On Sunday I rode 245km from Cambridge to Bristol. On my own. In a headwind. In the rain. I feel like I have permanently remodelled my lady parts from so long in the saddle!
- My friend Caroline had got engaged, my friend Jo had an offer accepted on a house, Ellie had just finished a round of exams and I had passed my PhD defence. We had a lot to celebrate and a catch up was required.
- Because of the aforementioned PhD defence I hadn’t spent much time riding my bike in January and I was feeling training guilt.
- I was aware that TCR training would conflict a lot with my social life. If there is even the possibility of having my cake an eating it then I’ll try my hardest. I love cake.
- It came up at a nice round distance of 150 miles. Longer than I’d ridden before. Not far off the sort of miles I should be putting in on average per day on the TCR.
- I’d missed out on doing any sort of proper Audax ride in January. I’m one of those ‘start as you mean to go on’ sort of people and felt that I needed to do one epic ride this month.
- It is quite far.
- It is winter.
- The forecast wasn’t good.
- Due to aforementioned time off the bike I wasn’t exactly in peak winter form, far from it. I was actually feeling quite tired and exhausted and nearly cancelled on the weekend.
I spoke to Caroline on Wednesday evening, offering my congratulations and precocious apologies incase I didn’t make the weekend. Then I did a 30 minute HIIT session on my new turbo (more about that another time). I felt better from speaking with her, and better for having done some exercise. Mentally, I started making a kit list.
I’d only be cycling one way, so I could travel very light. I could borrow things like jumpers. My saddle pack was so light I could still bunny hop (important in winter when the roads are full of potholes!).
I set off at 6.30 am from Cambridge on Sunday morning. I had meant to set off earlier but with so much to celebrate with the girls I had drunk quite a lot of wine, not had much sleep and my head was sore. One day I will start behaving responsibly, that day was not today! Fuelled by a banana and with an emergency flapjack in my pocket I pedalled off into the darkness.
Oxford was approximately half way, I really wanted to make it there by lunchtime to meet my old friends from the Condors for lunch/coffee/cake. Cambridge and surrounds were dead flat = speed but there was a pretty constant headwind = not speed and my garmin was having difficulty = faff. I managed to find a coffee and a waffle for breakfast and purchase more flapjacks. I ate a flapjack an hour to keep fuelled.
La la la off we go. I had a suspicion that I wouldn’t make Oxford for 12. Probably more a late lunch. In spite of the hangover, wind, garmin faff I was maintaining an average speed over 14 miles per hour, which felt comfortable. I’d had a bike fitting with Tony Corke ((FYI this man is a bike fitting genius (in preparation for my custom Quirk frame)) and he had made a few modifications to my trusty Bianchi which had already been fitted to me but made it much more comfortable for endurance riding. My legs were spinning happily, feeling strong. My back felt good. Kit worked out well for the conditions and once the sun was up I felt comfortable temperature wise.
Somewhere after the turning off to Milton Keynes it started to rain. Lightly at first, but by the time I cycled in to Oxford it was pouring. I stopped at Peloton for a coffee, hoping that the Condor ladies might have been running late but alas. Nevermind, there was cyclocross on the telly and coffee and cake. Unfortunately they had been busy and run out of all substantial food, I’d need to pop to a supermarket to get some sandwiches later.
I was travelling light, this meant that I’d just chucked everything in a seat post bag and got on my way. I didn’t have the fuel pod I usually have on longer rides. So despite having a power pack, there was no way of charging my garmin while riding because there was no way of keeping the power pack wired in to the little GPS unit. Error. I had to wait about an hour in Oxford to recharge things. Still, I was glad of the chance to dry off and chat to a guy who built his own frames.
I left Oxford, stopping quickly to grab a supermarket sandwich, sausage rolls and supplies. Laden with emergency hot cross buns. I head out on the old familiar roads south east from Oxford a little after 3pm. The emergency buns are important. Firstly, the plastic packaging was waterproof. Secondly, although I didn’t quite manage to eat enough on this ride I do always like to have more food than I think I might eat. Nothing worse than running out of food, and therefore energy.
It was pissing it down. I can’t comfortably wear contacts all day. My glasses were beading with rain, misting up, and visibility was pretty poor in the rainy dusk. I managed to maintain my average speed until Farringdon (about half way between Oxford and Swindon) until my garmin crashed again. B*gger. I sheltered from the rain under an archway and tried to un-crash it and check the route on my phone so I knew where I was going. By this point not a single bit of me remained that wasn’t soggy. Luckily, thanks to primaloft socks and merino linings in my gloves, I was still warm. Just damp warm, like the warm water that pools in a wetsuit. My bike wasn’t enjoying the weather either. My gears were starting to crunch a bit but trying to clean the chain was futile.
Onwards! It was pitch dark by now. Night riding isn’t something I’m hugely used to or comfortable with, but I know that being good in the night will be key for the TCR. I’d turned off the A420 and the minor roads had very little with which I use to help me see what the road ahead was doing i.e. no road markings or cats eyes. With rain, fog and my glasses reducing visibility this wasn’t ideal. I turned my garmin off battery saver mode and kept the map displayed, at least now I could see the shape of the road and get early warning for any large bends.
The rain got heavier and heavier. I was so drenched I was starting to get cold and my glasses were fogging so badly I really couldn’t see very well. I rode past a pub and made a snap decision to stop, it was around 17.00 by now. The snap decision pub was amazing. There was a roaring fire, I undressed and tried to dry off what I could. Grabbed my battery pack to top up my lights and my garmin and drank sweet tea (a comfort thing of mine). Pubs are the best thing about the UK. Even in a tiny village, on a Sunday evening you can find somewhere warm and welcoming! I’d missed this in the French countryside.
Here I had a hilarious conversation with a family in the pub. The lady told me I was mad, crazy and why didn’t I just get a lift home. The man told me I was very brave to be out cycling. Then I told them I was riding to Bristol – even more batty. Then I told them I’d ridden from Cambridge. Jaws hit the floor! They were very supported and said they admired my courage. I don’t think it is necessarily courageous, or brave. You just need to be stubborn enough to not back down once you’ve put the idea into your head. Whatever the weather.
However, I did get a message from my amazing friend Janine letting me know that she was a bit concerned and would be up late working and if I needed her to come to my rescue then she would. What a mega babe.
On we go.
What followed was slow, wet and painful. Struggling all day in the wind and rain had taken its toll on my body. My hands and feet were water logged. My arse was in agony (more on saddle issues another time). My back was starting to hurt (related to saddle issues). My bike was a little unhappy. My stomach was unhappy and I felt sick. It was pitch black, rainy and I still had 50 miles to cover.
I made more frequent stops. Rode more slowly. Huffed and puffed my way up the smallest incline. Stopping every 30-60 mins to send a few messages to Janine. Me to moan about how difficult this was. Her to offer amazing words of encouragement. Malmesbury was about half way from my pub stop and home. When I got there I popped inside a hotel for the loo (unhappy stomach) and checked my garmin. 26 miles to go. Easy. Well, easy on fresh legs (and arse!). The temptation to call Janine and bail was there, but I was so close. I got back out on the pitch black country lanes, riding ever more slowly, struggling to keep warm. Maybe I should call her? Just keep going legs. What would happen if I gave up now? I’d be really annoyed with myself, I’d still not forgiven myself for my Paris DNF. But I was finding it tough. Tough is what I’m made of right? Hard as nails. That’s what my friends tell me, even if I don’t believe it myself. A few miles of pep talking myself and I had less than 10 miles to go! I started seeing road signs for the areas of Bristol in the north. I could see the light pollution. I have never been so glad to see light pollution. I rolled in to civilisation. Arse screaming, legs aching, bike complaining.
I turned up at my house minutes before midnight. Stopped my GPS (I had to recover it from one last crash first). Text friends to let them know I’d got back safely. My awesome housemate put the kettle on and I had a warm shower. I fell asleep without eating anything, I was too tired and I had work in the morning. This in hindsight was an error and I don’t think I’d eaten enough fuel all day.
I’ve spent all on Monday grazing and I’ve only just stopped feeling hungry after some tuna and quinoa but I’m still dehydrated (despite being soggy to the core yesterday!). I got home from work and sorted out my kit and cleaned my bike. I missed out on the pub quiz I normally do with work friends.
This year will be full of compromises. Social life vs bike life. Good things rarely come without hard work and compromise. You’ve got to want it. Luckily I also have amazing friends who will tolerate and support me through this. Cheers folks! I’ll dedicate a few night miles to you when I’m in a dark place!
Alpkit seat post bag containing : casual clothes (a dress, pants, tights, shoes, toothbrush, Northface thermoball (upgraded from my Patagonia down because primaloft is still insulating when wet, lesson learned from Paris!), power pack and usb cables).
On my lower half: velocio fly bib shorts (the fly makes for easy comfort breaks and the chamois is the best I have found), madison thermal leg warmers (purchased after I read a review on Total women’s cycling that they didn’t give sausage legs (I have massive thighs)), primaloft socks (again, warm when wet), my usual fizik shoes plus neoprene toe covers and overshoes.
Upper body: M&S sports bra (just the right level of support), Aldi merino (wool keeps you warm even when wet and yes Aldi! It doesn’t need to cost the earth!), Rapha deep winter jersey – this jersey is amazing and toasty, my As Bold As reflective gilet, Rapha merino headband a FDI cap, Giro helmet and a pair of Madison gloves to top it all off.
Front light: Lezyne super drive plus 2 spare batteries.
Rear light: Moon something or other I bought in Winchester when my lezyne rear broke from too much mud and moisture.
Navigation: thanks to Gareth Baines for the route, Garmin Edge 820 supplemented by my phone when it froze.