Writing my sportives up is taking even longer than me riding them these days, which is saying quite something. So I should start by apologising to the lovely organisers of the Mad March Hare for this taking me so long, when they were kind enough to ask me back again this year.
You see the Mad March Hare was, for a very long time, the first event I did every year. From what I think was the very first one in 2009, until 2014 in fact. And then for a couple of years I didn’t. Various reasons I guess – other commitments, amongst others. So I was quite touched when they got in touch and asked if I’d like to come back this year and do it again. Touched, and quite probably a little flattered. And hey, it’s not like I didn’t like the event. So clearly, my ego and I said yes. They were kind enough to give my partner Matt (aka chauffeur, coach, domestique, support crew, crutch) a place too, to make sure that I’d get there, and get round, which was proper appreciated.
So, all set for March then. Well, our places were in place anyway. Training, health, etc….not so much so. And having my best bike nicked a couple of weeks before didn’t help on the state of mind front…but it’s not like I’d have been doing the event on that anyway – it was after all my summer bike, not my slog around wet winter country lanes bike. Or even sunny Spring lanes. Which was what we were all hoping for, right? And for a while it looked like that might be on…
…but as the event approached, the forecasts became less like guess work, and more likely to be accurate. I found myself tagged in a fair few pre-event tweets that suggested that Rule #9 was likely to be applicable, and the weather we were going to be riding in was enough to indicate insanity on our part, in a positive #gladtobemad kind of way. Oh marvellous…just what a girl needs for her first sportive of the season.
And they weren’t wrong. It was a perfect storm of a day. Not enough training, not enough sleep, not a good patch, and given the weather upon arising to face the day? Not enough PMA either! But…hey…faint heart never won anything, and the weather hadn’t been great lately anyway, so I figured I knew what to wear and how to ride in rubbish weather, and so despite all the usual misgivings, it was the usual stupid o’clock Sunday morning start. I was too afraid to load the car up the night before though, just in case. Well, I’m not paranoid, as clearly they clearly were out to get me weren’t they? So there was even more faffing to get ready than usual, as both bikes had to go on the back of my tiny car first thing. Matt made it look easy though…which is just as well as I wasn’t feeling like anything was going to be easy today.
Time to head off into the wind and the rain and cold…though the levels of any of those were somewhat theoretical from inside my nice warm car. It was an uneventful journey up, broken by a short stop at the very posh M5 Gloucester services that I’ve been meaning to stop at for years but never have. And it was way too early in the morning to enjoy all that it reputedly has to offer…it still being mostly closed…so all I can say is that the toilets were nice enough! Unlike the walk to and from them, which proved the weather was actually horrible in practice. Yep – proper windy. Yep – proper damp. And blimey…was it ever cold! Oh dear…
We arrived at the event’s designated parking location a little later than scheduled, at the rather Phoenix Group site which has plenty of decent parking and also automatic gates that would later be locked behind us. I remember paying being non-optional last time which, at £2 a pop, wasn’t a big deal. Remembering to have change for the guy with a bucket at the entrance was though. This time is was optional, which meant that we could both get into the car park without paying, and also sort cash out to donate later – which we did, it being collected for a good cause.
But it was miserable. Pissing it down miserable. Freezing cold. And the car park was a few miles from the event proper, so there was no other option than to get sorted and head over. No faffing about going to and from. No sheltering in a nice warm building in between times. Ah well… Matt put the bikes together while I hid in the boot, put on all the layers I had with me, and tried to summon up the enthusiasm to ride my bike. Even Matt put on layers. Including, shock, horror…leg warmers! Which I think was a first for us riding together… In the meantime it kept raining and we all got colder…
Thanks to my health issues I often need a get out of jail free card, so we’d done quite a lot of studying the route beforehand, and had located a few bail out spots on route, albeit unofficial ones, as the Mad March Hare only has the one 72 mile route option. Knowing this was somewhat of a comfort. Still I was seriously contemplating turning tail and going home. Like for real for a change. I was this close to calling it. But it seemed unfair to the event to not at least go and register and check out what was going on, having made it this far. We kinda decided that one of those options was going to be opted for, if we did it at all and we headed off. We’d taken long enough faffing that we were one of the few left leaving. Holding out for better weather had not worked and it was still flinging it down, so the two or three miles wet ride to HQ were neither pleasant nor heartening. At least they were well signposted though, so we didn’t get lost.
Stair rods. Cats and dogs. And a marquee in a school play ground full of sheltering riders, huddled around the entrance looking hopefully outside for signs of improvement. We made our way through them to the registration desks inside. We were supposed to have brought photo id with us to register but I only have my passport, as my driving licence is still old school. I pretty much refuse to lug my passport, all £76 worth of it, around with me, in case it gets lost somehow. Especially today when going back to the car wasn’t an option, and it would have had to sit in a back pocket inevitably getting damp and soggy regardless of what sort of plastic bag I put it in. So I had no id. Luckily the lady behind the desk took pity on me and let me off. After all, who’s going to steal a place on a sportive on a day like this? So I signed whatever had to be signed, we collected bike numbers with integral timing chips and maps and the like. And it still hadn’t stopped raining. Worse still I was going to have to use one of the four or so portable toilets. Marvellous. Disrobing soggy kit and then putting it all back on again. Nice. Ah well, needs must…
And after all that it still hadn’t stopped raining, and it sure as hell hadn’t warmed up any, and it was still blowing wind chill factor on top of that. But we’d got this far. And I like the Mad March Hare guys, and I’d said I was going to review it, and you know, a woman’s word is her bond. Or something. So we decided that we would indeed do some of it. See how we got on. Our basic plan was to head out for a bit on the route, nip across cross country at some point, and head back on the return route. Right then, once more unto the breach dear friends. Off into the wild wet West Midlands wilderness…and man was it ever unpleasant. As we headed out, nothing had improved. Understandably there aren’t a lot of photos to show this – you try taking photos with soaking wet hands in winter gloves in the rain whilst moving. And stopping was actually worse since when stopped, minus all that air rushing past, you actually got warmer for a bit and setting off again was ‘orrible! Matt managed a few snaps with his little go-pro type thing though.
As we set out, on a route that was flat to rolling, a constant stream of cyclists passed us going the other way. Yep, wise men of many sorts were deciding that bailing was the sensible option. Returning to the start. Not passing Go. Etc. But we had a plan, and we stuck to it. We did 8 miles or so of wet English country lanes heading out. It did dry up a bit as we went along, a bit too late for it really to matter, what with the water, water, everywhere going on. The hills hurt me a bit, unsurprisingly, but there wasn’t much that really counted as hill by most people’s standards. We discussed the fact that the triumvirate of wind, rain and cold was just too much. Any of the two would be tolerable. All three…not so much so.
We reached what was possibly our turning point and, although the weather wasn’t as bad by now, we were both soaked through despite waterproofs and layers, I was getting proper cold and, let’s face it, riding a bike is supposed to be enjoyable and this wasn’t. So we did as planned, and nipped across to pick up the return route, where we did another 8 miles or so of the same, and there was more rain, and more ick but a lightening of spirits as the end was in sight. Being far ahead of those who had carried on to brave the whole route, and also ahead of those who had turned tail early, we had the return route to ourselves, and also our return to HQ. We were signalled as to which entrance to return into the school, which, as it turns out, doesn’t seem to have worked that well as either they hadn’t yet turned the timing mats/arch on, or somehow we didn’t cross it. Either way, it turns out that neither of us recorded a time.
We made our way back to the rear of the school to hang our dripping bikes up onto the dripping bike racks. One of the members of staff came over to see how we were, sympathise if not empathise, and also retrieved our timing chips. There were a handful other riders over in the marquee, but first things first – free coffee and free bacon rolls – something the Mad March Hare is and has always been known for. The catering had its own separate tent and was set up to handle things military assembly line style. In previous years queuing has been an issue and they were clearly keen that this not happen again this year. Methinks it probably wasn’t a problem today… The coffee was hot and I have no idea whether it tasted good or not, it was bl**dy lovely as far as I was concerned. And the bacon roll was awesome. I don’t usually go for such things – they don’t fit with my IBS etc – but today? Exception to the rule. Matt resorted to taking his shoes off and going barefoot – which although seemingly mad, actually ended up with his feet being warmer if not drier.
Over in the marquee, sat on a bench, we debriefed, laughed at the stupidity of doing such things, rued the fact that the Purity beer available to purchase wasn’t really what the doctor would order today, and cheerfully relieved another member of staff of one of the emergency foil space blanket things they were handing out to keep riders warm – there were a couple there who were really struggling. Admittedly the real reason we took one was because it’ll come in handy again on the start line of the Maratona later this year – a tactic I observed, admired, and nicked from the last time I did it – but I nearly ended up using it for real later…
Sadly it was time to get going again. Sitting around wasn’t going to get me much warmer and it certainly wasn’t going to get me back to the car. It may have been drier overhead but nothing else was. And putting my very cold, very wet, very heavy gloves back on my still freezing hands was absolute hell. The ride back to the car park was much better signposted than the last time I did it, all bar one turning, but missing that that could have been because I couldn’t concentrate. Seriously, I have never had pain in my hands like it. How can something so cold hurt SO much? Shouldn’t they just go numb or something? Apparently not. All I could think about and feel was my screaming hands…so the rest of the riding got pretty short shrift on the paying attention front. We got back to the now closed Phoenix Group gates which, before we could press the let us in button, magically opened before us, letting us get back to my car without further ado. Which was just as well. The minute I got off the bike I started shivering. Like full body shaking shivering, teeth chattering, uncontrollable stuff. As ever, it’s just as well Matt was there, as he took over. He sorted the bikes out, and loaded the car, and looked after me. I stripped off my soaking wet layers off as quickly as I could, considering that my limbs weren’t doing what they were told, got into the few bits of warm dry clothing I’d brought with me, got wrapped up in Matt’s big coat, and got made to sit in the car with the engine and heater running while he finished up. At which point we’d completely forgotten about the space blanket…d’oh!
We exited the site a little while later, past two solemn statuary herons on the way out, seemingly silently commenting on our stupidity. (Plus, if we stay really still, you ain’t seen us, right?) And it was an interesting drive, with ever brightening skies, predictably. There was me curled up in a million layers still shivering and needing the heater on full blast, while Matt drove in what became sunshine and wished he was wearing less and that he could open the window 😉 I don’t think I’ve ever had the cold hit me like that…and hopefully I won’t again. Mad! It would appear that the Mad March Hare defeated us. Out of 1000 or so registered (I think), only 654 turned up. And massive kudos to the 525 who actually finished it. Maybe we counted as two of them 😉 Chapeaux one and all really. Later on, after a warm bath and warm food and cold wine, we both got a phone call to check we weren’t actually still out on the route, and had got home safely. As I said before, for some reason we hadn’t recorded a time, and I guess our collected timing chips hadn’t been noted either… But we did it – Strava says so 🙂
None of all this has anything to do with the event really. I still like the Mad March Hare. It’s a good event. It gets better organised every year – they really take on board rider feedback and improve things. It’s still a nice part of the world, and when you get to them, the hills out there are lovely too – not that that was something we got to prove today. To be honest, I’d prefer the car park to be at the venue, not 3 miles down the road, even on better days. And sure, there were a few bits of disorganisation today, but I think that was mainly down to the atrocious weather, and things would probably have been different given one of those better days. Organisers can control many things…the weather is not one of them. Hopefully they’ll have me back next year, and we’ll all do it better 🙂 I’m also doing their new Mad Summer Hare sportive on 3rd September – so hopefully that will show how much nicer riding around here can be on a good day too 🙂
Cycling time: 1:28
Distance: 17.5 miles
Avs: 11.9 mph
Riding is not going that well at the moment. I’m spending far more time on the spin bike than the real thing and I seem to have lost all confidence in going riding on my own. So given crap weather, or a lack of company, or my pain levels, or the stinking cold I’ve just spent two weeks with, well…I don’t lack for excuses not to be out there when I probably should be. It’s hard to explain, but having my bike nicked seems to have been the straw that broke this camel’s back to be honest – I feel like they nicked what was left of my mojo along with it. Cycling used to be something I loved and that’s a little lacking at the moment. The insurance company were great, and I have a new bike that I’m trying to get used to which is probably great. But it’s not myy bike. Let’s just say we haven’t bonded yet. If I didn’t have to train for the Maratona I think I’d take a proper break from cycling – just go out as and when and if I felt like it – but I don’t want the Maratona to be a disaster, so I really have to get some training in. It’s all a bit of an uphill struggle at the moment…in so many ways 😉