A great many of my mates are being put off doing sportives by the cost. Well, why pay £36 for a sportive when an audax is a fraction of the price, or when you can sort your own route out on a Garmin, ride both/either with mates, and spend the extra money on lighter bits for the bike? It’s a good question… Well I mainly do this one because it’s local. Which, since this weekend I had the kids, was more important than usual. The Endura Lionheart starts from Longleat, which is only an hour’s drive away, and also means a not too anti-social start – 5:30am alarm, 6:15am on the road. This year was my 4th such, and as I drove there over the hills, it wasn’t snowing, so I was already off to a better start than last year!
I must have been ahead of previous years though, as the queue to get in was minimal, but the views down the long drive were as stunning as ever. I ended up in a different car park to usual which initially annoyed me as it was a little bit further away from the start village. But it was on tarmac…which I learned to appreciate as I later picked my way through the mud to the toilets! There was a long queue for them, which was about to irritate me, when I realised that 5 or so of them were women only, and not being queued for. Result! There were a couple of male riders, clearly very confident in their own sexuality, who were happy to use them too ;).
One of the best things about this event is the pre-registration pack that you get a few weeks before the event, so there’s on need to register on the day. Just stick a tag on your helmet, number on your bike, map in your pocket, job done! So, with that all done in advance, I really didn’t faff much on site. The forecast had said variable and rather cold, so I was pretty much wearing everything I could be. The only concession I’d made to possible warmth later on was to stash my mitts in a pocket. Incidentally, whilst mentally writing bits of this while riding along, it took me half an hour to dig the word concession out of my cerebral cortex – and it had to be left to bubble up of its own accord! So you’d better believe I’m going to use it after all that hard work *grin*.
I had no idea what time it was, having not yet prodded the Garmin into life, but I headed for the start, and was far nearer the front than usual. Standing outside Longleat House, the Bath stone glowing in the rising sun, relatively sheltered, I did wonder about my layer choices…but it wasn’t warm, there was definitely wind, and I was going with the weather forecast. It’s usually worse than I expect, not better, after all! I stood there on my own, wondering if the Marquess was sneaking a peak at us all, listening to the bravado from the riders around me, watching the flag blow in the wind, as the organisers got everything ready. Big foreign cycling events get helicopters, we got a radio-controlled quadcopter, which I’m presuming was filming us, but maybe someone was just playing with their toy ;).
As it turns out, I was in the second of the groups to be let away. Our time came, the normal briefing happened; the standup comedian in charge told us it wasn’t a race, and apologised for the lack of snow this year…see, told you he was funny. Sometime a bit after 8:00am I was on my way under the arch, and off around the estate.
There’s a long loop around the estate, past the very long queue of waiting riders, to be done before you even get out into the wider world. I may have had what eldest would call “smug face” briefly as we went past them, but I figure I’ve done my time in that queue in years passed, I deserved to be first out for a change. Besides, the way I look at it, that also meant there were about 1200 other riders behind me, and it would take a while for them all to get their revenge by going past me, so I wasn’t going to be lonely for a while! I think 1387 had signed up, and by the looks of it, the turnout was pretty good, though I reckon they were going to be hard pushed to get them all away by their 9:00am deadline.
It’s actually a surprisingly lumpy loop, especially when you’ve not warmed up, around various back of the estate bits, over many cattle grids, and then past the lake on the right, where the seals should be swimming, and the sleeping lions on the left, before going out up the long long drive down which we all drove earlier. It’s a long drag, that always leaves some walking already, but it’s much easier without a blizzard! In fact you’ve done about 4 miles before you leave the estate…but at least this year I did. Leave the estate that is, not walk! ;).
The route changes every year. I don’t really remember the previous routes, but some of it rang bells, in that I recognised I was going out over roads I came in on once previously. Anti-clockwise it was then. This was good, because I hadn’t enjoyed that bit back then, so it felt like a positive change to know that wasn’t going to happen again. It was however really nippy out there, and there was really quite a lot of climbing early on, or at least it felt like it to me. I wasn’t sure how today was going to go, and really hadn’t made my mind up what I was doing – 100km or 100miles – and I was just happy to go with it. I knew the first food stop was 25 miles in, and that’s all I was aiming for initially, breaking it down into mentally manageable chunks as ever. I remember lots of country lanes, sunshine, and riders going past as predicted. Mr Tour of Wessex, Nick, and his posse went past me around 9 miles in, not that they noticed, being too busy telling each other what to do, and that there was a junction ahead. I think the high-vis clad marshals might have given that away.. Anyway they disappeared into the distance…and I pottered on.
A lot of the main junctions were marshalled, and there were also motorcycle outriders helping the deflated and otherwise stricken – I saw a couple of accidents. There were also some interesting junctions where marshals would have been a good idea – especially since you end up in the mindset where you think that if there’s not marshalling then it’s not necessary, and possibly don’t pay the due care and attention to the route ahead as you might do otherwise? Still, all the route signage was good, with the addition of my favourites – little orange repeater ribbons to stop you feeling lost – ‘rah! :).
The weather became increasingly changeable. I was in the process of dreading the King Alfred’s Tower climb that was due later that day, when we went up what seemed to be to be a bigger narrower and busier climb, that I wasn’t even expecting! Still, having made it up that, which was good for the PMA, as we were heading for the food stop at Evercreech, the skies darkened, the wind came up, and then the hail came down! Yes, hail! With rain mixed in with it, of course…
The foodstop might have been perfectly timed for hiding from the downpour for a bit, but the village hall itself was heaving, so sheltering was easier said than done. It was a nightmare finding anywhere to put the bike, and one of the nice ladies handing out Nuun tablets held onto mine so that I could fill my bottle up from the water tanks lined up outside. That was a big point in the event’s favour by the way – they’re my hydration of choice and having been advertised as present beforehand, it meant I didn’t have to carry any around with me :). I finally managed to find a space to park up the bike next to a wall as someone left, and went inside to fight my way through corralled damp and ravenous riders stuffing their faces with handfuls of food as fast as the friendly ladies could unwrap it. Not an attractive spectacle. They were clearly trying to keep riders and cleats off the shiny wooden floor, but there was no way to the Ladies other than across it, though as there weren’t many of us, maybe we weren’t considered as much of an issue. Toilet break duly taken, I ate a bit of flapjack, and grabbed half a banana for later – it was time to see if the hail had stopped.
Luckily it had, but I had to hang around a bit for riders to come and go so as to be able to dig my bike out from under what was now several layers of carbon! Not that I was in any rush, knowing that that Tower thing was ahead. In fact I took it nice and easy on the way there – no rush! I also wanted the traffic to spread out – the worst thing about climbs like that is other riders getting in the way. And on what was now to be a wet, muddy, slippery, steep climb…? *gulp*. I needn’t have worried. They’d put a sign up asking those walking to stick to the left, and those riding to the right, which helped. It also wasn’t too busy when I got there, and I have done it before – something I kept telling myself as I literally dribbled my way up. There were three of those oops the front wheel is lifting moments, but I kept it down low and kept going and…yep, did it again. Rah! It also didn’t take me as long to recover as sometimes either which cheered me up quite a bit. As did flying along the fairly flat miles that came afterwards, when I finally felt a bit of mojo :D. Shame about the muddy Stourhead estate that came next though. The road surfaces weren’t great, the weather had made bits of it really wobbly under wheel, and the much-vaunted views were absent because I was too busy paying attention to the road ahead so as to stay on the bike!
I was feeling fairly good, but getting colder as the day went on, for no particular reason. As I’ve said before, I seem to get cold more than usual at the moment. Various squalls passed over. Then the skies around got even darker and darker and then they weren’t so dark and I realised that’s because I was under them and my eyes had adapted and that meant things were likely to be about to go pear-shaped again. Yep, about 3 miles out from the next food stop, the hail came down again. Down, and down hard! 3 miles or so of flat fast, then main, road with it being blown in your face. A lot like going into hyperspace (generational specific simile there). (Or at least I think it’s a simile, not a metaphor, but I’m getting tired now…*yawn*…this writing stuff is hard work!). I pulled my winter collar up and over my face, it hurt that much – talk about extreme exfoliation. I also developed a mini peloton of people hiding behind me as I kicked arse through it….ouch!
And then, it passed, and the sun came out, and we were at the route split, which was also the food stop, pulling into the yard of Yapps Wine Merchants, all looking slightly shell shocked! A thankyou might have been nice…unless I’d dropped them by then of course ;). The food stop was just as busy before, but it was mostly all outside this time. Somewhat randomly there was food on tables, rescue greyhounds, portable toilets, classic cars, coffee to buy, and wine to sample. I wish…but I’d never have gotten going again if I’d indulged in that! I took some photos and milled around a bit, where I bumped into Rob who I’ve not seen in ages, and enjoyed a brief chat. Which was about the only conversation I got all day…*sniff*.
So, 100 miles, or 100 km? I had been told and told and told not to overdo it by my friends and family beforehand. I was feeling ok, but probably nowt more than that. Better than the Mad March Hare, considerably, but that may not be saying much. However I was cold, and now wet, and the weather was unlikely to get better, and you know what? Given the choice between 50 more miles, and maybe 20 more, meaning a couple more hours at home with the kids? It was a no-brainer. Time to go kilo-metric. Yes, I do sometimes do what I’m told. Oh, and I like my kids :).
The short route headed North and fairly directly for Lord Bath‘s home. Which turned out to be straight into the wind, and straight up a bl**dy great hill. In fact possibly the biggest climb of the day, while I was at my coldest. Well gee, that was fun. As was the long section across the ridge afterwards where the wind blew from the side, straight across your face, turning your skin to ice and stealing the air from your lungs as you tried to inhale, all the time trying to stay upright and not crab sideways. It might have been easier to do the longer route and dodge it more, especially as it seems that the majority of the climbing was in the first section of the ride! It was a very sapping final slog. Nowhere to hide, nowhere to run to. Head down and just keep going.
Those last few miles were really hard work, and there wasn’t much me left. As usual, and on reflection, I don’t think I’d eaten enough. I’d been guessing at around 70 miles, a sort of deliberate mental pacing trick, and it turned out to be more like 60, which came as a bit of a shock and also quite a relief, and suddenly we were retracing our steps briefly to turn right back on to the estate. There was enough just left in my legs to enjoy sprinting down the straight Longleat Drive, flying towards the main house and then under the occasionally deflating finish arch though! :D. I’ve always got a sprint finish in me – bit like having a dessert stomach *grin*.
There – Lionheart 2014 done. Medal collected, I confessed my shorter distance to an understanding timing man, who pressed buttons, and stopped my official record lying. It turns out I did ok, for an old bird, looking at the results which are now online. I got a Silver, and I was 20 out of 100 or so women, but that’s not as well as I know I can do it. I do know I made the right decision, but I am still a bit cross about it, in a totally illogical fashion. I think if I’d had company to ride with, I could probably have made it around the 100 miles, but this way I lived to ride another day, right? Right?!
Cycling time: 4:37
Official time: 4:59:53 – Silver
Distance: 59.9 miles
Avg 12.9 mph
ODO: 4047.6 miles
One of the main downsides to riding events on your own is the lack of après ride. I stuck my head into the food tent to collect my goodie bag, and ignored the free hotpot as usual, because I knew Claud the Butler was there, and what I really needed was good coffee and a friendly familiar face :). I had a lovely black americano, chatted to a nice gentleman there (the father of one of the guys serving – hi there!), and made my way back to my little car. Since home was not far away, I turned the engine and heating on, did the bare minimum, without baring much, replaced wet and muddy with dry, stashed the bike, and was on my way asap 🙂