A bit of a landmark in the training schedule this weekend when I tried my legs out on 2 significant rides back to back for the first time. The first of these was on Saturday morning when I had intended to set off early (6amearly) to ride to Brighton with Ross in an effort to be back at Clapham by 10am having taken the train home. In the end though, the penny dropped on Friday night as it dawned on me that we could ride the same distance and do just as much climbing if we rode down to Box Hill and back with the additional benefit of the whole thing taking less time and without the need to get on a train. So we set off at 6:30 – the extra half hour being most welcome after a 1am finish the night before – and headed off to Box Hill in chilly sunshine. The sunshine soon turned to cloud and the cloud quickly turned to drizzle so that by the time we reached the cafe at the top of Box Hill we were properly cold and to make matters worse we were so early that the cafe wasn’t open yet! (Note to anyone interested, it opens at 08:00) So we reluctantly got back on the bikes to do a loop of the Olympic circuit to kill time before tucking into a breakfast of latte and banana/carrot cake (superb!) Anyway, I’m not sure if it was the cake and the warm up inside the cafe but the general mood picked up from that point. The sun finally joined the party, the temperature lifted and the ride back was definitely more enjoyable than the ride down. All told a smidge over 50 miles and about 900m of vertical. See the stats here.
But this was just the curtain raiser because on Sunday I had undertaken to ride the 2013 edition of the Hampshire Hilly Hundred – a well established sportive run out of Sparsholt near Winchester. So with another early alarm still ringing in my ears I drove the half hour from Salisbury to Sparsholt and joined up with about 800 other riders taking on either the “Hilly Hundred” or the ‘short course’ of 77miles. A handful of these were in SW Rouleur colours and we set off together at 8:15 after being released in batches of about 100-120 riders at a time. Unfortunately our attempt to ride together failed even before we’d left the confines of the start area as the chain of one of our guys (Andrew Reid Thomas), snapped and we all stood around looking at each other. But in the best traditions of Top Gear we eventually shrugged our shoulders and rode off anyway leaving him to see if he could find a mechanic/ spare (he couldn’t, it turned out). The sun was shining, it was warm(ish) but not hot and the wind was on our back … so inevitably I set off at the sort of pace I might usually keep up for a 20 miler and soon found myself ahead of the rest of the SWR contingent and riding with a pretty fast group of club riders from Velo Club Venta along the country lanes of Hampshire – club riders who had in their midst a girl riding at a fair old clip but pleasingly (from my perspective) a girl with a very shapely bottom. So if Cecilia Davis-Hayes (bib 192) ever reads this, you should know that you made my morning all the more enjoyable. I understand that the course has evolved over the years and they seem to have it just about perfect now. It winds around the South Downs national park/ M3 corridor and with the weather on form, the oilseed rape in full bloom and the trees in leaf I think you’d be hard pushed to find a more quintessential view of the English countryside at its best as you pass through endless fields, climb over countless ridges and coast through the occasional village. Even better, the ‘off the beaten track’ predominantly single track country lane route was refreshingly traffic free.
So between the stunning scenery, the pleasant weather, the thrill of riding in a peloton and a shapely bottom 3 feet ahead of me you would think I had enough distractions to take my mind off my legs and for the first third or so you’d be right. But somewhere between the first and second feed stations my puppy like enthusiasm started to wane, the groups got smaller, my pace dropped a bit and the hills started to feel much harder as my legs questioned just how long I was intending to keep this up for. It’s a funny thing climbing in a low gear – it’s not that you can’t turn the pedals over (ie the physical effort required isn’t more than you can manage), it’s just that it hurts quite a lot to do it! The climb up Beacon Hill away from the river Meon was probably the nadir. I knew it from having mountain biked up it during my SDW recce, so there was no false hope that perhaps it ends just around the next corner to keep my legs turning and I felt my will power ebbing with each passing rider. I doubt if there was a slower climber on that hill all day! Assisting my rapidly declining enthusiasm for the whole venture was the fact that I was riding more and more on my own or in very small groups of 2 or 3 and as the course headed west this made riding into a freshening headwind all the more energy sapping. In future I think the sensible course of action is actually to slow up and use the time to recover/ rest before latching yourself onto the back of the next fast group that comes past and let them bring you back up to speed but I couldn’t bring myself to do that with the consequence that when a fast group did come past I was too knackered to latch onto the back of them! So aside from the opening third where I was probably riding too fast in any case with the (by now long since departed over the horizon) shapely bottom, I never found that Goldilocks group where the speed isn’t too slow, or too fast, but just right.
By now we’d reached the second feed station and it was a sight for sore eyes, set up outside a village hall and not a moment too soon as far as I was concerned. These are excellently stocked, entirely free of charge, and offer a chance to re-fill water bottles with energy drink and your stomach with a dizzying array of energising snacks. The only hard part is trying to get them all down in some sort of logical order – I failed. Jaffa cakes, ham sandwiches, Haribo sweets, half bananas, flapjacks, energy bars … perhaps just one more jaffa cake for the road … oh, look some crisps … (for the salt you understand) all got shoveled down in more or less that order. I was hungrier than I realised after that middle section and, I’m not kidding, when I got back on the bike I was still hungry and tempted to run back for another couple of ham sandwiches before I remembered I’d stashed a handful of energy bars in my jersey. As I saddled up to leave someone mentioned to me that all the serious climbing was now behind us and it was pretty straightforward between here and the finish. This was, as you can imagine, music to my ears and I shot up the road … straight into the foot of yet another climb that as far as I was concerned was just as serious as most of the others we’d already done! But knowing that I’d broken the back of the distance, and still choosing to believe that the worst of the climbing was over, I got my second wind as my body set to work on making the most of the jaffa cake/ ham sandwich/ Haribo concoction that was swirling around inside me. So the last part went fairly smoothly and I finished stronger than I would have thought possible just a couple of hours earlier even with the sting in the tail at the 150km mark (see course profile here). The sun had by now given up on us but I managed to roll back into Sparsholt College just as the first specks of rain fell – so we definitely had the best of the weather.
On reaching the finish line the freebees continued as the organisers laid on complimentary tea/ coffee, thrust a new water bottle stuffed with gels/ various High5 energy sachets into your mitts and best of all (if you took the trouble to sniff it out) a complimentary massage staffed by trainees taking the final part of their physiotherapy exams. So I really couldn’t fault the Hampshire Hilly 100 as an event. Slickly organised and with a very rewarding/ challenging route that is hard to miss so long as you don’t make the mistake of assuming that the cyclist 50 yards up the road you’ve been blindly following is also part of the same event. Turns out not everyone riding a bike in Hampshire is taking part! You do need to keep your eyes open for the signs but they are there at every turn, in bright yellow, so there’s no excuse really for losing the route. One final foot note – whilst waiting for my massage I found myself sitting next to rider 192 – she of the shapely behind – and it turns out that she’s part of some national road racing team so I felt a bit better about myself after hearing that!
Scores on the doors – 102.5 miles ridden, 2,038m climbed (felt like much more but I’m consoling myself in the knowledge that this is more than a ride up Mont Ventoux – 1,617 metres … in just 22km but let’s not dwell on details!) top speed of 46mph and 6:08 hrs moving (ie not including jaffa cake down time) for an average speed of 16.7 mph which, considering the terrain, I’m very happy with. Strava link is here.
Full event results are here http://www.dbmax.co.uk/assets/results/1324/original/SMAX3.html?1368399507 which reveal I came 153rd out of 456 riders doing the full 100 mile route. I was beaten by 4 girls (!) and I came 73rd/210 in my (furiously competitive) age category. I say furiously competitive because it’s a MAMIL sport after all and the first 4 people over the line (and 8 of the first 14) were all in my age category (almost an hour up the road?!!!) I was 22 minutes outside of the ‘gold’ standard which I think was mostly spent eating jaffa cakes at the 3 feed stops but to be honest, I don’t think it’s possible not to stop to eat so you have to assume that’s a level playing field!