Wessex 100 Sportive 2011
Back in June, hacked off with a nagging niggle sustained at Beacon Batch that was allowing me to run a bit but not run hard or race, I signed myself up for a 100 mile Cyclosportive. I need a goal to get me training properly, and to make the training more meaningful and satisfying, so some kind of epic on the horizon was just the thing. I chose it based on price (cheapest event on the calendar) and location (only about 50 miles from home) and didn't do much research into the route - I assumed it would be undulating and exposed, with nice views over Salisbury Plain. The forecast in the days leading up was dire - hurricane conditions were in the headlines - but as the day approached it became evident that the hurricane would head for Scotland and the deep south would get gusty winds and some heavy rain. No reason not to have a go then.... A 7.10 start meant getting up at four, but I was in Salisbury with plenty of time to park and ride the easy half mile to the start in the Guidlhall Square. It was just getting light, a yellowish full moon fading in a clear, cloudless sky. The started - presumably the main man behind the event - was garbed in a yellow suit and dispensed pearls of wisdom and humour over a microphone as riders started to gather in the square. He told us of the burning deserts and jagged mountains of Salisbury Plain and with five minutes to go announced that there was time for a prayer or some meditation. Not that all of us needed that reminder :) The first group rolled away at seven and I went off at the head of a bunch at seven ten and a few seconds. Soon we were out of town, having negotiated only a few hundred yards of city streets with one set of lights and one roundabout. Then it was the scenic Avon Valley and a quiet lane totally empty of cars leading us north through tiny villages.
I passed a few other riders from the 7am start, and soon found myself with some going at pretty much the same pace as me. I didn’t get mixed up in bunch riding as I still had tri bars on, but I ended up on the back of a group from Southampton Tri and they pulled me along pretty well. When the left turn came towards Devizes we were suddenly riding into the teeth of a gusty wind, with a wide open sky and great views to the north of smooth hills and white horses cut into the chalky slopes. I had to work quite hard to stay with the group, but I figured I would be able to rest and refuel at the half way mark where there was a compulsory 20 minute rest. When I got there it turned out to be the 47 mile amrk, and was tired but satisfied with a good first half of the ride – still just about on target for six hours if the wind was not too strong and the hills not too severe in the miles to come. As it turned out, the wind would be a trial and the hills pretty monstrous! I ate cake, drank tea and heard reports of the big climb to come, then as soon as my 20 mins were up I was back out on the road alone. I got to the foot of the legendary Brassknocker Hill in decent shape, just past the half way mark, and the hill was quite something. A stiff, out-of-the-saddle climb for several minutes. I do a lot of climbing just as part of my commute these days, so it didn’t seem too bad, but my legs felt a bit spent afterwards, and the hills that followed it (not so severe) seemed much harder. One by one they sapped all my energy until I felt I was really going to struggle to finish.
At one point I realised this was just the usual dip in mood that comes when you hit the wall, so although I felt a bit nauseous and totally spent, just being aware that this was all “on the surface” really helped. I shut my mind up for a moment to see what was going on beneath those waves of despondency and I could feel resilience and determination quietly getting on with it, as they always do. That feeling carried me through the rest of the tough patch, which was basically the whole section from Bath to Frome. After that I was into the home straight, heading for the Wylye Valley which would hopefully mean the wind at my back and no hills. As I approached Horningsham I spied a wooded ridge, and lovely as it looked on a day of bright sun and refreshing showers, I just hoped we weren’t having to go over it for yet another climb! Predictably, the road took a turn straight towards that ridge and I was climbing again, but I had enough in my legs to pull myself over what was actually a pretty small hill. At least I enjoyed the roll down the other side in some of the most gorgeous scenery of the day.
It wasn’t long before I saw the “20 Miles to Go” sign and although there was the occasional pull up a slope away from the river, we mostly followed the Wylye’s banks all the way back. I was reliving memories of 1986, when I had some interesting adventures in Hanging Langford – a free festival of sorts, some light hearted run-ins with the police and an ultimately abortive attempt by thousands of hippies to get to Stonehenge for midsummer. The valley looked just as I remembered it, and it was nice to revisit the old stomping ground as part of a different kind of adventure. Having made it through the rough patch, some energy returned to my legs and I was able to keep up a steady 17 or 18 mph. The ride finished on familiar territory at the field where the 5-4-3-2-1 running events take place, by the fire station, so it felt like coming home. Although way outside my target time, I was chuffed to hear I had finished 5th!!
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