I was down in Kent on Saturday, seeing family at the annual Joyce get together. It just so happened that, on the Sunday, there was a 50-mile bike sportive just a few miles away on the Romney Marsh. So I had to do it, right?
I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m training for the Little Woody, a half-Ironman distance triathlon in…er…a few weeks time. So what I really need to do is some long bike rides, immediately followed by some long runs. The obvious thing to do, then, was this 50-mile sportive and then a long run, back in the direction of my Dad’s house. Easy…!
The one downside of the sportive in terms of Little Woody training is that (being on the Romney Marsh), it was dead flat (more like a 50 mile time trial really). Whereas the Little Woody course is Not Flat.
So, on Saturday, I took it upon myself to eat at least two Joyce-family-members-worth of party food, loading up on pizza, rice salad and, um, cake in readiness for a hard bike and run the next day. I even steered clear of Uncle Chris’s elderflower champagne.
Next day, husband and I drove to St Mary in the Marsh, west of Dymchurch, for the sportive. It’s a low-key affair, more of a charity ride (with a 10-mile route aimed at families), and we had no idea how many riders would have entered. I actually thought we might be the only people doing the 50 miler. But as we drove along the seafront, we saw groups of club riders all kitted out in their matching jerseys, and I actually felt a bit better knowing that I’d have some competition. Sure enough, as we went to get our numbers, a chap riding a Cervelo slipped in behind us, and the two guys in front of us were busy talking about some sportive they were doing soon near Crystal Palace. As ever at a bike event, there weren’t many women, but I did see plenty, including some riding for cycling clubs.
The plan was to finish as close to 2 hours 30 minutes as possible (that’s 20mph). The course really is completely flat, but the wind out on the Romney Marsh can be brutal because the landscape is so open.
Oh – before I go on – want a laugh?
Here’s the profile of last week’s sportive (maximum elevation – 250 metres)
And here’s the profile of this one I’m on about (maximum elevation – 25 metres)
Off we went, following the circular 50-mile route which took us out towards Dymchurch, through Burmarsh and out to West Hythe, back to Newchurch and then out to Ruckinge and Ham Street. Early on in the race, a group came towards us (going the wrong way) and we stopped to ask what was wrong. They told us we were going the wrong way (we weren’t – for one thing, we were following the arrows which had numbers 1-52 on them, and for another thing, we had a map. As did they, presumably!) We carried on the way we were going, annoyed that we’d stopped at all!
It wasn’t a windy day, but even a bit of wind is a real pain out on the marsh because there’s nothing to shelter you. At points in the race, it was a bit of a slog against a headwind, but we just had to hope that it would turn into a tailwind as the circular route progressed.
We saw the group going the wrong way again – they seemed to be doing the route but backwards. I’ve no idea how they’d managed it. And they were club cyclists! (I’d hate to see them try and do an Audax!)
At a couple of points on the route, the organisers sent us over a busy A-road and insisted we got off and walked across with our bikes…bit of a shame but we had no choice.
Other than that (and stopping to talk to the backwards cyclists!), it was head down and push on like a long time trial. Husband did a grand job of setting off in front to hold our agreed pace, look out for the route signs, tell me about oncoming traffic and point out poor road surfaces. All I had to do was ride. And I loved it! We were holding 34-35kph quite easily for long stretches and it felt great.
There was an aid station but we flew through it. I wasn’t going to waste time eating a flapjack if I was only going to be riding for about 2 1/2 hours.
The ‘hill’ was nothing, but it was noticeable, if only because I’d been in the same position (down on my aero-bars) and in the same gear for almost all of the race. So, in a way, it was a nice change of pace to actually have to change down a couple of gears, quickly get up out of the saddle and push on.
Otherwise, it was flat, flat, flat. The organisers set the riders off at intervals, and we’d overtaken a few groups who set off before us within the first 10 miles. We hadn’t seen anyone else for ages and I wondered if we were going to be the first riders home. As it turned out, there were two just ahead of us, but we rolled in in 2 hours 42 and I was told I was first lady “by a million miles!” (Enthusiastic, if not strictly accurate)
Of course, just because I was first lady home, I might not have been first lady over all. A female rider who started after me could still be quicker. But, by the time I set off on my run, no other women had finished. I was first female finisher!
I couldn’t hang around long to revel in my little victory, as I had to run. I changed my top and shoes, put my ipod on and totally forgot to have a drink (!) Then I set off, heading for the seafront, determined to keep my pace slow (and my heart-rate slower) as I know this is what I need to do if I’m going to get through the Little Woody.
And I felt fine! 50 miles of caning it on a time trial bike and my legs felt great. 5kms went by without me even noticing it, and then I was on the sea wall at Dymchurch, heading east towards Hythe, sweating my way through the chip-eating Kent holiday makers.
I passed a lovely hour trotting along at 8:30 minute miling, and then I had to get off the seawall/promenade and run along the main road into Hythe, which wasn’t so great. At this point, I started to feel not so great myself. My heart rate started shooting through the roof, and I made myself walk to get it down each time this happened. I was absolutely soaked with sweat, but my arms were goose-bumpy. I’d told husband I’d try to get “to the icecream van” (gotta have a goal!) in Seabrook, but I knew that was too far.
So I stopped, pulled out the trusty iPhone and called him. “I can’t go on!” I claimed. “Please come and get me from Hythe.”
I trotted on for a bit, and bought a lolly in a newsagents. It was only 20p but I dropped £1 into the big freezer. The newsagent man can have it for being nice and not complaining about me coming into his shop looking such a state.
That 20p lolly was the best thing I’ve ever eaten. Cold, sugary, lemony. I ate a bit, ran a bit, ate a bit, ran a bit. Someone in a car laughed at me and I wondered how funny they’d find a 20p lolly if they won a 50-mile sportive then ran 9 miles. Idiot.
I just finished my lolly and then there was my knight in shining Renault, brandishing a big bottle of orange juice and water, which I put away in about 10 seconds flat. He told me I looked quite pale. “Drive me to the sea!” I wailed. “I have to jump in the sea!”
So I did, had a quick swim, and felt a lot better.
50 mile sportive, 9.5 mile run. That’s some brick!