently rolling country road where I rarely pass a car. The biggest risk at this time of the year is from tractors, as the farmers harvest the summer crops. But today the road is quiet. Without much wind, the thrum of my tyres on the road keeps me company. Metronomic.
And then the interval is over. The hard efforts are done for today. I’ll roll back to the village now, taking in my favourite road – a little farm road that runs behind The Horn, that legendary cafe stop. At the weekends the smell of coffee and bacon assaults me, teases me. But today, at this early hour, the place is still dark and closed to the world.
I love this little stretch of road as it winds to Grange, zig-zagging between the fields. In my head this is Flanders. It’s flat and at times the wind howls down the valley. As the winter comes, the fields look barren. I’m transported to Belgium.
Before I know it, the ride is over. 90 minutes or so this morning. All done before many of my neighbours are out of bed. It sets you up for the day.
Once the bike’s been cleaned, oiled and put away, then it’s time for breakfast. The coffee never tastes as good as on these days. My legs will tingle for a while. I’ll sit in meetings as the day goes on, a quiet satisfaction in the knowledge that I’ve done what few have.
People ask why I get up so early to train. For me this is living, I feel truly alive when I’m out on the bike.
Starting the day like this is as good as it gets.