You’d think by now I’d have stopped being nervous about sportives wouldn’t you? And if you’d asked me why I was nervous, I’d have been hard pushed to tell you really. I think maybe, after Thursday’s somewhat disastrous ride, I was just worried that there wasn’t going to be enough in the tank to make it around, let alone up the hills I knew were ahead of me. Presumably worrying about such things, and the usual “will the alarm clock go off, will I miss it” subconscious stuff, would be why I also failed to get a decent night’s sleep beforehand – even after two days of eating properly and getting an early night…
Still, this is nothing new, right? I finally gave up trying to sleep, after the nth time of waking up and having to check the time to see if it was even worth trying to go back to sleep, and was up at 5:00am. OK, so it was pitch black, but unlike earlier in the night, at least it wasn’t raining! In fact the forecast for the day was pretty good, however many times I refreshed the screen, which is far for the norm when it comes to the Exmoor Beast.
Yes, time for the Exmoor Beast again. It wasn’t my idea, honest! But having done it last year and enjoyed it more than I thought I would, it wasn’t a bad idea. In theory. Months ago! This morning however, it felt hideously early, and rather intimidating, and all in all, who’s idea was this?! I must be mad…but then we all knew that
Having sorted all my kit out the night before, including faffing options for eventualities, there wasn’t much to do other than kit up, eat cereal, and then load the bike and bags into the car when Chris duly arrived at 6:00am. Being nervous, I probably wasn’t the most chatty of passengers on the way down, which those who have had to put up with me being irritatingly perky in similar circumstances, might well envy But it didn’t take long to get there…certainly not long enough for me to fall asleep again, and we arrived at HQ in Tiverton without a hitch, to be marshalled by men waving glowsticks to one of the pockets of parking around the place – in our case the tennis courts. The official start time wasn’t until 8:00am, an hour later this year, so we had plenty of time to go and register, find and queue for the toilets, get ready, and drink coffee. The sun kept going up, the skies brightened, and even I might have cheered up a bit
But there was no putting it off any longer, it was time to go and do that queueing in pens thing. A later start is/was a good thing. No worrying about lights, no groping around in the dark, and more importantly when, after the rider briefing, our pen was set off a little after 8:00am, we could see where we were going! However…on the downside…it meant I could see where I was going! I don’t remember much of the early part of last year’s ride as I was too busy trying to cope with the unfamiliarity of riding in the dark, following flashing lights, avoiding other barely-seen riders, and so on… This time I saw, and felt, every hill! I knew I would feel rubbish to start with, I always do, and as predicted I did. My breathing was off on one and I just couldn’t seem to catch my breath, which is not ideal when slogging your way uphill. It took me 45 minutes, as usual, to warm up, and in the meantime on a couple of those early big hills, my lungs and core muscles and the effort being made all combined to make me feel like I was turning myself inside out! Not pleasant…but once we got to the top of one of them around an hour in and I stashed my gilet and head scarf I felt much cooler and much better. I really don’t like over-heating!
All that said, it was nice out there. Not (yet) too windy, dry overhead, fairly mild. The roads were damp and covered in crap though, so I was little more careful on some of the downhills than usual, especially since I was still on the summer bike, wheels, and tyres! Although there were allegedly around 1500 riders out there, it didn’t feel too busy in the country lanes, and there were slightly better manners than at some events, so I rarely got railroaded without notice, which was nice. So we bimbled along in my usual style, and the miles and hills passed, as did today’s guest of honour Jonathan Tiernan-Locke from time to time, making it all look easy of course. There was plenty of up, but I’m much better with long hills than short, providing they’re not too steep of course, and they were feeling ok. Being currently a drug-free zone it’s clear that some of those were affecting things and that now they aren’t. Not that I’m any faster up the darn things, they just feel different. And if that doesn’t make sense, tough
After much general climbing up and hurtling down the moors, there was a fantastic descent into Dunster, which it’s fair to say I nailed. Oh, and enjoyed immensely. Me and my bike are very good at that In fact, having swooshed past a great many, and then all the way up one up bit in the middle, when three of the guys I’d passed caught me up, which no doubt their egos insisted upon, I was congratulated on my “good effort” *grin*. After playing with very tolerant traffic in Dunster, we arrived at the very-well stocked food stop. Everything from soup to rolls and flapjacks and of course energy drink, water and bananas! I topped up my bottles, queued briefly for one of the portable toilets, and passed on the food – no need to mess up my insides since they were feeling ok. It felt nice to take a bit of a break in the sunshine, chat, and enjoy the fact that half the ride was behind us…
…which of course, means half of it was ahead, and that half included the biggest challenge of the day – Dunkery Beacon! *gulp* We set off again, heading for the inevitable, along the main road through and past Minehead that is a bit busy and full of nasty draggy upwards bits – I never enjoy that stretch of road, and today was no exception. In fact, even with flapjack and a gel on board, that dragging made me realise I was feeling pretty tired. And pretty worried. I know Dunkery Beacon, and it’s no walk in the National Park! Well, unless you have to walk up it of course, and that’s probably pretty hard work too
After the relief of a bit of down, we turned left and started the trundle through the country lanes that gradually lead up to where the climb proper starts. Riders kept going past me but hey, if they were in that much of a rush to get there, more power to them. I was conserving energy and trying to think positively and gird my loins for the struggle ahead! A bit of me was thinking I’d also rather have ‘em all ahead of me, out of the way, and not weaving backwards and forwards around me…
So, here we go. Another left turn, slowly going up already, and over the dreaded, but matted, cattle grid, heart in mouth… As the slog through the damp woods began, and I slowly ground my way up, I have to admit to having wondered about walking, whether today would be the day I would again, whether I’d have to, whether that would be such a bad thing…but not yet, right?
Make the wheels go around. One pedal stroke after the next. Avoid the horse-chestnut cases and leaves and twigs, pass the walkers, zig-zag a bit, keep the front wheel down, push, push, push… At least my lungs were working now, and so were my legs, for however long that might be the case. Steeper bits, even steeper bits, flatter bits, steeper bits…and then that bit in the middle which could be the top but isn’t, because it’s only half way; your chance to have a drink, regroup slightly and then, yes, start all over again. The forest drops behind you, the road climbs up into moorland, the views open up, but they’re behind you, and you’re too busy concentrating on the road ahead anyway, which stretches into the distance, with every diminishing spots of colourful lycra leading the way. On and on and on…but just that little bit less steep that it was down there, and so yes, it’s hard, but you keep going, you don’t get off, you just hit that mental zone where all you do is keep the wheels turning. Up this bit. Round the bend. Up the next bit. One stretch of tarmac at a time. And as long as the wheels are turning you’re going up, however slowly, while the race snakes hurtle pass you, you pass the “pedestrians” and take heart from that, the inevitable photographers lurk and you do your best to smile, before returning to that gurning place inside where you are mentally and you push some more and then…you know what…? The world has opened up around you, you’ve reached the sky, and it’s all behind you. I did it. Again. I have absolutely no idea how I made it up really. I just did
Now there’s an awesome feeling for you Which probably explains why I was grinning when we passed a familiar friendly face shortly afterwards – Gaz and his camera were there to capture the moment – which was all the more reason to smile.
No time to hang around though – having done all that up, there was some down to be enjoying. I always look forward to downs, but it was so windy up on the top there that I was looking forward to getting down to some shelter more! Such fun though… It wasn’t the last up, there were a few more to drag myself up, but I now knew that the back of the Beast was broken and, on past experience, that the last 20 or so miles are just a long run down the valley back to Tiverton. Which was, with the exception of a couple of kickers, fairly flat and fast and fair flying , especially as I spent most of it sat on on Chris’ wheel – not having quite enough energy left in me to spend as much time on the front as I would have liked. This was probably not helped by the fact that we had to fight that headwind all the way back! I struggled a bit from time to time, but there were some down bits to enjoy as well as the flat, and we hopped from group to group, and generally had a reasonable approximation of a blast most of the way back to Tiverton. And then there we were, back at HQ, rolling past the timing machines, and into the hall.
As a small child presented us with our souvenir Exmoor Beast tankards, the tannoy, in the capable hands of Ron (of Dartmoor Classic fame), announced our arrival, complete with a whole spiel about me being the Cycling Mayor and Cyclosport writer…busted! You can ride, but you can’t hide We went around outside as instructed, stashed the bikes, and went back in to fill those tankards with the eponymous ale, before having a chat with Ron and others while getting our times. It was great to have the opportunity to catch up – it’s nice to do events and bump into people you know – one advantage of doing so many of the darn things! Oh, and that beer was pretty good too, especially enjoyed sat outside in the sunshine and the after-glow
Exmoor Beast – done. Again. Annoyingly, it turns out to have been a bit slower than last year, but I think I actually enjoyed it more? Which is more important. I had a pretty good ride, in good company, I didn’t feel like an invalid, and I don’t feel like I was outstandingly slow. I’m pretty pleased with how it went. Make that really pleased. You know what? I had a really good day out
Cycling time: 4:56
Distance: 66.3 miles
Avg: 13.2 mph
ODO: 6966.4 miles
Update: Of the 520 100km riders, I was 285th. Of the 58 women amongst them, I was 19th. I’m pretty pleased with that
And I was only half an hour slower than Mr Tiernan-Locke…who must have stopped off for a cream tea at some point…