The Southern Sportive (did someone mention hills?)

I am hungry like the wolf today. Yesterday I was on my bike for over 4.5 hours and I missed my lunch, you see.

Just before I did Little Woody, my husband said that his colleague Pete was planning on doing the Southern Sportive and did we want to do it with him? So I entered it. Then Pete ended up being on holiday, and my husband ended up doing his back in. So muggins here woke up at 6am yesterday, drove to Petersfield and did the sportive. Yes, I did ask myself “why?” at several points before and during.

The Southern Sportive is renowned for being a hilly ‘un, but it wasn’t til the night before that I actually looked at the course profile and worked out that it would be a) the furthest I’d ever ridden, b) the most amount of climbing I’d done in one ride and c) almost the maximum incline I’d ever ridden up. And only 14 days since Little Woody.

In a moment of blazing inspiration, I went to the gym this week and did a relatively heavy legs session (having not done any free weights for ages). In a second moment of blazing inspiration, I did it again a few days later. Consequently, my legs were screaming just from, er, walking downstairs and kneeling down and stuff like that. “It’s only my quads which hurt!” I told my husband, and I desperately rolled around on our foam roller on Saturday night. “That’s a shame,” he said, “since it’s your quads you’ll need on the sportive.”

Hey ho.

So, I got to the sportive, was directed to carpark C which was nowhere near the start and had to ride to registration.

I was doing the medium route, an advertised 112kms/70 miles (with 1443m of climbing) through the climbs of the South Downs. For those who know the area, it started in Petersfield and went…oh, loads of places. Here’s a map. And the profile.

The standard times had been tweaked from those on the website and were now longer, which was a bit ominous. To be perfectly honest, I consider my season officially over now, and I was just doing this ride for fun (!) I didn’t even bother to write the standard times on my hand, nor did I set my bike computer to show average speed. I just wanted to have a nice day out on my bike.

The route went up a bitch of a hill (about 14%) within the first couple of miles. I instantly regretted not having chosen to ride Venus, with her big gears. I barely got up it, and my HR was around 180. At the top, I popped a couple of Jaffa Cakes and pedalled onwards. I rode for a while with a jolly group of chaps from a rowing club (one of the nice things about biking is that, even when you’re pushing quite hard, you can still chat, unlike running) and tried to actually ride in a group to get the benefits. At one point, we all scooted round a corner to be faced with a stretch of road completely covered in sand and stones. We all got off, shouldered our bikes and walked over the (deep!) sand. And I thought hike-a-bike sections were just for mountain bikers! In the end, my rowing friends were just a little too fast for me, though, and I never could get up the front to take my turn, so I let myself drop off the back.

I between the first and second aid stations, I rode with a nice chap called Steve who’d come all the way from Dartmoor to ride the sportive for the third time. We were roughly the same speed and took turns pulling each other along for a while.

There's Steve on the right

I wasn’t the only one disappointed at the aid stations – for £25, you expect more than a flapjack and 1/2 a banana (rationed), water and energy drink. Every other sportive I’ve done has had a wide choice of stuff to eat there, or put in your pocket to take with you. That wasn’t possible here (jersey pocket full of crumbled flapjack? No thanks) and I was really glad I’d packed my pockets full of food as usual. At the second and final aid station, there was no water. The marshalls were about to go up the road to refill, but still. It was a blazing hot day, one guy was on the ground with some sort of heat exhaustion and plenty of other riders had resorted to sitting on the ground waiting for water. I still had some, so rode on, but can only imagine how annoying it would be to have to stop and wait for water (the clock doesn’t stop whilst you’re at aid stations). Poor effort, guys.

That was my only complaint. The route was absolutely beautiful, winding its way through chocolate-box villages and climbing (oh how it climbed!) up to the top of the Downs to reveal amazing views right down to Chichester. Or what I assume was Chicester-ish, anyway.

Yep, I got off and walked up this hill. All the better for taking a photo!

The climbs were brutal (I freely admit I got off and walked up bits of two of them – I’m not proud. I did Little Woody two weeks ago) but the downs were fast (even if some of the road surfaces were shocking). We were blessed with a gorgeous day of sunshine (amidst a week of grim weather) and I felt very glad I’d turned up to ride.

Until about 50 miles in.

At that point, my right shin started to hurt. Then my right calf started to hurt. Then I felt very very tired and then shortly after that I felt as if I might cry if the finish line didn’t turn up at some point. The wind had picked up, the road surfaces were sapping my speed and the hills just wouldn’t let up. I was counting down the miles to 70…but when 70 came, we still weren’t home. A mind-crushing loop around Petersfield and finally, finally, I was finished. Actually that’s not true – finally, I was faced with trying to get through the college gates whilst a big truck was coming out, so I had to stop and then squeeze through…a glorious finish!

In true Nicola style, I missed the silver standard time (4 hrs 47) by…..4 seconds. No, I’m not joking. But of course my official time (without stops for aid stations) will be a bit longer, so never mind.

I got my free cup of tea and bit of cake and sat on the ground next to my bike.

I have never been so glad to get off my bike. The Southern Sportive is hard! I suspect I’ll do it again next year 🙂

Before I do, I’m going to work on two things:

– riding in a group. In the short time I rode on the back of a group today, it was obvious how helpful this is. So much less effort for the same speed. I was even freewheeling along on the flat at points, being pulled along by the group. Riding the whole thing by yourself is the nobler way to do it, but undeniably more tiring! But to be a good group rider, I need to learn the techniques and get more confident with it. I also need to get a bit stronger at it so I can take my turn on the front. No-one likes a hanger-on just sucking the wheel of the back rider.

– descending. Honestly, my rubbish descending technique is starting to annoy me now. I lose so much time by descending so poorly, and I’ll overtake a load of people on the flat or on the ups, only to have them whizz past me on the downs. By the end of any long ride, I tend to be better at descending, because I’ve got so annoyed with myself that I just let go of the brakes, or because I just want the ride to be over and I’m too tired to react to a descent with nervousness. Or possibly because my arms are so tired that I can’t be bothered to brake any more. I could really do with improving my descending, even by a fraction.

The Southern Sportive is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

5 Responses to The Southern Sportive (did someone mention hills?)

  1. Auntie Rose says:

    OMG…..You are as mad as I was beginning to think. Shall tell Joe and \russ to read this as they are facing the 90 miles Oxford Cambridege on 3rd October….


  2. […] race Another tough one. I really enjoyed getting into road cycling this year, completing several sportives having never done one before. But I think the Favourite Race gong has to go to the Folkestone Half […]


  3. […] time last year, I had just finished a pretty full-on triathlon season, done several bike sportives and a half-marathon. I was just starting a personal body-transformation type challenge, based on […]


  4. […] Um…I can’t honestly remember exactly what I did in this time period. And I’m sitting on the sofa and cba finding my old training diaries. They’re in the attic and it’s a Sunday night – come on! It was definitely land-based and mostly wearing lycra. So let’s go with various triathlons (including a half-Ironman distance one called the Little Woody), at least one half marathon, and some road riding events/sportives. […]


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