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.
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…
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.
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?
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.
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…
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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? 😉
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?