75 Mile "Change a Life" Cycle 2014
Last year the CAL bike ride was my combeback event after putting illness behind me - this year I was determined to complete the course in a better time. With injuries holding my running back, it was great to have something to train for and I had built up steadily to 4 hour sessions on the bike at 15mph. Still somewhat shy of the 17/18 I used to clock up in triathlons but still a reasonable pace for a long ride. When the day of the event came along I was aiming for 5 hours riding time plus some breaks at the various aid stations - stopping and signing in is compulsory (not to mention polite, as the guys there stand out in all weather waiting to fill your bottle and give you some flapjacks).
Having put myself down for the 15mph start, I found myself in the very last group of 8 or so riders - that implied we were the fastest bunch (not necessarily the fastest riders as CTS were all riding together and some of those guys are clearly quick). We headed off in bright sunshine at around 10am, heading out of The Pavilions and riding in reverse one of my training/commute rides, via Winford and out to Chew Stoke - all familiar territory. It wasn't long before we had hit the first of two notorious climbs of the day - Harptree Hill. It was a slog, but hills in the first hour of a ride are never a challenge like the ones that come later, and the cruise over the Mendips afterwards was breathtaking - some roads I had never trained on before with lovely views over sun soaked fields and through the ancient village of Priddy. Next came the nastt descent to Wookey Hole - remind me to avoid that in future - trying to stay with a bunch on a twisty and stoney downhill is not my idea of fun. Still, I hung on to the others and was still holding my own with the group as we passed Wells and rolled in to the first aid station. Here they had run out of water but still had a coolbox of ice so we scooped that in to our bottles - almost immediately my group was back in the saddle and heading out - I hadn't expected that kind of hurry in this not-a-race event so I had to stuff my mouth full of flapjacks and leg it after them to not get dropped!
Now we were passing the previous groups and I realised we were doing a faster pace than I'd maintained in any of my rides in training - more like my old Tri pace of 17/18. I felt myself tiring a bit and wished I'd taken on more fuel, but at least I had plenty of water. I was mostly in the pack but occasionally tried a turn at the front - much harder work, but it would be rude not to do any of the front riding when spending all day in a bunch!
Fortunately an extra aid station had been put in because of the heat - it was rising into the mid twenties and beyond - so I was able to pocket more food, including jelly haribo sweets to sugar me up the later hills, at a windmill near Wedmore. Again it was a short stop and I was back out on the road at a stiff pace without feeling recovered but still feeling strong thanks to all the flapjacks. The route went past Compton Bishop on some lovely roads skirting the scarp of the Mendips, then across to Webbington and Loxton, again on lanes I wasn't familiar with but which were beautiful beyond description. I have to find those roads on training rides some time, but I have a feeling they won't look the same somehow. I was in race space. I can't remember exactly where the last aid station was,but again the stop was brief and I was feeling the sustained effort as we reversed last year's route along Clapton Lane to Portbury. I knew Portbury Hill was coming so I stuffed the sweets down to get my blood sugar up. As we rounded the bend to the hill I was starting to really cook in the heat - the BBC forecast had been for 28 degrees but it felt like 30+ even though I was in just a light jersey and bib shorts (fortunately not making my usual mistake of wearing too much kit). As it turned out Portbury Hill was a long grind, not a steepy like nearby Naish Hill, and I stayed with the group to the top. Once on the flat I felt rough - at first I thought it was low blood sugar, but then as I remembered I had sugared up as planned and as intense nausea came on,I started to feel totally weak and I realised it was the heat. I had taken on plenty of electrolytes early on but still the hot conditions had sapped me and now I couldn't push enough to stay in touch and I fell a few metres, then 50 or so metres, off the group. This I could have made up, but a red light caught me near Failand and the gap widened to a couple of minutes.
Determined to catch up, but still feeling intensely sick, I pushed as hard as I could without actually being sick and as the steep descent into Long Ashton came around (down Providence Lane) I sighted the guys again. Still the pace was a bit too tough for me to chase and catch completely, so I had to content myself with just staying in sight of them along Wild Country Lane and up to Barrow lights. I rolled in less than a minute back, and immediately had to pour cold waters over my head to feel more normal. This cured the nausea so it must have been a heat symptom as I'd suspected. A long cold shower in The Basement and a Frappucino completed the recover. I hadn't timed it but one of the other guys said we'd finished in 4:30 ride time according to his Garmin - plus around 10 mins of stops. I was well happy with that!
Next year's target? More speedwork, more acclimatising, be better prepared :)
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