Mad March Hare 2017

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.
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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.  

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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…

Getting ready in the boot outside registration

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…  

wet bikes waiting in hope portable toilets

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…

registration riders waiting in hope

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.  

wet and not waterproof two way riders

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.  

riders in the storm wet village

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.  

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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…

hot drinks lined up bacon roll assembly line

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!

too cold for beer time to go home

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 😉

You stole the sun from my heart

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Sometime between 2:00am on Tuesday morning and 8:30am – unless it was the large noise I heard during the evening and presumed was Cassie the cat causing chaos as customary – someone broke into our locked garage, and stole two bikes.  My Cinelli.  My “new” bike (in that it’s newer than t’other one, I’d still had it for a few years), my “summer” bike (old one got relegated to winter, new one saved, mostly, for summer), my bestest bike which I loved to bits.  They also stole my partner Matt’s new Mekk bike which he’d had all of two weeks and ridden once and which lived here, which I feel really bad about and oddly responsible for 🙁

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So the “thieves” (there are so many other words I’d like to use here) broke into our locked garage.  It’s still not clear how they managed to break in – maybe they used the hockey stick they brought and left behind, maybe they didn’t – but how they did it is academic now.  Clearly they got in.  And being in my garage is like being in my house, since there’s an interconnecting door between the two which wasn’t locked.  Luckily they didn’t come through…but it’s just scarey, and creepy, knowing that they could have done.  While Tash and I were asleep upstairs.  *shudder*.  They just came into the garage, and they just took our two carbon bikes.  They didn’t take anything else.  Nothing.  None of the other bikes.  None of my power tools.  Nothing.  Just our beautiful steeds.  Which makes one tend towards the conclusion that my house was deliberately targeted, which is enough to make your skin scrawl…  

Setting out on the school run, discovering the garage door open, and then the bikes missing, was not nice.  Quite a shock.  Literally.  The whole stunned, shaky, crying, thing.  It took a little longer to hit Tash, but it still did.  Not nice all round… 🙁  Once we’d calmed down sufficiently I made the inevitable round of phone calls. The police came, and were friendly and compassionate and helpful, and did their best but…  No witnesses.  No forensics on the abandoned hockey stick that “they” left behind.  (On the upside the CSI guy was lovely, and when she expressed an interest, took Tash’s fingerprints for her, and she now has the world’s coolest bookmark).  There’s nothing the police can do really, other than keep a look out for it if they recover any bikes.  Then the insurance company’s garage people came out and made the house secure again, and after a survey tomorrow, a new lock is probably in the works.  Being boring and sensible as I tend to be, it looks like the bikes and garage door were probably all variously insured.  There will be the usual hoops to jump through, there are a great many forms to fill in, we probably won’t get what feels like enough money, and I won’t believe that that part of it is sorted until there is actually money in the bank.  But if you look at it like that, no-one was hurt, and with any luck there will be replacement bikes, and hey, never mind, sh*t happens, ho hum.

But it doesn’t feel very ho hum.  It feels weird.  Matt came down on a flying visit last night to be with us, and look after me, and one of the bikes was his after all.  He’s sad too.  And angry.  And all those things.  It’s a really good thing he did, because I was pretty shaky when I didn’t have work to distract me, and because reactions are a funny thing.  For example I had to resort to drinking too much white wine last night to make me go to sleep.  I didn’t expect that, but I guess your brain works in weird ways.  Emotional vs intellectual.  I felt this serious need to stay awake all night.  I think it’s because this house is my place that I fought hard to keep.  It’s mine.  It’s home to me and mine.   My Englishwoman’s castle.  It’s my safe place that now doesn’t feel safe.  In an odd way it felt like I needed to stay awake because while I was awake we were still safe, and going to sleep might mean bad things happening again, and what might happen next?  Intellectually I knew/know the house is secure, so it’s ridiculous.  But then I thought it was secure before so…is it?

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So there’s that.  Which ain’t great as things go.  And then there’s the sadness.  They stole my beautiful bike.  I loved that bike.  I don’t really want another bike.  I never have.  Sure, it was getting older, and needed things replaced, and was usually covered in mud, but it was still all the bike I ever wanted.  I’ve never wanted to replace it.  It was built to fit me, light and agile, cornered like a dream, and we’ve done a great many mostly happy miles together, in some amazing places.  Yes, it’s just a bike.  But it was my bike, and I was/am pretty attached to it.  I’m really really upset about it, when I’m stupid enough to let myself think about it.  Totally gutted.  It may be daft to cry about a bike…but hey, we all know I’m daft.  

But it’s done now.  I’ve put our sad stolen bike story everywhere.  It’s on my Facebook – thanks for all kind comments and the shares everyone.  It’s on my Twitter – thanks for all the retweets, especially to Matt Stephens and Cyclosport – the news is spreading and I’ve now been retweeted 48 times!  And now, predictably, it’s on here.  I really don’t expect to ever see either of our bikes again but if there’s even a slim chance…the more people that know about it the better.  So if you happen to be offered a cheap bike for sale in the pub, see a bike lurking in a rhyn somewhere, visit a local car boot sale…and come across one of ours, please do let me know.  This weekend, though the horses may have bolted, we’re going to be locking the stable door (and overusing an idiom) – by putting every security precaution, reinforcement, lock and alarm on my house and garage that we can.  I’m not having this happen again.  In the meantime, I need a glass of white wine, and a decent night’s sleep (fat chance!).  My poor bike 🙁    

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Tour of Pembrokeshire Prologue 2017

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Somehow, without noticing, some things just become a habit.  Well, not so much a habit as a tradition actually, a word which has less negative connotations.  And somehow, the Tour of Pembrokeshire has become just that.  Traditional.  I don’t always ride the whole event.  I don’t always ride the whole event when I’ve signed up to do so, I’ve frequently been forced to bail to shorter routes!  But I do seem to always do the Prologue ride.  It’s the first thing of the season.  OK, so this year my season is massively unplanned, and disorganised, and up in the air.  That didn’t stop the Prologue being the first thing on my calendar however.

So a while ago Matt and I made our way as far as West as you can go without falling into the sea, to St David’s and beyond, to the fabulous Crug Glas (which I love), the hotel where both the Prologue and the event itself run from – albeit from the Cowshed venue on site.  It’s a bit of a trek – 3 hours plus driving – and it wasn’t the most comfortable of journeys.  Having been doing ok, in annoyingly alliterative, tediously typical and practically predictable fashion, I was heading for a seriously bad patch.  Which is just one of the reasons Matt was accompanying me; to play chauffeur, since driving long distances is unwise normally, and not doable at all if I’ve had to resort to the heavy guns.  Having had to get up at 4:30am in order to get to our destination by 9:00am, it’s not like I’d have been awake enough to drive anyway – I’m not really a morning person 😉  Sadly driving is actually more comfortable than being a passenger…it’s a bit of a Catch 22 thing…so though it was safer that I not be driving, it did make things somewhat worse…

Anyway Matt got us to the seriously freezing carpark outside the Cowshed, in time and without incident.  And man was it ever cold.  Oh, and wet, and so windy the little windmill on the farm was spinning so fast it looked like taking off was actually an option.  Marvellous…*sigh*.  Ah well.  First things first.  Time to head inside, nip to the salubrious toilets, sign the register, and say hello to a few familiar faces – organiser Peter, and Jim, and the rest of the team, back in charge after a brief hiatus last year, and after all this time, also friends of mine.  Fellow Cyclosport writer Sean was also there, with a different hat on, and a nasty chest infection thingy which meant he was going to be playing support car, and not riding.  Half his luck… 😉

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We didn’t have a lot of time to spare before the various groups of riders were due to be let go, so we skipped coffee and headed back to the car to unload and reassemble the bikes, and put on every layer we had brought with us.  By the time we were ready I couldn’t feel my fingers well enough to zip up my overshoes, which hardly boded well for the day ahead!  As we finished up, various groups were starting to gather in the courtyard, only just leaving Matt enough time to get our bottles filled up.  There were two route options available today – 45 miles or 28 miles – with groups of varying abilities being set up for each route.  What with everything – my health, the weather, it being early in the season, etc…we’d decided that 28 miles sounded like more than enough.  Well, considering the average speed that the terrain around here usually results in, even that was likely to take over two hours so…discretion, valour, etc.  Besides Peter was to be leading the slow, short, group, and I thought that it might be a good time to catch up with him a bit.  By the way if you don’t like these excuses for our route choice, I’m sure I have others… 😉  He also announced to the group, as we set off, that I’d be helping them learn a bit about group riding etc.!  News to me…and as if!  I may, just about, know what I’m doing for myself, but I’m by no means qualified to educate anyone else!  Ah well, I figured I’d try, but that no-one was likely to need my kind of help anyway, especially not with Peter around.  (And I was right…they didn’t!).  Off we headed out for what turned out to be a fairly typical Prologue ride.  Unlike the event proper, it’s not the world’s most organised affair.  Our group had about 19 people in it, and keeping that kind of group together is virtually impossible even on a good day.  Today, on narrow roads, with varying abilities, lousy weather, and a fair few drags, it was literally impossible…  

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…so the group stretched, broke, reunited, got rained on, the rain got worse, the wind got stronger and was mostly (as ever) not at my back.  But the scenery was still stunning, and beautiful and lovely – when you could see it.  The route has been changed so that we didn’t come up past the cathedral the usual way, which is a shame, but St David’s was still lovely.  The company was good.  It was sociable.  And I felt pretty good – in that my legs at least were ok.  I was wearing lots and lots of layers, and keeping mostly warm and dry, though as the ride went on, I did start to cool down.  But I just can’t go up hills when the pain is there, as up makes it worse, and because my body is fighting on another front, there’s not as much in the tank as there ought to be.  But I’m kinda used to it these days.  Resigned to it.  Sure, you’ll drop me on every single hill, and I will zone out and plod and just watch the road ahead of my front wheel, and get there eventually.  But I’ll catch up on the flat and, on any downs that there are, drop you like a stone 😉  Sadly there weren’t many of those today though, and the road conditions were such that care and attention and caution was called for.  So I was slow out there.  Matt kept me company the whole way around though, so even when the groups split up, and when we got totally separated from them towards the end, I wasn’t on my own.  OK, so I had to yell to get his attention a couple of times when he hadn’t realised how far behind him I’d dropped, but essentially he was always there, joining the roll call of those who have had to drag me around Pembrokeshire.  Hey, at least this time around I didn’t end up in tears! 😉

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En route I did get to chat to a few of the other riders, notably Tori James, the youngest British and first Welsh woman to climb Mount Everest, and part of the first all female team to race to the magnetic North Pole, amongst many other things; she’s the official Tour of Pembrokeshire patron, and would be giving us a talk later.  But mostly it was a bit too horrible for chatting much.  Typical Welsh weather some would say 😉  And I was, and am, SO glad we didn’t go for the 45 mile ride!  Maybe it’s one of those things too – bad weather for the Prologue, good weather for the Tour?  I certainly hope so, since I’ve agreed to do that again this year, and Matt’s coming along for the ride too.  He has no idea what he’s letting himself in for… 😉

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To be honest, I wasn’t planning on doing it again.  Been there, done that, would have the t-shirt if there was one.  But it turns out that a fair few changes have been made to this year’s event.  On the Saturday, for the main event, there’s now a new 133 mile route, dedicated to local rider Paul Ties and Tour of Pembrokeshire stalwart, who is sadly no longer with us.  There’s also the Fred Rees Skoda 60 mile route and the 84 mile Mavic route, and they’re all new and different.  And that works for me.  The option to do whatever route is appropriate on the day – and to not be repeating what I’ve done so many times before, whichever route I do.  And no, I will not be attempting the Paul Ties route – that would be insane!  On the Sunday there’s also a 40 mile family/recovery ride route for those who feel less ambitious, or who want to spend a weekend riding with friends and family.  Whichever route you or I do, it’s a great event, in a beautiful place, that’s really well run & organised, where I can catch up with friends, and stay at Crug Glas again.  So yes, I’ll be doing the Tour of Pembrokeshire in May.  

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Anyway, back to the ride, albeit briefly.  It all sort of passed in an increasingly damp blur…  Somewhere near the end, as mentioned before, we got both separated from the others in our group, and also slightly lost.  So when we reached the entrance road to Crug Glas again, albeit a few miles sooner than expected, and it was still raining, and blowing a storm, and my fingers weren’t entirely there…there was no way we were doing anything other than turning left for a very unpleasant final couple of miles riding fully into that blasted, blasting wind to get us back to HQ.  Prologue ride done!  We weren’t the first back, as there were a couple of other rather shell-shocked looking riders loitering around, one of whom was heard to comment that if he’d known it was going to be like that he wouldn’t have turned out for it.  I don’t suppose he was the only one thinking that today!

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Since lunch etc wasn’t due for a while, and the other groups weren’t back yet, the best thing to do seemed to be to go and check in to our very lovely room.  I should mention that I’ve been lucky enough to stay here a few times now, and I totally love it.  I never get to stay places this lovely, being usually a budget hotel gal, and this is just so far from that!  Once again Room 1 was mine, and it was just as fabulous as ever, complete with large windows, four poster bed, fireplace, and general classic luxury.  The large copper bath beckoned…but running that would have taken too long.  What was needed right now was a very long hot shower, and clean, warm, dry clothes, with some time sat by the fire to pull myself together again!  Once re-heated, re-dosed, refreshed, and reassembled, lunchtime was fast approaching, so we headed back over to the Cowshed to refuel.  Everyone else was also back now, and equally ready to carry on with the second act.  

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The social part of the Prologue was far more enjoyable than the ride for sure.  A two course meal of beef/veg bourguignon followed by various choices of sticky pudding, with a bar, and good company?  What more do you want?  There were a few formalities to be done; thanks given by and to the organisers, and also some feedback gathering for them, to see what we’d all thought of the routes and so forth.  Then Tori took to the stage to tell us about her adventures, and her exploits properly qualify as legendary.  And probably motivational too, if you’re not me – I know that kind of thing is way out of my league, especially these days.  Beside which, polar expeditions? Everest?  That all sounds awfully cold to me…and I think we’ve already established that I don’t do cold very well 😉  A few of the others in the room had possibly also struggled earlier – thanks to the combination of exertion, warm food, and a dark warm room, a couple of heads were definitely seen nodding…including Matt’s!  Well dragging me around is very tiring… 😉  

But all good things come to an end, and finally the 2017 Prologue reached the end of the road. As people slowly dispersed, it was time to say our farewells, arrange to rendezvous with Peter et al at the Sloop later, and head back to that lovely room to chillax for a while.  Another Tour of Pembrokeshire Prologue under my belt.  As rides go I’ve definitely had better, but the après ride more than made up for the ride!  See you all in May!

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PS: Typically the next day was amazing.  Blue skies, sunshine, blue seas…we even went to the beach and Matt went swimming!!  Ah well 🙂

Broken wings

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For all that I’m not well, I tend not to think of myself as ill.  As an invalid.  It is what it is, and you just get on with playing the hand that life has dealt you.  It’s only pain, right?  So I get on with it.  We all have sh*t to deal with.  But then again, if I don’t take it into account, if I ignore it too much, then ignoring it bites me on the ass, and ignoring it ceases to be an option.  Since I’m currently sitting here with a patch on my arm, the latest dose of tramadol taken two hours ago and not doing the trick, and having resorted to my first ever dose of oramorph which is now working its way into my system to deal with what is blandly referred to as breakthrough pain…I guess I should probably own up to not being 100% healthy though?

Before you get more bored than usual, and wonder what this has to do with anything, you’ll be pleased to hear that this does actually relate to cycling.  After deciding to let the Christmas period happen without stressing too much about lack of riding or workouts, it is/was time to try and get back to it.  You don’t get around the Maratona without some training, right?  And yes, I’m doing that again, with Steve and Mike.  Furthermore Mike and I would like to try and throw in the Stelvio while we’re out there.  It’s just possible that not only is my health is questionable, but that my sanity is too! *grin*.

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So Christmas has now passed.  And I’d been having a pretty good patch, by my standards.  I’d had a week or thereabouts of being pretty just on the patches.  Which for me is unusual.  So I’d done a couple of home spin bike workouts.  And, although I’d had the odd twinge and was starting to think that maybe…on Sunday Alan and I went for what was for me the first ride of 2017.  

It worked out ok as it happens.  He was doing some 60+ mile route, including me in the middle, and also hopefully coffee if I was up for stopping.  Our 30ish mile mid section ended up being a little longer, which is what happens when you leave your wingman behind and don’t make proper arrangements as to how to meet up again…but that’s by the by.  We decided not to have a coffee stop as my time was tight, and I was feeling ok out there and stopping also means getting cold and then having to start again.  However I started to flag a bit around an hour and a half in, and as I didn’t want to push it on my first ride back, and what with that thing I said about ignoring stuff earlier and trying to listen to my body more these days, I decided it was wiser to call it quits and to come back via a somewhat more direct route on my own.  So I left Alan, conveniently just before Sweets, to carry on his way, able to do his own speed and also to have the coffee that he’d really wanted all along.  Meanwhile I rode home at my own speed, riding within myself, glad there weren’t any hills between me and home, and generally just getting the miles necessary to get there done.  It all kind of worked out for everyone I think 🙂

But yes, as those pre-ride twinges suggested, my good patch was due to wear off.  It’s a cyclical thing, so I was pretty much expecting it.  So the fact that this bad patch proper kicked off after cycling is possibly purely coincidental.  However there are a couple of things that are guaranteed to make it worse, and sadly cycling is one of them.  So maybe Gibbs is right and there’s no such thing as coincidence. 

Anyway…  Lots of people are talking about their cycling goals for next year.  Mileage to be done, metres to climb, epic events, targets to reach, etc, etc…  And yes, I guess I so have one, in that quite clearly I’m doing the Maratona again.  I’d like to do the full route, again.  Faster than last time would be nice, but really…let’s be realistic here…   Generally I’d like to do “better” this year than last year.  Bail a little less, ride a lot more.  And I am going to have to do a fair bit of training somehow or none of that is going to be happening.  But as goals go…?  I think the best I can really do is to resolve to ride the bike when I can, hopefully with friends, accept that I can’t when I can’t, and admit that maybe I am a teensy bit of an invalid…  Woman, know your limits!  Maybe if I take it easy, listen to myself, train carefully, and with the support of Matt and my very lovely friends, I can learn to fly again 🙂

invalid1
ˈɪnvəlɪd/
noun
noun: invalid;
  1. 1
    a person made weak or disabled by illness or injury.
    “she spent the rest of her life as an invalid”
     

it's only pain

Evans Ride It Wiltshire Downs 2016

Welcome to my last sportive of the season…

I’m very tempted to just write “Had shit day, went home”.  But such paucity of words does not a blog make.  Even if it is a fairly accurate and concise of how my day panned out…   So here goes.

I was having a bad patch.  For whatever reason*.  Still, as usual, I wasn’t going to use that as an excuse not to go and do what I’d said I was going to do.  Besides the main reason I was doing this weekend’s sportive – the Evans Ride It Wiltshire Downs – was because I did it last year, enjoyed it, and really wanted to do the long route this time around.  So I wasn’t going to bail, now was I? 

Things were not in my favour however.  Maybe an eagle had dropped a tortoise somewhere.  Or the goat’s entrails had revealed gastro-enteritis.  Not only was I suffering in a big way, but the weather was not great.  In fact it was feckin’ freezing out there…just as it had been all week.  I knew I was going to need a lot of layers.  I wasn’t sure that was going to be enough.  I wasn’t sure my painkillers were going to be enough.  I wasn’t sure I was going to be enough.  Having had some truly hideous times on the bike of late, I’d reached a stage where I was almost scared to go and ride the bike.  Why go there again?

But going I was.  And I wasn’t going on my own.  For what, due to the apparent cancellation of the Wiggle Bitter Beast, would turn out to be my last sportive of the season, I had company.  Yep, I dragged Matt along again.  Mostly in the hope that he would drag me around! 😉  Plus misery loves company, right?  It also loves not having to drive too far…and HQ this time around was at Wiltshire College, nr Lacock, which turned out to be not much more than an hours drive from home.  Driving was a good excuse for not having to talk too much; I wasn’t really holding it together, and talking when you’re that close to tears is tricky.  Still, it was an easy journey, as was finding the college, at the end of a very long drive.  Having been here before helped, and we were marshalled to park up on the gravelly, somewhat muddy, car park much the same as last time around.  

I didn’t want to get out of the car.  What and leave my warm cosy safe little box?  But I did.  Kinda.  Only to discover it was just as cold as I thought it was, and that standing up didn’t feel good.  Matt gave me a hug, partially to warm me up, partially because I clearly wasn’t feeling great, at which point I promptly burst into tears.  Go me…or something.  

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After a little while I got it together, and managed to MTFU for a bit.  Time to go and try and do what we were actually here for.  Which meant starting by registering.  We decided to walk over there and then come back to faff, and the walk around to the hall demonstrated what I already pretty much knew.  It was COLD!  And not nice.  The toilets however were both warm and nice, and inside, and alongside what looked like a common room.  I was half tempted to stay in there and play pool all day instead…!  However…  The queue for registration was pretty non-existent, probably because we were running pretty late for our nominal start slot.  We both signed up, and were presented with our High5 bottle packed with goodies, for having booked our places early, and also a High5 race pack for the day.  Another good reason for not riding to registration – we’d only have had to go back to the car to stash stuff anyway!  So, duly equipped with timing chips and numbers and the like we made our way back to the car to faff.  

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Matt took pity on me and made me sit in the car while he reassembled the bikes.  I decided that I wasn’t wearing enough and swopped the odd lighter layer for more heavy duty ones in the meantime.  At some point he disappeared off to answer a call of nature…only to be confronted by kangaroos!  Ok, so they could have been wallabies but that’s none the less bizarre…the best you usually bump into on such trips is the odd curious cow!  How mad is that?  And it made us both smile, which was definitely an improvement and perked me up a bit.

So, with even Matt wrapped up in what passes for his idea of warm clothing, and everything all sorted, there was no putting it off any longer.  Time to revisit the common room, rue leaving it once again, and join the queue for the start.  Such as it was, since most were out and under way already.  However I reckon this was better than having to stand around in the cold and queue anyway.  A small group of us gathered at the starting gate to be briefed about the signage, warned it wasn’t a race, and the like.  And then we were off…out into the cold, bright, and breezy.  *gulp*.

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A lot of the ride is a bit of a blur.  It’s safe to say that I was a bit distracted.  And the first 45 minutes of any ride is never good, since it takes me that long to warm up and warming up of any sort seemed unlikely today.  But it was pretty out there, and the first few miles were fairly flat and I was riding the bike in good company, and hey…  So when the first route split came at 7.5 miles in, for the Fun route, and Matt presumed we weren’t taking it, he wasn’t wrong.  Although a little bit of me did wonder if I’d come to regret that…  The idea of doing this event again had been to come back and do the Long route having been unable to do so last year, and that was still currently the plan.  It’s only 80 miles after all, with the Medium route being 62 and the Short being 36, and t’s a beautiful part of the world to cycle around.  I wanted to see more of it. 

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Things started to be somewhat less flat.  Not what you’d call massively hilly, it’s not that kind of route, but enough for me to feel it.  And not to be feeling it.  Poor Matt was having to nurse me along as my pain levels were increasing, my temperature level wasn’t, and conversation and scenery were not proving sufficiently distracting.  And when we reached the next route split, not much further down the road, where we really should have turned right, to head for being Long or at least Medium, there was no presuming.  I really wanted to.  I really did.  But…  So we pulled over to talk and think about it.  And cry, if you’re me.  Yes, again.  Partially because it hurt, and partially because I hated having to admit defeat, but it was feeling like I really didn’t have much choice.  Man it was frustrating!  We chatted it through, and map gazed.  Decided we couldn’t just go and lurk in the Cross Keys pub opposite, which probably wasn’t open anyway.  And figured out there actually were other options open to us, as there were bits where we could rejoin other routes if we took the Short route and things turned out to feel better than expected, which helped me feel a bit better about bailing, and ruining Matt’s ride plans.  So, having once again pulled myself together, we headed off to be Short.  

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Even doing the Short route, I’ve ridden around here enough for a lot of it to be fairly familiar, and even though there were hills, and they hurt, I got up them, and with the sun now shining, blue skies above, and the Wiltshire Downs spreading out around us, it really was pretty.  Oh to be a bit warmer though…the wind really wasn’t helping, and I don’t know what more I could have been wearing but what I was wearing just wasn’t enough.  Mind you, a lot of that seems to have been just me, Matt wasn’t suffering half as much, which is one of the wonderful side effects of being in pain – my body is too busy coping with other things to get warm, or something.

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I can’t remember where the food stop was, mileage wise, but it was very welcome whenever and whereever it was.  It was at some convenient village hall, with the usual variety of food/drink outside and one toilet inside.  One toilet and a very long queue…  However also inside, off the hall, was a small kitchen, where tea/coffee making facilities were available.  Manna from heaven!  I may be a bit of a coffee snob, but today the idea of a cup of hot instant coffee was positively appealing 😉  So Matt made coffee whilst I found a place to sit on the floor against a wall, and then there we sat.  Hot “coffee”, the next dose of pills, a gel…all things that were likely to be restorative.  Although I decided to give the toilet a miss,; I just couldn’t face standing in that queue, or to be fair undressing and exposing any more of me to more cold.

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Matt was feeling a lot more chipper than me.  And warmer.  In fact, after some debate, this lady ceased to protest too much and gave in to his generous offer that I wear his cycling top over all my kit.  God knows how he was warm enough for that to even be possible, and I seriously doubt it was a good look for me, but it turned out to be a really good idea.  We set off again, and slowly things started to feel better.  I stopped being freezing.  The pills started to do their thing.  The sun shone, and having decided to stick to the Short route, I started to cheer up.  Knowing you’re heading for home does a lot of the PMA too, and I started to feel like I might actually complete this route at least!  The routes had joined up at some point, and we could have opted to do some of the Medium/Long route but…some days it’s just better to quit while you’re behind 😉    

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So there were more long open roads under open skies, with stunning views, which were just as lovely as I remember them.  More climbing, which like labour, I have blotted out.  Pretty churches.  Autumnal colours in the fields and the woods and the leaves on and under trees.  We stopped from time to time, just to give me the odd break to breathe a bit.  And it was lovely really.  Sadly.  If only…  What was also lovely was the final descent of Bowden Hill towards the end.  After a long gradual climb up through country estate feeling territory, it’s a lovely fast drop, with bends and, if you’ve done it before which I have, it can be SO much fun.  You do have to be a bit careful – there was the odd car around, and quite a few sunny Sunday walkers around too.  But we hurtled off nonetheless, and I finally found a tiny bit of mojo and remembered why riding a bike can be so much fun.  And it was fun for quite a while, as it goes on for a bit!  

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And then that was it.  Back on to the college estate, back over the plentiful speed bumps, and back over the Finish line, feeling a lot better than I had done going the other way, all of a few hours earlier.  Job done…albeit badly.  

Cycling time: 2:40
Distance: 36.6 miles
Avs: 13.7 mph

Ah well.  Ho hum.  Etc.  Another one best consigned to the history books and best forgotten.  It probably doesn’t feel like I’ve written much about the actual ride but let’s face it – it was only 36 miles, and took but a couple of hours – so there wasn’t much actual ride to write about, right?  If you want more ride stuff, then it’s a nice area, the route is nice but with rather too many fairly main road sections, and the signs were small, hard to spot sometimes, and there weren’t enough of them either.  Is that better?  

So that was my (our) day, and that was the ride, and clearly it wasn’t a good day at the office.  But it could have been worse.  I could have been doing it on my own.  It could have rained.  Very few events involve kangaroos.  And I did get round which, all things considered, is a minor achievement of sorts.  One day I’ll do that blasted LONG route!! *grin*.27-me-a-little-more-cheerful

*In case you were wondering, we’ve worked out why things had gone quite so pear shaped…  The latest brand of my patches and I weren’t getting on…some form of skin reaction to them seems to have meant that I wasn’t absorbing their yummy goodness.  So for about two weeks I wasn’t getting the pain relief that clearly I do actually require…which clearly wasn’t great.  On the upside at least I know I do really need them, right? 😉

Cotswold Edge 2016

Right then.  Time for my second sportive of the season organised by the Southern Sportive team.  Last time it was the actual Southern Sportive.  This time it was the Cotswold Edge Sportive – a new one to me.  Well, variety is the spice of life right?  Although I seem to have spent quite a lot of time cycling around bits of the Cotswolds this year, so it’s definitely variety, not novelty…

I spent the weekend prior to the event having a life.  Which was a great deal of fun, but not conducive to proper preparation.  You know that thing about proper planning preventing piss poor performance…?  I really should bear that in mind.  Getting enough sleep and eating properly would have been a good idea.  But hey, old dog, new tricks, some people never learn 😉

Still, the morning got off to a good start.  Ish.  The alarm went off at 6:30, and I left at 7:30 as planned.  Pain levels and sleep deprivation meant that the motorway drive was a little…interesting…but I managed to stay awake.  Just.  It’s a good thing it was only a 50 minute (very cautious) drive on fairly empty motorways to HQ at the Renishaw site at Wotton-under-Edge.  Which turned out to be a very nice location.  Picturesque.  With lots of landscaping and the like…all of which was enhanced by the early morning sunshine.  I was marshalled to park up in the car park and since I could see registration from where I was sat, I decided to go and register before faffing.  The short walk over there revealed that although it was sunny, it was far from warm, and that there was quite a lot of definitely not warm wind to add a little ‘je ne sais quoi’ to that.  Marvellous…  I gave the team my signature, and in return received my skewer timing chip, a couple of rather short cable ties, my bike number and a waterproofed map.  I really don’t like skewer timing chips…as I mentioned when I wrote about the Southern Sportive…but as this is run by the same guys, at least this time I was expecting it.

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Time for a trip to the facilities, which were around the other side of the building.  I walked past the start line, and bumped into organiser Martin, who was busy getting ready to start things going.  We chatted briefly, and he promised to try and turn the wind off 😉  It may have been a little walk to the toilets, but it sho’ was perty – past a very lovely lake and views over to what might have been the Hawkesbury Tower.  And the facilities were very lovely too, so no complaints all ’round really.  

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Back to the car then.  Time for faffing in the sunshine.  Clearly this was going to be a cold day, and if it wasn’t going to be a cold day in hell, I was going to need layers.  Which in this case ended up being winter longs, s/s base layer, s/s jersey, rapha winter jacket, head scarf, neck scarf, ear protectors.  This was quite a lot more than quite a lot of people seemed to be wearing, but I know what I’m like with cold, and I’m starting to learn that getting cold or being cold seems to go with the territory when I’m in pain so…lots of layers it was!

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While I was faffing the tannoy system had been sharing the stream of rider briefings with us all.  I arrived at the start line just as the latest group was leaving so although I didn’t actually officially get a briefing, I didn’t need one either.  I tagged on the back as we all carefully went over the timing mat to make sure we all beeped properly.  Apparently the position of that timing chip thing is important – vertical positioning is better than lateral.  Mine was fine, natch, but a couple of others had to stop and readjust before heading off…

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The first thirty miles, minus the odd early drag, seemed fairly flat to me.  I could have been imagining it though, as I really couldn’t get into it somehow.  I couldn’t get properly warm, even if the neck tube did need to come off about 10 miles in.  Things hurt.  Being all wrapped up, and dosed up, with the low sunshine and long shadows, with eyes constantly having to adapt from light to shade, seemed to make it all a bit surreal.  It also made the signs harder to spot.  I didn’t get lost though and even if I had I’d probably have been ok – I’m starting to know my way around here.  Bits of the route were from the Severn Sportive but in reverse, so familiar but not familiar.  I’d have figured it out somehow.

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Since I was on my own and mostly the only rider in sight, and there wasn’t too much challenge going on, I got a bit bored, and what with the bored, tired, cold, ouchy and medicated, I kept zoning out, and doing that nearly falling asleep thing.  Not good, as I’m sure you’ll agree.  And man I hate being cold!!!  Still, at least my iPod shuffle was working this time, so I had music for company, which was a big improvement on the last sportive.  And it was mad pretty out there.  It is the Cotswolds after all.  It’s not often than you nearly get knocked off your bike by a Bentley, right? 😉  Pretty and posh then…  Pretty, posh & prosperous doesn’t translate into money being spent on the roads though – there were some really nasty road surfaces along the way, with a lot of gravel and mud around.  There were also less signs warning about this than I was expecting, after such roads being marked so well on the Southern Sportive.  There may have been less of those signs, but at least there were still plenty of repeater ribbons, which I still love.  There’s nothing like the sight of a little orange ribbon blowing in the wind, just when you’re starting to wonder if….and then there it is, reassuring you that you’re going in the right direction.  And that wind was still there, blowing them around, and it was cold, and making cold even colder.  Sulk, whinge, moan.

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I didn’t know which route I was going to do.  I knew it wasn’t going to be the Short (37 miles) route though, as the split for that had come 4 miles in.  I still had time to decide.  Which brings us to the first stop, around 29 miles in, at around 11:00am.  It was next to a playing field and tennis court and fairly exposed.  There was certainly nowhere to hide from the wind, and any bits of me that had managed to get hot and sweaty quickly got cold, clammy and unpleasant.  Still at least there were toilets this weekend, in a little changing room block.  Not that the lights worked, so you couldn’t close the door unless being plunged into pitch blackness is your thing…luckily no-one came along at the wrong time!  Back to the food table and supplies were really sparse.  The mechanic was doubling up as staff, and helping anyone who needed it, wrapped up and looking warmer than seemed fair.  I put my neck scarf back on, topped up my water bottle, and grabbed a couple of orange quarters.  Considering how I’d been feeling I decided that a Powerbar smoothie might be what was called for, in case lack of food was any part of the problem.  Whilst sat on a curb, mulling things over, I also took the next dose of pills and rang a rather distracted Matt for moral support.  And managed not to burst into tears this time around, which probably counts as progress 😉

14-modern-tower 15-route-split

Right then, time to head off again.  Straight into the biggest climb of the day – which was a real killer compared to everything and anything else today.  It was hard painful work.  It came with a silver lining thought; it got me a little bit warmer for a while!  And up there, on top of the world, there were some amazing views, when you could see them.  It was a bit bowl like up there, and a lot of the time those views were frustratingly just out of view beyond the current horizon.  Tantalising…  But it’s a bit churlish to complain about that really isn’t it?  When those you could and did see were so fabulous?

17-see-the-signage 19-tyndale-monument

The next route split came along shortly – and it definitely wasn’t going to be an Epic day.  Which was annoying.  But I still wasn’t warm, and things were still painful, and I had an open Sunday lunch invitation if I happened to make it back home in time.  The Epic route might only have been 18 miles longer than the Standard 62 miles but things were painful enough as it was, so pushing it seemed unwise, even if the pills were starting (finally!) to cut in.

20-a-tower 21-rider-in-red

Standard route then.  And after a rather lovely down, came the second food stop, only 16 km after the first, but with 35km to go.  Or 10 miles and 22 miles if you prefer.  It was staffed by two very friendly and very chatty ladies who seemed to be really enjoying their day out in the sun and talking to everyone.  Mid chatting I ate orange quarters and jelly beans.  According to them the rest of the route could be summarised as one big hill ahead, then flattish along the Severn, then back up the escarpment to the finish.  Allegedly.  I decided another gel wouldn’t do any harm.  Which it didn’t.  Especially when there was indeed another big hill.  Up to the Tyndale Monument I believe.  Which the food stop lady, in tour guide mode, had informed us was dedicated to the Tyndale that translated the Bible into English.  Hm…   Regardless of what you might think about that, it wasn’t as bad as the killer hill before, and was in fact a nice climb.  Yes, yes, I know, I do like hills really.  By the top of that I was nearly warmed up.  In fact the day had nearly warmed up.  So of course not long afterwards it started to cloud over and cool down again…  Honestly…*sigh*.  

22-canal-break-view 23-church-is-open

Climbing done for the time being, it was time to go and see the River Severn.  Although I’m not sure why.  The loop out there and back seemed a bit gratuitous, especially since it involved going out there and back again along some of the same roads, and it was really confusing having riders going in both directions on the same stretch of road.  It tends to make you think you’re lost…which as I was on my own, I could have been.  Did I mention I was on my own for most of the time?  And hey, the Severn is pretty, but it wasn’t that pretty!  So when it was done, it was a relief to have looped that loop and be heading back to HQ.  Back into the trees ,where a suicidal squirrel played chicken with my front wheel…  Luckily I didn’t end up on the tarmac and it lived to spend the rest of the day looking for more nuts, not that it needed any…, which presumably is why it had had to cross the road in the first place.  But it was a close run thing!  

24-berkeley-castle 25-pretty-church

No running up the final climb up the Costwold escarpment though.  It was steeper than I’d expected, and longer, and it being later in the day, there just didn’t seem to be anything in the tank.  Bit like all the hills today.  They were fine, I kinda liked them – the legs worked, the lungs worked but…there was no zone, no push, no get up and go.  Still, at least I got up them, and I got up this one too.  Being near the end probably helped!

26-finish-line

Climbing over and done with, essentially, flat was better.  But busier.  The stretch to get back took in quite a few more major roads, which had their fair share of traffic on.   One example of which made my brush with the squirrel look like a mere bagatelle…and another of my nominal nine lives was shaved off by a motorist with absolutely no patience and even less driving skill!  After all that I got back to HQ in one piece for a rather anti-climatic finish.  Even though I’d bailed to the shorter route, there weren’t many people around.  It felt more like when I do the long route on an event and I’m nearly the last in…  

Cycling time: 4:25
Official time: 5:00
Distance: 62.5 miles
Avs: 14.1 mph

There were two people at the Finish line to take my timing chip, and then I took a short walk back to registration and refreshments, where those riders that were still around were.  The car park wasn’t empty though, and riders were still trickling in, it was just in a sort of dribs and drabs way, so I decided I didn’t feel too bad about things.  I also decided to start by getting the bike in the car and getting warm clothes on me – I never really had got warm all day!  That done, I headed back over and paid £1 for a cup of tea to defrost me internally, tell Martin that once more I’d failed to do the long route I was signed up for, and to get my token finisher’s medal.  Which made it time for me to get back into the car, turn the heating on, and negotiate the busier and better drive home.  Back to having a life, and to having Sunday lunch 😉  Cotswold Edge done.  Not great…but better than it could have been.  I’ll take that 🙂

Black Legend 2016

On to the next sportive.  Which was a little while ago, so some of the details may be a little hazy now, not helped by the fact that I failed to make copious notes afterwards.This time around I’m talking about The Black Legend Sportive, run by Purple Patch Running.  Which seemed a bit odd to me.  A running club organising a cycling event?  Weird.  Still, that didn’t mean it wasn’t going to be a good event, right?  It was off to a good start by being based in Hungerford, which is not a long way away from me.  HQ was at the John O’Gaunt School in Hungerford, which is just a 10 minute drive from Jct 14 on the M4, and thus easy for me to get to.

registration start-line-riders

I rocked up sometime after registration opened to discover a small car park that was half empty, and didn’t seem to be filling up fast.  I started to get the feeling that this was going to be a small event…  But hey, good things come in small packages or something.  Registration was in the school hall, once cleated shoes had been removed, where the tumbleweed was metaphorically blowing around…  Still, not having to queue is a good thing, right?  My entry envelope included a bike number, helmet number, and 2 cable ties.  But no timing chip…as timing today would turn out to be a manual affair.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that but still, it was a bit unexpected.

rider-briefing out-on-to-the-downs

I didn’t have to queue for long at the start either.  I think there were only six or so of us who arrived at roughly the same time to be briefed and sent on our way, as riders had been being let go in dribs and drabs for quite some time before I’d done enough faffing to consider myself ready to go.  During which I discovered that my iPod shuffle had somehow managed to completely run out of charge, even though I’d charged it the day before, so I was going to have to do the whole ride with just my thoughts for company.  Marvellous.  I had three route choices today, the Epic 80, the Standard 65, or a Short 45 miles.  Given that it was only a week since my last sportive, which hadn’t gone well, I was already thinking that taking it easy might be wise.  Lack of musical accompaniment wasn’t going to make the long route any more likely…!

up-a-green-tunnel-hill caution-steep-hill

Not that I had to make that call straight away.  All of the routes covered the same first 25 miles to start with so there was no rush to decide.  We headed off and I was very shortly out there on my own, which was how things pretty much stayed all day.  Off out through the affluent area of Hungerford, past a great many lovely properties I’ll never be able to afford.  I went through the village of Inkpen, which made me think of Inkheart, and Inkwings.  After a nasty hill five miles in, I turned left in the village of Faccombe to go up another hill, which made me giggle (think about it…).  Did I mention it was just me and my thoughts?  They do go weird places when unaccompanied and undistracted… 😉  And yes, that was two killer hills in the first 10 miles.  No fair!  It was chilly and grey which may sound unattractive but actually made it easier to follow the route and (very large) signs than the recent early morning dappled sunshine on events has done.  Besides I had my layers pretty much spot on today, having been very keen that I not be cold, so I was a fairly happy bunny with things the way they were.

selfie-pair country-pile

Having gone up there were some lovely views, and I actually passed another couple of riders who’d stopped at the top to take selfies and photos of the landscape, which was novel.  Not the photos – the riders!  I took my photos en route, as ever, but stopped playing David Bailey in time for the steep and rather technical descent.  Things flattened out after this, and also started brightening up nicely.  Things were looking up, but not up 😉

first-food-stop-well-labelled the-swan-inn

The first food stop came at 25 miles in, the car park of the Swan Inn in Great Shefford where the landlord was very kindly letting his (very swish) facilities be used.  I kinda wished I could have stayed there, it looked like a lovely place, and the thought of sitting in its beer garden in the sun with a cold beer…?  Ah well, maybe another time.  The lady manning the food stop was friendly and chatty and probably bored witless after standing there for hours more or less on her own.  Initially it was just me there, and even when joined by the top of the hill two and a whippet who could probably do the long route twice over in the time it was going to take us three to do the Standard route, it was never what you’d call busy!  And yes, I’d pretty much decided to do the Standard route.  I had places to be later, and no desire to push any boundaries today.  Anyway, the food stop was pretty well stocked (and labelled!) and I discovered that today mini scotch eggs were what I wanted, which wouldn’t be what I’d normally opt for but hey, they tasted good, and I’d been told to make sure I ate properly for a change.  So I sat down, chatted a bit, ate those, and kicked back a bit.  Sometimes it’s just nice to sit still in the sunshine.

mini-scotch-egg route-split

I headed back out again on my own.  And headed into more familiar territory.  I’ve done a fair few sportives around here, and have a couple ahead too.  It’s a beautiful area, even more so under blue skies.  But that wasn’t enough to make me change my mind.  I still turned left 5 miles later at the route split.  Right then.  15 miles to get to the next food stop.  And those miles weren’t flat!  There were another couple of big hills between me and that, but the descents were better this time, and I was loving being out in the sunshine not feeling too terrible and just being me and my bike.  More cute cottages, more well behaved countryside.  All good.  There may even have been some stashing of layers and rolling up of sleeves 😉

10 second-food-stop-emptiness

The next food stop was as quiet as the first, set in a little car park in front of a pretty church, complete with a little toilet block – always good.  Once more, me and some mini scotch eggs took a breather sat on a curb in the sun.  I certainly wasn’t feeling as bad as the last sportive but I was still aware that pacing myself and taking it just that little bit easier than I might want to was the way to go.

second-food-stop-food second-food-stop-church

By my reckoning I only had around 20 miles to go, which seemed doable.  Which it was, being more of the same.  Scenic.  Rivers to cross, and canals.  A couple of fairly big climbs.  Including the kicker that is on the White Horse Challenge and that somehow I always forget, I think maybe my memory blocks it out!  And as I turned a corner there it was in front of me again…dagnamit!  It’s long, gets steeper, and wiggles…  Still, I got up it,  Again 🙂  To be let out to play on top of the world for a while, amongst fields of gold, playing tag with the range of awesome cars doing the Classic Harvest Tour, who I crossed paths with several times.

rolling-golden-hills classic-harvest-tour

They were having fun, I was having fun, although I probably admired their cars more than they admired my bike 😉  Before long we were back in Wiltshire, where the rich people were still living, and I was still being somewhat envious.  Can’t afford their cars, can’t afford their houses neither! *grin*.

canal prosperous-hungerford

Did you know there’s even a village called Prosperous?  It didn’t surprise me…but it did make me giggle *grin*.  Well I presume it’s a village, not just a adjective used to describe Hungerford, which is kinda what the signpost made it look like 😉  The miles counted down, as I passed from  Wiltshire and back into West Berkshire, and very shortly I was back at HQ, and rolling under the Finish Arch with a complete lack of fanfare, bells, or whistles.  Ah well, at least it was purple 😉  Two ladies were sat watching over the finish line, probably a fairly thankless task, and one of them gave me my medal, while the other noted my admission to having bailed to the short route (though that doesn’t seem to have made it as far as the official times list).  There you go.  Black Legend done.

Cycling time: 4:36
Official time: 5:11
Distance: 65.9 miles
Avs: 14.3 mph

finish-line black-legend-medal

Usually when I write about a sportive I use “we” rather more often than today.  But it was definitely an “I” day.  99.9% of all the cyclists I saw today were not on this sportive, just out on Sunday rides with their teams/groups/whatever.  It turns out that only around 60 riders took part.  Which would explain a lot.  The lack of atmosphere for starters.  I pushed my bike over to the main school entrance and parked up, so as to go to the toilets and try and purchase something cold and fizzy.  Which I did – well kinda.  It was the only can of such on offer – coke I think – and it wasn’t cold either.  But hey, at this point beggars couldn’t be choosers, it was better than nothing.  As I sat outside on the steps drinking it, and checking in with the world, there was just one other rider loitering around, who came over for a chat.  He’d done the whole route and still had a reasonable ride home ahead of him – so chapeau to you Andy!  We both agreed that today, though pleasant enough, had been somewhat lacking.  However scenic, I don’t think I’d do it again.  I can ride around pretty places completely on my own, and time myself, any time…and there are other events around here that are better.  Harsh maybe, but true.

Southern Sportive 2016

Since my last sportive, I’d been lucky enough to have a couple of weeks pretty much pain free.  Which, in my world, means just being on the fentanyl patches, and not having to layer up with tramadol.  I also took myself off the pregabalin which I’m not sure was helping with the pain but was most definitely making me much more drowsy.  So, a good couple of weeks, as these things go.  Right up, predictably, until the day before my next sportive.  So I spent a damp Saturday wandering around Didcot Railway Centre, feeling sorry for myself and trying to get the pain back under control, which took most of the day.  Marvellous…

So what would Sunday bring?  Well PMA right?  It could just have been one of those days.  It didn’t have to be one of those weekends.  So when I woke up on Sunday morning, in Didcot at Matt’s, not feeling too bad, I was feeling fairly positive.  I even decided not to take the pills since, when I’m not habituated to them, they have been known to make me drowsy, and I didn’t fancy falling asleep on the bike again.  And yes, I was in Didcot, not Somerset.  Usually I do sportives from home, but since Matt’s place is only around 1:15 away from HQ, and my place is 2:30 away, it seemed to make sense.  So where was HQ and for what?

Churcher’s College, Petersfield, for the Southern Sportive, since you asked.  I had a lovely drive down the A34, with the sun rising through pastel skies, surround by fields wreathed in low lying mist, and even occasional fog for novelty value.  I wasn’t heading for early doors, as I’ve ceased doing that, but even so when I arrived the college was quieter than I expected.  I’ve done this one before, and I’m sure there were more people around last time.  Still, at least that meant it was easy to park.  The pre-ride instructions had indicated various other options, should the college have been full, and I’d been a bit worried that I would end up having to use one of those.  I needn’t have been though, I just drove carefully through past other cars discharging riders and bikes to park up on the tarmac as marshalled.  Easy peasy.

gathering-to-go reception-desk

It might have been nice and sunny out there, but it was still really chilly.  I was wearing just a little more than usual, basically summer kit with base layer, arm warmers, decent gilet, and my summer longs…but the trip to the toilets and registration convinced me that shorts plus leg warmers was going to be the way to go, as that combo is actually thicker and warmer than my lightweight tights are.  Registration itself was easy.  A short queue until my turn came, whereupon I signed my name and was given my bike number, and a timing chip to attach to my rear skewer.  I also picked up a waterproof map for the route and the emergency contact details on it.  Well you never know, right?  I headed back to the car, clutching my bits and pieces, with helmet and camera (both of which I’d taken with me) only to discovery when I opened the boot and put them all down that I’d already misplaced the chip!  I was just about to retrace my steps when a very lovely lady jogged over in my direction, asked me if I was me, which I was, and so reunited me with it.  Honestly, I swear I’d forget my own head sometimes…

martins-rider-briefing lake-view

Time to get on with faffing.  I reassembled the bike.  Swopped leg layers as I’d resolved to.  Attached the timing chip.  I’m not a fan of that system – I prefer skewers to be working on holding the wheels on, without anything else getting in the way.  Which might be irrational but hey…*shrug*.  I then joined a small group gathering at the start line at around 8:30 – the very end of my recommended start time slot, if I was doing the 100 mile Full route I was signed up for.  Not that I was concerned, 8:30 still felt like plenty early enough to me.  Once there was enough of us waiting, Martin Harrison, the event organiser, gave us a thorough briefing before letting us go on our way and out on to the road.

into-the-countryside railway-bridge

We were out of Petersfield almost straight away and it was nippy out there.  Especially in the shade which, with the bright morning sunshine casting long shadows everywhere, there was a lot of.  The constant transfer from dark into light and back again made it really hard to spot obstacles, especially potholes, and also signs.  As there weren’t many other riders around me mostly, if any, vigilance was essential and even then I nearly missed the odd one.  Luckily this ride is big on repeater ribbons, one of my favourite things, and if ever I worried I was off course I would shortly be reminded I wasn’t.  Very reassuring.  By the way, did I mention that chiaroscuro is one of my favourite words?

pretty-start up-a-hill

The hills started pretty much straight away.  One at 2 miles in, one at 5, both quite big, and both a bit of an ask that early on and so not warmed up.  The second one, Halls Hill I think, came complete with NT car park and walks at the top, and it sho’ was perty up there.  Ups bring downs though, which is generally good.  Unless they come with warning signs.  As unlike some events, who are to my mind rather over cautious and over use their Caution signs, today such signs meant what they said.  So if it said be careful down hill I was (yes, I can do that!).  And when one such sign warned of a sharp dangerous bend ahead, about 8 miles in, I’d slowed right down by the time I got there, which is why losing my back wheel on the gravel there was merely heart-stopping, not disastrous.

Ups had proved that life wasn’t pain free.  But I was riding my bike at my own pace, under no pressure, and so when the route split – for the 45 mile Short Route – came at 10 miles in, I didn’t even consider taking it.  I still fancied doing 100.  It was pretty out there on the South Downs.  And sunny.  There were lots of very clean very shiny sports and classic cars around making the most of it, quite probably related to the Goodwood Revival which was just down the road and on this weekend.  But it wasn’t warm.  I kept waiting for it, and me, to warm up, and it kept not happening.  And slowly I started to feel a bit less than great.  Not warm, the ouchy patch getting battered by pedalling, and even though not on the pills, I was starting to get woozy and to zone out from time to time.   There were gradual deceptive ‘am I really going up?’ drags, and then bigger more definite hills like Harting Hill.  All of which went fine, but which hurt somewhat.  Literally.  Not great.

first-food-stop-staff first-food-stop-riders

So I was quite looking forward to the first food stop, around 24 miles in.  Sadly, lurking in a lay-by off a more major stretch of road, it was rather underwhelming.  There wasn’t a lot on offer, the staff were busy chatting to each other, and there weren’t any toilets.  I topped up my bottles and sat on the grass for a bit, feeling a bit grumpy and not great, before heading off.  Clearly I was going to need to make alternative arrangements…

classic-car wide-open-fields

The next route split came a couple of miles later and I decided that the way things were going, 100 miles was not going to be an option.  Ah well 🙁  Time to bail, and look towards 70 miles instead.  I turned left, off down lots of country roads, through recently harvested fields, on my own.  I was looking for somewhere to answer the call of nature and failing dismally as the scenery was more open and wide than hedged in.  It wasn’t until around 32 miles in that I finally found somewhere to pull over.  Which I did.  And did what had to be done.  And realised that I was just feeling wretched.  The woozy patches hadn’t gone away, I couldn’t get warm, the pain was proper back and kicking off, and I was all wobbly and off balance.  I’d just pushed it too far I guess, without realising, as usual.  I sat down on the grass, and kinda lost it.  I haven’t wiped out like that since the Tour of Pembrokeshire… 🙁  After a bit I rang Matt and literally cried all over his virtual shoulder, which definitely helped.  And Facebook did its bit too.  I posted a photo of the lovely view that was being wasted on me, and various of my fab mates piped up to support me and wish me luck.  So I sat in the sun, with my virtual mates, drank, ate, thought about what to do next and later, and took those blasted pills.

wipe-out-view

I did get it together eventually.  Well I didn’t have much choice did I?  I had 38 miles to do to get back and that was that.  Which wasn’t going to happen if I sat around feeling sorry for myself.  So back on the bike then.  I tried to remember where the next food stop was, distance wise, and focussed on getting to that.  At least the route was nice.  Still pretty.  Cute thatched cottages, pretty pubs, etc.  I wasn’t paying massive attention.  My world had sort of shrunk down to just me and making the wheels go round, but I did try and make an effort to look around once in a while and enjoy the ride a bit.

its-a-sign-right country-pub-with-flowers

Finally, as the middle of the day drew near, that sunshine started to have actual warmth in it.  Quite quickly as it happens.  I started thinking what had seemed the unthinkable…that I might actually get to take layers off!  Not yet though.  First off I got lost.  As I approached Rowlands Castle, an arrow on the bridge ahead pointed sharp right.  So I went right.  As a few riders were ahead of me, I figured I was probably on the right track.  But no.  As the nearest two slowed up and I caught them, and we chatted, it turned out we were all getting more and more convinced that we’d gone wrong.  There were no signs.  None of those lovely orange ribbons.  And all the other cyclists we saw were either going the other way, or not on our ride.  A couple of miles down the road we made the decision to turn tail, and me and the boys in blue, as they were literally but not figuratively, headed back, chatting all the way.  As it turns out if we’d just turned left where we turned around we’d have rejoined the main route anyway!  Ah well, it was all extra miles, right?  Like I needed them today…

orange-ribbon so-beautiful

It also turned out that the right turn we wanted had come just after the bridge not before.  Where there was an attractive looking cafe/shop just along from the corner, surrounded by colourful riders taking a break in the sunshine – whether ours or not who knew.  I was so tempted to stop and find some fizzy orange, but since I temporarily had company I didn’t.  However it turned out that two of us three had drawn ahead and left one behind and so I ended up heading off on my own anyway, while those two reunited behind me somewhere.  Time enough for fizzy orange later hopefully…  They caught me a while later and passed by, when I finally got to stop and stash my remaining limb warmers though.  We bumped into each a few more times on the ride – the first of which being at the next food stop, around 48 miles in.  Provisions were still sparse, though those manning it were a lot friendlier.  Still no toilets however.  It did have quarters of orange though which for some reason seemed just the thing, and I had an orange worth’s of them, sat on the curb, not being sociable.  I was feeling better.  But not great.  I rang Matt again, to reassure both him and myself that I was going ok and getting there.  Which I was.

second-food-stop-riders second-food-stop-food

I hung out for longer than usual, and those few that had arrived before me were long gone by the time I set off again.  Which didn’t stop me catching those blue two again and passing them later on.  Clearly I was feeling quite a bit better then.  Lots of the talk at the food stop had been about the main big climb that still awaited us – Butser Hill.  Which was actually lovely, being my kind of long gradual slog.  There were two climbs there I think, but it all sort of blurred into one.  And the views up on the top along the ridge in between times, were just amazing.  Proper good for putting things back into perspective.  On both sides – over to the coast and even the Isle of Wight beyond I think, and then also inland.  Just beautiful.

which-way-shall-i-go long-climb-upwards-somewhere

As was the descent the other side.  Which I’ve definitely done in reverse.  I wonder if it was on a different event or on this event with the route done in reverse?  Not that it matters, as I still had a smile on my face when I popped out on to the A32 at The George & Falcon. Time for a brief moment of nostalgia…family sailing trip memories and the like…Dad will know what I mean 🙂  And then a brief stretch up the A32 and a right turn in the very pretty West Meon had me headed back for home with about 10 fairly flat miles to go.  East Meon was even prettier!

boys-in-blue-ahead pretty-church

In fact that whole last section, finally warm, pain under control and, after those climbs, less hilly, went pretty well.  Even if it was a little much too little too late.  I pushed as much as I could, whether wise or not, just so as to get back as soon as I could.  Sooner done, soonest mended.  There were a few main road stretches which weren’t much fun – the traffic being a little busy in the sunshine, and with no marshals to help with crossing and the like.   Which were followed by a gratuitous suburban loop around Petersfield, which I imagine was there to add mileage, to get me back to HQ and rolling over the mats at the Finish Line, seriously relieved to be back.  A young marshal was standing by to reclaim my timing chip from me, presumably to stop me losing it again, and I was given a voucher for a hot drink.

suburbia finish-line

Cycling time: 4:49
Official time: 5:45
Distance: 70.6 miles
Avs: 14.7 mph

It may not have seemed like the day for a cup of tea.  But I knew there was fizzy orange in the car, and a cup of tea just appealed for some reason.  First things first though, time to own up to Martin that I’d done the shorter route, and to be given my bronze medal which, all things considered, was a miracle.  Oddly Strava thinks I did pretty well but it certainly didn’t feel like it.  It’s so annoying to be on form and to be sabotaged by myself!  I then went and got my cup of tea and sat on the curb in the sunshine, in a little social media world of my own for a while.  Southern Sportive done.

finish-timing-desk chilling-out-afterwards

One of the things that had been worrying me earlier was finishing the ride feeling the way I did and then still having to drive all the way back to my place.  I wasn’t sure I’d make it.  So from one food stop to another, after texts home, and talking to Matt, we decided that going home could be done the next day, and that today going back to Didcot was the wisest thing to do. Which, after loading up the car, taking more pills, and getting sorted, is what I did.  It was definitely a good call.  Driving was not a lot of fun in lots of ways and I was getting sleepy by the time I got back there.  Where I spent the rest of the afternoon just curled up on bed taking it easy.  It’s hard to explain, but having gone beyond, and had everything sort of overflow, it sort of takes a while to put it all back together again?  Next time maybe I should take the pills beforehand? 😉

medal

Ah well, it wasn’t the end of the world.  Just one of those things.  In a great many respects it was a lovely ride.  The route is nice – scenic, and challenging but not too much so.  It’s well organised, though the food stops need work, and there were some main road crossings and sections that were a bit unpleasant.  And a few more riders around would have been nice too – but I don’t know what you do about that, as I imagine they would have liked more entrants too!  How about we all do it again next year and make it an even better day out?

 

Severn Bridge Sportive 2016

I have a thing about cycling over the Severn Bridge.  As some of you probably know.  I love it.  Dunno why.  Just do.  So I have a tendency to do sportives that cross it just because they do.  And when last year’s Severn Bridge Sportive turned out to not just cross it but to actually cross it using the main carriageway, I was made up.  It was AWESOME.  So doing the event again this year was pretty much a given.  Sign me up now.

hq registration

Well it was a given back then anyway, back when I did all my signing up to stuff.  However just a few days beforehand, as part of the final pre-event meal, we were informed that due to Highways, Health & Safety, and various things, crossing the road on the main carriageway was no longer an option.  We would instead be using the cycle path.  Considering I wasn’t having a great week, being mid mad pain patch, this was almost enough to make me not do it.  But I didn’t.  For starters I’d still be crossing the bridge, and a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  But more importantly I wasn’t the only one signed up to do it.  Letting myself down is one thing, letting others down is most definitely an other.

rider-briefing-with-andy-cook on-to-the-race-track

Yep, Matt had decided that he was up for trying another sportive.  His second.  The next step up from last time’s 47 miles – to more like 62.  The plan was that we would do the first leg together. Then if I was up for it I’d do the extra loop.  And then we’d head back in together.  Or variations on that theme anyway.  So however the bridge was to be crossed, I was going to be doing it whatever.

Which brings us to another Sunday morning with, due to HQ’s proximity, a slightly later start than usual.  HQ was at the Castle Combe Race Circuit, which was about an hour’s drive away in my little car, crammed to the gills with two bikes and two loads worth of kit and stuff.  Less Hyundai, more Tardis 😉  I was feeling fairly rubbish, even when equally loaded to my gills with analgesia.  Anyway…the sat nav, and official venue signs, got us there and into the car park easily enough.  We were marshalled down the road past lots of earlier arrivals to park up on the grass in the paddock, rather further away than I usually am here.  It was grey, but dry, and neither warm nor cold, and the forecast was for both better and worse, depending which one you’d read.  And what’s in a forecast anyway?

matts-second-sportive yellow-rider

Thanks to prior experience I knew the best way to deal with this sportive is to do it the pre-ride stuff in one go, with no to-ing and fro-ing.  Ie: faff, get ready, sort bikes, and ride/walk to the start.  Quicker and easier and less hard on the cleats.  So faff we did.  Easier for me than Matt though.  Experience and lack of options in my case – so I ended up in the same as the recent usual.  Summer kit, s/s base layer, arm warmers & gilet.  However this sportive lark is still all kinda new to Matt.  And not only is it new, he was also doing it on a bike new to him, with actual honest to god gears, having been persuaded of the error of his single speed ways.  Well, not really, he’d just decided that that many miles might be easier done with gears first time around.  So he faffed some, deciding on layers and food and stuff, and so did I.  Well, to be fair, I wasn’t faffing, I was more sort of loitering because there wasn’t any rush.  It was kinda weird to realise how blasé I’ve gotten about some things.  Like riding 60 miles.  I wasn’t even really thinking about it.  Matt however was a bit nervous.  Aw bless 😉

posh-estate different-bridges

Finally we were both ready, and it couldn’t be put off any longer.  A few paces across the rather long damp grass to the drier path.  This soon turned into the road in which took us conveniently past a toilet block and, once a brief detour had thus been made, we were on the little wiggly path around the circuit which opened out as we reached the main venue.  It felt a bit empty as there weren’t heaps of riders around, and I don’t think that was because they’d all left before us, as we weren’t running particularly late.  However with the change of route, the less than fabulous weather, and the Sodbury Sportive taking place the weekend before on very similar turf, I’m guessing there weren’t as many people around as in previous years.  There were certainly no queues for registration…which was good if you were Matt, and less good if you were me because they’d lost my registration, and I had to play the sign up on the day game instead.  Given that that gave me number 214…I’m thinking that must be roughly how many riders ended up taking part…but I could be wrong!

we-do-stop-for-lights i-spy-the-bridge

Did I mention I wasn’t feeling great?  Well I wasn’t.  So I put myself down for the 60 mile route, which still left me the option to do the long route, but seemed more honest, and likely, and that way I probably wouldn’t have to tell the timing team, post ride, that I’d bailed.  I was given my helmet timing chip, bike number and cable ties, and helped myself to a route map on the way back outside.  Not being able to trim my cable ties did leave long plastic ends sort of waving around which annoyed my sense of order somewhat…but hey, not exactly a big deal.  After a quick trip, on the bike, across to the toilet block a little way away, I was back, and we were ready to join the queue for the start.  A short queue, which is always good when you’re nervous, and fidgety, and just keen to get going.  There was no sign of Rob, who I knew was also doing it with friends of his, but he could have been ahead or behind us, or have bailed completely, so there didn’t seem any point waiting around in case he turned up.  Instead we waited for our turn to be briefed by organiser Andy Cook.  Well it’s run by Andy Cook Cycling so… 😉  Shortly we were on our way, and after last year it was a relief to be let go on to a dry race track to enjoy a section of the track before hitting the route proper.

on-to-the-bridge runners-on-the-bridge

However this just served to show that my indexing, all sorted and checked yesterday pre-ride, was well off when actually under way and under load.  B*gger.  I hoped it would settle down but…shortly after we’d left the track and joined the lanes leading away from HQ, I had to stop.  Matt tried to fix it, since I’m technically inept, and he’s not, but it didn’t really help.  Ah well, nowt to be done about it really, and we couldn’t hang around all day, so we set off again, ready to make the best of a bad deal.  Time to ride the bikes, and head for that Bridge which, on this leg of the route, was about 24 miles away.

bridge-1 matt-on-bridge bridge-2-cross-over bridge-3-photographer

Quite a few bits of today’s route turned out to be from last week’s route but done in reverse.  And it was a fairly direct route that took us to the Bridge.  Quiet country lanes, over the M4, bypassing Yate, over the M5, through Tockington, to put it in sight.  Uneventful, a bit grey, country piles, railway bridges, cute cottages.  Although it was sort of essentially downhill overall, that didn’t stop there being ups, and those ups, though doable, were proving that my life was still proper painful.  Marvellous.  I don’t remember a lot of the route out, partly because it’s been a while since I did it, partly because it was pretty uneventful, partly because I was a bit distracted by the ouch, and partly because Matt and I were talking most of the time.  I was just looking forward to getting to that bridge really, and it definitely perked me up when I spied it in the distance.  Even the weather perked up, with patches of blue sky appearing.  Nice 🙂

bridge-4-more-riders bridge-5-highways bridge-7-riders bridge-6-views

Getting on to the bridge was fairly easy.  A bit of more major road, a bit of slightly circuitous cycle path, and then with no further ado we were on to the cycle path on the North side of the bridge.  It’s a path you always have to be a bit careful on.  There are quite a few ramps, bits of road furniture, lumps, and so forth.  It quickly became clear that the same path was being used for our return route so not only were we occasionally overtaking riders going our way, we were also dodging those on their return.  Still, it meant some of my “cyclists on bridge” photos had faces in them instead of behinds for a change!  To our left, the South side cycle path was full of runners – since we were sharing the day and the bridge with a half marathon.  The main carriageway between us was eerily quiet, with only a few highways vehicles doing whatever maintenance they’d decided they’d like to do today, with it closed, rather than letting us on it.  However crossing the bridge was still lovely.  I still enjoyed it. The views are great, and I waved in the general direction of my folks’ place in Portishead, and generally took my time to look around and make the most of it.

leaving-bridge mixing-with-runners

Getting off the bridge in Wales was rather more tricky than getting on it had been though…as we joined the runners, who had crossed under the road, so that we were all using the same path.  The riders were on the left, the runners on the right, both nominally, with spectators on both sides.  All a bit chaotic and occasionally a bit scary.  When we reached the main roundabout at the end they bore right while we were marshalled through a gap in the spectators to go left onto the road, to go around and then take the exit opposite.  This took us down to the first food stop, which was tagged on to the end of the runners’ event village.  It was definitely time for a break.  Matt had been doing really well, especially considering it was only his second sportive, on that unfamiliar bike, but refuelling was called for.  So we parked the bikes on the grass, grabbed food from the range on offer, and then parked ourselves up next to them to sit on the grass in the sunshine and take 5.  Or 10.  Or quite probably longer.

topping-up-on-fluids food-stop-time chillaxing toilets

There just didn’t seem any rush to get anywhere.  I was still tempted by the Welsh hills.  It would have been a lovely day to have done them – what with the sun and lack of wind.  But being realistic, there was no way that was going to happen.  Not today.  Especially not on my own, which is how I’d have been for that loop.  Given company I might have risked it…but it’s probably just as well that that wasn’t the case, as I’d more than likely have regretted it.  Sometimes I beat the pain, sometimes it beats me, and today I was beaten.  So we sat in the sun until it seemed like a good time to leave.  First things first though – a trip to the toilets, which were a little way up the path, so rather than further trash my cleats (I must remember to get new ones) we rode there instead.  And once that was done we had another go at fixing my indexing, just for fun, before setting off again.  Just as we were leaving, we came across Rob who had presumably not long arrived, with his mates.  After a brief chat we left them, off to do the Welsh Hills for me, and headed for the bridge again.

no-epic-route-for-me back-to-the-bridge still-riders-crossing nearly-back-in-the-uk

As expected, we retraced our steps, through the runners, and back on to the bridge.  The weather was starting to look less nice, but the views were none the less impressive.  There were still cyclists coming the other way, so even with all our hanging around, at least it looked like we wouldn’t be the last back to base.  And the route back, though longer than the route out, was also nicer.  Prettier, more pastoral, more pleasant somehow.  There was also a bit more up on it, most of which came near the end when we had to go up Hawkesbury Hill.  Oh, and my indexing seemed to be working now, which was a bonus.

shiny-lamp-post pretty-church moor hill-ahead

Before that though, with Matt getting a little slower and dropping back from time to time, and with me starting to feel a little woozy and worse for wear, it was time for a fizzy orange stop.  Matt spotted a little convenience store lurking in a housing estate on the edge of somewhere, and we took a break for me to drink such, as well as adding some to my bottle for continuing restorative purposes.  And we stopped a little further on, to stash layers, next to a lamppost that was painted sparkly silver, which was bizarre!  Somewhere after that the sparkle wore off in more ways than one as the rain came in, and came down proper and somewhere on a moor like bit we had to take a break under a tree to let it get the proper flinging it down bit over, which also conveniently let me get it together again.  Yes…there was a lot of stopping going on today…  There weren’t a lot of riders around to notice though, and although the signage was good, we did on at least one point wonder if we were still not the right route.  However just at that point a motorcycle medic rode past, and checked we were ok with a quizzical thumps up, so that sorted that.  Still, a few repeater signs wouldn’t have gone amiss…  Oh, and that rain?  Made me feel better about not doing those Welsh hills 😉

going-up-the-damp-hill made-it-to-the-top the-somerset-monument and-matt-made-it-too

Right, shall we do Hawkesbury Hill then?  48 miles in, the biggest, and the last challenge of the day.  I’ve done it before, knew I could do it, and actually quite like it in an odd way.  It was of course new to Matt…  So we split up for a bit, rather than trying to stick together as we had been.  Hills are best done your own way, which in my case went fairly well.  It’s longer than you think because it’s deceptive, goes up in steps, and goes around corners.  It’s pretty, even when damp.  And unfairly the worst section is the last.  But I plodded along in my own way, and made it to the top in one piece.  And although I’d left Matt behind, I didn’t have to wait that long for him to join me, though I did have enough time to take photos of the Somerset monument at the top 😉

fields-of-rolled-gold country-cottages

This left us with just another 10 miles to do to get back.  Which, after a bit of down hill, turned out to be pretty flat.  Easy peasy.  Well, ish.  Probably a bit harder for Matt than me…he was definitely looking a bit tired around the edges now.  The last 10 miles of a sportive are often where I speed up and head for home, but since this was about to be his longest ride, I might have left him behind, which would have been rude.  Especially considering that today would have been a whole heap harder without his company and support.  I  did get to have a bit of a blast when we got back to the race circuit to complete the lap we’d started hours before and get to the Finish line though 🙂

Cycling time: 3:55
Official time: 4:55
Distance: 58.1 miles
Avs: 14.8 mph

the-final-lap finish-line

So there you go.  Severn Bridge Sportive done.  Matt did awesome – again!  As did I, all things considered 😉  There weren’t that many people around as we rolled under the Finish arch, and the wretched weather had probably put somewhat of a dampener on the Family Cycling Day element of the event.  However there were still some hardy families out enjoying the circuit together, and also checking out the various bits and pieces on display.  We were given our free pasta tokens, and goody bags (which contained a High5 bottle, various leaflets, High5 Protein Recovery, EnergyGel, and Energy Bar), and we walked through to park up and settle down.  Even I had pasta – and it really was quite tasty, even if I didn’t eat it all.  It was getting a bit chilly hanging around though so, after a chat in passing with Andy Cook himself, we headed back to the car to head home and celebrate our respective achievement and survival properly 🙂  Hopefully next year the event will be able to cross the bridge on the main road as planned…and in that case, I’ll be back to do it again 🙂

parking happy-matt pasta

Sodbury Sportive 2016

Another Sunday, another sportive.  Which might seem mad to some, but I quite like it.  It sort of becomes routine.  And after a while if I have a weekend without a sportive I don’t know what to do with myself.  Yes, I’m weird, we’ve already established that.  This time around it was the Sodbury Sportive.  Again.  For the third time I think.  I must like it to be doing it again right?  I wasn’t so sure I liked it enough when, after another unusually good pre-sportive night’s sleep, I was rudely awoken by my alarm, at 5:30am, to discover that the wind was blowing and the rain was falling.  Clearly my recent run of good sportive weather luck had run out…  Ho hum.

Still, the forecast was for better, so PMA and all that.  It’s not like I can do anything about the weather.  So I ate porridge, drank coffee, made more coffee for the journey, and even put on sun protection lotion just in case.  Be prepared ‘n all that…  Being in the middle of a rather painful patch, I also popped the panoply of relevant pills and offered a prayer to the pain gods that maybe I could catch a break today pretty please?

yellow bike roundabout

I left on schedule at 6:30am, for what turned out to be a fairly icky journey, fighting the wind in my little high-sided car.  I wasn’t feeling great, but luckily it only took an hour.  20 mins to the motorway, 20 mins on the motorway, and 20 mins wiggle to HQ – so I didn’t have quite enough time for the pain related woozy to turn into drowsy.  Which was good.  And the weather also cleared up quite a lot en route, which was also positive.  Somehow I arrived somewhat more suddenly than I expected though, and totally overshot the entrance, even with a marshal stood there.  I had to go around the roundabout, adorned with giant yellow bikes, and back again to get in.  Oops.  Ah well, here now, and I was marshalled past the club buildings and around to park on what I hoped wouldn’t become a too muddy playing field – HQ being at Chipping Sodbury Rugby Club.  Not that we were parking on the pitch of course – hallowed turf ‘n all that 😉

on the day registration registration sign trim your cable ties here

I learnt my damp grass lesson last week, so this time I had trainers on to walk across the wet grass to HQ, rather than sandals.  Hey, I prefer my feet warm and dry.  The Registration tent was easy to find, and not that busy.  I signed my name, got my number (with integral timing chip) and two cable ties.  Simples.  It being a rugby club, there were changing rooms with showers and toilet facilities, and also extra portable toilets.  I didn’t think I’d need the showers, either now or later, but I did need the toilet, as usual.  And the necessary having been done, it was time to squelch back to the car to faff.

registration desks queue for the start

The weather was better, but still pretty windy.  But it wasn’t as chilly as I’d thought it would be.  Hm.  Final tally?  Remove the leg warmers, stick with s/s base layer, s/s jersey, heavier Rapha gilet, & arm warmers.  Job done.  My bike and I headed back to HQ, all sorted, around 8:00am.  Remember those portable toilets I mentioned?  Well they came in handy now, as there was, unusually, a long queue for the Ladies in the block.  Partially because no-one had realised that there were no queues for the portable ones outside…  Luckily I did.  In my defence I did share that knowledge in my turn, after I’d taken advantage of the fact.  All ready to go then.  And although I was now sorted, and ready to go, I should mention a really nice touch this event has.  They provide cable tie trimming tools, for those who don’t travel equipped with such, to neaten up things after your bike number has been attached.  I travel with scissors (not run with…) but then I’ve done a fair few of these now…

rider pen being briefed and off we go

There was rather a long queue for the Start too, and no way around this one.  Which suggests that there were rather more riders than last time – I think I heard that around 1000 had signed up.  Riders were being put into two pens, and let off pen by pen alternately.  By the time my pen was full and all bunched up, briefing us on our ‘not a race’ didn’t take too long though.  When asked if there were any 100 milers still around, there were precious few hands raised, even supposing there were many such to start with.  Maybe they’d all gotten away earlier?  My hand was amongst them though – 100 miles was still kinda my plan.

What with life being kinda painful, there are times when I can’t do what I want to do.  And there are times when I get so fed up of not being able to do what I want to do that I tend to get a bit bolshy and reactionary, and I’d kinda decided that I wasn’t going to be letting it stop me today.  Not unless I absolutely had to that is…even I have to admit defeat sometimes…but I was going to try and tick my 2016 century box.

narrow lanes cattle grid and yellow bike

So, time for us to be on our way, off out to enjoy a Sunday ride in the Cotswolds.  The first few miles were fairly pleasant, but I knew better than to be lulled into a false sense of security.  A couple of miles in come three big hills, one after the other, all in the first ten miles actually.  The Hawkesbury Howler, the Alderley Grunt, and the Tresham Tester.  One long and hard, one shorter and harder, and the final longer and harder!  Ok, this is a pretty cruel way to start a sportive…but although they were hard work, and proved life was a tad painful, I did think I’d maybe found them a bit easier than last time around, which was both positive and motivational.  Especially as this isn’t the hilliest of sportives and although there were more hills to come later on, they weren’t for a while.  A fair few were suffering more than I was so – I said it was a harsh awakening to a sportive route!

riders climbing behind Hawkesbury Howler

The route split came around 11.5 miles in.  Speak now or forever…  It’s quite early for such decisions though.  You’ve barely warmed up, the day has barely warmed up, and you have no idea how the rest of the day is going to go.  Now clearly I was going to try the long route, so it wasn’t really a decision …but not a lot of people seemed to be turning right with me.  Actually as it turns out, the routes seemed to overlap each other a couple more times en route, which might have been good to know if you wanted to make your route a little more flexible, or bail from the long route sooner than planned.  Anyway I turned right, and set off to do what I planned to do.  20 miles of mostly easy, sometimes rolling, roads followed – through countryside, under trees, over cattle grids, through cutesy villages with pretty churches, getting warmer, with the skies even threatening to clear up and become blue.   Very nice 🙂

route split one potholes marked out

The first food stop came at 32 miles in.  Not only were the ingredients of every cake printed out and displayed, there was also, on request, gluten and lactose free lemon drizzle cake available.  Well, given all the effort they’d gone to to cater for everyone, it would be rude not to, right?  So just for once I ate cake, while others ate sandwiches, flapjacks, cakes, crackers…all sorts really. Duly fuelled up, toilets used, it was time to head back out again, which is where I think we got our numbers checked again, just to prove we’d all done the route we were later going to claim that we’d done.  Bear with me, I lose track of things some times!

boulevard of trees gluten free cake request

That brightening weather ceased to get better.  In fact it got a bit grey and threatening from time to time.  The wind continued to be noisy and blustery and occasionally hard to fight – pretty much a constant for the day, what with the wind being from the South ish and most of the route being either East, West or South.  The roads were lovely and quiet though, in fact amongst the quietest roads traffic wise that I’ve done a sportive on in a long time.  Of course the top dressing circus had clearly been to town around here too – I wonder if there are now incentives for Councils to top dress as many roads as possible in this financial year??

top dressing church one

There was a general sort of upwards trend going on, with a string of gradual ups, but nothing too bad…  More miles of countryside, and trees, and pretty…through to Minchinhampton and the big open plain on the top there, which marked the half way point, more or less.  With all that up, there was bound to be a good descent, and the wiggly one down into Nailsworth is a good one.  Not fast, unless you’re suicidal or far far more skilled than I am, because it’s all hairpins, tight bends, and frequently cars coming up the other way…but it is kinda fun nonetheless 🙂

minchinhampton plain wind turbine

Sadly fun was then followed by the Nailsworth Nailer, as the yellow sign at the bottom cheerfully proclaims, complete with its stats, not that I had time to read them, as I was dodging traffic at the time.  It goes on for a long time, complete with false flats, up through the town, and then considerably beyond, past the wind turbine, and it’s not until you pass the “climb done” sign that you realise it was all the same climb!  Still, I did my thing, again struggling less than I remember doing previously, and since according to Strava I knocked 1:30 off my time up there, I guess I nailed the Nailer!  And since, after a couple miles, the well earned descent was far less technical, I pretty much nailed that too *grin*.  Fun fun 🙂

Frocester Hill bendy views

What goes down was now about to go up, for the last big climb of the day; Frocester Hill.  I didn’t enjoy it last time.  I suffered.  It didn’t go well.  But I was in a much better mood this time around, feeling better all ’round, and more than happy to spend a while plodding up and around the side of a big hill, looking at the views, with the skies turning blue again.  I’m more than happy to discover I knocked 1:57 off my time up it too 😉  Man I am so easily pleased by facts and figures.  I thought it felt better…and I’m liking hills a lot more these days…and I guess I’m as on form as I get…I guess it makes sense, kinda.

route split two tall trees

With the last big hill of the day done, two thirds of the route under my non-existent belt and, even if it did interrupt the following descent, the second food stop was a welcome sight.  There’s something about the sight of a crowd of colourful cyclists on the grass outside an English country pub, opposite a pretty church…fair warms the cockles of your heart.  And if that didn’t work, there was tea and coffee on offer, as well as a good range of food again, and more of that lemon drizzle cake.  I used the pub facilities, wished I could hang around and drink their cold beer in the fairly warm sunshine, and then sat outside for a bit chatting and using the pub’s wifi to check that the rest of the world was still turning in my absence.

second food stop church second food stop riders

However since I couldn’t be sat happily indulging outside this pub and there were 34 miles and a long drive home between me and doing that for real, it was time to go again.  Not long afterwards I ended up on the tail of a couple of equally matched and somewhat better than me gents.  They were not only happy for me to wheel suck, they even made space for me in the middle between and behind the pair of them so I could get happily towed along for a while.  Since it was all flat country lanes, of the variety that I’m not bad at flying along on, this was great.  OK, so there was effort being put in to keep up and not get dropped, especially on any little rises that occurred, but I could do that, and I did.  Things were going well.  The little yellow escapee budgie (or whatever it was) that we came across in the middle of the road was going to have a far worse day than us if it stayed there.  Being all soft hearted and such, I stopped and investigated, as did the guys, and at least I could make the darn thing fly off somewhere safer, if it could, which it could so I did.  Well I could hardly be picking it up and getting it to Secret World today!  Off we went again, karma points earnt, and the miles were getting eaten up, and I had dreams of riding all the way back to the end in style…

…but time was ticking by.  My next dose of pills was due at 2:00pm, and today was not a day for skipping a dose, or even stretching the gaps in between them.  But…oh…and it was going well…and maybe I could wait…?  And stay on the train for a little longer?  But no.  I listened to my inner boringly sensible voice, made my excuses, and pulled over when the time came, too soon, and let the guys disappear off.  Dagnamit!

hedge lined Berkeley Castle

Feeling slightly annoyed, and slightly painful, but dosed up, things were about to get somewhat worse, as the weather decided to get all sympathetic and cry on me.  Quite a lot.  I was half tempted to retrieve the gilet and put it on, as it is a bit waterproof, and wet in the wind can be bad….but I wasn’t that cold, and as usual I couldn’t be arsed.  Just for once I wasn’t made to suffer too much for that decision, but I did get pretty wet!  Maybe it was better to be on my own to negotiate wet country lanes, admire manor houses, castles, and the like.  And maybe I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with them all for all that long anyway.  There weren’t a lot of other riders around either, but thanks to very good signage I didn’t ever feel lost.  Besides, it was pretty much flat, and even with the odd climb my PMA was damp but intact.  And even the damp eventually ceased, as things eventually dried up.

1 mile to food station third food stop

Time for the third food stop, which I nearly didn’t stop at, as it wasn’t all that far from the end – about 12 miles or so out I think.  Lurking in the corner of a school’s car park was a small huddle of tables, tents, and riders, but not, as far as I could tell, any toilets.   Ah well.  All I wanted to do otherwise was top up my bottle, but clearly I looked like I needed more as one of the friendly ladies was very concerned that I didn’t want anything else and did try and force food on me, which was quite funny.  Clearly I looked worse than I felt!  And that huddle of riders?  Well it turned out to contain my pair of friendly gents, and they turned out to be more than happy for me to join them for the final stint.  So I did.  Result!

rider finishing group shot

This time around there was time for a bit more chatting, and so I give you Rob Allan and Stu Berryman – cycling friends of long standing, who used to race with Paul Baker of Cheddar Cycle Store.  Which will tell some of you something…  I did a really good job of staying with them as the last few miles flew by, even when the rain returned, but when the odd little up and push over rises turned into a couple of longer drags near the end that was it – there wasn’t a lot of up left in my legs, and what there was wasn’t going to be done at their speed.  I finally fell off the back and stayed there, but I didn’t mind at all as they’d more than done enough for me.  I may have spent longer pushing a little bit beyond my comfort zone than usual, but I enjoyed it, even if my legs might make me pay for it afterwards!  So it was just me, myself and I who shortly rolled under the Finish arch to the sound of cow bells and applause to be presented with my free food voucher and very cool souvenir.  Sodbury Sportive done.

trophy not medal

There was no sign of the guys, and I was wet, still getting rained on, and liable to get cold hanging around, so I headed back to the car to stash the bike and put dry clothes on.  Once I was back in civvies, with the very wet dirty bike tucked away, I headed back to HQ, and bumped into Rob and Stu who were just leaving so I was able to say thank you in person, which I was glad about.  Credit where credit is due.  And I was also quite glad about my free cheese and onion (didn’t fancy beef, declined the accompanying baked beans) pastie even though it probably wasn’t good for me on many levels.  It tasted nice, and it was hot, and it warmed me up, and it was nice just to sit in a corner of the club house eating that, and drinking equally free squash, while unwinding a bit.  Normally everyone would have been out on the grass, on the picnic tables, etc…but not in the rain, so inside was very busy, very bustling, very noisy, and oddly cool 🙂

Cycling time: 6:49
Official time: 7:30 (Silver)
Distance: 103.5 miles
Avs: 15.2 mph

And then it was time to go home, madly but quietly proud of myself for finally getting a 100 mile ride done this year, whilst oddly surprised to not have found it harder, or to not be feeling like that’s what I’d just done.  See sometimes the pain doesn’t win, I do.  Sometimes stubborn works 🙂