Life frequently does not go according to plan. (Which, as an aside, is presumably why we like it so much when a plan does actually come together, right?) So it turned out, at fairly short notice, that I would be doing this Tour of Pembrokeshire weekend on my own. Something which, considering my current issues with both driving and riding, did have me somewhat worried. Marvellous… 🙁
Luckily I’d booked Friday off a while ago, so I had the whole day to get myself sorted, and get myself down to Pembrokeshire. There was no time pressure, and I would have plenty of time to stop and take a break, or maybe even visit something, on the way down. Although I wasn’t looking forward to the drive, having had a truly bad week, I was actually feeling a little better, which was good, and positive, and so forth.
So after extra sleeping, and faffing, and packing, on Friday afternoon I spent three and a half hours driving through wind and rain down various motorways, heading as far West as you can go. Not nice. Honestly, what is it with me and going to Pembrokeshire?!! I was not amused… I was also not enjoying myself on several levels. What with the weather forecast for the day, I’d decided visiting castles was probably out, so I’d left a little later than maybe I would have done otherwise. And hey, just for once the forecast was right. Which is neither here nor there. It just meant I didn’t have a visit to somewhere planned to break up the ride, so I had to take a break from it all at Swansea West services, which I am more than a little familiar with by now, and chill out in Costa for a while with a caramel mocha. I figured that that, on top of the energy drink I’d already had, would hopefully get me there in one piece…
Which eventually it did. I arrived at Crug Glas, the Tour of Pembrokeshire‘s new HQ and also my home for the weekend, early eveningish, and discovered my friend Peter, previous MD of the Tour, and ( I think) still owner of Pembrokeshire Bikes, helping out near the entrance. I parked up near what would be the Bike Park the following day, and went and said hi, before checking in, and relocating my car to the hotel car park. Which put it closer to my room, well out of the way of sportive chaos, and actually visible from my hotel room. I left my bike there to sleep in peace though – my room was far too luxury to have my bike parked up in it! As it turns out, it was the same room I stayed in for the ToP 2013…very lovely, and complete with an amazing bath which there and then I resolved to actually use this time around at some point!
Time to go register, in the little marquee set up next to the newly renovated outbuilding next door to the hotel – the large and very swish Cow Shed. Which wasn’t as easy for me as everyone else was finding it. I went to my desk, but they had no record of me… It turns out that, thanks to my guest status, my name was on a specific list. Which wasn’t currently around. So my name was down but I still wasn’t coming in… 😉 Nowt for it than to go and install myself in the bar and make myself comfortable until everything worked itself out.
Which, while chatting to Peter again, over a rather expensive pint of pre-ride hydrating Perroni, it did. A nice lady called Elizabeth found me, and I was presented with my route card, bike number, helmet number, cable ties, free High5 gel voucher, and post ride food voucher, all without having to leave my seat. Bonus! I did have to leave to go and cash in my gel voucher though, and have a look at the few stands and tempting bikes on display though. N + 1? 😉 After a while spent chatting to various people back at the bar, it was time to carb load, even if I gather ‘they’ are currently saying that carb loading is rubbish… Food was on offer at £10 for a main course & salad & bread roll…or £8 if you’d booked beforehand. Which I had. So I had a massive bowl of gluten-free pasta carbonara which was actually (and though I shouldn’t say it, surprisingly) really nice. Not entirely IBS safe but half the way there, and hey, apparently I should eat before I ride… So I did. I passed on dessert though even if it would only have cost me £3. Best not to overdo it right? Job done then; time to head back to my room, faff a little more, check the weather forecast even more, and get an earlyish night.
I slept! ‘Rah! Must have been the very high and comfy four poster bed…*grin*. Which didn’t make the 5:50 alarm call any nicer. And it was only 5:50 so I could hit snooze, pretend to ignore it, and actually get up at 6:00am 😉 So alright already, I’m up! I checked the weather forecast again – cold, dry, sunny, northerly winds. I looked out of the window to see what the actual weather actually looked like. Sunshine…! Hm… Time to make coffee, from a little bag. Which was a new one to me – but a huge improvement on the usual powdered option. Can’t help it, I’m a coffee snob 😉 So breakfast was coffee, a hobnobs flapjack, a banana, and shiny pills. Gotta love my diet, no? I could have had breakfast over in the Cow Shed, at £1 per item, with porridge, bacon, etc. all on offer, but I’m lazy, and prefer to stick to what I know. As for getting dressed in kit – well, layers of course, right? But how many and which ones? I looked out of the window again. At the continuing sunshine. At the riders parking up in the field beyond, walking over to register, in an assortment of outfits, but many of them being in shorts. It’s that awkward time of year when sunny can actually be really warm… But, having opened the window to check, it wasn’t warm yet, even if it was going to be. And I’ve done the ToP many times and never been warm, and most of my recent rides have been cold, and the forecast said… Oh I hate decisions!
I opted for essentially winter kit but with a short sleeve base layer and a lighter weight mid layer. And nothing in my saddle bag, kit wise, so as to give me room to try and stash anything I chose to remove en route. Thus attired I headed downstairs to wake the bike up and add the finishing touches to both it and me – bottles, gadgets, food, gels, the usual. The tannoy was announcing the countdown to the 100 mile route leaving slot – 7:00-7:30am – and I reckoned I’d be there in time enough. It took me a while to attach the somewhat flimsy number to the bike, and even longer to get the helmet bike chip cable tied on. It doesn’t help when you manage to get it around the helmet straps first time around and have to start over…! It’s a good thing that, as a hardened sportive veteran, I carry both scissors and spare cable ties with me. Not my favourite variety of timing chip it has to be said, and according to the instructions if you didn’t return it for some reason you’d be liable for a £10 fine too! So, all done, it was chilly but not that bad, and the sun was shining…and I was half tempted to run back inside and change…but I didn’t. Would I regret it…? Oh man, I hate decisions!
Finally sorted, I walked over to HQ. There was a queue for the portable toilets outside, so I nipped inside, where there wasn’t. Time to get to the start line then. The first groups had already gone, so there were just a few of us doing the same. With no ceremony at all, someone scanned my chip, and I was sent on my way…just like that. Considering the comprehensive pre-ride rider briefing pdf, I guess they figured an actual rider briefing was superfluous… Which was fine by me, I didn’t want to hang around getting cold anyway. 7:15 and I was off. Blue skies, bright sunshine, long low shadows hiding the road, way before the locals were hitting the road… It all felt a bit unreal, or surreal, or something. The routes have changed a bit this year, and not just because of the change of start venue. I thought I might notice more, but I can’t decide if it was all new, or just that I’ve forgotten large chunks of my previous Tours, which is quite likely considering how long it usually takes me and how much hard work I always find it!
As ever, I tried not to think too much early on. It was cold, but sunny. The scenery was as ever, gorgeous. I was feeling ok. I recognised bits. It seemed easier than previous years somehow. But maybe that’s because the route was different… So hard to tell. But I was feeling ok…in fact at some points I was feeling like maybe it was going to get too warm and I’d have to find a way to dump layers somewhere, cos I was getting warm and I don’t ride well overheated. Should I do the 100 miles? Because I should, and prove that I can, and prove everyone wrong, and I haven’t done 100 miles yet this year, and I was feeling ok, and it was sunny and…. But maybe I shouldn’t push it, and it might not turn out nice, and I have a lot more sportives to come, and I should do the 75…
Thus went my head for the first hour or so. The first few bits of up came and went ok. Even those nasty little kicks up that come after swoopy dips down to the coast – all good. Even good enough to smile for the inevitable official photographers lurking on them. Well I did know those bits were there, so was prepared, and and in the right gear etc…unlike quite a few… 🙂 The downs called for a little more caution than usual, thanks to the shadows hiding the road surface under all the trees, and pothole paranoia looming large. But all in all, along the quiet country roads, in the sunshine, looking at the sea, I was a fairly happy bunny. Hey, life is always better at the beach…so I really enjoyed the bit from Goodwick to Fishguard 🙂
The first route split – for the 50 mile route – came about 16 miles in at Llanychaer. That wasn’t an option however. Turn left, go over the little bridge, and straight up the 25% climb instead. Well, not straight up, it’s definitely more hair pin-y…and steep…and it hurt. Sadly literally, not in the “I’m crap at riding and so this hurts” sense. More in the, ‘there’s a little black hole lurking in my insides that is now imploding in a painful and energy sapping way‘ sense. Hard to explain but I know what I mean. I don’t know if black holes implode or explode however, and if you’re a science geek, feel free to correct me safe in the knowledge that I will ignore you. Still, I got up the darn thing, and things settled down, however my 75 mile vs 100 mile internal debate had gained some weight on the lighter side, which is some way to being an oxymoron… But I carried on, and things carried on being mostly ok. At some point I even took the over gloves and winter neck thing off… All good. I’ve done this ride a lot of times…and the weather has never ever been this good! However it didn’t get warmer… And as we got higher from time to time and hit the northerly winds, it frequently got chillier… And then warmer going up. And then chillier again… Or maybe it was just me? Plenty of people still seemed to be surviving in shorts and short sleeves…madmen all of them. And that’s not sexist, there weren’t many women out there, and I didn’t see any of them in shorts!
The first food stop was at Llys Meddyg in Newport, where this year’s Prologue ride ran from, about 25 miles in. There were volunteer cadet/guides/whatever around, offering to hold your bike for you while you sorted yourself out. Which was nice in theory, but felt a bit weird. Yes, please take my bike, and then just stand there, until I see fit to return and take it away again. Clearly I’m not used to having staff…so I declined politely and no doubt awkwardly, and parked my bike up by a fence instead. Food of all varieties was disappearing as soon as it appeared – pasties, bananas, boiled potatoes, jam sandwiches…all being topped up as I watched. I nipped off to the hotel’s outdoor toilets, returned, and opted for the root vegetable option. Variety right? Nice too 🙂 From where I was standing I could see the route split. And I kinda wanted to do the long route. I’ve always tried to. And I was currently feeling like it might be possible. But I was also still pretty cold. Bearing in mind my current average speed, I could be adding an extra three hours on to my ride. On my own and out in the cold. And it had been a pretty bad week. But I was feeling ok. And I hate bailing… Did I mention I hate decisions? 😉
But I bailed, if you can call it that on this ride. To be fair, I know 100 mile rides that are easier than 75 miles of this one! I think if I’d had company, it might have been a different call… But I didn’t, and it wasn’t, and I had decided I should play it safe, not least because I have a sportive every weekend for the next 4 weekends after this one. Besides I’ve never done the 75 mile route…that’s a legitimate reason to do so, from a reviewing standpoint, right? 😉
OK then. So long Moylegrove. Farewell my favourite coast bit. Auf wiedersehn Poppit Sands. Goodbye extra hills… To be fair I’d already had some climbing. Some coast. The lovely descent to Newport. And hey, as someone pointed out much, much later, I did do all of those bits on this year’s Prologue, so who needs to be doing them twice in a year anyway? 😉
Further North and further up was further colder. (And I know that adjective doesn’t really work but…hey, my blog). The few winter bits that came off went back on again. And came off again with more ups. And on again after…and btw, zips are great things… There was quite a lot of climbing ahead as it happens. Lots of lovely long slow ups, to wide open moor lands, where the whole world stretched out under blue skies. Which was cool. I was going up fine. Not fast, not as fast as the steam trains occasionally going past me. But happily enough for me. My legs and my lungs and my form was feeling pretty good, and I was doing my best to enjoy myself.
But something was rotten in the state of Denmark. I was still cold. And, in retrospect, when I did get off the bike to stash/retrieve layers, eat, take photos, whatever, my balance was off. (Why do I never remember that’s a sign that at some level I’m overdoing it?) My next pain killers were due at 10:30, and I’m usually ok with those – once I’m on them, and taking them regularly, all is sorted… Not today. Hills were making things hurt more, however well I was going up them. The pain got worse, and in a big way, but I couldn’t take more pills yet… Being cold wasn’t helping; I cope less well with anything when I’m cold. And I think I get colder when in pain, because my body is busy coping with other things. Vicious circle, etc. Finally the time came, having plodded my way up a long and very lovely hill with beautiful views, when I could stop. It was finally that time. 10:30ish, around 3:15 in. So I found a quiet little off the road bit, with a bank so I could hide from the biting wind, got off the bike, lost my balance, and pretty much lost it completely. Which I wasn’t really expecting. Only it was hurting SO much, and I was cold, and I was in the middle of nowhere on my own with a long way to go… Cue massive meltdown. I sat there for a little while, hugging my knees, it being the closest I could get to foetal position I guess, and sobbed my heart out for a bit. Not my finest hour…good thing I was out of easy sight. Honest, it’s no wonder no-one wants to ride with me! 😉 Hey, maybe in company I’d have done the stiff upper lip thing…we’ll never know…
Even in the middle of nowhere it turns out I wasn’t alone though. You gotta love technology. A mate of mine had pinged me mid-ride to see how I was getting on…who then got it both barrels! (sorry!). But having been sent hugs and reassurance, mentally slapped myself, taken a gel, and of course the next dose of pills, with ibuprofen thrown in on top for good measure, I started to get it together. Let’s face it, I had no other option, it was time to carry on. Well, you don’t call the broom wagon for that kind of thing do you? To be honest, if someone had been there to swoop down, pick me up, take me home, and tuck me into bed to sleep until it was all over…I’d have gone. But hey, back in the real world…
Typically, all of 5 minutes further down the road was the next food stop, conveniently tucked away out of the wind… And yes, I didn’t need to stop again, but I did. Well, I had to get my chip scanned anyway, right? Once more I dodged the ‘staff’, I ate potatoes, and then I spent a spell sitting on a picnic bench warming up in the sun. Hey, my time was going to be rubbish anyway so what did a few more minutes elapsed time matter? 😉
Right, time to get going again. It was about 37 miles in, so that was half way, and that always helps mentally. Having had a good look at the map on the display I knew there were only a couple more climbs ahead, and even another food stop. That had to be doable, especially now I was a bit warmer, and the pills would hopefully cut in soon. So…let’s get it on, right?
And it did get easier eventually. Shortly afterwards there was a lovely long stretch along a sheltered valley, all green trees, blue skies, yellow flowers and most importantly, none of that bitter wind! Bliss…I started to feel a bit warmer. And on the flat I was going pretty well. I liked that. Inevitably there was a long climb out of the valley at the end, but even that was ok. I’d rather be a bit warm than too cold, and I CAN do hills! And, as some of you have probably noticed by now, I actually quite like them 🙂 OK, I like them more when they hurt less, but that’s not the point. There was another food stop, about 25 miles from the end, where I stopped because I thought I should, not because I needed to, but with that long a gap ahead I thought I should make sure I was topped up with drink. And potatoes 😉 There was clearly going to be musical entertainment here too shortly, but having started early and taken the shorter route (clearly not the only one to do so!) that wasn’t quite up and running yet.
And now I had 25 miles more to do. That I can count down. That I can do. Especially when a lot of it was both familiar and fairly flat. Turns out I could still fly along on that, as my slowly increasing average speed demonstrated. There was, as there had been all day, plenty of support en route. Cowbells, people clapping, small children waving, one with a sign saying “Be determined, you can get around this course”. Colour me determined 😉 The pills were finally working, the legs were still working, the sun was still shining, and I’d even rolled my sleeves up a little. Go me! However there was a nasty climb at Whitchurch which sort of stopped play for a while. Having joined up with a lot of the 50 milers by now there were a fair few walking riders for me to overtake though. I went past a walking girl, and said hi…because today most riders were friendlier than usual. Most of those who’d gone past me all day had found time to say “hi”, “morning” or whatever, or at least “on your right” and I had been doing the same in my turn. She heard me, turned, and said on seeing me, “oh wow you’re doing so well”… Now admittedly she may not have been referring to the fact that I was still pedalling up the hill while she was walking. She may have thought I was on the 100 mile route and must have been going some to be going past her already, which clearly I wasn’t. But a little bit of me did think you know what? All things considered, I sure as f*ck am…! And then pedalled on to the top 🙂 *grin*.
The final big hill being done, the last few ups on the way back, some which I remembered from previous rides, didn’t even really register with me this time around. I was on my way home, and there was to be no stopping me. The route after this has definitely changed – it now goes back in straight through the countryside to come in through St Davids (past the old Oriel y Parc venue) and back to Crug Glas HQ in a far more sensible way. It’s flattish too. At times I could see the sea stretching out far beyond, tankers lining up out there along the coast, islands, blue water, blue skies…very lovely 🙂 After St Davids, heading back sort of NE, the last few miles back into the head wind might not have been a lot of fun, but I was nearly there, so it was ok. Put my head down, get on with it. Hey, I wanted to get back before the next dose was due! I had picked up a couple of riders at the traffic lights just before St Davids, and we played tag for a bit before I dropped them for a while…and then there were two of us again for the final stretch, counting down the last few miles. Then it was back down the drive, past various supporters to the Finish line, to have my head scanned (well people have been known to say I need my head read!). My timing number was removed, and I was given my commemorative coaster and some sort of fruit drink. Job done.
I walked slowly down the road towards HQ, and had a brief chat to Elizabeth who I’d met the day before and who had ridden the 50 with Peter for charity. There were happy riders everywhere posing for photos, sitting outside on the grass in the sun, eating, drinking, with music blaring – and there was a really nice atmosphere. Which sort of passed me by. I bumped into Peter himself and we agreed to meet for a beer shortly. I was feeling a bit other worldly myself…and very gently walked my way to my car to tuck the bike back into bed, before joining him in the bar. On the way in I met Jim, a friendly, familiar ToP team face. He asked me if I’d had a good ride…and I tried, but oh man, talk about an awkward question… I’d like to have lied, but I was a bit raw at the time, and I sort of explained, and he gave me a not awkward hug, which I really appreciated. Peter appeared as if by magic and took me off to the bar, but I had to leave him there queueing to go and sit down, where he joined me with the Perroni I had so earned! However when asked once again how I was and how it had been, by a friend? Yep…lost it completely…again *sigh*. Which brings the tally of complete meltdowns today to two. I guess you don’t know how hard you’ve been holding it together until you don’t have to anymore? Sorry Peter! Chapeau to him for coping so well too. And I got it together fairly quickly I think – I don’t do weak and girly for any longer than I absolutely have to, and besides my lager would get warm, right? 😉 We got back to talking about the ride more generally and how it had gone for us all. Not that I had much to contribute. Yes, I’d done it, and I’d love to say there was some massive sense of achievement which, I suppose you could argue that there should be. 72 miles on top of all that…? But I just felt disappointed by myself, wiped out, tired, & emotional. F.I.N.E? Ah well….
Although food wasn’t my problem today, I figured it wouldn’t do any harm to eat, and it would be a shame to miss out on my free pig roast roll (beef was also on offer) from Gwaun Valley Meats. The marquee outside was now housing them and the massage team, and I’m glad I queued for that which I was entitled, as it was lovely, and by this point I’d ceased worrying about safe food! 🙂 (For those that wanted something else, the same £10 meal option was still available in the Cowshed, along with cake, tea, coffee etc). Having got it together a bit more, eventually I took myself off with another beer, to take refuge in that massive bath as I’d promised myself I would. Which was, as hoped, truly awesome. Tour of Pembrokeshire done. Again. Well. Kinda 😉
It was, and is, a great event, with the best weather I’ve ever seen for it. You should do it. It just wasn’t a great, or the best, me. The really ironic thing is that according to Strava, I actually had a pretty good ride. Some PRs, some 2nd bests, up a lot of the climbs, and of course downs, around there. With a max speed of 51.4mph! (not that I believe that…) And other than the obvious I felt pretty good out there. It’s just SO frustrating! Even writing about it is a bit upsetting…it’s the first time it’s ever been like that for a ride, and what with ‘it’ getting worse as time goes on, I do worry about what that means for the rest of my very full season… But hey, don’t go borrowing trouble right? Hopefully I’ll be back again next year, and I will kick the ar*e of the long route!
Cycling time: 5:37
Actual time: 6:23 (I think)
Distance: 71.4 miles
Avs: 12.7 mph
PS: – apparently the timing system that actually turned up – chip to be scanned manually on helmet – wasn’t what was ordered…so a little critical leeway should be granted for that… 😉